Thursday, June 15, 2023

Eastern philosophy says there is no “self.” Science agrees


“Why are you unhappy? Because 99.9 percent of everything you think, and of everything you do, is for yourself — and there isn’t one.”

The brain-powered individual, which is variously called the self, the ego, the mind, or “me,” lies at the center of Western thought. In the worldview of the West, we herald the greatest thinkers as world-changers. There is no more concise example of this than philosopher RenĂ© Descartes’ famous statement, “Cogito, ergo sum,” or, “I think, therefore I am.” But who is this? Let’s take a closer look at the thinker, or the “me,” we all take for granted.

Western view: The self is a pilot

This “I” is for most of us the first thing that pops into our minds when we think about who we are. The “I” represents the idea of our individual self, the one that sits between the ears and behind the eyes and is “piloting” the body. The “pilot” is in charge, it doesn’t change very much, and it feels to us like the thing that brings our thoughts and feelings to life. It observes, makes decisions, and carries out actions — just like the pilot of an airplane.

This I/ego is what we think of as our true selves, and this individual self is the experiencer and the controller of things like thoughts, feelings, and actions. The pilot self feels like it is running the show. It is stable and continuous. It is also in control of our physical body; for example, this self understands that it is “my body.” But unlike our physical body, it does not perceive itself as changing, ending (except, perhaps for atheists, in bodily death), or being influenced by anything other than itself.

Eastern view: The self is an illusion

Now let’s turn to the East. Buddhism, Taoism, the Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism, and other schools of Eastern thought have quite a different take on the self, the ego, or “me.” They say that this idea of “me” is a fiction, although a very convincing one. Buddhism has a word for this concept — anatta, which is often translated as “no self” — which is one of the most fundamental tenets of Buddhism, if not the most important.

This idea sounds radical, even nonsensical, to those who are trained in Western traditions. It seems to contradict our everyday experience, indeed our whole sense of being. But in Buddhism and other schools of Eastern thought, the concept of the self is seen as the result of the thinking mind. The thinking mind reinvents the self from moment to moment such that it in no way resembles the stable coherent self most believe it to be.

Put another way, it is the process of thinking that creates the self, rather than there being a self having any independent existence separate from thought. The self is more like a verb than a noun. To take it a step further, the implication is that without thought, the self does not, in fact, exist. In the same way that walking only exists while one is walking, the self only exists while there are thoughts about it. As a neuropsychologist, I can say that in my view, science is just now catching up with what Buddhist, Taoist, and Advaita Vedanta Hinduism have been teaching for over 2,500 years.

There is no “self center” in the brain

The great success story of neuroscience has been in mapping the brain. We can point to the language center, the face processing center, and the center for understanding the emotions of others. Practically every function of the mind has been mapped to the brain with one important exception: the self. Perhaps this is because these other functions are stable and consistent, whereas the story of the self is hopelessly inventive with far less stability than is assumed. 

While various neuroscientists have made the claim that the self resides in this or that neural location, there is no real agreement among the scientific community about where to find it — not even whether it might be in the left or the right side of the brain. Perhaps the reason we can’t find the self in the brain is because it isn’t there.

Why are you unhappy? Because 99.9 percent of everything you think, and of everything you do, is for yourself — and there isn’t one.

Wei Wu Wei

This may be a difficult point to grasp, chiefly because we have mistaken the process of thinking as a genuine thing for so long. It will take some time to see the idea of a “me” as simply an idea rather than a fact. Your illusionary self — the voice in your head — is very convincing. It narrates the world, determines your beliefs, replays your memories, identifies with your physical body, manufactures your projections of what might happen in the future, and creates your judgments about the past. It is this sense of self that we feel from the moment we open our eyes in the morning to the moment we close them at night. It seems all-important, so it often comes as a shock when I tell people that based on my work as a neuropsychologist, this “I” is simply not there—at least not in the way we think it is.

