The MWS Podcast 62: Evan Thompson on Waking, Dreaming, Being

Evan Thompson, Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, is an expert in the fields of cognitive science, philosophy of mind, phenomenology, and cross-cultural philosophy, especially Buddhist philosophy in dialogue with Western philosophy and science. He co-wrote the ground-breaking ‘The Embodied Mind’ with Francisco Varela and Eleanor Rosch, which was the arguably the first book to explore the relationship between Buddhist Philosophy and cognitive science. He’s also the author of ‘Colour Vision’ and ‘Mind in Life’. He’s here to talk to us today about his latest book ‘Waking, Dreaming,  Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy’ and how it might relate to the Middle Way.


MWS Podcast 62: Evan Thompson as audio only:
Download audio: MWS_Podcast_62_Evan_Thompson

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About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

2 thoughts on “The MWS Podcast 62: Evan Thompson on Waking, Dreaming, Being

  1. A rich and fascinating podcast. I got the sense that Evan had been following the Middle Way with depth and sincerity, in learning from a variety of traditions and synthesising them without allowing any of their dogmatic assumptions to dominate. He also seems to offer a great example of the synthesis of philosophy, science and Buddhism.

    I would like to read Evan’s new book. His focus seems to be quite different from mine in centring on consciousness, whereas my focus is very much on judgement, though the approaches could be very much complementary. I’ve often felt that consciousness is a rather mysterious thing that it’s better to be agnostic about than to try to ‘explain’, but Evan’s approach in the podcast does seem to respect that mystery, whilst following the evidence as far as it goes. His comments on out-of-body experiences, particularly, strike me as spot-on, as he combines respect for them as experiences with a recognition of the ways in which they remain embodied.

    I’d be interested to know more of Evan’s approach to judgement (there’s a summary of my approach on this site at http://www.middlewaysociety.org/middle-way-philosophy/judgement/ ) and also his views on agnosticism and provisionality. What he says about the self ‘not being an illusion’ I thoroughly agree with (assuming he uses ‘illusion’ in the sense of definite denial), but that leaves us with the need for an agnostic understanding of what we do think about the self (as about other metaphysical constructions related to it). That’s an area where I’ve found the Madhyamaka approach wanting, as it doesn’t seem to give us any help on the nature of provisionality or agnosticism, and where I’ve found scepticism, brain lateralisation, and the concept of optionality much more helpful. Does Evan have responses to the work of people like Lakoff and Johnson, Iain McGilchrist or Nassim Nicholas Taleb?

    One might say that judgement depends on states of consciousness, but I’d be more inclined to argue that it depends on a total psychological state including unconscious contents as well as states of consciousness. At the same time, the reverse applies – our views of consciousness entirely depend on judgement. So it seems more important to me to understand judgement as a matter of priority. However, that doesn’t mean that Evan’s work on consciousness couldn’t inform our understanding of judgement, so I’d be keen to know whether he thinks it can.

    1. The self may be an ongoing construction, but that doesn’t make it an illusion. The illusion is to think that there is some fixed, essential self. This is the persistently arising illusion represented to us by the Ego Tunnel of Thomas Metzinger. I am aware that I am deluded by this representation, but that awareness comes and goes. And that’s OK, the illusion is highly functional, for the most part. I am deluded by an illusion?

      I have found Thompson’s lectures and writing to be clear, concise, and informed. Here’s a talk on “Waking, Dreaming, Being.” (definitely read the book) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZyJODW4lQs
      Here’s another on Buddhism and cognitive science: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqWYeE2E07w
      And a nice podcast from Upaya’s Zen Brain, the Embedded Mind conference that had the idea of “context” as an important theme: https://www.upaya.org/2015/03/evan-thompson-02-06-2015-zen-brain-the-embedded-mind-perspectives-from-buddhism-and-cognitive-science-part-2/

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