Critical Thinking

I like the questions you’ve asked Laurence. :slight_smile: I appreciate where you’re coming from. But perhaps you and I have diverted too far from the topic now? But briefly, to attempt to answer them, I think it’s just conditioning.

And also, at some point, some of us explicitly see what our conditioning is and in a “meta” (not metta!) way, what conditioning means and then we might actively choose one over the other. Often, most of us are riddled with blind spots - I am sure beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am! This is one of the areas in which critical thinking, or critical reflection, might be of some service.

With much metta

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I wonder if yonisomanasikara could be translated as critical reflection.

I think one issue is that the Buddha in his wisdom has laid down teachings and concepts, and fixed it as the Truth. The path to this Truth is the path through nibbana.

Now consider the question ‘what is the best way to loose weight?’. This is not necessarily explained by the Buddha. It is a question which would require a lot of critical thinking and examination. The best way to make bread now is broadly fixed, unless someone wants to reinvent the wheel, …as it were. It is important to decide which tool to use for which job I think.

The purpose of a Sammasambuddha is to do the thinking required for finding the path to nibbana, as everyone is unable to do this, as the path to nibbana is extremely complicated. Exploring the dhamma and finding out how it relates to each person individually is the remit requiring critical thinking- to navigate different teachings and teachers, translations, commentaries, forums, etc.

with metta,


That’s a good question Mat. @Sujato? @Brahmali?

I wonder if wise reflection might be better? :slight_smile:

with metta


What is the actual break-down of the word? I thought yoni - in this context - was a reference to the womb. We emerge through the yoni into the interdependent worlds we come to inhabit - our environmental, cultural, social worlds etc. I thought it meant something like: the wisdom that returns to the source? You would know Mat?

Thorough attention, wise consideration.

Manasikara - is defined as the process of the mind fixating upon an object

I think the idea of Buddhist rationalists like Dignaga and Dharmakirti was something like this :

Reason is an aid to Buddhist practice. It is an aid in several ways, in one way it helps us see the defects in wrong views and thus helps us become detached from them. It also helps us see the defects in clinging to any views at all because reason ultimately taken to its conclusion leads us to ponder the very limits of reason and argument itself. I take this to be a skeptical move here.

At this point one can examine the dhamma, so reason can help one see that the Buddha is a reliable person and that the dhamma is reliable in a conventional sense because it produces conventional results. This then leads to faith that the Buddha did not lie to us when he said that he reached a state that ultimately transcends reason and the conventional (ie yogipratyaksa, yogic perception). I take this move to be a sort of pragmatic act.

Don’t quote me on this though I’m still in the middle of the Hayes book. Also his main thesis in this book is that Dignaga is a sort of phyrronian style skeptic as well as a nominalist.

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Yoni does mean womb but not literally in the context of this workd. Yonisomanasikara is more about thinking to the root/cause- often applied to contemplation of the Dependant organisation. It is also part of the factors of stream entry. It is applied to each step of the Noble Eightfold Path in developing the Right view required for each step.

With metta

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Hayes translates yoniso as “principled” from princeps (first, foremost) which I guess he sees close etymologically to yoni.

It is strange that secularist generally consider themselves to posses critical thinking and question that of non-materialist reductionist. This is strange because materialism has been refuted by science on many grounds. Believing in materialism reductionism is equal with believing the world is flat. Can a person who believes the world is flat be said to posses critical thinking ? Of course not, but still, most flat-earthers (they do exist, google it) believe they are the smart ones and the others are stupid. It is the same with materialist reductionist.

Most materialist reductionist don’t even know that they are supposed to believe in “the many worlds theory”. Many don’t even know what the many worlds theory is and would find it ridiculous if they heard it. And yet, they are supposed to believe in that stuff in order to maintain their materialist reuctionist beliefs in the face of recent scientific discoveries. And that would only help them defend against one out of 4-5 discoveries that destroyed materialism.

Critical thinking is very required on the buddhist path. Critical thinking is the only thing that can take one out of the jungle of wrong views, such as secular buddhism.



I’m not a physicalist but this is not correct. Science has not refuted any philosophical position about the mind body problem as of yet, not even substance dualism.

For example, see: Giving dualism its due, by William G. Lycan

But science has definitely not refuted materialism/physicalism, it is, in fact, still the most popular theory (in the form of functionalism) among scientists and philosophers in the West, for a reason. If science had refuted it, this would not be the case.

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Oh yes it would be, thanks to dogmatism. People believe in all kind of things depending on country. For example in my country, only 0.2% of people are atheist. It’s one of the most religious countries in the world. All people, doctors, politicians, scientist, businessman etc. - all believe in God. This would look strange to a weasterner, but it is how it is.

About materialism, only people that believe in it are people not informed about recent scientific discoveries. And by recent I mean the 50’s. Generally biology teachers from highschool and people like that believe in it. Few serious scientist believe in that anymore.

Remember you need to believe in the many world theory to defend against only one out of 4-5 things that killed materialism. I am sure if you ask any materialist reductionist, they will tell you they don’t even know what the many worlds theory is, let alone have any decent way to defend against the other 4-5 things that refuted that philosophy.

Many philosophies out there can’t be totally refuted. If you believe in the spaghetti monster, it’s hard to prove there is no spaghetti monster that created the world. Yet this it not the case with materialism. Materialism could easily be confirmed or refuted through scientific discoveries, and the second option happened.

To know what happens with consciousness after death, you need to know where it originated from. Only by knowing this can you know if it will disappear or if it will appear again through the same mechanism that it did the first time. You need to know that mechanism.

Materialism claims it originates from matter, yet this has been totally refuted. This means believing that consciousness will disappear at one’s death is based on no argument.