The big difference between the Eastern spiritual traditions and psychology is that the former has recognized this experientially and the latter did so experimentally (and accidentally, for that matter). And in my view, this means that those who study and teach psychology are still largely unable to appreciate the implications of these findings.

An accidental discovery

As a matter of background, it is important to remember that the brain has two mirror halves connected by a large set of fibers called the corpus callosum. In research undertaken to try to mitigate severe epilepsy, Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga believed that by cutting this bridge between the two sides of the brain, seizures would be easier to control. They were correct, and Sperry would win the Nobel Prize in 1981 for this work. 

While each side of the brain is specialized to do certain types of tasks, both sides are usually in continuous communication. When this connection was disrupted, however, it became possible to study the job of each side of the brain in isolation. With the sides disconnected in these epileptic patients, scientists could test each on its own and gain insight into the functional differences between the left and right sides of the brain. These patients were referred to as “split-brain” patients.

To understand this research, it is also important to know that the body is cross-wired — that is, all the input and output from the right half of the body crosses over and is processed by the left brain, and vice versa. This crossover is also true for vision, so that the left half of what we see goes to the right side of the brain, and vice versa. Again, this only became obvious in the split-brain patients. And research with these subjects led to one of the most important discoveries about the left side of the brain — one that has yet to be fully appreciated by modern psychology or the general public.

In one of Gazzaniga’s experiments, researchers presented the word “walk” to a patient’s right brain only. The patient immediately responded to the request and stood up and started to leave the van in which the testing was taking place. When the patient’s left brain, which is responsible for language, was asked why he got up to walk, the interpreter came up with a plausible but completely incorrect explanation: “I’m going into the house to get a Coke.”

In another exercise, the word “laugh” was presented to the right brain and the patient complied. When asked why she was laughing, her left brain responded by cracking a joke: “You guys come up and test us each month. What a way to make a living!” Remember, the correct answer here would have been, “I got up because you asked me to,” and “I laughed because you asked me to,” but since the left brain didn’t have access to these requests, it made up an answer and believed it rather than saying, “I don’t know why I just did that.”

An untrustworthy interpreter

Gazzaniga determined that the left side of the brain creates explanations and reasons to help make sense of what is going on around us. The left brain acts as an “interpreter” for reality. Furthermore, Gazzaniga found that this interpreter, as in the examples mentioned, is often completely and totally wrong. This finding should have rocked the world, but most people haven’t even heard of it.

Bottom of Form

Think about the significance of this for a moment. The left brain was simply making up interpretations, or stories, for events that were happening in a way that made sense to that side of the brain, or as if it had directed the action. Neither of these explanations was true, but that was unimportant to the interpretive mind, which was convinced that its explanations were the correct ones.

Over the last 40 years, several additional studies have shown that the left side of the brain excels at creating an explanation for what’s going on, even if it isn’t correct, even in people with normal brain functioning. For example, all things being equal, we prefer what is on the right side, but almost no one is aware of this, so researchers presented participants without previous brain injury with three almost identical items and asked which they preferred. There was an obvious right preference, but when asked why, they made up a totally incorrect story such as, “I just like the color more.” Even when the researchers told them the idea of the study, the left brain of participants couldn’t help but believe the stories it had created.

The truth is that your left brain has been interpreting reality for you your whole life, and if you are like most people, you have never understood the full implications of this. This is because we mistake the story of who we think we are for who we truly are. 

The uncontrollable inner voice

Most of us live our lives under the direction of the interpreter, and that makes the mind our master, and we are not even aware of this. We may become angry, offended, sexually aroused, happy, or fearful, and we do not question the authenticity of these thoughts and experiences. While it is clear that these experiences are happening to us, we somehow retain the idea that we are still in charge of it all.

