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janbb's avatar

What do you think of the Buddhist concept that "delusions are the source of all unhappiness in the world"?

Asked by janbb (43546 points ) 1 month ago

I am struggling to understand and/or accept it. Can this help sustain us through personal pain? Your thoughts? (Please keep answers civil and on topic.)

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71 Answers

elbanditoroso's avatar

I’m not a Buddhist, and I can’t pretend to understand the religious overtones of the statement, but it seems horribly simplistic and rather silly as a concept.

First, an adage that uses the term “all” seems overly broad.

But the real problem to me is that delusions are ‘blamed’ for unhappiness. It raises the questions of
– who is being deluded
– why are there delusions – where are these coming from?
– why can these not be refuted?

So I have issues conceptually with the implications of the statement.

dabbler's avatar

Delusions lead to desires, wanting reality to be different from the way it is.

In the case of pain the delusion is usually that “I” is experiencing the pain, but your true core nature is not. You can detach your experience from the pain and witness it.

Bhuddhism would encourage you to be the witness of pain (or pleasure) and detach from it so that you can make different choices and respond differently than instincts might tell you to.

kevbo's avatar

I’ve found truth in that statement through my advaita practice, and I’ll say that what follows is my opinion as it has been informed by that practice.

First, the most practical comparison is to the statement about becoming happier by lowering one’s expectations. That sounds like a cheapening of human endeavor, but it isn’t which, I will explain in a few paragraphs.

Your question whether accepting the idea that delusion causes suffering (psychological suffering as opposed to physical pain) will sustain you through suffering is a bit of a short circuit, which is understandable, because this stuff is really only gotten with a flash of insight after some pondering.

Understanding what delusion causes doesn’t cure the effect. So, merely understanding the relationship won’t necessarily sustain someone through suffering. Why? Because the delusion itself is still there as evidenced by the continued suffering.

Seeing delusion for what it is is what neuters its power. Not harboring a delusion necessitates freedom from suffering. When you see the action as stagecraft and not bedrock reality, then the action has no hold on you.

Back to lowering expectations… identifying, as we commonly do, with the mind, the body, and our sense of personhood, we feel we must strive in different ways to live our lives, improve them, recover from setbacks and so on. The idea of giving up on this struggle in favor of “taking a chill pill” and accepting our circumstances as they change for better and for worse seems totally inimical. It’s what lazy people and losers do.

But, it makes total sense when one shifts identification to a higher sense of self. (And this might be where my understanding diverges from your Buddhist teaching.) What if, literally, you were not your body, mind and personhood, but instead a formless witness to all of this manifestation, including your body, mind, sense of personhood as well as all other creation? Would you be touched by the same things that touch you now? Would you suffer psychologically from the injustices of the world or personal affronts? If you were actually a thing that is transcendent of what is commonly accepted as reality, then what would be left to suffer? What if this were true for all persons whether they knew it or not? What, then, would be the cause of their suffering if not their delusions about the nature of reality?

Lastly, I will say that this is more a process of dropping false ideas to reveal something true. You say are struggling to accept this. What if it is true with or without your struggling? What then does struggling add? Why not instead drop the false ideas that are occluding your seeing?

LostInParadise's avatar

On the contrary, delusions are what people use to give false meaning to life in order to feel better. For example, believing that there is life after death or that this is the best of all worlds or that there is a God who loves us who we can dump all our sins on.. You can also throw in various racist and misogynist delusions, which may bring misfortune to the targets of the beliefs, but give a sense of superiority to the believer. There is also the whole idea of mental illness as a defense mechanism.

Life comes with pain. It may be physical or due to the loss of a loved one. You can say that it makes no difference in the long run, but in the long run we are all dead. To embrace life and experience its pleasures entails exposing ourselves to possible losses and associated pains.

hominid's avatar

I have not heard this statement before. Do you know where it comes from? I can take a guess on what is meant by delusion, however. I usually hear it expressed as craving and aversion being the source of suffering (or dukkha, dissatisfaction, etc). But I’m assuming your statement about delusion could have something to do with the concepts of the self or impermanence?

I’d be interested in hearing the context. Personally, I know that much of my suffering is born of delusion. I’m just not getting the whole “source of all unhappiness in the world” thing.

thorninmud's avatar

As far as Buddhism is concerned, it’s not so much “delusions” (plural) as one particular core delusion that is the basis for unhappiness. That delusion is a gross misunderstanding about the nature of self. Building one’s world view on that one misapprehension creates a nightmarish existence because it’s such a fundamental premise that every aspect of life is colored by it.

