The brain can only function excellently…at its highest capacity and energy, when it is completely secure…when it is not believing, or holding onto some illusions, some concepts/beliefs/fate…some fantastic ideas. Or- the ideas of Marx, and Lenin, [krishnamurti,] and so on. Or- our own democratic ideas and holding onto them.
this kid is too darned adorable. I’m currently with him at his momma & poppa’s – they’re out on a date. and lucky them, because both of them are pretty swell folks. as is their little boy here – his facial expressions are so remarkably nuanced. sitting with him & constantly smiling at him, trying to make him smile back – i am instantly reminded that He Sees Through Me, and wont be irrationally tickled into a happy state. immense and subtle is his learning – amazing to watch him move, grasp, re-grasp, squeak, re-grasp, drop……like a drop of ink falling into the water. the ink (baby) & its environment (water) are not separate, but are distinct…..& adjust, mingle, altering one another reciprocally. even most contemporary language in the world of developmental psychology and developmental neuroscience is suggestive of this idea that babies are ‘learning the skills needed to be an adult,’ as if the passivity of embodiment suddenly vanishes at old age. in my experience both the adult (or the advanced adult/senior/cute old prune) and the child follow this same ink-water relationship. perhaps the adult-ink has settled more equally into the water, and is more familiar with the turnings of the water, and vice versa. but both follow the same rules, & neither is entitled to magic intentionality.
as a helpful reminder (or perhaps the very prompt) for these lines of thinking are some of the books that mom & dad have sitting around here. The Soul of an Octopus is the clear Ian-choice:
“Popular naturalist Sy Montgomery explores the emotional and physical world of the octopus, the remarkable connections it makes with people, and the vibrant community that arises around this complex, intelligent, and spirited creature. Practicing true immersion journalism, from New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, Montgomery befriends individual octopuses with strikingly different personalities – gentle Athena, assertive Octavia, curious Kali, and joyful Karma – who show their cleverness in myriad ways: escaping enclosures, creative trickery to get food, and jetting water to bounce balls. Montgomery also chronicles scientists’ growing appreciation of the octopus’s problem-solving as she tells a love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about the meeting of two very different minds.”
but resting just nearby is another consciousness-themed text. Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy. I would type the description of that one but it’s too long, and this baby over here is murmuring/moving in his sleep.
Be back soon
Baby consciousness. It’s now 4/23/2017 but I have to share some thoughts retroactively. Babysat a very special boy for some very special friends last week. As someone who loves littles more than bigs in this human world it was an absolute gift. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to take notes but had zero opportunity to take notes. So I jotted down what I could with the inkwell of my hippocampus and later wrote them down. Just a few moments/observations (These are not written in order, and are not representative of any overall sequence of behavior, as they were put on paper down some hours after the actual experience)
- At ten months baby has good eye contact and according to Dad he is BIG: “He’s in the 90th percentile for size.” “So you’re saying he’s gonna be a big boy?” “He already IS big. 90th percentile NOW. He’s a big baby!” & we had a laugh.
- Baby has a unique behavior I most enjoyed. A sort of hand motion/wave. Less of a wave than a reach. In a literal embodiment of an “approach” behavior his left arm, led tentatively and first by his left hand and wrist, twist outwardly and warmly into the air. He twisted his chubby bubby fingers inward, as if creating a cosmic corkscrew to say HELLO. Once his little hand was twisted inward in blissful engagement he clasps and unclasps his hand – this all (obviously) takes place as he beams right into your soul. Babies seem to be quite good at that.
- A fun bit of behavior on the stairs. After about 20 minutes of spending time with baby and Dad, Dad began explaining to me how to babysit/the ins-and-outs of the house. Nursery is upstairs so up we went. & as myself, Dad, baby & family dog ascended the stairs Dad began to explain a few more of baby’s behaviors. The stairs are carpeted and Baby, w/Dad behind, was crawling up them.
- Baby had been increasingly focused on me before we began the Great Stair Climb – offering more eye contact, smiling at me. So as we began on the stairs, with me and Dad behind, baby was distracted/not climbing quickly. It seemed this strange invader behind him was more captivating than The Great Stair Climb. Me: “Maybe I should go up the stairs [ahead of him]?” Dad: “Yeah, you’ve got his attention. Go ahead of him.”
- So I did, & this incentivized baby to speed up and get smiley. How compelling and ineffably warm it felt to have this massive and newly formed consciousness gurgling and approaching.
lad is conscious of me – perhaps 3 times so far we have met and hung out in the presence of his Dad. Today was a warmup to our first one-on-one hangout on Thursday.
Babies are tremendous and wondrous. To anyone fascinated by biology, physical forms, learning, animals, family…I’ll shut up now. Babies are amazing & everyone knows it. But to be clear – this journal of mine is for observations of living things, and today’s opportunity was a rare gem amongst the daily dirt.
Baby – small. large head, of course. His presence rendered me compelled to observe and also eager for eye contact. Eye contact is rare in this day & age – normally I feel I am seeking it, adults frustrate me in their lack of it….to sustain in it (or persist in it) seems to require or signify a type of FORTITUDE.
Not so with a baby.