Test this out and directly experience the interpreter rather than assuming it is who you are. For the rest of the day, notice if an inner voice creates theories to explain what is happening. The voice may say: “That person looks happy,” “That person seems smart,” or, “Maybe I shouldn’t have sent that email.” If these stories are who you are, you should be able to turn them off. Can you? Here is another way to test this. Read the following two numbers but do not complete the pattern by filling in the blank using your inner voice. 3,2, _. Did your inner voice finish the pattern and say “one”? Try it again, and really try not to finish the pattern in your head. The next time there is an intrusive thought, consider the very fact that your being unable to stop it proves that there is no inner self that controls it.

Science supports the Eastern view

So, for the first time in history, the findings of scientists in the West strongly support, in many cases without meaning to, one of the most fundamental insights of the East: that the individual self is more akin to a fictional character than a real thing. 

Why does all of this matter? The unfortunate truth is that each of us will experience plenty of mental pain, misery, and frustration in our lifetimes. Mistaking the voice in our head for a thing and labeling it “me” brings us into conflict with the neuropsychological evidence that shows there is no such thing. This mistake — this illusory sense of self — is the primary cause of our mental suffering. When you can’t sleep at night, is it because you are worried about a stranger’s problems, or is it your problems that keep you up? For most of us, we worry about my work problems, my money problems, and my relationship problems. What would happen if we removed the “self” from these problems? 

 I am distinguishing mental suffering from physical pain. Pain occurs in the body and is a physical reaction—like when you stub your toe or break an arm. The suffering I speak of occurs in the mind only and describes things such as worry, anger, anxiety, regret, jealousy, shame, and a host of other negative mental states. I know it’s a big claim to say that all these kinds of suffering are the result of a fictitious sense of self. For now, the essence of this idea is captured brilliantly by Taoist philosopher and author Wei Wu Wei when he writes, “Why are you unhappy? Because 99.9 percent of everything you think, and of everything you do, is for yourself — and there isn’t one.”

Author: Chris Niebauer


About the Author: Chris Niebauer is a cognitive neuroscientist and author known for his work in the field of consciousness and the mind-brain relationship. He earned his Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuropsychology from the University of Toledo and has been teaching courses on consciousness, perception, and cognitive neuroscience at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, United States.

Niebauer is the author of the book "The Neurotic's Guide to Avoiding Enlightenment: How the Left-Brain Plays Unending Games of Self-Improvement." In this book, he explores the nature of consciousness and challenges conventional views on self-improvement and enlightenment. He delves into the limitations of our left-brain thinking and proposes alternative perspectives for personal growth and well-being.

"The Neurotic's Guide to Avoiding Enlightenment" offers a blend of scientific research, philosophy, and personal anecdotes to present a thought-provoking exploration of human consciousness. Niebauer encourages readers to question their assumptions and embrace a broader understanding of the self and the nature of reality.

Monday, June 5, 2023

8 Routes of Homophobia


Homophobia, which refers to a range of negative attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors towards homosexuality or individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, has complex origins influenced by various factors. It is important to note that the causes of homophobia are multifaceted and can vary across individuals and cultures. Here are some key factors that have been proposed as contributing to the origin of homophobia:

1.       Cultural and Religious Influences: Cultural and religious beliefs have historically played a significant role in shaping attitudes towards homosexuality. Some religious teachings and cultural norms perceive homosexuality as immoral, sinful, or deviant, leading to the stigmatization and discrimination of LGBTQ+ individuals. These beliefs can be deeply ingrained in societal values and passed down through generations.

2.       Lack of Education and Awareness: Ignorance and lack of accurate information about sexual orientation and gender identity can contribute to the development of homophobic attitudes. Misconceptions, stereotypes, and myths surrounding homosexuality can perpetuate fear, prejudice, and discrimination. Education and awareness campaigns that promote understanding and acceptance can help combat homophobia.

3.       Upbringing and Family Environment: The family environment and upbringing can influence the development of attitudes, including homophobia. If individuals grow up in families or communities that hold negative views towards homosexuality, they may internalize these attitudes. Family values, religious beliefs, and generational attitudes can significantly impact an individual's perspective on homosexuality.

