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On the stages of perception: towards a synthesis of cognitive neuroscience and the Buddhist Abhidhamma tradition

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The nature of perceptual and memory processes is examined in the light of suggested complementarity between introspective and empirical traditions. The introspective material analysed here is that found in the Buddhist Abhidhamma literature of the Pali canon on the stages of perception. Possible psychological and neurophysiological correspondences to these stages are proposed. The model of perception advanced here emphasizes two phases. The first involves sensory analysis and related memory readout. I postulate that this phase is completed when coherence in oscillatory neuronal patterns indicates a ‘match’ between sensory input and memory readout. The second phase results in consciousness of the object, which comes about when a connection is effected between the representation of the input as generated in phase one and a representation of self (or ‘I’). ‘I’ is itself generated in this second phase in relation to the memory readout of phase one, since this readout includes relevant prior formations of ‘I’. It is suggested that ‘I’ functions in the organization of memory and recall.

Keywords: Buddhist psychology; Consciousness; mysticism; perception; preconscious processing

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Human Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University, Trueman Building, 15-21 Webster Street, Liverpool L3 2ET, UK.

Publication date: 1997-02-01

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