1987 – I

Dialogues between Buddhism & the Cognitive Sciences

The 1st Mind and Life Conference

Dharamsala, India
October 23-29, 1987

Gentle Bridges: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on the Sciences of Mind An edited selection of dialogues from this conference has been published as Gentle Bridges: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on the Sciences of the Mind.

This ground-breaking meeting was inspired by a shared interest in opening a dialogue between Buddhist thought and cognitive science to mutually inform and enrich these two distinct modes of exploring Mind and Life. It established a general forum for a continuing exchange between Western science and Tibetan Buddhism that has continued for over a decade and moved into more specialized areas of exploration.

Scientific Coordinator

Francisco J. Varela, Ph.D., Professor of Cognitive Science and Epistemology,
Ecole Polytechnique and Institute of Neuroscience, Paris

Participants

Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness, the XIVth Dalai Lama of Tibet
Newcomb Greenleaf, Ph.D., Professor of Computer Science, Columbia University
Jeremy Hayward, Ph.D., Director, Naropa Institute, Boulder, Colorado
Robert B. Livingston, M.D., Professor of Neurosciences Emeritus, University of California, San Diego
Eleanor Rosch, Ph.D., Professor of Cognitive Psychology, University of California, Berkeley
Francisco J. Varela, Ph.D., Professor of Cognitive Science and Epistemology, Ecole Polytechnique and Institute of Neuroscience, Paris

Interpreters

Geshe Thupten Jinpa
B. Alan Wallace

Program

October 23, 1987

Presentation: Scientific Method and Validation
Dr. Jeremy Hayward
An outline of the social and logical basis in which a scientific idea is said to be proven, and the importance of change and diversity in scientific ideas. Relevance for current debates in cognitive science and its various tendencies.

Presentation: Buddhist Epistemology and Logic
H.H. the Dalai Lama

October 24, 1987

Presentation: Perception and the Brain
Dr. Francisco J. Varela
Perception as an introduction to brain operation, illustrated through some basic visual processes in man and animals.

Discussion theme: Perception
Brain processes of perception in contrast to the early (Abhidharma) and later (Yogacara) Buddhist traditions; relation with skandhas and ayatanas.

October 25, 1987

Presentation: Cognitive Psychology
Dr. Eleanor Rosch
Recent work in cognitive science has let to interesting investigationsabout the inner workings of the human mind from an experimental point of view such as categorization, memory, and reasoning.

Discussion theme: Causality and Karma
To what extent can these two main ideas, central to science and Buddhism respectively, be seen as addressing similar/dissimilar problems?

October 26, 1987

Presentation: Artificial Intelligence
Dr. Newcomb Greenleaf
Ideas and examples of the recent tradition of building devices (‘computers’), which have some cognitive capacities such as reason, language, and vision.

Discussion theme: Memory
The questions of memory and continuity of self as central topics to both Buddhist concerns and modern cognitive science.

October 27, 1987

Presentation: Development of the Brain
Dr. Robert B. Livingston
Stages the brain goes through from conception until birth, and the gradual emergence of mental capacities seen from a biological perspective.

Discussion theme: Brain/Consciousness States
The difficult issue of brain/mind relations and their various states can perhaps be addressed at this stage of the conversation with some profit.

October 28, 1987

Presentation: Life and its Material Basis
Dr. Francisco J. Varela
Life, for science, is understood as a material process of chemical elements out of which arises the quality one may call “life.”

Discussion theme: Evolution
The theme of evolution as biological transformation, and human possibilities. Links with karma and causality.

October 29, 1987

Presentation: Trends in Cognitive Science
Scientific Panel
A concluding overview of the modern cognitive sciences, some of the most common issues being addressed, and future perspectives.

Concluding Remarks by His Holiness the Dalai Lama