That’s quite a fair criticism; my own lack of knowledge about Buddhism is a major reason why I thought the topic was worth bringing up. It’s also not very fair of me to bring it up without going to the effort of doing more serious research, but my time is limited and it’s much easier to figure things out if I can get other people to point me in the right direction.
I can see that this is frustrating for you, but I’d like to thank you for making the effort nevertheless; I hope my responses can make it clear that the effort was worthwhile.
I completely agree. Western philosophy has a very long history of going wildly wrong with confused and sometimes incoherent notions like the soul, free will, solipsism, and generally lots and lots of confusion about the nature of consciousness. For an obvious example of how Western philosophy can (and does) go deeply wrong, you only need to look at René Descartes; he is a clear example of a deeply confused person who claimed to start with one or two reasonable principles and ended up justifying a bunch of obviously wrong ideas like dualism and the existence of God.
In particular, I strongly agree with you about the danger of labels and categorization. Attempts to oversimplify complex concepts almost invariably result in confusion and failure; a running theme in Western philosophy.
I emphasize mathematics because mathematics is a language is precise in so many ways that every single human languge is not. Attaching labels to things leads to confusion, but attaching math to things leads to understanding.
I emphasize empiricism (i.e. the need focus on sensory input) because the only way to understand the world and thus to achieve goals in the world is via channels of information about it. That information cannot simply appear in your mind by pure happenstance; it must end up there by coming from the world.
But then even one’s senses can not be trusted. Perhaps the most obvious example is looking for typos in your own writing. You have trouble noticing those typos because your senses are being processed by your brain, and thus even your senses can lie. Consider, as another example, people who repeatedly fail to correctly pronounce words, even when their incorrect pronunciation is directly pointed out to them. They do this because, in their own model of the world, their pronunciation is correct, and any efforts to correct it are worthless; thus they continue to remain in denial about this incorrectness.
Your senses are not reality; they are a model of reality, and like any other model they are subject to update and critique whenever they fail to be accurate. People who assume that their senses are wholly reliable are confusing the map for the territory.
Even though your thoughts and your senses can and do lie, you can still use your thoughts and your senses in more creative ways (e.g. to conduct a scientific experiment) in order to analyse your thoughts and your senses, and come to more reasonable conclusions.
Understood. I may have read about this before, but from outside influences I’ve generally come to the notion that Zen in particular tends to be much more reasonable than other schools.
I definitely agree that the concept of “self”, and especially “consciousness”, is inherently confused; I’ve had thoughts along those lines for a while now. Not necessarily an illusion per se; it likely does refer to something real, but the real thing that it refers to may be completely different from one’s experience of it.
Either way, I am extremely hesitant to make assumptions about, or reach conclusions about, the nature of “self” or of “consciousness” in the absence of more concrete mathematics or any kind of scientific theory that would pin the notion down.
As to your point about introspection, I see what you mean. I think that somewhere in my mind I must have been conflating the nature and purpose of things like mindfulness and meditation with the much more Western concept of introspection.
I also completely agree with you re. the vale mindfulness and the need to act with awareness. This is something I have started doing to a much greater degree in the past couple of days, and I find that I’ve started to pick up on a whole bunch of signals, especially social signals, in the world around me that I would otherwise have been oblivious to. This change in myself, and a newfound interest in trying something like meditation, is perhaps the main reason why I feel an increased interest in Buddhism more recently.
But where I disagree with Buddhism, or at least Buddhism in the form that you’ve put forward in your latest post, is in the assertion that goal-ness or should-ness leads to suffering, and yet that we should aspire to freedom from suffering.
If suffering is, in some deeper sense, an intrinsic badness that means there is something wrong with the world, why is it not also the case that things like pleasure and joy are something that is right with the world. Why not simply accept that the former should not and the latter should?
Where I think Buddhism goes wrong is in the assumption that desire necessarily leads to suffering. While, in some sense, you cannot have suffering without desire, it does not follow that any and all desire will always lead to suffering.
In my view, the true sources of suffering are twofold:
- When your desires are driven by delusional thinking or irrationality; such desires are liable to end in frustration and suffering.
- When one person’s desires are in conflict with another’s.
The importance of (1) and (2) can be linked quite easily to the notions I linked previously. The answer to (2) is game theory, which at its most basic level is about conflict resolution. The answers to (1) are skepticism, empiricism, mathematics, and science; Bayesian inference in particular is important. The reason why is simple: those are by far the best tools we have in forming accurate beliefs about the world.
I disagree, from the bottom of my heart, with the notion that all desires are bound to end in failure, frustration, and suffering. Suffering can be mitigated by making the world a better place, and even though there is and will always be some suffering in the world, that suffering is worthwhile because alongside it there will also be happiness, joy and pleasure.