Standpoint of an Emergent Materialist


My friend is struggling with his meaning of life due to his view as nothing remains after death and people’s births are just random event. So, I tried to persuade him about the existence of rebirth. However, I couldn’t do so even when I used the Name-Form-Consciousness approach of the Dependent Origination :laughing:. Note that, logically speaking, if he himself experiences his own past lives then matter is solved but he didn’t have such experience. I wonder if anyone here can help to counter his arguments logically or philosophically sound below?

So, he admits that he doesn’t know what goes back beyond his current birth. However, that does not prevent him from explaining his current situation as:

  1. When the embryo develops maturely enough inside the mother’s womb, the consciousness will “emerge” from the physical state of the embryo. (This is a kind of view from Emergent Materialism or Biological Naturalism for anyone who goes into Philosophy of Mind)

  2. Then, this consciousness will in turn cause the other mental factors like Feeling, Perception, Volition, etc. to come into existence.

  3. After that, we can have the usual Name-Form-Consciousness in daily life experience as we have in Buddhism.

  4. But, when the sentient being dies, the physical brain does not have what it takes to support the consciousness. So along with his reasoning: As for birth, Material comes so Consciousness comes. As for death, Material goes so Consciousness goes.

About his thinking that the Consciousness can come from Material alone, does it corresponding to the case of the Gods in the Non-Recipient realm? If that’s the case, his thinking is actually valid from Buddhism’s point of view?

Also, he relates to the case of people (e.g. Martin Pistorius) who wakes up from coma to support his argument that Consciousness can come from Material alone.

I understand that it’s more important to practice than engaging in logical or philosophy discussion :pray: but he refuses such practice as redundant because he needs to clear the obstacle about rebirth first to even have a motivation to do practice :laughing:.

With metta.


Usually these people are more pro-science, so hopefully raw data, rebirth evidences are able to change their minds about it. Go wild into reading a lot of rebirth evidences books. I have quite a bit of them in my to-read list. I read some many years ago, got super convinced.

Needs to be read with an open mind to keep on reading more until the evidence are just too overwhelming that it’s irrational to disbelief in rebirth.

Materialism is not compatible with Buddhism due to the philosophy’s inherent inability to imagine any way that the mind, or anything mental can survive physical death. No, not all humans comes from the Gods in the Non-precipent realm. We clearly see human to human rebirth in the rebirth evidences.

People in coma, I believe also has their mind operating. Mind-Reading Computer Could Communicate With Coma Patients

The main obstacle is to abandon materialism philosophy. It’s not science, science doesn’t prove it, science can still be valid with other kind of philosophy, like mind-body dualism, or Buddhism.

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Let me give explanation that I’ve heard before. It is said that this is from Buddhist Tantric philosophy.

Premise 1: Everything arise from cause/ causes
Premise 2: There is conservation of energy. Something cannot become nothing.

Premise 1 is simple to understand. Tree is born from seed, plus other supporting condition.
Human is born from the union of parents.
If someone deny this, he must state that there is something born outta nothing.

Premise 2 is also straightforward. Even when something is destroyed, there are remains. When wood is burned, there will be ashes and heat. We never see something becomes nothing. The processs of cause and effect always transform things into material and energy.

Premise 3: The principal Cause and the result have the same nature/ similar properties

Principal cause : thing that serve as main factor
Supporting condition: the condition that support the transformation.
Example: a seed change into a tree.
Seed is principal cause. The supporting condition is , light, moisture, earth.

The seed and the tree have similar/ same nature. They are both organics. You cant see stone become tree.
Apple seed will become apple tree. Orange seed cant become apple tree.

Without a seed, even if there is earth, light, moisture, there will be no tree. Because principal cause is missing.

Argument: Physical Body and Mind is different.

There is physical body. It is created by matter, atoms, cells, earth, water, wind, fire.
There is the mind. It is consciousness, feelings, thoughts. They are not physical.

If their nature is different, then

Argument 2: Physical/ Material things can not cause Mind

Since they have different nature, then the mind can’t arise because of physical body. True, the cells and zygote arise as supporting condition, just as earth and moisture support the seed. But just as earth cant cause a tree by itself, physical body cant cause a mind to arise.

Argument 3: The mind is caused by the mind

Because only something similar nature can cause phenomena, so mind can only be born from a mind. Just as a tree is born from a seed.
So a mind in fetus must be caused by previous mind. That, assumed to be a mind from a being who died.

