An Eastern Perspective on the “Obvious”

Last spring, I spent the semester studying abroad in Japan.  It was an amazing experience that offered me a fresh perspective on life and, in many ways, stretched my established notions on the construct of self.  What is the self?  According to LeDoux, the self combines the mind and behavior that is all triggered by synapses in the brain.  Derek mentioned in his post that the first chapter of Synaptic Self did not really offer too many surprises, due to the fact that it is somewhat older (compared to other neuroscience textbooks) and the concepts presented thus far are pretty much gold standard.  It is important to recognize, however, that many learned people in the world understand the self as something far from the internal hard wiring of synapses.

One of the differences I noticed between eastern and western theories of self is the relationship between the mind and the body.  In western psychology, the synapses in the mind control the functions of the body in the ‘one-way flowchart-like’ manner often illustrated in Synaptic Self.  Established western philosophy, however, recognizes a bidirectional relationship between the body and mind.  Many eastern religions such as Zen Buddhism and Yoga use meditation and physical exercises (such as various postures and breathing techniques) as rudimentary to healthy living.  The idea being to relax and quiet the mind by controlling the physical body.

Eastern and western philosophies are not completely incompatible theories.  Both have a similar understanding of human nature and behavior, but there are intriguing differences in perspective.

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