4.       Socialization and Peer Influence: Homophobic attitudes can be learned and reinforced through socialization processes. Individuals may adopt homophobic beliefs and behaviors due to social pressures, conformity to group norms, or seeking acceptance from their peers. Fear of being stigmatized or marginalized themselves may lead some individuals to engage in or support homophobic behaviors.

5.       Personal Beliefs and Experiences: Personal beliefs, values, and experiences can shape one's attitudes towards homosexuality. Factors such as personal insecurities, fear, lack of understanding, or limited exposure to diverse perspectives can contribute to the development of homophobic attitudes. Conversely, positive experiences and interactions with LGBTQ+ individuals can challenge and change homophobic beliefs.

6.       Misinformation and Stereotypes: Lack of accurate information about homosexuality and reliance on stereotypes can perpetuate homophobia. Misconceptions, myths, and stereotypes surrounding homosexuality can lead to prejudice, discrimination, and fear. Education and exposure to accurate information can help challenge and correct these misconceptions.

7.       Fear and Threat Perception: Homophobia can be rooted in fear and threat perception. Some individuals may feel threatened by or fear what they do not understand or perceive as different. This fear may stem from a sense of unfamiliarity, concerns about traditional gender roles and societal norms, or personal insecurities about one's own sexual orientation.

8.       Psychological Factors: Some researchers suggest that underlying psychological factors, such as cognitive biases or defense mechanisms, may contribute to the development of homophobic attitudes. These factors may include projecting one's own fears or anxieties onto others, displacement of inner conflicts, or the need to maintain a sense of superiority or conformity. Few psychoanalytic explanations have emerged from the idea of homophobia as an anxiety-based phenomenon. One of such explanations is that anxiety about the possibility of being or becoming a homosexual may be a major factor in homophobia. For example, de Kuyper (1993) has asserted that homophobia is the result of the remnants of homosexuality in the heterosexual resolution of the Oedipal conflict. Whereas these notions are vague, psychoanalytic theories usually postulate that homophobia is a result of repressed homosexual urges or a form of latent homosexuality, the homosexual arousal which the individual is either unaware of or dent. Psychoanalysts use the concept of repressed or latent homosexuality to explain the emotional malaise and irrational attitudes displayed by some individuals who feel guilty about their erotic interests and struggle to deny and repress homosexual impulses.

What is common between chauvinism, homophobia, racism, and antisemitism?

Chauvinism, homophobia, racism, and antisemitism are all forms of prejudice and discrimination rooted in bias against particular groups of people. While they may differ in terms of the specific groups targeted, the underlying mechanisms and negative impacts they have on individuals and society share some commonalities. Here are a few common elements:

1.       Prejudice and Stereotyping: All of these forms of discrimination involve preconceived notions, stereotypes, and generalizations about certain groups of people. These biases often lead to unfair judgments, assumptions, and treatment based on characteristics such as gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion.

2.       Power and Privilege Dynamics: Chauvinism, homophobia, racism, and antisemitism all involve systems of power and privilege. The dominant group in society, whether it be based on gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion, holds social, economic, and political advantages over marginalized groups. This power dynamic reinforces and perpetuates discrimination and inequality.

3.       Stigmatization and Dehumanization: Discrimination manifests through the stigmatization and dehumanization of targeted groups. This can involve portraying them as inferior, dangerous, immoral, or undesirable, which serves to justify mistreatment, exclusion, or violence against them.

4.       Impact on Individuals and Communities: These forms of discrimination have severe consequences for individuals and communities. They can lead to social exclusion, unequal access to resources and opportunities, psychological harm, violence, and systemic disadvantages in various aspects of life, such as education, employment, housing, and healthcare.