Well that solve the question, where does the mind go if someone died. Because in premise 2, even when someone died, there must be something remain.
we see the corpse disperse into matter, but the mind just go somewhere unknown.

Conclusion: Rebirth is real.

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That’s where the materialists might break the argument.

Let’s look at AI, feelings could be coded in.

Perception is seen as AI can recognize images and sound now.

Volitional formations are just complicated what if codes, or neutral network emergent stuffs.

Consciousness, we dunno, but maybe they are conscious, they tell us (so many GPT3 videos on youtube of AI having much better conversation nowadays), maybe we don’t trust them? How do we know other humans are conscious?

From the Buddhist point of view, if AI becomes sentient, it’s because some being got reborn into the AI body, be it code or whatever.

From the emergent materialist view, AI can be seen as proof that mind can emerge from purely physical stuffs. Mind maybe is just functionalities, interplay of information, wherever the information gets encoded. So they have clear way of tracing how the infrastructure of the mind comes from.

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What is it that persuaded you?

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He and I had totally different starting points. I grew up in a family where both my parents are devout Buddhists. I didn’t have any trouble accepting the Buddha coming into my life in the beginning, or hearing the Buddha’s teaching and then following the Path.

As you ask me what is that persuaded me, I can only answer that I can see for myself whenever I put down even just a little more of the burden of the five aggregates, I feel a little more relieved. :smiley:

My friend and I know each other since we were kids, we were classmates in high school and also in university. We also worked in the same company before. Now we are both old and weak, we live in different countries but we still care much about each other. :smiley:

He has a valid argument and because I can’t find any internal conflict from his argument, I simply respect his View. From Buddhism, the Gods in the Non-Recipient realms can come into existence based on Material. He also gave argument about coma case as an observation.

However, I also understand that with his View, he is currently experiencing struggle with the direction of his life. And certainly, as the Buddha said, anyone with a wrong View does not end up in good place.

As I myself have limited ability so I can’t see any internal conflict in his arguments to help him. He is a good guy but a stubborn one. He is not the kind of patient whom you can just shout: Just shut up and take the pill already!

I accept my own shortcomings and come here to ask for people who are wiser and knows better than me. :smiling_face:

There’s always MN60 for those who don’t know one way or the other.

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It’s kind of you to provide your background. From what I understand I would rather argue from the things you know yourself, which is the release that you get when you unburden or dis-identify or let go. This much should be valid for a materialist as well.

The problem with the big question of rebirth is that you don’t have much to offer beyond your conviction and have not experienced the truth of it yourself (or so I assume). So then you have conviction vs conviction, and both sides can offer books, experts, scientists in their favor.

Obviously you know him better, but maybe he might be supported by the pragmatic knowledge you have firsthand more than a metaphysical argument.


I have no real insight into rebirth, only one memory which i had at regression therapy. I was an Amish child and died young. But for me this sutta does not sound very exotic. I think it wants to explain rebirth:
SN 12.38: Volition (1) (English) - Nidāna Saṃyutta - SuttaCentral

I have this kind of picture: we as body and mind embody a certain energy. Matter is also energy. This energy is the best felt in a dynamic way in what we call volition , passion, emotion, tendency. We feel the energy flowing which is produced according buddhist in the mind (in the javana phase, not in the brain)

Energy is like wind. It has an aspect of noticable movement. But energy is also potential.
Anusaya and asava are like potential energy. Suddenly this energy can be released at a certain sense-event.

I suppose at death this potential energy cannot at once disappear in nothing. The energy of this anusaya cannot disappear at once at death. In my opinion the above sutta says that this potential energy which is felt as intention, plan, tendency, becomes a support for the establising of a new consciousness after death.

It is also taught that nama is not local. Like matter it is every around us, nama is too. The mental domain is not in our head. Whereever you look there is also the mental domain. It is not only inside you. That is why a buddha can travel mentally, because the mental domain is everywhere around us.

That is why there can be continuation of life from the potential energy which is released at death. Like the sutta says: this becomes a basis for the maintenance of consciousness.

Something like this.

