Buddhism and Cognitive (Neuro)Science: An Uneasy Liaison?


  • Sebastjan VÖRÖS University of Ljubljana




Buddhism, cross-cultural cognitive science, contemplative science, consciousness studies, religion-science debate, dialogue, integration, construction


The main aim of this article is to shed light on the intricate relationship between Buddhism and science by focusing on what is becoming an increasingly popular area of contact between the two domains, namely the study of consciousness in the field of cognitive (neuro)science. First, three fundamental ways of approaching the relationship between Buddhism and science are outlined: (a) rejection (Buddhism and science are not, and cannot be, compatible); (b) acceptance (Buddhism and science share important commonalities); (c) construction (Buddhism and science are compatible because they have been made compatible in the course of specific historical processes). It is claimed that which of the three stances one takes depends ultimately on how one construes the two parties involved and the nature of their (potential) interaction. To exemplify this, the scope of the discussion is narrowed to the domain of consciousness research and a general overview of some of the main arguments for and against the collaboration between Buddhism and cognitive (neuro)science (“Three Turnings of the Wheel of (Non)Interaction”) is provided. Finally, in light of the tentative results of our analysis, a short reflection of some of the most pertinent presuppositions and entailments of different stances towards Buddhism-science dialogue is laid out, with special emphasis on the distinction between construing Buddhism as “living” versus “dead” tradition.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Sebastjan VÖRÖS, University of Ljubljana

