Exploring the Mathematical Foundations of the Four Noble Truths with Modern Neuroscience

Hello everyone,

I recently came across a video titled “Non-dual Awareness and Awakening” that delves into the intersection of neuroscience, philosophy, and spirituality, particularly in the context of Buddhist concepts. The presenter discusses how modern scientific methods, especially in neuroscience and machine learning, can provide a new perspective on ancient spiritual insights, potentially offering a mathematical foundation for understanding the Four Noble Truths.

The video highlights the long-standing human quest for enlightenment and non-dual awareness, tracing back thousands of years in spiritual narratives. It particularly focuses on the integration of these ancient concepts with contemporary neuroscience through the lens of perception and reality. The discussion revolves around how our brains construct reality through sensory data, influenced by philosophical and scientific theories, including the works of Kant and the principles of Bayesian inference.

Key points of interest:

  • The notion of perception as an active construction process by the brain, aligning with the Buddhist view of reality as a constructed experience.
  • The application of Bayesian inference in understanding how the brain predicts and processes sensory information, which could parallel the Buddhist understanding of how we construct our sense of reality and suffering.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the following:

  1. How do you view the attempt to correlate the mathematical and scientific analysis of perception with the Buddhist concept of constructed reality?
  2. Do you think this scientific approach to understanding the mind and consciousness aligns with or contradicts traditional Buddhist teachings on the nature of reality and suffering?
  3. Have you encountered similar discussions or teachings in your practice or study that integrate modern scientific discoveries with Buddhist philosophy?

I find the potential bridging of contemporary scientific thought with ancient spiritual wisdom both fascinating and promising, though I’m aware that these interpretations need careful consideration and discussion, especially within the Buddhist community.

Looking forward to your insights and experiences related to this intriguing intersection of science and spirituality.

Best regards,

1 Like

Namo Buddhaya!

We just recently finished discussions about this in detail, you can read the latest in the threads about ‘bhikkhu bodhi on nibbana’ and ‘evidence for rebirth’ and elsewhere too. If you get caught up on the last 3 days and you will have a good idea of how the public discourse is now.


I think it’s the same project as (parts of the) abhidamma essentially; the idea is to explain the path, practice and fruit in terms of something that is not the path, practice and fruit, i.e. to explain one thing only in terms of something that is not that thing.

Like the abhidamma explaining path realizations in terms of mind moments. You could try to do it with mathematical model instead (mathematical models are almost by definition not the thing they are trying to explain).

I still think the fundamental unit of Buddhism is experience, I’m not convinced experience needs to be explained, i.e., the purpose of the four noble truths is to be developed and experienced.

Like, you could explain how purifying the mind leads to happiness in terms of neurons, but you don’t have to.

Not saying it’s not interesting though :slight_smile: science is neat IMO :green_heart:

Edit: I don’t want to rule out that it could be beneficial either. It’s good that spirituality is getting more scientific interest in my humble opinon.


Namo Buddhaya!

I think it is worth pointing out that certainly abhidhamma commentary traditon does this rather than abhidhamma where the word moment khana does appear one time in one of the theravadin abhidhamma books, as far as i know, in yamaka iirc, but’s not a doctrine of momentariness in that and the general body of text would contradict it in as far as i can tell.

I haven’t actually read the commentary but it sounds wrong when people explain the gist of it.


Hi Jon, thanks for this very interesting video presentation and an invitation for discussion.

As @Notez noted, there’s a robust discussion happening on two separate but related threads that delve into your overall inquiry at some level. For example, I know @Jayarava has read much of Metzinger (and discusses him on one of those threads, at the least).

So, knowing that some people may already be focused on those threads – and yours requires a look at the video, you may gain more traction over there.

Well, as I did have a look at the video, I’ll chime in on your three questions as it relates to Dr. Shamil’s presentation.

I’m only familiar with Lisa Feldman Barrett’s work (How Emotions are Made) as it relates to neurological and psychosocial modeling for constructed emotions. Now :pray:t3: I’m familiar with Dr. Shamil’s proposal.

