relational mindfulness
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Perspective from neuropsychology


This fundamental idea of there being no central controlling “inner person” is concordant with contemporary neuropsychological research.  When we hear the sound of a bird chirping, for example, the sound waves from the birdsong beat against our eardrum, and are mechanically transmitted from the inner ear’s Organ of Corti to the acoustic nerve.  From there, information about the birdsong’s rhythm and pitch is relayed to a midbrain structure called the thalamus, and then on to the primary auditory cortex in the brain’s temporal lobe.  At the same time, memories of our previous experiences with birds, visual images of birds, and information about birds—their names, the fact that they fly, eat insects, and live in nests--are activated in series and in parallel in different regions of the brain.  For example, the evocation of visual images may be related to activity in the visual association areas of the occipital cortex, while evocation of the names of birds may be related to activity in the auditory association cortex of the temporal lobe.  The main point of this exposition is that there is no single place of the brain where all of these auditory and visual sensations, impressions, facts, and memories about birds are finally integrated together, and where the realization “that’s a robin’s song!” occurs as the final output of a lengthy process. There is no central control room or final point where “Aha!” occurs.  Neuropsychologists call this the “binding problem,” but it’s not really a problem—just a surprising fact.

-- Seth Zuiho Segall, Buddhism and Human Flourishing: A Modern Western Perspective (Manuscript, p.135) relational mindfulness

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