Baby instead had me requesting his eye contact but, unlike larger humans, made me follow his lead in that attempt in a much happier and rewarding way. In general (with big people) it really feels that I am trying to lead them into a substantial interaction, or at least into eye contact, but in this instance it was Baby who was leading me – to look/not look/wait/not wait. With Big People it seems I am forceful and am compelled to channel. With Little People I am gleefully and willingly channelED.
sorry. the machine-consciousness bandwagon is catchy. it really is. and the same caravan of wannabe-theories (extending backward through history) has similar bandwagons worth hopping onto. not unlike rich kids today who experience their first metaphysical considerations at the sight of a overpriced virtual reality headset, roman elites looked away from theology or metaphysics & instead proclaimed that fountain technology would rip apart the very fabric of reality. when a pocketwatch was amongst the most complicated of mandmade artifacts there was only a single thing on earth in the minds of their owners nearly as glorious or intentional in its construction- yes, duh, the brain. whenever a new technology emerges that outraces its predecessors the first audible noise is a human making proud and inept self-reference.
post-enlightenment egotism serves this notion that humans (the only sentient thing) are special (after all, we are the most complex thing of all things) and therefore other complex things (almost as special) are also sentient things (almost as sentient as people). Folks on this machine-consciousness bandwagon often love to drool over Alan Turing but are creeped out or dismissive of panpsychism. That is to say they believe their silica-based electronics, envisioned by some obsessed white entrepreneur somewhere, have consciousness, but trees and gusts of wind do not. computers think, but Sister Silica does not. today in 2017 this allows flashy characters with inaccessible toys and tech-speak to swallow up an entire culture’s worth of dialogue about consciousness and quietly slink off to shit it all out, revealing their intellectual indigestion. i encounter so many of these types in the world of neuroscience. The same attitude against these passive panpsychist “spooks” existing within or as all matter (“nah dude, my Macbook is conscious but not a rock. btw, machines are gonna take over the world”) is incredibly phobic of the singular machine consciousness they somehow cling to. Don’t get me wrong- Terminator and Ex Machina are splendid movies but they aren’t scary. I did read Frankenstein, after all.
if you’ve made it past philosophy 101 and have still invested all of your ontological energies into the folly end of the Can Machines Think? question, and find yourself in disagreement with me, please leave me a comment. it’s 3:56am and as much as I’d like to keep challenging machine consciousness I need to power down for the night
last wednesday i was finishing up acting class at Macalester when my tummy began to rumble. time to stuff some food into my abdomen! despite receiving some 200 hours of acting training from professor Harry Waters Jr since last year he and I had not yet grabbed lunch together – big mistake. we walked down to the St. Clair broiler & sat down in a booth next to the uncomfortably large fish mounted upon the wall.
mr marvin berry & i discussed some of the more topical/superfluous/symptomatic elements of our conscious experience: how things are going lately, a few stories about youth & a bit of personal background, etc. it was the typical type of conversation that most humans have. amidst our conversation about parenting, teaching, and life there was an older gentleman sitting one booth over reading a book. when we finished our dessert & got up to leave the fellow, wearing a red sweater and a friendly smile, got our attention.
“Sorry to interrupt you two, but did I hear you talking about teaching a few times?”
“Well, yes, you did!”
“Are you a teacher? Or, I mean, do you teach? I teach. I used to be a professor over here at St. Thomas, which is why I ask.”
& so the conversation began. Harry had to leave after a brief period of time but professor Tom Sullivan and I went on to chat for over an hour. he’s a philosopher who is extremely well respected and well versed in the areas of philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and theology. it was quite enjoyable to have an extended conversation about consciousness with someone who is equally (or more) informed, intrigued, and stumped by the hard problem of consciousness. we discussed the merits of nagel and chalmers (duh) and the shortcomings of koch and crick (sorry, boys). Tom was nice enough to offer an extended explanation of what he finds to be the problem with creating a theory of consciousness. In a later blog post I will lay that out (or perhaps just upload my notes from the conversation).
Most of the world, connected tightly by digital devices, fiber-optics, and touchscreens, is well aware that we have a problem with use of force by law enforcement. In fact it is not uncommon for the average person in the United States to be acquainted with someone who has been the victim of brutal and outdated forms of police training and often times also to have been a victim themselves. This is especially true for people of color, persons with brain diseases, individuals who do not conform to gender-binary norms – and if you’re several or all of these things, life in America is feudal. And it’s all over the news – every day there are videos of more shootings, more police officers being released despite having blood on their hands. You know it sucks. Everyone knows it sucks – not least of all the police themselves.
But despite the huge public awareness of the problem, there is very little discussion or awareness of possible solutions. Why is that? Certainly, for many people, the mistake is to assume that there are no solutions to the use of force problem or to police brutality. This is actually quite understandable. Why should the average citizen, who is pretty much voiceless and without any influence over the police, be expected to understand how to stop police-related killings? In our western world the preference of media entities and of lawmakers is to stagnate any real progress in the realm of public safety or social equality, and subsequently tragedies continue to occur and the police continue to have suboptimal training. The police themselves (with the exception of some groups) have, without adequate education or funding or support, been absolutely unable to be the nation’s emergency psychiatrists, even though they are generally expected to be. But thanks to the federal and state governments there is no money or space for individuals with sickness, and the cycle of death and pain continues. The natural tendency of individuals at the level of the community, then, is to be upset – the media can make a lot more money by perpetuating and dramatizing that problem rather than helping to solve it. Those who remain unaware that this is a systemic issue of a lack of training continue to be upset with one another, and upset at the police, when disaster strikes again and again. It makes sense, even though it’s terrible. So it’s not surprising that the problem persists overall.
But there are solutions. