Science and Compassion – Conceiving the Relationship (Part II)

Science and Compassion – Conceiving the Relationship (Part II)


This conference’s proposed dialogue on compassion may be conceived as involving an exchange of theoretical views between Tibetan Buddhism and Western science on human nature and its capacities. If so, the dialogue on the Western side might begin by asking about the significance of the fact that the Western sciences of life and mind have historically paid much less attention to the human capacity for loving and caring emotional states than they have to the human capacity for violent, destructive behavior. Indeed, Western science has often assumed that human beings are “naturally” violent and selfish. Alternatively, we may suppose that the topic of this meeting invites an exchange of views on the practices embodied in Buddhism versus science respectively, and how far each are explicitly directed towards the cultivation of compassion. Many scientists once argued that the discipline of the scientific method itself was morally elevating, and that cultivation of scientific rationality would save humanity from its own dark and selfish tendencies, and promote right action. The case of medical science in Nazi Germany provides us with an opportunity to explore reasons for questioning this belief. Having looked at theory and practice separately, we may conclude our attempt to conceive the relationship between science and compassion by asking what relationship exists between scientific theories of human nature on the one side, and science’s understanding of its practical role in society on the other. How can science combine an interest in learning more about compassion with a commitment to instantiating ideals of compassion in its own research practices?

  • Dialogue 5
    9 sessions
  • October 2, 1995
    Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India
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Anne Harrington

Anne Harrington, PhD, is Professor and Acting Chair of the History of Science at Harvard University, specializing in the history of psychiatry, neuroscience, and the other mind and behavioral sciences. Professor Harrington received her PhD in the History of Science from Oxford University, and has held postdoctoral fellowships at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in London, and the University of Freiburg in Germany. For six years, she co-directed Harvard's Mind, Brain, and Behavior Initiative. She also was a consultant for the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Mind-Body Interactions. Currently she serves on the Board of the Mind and Life Institute. She is also a former founding editor of Biosocieties, a journal concerned with social science approaches to the life sciences. Professor Harrington is the author of three books: Medicine, Mind and the Double Brain (1987), Reenchanted Science (1997) and The Cure Within; A History of Mind-Body Medicine (2008) She has also published many articles and produced a range of edited collections including The Placebo Effect (1997), Visions of Compassion (2000), and The Dalai Lama at MIT (2006). She is currently working on a new history of psychiatry, The Suffering Mind, and developing a new project concerned with how culture shapes illness experiences. Other research interests include the history of scientific interests in the "inner world" of brain disorder; and the origins and larger significance of current visions of partnership between Buddhism and science.