It turns out the Buddhist concept of not-self, or Anatta, is a verified scientific premise. Since the rise in popularity of the Dalai Lama in the 1980’s, the study of Buddhism has fascinated neuroscientists. This is because a team of scientists and the Tibetan leader came together and created Mind and Life Institute, which studied these effects in earnest. The science that came out of those first studies gave validation to what monks have known for years — if you train your mind, you can change your brain.
Buddha didn’t teach the confusing philosophy of anatta to lay-people, for fear that it might get misconstrued. After all, the idea that we don’t have a ‘constant self’ is a little strange! Evan Thompson, the scientist who verified the philosophy, said that “the brain and body is constantly in flux. There is nothing that corresponds to the sense that there’s an unchanging self.”
So basically, to further elaborate on the concept of anatta: if you were to look at a video of yourself from the past, or something you wrote years ago, you’ll notice your interests, perspective, beliefs, attachments, relationships, et al, have all changed in some way. Anatta doesn’t mean there’s no you; it just means that you are constantly changing, constantly evolving, and shape-shifting.
So why is this important?
Because if there’s no constant ‘you’ then we don’t have to take things so personally; thoughts and external events aren’t happening to us personally. They don’t define us. This can give us a tremendous sense of liberation because we can change ourselves however we see fit.
“Buddhists argue that nothing is constant, everything changes through time, you have a constantly changing stream of consciousness,” Thompson said in an interview. “And from a neuroscience perspective, the brain and body is constantly in flux. There’s nothing that corresponds to the sense that there’s an unchanging self.”