It’s like trying to formulate a coherent cosmology starting from the premise that the sun orbits the earth; that leads to one problem after another. Everything seems out of whack. The planets seems to move in crazy ways. But the problem isn’t with the planets at all. Go back and correct the faulty premise and suddenly, without having to herd the planets, everything is now seen to be exactly as it has to be.

The core delusion that Buddhism points to can be succinctly stated as “I am here in this bag of skin, you’re over there in that bag of skin, and that’s the end of the matter”. Or, in other words’ “I am a discrete self surrounded by other discrete selves, maneuvering through a world of things”. On the face of it, this seems so self-evident (pardon the pun) and conventional that it doesn’t occur to anyone to call it into question. But a life built around this view is necessarily riddled with unhappiness of various stripes.

Now, here’s an important consideration: There is a sense—a social sense—in which this conventional view is valid. Society is organized, to a large extent, around the premise of separate selves, and our everyday interactions tend to follow a script that takes this for granted. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this. It works. Where things go wrong is when we fail to see that this is really just a useful convention, and not the core reality. Then it becomes delusion.

To go back to the analogy, we continue to speak about the sun “coming up” and “going down” even though we know that’s not really the way it is. We can switch into “geocentric mode” when that simplifies things (it would be really unwieldy to have to talk about sunrise in a strictly factual way). It becomes delusional when you don’t understand that this isn’t really the case.

CWOTUS's avatar

This is a statement that I could argue for or against, as I could argue for or against its opposite, that delusions are the source of all of the world’s happiness.

In the first place, delusions can be likened to dreams, waking dreams, I suppose, where we believe (as in dreams) that things are other than they really are. (We’ll address “what is real” another time, perhaps.) Dreams can be pleasant or they can be nightmares. Not being able to distinguish a dream from reality – whatever that is – could be a source of great unhappiness, obviously: we can’t really fly like birds, and anyone who acts as if he can is going to come a cropper.

But if we don’t have dreams, then how can we know what to work for besides fetching wood and carrying water?

janbb's avatar

@hominid It is something my teacher said multiple times but I am not a student of Buddhism enough to know where it comes from. He is a teacher of Kadampha Buddhism if that helps at all.

@kevbo I am not or not yet, an epiphany kind of person. I am a reasoner and a rationalist and so I wrestle with concepts I am trying to understand.

I know that some of the delusions he mentions are things like desirous attachment (“this or that person will make me happy”) and yes, @thorninmud the idea of an individual self. That is such a strange concept to a Western ego-centric view that how can one not have to wrestle with it to entertain it at all? But it stretches “my” mind to contemplate it.

My therapist used to say to me, “You just want me to make you happier” and I thought “What’s wrong with that?” (And I still do, to some extent.) But I am also pursuing the goal of accepting the painful times too – and trying to grow more distant from the swings. It is a struggle.

This is a great discussion for me. I appreciate all the answers and the way the answers are being framed.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

From what I have been reading, A delusion is a belief held with strong conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary.
And yet superior evidence to the contrary is often the real delusion. You know, like the delusional belief that there is no God. Or the delusional belief that there is no life after death. Or the delusional belief that there is no life before birth. Or the delusional belief that your pets who have died won’t be waiting for you in the afterlife.
Or the delusional belief that if there is a God, She is not a personal god and does not care for us on an individual level.

Therefore, the problem is not that delusional beliefs are the source of unhappiness, but rather that the accepted evidence to the contrary is erroneous.

And as most of the jellies here accept alleged scientific doctrines without bothering to prove the falsity of said doctrines; then we see how it is the erroneous superior evidence which is the real source of the unhappiness.

LostInParadise's avatar

With all due respect to Buddhists and in particular @thorninmud , I find the core concept to be nonsensical. If I break a leg, I am the one who is incapacitated. What I know and have immediate knowledge of is my own self. I appreciate that you say you can feel my pain, but I am the one who has to deal with it and don’t go around saying that it is a delusion.