Faculty of Arts, Philosophy Department, Associate Professor


Block, Ned. 2008. “Consciousness and Cognitive Access”. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 108 (3): 289–317.
Chalmers, David J. 1995. “Facing up the problem of consciousness”. Journal of Consciousness Studies 2 (3): 200–219.
Chalmers, David J. 1997. “Moving Forward on the Problem of Consciousness”. Journal of Consciousness Studies 4 (1): 3–46.
Davis, Jake H. & Thompson, Evan. 2014. “From the Five Aggregates to Phenomenal Consciousness: Towards a Cross-Cultural Cognitive Science”. In: Emmanuel, Steven. M. A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy. 1st edition. London: John Wiley & Sons: 585–597.
Dennett, Daniel. 1991. Consciousness Explained. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
Federman, Asaf. 2011. “What Buddhism taught Cognitive Science about Self, Mind and Brain”. Enrahonar: Quaderns de Filosofia 47: 39–62.
Forman, Robert K. C. 2007. “What Does Mysticism Have to Teach Us about Consciousness?”. AntiMatters 1 (2): 71–89.
Froese, Tom. 2010. “From cybernetics to second-order cybernetics: A comparative analysis of their central ideas”. Constructivist Foundations 5(2): 75–85.
Gallagher, Shaun. 2003. “Phenomenology and experimental design”. Journal of Consciousness Studies 10 (9–10): 85–99.
Garfield, Jay L. 2011. “Ask not what Buddhism can do for cognitive science, ask what cognitive science can do for Buddhism”. Bulletin of Tibetology 47: 15–30.
Gould, Steven Jay. 1999. Rock of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life. New York: Ballantine.
Hume, David. 1739. Treatise on Human Nature. London: John Noon.
James, William. 1950. The Principles of Psychology. Vol. I & II. New York: Dover.
Lancaster, Brian Les. 2005. “Mysticism and Cognitive Neuroscience: A Partnership in the Quest for Consciousness”. Conscienscias 2: 247–68.
Levine, Joseph. 2002. “Materialism and qualia: Explanatory gap”. In: Chalmers David J. (ed.). Philosophy of mind: Classical and contemporary readings. New York: Oxford University Press: 354–361.
Lopez, Donald S. 2008. Buddhism & Science. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
Lutz, A., Dunne, John D., Davidson, Richard J. 2007. “Meditation and the Neuroscience of Consciousness: An Introduction”. In: Zelazo, P. D., Moscovitch, M., Thompson, E. (ed.). Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 497–549.
Lynch, Zack. 2009. The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science is Changing the World. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Metzinger, Thomas. 2003. On Being No One. Cambridge, London: The MIT Press.
Nagel, Thomas. 1974. “What is it like to be a bat?”. Philosophical Review 83(4): 435–450.
Payne, Richard K. 2002. “Buddhism and Cognitive Science: Contributions to an Enlarged Discourse”. Pacific World: Journal of the Institute of Buddhist Studies 3 (4): 1–14.
Sharf, Robert H. 1995. “Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience”. Numen 42: 229–283.
Sharf, Robert H. 2000. “The Rhetoric of Experience and the Study of Religion”. Journal of Consciousness Studies 7 (11–12): 267–87.
Shear, Jonathan. & Jevning, Ron. 1999. “Pure Consciousness: Scientific Exploration of Meditation Techniques”. In: Varela, Francisco J. & Shear, Jevning. (ed.). The View from Within: First-Person Approaches to the Study of Consciousness. Thorventon: Imprint Academic: 189–209.
Thompson, Evan. 2005. “Empathy and Human Experience”. In: Proctor, J. D. (ed.). Science, Religion, and the Human Experience. New York: Oxford University Press: 261–285.
Thompson, Evan. 2007. “Neurophenomenology and Contemplative Experience”. In: Clayton, P. (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Science and Religion. New York: Oxford University Press: 226–235.
Thompson, Evan. 2009. “Contemplative Neuroscience as an Approach to Volitional Consciousness”. In: Murphy N., Ellis G. F. R. & O’Connor T. Downward Causation and the Neurobiology of Free Will. Dordrecht: Springer: 187–197.
Varela, Francisco J. & Depraz, Natalie. 2003. “Imagining: Embodiment, Phenomenology, and Transformation”. In: Wallace, Allan B. (ed.). Buddhism and Science: Breaking New Ground. New York: Columbia Press: 195–230.
Varela, Francisco J. & Shear, Jevning. 1999. “First-Person Methodologies: What, Why, How?”. In: Varela, Francisco J. & Shear, Jevning. (ed.). The View from Within: First-Person Approaches to the Study of Consciousness. Thorverton: Imprint Academic: 1–14.
Varela, Francisco J. 1996. “Neurophenomenology: A methodological remedy for the hard problem.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 3 (4): 330–349.
Varela, Francisco J., Thompson, Evan & Rosch, Eleanor. 1991. The embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Vörös, Sebastjan. 2013. Podobe neupodobljivega: (Nevro)znanost, fenomenologija, mistika [The Images of the Unimaginable: (Neuro)science, Phenomenology, Mysticism]. KUD Logos, Ljubljana.
Vörös, Sebastjan. 2014. “The Uroboros of Consciousness: Between the Naturalisation of Phenomenology and the Phenomenologisation of Nature”. Constructivist Foundations 10 (1): 96–104.
Wallace, A. B. 1999. “The Buddhist Tradition of Samatha: Methods for Refining and Examining Consciousness”. In: Varela, Francisco J. & Shear Jevning. (ed.). The View from Within: First-Person Approaches to the Study of Consciousness. Thorventon: Imprint Academic: 175–187.
Wallace, Allan B. 2002. “A Science of Consciousness: Buddhism (1), the Modern West (0)”. The Pacific World: Journal of the Institute of Buddhist Studies 3 (4): 15–31.
Wallace, Allan B. 2003. “Introduction: Buddhism and Science – Breaking New Barriers”. In: Wallace, A. B. (ed.). Buddhism and Science: Breaking New Ground. New York: Columbia Press: 1– 29.
Wilson, Edward Osborne. 1998. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. New York: Knopf.




How to Cite

VÖRÖS, S. (2016). Buddhism and Cognitive (Neuro)Science: An Uneasy Liaison?. Asian Studies, 4(1), 61–80. https://doi.org/10.4312/as.2016.4.1.61-80