As far as I understand he’s saying there’s an attempt to model computationally how consciousness works. He pulls in the well-debated assumptions around predictive modeling in the brain, Bayesian theory, MPE, etc. to describe how the algorithms are built with “weighted predictions.”

I note that these assumptions – & to the extent he weights them – are the lynch pins of the model (although it’s not clear to me what, exactly, the model usefully spits out when all is said and done). Importantly for this Watercooler topic, he builds in assumptions around proprioception and interoception based on his generalized understanding of the four noble truths. He sprinkles in dependent co-arising as the end.

That’s what I saw & heard. I was guessing the “dependent co-arising” (his term) was meant to wrap things up (as if to say, that’s what constructed experience is). But I was confused there at the end with how he did that.

  1. Do you think this scientific approach to understanding the mind and consciousness aligns with or contradicts traditional Buddhist teachings on the nature of reality and suffering?

He seems to conflate many different Buddhist traditions; furthermore, he lumps them in with other religions – including the use of psychedelics (which I’ll just call a type of religion for the sake of his presentation). Also, he explains his 4noble truth assumptions for the model but it feels like he glosses them without important definitions. So I’m left wondering whether he is equating, without a reliable basis, his own weighted assumptions for the computational model with a fair understanding of the 4noble truths.

A major miss, for me, in his model is kamma – whether & how that would influence his definition of “conscious experience.” If he is going to assert that he is enough of a Buddhist expert to make these various assumptions in the model, ostensibly based in part on the Buddha’s teachings, I think he lacks the experience. (Maybe I’m totally off-base here, but that’s how he came across to me. Not in an ego-inflated way, but in a confused way.)

Also, he puts major emphasis on a notion that Buddhist meditation (he tried to define it admirably) has, as its objective, unifying or non-dual “awareness.” I’m not a proponent of that. He does this to substantiate why meditation (Buddhist or any other kind) is about the same as using psychedelics. His conflation of different types of Buddhist meditation traditions (much less other non-Buddhist religions, which he also does) left me wondering about how he’s building his computational assumptions.

I respect him for the amount of thought and scientific rigor he seems to devote to this project. Clearly he knows algorithmic math and AI computing. He does not really convey clarity or depth about his assumptions related to “Buddhist” meditation. But it is a valiant effort he’s making, for certain.

  1. Have you encountered similar discussions or teachings in your practice or study that integrate modern scientific discoveries with Buddhist philosophy?

As noted above, the SuttaCentral threads are replete with people discussing this. Many, many interesting theories are shared by people who seem quite experienced mixing the two. It is sutta central so most references are based there, along with my own Buddhist practices as a layperson.

Thank you, Jon, and I hope you find some good discussion around your excellent questions!


I’ve been thinking that it would be good to have a dedicated forum for heterodox Buddhists to discuss ideas without the constant badgering from conservative evangelical Buddhists who see every thread as an opportunity to proselytize or reinforce their faith.

Not here. Maybe on reddit?

I have a Heart Sutra forum on Facebook which does not allow any religious content at all. We only discuss recent research on the Heart Sutra. This has worked very well, IMO.


@Jayarava thank you for posting but that would be off-topic for this discussion. I’d suggest starting a new thread.

@Notez thank you for the references to other posts! You all talked a lot about science and Buddhism especially for past lives. It was interesting reading that and it indeed answers my question about the place for science in Buddhist practice.

@Erika_ODonnell Great point about the religious experience! You’re right although these new ideas are interesting it’ll never change the fact that awaking, four noble truths, and meditation all must be experienced.

@BethL thank you for your detailed reply! Yes, I agree I didn’t like much how he conflated Buddhism with other religions and conflating meditation with the use of psychedelics. I think the point he was trying to make was that all these religions, practices, and drugs can be used to explore altered conscious states and get insights into the workings of the mind.

The thing I found interesting about this was the neuroscience and comutational deep neural network inspired model of perception. Where input from our senses is used to create basically a “predicted” reality. This seems close to dependent origination where the senses depended on mind.

Also the point about the Four Nobel truths where the difference in the predicted desired reality and the actual reality is the origin of suffering was interesting. How he could explain it with equations was really exciting although his model of the mind isn’t complete or proven. But it makes me wonder if it would be possible one day to express Buddhism or at least some Buddhist ideas in a handful of mathematical formulas.