LostInParadise's avatar

Here is another argument I just thought of, though I am surely not the first. If unhappiness is a delusion then so is happiness, because if anything causes happiness then the opposite should cause unhappiness. You can’t make an argument that it is asymmetrical. Without either happiness or unhappiness we live an emotionally anesthetized existence not feeling much of anything.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

^^ And yet happiness and unhappiness are not the delusion. Those are emotional states which we all (humans) feel.
It is the alleged delusions leading to the state of happiness or unhappiness which is in question.

cazzie's avatar

No my darlings. Delusions are the source of unhappiness because they are untruths. They are false assumptions and expectations. Having realistic expectations leads to fewer disappointments…. less disillusionment. Happiness is NOT a delusion. Happiness is acceptance of the truth; of reality. Coming to terms with reality and accepting it is one of the hardest things we can do. Especially these days.

If one can keep in their bubble of delusion for long enough, one may attain a certain amount of happiness, but it will only be temporary, because reality will come along and pop that bubble. Madness comes at the edge, when one does not accept the reality and tries to maintain their Willie Coyote scramble, in mid-air. The fall to the canyon bottom can be long or short, depending on the realisation of the truth. Either way, one must fall from delusion to come to reality.

flutherother's avatar

This answers your question very indirectly as I do not know much about Buddhism. In the city of Chongqing in China is a temple called Luohan Temple that contains 534 arhats or statues of Buddhist disciples who have freed themselves from the chains of delusion and material greed.

Each statue is unique and full of character and life and my visit to the temple became an uplifting and memorable experience. 534 statues are too many to take in but a few have remained in my imagination as examples of a kind of worldly saintliness. I found the statues deeply reassuring for themselves and because the values they represented were respected by the people of another culture.

It was an unexpected and unforgettable experience.

Symbeline's avatar

I don’t know anything about Buddhism, but from what I can understand of that one thing, delusions lead to unhappiness because they’re used to prevent us from facing truths. While truth and reality can hurt just as much, or even worse, they are necessary if you want to win any kind of battle or realize things that will set you free.
Sort of like if you have a drinking problem, and hide everything with booze, I suppose.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

I don’t believe delusions are the sum of all unhappiness unless it keeps pone from real happiness. Those in the delusion do not know they are missing true happiness to know they have been affected. I believe while the delusion on the back end bars them from true happiness, it creates a façade they clamor for or chase after which is little more than a vapor. They will believe happiness will be found in getting high, trying to get to an altered state or higher consciousness, running through 50 people believing they will hit “Mr. or Mrs. Right”, or someone to “complete them”. The way Buddhist believe it, to me is rather stiff and not very accurate.

Symbeline's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central I’d have to agree, in most part because we live in a society where delusions are pretty much its foundations.

Coloma's avatar

I think it is really about desire, not delusion. Different interpretations, but as I understand it, it is desire, expectation, wanting, that leads to suffering. The discontent of ego in it;s never ending quest for “more.” “More”, love, acclaim, recognition, stuff, and the sense of “lack” if one does not have all their desires fulfilled.

This is the whole premise of “enlightenment”, to enjoy but not be attached to having, anything, to feel whole and complete.
Being able to enjoy people, things, experiences without the need to own them, possess them, sustain the fleeting emotions that accompany them.

thorninmud's avatar

@janbb It’s not only Westerners who have a problem with this (the Zen historical record is full of accounts of Asians grappling with this same delusion), but we do live in a culture that reinforces the delusion, glorifies the individual, and makes money by appealing to the ego. Being macerated in that cultural soup probably does make it less likely to question the reality of the self-illusion at all. At least in cultures with some tradition of being “self-skeptical”, one is occasionally exposed to the suggestion that this isn’t the final word on the matter. Once that doubt really takes hold, no matter what the cultural context is, then it really just becomes a matter of being willing to fearlessly question the framework of ideas that supports you.

When I was a kid, I remember having a dream in which I began to suspect that I was dreaming. I decided that I would verify the reality of the experience by looking really, really closely at the skin of my arm. My hypothesis was that at some point during the examination, the dream mind wouldn’t be able to supply enough detail to sustain the illusion of reality. I looked closer and closer, and the detail kept coming. Soon I was visually entering the very pores of the skin. So in that dream, I was sold on the illusion by virtue of the fact that I couldn’t exhaust the capacity of the mind to supply corroborating evidence. It was only by actually waking up that I could finally see the flaw in that dream experiment.

The same thing happens when you attempt to test the hypothesis of a discrete self. The mind will provide an inexhaustible supply of evidence to support the theory of a discrete self. This is why the delusion is so very convincing.

tinyfaery's avatar

I’ve always interpreted it as not becoming tied down, fooled or placing any importance on that which is transitory.