Some fundamentals seem to be important:
-anusaya’s are potential energy and that does not get destroyed at death but is released
-a mental domain is everywhere around us and is just as real as matter is all around us, or, in other words, the world is rupa and nama.
-potential energy in the form of plans, intention, tendencies release at death and become a new support for a first moment of the following life. This new consciousness starts growing upon it.
-this proces of rebirth continues until anusaya, or potential energy, is gone. Then there is no support for a new rebirth consciousness.

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(emphasis changed)

I think this is the real starting point.

If this view is causing him to struggle, and even in this view, there is no particular value in holding this view, then why hold on to it?

The Buddha, generally, does not try and approach these topics by offering any sort of “scientific” proof. Even though he has extraordinary abilities, he engages people on their level, acknowledging that they can’t directly verify fine-material and immaterial reality, but focusing on what they can directly experience and already know.


A Dhamma Talk by Hillside Hermitage

Personally, I haven’t seen any direct basis upon which to believe:

  • NSAIDs reduce inflammation around tiny cells called “nerves” which then affects some sort of electro-chemical process which results in the perception of pain.

  • Actions have consequences upon future lives.

But credible people have told me both things. Those credible people then provided instructions, based on those statements, of practices I should undertake to alleviate my own suffering. And those practices work. This both encourages me to have further confidence those credible people are indeed credible, and alleviates my doubts, because even if they are wrong or I misunderstood them, and the mechanism of action is different than I supposed (say it turns out that somehow NSAIDs act directly upon the brain), I am secure in the benefit I have directly experienced.

This is different than the Christian idea of Pascal’s wager, in that there is no downside. When I make merit, I directly experience benefits in the here & now. There’s no lengthy suspension of disbelief and stressful cognitive dissonance, or harmful practices. Nothing is lost. You just pragmatically test an idea and judge it based on the results.


People who believe in non-rebirth they think that after death there is a nothingness. However, in such case that same nothingness was the same nature existing before we were born, and that could not impede our birth.
Our present existence is the best proof of rebirth.

It is not difficult to see the absence of logics of non-rebirth. Although another issue is to know if this is the real big obstacle like some people says using this issue. Mostly this is not the true reason.

About the other issue, note the consciousness cannot comes from matter. This is an absurd claim when that supposed fact should have been known by a consciousness. It doesn’t matter if the guy comes from a coma, a parallel universe or whatever.

In the same way, modern theories about simulations, transhumanizations, etcetera… all is the same loop-argumentary. Today refurbished for new appearences under the same basic doubt about the nature of delusion.


Oke, but it is also clear the brain activity and structures play an important role. One can even make someone unconscious with chemicals. And if certain important structures of the brain are damaged such things as visual consciousness, auditory consciousness do not even arise.
You know all this ofcourse. What kind of condition (paccaya) is the brain?
Can there be, for example, visual consciousness without physical eyes and visual neurological centre?
Shall we solve this :grinning:

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that world with brains and etc, all is vanished when you are sleeping. What was that Reality.

There is no solution in the same delusion terms. We should focus the Reality in existential terms.
A business between oneself and the whole experience of Reality. :wink:

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I know their are buddhist who teach that the brain handles external (of the body) sense-inputs. The brain prepares this sense info in such a way that the mind (with centre around the heart) can handle it.

The cognitive proces, which handles the sense-info coming from the brain is called cittha vitthi. This is said to take place in the subtle mental body with a center of processing around the heart.
It deals with sense-input from the brain in a certain fixed way. In this cognitive proces there is a moment in which the mind ‘decides’ for an certain action on the aramanna, for example passion.

So, passion might arises in the heart-base (and not in the brain). After this processing of sense-info from the brain, by the mind, signals go back to the brain and cause certain brain activities. So, in this model. the brain prepares information from outside and sends it to the mind-base. The mind processes this and in return gives rise to certain neurological activity.

This model also implies that when you, for example, decide to stab someone, this decision is made in the mind but cannot take place when the mind would not control the brain. The decision, is, as it were, transformed to the brain in concrete action, stabbing.

If the brain is damaged, than decisions which arise from the mind, made in the vothapana phase of the citta-vitthi, might not be followed upon, because the brain is damaged.

So, according this model there is a constant interaction between brain and the subtle mental body in which prepared sense info is processed around the heart. This model also implies that what the mind receives as info is not direct from the senses, it is first processed and preparated by the brain.

The mind is seen as something which commands the brain.
Scientist often speak as a brain that decides but in this model the decision making takes place as a certain moment of the citta vitthi.

