NO SELF NO PROBLEM by Chris Niebauer
Review by William Brochs-Haukedal
There seems to be developing a trend towards testing traditional Western science, built on rational/empirical thought, against other kinds of thinking. Religion, Eastern philosophy and fringe Western psychology are the most frequent suspects. This book looks at similarities between some central elements of (mainly) Buddhist thinking and newer findings in neuropsychology, pointing to some possible implications interesting for most of us: Psychological health, happiness and the pursuit of meaning (to mention the most central concepts).
The book's main argument, as reflected in the title, is that the experienced self is an illusion. For the reader not familiar with Buddhism this idea could be surprising, to say the least, but it is a cornerstone of that system. From there, Niebauer argues that neuropsychology research points to the same conclusion. For example, there are many studies documenting the brain's readiness for interpreting events, internal as well as external. Moreover, this interpretation is more like a construction activity rather than "research", which always leads to incomplete and often wrong ideas of reality.
These constructed representations of the world and inner states, argues the author, likely is behind feelings of dissatisfaction, anxiety, depression and unhappiness. Here, he cites Buddhism which has offered the same explanation for thousands of years. The Buddhist (and the author's) solution is to get rid of the self. No self, no problem.Today, much of psychotherapy as well as mindfulness and similar practises builds on the same arguments, although those practises target the mis-representations rather than the self as such.
The book is relevant for those searching for research based insights on how the brain and mind work, and who wonder if such knowledge has practical value for themselves. After reading it you will have a general understanding of those issues, as well as an idea about some central tenets of Eastern philosophy and spirituality.
The book is an easy read (given its complex topic) and contains suggestions for personal experimentation. Some of its conclusions will be deemed somewhat outside the field's academic main street, and will deter some readers. A discussion of this issue would have enhanced the text, but I suppose that would be outside the interest for its main targeted readers.
I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to all interested in these matters.