You can’t have a philosophy totally refuted, but still believe in the conclusions of that philosophy. Those conclusions used to be based on something before the philosophy was refuted, now they are based on nothing.

The only sensible thing to do when the philosophy a person used to believe in got refuted is to become an agnosting and honestly search for the truth. There is no point holding on to refuted ideas. No matter how much a person might get angry that the world is not flat, the world will still be round regardless of his getting angry at it.

Critical thinking is very important, especially if helped by intellectual honesty.

So how did science refute materialism? When did this happen? Can you point out some papers or articles where this is spelled out?

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I would say there are good philosophical arguments - that make use of scientific findings - that draws materialism into question.

Yeah but that’s a different thing than a scientific finding

But we would have to establish that science is not ‘natural philosophy’ - with bells and whistles - or more precisely, MRI machines and P.E.T.-scanners?

Tell me if you see any philosophy ‘lurking’ in the following scenario?

The scientific materialist says: I got this great theory and, look, I have also got these shiny things that go beep! Now ain’t that a pretty picture? I took it on my MRI machine and now I have proved my theory - the mind is just a bi-product of the nervous system!

If this is all they can come with they need to forget about critical thinking?

The problem of induction:

"Joel Feinberg and Russ Shafer-Landau note that “using the scientific method to judge the scientific method is circular reasoning”. Scientists attempt to discover the laws of nature and to predict what will happen in the future, based on those laws. However, per David Hume’s problem of induction, science cannot be proven inductively by empirical evidence, and thus science cannot be proven scientifically. An appeal to a principle of the uniformity of nature would be required to deductively necessitate the continued accuracy of predictions based on laws that have only succeeded in generalizing past observations. But as Bertrand Russell observed, “The method of ‘postulating’ what we want has many advantages; they are the same as the advantages of theft over honest toil”. - Wikipedia

Slow down bro, I’m just saying science is one thing and philosophy which interprets empirical observations of science is something else.

Either way science hasn’t proven any particular philosophical mind body theory.

Very good - hence the philosophy of materialism is called into question on sound and reasonable scientific grounds. We also have to remember, since science produces ‘best case scenarios’ it does not pretend to have the last word on reality. It is an ongoing inquiry that is best served by open-minds - just like the Dhamma.

The Buddha had to deal with the same kind of objections to his teachings from the annihilationists. The Buddha explained: practice in the way I teach and discover Jhana’s. In the wake of Jhana’s you have an opportunity to see things in a different light. You will have an opportunity to understand - in depth - why you are suffering and what you can do about it! The annihilationists said, we have no such experience therefore it must not be true! What can be done with an attitude like this?

Here’s another excerpt from that Hayes book I’m still going through:

Supposing that a skeptical reading is accepted for Dinnaga’s system of epistemology, the question of the place of logic within Buddhism becomes rather easy to answer. Logic should perhaps not be seen, as was so often done by Dharmakirti and the later Indian traditions and many of the Tibetan traditions, merely as a means of establishing the truth of Buddhist teachings. On the contrary, putting logic to the service of polemics and apologetics is in a way to thwart the very purpose for which it was intended, namely, to counter dogmatism and prejudice. As a weapon in the battle against prejudice that rages in every mind that seeks wisdom–in minds of the vast majority of people who do not seek wisdom, prejudice simply takes full control without a contest~-there is nothing as powerful as the kind of reason that lies at the heart of Dinnaga’s system of logic. For it should be clear that very few of our judgements in ordinary life pass the standards set by the three characteristics of legitimate’ evidence [as set forth in Dinnaga’s epistemology]. Taken in its strictest interpretation, none of the judgements of any but a fully omniscient being passes. And, since there is no evidence that there exist any fully omniscient beings, the best available working hypothesis is that no one’s thinking is immune from errors that require revision in the face of newly discovered realities. Therefore, since we cannot place full reliance on the teachings of any teacher or any tradition of teachers, our only hope in the final analysis lies just in our own resources as individuals. That this is so is made all the more apparent when it is recalled that communication from one mind to another by means of language is very limited and can never do full justice to realities, as we shall see in greater detail in the next chapter.

Furthermore, since every event is strictly speaking unique and can be found similar to other events only if we disregard distinctions, every reality is a fresh discovery. The process of discovery is sensation, which deals exclusively with what is present (sat) and real (sat). The Sanskrit verb “asti,” from which the participle “sat” is formed, conveys the senses of being, existing, taking place, happening, being located somewhere and especially being present (that is, being located right here). Therefore “sat” means not only real or existent in general but more specifically being present. It also conveys the sense of being good. To be good, to be real is, in most Sanskrit philosophical works, to be right here as an object of full awareness. The fresh discovery of the presently real is one of the principal forms of Buddhist mindfulness training. But the fresh discovery of what is immediately present can be made only if the invasion of recollections of past experiences, the very recollection of which is itself often faulty and weighted with prejudice, can be kept under control. And one of the means available for keeping the invasion of memory-driven judgements and pre-judgements under control is to apply the rigorous standards of logic to them. When the weakness of our judgements is exposed by this application of the canons of reason, our opinions have a tendency to vanish into nothingness. Or, to use the favourite analogy from the Samkhya tradition, when the actress that has been performing her role realizes that the audience knows that the world she has created is an insubstantial illusion, she retires in shame behind the curtain, and the illusion comes to an end; in a similar way, when the world of experience that is created by opinion and prejudice can be revealed for what it is by the light of reason, opinion retires and the world of painful experience gives way to the joy of dispassion. Seen in this way, the task of an epistemologist such as Dinnaga is simply to provide one more way of doing so called insight (vipasyana) meditation, regarded as crucial for the attainment of dispassion and nirvana.

Anyways I can’t recommend the book enough even if it is difficult in some places when discussing the logical details of Dignaga’s system.

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