According this model emotions like anger, hate, greed start arising around the heart (maybe as winds, passion, energy-release) and this is translated, as it were, by the brain in what we mentally, in our heads, feel and see as arising anger, greed etc.

But one can really experience that something happens around the heart. We might not experience this and only experience what happens in our heads. Then it seems all starts in our heads. But i am sure there is more going on.

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Hi Orsenturvi, why not ask your friend to read Volition: An Introduction of the Law of Kamma & No Inner Core: An Introduction to the Doctrine of Anatta by Sayadaw U Silananda as his seeding stage reference towards the whole teaching. Do not start with the advance …

The link is here, start downloading the pdf form.

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I won’t get into specifics but you probably will never convince him by using Buddhist or any other type of spiritual perspective. The problem is that he has bought into the mainstream and consensus reality of contemporary materialism. I have found the best remedy – for both me and others – to be found in the books and (YouTube) videos of Bernardo Kastrup. You might not like his underlying perspective of Idealism but he is about the best advocate for debunking materialism in a systematic and logical manner…which is precisely what your friend needs. You could begin with his first book, Why Materialism is Baloney.


I do not really want to question this but today i read an article (in dutch) in which a person is described who had a good job etc. but developed an anxiety- and a compulsion disorder. He suffered decades (40 years!). He even considered euthanasia so deep was his pain. All kinds of psychological treatments did not work for him.

At a certain moment he was given a treatment of deep brain stimulation. After this his complaints disappeared , faded like snow for the sun. He is now free of those complaints and does not use any medicine!

It is an article about a book of Bart de Beurs, called ‘Operatie Angst’ (operation fear) but i do not know if is translated in English.

It keeps still a shock that one can suffer that long, undergo all kinds of psychological treatments which do not work and by intervention in the brain almost immediately one recovers from all this intense suffering of fear and compulsion.

I really do not want to promote a materialist view but it makes me think about the cause for all this suffering. One can ofcourse always claim that the cause is not the brain, but in this case the solution for his suffering was there. But maybe, maybe, in a deep sense, how knows?, the cause is not really gone and maybe in a next life he will have to deal with it too. I do not know. For now, his complaints are gone and can live a ‘normal’ live.

Maybe it is also an inconvienent truth for us that it works this way. That we are so dependend, phyisically but also mentally, on the brain. One relatively small change and our lives can change radically. It can be the difference between great suffering and happiness. Even our personallity, habits, interests can change. and even some chemicals can end all our experiences and sense of “I am”.

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Here is a quote (example) from Why Materialism is Baloney:

The hard problem of consciousness

Though much has been published on the ‘hard problem,’ I think it is appropriate that I quickly summarize here what it is all about. The problem is this: according to current state-of-the-art materialism, the primary element of reality is a relatively small set of fundamental subatomic particles described in the so-called ‘Standard Model’ of particle physics.[13](javascript:void(0)) These particles are referred to as ‘ontological primitives’: they are materialism’s basic building blocks for constructing everything else in nature, from galaxies to chairs, to you and me. In other words, we should be able to construct explanations for every object or phenomenon in nature in terms of the dynamics of these subatomic particles; how they move and interact with one another. The problem is that materialism ordinarily assumes these subatomic particles to lack consciousness. So how do you eventually get consciousness simply by arranging ‘dead’ subatomic particles together?

In principle, there is nothing mysterious about the emergence of higher-level properties as systems become more and more complex.[14](javascript:void(0)) For instance, beautiful and highly complex sand ripples emerge in dunes when there are enough grains of sand and wind. So why can’t consciousness emerge when there are enough subatomic particles arranged together in specific ways? The problem here is that, unless one is prepared to accept magic, the emergent properties of a complex system must be deducible from the properties of the lower-level components of the system.[15](javascript:void(0)) For instance, we can deduce – and even predict – the shape of sand ripples from the properties of grains of sand and wind. We can put it all in a computer program and watch simulated sand ripples form in the computer screen that look exactly like the real thing. But when it comes to consciousness, nothing allows us to deduce the properties of subjective experience – the redness of red, the bitterness of regret, the warmth of fire – from the mass, momentum, spin, charge, or any other property of subatomic particles bouncing around in the brain. This is the hard problem of consciousness.

