An unique experiment - First time on a buddhist forum


The teachings are for the purpose of saving beings so they can escape Samsara…the cycle of birth and death.
Furthermore, it is a teaching on the mind and not a religion.


Well, you say that, but it is not consistent with how you present it.


But I just said in the very passage you’ve quoted “an argument better than it says so in this book” - That is the whole point of this topic… :neutral_face:

Please check my OP post and title of this thread. This is meant to be “An unique experiment” - this is a place for people to make a case that a self might or might not exist without the use of the “it says so in this book” argument

Imagine you are at a debating hall in ancient india, discussing with wanderers of other sects. You can’t go in there with the “it says so in this book” argument. One of the 5 things Buddha listed as reasons not to die yet was “having disciples capable of refuting the thesis of wanderers of other sects in a debate”.


So sorry to post off topic.

Good luck with your unique experiment.


Isn’t the “one piece of the engine that is self” the structures that we call neurons? In general, neurons are there from the creation of a new being and only die when their supporting structures (the rest of the body) begins to die. There is no turnover of neurons like there is with other cells of the body. The self comes into existence when the neuronal structures are complete and goes out of existence as they die.


I’ve heard that even the atoms in the neurones get replaced every 13 years approximately. In any case it’s not the neurones themselves but their firing which make up our experience of a self. This firing isn’t constant but is intermittent. But there can’t be a self that lasts only milliseconds - it has to be permanent but no neurone can be functioning 24-7 and therefore ‘selves’ are created every single moment. I think there’s a branch called neuro-philosophy who based on functionalMRI studies also says that whatever brain areas which light up when we think about our selves are never constantly lit. Therefore they proposed that there cannot be a self.


Yes at an atomic scale that is true, but the “structures that we call neurons” remains the same. That basic structure and the function remains the same throughout our lives does it not?

Using the chariot analogy, why does it matter that all the parts (atoms of the neurons) have been changed? The basic structure that we call “chariot” (nervous system) remains the same even though every part (and subparts) can be changed (that’s just good design), so it’s the basic structure of the nervous system that I’m suggesting for self; built in the womb and early stages of infancy and then it is maintained until the process of dying is complete. Regardless of neurons firing or not, the structure is still there during all of a lifetime.

That’s a bold claim. I thought that all we could say is that when people report a self, we can measure some change in the flow of blood in certain parts of the brain at some point of time afterwards? I would be interested to see the experiments that back up your theory? Wouldn’t we need to compare an arahant to a non arahant to show how the neurons didn’t fire in the arahant (without a sense of self), but fired in the non arahant (with a sense of self)?

Are you suggesting that because we can’t detect a flow of blood using fMRI that the neurons are not doing anything during that period? fMRI is quite a blunt tool in this respect I think; it cannot give us the answers.


This position has moved on with the more recent studies in neuro-plasticity, which specifically highlight functional change.


Yes. Neuroplasticity and neurogenesis are great additions to our understanding of the nervous system.

I see them as functions of self. Not all of the nervous system displays neuroplasticity. The plasticity is limited over the course of a lifetime. They are the physical aspects of the functions of the self which I might label “repair and learning”.

Most of my experience in this area is with AVM, and I’m amazed at the amount of damage that a human brain can undergo and still the same recognisable person (as reported by families) is evident after the repairs are made.

Interestingly (to me :wink: ), now that I come to think about it, this idea of “same recognisable person” is evident in the EBTs also. When the Buddha looks back over his previous lives in the first watch of the night of his enlightenment, he sees the same recognisable person from as far as he can look back in time all the way to his current life (I’m not sure if there are gaps or not in his vision). Of course there is no scientific consensus that evidence for rebirth exists, but if there is not a common thread, how does he recognise them as the same? I wonder if anyone can suggest an answer to that question? To reiterate, the question is: if there is no common thread running through all of our past lives, how does the meditator recognise that they are the same being?


Yes, that is a great question. And: where are those memories and/or images kept?


