No Self, No Problem
eBook - ePub

No Self, No Problem

How Neuropsychology Is Catching Up to Buddhism

Chris Niebauer

  1. 224 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (adapté aux mobiles)
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eBook - ePub

No Self, No Problem

How Neuropsychology Is Catching Up to Buddhism

Chris Niebauer

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À propos de ce livre

While in grad school in the early 1990s, Chris Niebauer began to notice striking parallels between the latest discoveries in psychology, neuroscience, and the teachings of Buddhism, Taoism, and other schools of Eastern thought. When he presented his findings to a professor, his ideas were quickly dismissed as "pure coincidence, nothing more."

Fast-forward 20 years later and Niebauer is a PhD and a tenured professor, and the Buddhist-neuroscience connection he found as a student is practically its own genre in the bookstore. But according to Niebauer, we are just beginning to understand the link between Eastern philosophy and the latest findings in psychology and neuroscience and what these assimilated ideas mean for the human experience.

In this groundbreaking book, Niebauer writes that the latest research in neuropsychology is now confirming a fundamental tenet of Buddhism, what is called Anatta, or the doctrine of "no self." Niebauer writes that our sense of self, or what we commonly refer to as the ego, is an illusion created entirely by the left side of the brain. Niebauer is quick to point out that this doesn't mean that the self doesn't exist but rather that it does so in the same way that a mirage in the middle of the desert exists, as a thought rather than a thing. His conclusions have significant ramifications for much of modern psychological modalities, which he says are spending much of their time trying to fix something that isn't there.

What makes this book unique is that Niebauer offers a series of exercises to allow the reader to experience this truth for him- or herself, as well as additional tools and practices to use after reading the book, all of which are designed to change the way we experience the world—a way that is based on being rather than thinking.

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Notes and References

All references and quotes from the Buddha are from these two sources, unless stated otherwise: The Dhammapada: The Saying of the Buddha (1976). Translated by Thomas Byrom. New York, Knopf; “Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: The Discourse on the Not-self Characteristic” (SN 22.59), translated from the Pali by N.K.G. Mendis. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 13 June 2010,


1. One of the first popular books connecting Eastern philosophy and physics was Capra, F. (1975). The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism. Berkeley: Shambhala.
2. Houshmand, Z., Wallace, B., and Livingston, R. (1999). Consciousness at the Crossroads: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Brain Science and Buddhism. Snow Lion. Ithaca, NY. This book resulted from meetings of the Dalai Lama and a group of eminent neuroscientists and psychiatrists.
3. Kaul, P., Passafiume, J., Sargent, C. R., and O'Hara, B. F. (2010). “Meditation acutely improves psychomotor vigilance, and may decrease sleep need.” Behavioral and Brain Functions 6: 47.
4. For Sara Lazar's talk about changing the brain with meditation, see “How Meditation Can Reshape Our Brains: Sara Lazar at TEDxCambridge 2011.”
A more detailed article reviewing her work would be Lazar, S. (2013). “The neurobiology of mindfulness.” Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, 282–294. Two works about meditation, compassion, and reducing the amygdala are Hölzel, B., Carmody, J., Evans, K., Hoge, E., Dusek, J., Morgan, L., Pitman, R., and Lazar, S. (2010). “Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdala.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Vol. 5, Issue 1 (1 March 2010): 11–17; Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., and Lazar, S. W. (2011). “Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density.” Psychiatry Research 191(1): 36–43.
5. Research on tai chi has become so extensive that there is now a review article that examines the numerous other scientific reviews (107 reviews in total) on the subject: Solloway, M. R., Taylor, S. L., Shekelle, P. G., Miake-Lye, I. M., Beroes, J. M., Shanman, R. M., and Hempel, S. (2016). “An evidence map of the effect of Tai Chi on health outcomes.” Systematic Reviews 5(1).
6. BĂŒssing, A., Michalsen, A., Khalsa, S. B. S., Telles, S., and Sherman, K. J. (2012). “Effects of yoga on mental and physical health: A short summary of reviews.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: eCAM, 165410.
7. Villemure, C., Čeko, M., Cotton, V. A., and Bushnell, M. C. (2015). “Neuroprotective effects of yoga practice: Age-, experience-, and frequency-dependent plasticity.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 9: 281.
8. Creswell, J. D. (2015) “Biological pathways linking mindfulness with health.” Eds. Brown, K. W., Creswell J. D., and Ryan, R. Handbook on Mindfulness Science. Guilford Publications, New York, NY; Creswell, J. D., Taren, A., Lindsay, E., Greco, C., Gianaros, P., Fairgrieve, A., Marsland, A., Brown, K., Way, B., Rosen, R., and Ferris, J. (2016). “Alterations in resting state functional connectivity link mindfulness meditation with reduced interleukin-6: a randomized controlled trial.” Biological Psychiatry; DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.01.008.


