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Buddhism and Modern Psychology

Coursera · Princeton University · 1 HN points · 9 HN comments

HN Academy has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention Coursera's "Buddhism and Modern Psychology" from Princeton University.
Course Description

The Dalai Lama has said that Buddhism and science are deeply compatible and has encouraged Western scholars to critically examine both the meditative practice and Buddhist ideas about the human mind. A number of scientists and philosophers have taken up this challenge. There have been brain scans of meditators and philosophical examinations of Buddhist doctrines. There have even been discussions of Darwin and the Buddha: Do early Buddhist descriptions of the mind, and of the human condition, make particular sense in light of evolutionary psychology?

This course will examine how Buddhism is faring under this scrutiny. Are neuroscientists starting to understand how meditation “works”? Would such an understanding validate meditation—or might physical explanations of meditation undermine the spiritual significance attributed to it? And how are some of the basic Buddhist claims about the human mind holding up? We’ll pay special attention to some highly counterintuitive doctrines: that the self doesn’t exist, and that much of perceived reality is in some sense illusory. Do these claims, radical as they sound, make a certain kind of sense in light of modern psychology? And what are the implications of all this for how we should live our lives? Can meditation make us not just happier, but better people?

All the features of this course are available for free. It does not offer a certificate upon completion.

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This course is offered by Princeton University on the Coursera platform.
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I suggest you skim through these lectures.

It touches on the connections between mindfulness and modern understanding of the mind. Most important, it talks about this problem, that you are not aware of the amout of decisions and input/output data is hidden from you, and how much of your life is narrating outcomes, rather than deciding them.

Fascinating stuff. Makes me feel like a batch of hidden layers struggling for consensus with one tiny human-interaction module that tells a consistent story about why certain outputs are weighted, and that story is called "free will and personality".

Buddhism and Modern Psychology by Princeton. This course was just mind-blowing for me. It talks a lot about how our evolutionary survival mechanisms prevent us from seeing the world clearly. If anyone has taken similar courses would love to hear.

This is an absolutely amazing course! It's also about how Buddhism actually guessed so many things correctly about how our brains work. The author explains about Buddhist ideas and almost for every of them, there is a scientific experiment, that indicates it could be true.
I will +nth this course. Tying an ancient philosophy with modern science lends both a lot of credibility. Note that religious aspects are not addressed. Practical aspects of buddhism (such as a regular meditation practice, approach to emotions, etc) are discussed. I find it very useful in day to day life.
Mar 02, 2018 · 1 points, 0 comments · submitted by blocked_again
Please look up Judson Brewer and Gary Weber (sorry for brevity, I'm on the go).

EDIT: actually this is an excellent resource for the HN crowd, 100% BS free. It explains DMN and much more:

This reminds me of the Mental Modules popping in and out of existence from the Coursera course "Buddhism and Modern Psychology", in week 4:
And meditation is? Sitting in a public place in yoga pants holding fingers in a mudra? Vacation defined as? Does vacation include visiting Buddhist countries and Indian meditation retreats? How long a vacation should be?

Hint: meditation requires a profound changes in ones assumptions about his own nature and conditioning. That's why the teaching of the Buddha has been a philosophy, not a book of asanas. Meditation is the tool to realize accuracy and correctness of Buddha's insights. To test and validate his hypothesis by yourself.

there is a good place to start:

The course mentioned by parent is definitely worth watching for anyone interested. Lot of valuable information both on neuro/psychology of meditation and Buddhism.

I wouldn't agree with the statement that medidtation requires profound changes in ones assumptions. One can start with just a simple instruction, eg. "don't think about the breath, but watch for sensations that constitute the experience of breathing" and, as they develop mindfulness, incporporate more and more conceptual knowledge about what Buddha called Right View while testing it in practice.

I guess you're right, though, that without right information you could possibly sit in your yoga pants and mudra (vide any stock photo with 'meditation' tag) and don't get anywhere for years.

Aug 16, 2016 · gagagababa on Optimism
I found Princeton's Buddhism and Modern Psychology particularly interesting [1]. You can read the course's overview to decide if it would be of any interest to you.


Buddhism and Modern Psychology by Robert Wright (author of The Moral Animal). It uses evolutionary psychology, modularity of mind, and other modern cognitive science theories to explain why some modern version of the buddhist teachings (like meditations) work. It includes interesting interviews and solid book/article recommendations. It's very eye-opening to me and gave me a whole new perspective about happiness and meaning in life.

On the subject of happiness, Prof Raj Raghunathan's "A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment" is also something I would highly recommend. The learner stands to gain a lot of insights on the types of motivations serve to enhance as well as undermine happiness.

Check out

Have changed for the better because of it :)

I'm not familiar with Minsky's book, but the core idea seems to have a lot in common with the modular theory of mind [1], which was explored in a MOOC that I found fascinating, and which is now available in a self-paced form [2].

[1] -

[2] -

The book that really got me going was The Way of Zen by Alan Watts. I felt like that was a good introduction for myself (a Westerner who didn't want the religious component of Buddhism).

From there it was pretty much a lot of sitting, breath meditation, and hard work - it's very tempting to chase thoughts that pop-up during meditation, but reminding yourself to let it go and move back to focusing on the breath builds the ability later in "everyday" life to notice you have a poor/misguided thought pattern motivated by ego or emotion and to step back and realize you are not that emotion or thought, it is just something happening, and you're able to let those emotions go much easier and make calmer and more rational decisions. I am in no way an expert of any sort, I'm still figuring out this stuff as well, but it's been significantly beneficial just from the short time I've been practicing.

Honestly the /r/meditation FAQ has some good resources and links there, especially ones relating to mindfulness in plain English (it cuts out the spirituality aspect quite a bit). There is also a course on Coursera called Buddhism and Modern Psychology ( ) that I was interested, but I have no experience with it. Hopefully this helps in some way :-)

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