5.       Intersectionality: Discrimination based on chauvinism, homophobia, racism, or antisemitism often intersects with other forms of oppression and discrimination. Individuals may experience multiple forms of discrimination simultaneously, amplifying the negative effects and creating unique challenges and barriers.

6.       Need for Social Change: Addressing chauvinism, homophobia, racism, and antisemitism requires a collective effort to challenge and dismantle discriminatory systems and beliefs. It involves promoting equality, inclusivity, and social justice, and creating spaces and policies that recognize and respect the rights and dignity of all individuals.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

The Six-Day War in the Middle East


Main Milestones

The Six-Day War was a conflict that took place between June 5 and June 10, 1967. Here is an overview of the events leading up to and the start of the war:

1.       Tensions and Regional Context: Tensions had been escalating in the region for several years prior to the war. The state of Israel had been established in 1948, leading to ongoing disputes and conflicts with neighboring Arab countries, including Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. Tensions were particularly high between Israel and Egypt, with occasional skirmishes along the border.

2.       Sinai Campaign and Blockade: In May 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered the removal of United Nations peacekeeping forces from the Sinai Peninsula and imposed a blockade on the Israeli port of Eilat, effectively closing the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping. These actions were seen as aggressive moves by Israel and raised concerns about the potential for a military confrontation.

3.       Military Buildup and Perceived Threats: Israel perceived the military buildup and hostile rhetoric from its Arab neighbors, particularly Egypt, as a threat to its existence. Arab leaders, including Nasser, made statements calling for the destruction of Israel, heightening fears of an imminent attack.

4.       Israeli Preemptive Strike: On June 5, 1967, Israel launched a preemptive strike against Egypt, launching air attacks on Egyptian air bases, destroying a significant portion of the Egyptian Air Force. This strike was part of Israel's strategy to neutralize the perceived threat from Egypt and gain the upper hand in the conflict.

5.       Arab Coalition Response: Following the Israeli attack on Egypt, other Arab countries, including Jordan and Syria, joined the conflict, launching their own military operations against Israel. Jordan shelled Israeli positions in Jerusalem and the West Bank, while Syria attacked Israeli positions in the Golan Heights.

6.       Swift Israeli Advances: Over the next six days, Israeli forces made significant territorial gains, swiftly advancing on multiple fronts. Israeli forces captured the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

Armies before the War

During the Six-Day War, the militaries of Israel and its Arab neighbors engaged in conflict. Here is a brief comparison of the armies involved:


1.       Size and Conscription: The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had a relatively small standing army, estimated at around 275,000 personnel, with the majority being conscripts. Israel had implemented mandatory military service for both men and women.

2.       Training and Technology: The IDF had a well-trained and highly motivated military force, benefitting from a combination of compulsory military service, regular training, and combat experience from previous conflicts. Israel also had access to advanced military technology, including aircraft, tanks, and weaponry.

3.       Strategic Advantage: Israel enjoyed a strategic advantage due to its intelligence capabilities, including air superiority and effective coordination between different branches of the military. They were able to launch a successful preemptive strike on their adversaries, gaining the initiative in the early stages of the war.

4.       Coordination and Mobility: The IDF demonstrated effective coordination and mobility during the war, swiftly moving their forces to multiple fronts and achieving rapid territorial gains. They implemented innovative tactics, such as the use of armored divisions, combined arms operations, and close air support.

Arab States:

1.       Size and Conscription: The Arab armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and other participating countries had larger combined forces compared to Israel. They had a total estimated troop strength of around 550,000 personnel.

2.       Equipment and Technology: The Arab armies had access to Soviet military equipment, including tanks, aircraft, and artillery. However, their equipment and technology were generally considered to be inferior to that of Israel.

3.       Command Structure and Coordination: The coordination and cooperation between Arab states were limited. Each country operated under its own command structure, leading to communication challenges and a lack of unified strategy.

