My opening talk at Upaya Zen Center’s Zen Brain 2014


Series Description: Increasingly, cognitive science presents us with a vision of mind as grounded in the complex transformative processes of life, while neuroscience presents us with a vision of the brain as a complex adaptive system that constantly reshapes itself in response to context, experience, and practice.How can this vision of complexity and transformation enrich our understanding of consciousness—the felt experience of awareness across waking, dreaming, sleeping, and dying? In this intensive program, we explore our lived experience of awareness in relation to our living bodies and brains seen as complex adaptive systems. We focus especially on the themes of “embodied cognition,” “emergent processes,” and “enaction” (cognition as embodied action). Neuroscientists, philosophers, Buddhist scholars, and Zen teachers explore these themes through presentations and discussion interspersed with periods of meditation practice throughout each day.

Episode Description: Al Kaszniak kicks off this opening session of Zen Brain: Consciousness, Complex Systems, and Transformation by stating that this program is intended to “push the boundaries” of knowledge and will touch upon “new thinking” in relating complex systems theory to areas of inquiry such as neuroscience, cognitive science, philosophy of mind, and contemplative practice. The Zen Brain faculty then briefly introduce themselves before handing the floor over to Neil Theise. Neil presents a wide-ranging introduction to consciousness and complex systems theory that draws upon ideas in physics, biology, and spirituality. After presenting the basics of complex systems theory, Neil unfolds some very novel thinking on how the emergence of the universe can be viewed in terms of three overlapping processes: complementarity, recursion, and sentience.

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