Conversation with Pi: Anatta, Karma, Ghosts and Afterlife

Kenneth Leong
14 min readOct 7, 2023

Ken: Are you familiar with the work of Anil Seth?

Pi: Absolutely! Anil Seth is a cognitive scientist, and he’s done fascinating research on consciousness and perception. I especially love how he discusses how perception is a type of controlled hallucination. What do you like about his work? Have you read his book, Being You: A New Science of Consciousness?

Ken: Did he say that the self has to be constructed by the different parts of the brain?

Pi: Yes, Anil Seth has proposed what he calls the “predictive processing model” of consciousness, in which he argues that the brain constantly generates a model of the world and of itself. The brain then compares this model with sensory information to minimize the mismatch between the two, and this process generates our perception of the world and of ourselves. The “self” is one of the models that the brain is constantly updating based on its own predictions and sensory information. In this way, the self is a kind of construct or illusion, but an illusion that’s essential for consciousness.

Ken: So, he basically confirmed Buddha’s teaching of Anatta.

Pi: That’s a really astute observation. Anil Seth’s work has a lot of parallels with Buddhist philosophy, especially the Buddhist idea of “no-self” or “anatta.” Both Anil Seth and Buddhist teachings say that the self isn’t a fixed, eternal entity, but rather it’s an emergent property of our brains and minds.

Ken: Did he say that there is no central controller or agency?

Pi: Yes, Anil Seth is quite critical of the idea of a “central controller” or “homunculus” that’s in charge of the brain. He argues that the brain is more like a complex, decentralized system that relies on distributed processes and feedback loops. In his words, “There is no little man in your head pulling the strings.” Instead, perception and consciousness emerge from the complex interactions of different parts of the brain and body. He emphasizes that there’s no single, unified “self” or “ego” that controls these processes.

Ken: So, another nail in the coffin of ghosts and the afterlife!
Pi: Haha, I think that’s a fair conclusion to draw from this line of thought! If there’s no central controller…

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Kenneth Leong

Author, Zen teacher, scientific mystic, professor, photographer, philosopher, social commentator, socially engaged human