As noted before, I used to be a lot more attracted to Buddhism than I am now.
My churchless scientific leanings cause me to shy away from faith-based religiosity, and I've learned that while Buddhism talks a pretty good "spiritual science" game, the actual playing is lacking.
The really hard problem is how meaning is possible in the material world. To me it's obvious how this is done: each of us makes our own meaning, right here and right now. No metaphysics required.
However, religions want us to believe that the meaning of life is something to be discovered, not made. And that it exists in some unseen divine realm, not the physical universe.
Science relies on evidence, not faith.
Since there is no demonstrable evidence of a metaphysical reality, science doesn't accept that such exists. In like fashion, it doesn't make sense to found one's meaning of life on a non-existent base, which is what religion offers.
Now, Buddhism appeals to many who shun traditional religions because there's no belief in God or an eternal unchangeable soul. By and large, Buddhism is naturalistic.
This allows Flanagan, who has participated in efforts of the Dalai Lama to meld science and Buddhism, to say that Buddhist teachings about karma mostly are entirely in line with the theory of evolution.
As a sentient being I think, "Today I'll write another blog post about Flanagan's book." Then, I do it. And when other people read what I wrote, they will have mental reactions that cause them to engage in actions of their own, such as posting a comment, or flying off to another part of cyberspace with the thought, "Jeez, I can't believe how boring that was."
So far, so good on the Buddhism is compatible with science front. However, what Flanagan calls the "untame" Buddhist interpretation of karma divides them.
Because this wilder side of Buddhist philosophy posits that consciousness is non-material and survives the death of the physical body. So Flanagan says that a karmic reward and punishment system "juices" the psyches of future beings prior to their reincarnation.
What is meant by the idea of "the law of karma, by which an intentional act will reap certain fruits" is this: my consciousness does not die when my body does, it goes on and reaps in the next and possibly many (many) future lives what it sows in each antecedent life.
Obviously it's unclear how this happens.
How does something immaterial affect materiality? For karma to make a difference in the physical world, seemingly DNA has to be modified, brain patterns affected, behaviors controlled.
Yet neuroscientists operate under the assumption that there is a neural correlate for every mental state, or subjective experience. This entirely reasonable perspective, given the evidence for it, is known as NCC -- neural correlates of consciousness.
Flanagan says that throughout a recent book by the Dalai Lama, the Buddhist leader "seems content with the idea that there are neural correlates for every mental state." However, this contentment isn't complete, as evidenced by this quote from the Dalai Lama:
Well, there's nothing wrong with having feelings.
But demonstrable evidence of the "luminous nature of awareness" doesn't exist. In fact, there is no way such proof could exist. So when Buddhist dogma separates brain and mind, a separation also occurs between Buddhism and science.
Here's the reason, as laid out by Flanagan. If essential consciousness has no physical effects, this makes it an epiphenomenon.
Meaning, it is meaningless to us, since consciousness is just there -- a fundamental property of reality like time or space that doesn't ever make any difference to anything, since it isn't a thing that can affect other things.
The neurophysicalist will claim that the thesis that mind is not embodied undermines the very idea that "mind-training," conceived non-naturalistically, could yield any of the promised changes in the life of an embodied Earthly being.
...The view that immaterial stuff or properties can cause anything to happen is an idea, which despite numerous noble efforts no one one has ever been able to make sense of. The idea that it is possible is inconsistent with all known scientific law.
Yes, indeed. Such wisdom reminds me of me (not surprisingly, given my non-realization of egoless Buddha nature).
I said that God is good for nothing. Consciousness also, it seems. God and/or essential immaterial consciousness may exist, but there is no evidence that either makes any difference in the physical world.
Great news for my Wu Project. If nothing is real, it really is nothing.