Christine Skarda
philosopher . theoretical neuroscientist . buddhist

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Born in Appleton, Wisconsin in 1952, Christine Skarda was educated in the United States and Europe. She received her Ph.D. in philosophy in 1982 and subsequently taught internationally. In 1982, Skarda was invited to join the innovative Sloan program at UC Berkeley and MIT that brought together experts from diverse fields to study intelligence; she thus became a pioneer in the movement later known as cognitive science. Skarda's interest in perception led her to investigate its physiological basis. She held post-doctoral positions in a neuroscience lab at UC Berkeley from 1984 to 1992 and a fellowship in Cognitive Science at the École Polytechnique in Paris between 1986 and 1988.

By the early 1990s, Skarda's own neuroscience research and her analysis of decades of data from the research of others convinced her that the theoretical model of perception prevalent in neuroscience was flawed. Instead of the perceptual system constructing internal representations of a fundamentally separate external world, Skarda presented an alternative model. Reality starts out as an unbroken web, which a perceptual system breaks up. All the data she had analyzed convinced her that our sense of ourselves as subjects completely independent from objects is created by perceptual activity; it is not an actual state of affairs. In fact there are no gaps between the perceiver and the world. (See C. Skarda: The Perceptual Form of Life.)

To gain access to this undifferentiated level and to understand how the perceptual process breaks it up into the world we experience, Skarda then turned to Tibetan Buddhism. This tradition offers systematic methods to explore this foundational state. Since 1992, she has been using these methods to investigate where the model prevalent in neuroscience has gone wrong.

To this end, Skarda has spent the last sixteen years in meditation retreat in India and the United States under the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness Chetsang Rinpoche, and Khen Ngawang Jimpa Rinpoche. She now also teaches Buddhism, drawing from her background in Western thought and science to explain even the most subtle and difficult points of Buddhist philosophy by using the language of the modern world.