Of course all things are transitory, but some of these things, even though they bring sorrow, are worth that sorrow: caring for the unfortunate, loving the unloveable, forgiving the unforgivable. This brings selflessness, which is the ultimate path to happiness.

Coloma's avatar

^^^ Or…the ultimate path to martyrdom and codependency. lol

LostInParadise's avatar

@thorninmud , To say that the discrete self does not exist,, you have to be talking about a non-physical entity. Our brains go where our bodies take them and all the evidence of neuroscience indicates that without a brain there is no consciousness. Whatever you are designating as self has no physical counterpart and consequently has no scientific meaning.

thorninmud's avatar

@LostInParadise There seems to be a misunderstanding. I haven’t designated anything at all as “self”. I have no idea what self is.

tinyfaery's avatar

Oh, that Buddha. What a codependent martyr.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Well it certainly sets you to thinking. At first thought, I grabbed for an easy refutation of such a grand and sweeping statement. How about “I’m starving and can’t find enough to eat” Can hunger be regarded as delusional?

janbb's avatar

@stanleybmanly Yes, I do wonder how physical suffering fits into the scheme.

LostInParadise's avatar

@thorninmud , Now I am confused. How can we discuss something if we have no idea of what it is? To quote Wittgenstein: Whereof we cannot speak thereof we should remain silent.

janbb's avatar

A propos of the discussion, A New Yorker cartoon this week has a group of penguins standing about and the caption is, “Which one of us is me?”

rexacoracofalipitorius's avatar

I don’t think the concept is that “delusions are the source of all unhappiness in the world”, at least if you are talking about maya.

I think Bill Hicks sums up the idea better than I can.

I don’t have an opinion on the validity of this idea.

janbb's avatar

@rexacoracofalipitorius Thanks but that article is in reference to Hinduism not Buddhism and the statement is definitely one my teacher has made.

thorninmud's avatar

@LostInParadise “Whereof we cannot speak thereof we should remain silent.”

That was exactly the Buddha’s stance on the matter. Here is a dialog in which someone asked him whether the self is real or not:

“Sitting beside him the wandering monk Vacchagotta spake to the Exalted One, saying: ‘How does the matter stand, venerable Gotama, is there the Self?’

“When he said this, the Exalted One was silent.

”‘How then, venerable Gotama, is there not the Self?’

“And still the Exalted One maintained silence. Then the wandering monk Vacchagotta rose from his seat and went away.

“But the venerable Ânanda, when the wandering monk Vacchagotta had gone to a distance, soon said to the Exalted One:

”‘Wherefore, sire, has the Exalted One not
given an answer to the questions put by the wandering monk Vacchagotta?’

”‘If I, Ânanda, when the wandering monk Vacchagotta asked me: “Is there the Self?” had answered: “The Self is,” then that, Ânanda, would have confirmed the doctrine of the Samanas and Brahmanas who believe in permanence. If I, Ânanda, when the wandering monk Vacchagotta asked me: “Is there not the Self?” had answered: “The Self is not,” then that, Ânanda, would have confirmed the doctrine of the Samanas and Brahmanas who believe in annihilation. If I, Ânanda, when the wandering monk Vacchagotta asked me: “Is there the Self?” had answered: “The Self is,” would that have served my end, Ânanda, by producing in him the knowledge: all existences are non-Self?’

”‘That it would not, sire.’

”‘But if I, Ânanda, when the wandering monk Vacchagotta asked me: “Is there not the Self?” had answered: “The Self is not,” then that, Ânanda, would only have caused the wandering monk Vacchagotta to be thrown from one bewilderment into another: “My Self, did it not exist before? But now it exists no longer!”’”

LostInParadise's avatar

Okay, now it is your turn.
Who or what is responsible for the the entries for thorninthemud? I know that they don’t suddenly materialize out of nothing.

thorninmud's avatar

@LostInParadise Well, I wrote them. It’s precisely for answering questions like this that it’s useful and appropriate to invoke a self: thorninmud said such-and-such, and LostInParadise said such-and-such. The Buddha, too, found this convention useful, as in the above dialog. And while there’s a whole story that goes along with this thorninmud character, the fact remains that it’s only a story.

Coloma's avatar

@tinyfaery My comment was intended to be humorous, with a grain of truth, as always.
I know Buddhist philosophy well, pretty sure he had a sense of humor. too, something you would certainly benefit from.

