Journal Article

Grasping at Ontological Straws: Overcoming Reductionism in the Advaita Vedānta—Neuroscience Dialogue

Stephen Kaplan

in Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Published on behalf of American Academy of Religion

Volume 77, issue 2, pages 238-274
Published in print June 2009 | ISSN: 0002-7189
Published online June 2009 | e-ISSN: 1477-4585 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jaarel/lfp019
Grasping at Ontological Straws: Overcoming Reductionism in the Advaita Vedānta—Neuroscience Dialogue

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Contemporary neuropsychology reveals that the parietal lobe contains neurons that are specifically attuned to the act of grasping and this act may be fundamental to the establishment of the phenomenal boundaries between subject and object. Furthermore, alterations to this process, such as the hypoactivation of this region during meditation or the hyperactivation associated with schizophrenia, may eliminate or confuse, respectively, the phenomenal boundaries between subject and object. Traversing disciplines, the Advaita Vedānta school of Hinduism traces some of its key terms for subject and object to the verbal root grah, to grasp. The subject is literally the grasper. Furthermore, the practice of asparśa yoga, the yoga of no-touch, is aimed at stopping, hypoactivating, the grasping process in order to transcend all subject–object boundaries. This paper will argue that while we have not uncovered an identity of thought, we have uncovered a confluence of ideas between these two disciplines. We will see that this confluence of ideas has not pitted the believer against the critic—not forced us into the great reductionism debate that has dominated so much of the interchange between religious studies and the sciences. This case study will illuminate some of the methodological ways around this reductionism battle and also the boundaries of both disciplines for the intellectual benefit of each.

Journal Article.  13768 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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