1. Morin, A. (2010). “Self-recognition, theory-of-mind, and self-awareness: What side are you on?” Laterality, 16(3): 367–383.
2. Wei, W. W. (1963). Ask the Awakened: the Negative Way. Sentient Publications.
3. As the neuroscientist Tim Crow put it, “Except in the light of brain hemisphere lateralization, nothing in human psychology makes any sense.” In other words, the only way to understand who we truly are is to examine the left and right sides of the brain.

Chapter 1: Meet the Interpreter—An Accidental Discovery

1. Works explaining the left-brain interpreter and its discovery include Gazzaniga, M. S., and LeDoux, J. E. (1978). The Integrated Mind. New York: Plenum Press; Gazzaniga, M.S. (1985). The Social Brain: Discovering the Networks of the Mind. New York: Basic Books; Gazzaniga, M. S. (1998, July). “The split brain revisited.” Scientific American 279(1): 35–39.
2. Nisbett and Wilson (1977). “Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes.” Psychological Review 84: 231–259; Johansson, P., Hall, L., Sikström, S., TĂ€rning, B., and Lind, A. (2006). “How something can be said about telling more than we can know.” Consciousness and Cognition 15(4): 673–692.
3. Dutton, D. G., and Aaron, A. P. (1974). “Some evidence for heightened sexual attraction under conditions of high anxiety.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 30(4): 510–517. doi:10.1037/h0037031.
4. Dienstbier, R. (1979). “Attraction increases and decreases as a function of emotion-attribution and appropriate social cues.” Motivation and Emotion 3: 201–218.
5. Meston, C., and Frohlich, P. (2003). “Love at first fright: Partner salience moderates roller-coaster-induced excitation transfer.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 32(6): 537–544.
6. Gazzaniga, M. S. (1985). The Social Brain: Discovering the Networks of the Mind. New York: Basic Books.

Chapter 2: Language and Categories—The Tools of the Interpreting Mind

1. Konnikova, M. (2013). “The man who couldn't speak and how he revolutionized psychology.” Retrieved from
2. To quote laterality expert Joe Hellige, “Left-hemisphere dominance for many aspects of language is the most obvious and most often cited cognitive asymmetry. In particular, the left hemisphere seems dominant for the production of overt speech . . .” (Hellige, J. B. (1993). Hemispheric Asymmetry: What's Right and What's Left. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press). However, this does not mean that the right brain does not play a role in language. To use a business metaphor, the CEO of language is in the left brain, even if it may still have some important employees working in the right brain. For example, the right brain contributes to the emotional aspects of language, and those with damage to the right brain are often emotionally flat when it comes to communicating via speech. Right brain damaged subjects may also have a difficult time with sarcasm and metaphor because these functions of language exist in an emotional realm outside of language and speech itself.
3. Morin, A. (2011). “Self-awareness, Part 2: Neuroanatomy and importance of inner speech.” Social and Personality Psychology Compass 2(12): 1004–1012.
4. McGilchrist, I. (2009). The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Yale University Press. The TED Talk by McGilchrist is available here:
5. Korzybski, A. (1933). Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics. Institute of General Semantics, 747–761.
6. Stroop, J. (1935). “Studies of interference in serial verbal reactions.” Journal of Experimental Psychology 18(6): 643– 662. doi:10.1037/h0054651.
7. Steve Christman, my mentor in grad school, did an interesting study on the Stroop effect. He assumed that the left brain processed the symbol of the color (the word) and the right brain processed the actual color. He found that those with the least communication between the two sides of the brain had the smallest interference when the symbol and actual color didn't match. That is, if the two sides of the brain are acting ...

Table des matiĂšres

  1. Cover Page
  2. Title Page
  3. Copyright
  4. Table of Contents
  5. Dedication
  6. Preface
  7. Introduction
  8. ONE: Meet the Interpreter—An Accidental Discovery
  9. TWO: Language and Categories—The Tools of the Interpreting Mind
  10. THREE: Pattern Perception and the Missing Self
  11. FOUR: The Basics of Right-Brain Consciousness
  12. FIVE: Meaning and Understanding
  13. SIX: Right-Brain Intelligence—Intuition, Emotions, and Creativity
  14. SEVEN: What Is Consciousness?
  15. EIGHT: Finding the Real You
  16. Notes and References
  17. Acknowledgments
  18. About the Author