LostInParadise's avatar

@thorninmud , this self delusion is apparently very useful for you and you are certainly very knowledgeable about how it works. Observing you from the outside the way that an anthropologist would, I would say that you definitely believe in it. Is there anything that you do beyond just talking that would distinguish you from all of us delusional believers?

dabbler's avatar

Who’d have thought that a question about Buddhism would get so much fightin’ going on about it ?!?

tinyfaery's avatar

I laugh at you all the time.

Bill1939's avatar

The reality that the mind experiences is not the same as the reality that impinges upon the senses. The mind’s reality is a construction that is based upon expectations of the meaning of the signals from the senses. The interpretation of these signals is shaped by what one’s culture has imbued their mind with. As @thorninmud pointed out, belief in a geocentric reality is different from the fact that the earth and the planets orbit the sun. Similarly, believing that the world is a few thousand years old requires denial or distortion of the geological and archaeological evidence to the contrary.

The physical pain that one experiences from injury or illness is real. However, the interpretation of such experiences may not be real; illnesses were once believed to be caused by the presence of demons within the body. Belief that happiness is the same as pleasure and that fulfilling the desires of the ego (a mental construction) by accumulating material objects, or being able to control people and events, will satisfy it is a delusion. The perturbation that results from differences between belief and fact, between delusion and reality, results in the mind’s suffering unhappiness.

Bill1939's avatar

@janbb‘s question was specific and not whether one should be a Buddhist. The article “Why I ditched Buddhism” that @LostInParadise linked to included aspects of Buddhism, such as reincarnation (a notion I reject), besides the question of what Jellies thought about the idea that delusions are the source of all unhappiness in the world.

thorninmud's avatar

@LostInParadise Dropping the self-delusion isn’t exactly “useful”—more like liberating. There’s a whole lot less to fret over.

Am I right in thinking you’re an atheist? Then it might help you to see this matter in these terms:

There are upsides and downsides to believing fervently in God. On the upside, you get the comfort of certainty that you can keep your personhood forever, and maybe never have to lose your loved ones. You are under the protection of a powerful ally.

On the downside, God is “a jealous God” who requires a great deal of devotion and sacrifice. If he says something, then that overrides whatever you may feel is right. You may feel obliged to defend what God stands for, perhaps even to the point of dying or killing for it. You are constantly concerned with not offending God, and with trying to please him.

Now, if you let go of belief in God, you likely have to accept that you will someday lose both your personhood and all of those you care about. That’s pretty tough to face, but it at least has the merit of concording with the observable order of things. No guardian is looking out for you, saving your ass. No Big Parent is going to fix the mess the world is in, either.

But without God in your worldview, you’re not at the service of someone who demands constant devotion and subjugation. You no longer have to outsource your judgment. You don’t have to believe whatever is told to you. There’s a measure of liberation that comes with dropping this belief.

Dropping the belief in self is similar. There’s a measure of comfort that comes from imagining one’s self as a little neatly packaged agent steering our own course, pursuing our goals, achieving our dreams. But this belief carries a heavy price. A self is a very demanding thing, always wanting more and better. A self is easily offended, feeling put upon and wanting to prevail. It’s always coming into conflict with what it sees as others. It is vulnerable to a whole load of existential threats, and requires constant defense. It’s constantly losing what it has relied on for a sense of stability—possessions, friends, family.

Letting go of belief in self is both a little frightening and liberating. There’s a feeling of coming out from under the rule of a tyrant. With that belief out of the picture, there’s no basis for thinking in terms of “Ah, now I’m free of delusion, unlike all those other poor schmucks!”. That kind of thinking belongs to a worldview in which there is self and other. Life just goes on. The world turns with or without an idea of God, and life unfolds with or without a belief in self.

rexacoracofalipitorius's avatar

@janbb Evidently you didn’t read the article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_%28Buddhism%29#Buddhism

I can’t blame you for that, because it’s pretty long- but it does have a table of contents at the top!

I don’t know who your teacher is, but if you’re going to accept that teacher’s word on such matters as these, then maybe that’s who you should ask questions like this, instead of asking us.
Or maybe not :^)

BiZhen's avatar

It makes sense. Most religions are based upon delusions and have caused much harm. Buddhism attempts to free us from delusions, but most religions use delusions against people.

LostInParadise's avatar

@thorninmud , I appreciate your answer as well as answers you have provided in the past to questions I have asked. You are correct in deducing that I am an atheist.