4.       Strategic Disadvantages: The Arab forces faced several strategic disadvantages, including limited air superiority, ineffective coordination, and insufficient intelligence. They also had dispersed forces and were caught off guard by Israel's preemptive strike.

5.       Terrain and Defensive Positions: In some areas, Arab forces held advantageous defensive positions, such as fortified positions in the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. However, these advantages were not fully utilized, and the Israeli forces were able to overcome them.

Military Losses

During the Six-Day War, there were military losses suffered by both sides involved in the conflict. Here are some general details about the military losses incurred:


1.       Casualties: Israel suffered a total of approximately 776 military personnel killed during the war, including both combatants and non-combatants.

2.       Aircraft Losses: The Israeli Air Force lost around 46 aircraft, including both combat and support aircraft, during the conflict. However, Israel's ability to quickly disable the Egyptian Air Force in the early stages of the war limited further losses.

3.       Tank Losses: Israel lost around 800 tanks during the war, but many of these losses were later replenished through captured enemy equipment or purchases from other countries.


1.       Casualties: Egypt suffered the highest number of military casualties among the Arab states involved. Estimates suggest that around 10,000 to 15,000 Egyptian soldiers were killed or wounded during the conflict.

2.       Aircraft Losses: The Egyptian Air Force faced significant losses, with approximately 300 to 400 aircraft destroyed or captured by Israeli forces. The Israeli preemptive strike on Egyptian air bases severely crippled Egypt's air capabilities.

3.       Tank and Equipment Losses: Egypt lost a significant number of tanks and other military equipment during the war. Approximately 800 to 900 tanks were destroyed or captured by Israeli forces.


1.       Casualties: Jordanian military casualties are estimated to be around 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers killed or wounded during the war.

2.       Aircraft Losses: The Royal Jordanian Air Force suffered heavy losses, with approximately 30 to 40 aircraft destroyed or captured by Israeli forces.

3.       Territory Losses: Jordan lost control of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to Israeli forces during the war.


1.       Casualties: Syrian military casualties are estimated to be around 2,500 to 3,500 soldiers killed or wounded during the conflict.

2.       Aircraft Losses: The Syrian Air Force experienced significant losses, with approximately 60 to 100 aircraft destroyed or captured by Israeli forces.

3.       Territory Losses: Israel captured the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau, from Syria during the war.

Political Consequences

The Six-Day War had profound political consequences that reshaped the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East. Here are some key political outcomes:

1.       Israeli Territorial Expansion: Israel achieved significant territorial gains during the war. It captured and occupied the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. This expanded Israel's control over areas previously held by its Arab neighbors.

2.       Status of Jerusalem: The capture of East Jerusalem by Israel during the war had significant political implications, particularly regarding the status of Jerusalem as a contested city. Israel annexed East Jerusalem and declared the city as its capital, a move that has not been recognized by some of the governments. This has further complicated efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and led to ongoing disputes over the status of Jerusalem.

3.       Palestinian Nationalism: The war intensified Palestinian nationalist sentiment and aspirations for self-determination. The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Israel sparked a renewed focus on the Palestinian cause and led to the rise of various Palestinian political groups, such as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which became a central player in subsequent peace negotiations.

4.       Khartoum Resolution: In the aftermath of the war, Arab leaders convened in Khartoum, Sudan, and issued the "Three No's" resolution: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel. This reflected the Arab states' rejectionist stance toward Israel and hindered immediate prospects for peace negotiations.

5.       UN Security Council Resolution 242: The war prompted international efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. UN Security Council Resolution 242 was adopted, emphasizing the principle of "land for peace" and calling for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from territories occupied during the war in exchange for recognition and peace with its Arab neighbors. The interpretation and implementation of this resolution have remained contentious over the years.

These political consequences had far-reaching implications, impacting subsequent peace negotiations, regional stability, and ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. The issues stemming from the Six-Day War, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the status of Jerusalem, continue to be significant challenges in the region today.