I spent the weekend in New York City, attending the mind and reality conference. It was really interesting, in many aspects. Not only was the level of discussion about the nature of consciousness (mainly) really high, but also was it interesting to observe the sociology of knowledge. I was surprised at what a language gap there seemed to be between the (neuro)scientists, who tend to speak the language of data, the philosophers, who communicate through mention of different theories and previous philosophers, and Buddhist scholars, who pepper their conversations with lots of Sanskrit/Pali/Tibetan terms. It was quite obvious that we are in dire need for translators, even though some of the speakers did quite a good job at trying to make some steps in translating themselves, which was one of the more interesting things at the conference. Probably a more focused conference, restricting itself for example to the nature of consciousness and trying to discuss the differences and similarities from neurobiological, philosophical and Buddhist perspectives would be more productive. Nevertheless, it was impressive to have so many great minds together. I especially enjoyed the talks about phenomenology by for example Evan Thompson, trying to link a complex systems approach to neuroscience in order to suggest that there is not a separate mind and body, but rather they are co-emergent. A similar point was made in a very interesting essay by William Waldron. I think this is a very fruitful approach, though hard to turn into science. How can we come up with models that are so complex that they represent this co-emergence phenomenon, the necessary nonlinearity of the system?
The next day of that weekend was quite a turn when I attended a rigpa sangha gathering, which operated from quite a different perspective. Sogyal Rinpoche tends to bring the teachings from the direct experience, or from the heart of things, and only then the intellect comes in, whereas at the mind and reality conference most was done from the approach of the intellect, except for a little bit during the presentation of Piet Hut, who encouraged the listeners to experience the world in different ways, demonstrating the phenomenological approach quite beautifully. Anyway, I think it is fruitful to have both, and I wish that personal experience were used more by neuroscientists. who are after all trying to understand how the brain produces cognition.