As a matter of fact, consciousness is a sore on the foot of materialism. The materialist understanding of the world would seem a lot more solid if there were no such a thing as subjective experience at all. It is conceivable – though not necessarily possible – that science could eventually explain all structure, function, and behavior of a human being on the basis of the positions and movements of the subatomic particles composing the human body. But how and why that structure, function, and behavior are accompanied by inner experience is deeply problematic for materialism. Your personal computer also has structure, function, and behavior. However, its internal calculations do not seem to be accompanied by any inner experience at all, otherwise we would need to think twice before turning our computers off. From a materialist perspective, the case of the computer makes perfect sense. But a human being whose internal ‘calculations’ are accompanied by inner experience is an uncomfortable anomaly.


there is a constant relation between matter and mind. Both arise in a co-dependent way like it is explained in the Dependent Origination

Physical pain is a type of dukkha. There is a body because the arising of rupa(matter) which is kamma.

When the ignorance is completely eradicated, which is the case of the arhants, there is a clear distinction between the mental phenomena (nama) and the matter (rupa), and then there is pain in the body but not in the mind. According the teaching, the arhant is aware of the physical pain although there is no dukkha in him. This situation is difficult to conceive to us.

Anyway, note the physical pain is not accomplished in the cases of a few people who cannot feel physical pain. This is considered a pathology in that people, although it shows how the necessity of that relation is not an absolute.

While there is ignorance we don’t have hacces to know that difference, and the causality between physical pain and mental pain is very automatic. Also, many times it can works in reverse direction, and the mental pain can cause physical pain. In these cases the Science is more confused, and they talk about psychosomatic disorders. This is because they work mostly under materialist premises and what cannot accomplish the premise becomes quite a mistery.

Anyway, all these problems shows how the more logical view is precisely a co-arising of both.

Logically the Science they should work mainly using that direction. If there is a broken arm and etc… it is very clear. Although also many people would expect some evolution in Science for the present times. Perhaps that evolution is slower becase a conditioning of business and money.

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The model I learned is that of relationship between body and mind, but mind is the forerunner. I have learned the model that when there is conception, a third element, besides egg and sperm cell, must be present to initiate the furher growth of the fetilized egg in the womb which will lead to the physical birth. Nowadays this sounds a little bit mystical, this third element. If this can be disproven, and one can proove that no third element is needed, than this theory is falcified. But how to proove?

But apparantly the Buddha saw it this way. A third element is needed. That what joins the furtilized egg can be called ‘gandhabba’ or sometimes refered to as rebirth consciousness. It is saId that this gandhabba, which is a kind of subtle mental body, contains the kamma blueprint of the lifeform to shape. It is a base of information, as it were, for the growing process, like a mental dna. Kamma from other lives can this way ripen in the new life which is to be born yet. Maybe the mental dna of gandhabba, which is kamma and is information, is also a factor in epigenetics?

Buddha understood it apparantly this way that there will be no birth without this third element. (MN93, MN38, DN15)

This gandhabba which joins the fertilized egg also disjoins at death. It is not a soul because it is not eternal, and it is not constantly the same. This subtle mental body is also the place where sense info from the brain is processed.

I have also read sutta’s in which it is said that one can enter the womb consciously, and consciously remain in the womb and consciously get born (DN28, DN33)
All goes directly against the view that consciousness arises at a certain moment as an emergent aspect of a ripened brain. According the view presented in the sutta’s, without the element of consciousness, there is no birth at all. But, what is consciousness here?

Buddha seems to teach that the element of consciousness is present from the beginning of the physical body, and before that. I am not sure at what moment exactly the element of consciousness joins the fertilized egg, but it is not seen as something which arises very late in the development of the fertilized egg. Apparantly in the sutta’s it is seen as a necessary condition for growth in the womb.

Physical pain and arahantship i find a difficult topic. I know there are sutta’s that learn that the Buddha could only feel some relief of this old body in a certain state of concentration, and also that he might lie down to relief his backpains. Then i belief it must be a burden too.

There are also people who insist that a realised person has no burden at all, not mentally and not even physically. They insist that one can be totally free of suffering while living. One does not have to die first. I think there are cases, such as 16e Karmapa in which it shows one can be totally unburdened and even smiling and joyful while very serieus ill and with great pains.

I have read some texts of Thai monk Maha Boowa and he seems to teach that for the Citta, the knowing essence of mind, there is not something like unpleasant feeling. That is a judgement from feeling, from vinnana, but not from Citta.

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