The self is not a tyrant. Self is an act of creation. There is an infinity of possibilities and we need to choose which to pursue. We can choose lofty goals or selfish ones. The one thing we cannot choose is not to choose, and in the end we are what we choose. I do not see how any of this can be denied.

hominid's avatar

^ Just for clarification, what are your thoughts on free will? I’m wondering if any of this apparent disagreement hinges on this concept.

LostInParadise's avatar

Whether or not free will exists, we perceive ourselves as acting freely.

The topic of free will is deserving of a separate thread. Looked at one way, the whole idea is absurd. How do you even define free will and how would you devise an experiment to prove that it exists? If you deny free will, you run into interesting paradoxes. For example, if you knew what you were destined to do, what prevents you from doing otherwise? See, for example, Newcomb’s Paradox

hominid's avatar

Great thread.

@LostInParadise: “Whether or not free will exists, we perceive ourselves as acting freely.”

Isn’t this what @thorninmud is saying about the self? That we perceive the self in possibly the same way we perceive that “we” have free will? Could the whole idea of a concept of the self be intuitive in the way that we feel we are acting freely (whatever that may mean)? And this feeling that we do act freely could be illusory and contribute to a belief in the self?

Anyway, I am enjoying this discussion and trying to get my head around it. The reason I brought up free will is that it seemed that you defined the self in terms of agency or choice. And if you and @thorninmud have a different understanding of this concept as well, it might be relevant. But I agree that it is certainly worth it’s own thread.

flutherother's avatar

@LostInParadise Experiments have been done to test free will and they tend to suggest it is an illusion. See Benjamin Libet

Coloma's avatar

@LostInParadise True, however, if one is not conscious enough to make choices, as in an addict of some sort that is simply running on their unconscious programs,and plenty of non-addicts too, never even questioning the matter of choice, well…in that case one has to be first aware that they can choose to get off the hamster wheel of compulsive reaction instead of conscious action.
This is where the spiritual musings of awake vs. asleep or, the metote, ( the fog of unconsciousness in the Toltec philosophies ) comes into play.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@LostInParadise The self is not a tyrant. Self is an act of creation.
Then would that not make someone who felt it was in his right to snap the neck of anyone who angered him, OK in his mind? And who is to say he was wrong? He may even think it was delusional for people to put up with people that angered them and that they are denying themselves happiness not snapping the necks of those who angered them. Those who are too mental deficient to know if they are walking on a cloud, a bowl of cherries, or a giant Saltine cracker would they not have created anything, since they cannot fathom where or what they are doing.

LostInParadise's avatar

You are giving two cases. The second case is the easier one. If someone fails to take responsibility or is unable to see himself as the agent of his actions then he is delusional. That is to say, it is not the perception of self that is delusional but the failure to perceive it.

As to the first case, I am not saying that whatever a person does is right. I do say that we must take responsibility for what we do. We can go a step further and look at the golden rule from another perspective. If someone goes around snapping people’s necks then that person is in essence saying that neck snapping is okay and could not object on moral grounds if we snapped that person’s neck. That is to say, through what we do we not only define what is right for us but what is right for everyone else. You can think of this as a bare minimum standard for any moral code.
.

thorninmud's avatar

There was a thought experiment proposed by an Oxford philosopher, Derek Parfit, that gets at the ambiguities surrounding self. The premise of the experiment is this:

A scientist develops an apparatus for transferring a person from one location to another. It works by essentially scanning the physical state of every atom in the body down to the finest detail—the electrochemical state of every neuron, the quantum state of every subatomic particle. In the process, however, the atoms of the body are disassociated and dispersed helter-skelter out into the world. A receiving unit at the destination receives the data from the scan and uses it to reproduce in perfect fidelity the person as it they were at the moment of the scan. The whole process takes just a couple of seconds.

There are several twists that Dennet then considered, but to start with there’s the question: If you went into the scanner apparatus, would it still be you who emerged at the other end? Assuming that the process were 100% reliable, would you be fine with submitting to the process?

Bill1939's avatar

This discussion is very interesting and, while having advanced far from @janbb‘s original question, is worth following. “Self” is a mental construct. It is not who we are, but whom we think we are. The more one thinks about their self, the more they lose their sense of being connected with others. Conversely, the more one thinks about others, the less they think about their self. To me it is a question of where one’s mental focus is directed. When inward, one’s self is identified with their ego and seeks to satisfy its wants.

fMRI studies have shown that what one is doing has been directed by unconscious mental activities, and that consciousness is the last to know that it is doing it though thinks that it initiated it. This suggests that there is no such thing as freewill. However, because the mind can remember past experiences, albeit not wholly accurately, and can envision a future, one may choose to follow a course of action that avoids undesirable outcomes and strive toward those preferred. This is how one can exercise their freewill.

