Modern Zen and Psychoanalysis: The Semantic Connection

European Journal of Japanese Philosophy 1:189-202 (2016)
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This paper attempts to locate modern Zen and psychoanalysis in terms of contemporary philosophy of mind, particularly in view of dominant theories of cognitivism that see the mind as informational and material, with meaning being mere information in disguise. Psychoanalysis and modern Zen hold to the contrary view that the mind is “semantic,” not “syntactic,” and that the meanings we have in our heads are not reducible to the physical informational processes from which they have emerged. Meaning, as non-reducible, is infinite and uncaused. However, the structure of meaning entails a split between a knower and what is known. This split creates problems in the mind which can be confronted through more, not less, engagement with the meanings in our minds, until we are self-aware and, perhaps, self-identical, with the mechanisms of consciousness that produce the meanings in our head. Such self-awareness is seen as being self-liberating rather than self-reducing.


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