I would be interested in that. Maybe @josephzizys and a few others would be interested.

1 Like

Hi Jon,

Yes, I picked that up as well. After watching the presentation, he left me feeling he is genuinely interested in this project for ( dare I say :smiling_face:) altruistic reasons as well as purely scientific ones.

I, for one, am riveted and heartened by progress in neural and computational modeling to help establish what’s going on in the brain-mind-body. I’d like to see what’s happening in the suffering mind and the mind relieved of suffering. (I feel the somatic component is essential … can we model this with the brain & its “preferencing” proclivity.)

I would add to the modeling: what is happening in the mind as it bathes itself in the practice of the noble 8fold path over and over, day after day, and so forth. As I’ve only found the 3rd noble truth within reach, as a lay person, as I practice the noble 8fold path. Not saying there aren’t other modalities out there for other people (who likely aren’t on this forum). Just saying that’s largely been my experience and where I’m motivated now for the remainder of life.

So this greatly expands the complexity beyond sammāsati and sammāsamādhi (and psychedelics). How could we model that (and measure it) in the most empirical way possible.

I mentioned Lisa Feldman Barrett’s (LFB) work because that’s where I first learned about prediction-based processes in the brain – complementing or downplaying, to some extent, the longstanding “lizzard brain” theory. I’m quite the novice here and don’t know whether Dr. Shamil is referring to this when he talks to “predicted” reality. LFB refers to it mainly in the context of proprioception and interoception activities.

That would be a highly desirable model indeed!

:elephant: :pray:t3: :grin:

1 Like

Namo Buddhaya!

One will find many correlations to game theory, i spoke about some of it here

One can show how one’s not understanding the game creates exploits of greed, anger and delusion.

Furthermore the theory of cooperation

Cooperative game theory is a branch of game theory that deals with the study of games where players can form coalitions, cooperate with one another, and make binding agreements. The theory offers mathematical methods for analysing scenarios in which two or more players are required to make choices that will affect other players wellbeing.[5] The key idea is that players can achieve superior outcomes by working together rather than working against each other. Cooperative game theory - Wikipedia.

Correlates as well and can be used to explain certain things like here

As he was sitting there, Ven. Ananda said to the Blessed One, “This is half of the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie.”[1]

"Don’t say that, Ananda. Don’t say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path Upaddha Sutta: Half (of the Holy Life)

About the correlations with QM i wrote here also

1 Like

@jgreen01 fundementally my problem with these efforts is that they ultimatly seem not to explain the actual phenomena that is of interest.

I come back to Liebniz’ Mill, sure, maybe you can build a huge baysian machine that behaves like it percieves, and qua Turing nothing but prejudice can justify your denial that it is therefore conscious, and perhaps you can build up intuitions about why certain weights allow certain perceptions to arise in the machines consciousness more prominently than others and so on, but you still have NO IDEA, other than the same charity that causes us to discard solopsism as impolite, IF or WHAT its like to BE this machine (or a bat, or another person). Ultimatley the "mathematical model’ models the "conscious perciever’ and the ‘zombie perciever’ w8th equal accuracy, nothing about ‘qualia’ qa ‘qualia’ is elicidated or explained, nor, it seems to me, can it be. This is basically why it is wrong view to think that jiva is kaya.

@Jayarava and @Raftafarian Yes! I would be interested, but only if the forum was a independantly hosted (i.e not on Zuckerbook) and had either a discourse engine like here, or at least a similar open source product that can order threads by activity at the top level :slight_smile:

I would be willing to do some.of the tech and hosting stuff if we are serious, if this is real someone start another thread and we can plan.

1 Like

Isn’t that what the suttas do somewhat? It provides some text/media representation of the way your nature works. This is information on an intellectual level which may only inspire you to look further and actually see how it works yourself, and perhaps this lecture could be used in this way in the same way someone would read suttas for inspiration.

Science and religion shouldn’t be separate unless your religion doesn’t involve understanding reality, which science is a tool for, but there is also the possibility of speculation and useless information too.

