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The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

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Professor from McDaniel College visits Loyola, applies Buddhist Philosophy to PTSD


On Wednesday March 13, Elizabeth McManaman Tyler, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at McDaniel College specializing in Asian philosophy, feminist philosophy, and phenology gave a lecture titled “The Logic of Ambiguity: A Buddhist Perspective on the Experience of Time in PTSD.” This lecture, related to her most recent paper, described the way Buddhist philosophy can help patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Tyler describes PTSD as “time experienced in a complex way. PTSD includes individuals feeling both present and absent at the same time, awareness of past and present at the same time, and individuals who are certain of their safety at the same time while feeling endangered.” She then discussed how we can turn to Buddhist philosophy to better conceptualize PTSD.

Tyler asked the audience to participate in an activity involving a tree. She asked the question of what the tree depends upon in order to be a tree. Students answered with responses such as water, light, and soil. The point of the experiment was to show that a tree depends on many outside forces in order to maintain their identity. Tyler adds that if the tree were to be stripped of these outside factors, the tree would not be able to survive. This is what Tyler meant by the Buddhist philosophers views on interdependent co-origination. Tyler explained that the Buddhist philosophers are not saying that the tree does not exist, they are just claiming that all identity is relational.

Tyler relates this to PTSD by describing the works of a Buddhist author named Thich Nhat Hanh. She talks about his  idea of no-self or interdependent co-origination and that there is a confluence of relations. All of this was connected back to PTSD as Tyler talked about how every moment is connected to the past and future. She says that there are “no sharp divisions between the past and the present. They are illusory.”

Tyler then goes on to explain the Buddhist approaches to seeing reality, or the two-fold truth of form and emptiness. She says that the two-fold truth relates to the conventional truth and the type of knowledge we can use on a day to day basis and that distinctions are necessary. The Buddhist view is the necessary way of seeing, but not the only way of seeing. They say that the ultimate truth is that we can see the world through the lens of emptiness and that truths are not reality—there is only one reality. Tyler says that this idea of two-fold truth is beneficial to treatment of PTSD because “two-fold truth is helpful to make us make statements at the conventional level, which is true at the same time we make statements at the ultimate truth level, which is false.”

Tyler also describes an idea known as the Catusjoki Logic. Tyler says that there are four possibilities within this logic. They are that something exists, something does not exist, something both exists and does not exist, or that something neither exists nor does not exist. This something, referred to as ‘A’, refers to an object or a living thing. Tyler says that this is a tool used to correct mistaken views about the reality and self and to unmask one’s detachment to discursive thinking. There is also the Aristotelian logic proposition which says that contradictions are fallacies and that an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ cannot exist at the same time.

Tyler directs these logics to what she is concluding in her paper. “We can assume that the Aristotelian propositional logic underlies assumption about the articulation of symptoms of PTSD,” Tyler says. She also talks about the different symptoms of PTSD described in the DSM 5. This includes intrusion symptoms tied to the even – in a moment in the present, and past intrudes on the present moment., negative thoughts and mood changes, and a blurred boundary between past and present. She concludes that PTSD is experienced along a continuum and there is a complete loss of reality and orientation. It could feel as if traumatic events are happening in the moment. Aristotelian logic works with the past and the present, however, with sensory intrusions that do not have loss of reality, a person is still aware of the present as the past comes back.

Here, the logic may not work.

The lecture ended with a discussion amongst the audience. One student asked about how Tyler’s research can be helpful to refugees with PTSD. In response to some questions, Tyler concludes with that her hope is to be able to treat PTSD more effectively with research and focus on integration. Her research is based on the fact that one cannot deny the past.

Featured Image: Courtesy of NPR

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Professor from McDaniel College visits Loyola, applies Buddhist Philosophy to PTSD