@janbb the link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_%28Buddhism%29#Buddhism does not work.

janbb's avatar

@Bill1939 That was not a link I posted – someone else did.

Just for the record, I don’t consider myself a Buddhist so there is no reason for me to defend myself as one. I am grappling with some of the concepts as a Seeker.

I thought this would be an interesting discussion to have here and it is. Thanks everyone for you contributions!

LostInParadise's avatar

@thorninmud , I would answer your question by saying that the original self has been split into two. Something similar happens when cells split in two. The only reason we designate one cell as the parent is that it is larger.

thorninmud's avatar

But at no time are there two (at least not in this simple version of the experiment).

rexacoracofalipitorius's avatar

That was my link. It didn’t work because Fluther’s rewrite engine munged it. Let’s see if this link works instead.

@janbb, I’m not asking you to “defend yourself” as a Buddhist, but you did ask a question about a “Buddhist concept” that, as far as I can tell, isn’t one. I could be wrong about that, and in fact it wouldn’t surprise me particularly to find out that I’m wrong about it. I’m not an expert on Buddhism, but the question did sound a lot like something I’d heard about, so I linked to it.
Also, Bill Hicks. Never miss an opportunity…

janbb's avatar

@rexacoracofalipitorius Yes, the section on Mahayana was very relevant to my question. That author is calling “illusion” what my teacher (and most likely, his Buddhist school) is calling delusion but the concept of reality is similar.

LostInParadise's avatar

@thorninmud , Sorry for misreading. As a materialist, I have no problem in saying it is the same person. What happens if we can create bionic versions of a person, which gets particularly interesting if part or all of a person’s brain could be transferred to a computer?

thorninmud's avatar

@LostInParadise So you personally would not hesitate to undergo this process?

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@LostInParadise If someone fails to take responsibility or is unable to see himself as the agent of his actions then he is delusional. That is to say, it is not the perception of self that is delusional but the failure to perceive it.
Take responsibility to whom? If a person believes that he is in some way superior, has a more worthy ”self” than others to the point if anyone opposed that “self” he had the right to snap their neck, then he in deed believes he is on the right; no need to gain approval from anyone. He could see the delusion as being those who believe they have to account to others.

We can go a step further and look at the golden rule from another perspective. If someone goes around snapping people’s necks then that person is in essence saying that neck snapping is okay and could not object on moral grounds if we snapped that person’s neck.
This is pretty much how the “Golden Rule” works in the construct of the minds of many. Your “Golden Rule”, would be different from another’s. Someone’s “Golden Rule” might mean to keep control of his house even if it meant slapping his woman around to get her to capitulate to every iota of rules he set down. To another it might mean slapping the dog crap out of anyone who insinuates they are lying of being untruthful. In the way many see the “Golden Rule” it is a toothless tiger.

LostInParadise's avatar

@thorninmud , Yes provided that I was assured that the process would work, like it did on Star Trek.

@Hypocrisy_Central , The whole idea of the golden rule is that you can’t set yourself up as being special. Whatever rules you have for treating others you are at the same time setting up as rules for the way that others treat you. If you go around beating up others then you can’t raise moral objections if they want to beat you up.

The golden rule is a part of all major religions and I think it is something we use intuitively. If you are not sure how to treat someone, the natural first question to ask is how you would feel if the situation was reversed. The golden rule works fairly well, but it is just a minimal condition for a moral code. For example, at one time slavery was accepted as part of the natural order. Whichever side won in a war got to enslave the other side.

Bill1939's avatar

Sorry @janbb, it was @LostInParadise who provided the link that did not work.

Bill1939's avatar

Opps. It was not @LostinParadise but @rexacoracofalipitorius that had provided the broken link and has now provided one that works. I apologize for my confusion.

Bill1939's avatar

@LostinParadise, what did you mean by “the original self has been split into two”? I am also not familiar with the idea that “we designate one cell as the parent (because) that it is larger.”

