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“Inside Out” Movie – The Buddhism of Modern Day Neuroscience

inWatched “Inside Out” with my 3 year old daughter.  She might be too young for it.  But, come to think of it, we – as a civilization – might be too young for it.  The modern-day neuroscience drives home an old Buddhist point: there is no “I” – there is no fixed self – we are composite creatures, made up of fluidly rearranging aggregates (see Sunyata doctrine of “emptiness” and Anatman doctrine of “no-self”).  As a civilization, we still think of our respective selves as an “I” whereas each one of us appears to be… a neural “We.”  When we realize that brain is not an organ but an organization, an “I” becomes a “We” and with that we lose the stifling attachment to our self-limiting notions of who/what we are.  Adaptive fluidity ensues.

[The Buddhism of modern-day neuroscience is not, of course, what the movie is about but that’s what stood out for this reviewer.]

A couple of other “mental health” thoughts about the movie:

  • the movie makes a case (probably unintentionally) against early parentification of our children; in the movie, the child protagonist experiences a subtle pressure from parents to be her “happy self” so as to buffer the parents against the stress of the relocation; this, of course, boomerangs.
  • the movie skillfully de-pathologizes such emotions as sadness and anger by showing us that there are essentially no good or bad emotions, that emotions are adaptive amplifications in the service of one’s overall wellbeing; this is a definite paradigm-shift step away from the uber-positive-psychology of joy and happiness; there are many roads to the Rome of Wellbeing and sometimes a detour of sadness is the shortest cut (which, tangentially, brings to mind The [very playful] Depression Book: Depression as an Opportunity for Spiritual Growth by the Buddhist teacher, Cheri Huber)

In sum, “Inside Out” is a neuro-/psychologically savvy movie with a definite “adult” track to keep both the parents and the kids well entertained and humanistically enriched.


“Inside Out” Movie – The Buddhism of Modern Day Neuroscience

Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

Pavel Somov, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice and the author of 7 mindfulness-based self-help books. Several of his books have been translated into Chinese, Dutch & Portuguese. Somov is on the Advisory Board for the Mindfulness Project (London, UK). Somov has conducted numerous workshops on mindfulness-related topics and appeared on a number of radio programs. Somov's book website is and his practice website is

Marla Somova, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Pittsburgh, PA. She is the co-author of "Smoke Free Smoke Break" (2011).

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APA Reference
Somov, P. (2019). “Inside Out” Movie – The Buddhism of Modern Day Neuroscience. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Mar 2019
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