John Dunne: Dharmakīrti, Perception, and Cognitive Science

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For this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, host Daniel Aitken speaks with John Dunne, Distinguished Professor of Contemplative Humanities at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and author of Foundations of Dharmakīrti’s Philosophy, published by Wisdom. John’s research focuses on Buddhist philosophy in relationship to contemplative practice, religious studies, and cognitive science. In this rich conversation, John covers a wide array of fascinating topics. He talks about the innate need for physiological connection with other human beings and its relationship to both fear and anxiety within both Buddhist and cognitive science perspectives. He then delves deeply into the world of Dharmakīrti’s philosophy of perception, comparing Dharmakīrti’s views with that of other Indian Buddhist philosophers as well as Tibetan Mahāmudrā. John weaves all this together within an intriguing account of his own life story. He talks about his spiritual quest for his so-called “true identity” as a young person, his multiple paths through college including his time at Harvard University, and the great impact of his teachers such as Robert Thurman and Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche.

About the Interviewee

John D. Dunne (PhD 1999, Harvard University) holds the Distinguished Chair in Contemplative Humanities, an endowed position created through the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He also holds a co-appointment in the new Department of Asian Languages & Cultures.

John Dunne’s work focuses on Buddhist philosophy and contemplative practice, especially in dialog with Cognitive Science and Psychology. His publications appear in venues ranging across both the Humanities and the Sciences, and they include works on Buddhist philosophy, contemplative practice and their interpretation within scientific contexts.

John Dunne speaks in both academic and public contexts, and he occasionally teaches for Buddhist communities, most notably at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe. In addition to serving as a faculty member for the Center for Healthy Minds, he is a Fellow and former Board member of the Mind and Life Institute. Dr. Dunne also serves an academic adviser for the Ranjung Yeshe Institute.

Photograph and bio courtesy of John Dunne. 

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