I agree that a Star Trek transporter would reproduce a deconstructed person perfectly. What would happen if the information generated by deconstruction were reproduced by two receivers? Would the identities of two Captain Kirks located in different locations change as their distinct experiences diverged? Should they meet after an extended period of time, would their personalities be different? (Boy, have we gone far off topic)

janbb's avatar

@Bill1939 That’s fine – I’m happy that I generated a good discussion.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@LostInParadise Whatever rules you have for treating others you are at the same time setting up as rules for the way that others treat you. If you go around beating up others then you can’t raise moral objections if they want to beat you up.
Sure they could, but only if you let your guard down or were unable to make the masses toe the line. If you know you can beat the snot out of any challenger, after you crack the ribs and bust the jaw of the first two or three challengers, the rest will be too timid to risk going to the ER to oppose you. That is why those who enslave females for sex don’t worry that they will end up bound by their captives and sodomized with a broomstick.

The golden rule is a part of all major religions and I think it is something we use intuitively.
In the construct of this question, I am going on the premise ”the Golden Rule” is manmade. If it were seated in religion or a faith, then I would know how or where the perceived origin came from.

If you are not sure how to treat someone, the natural first question to ask is how you would feel if the situation was reversed.
Once again, I don’t think those who enslave females, tricking them overseas with the promise of jobs, never believe they are going to be tricked while on a gambling boondoggle and end up a sex slave being rented out to lusty females. They know, or reasonably believe, they can do what they wish to those gals they dupe into giving up their freedom, and the girls can’t stop them, and if they are smart, the laws will not either, because they will not know who to go after.

Paradox25's avatar

Others here have pretty much stated it. Delusions lead to desires, and desire leads to having an unquenchable urge to fulfill one’s urges, thus leading to a perpetual state of miserableness and uncertainty. According to Buddhist philosophy desire is the cause of what’s termed as reincarnation, or perpetual cycles on Earth. However, most religions that accept the concept of reincarnation share similar views concerning desire and multiple incarnations.

Personally I’m not sure what to make of this. Buddhism can either be monistic or theistic. The only exception would be those nontheists who only take this religion as a philosophy, and reject the mysticism aspect of it. However, it’s very important to note how Buddhism came to be, and that there’s a much deeper meaning to the principles it teaches.

Attempting to live up to these principles can lead to a more meaningful life for many, and create a sense of altruism while allowing people to empathize with other’s pain. It’s important to note that these principles are really meant to center around an immortal existence, and not just this life. In fact, the epitome of this religion/philosophy is to break the cycle of reincarnation rather than just living a fruitful and humble life being in service to others. You’re doing the latter things in order to break the cycle of endless incarnations in order to attain Nirvana. Theosophy is very similar to Buddhism, but they simply use different terms.

My opinion is this, all religions and philosophies are fallible. Most belief systems and philosophies have things that may or may not be right about them. Personally I think that Buddhism, like other beliefs, may or may not be right about some ideas depending on the circumstances, because in the end the only thing that appears to an absolute certainty is that things change.

I think Buddhism contradicts itself, though like other philosophies it’s likely correct about some things. I’m more on par with the Spiritualist leaning secular afterlife research camp. Sentience needs an inner language, complete with its metaphors, and these of course will only naturally come with dreams and desires. Maybe we can’t control our circumstances, but as long as sentient entities were ‘created’ with the ability to feel pain and pleasure, both physical and mentally, we will always desire and dream, because leading a stagnant life without a desire for something better, not only for us, but others as well, is no better than annihilation. A creator itself with no desire or dream to create would never had created nothing to begin with. Personally I think our main purpose is to experience various scenarios, and increase our ability to create better living conditions for us in the next life, and even the Bible has touched on this. I’m not sure whether or not I accept reincarnation.

LostInParadise's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central , I am not sure what your point is. Moral laws and political laws are not scientific laws. There will always be people who violate them. There would in fact be no reason to give a moral law if nobody ever violated it. It would, for example, be pointless to tell people that they must breathe.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@LostInParadise There would in fact be no reason to give a moral law if nobody ever violated it.
There it is, that is the point; one can’t violate a moral law if there is no real moral law. To one what is immoral to one is morally legal for them. The delusion would be that one’s group opinion outweighed another group’s opinion, when both opinions are equal in essense.

LostInParadise's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central , You are right that the question as to what is moral or not is complex and subject to different opinions. My only point was that there are a fairly large number of people including me who believe that the golden rule is a useful guideline in determining morality. I did my best to lay out the case for it. Since this is a philosophical question, there are no clear cut answers. You are of course free to disagree and I will give you the last word on this.

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