Fair enough. The problem as stated in your OP cannot be resolved one way or the other unless you can clearly describe what this self that you say doesn’t exist would look like if it existed. Hiding? Who says a self has to hide? Changing? Who says a self can’t be changing. You have a notion of what a self is but that idea is inside your head. If you don’t provide your definition of what a self is then we can’t talk about it.

Do unicorns exist? I don’t know but at least there is a definition of what they would look like if they did.

I can define self as the ability to look in a mirror and recognize that I have some mustard on my face such that I can wipe it off. There is a concrete definition so it can be tested. So clearly define what you mean and then at least your definition can be tested.


Same as one could recognize a washing machine that was transformed into another thing through recycling: through following the string of conditionality.


A computer can do the same too. Any machine/organism that has the ability to gather information + process information can have such an ability. Yet, the machine will not develop self-view because there is no feeling (tainted by conceit) based on which this idea can develop.

As for what a self is: It’s a “thing” that supposedly sees and all information gathered by the senses, a thing that has volition, etc. We all know what we mean by self: that thing that people believe exists inside living organisms but not inside computers or cars.

For example a person might say “it is me that suffers” or “it is somebody that suffers this suffering that is arising”. Yet, in reality, there are just impersonal unpleasant feelings arising due to conditions, same as window would pop-up on a computer. There is nobody to suffer that suffering, it’s just the suffering arising.


I don’t see that the Buddha displays that this is what he has done in the first watch of the night of enlightenment. It seems to be individual discrete lives that he recognises. Following the string of conditionality seems to be reserved for the second watch. Do you have any scriptural evidence that you could maybe direct me to?


Mimicry does not equal equivalence. It requires a human to program such behavior into a computer. Further, there is zero indication that the machine is aware of what it is doing whereas you know that you are reading this right now. How do you know the machine does not develop self-view? Isn’t that an assumption?

OK, so your definition of a self is a “thing” that supposedly sees and all information gathered by the senses, a thing that has volition, etc. It would help to give details on what etc. refers to.

I don’t see how a computer running instructions in a program equals volition. The computer simply increments its program counter and carries out the instruction at that location. There is no evidence that it has any sense of intention or volition as you do right now. Likewise, there is no indication that computers or cars are capable of having beliefs – an ability that you acknowledge humans as having.

When I use the term self I use it to refer to the sense of individuality that I have with respect to others. That sense of individuality has a continuity through time. Each of us has a sense of what we mean when we use the word self but that does not mean that we share the same understanding of what that word means.

This is speculation on your part. Assumptions. It is not in any way a fact. The computer model may work for you. Having spent most of my life in software development and electronics – it utterly fails for me. To say ‘There is nobody to suffer that suffering’ is a vague assumption. Saying something doesn’t exist because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

It may very well be that the reason no one can point to an objective self is because it is not possible for pure subject to be seen as an object. Who would be seeing it? It may be like how you might go into an empty room and say there is no one there. When quite obviously someone else would point out that you are there.

If you believe that computers and cars have volition, feelings, awareness, emotions, hopes, desires – that is: a conscious interior experience distinctly unique from others – that’s your choice. But in my view, lacking any evidence of such, the reasonable conclusion is that they don’t.


An eye cannot see itself.
That which reaches the unconditioned sees “not-self”.

Middle way avoids the extremes.
Not about being there or not there…based on temporary physical objects.


Is it not a paradox ? From birth till death each moments is different yet there is Sameness . At age 29 one supposed to be someone else Gotama the prince , at the age of 35 you were someone else Gotama the Buddha , yet, Gotama still Gotama .
Gotama awakening will not be Kassapa enlightenment .


The strings of causality is the down a certain path however that is just recognition of a pattern and there isn’t continuity visible.

Without Gotama’s enlightenment there wouldn’t be Kassapa’s enlightenment…



Intriguing. Do you mean we wouldn’t know about Kassapa’s enlightenment without Gotama telling us, or that the enlightenment of past Buddha’s is dependant on the enlightenment of the current one? Some sort of backwards (in time) causality?


Sorry. I thought you were taking about Ven maha Kassapa. No the Buddha Kassapa’s enlightenment didn’t have anything to do with the current Buddha.

Imagine a ‘snake’: our ‘autobiographical’ memories is like this snake.