I like that Buddhism says that mind, as in brain process, not Mind as in Buddha-Mind, is a sense perception, that the brain is a sense organ, like the eye and ear in seeing and hearing.
The brain is indeed a sense organ in that it evolved to organize energy inputs and channel them to other parts of the brain, just like sense organs do. Only the brain’s output is a context, that is, a story. It is a “meta” sense organ in that it organizes the other senses. And just like the eye can generate it’s own output without “external” inputs (close your eyes and you will see things, colors and lights, generated by random firing of retinal cells) the brain can generate it’s own outputs without inputs; we call them thoughts.
In fact, some would say this is the nature of all of our experience of the dualistic world. We project the universe we experience our brain processes, like the Lankavatara Sutra says.
Too abstract? Try this. Each eye sees only 2 dimensionally. It has to; the retina is a flat sheet in the back of your eye. We project a 3 dimensional world. Our brain compares inputs from both eyes to make that story up. We can do it with one eye, even though there can be no 3 dimensional perception with just one eye. We do it by what we have been conditioned to expect, based on evaluating relative size, shadows, etc. That’s why pictures can look 3 dimensional to us, whether paintings, movies, photographs, TV, etc. It’s why optical illusions work and why one-eyed people don’t walk into walls (at least not a lot more than two-eyed people) and can drive.
How about this? You can’t see a “yellow” photon (that is, a photon at the energy we describe as yellow as shorthand). You have no yellow perceiving photoreceptors. Your brain puts yellow together from various inputs from the retina and projects it back out
Those inputs from one part of the brain (the visual cortex) to other parts of the brain (the visual association centers that put together the world into a coherent visual story) are no different on a brain level than the input of a photon on the retina of the eye that causes changes of energy that are then transmitted to the brain in the first place. Energy in, energy out.
So yes, the brain is indeed a sense organ. Well done, ancient Buddhists!
Lets go wide and deep on this.
first, go small, very deep, to strings, if they exist, we get to just energy patterns. At that level, there are no things, things disappear.
Go wide and big and in the vastness any thing, any fluctuation in the energy, you, the galaxy whatever, even our universe, is so negligible as to be essentially if not actually zero. Like a tiny + and – adding to zero. All change in the realm of what we (our scale of energy fluctuation) can perceive even extended by instruments, is no change at that scale, in the face of infinity, or 10^500 multiverses, or even in our known visible universe, or especially, as I understand it, if there is indeed no beginning no end. At that level, there are no things, things disappear.
So we are back to Shitou and the Tang dynasty Zen poem “The identity of Relative and Absolute” wondering what this vast UNI-verse, this undivided non-dualistic state, and awareness. What is that identity? How do we get to the reductionist stuff from the unified forces or to the unified forces form reductionist stuff? That is true science, the real theory of everything; only it isn’t a theory.
This brings to mind The Diamond Sutra, which says we should not attach to a person, a soul, a defined entity and identity of who and what we are.
To the state of being at the smallest of the small, say a “string” or the smallest quantum fluctuation of virtual particles in the void, at the smallest scale, you don’t exist. That is why a virtual particle, an expression of the vast limitless energy of the void, is “virtual;” it doesn’t feel us and we don’t feel it. Otherwise it would be a particle, not “virtual.” Yet some say that energy is where the big bang, or all existence, came from. It is fundamental. It is “the field.” Others say fields are just concepts that tell us how things act, to do the math (that is, quantum fields can be described by how they work, not what they are). In any case, there is nothing you can do to touch that string or virtual particle, you are too large, too coarse. That smallest world exists in a cosmos that isn’t yours, yet it is you. Yet you only exist as an individual entity (to the degree that you seem to do so) by virtue of the rules of the smallest of the small.
To the Universe/cosmos or multiverse or whatever, at the largest scale you don’t exist. You are too small a blip to register in the unending beginninglessness. Heck, even at the level of the galaxy, our solar system is too small to truly be said to exist as more than a small statistical fluctuation. At larger levels we aren’t even statistically present. Yet you only exist as an individual entity (to the degree that you seem to do so) by virtue of the rules of the biggest of the big.
And in fact, science tells us that there is no privileged time and space, that every point is the center of the universe
That cosmos, the smaller and smaller, or the bigger and bigger, that we can’t seem to touch, is us, because, well, here we are, right dab in the middle of it all.
The ancients would ask a new student “where did you come from?”
Meaning where are you? When are you? Who, what are you?
Good questions. And in some way, science and Buddhism start to converge in the answer.
You are the universe unfolding, without beginning or end, neither here nor there, neither existing or not existing, at least not in the way you think with your sense organs, your day to day relative existence, yet always at the center.
Please, lets take good care of that center!