Yes you could theoretically use some very deep and complex math to describe the mind, but idk if there’s anything at the end of that path, and I deliberately avoid it. Consciousness and wisdom will do the job. And this is coming from someone who is obsessed with math.

Chandaria provides some relatable knowledge about emptiness, but even then, I am not sure to what degree this talk is just speculation. He talks about the emptiness of words with words.

I think I am just trying to say what @Erika_ODonnell said.

I think if someone who has actually deeply studied these texts made a talk like this, it would be way more fruitful.

He got the Noble Truths wrong. They are textual representations of specific realizations one can have, hence the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta

‘This is the noble truth of suffering.’ Such was the vision, knowledge, wisdom, realization, and light that arose in me regarding teachings not learned before from another.
‘This noble truth of suffering should be completely understood.’ Such was the vision, knowledge, wisdom, realization, and light that arose in me regarding teachings not learned before from another.
‘This noble truth of suffering has been completely understood.’ Such was the vision, knowledge, wisdom, realization, and light that arose in me regarding teachings not learned before from another.

He says “Buddha’s first noble truth: life is full of suffering”. It does not say this, because what if an arahant were to read the noble truth of suffering, they would feel excluded! It defines what suffering is, and then one can draw and guess “how often” suffering happens by developing their own perception and awareness.

That’s all he really says about the noble truths, so the title of this post is a little misleading.

All you need to know is virtue, stillness, and wisdom, how they relate, and to develop them. This explanation alone is enough for awakening, creating extra models is a tiny part of the story. Wisdom is personal, it’s not given to you by someone.

Thanks for the post.

1 Like

Thank you @bran! Yes, what you said is very similar to what @Erika_ODonnell was saying.

I think I understand what you’re saying here. Basically, if we’ve already have texts that can be used to achieve the goal of the path then why do we need to create a mathematical model for it.

Clearly the answer is that there’s no “need” for it. We have texts that have been passed down for thousands of years and that are validated, analyzed, and elaborated on. Resulting in this tradition that we follow and benefit greatly from ourselves.

That said, I think there’s at least two and maybe three reasons that would make this kind of mathematical and scientific understanding useful.

Firstly, the validation of the path wouldn’t rely only on personal realization as proof of its value. Not to say, there aren’t other proofs I mean much of modern psychology “borrows” Buddhist ideas explicitly or more often implicitly.

But if we had a proven model that says, the mind works like x, y, and z, and the “optimal” state of this model requires a person to do: things similar to following the eight-fold path, meditate in a similar way to what is described in Buddhist texts, and live like a monk. Then I’d say Buddhism and the things discovered by the Buddha are proven in an unambiguous way and validated by modern science. Which would make it easier for the mainstream to accept and bring into their lives.

The second thing would be if the above is true and we have a proven model of the mind and Buddhist ideas, then what else could be learned from this. Perhaps there are teachings and concepts that were lost with time or existing teachings that could be better understood with a model like Dr. Shamil discusses. In short, it could aid and deepen understanding in unexpected ways that could be fruitful for us all.

Possibly the third reason would be to learn things beyond what is explained by the Buddha. There are many Suttas and passages like the following:

“What do you think, mendicants? Which is more: the few leaves in my hand, or those in the forest above me?”

“Sir, the few leaves in your hand are a tiny amount. There are far more leaves in the forest above.”

“In the same way, there is much more that I have directly known but have not explained to you. What I have explained is a tiny amount. And why haven’t I explained it? Because it’s not beneficial or relevant to the fundamentals of the spiritual life. It doesn’t lead to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment. That’s why I haven’t explained it.

SN 56:31 - In a Rosewood Forest - Sīsapāvanasutta

Not to be greedy but I find it very intriguing that the Buddha explicitly excluded parts of his direct knowledge. Although he explains that the other things he has learned are “not beneficial or relevant to the fundamentals of the spiritual life” perhaps they could be useful in our world today. That said, maybe there’s nothing at the end of this path. Or maybe with modern technology there could be a lot more at the end of that path than the Buddha could have known during his time. Not to say a model like this will or ever could discover these things but maybe it could. Just a thought.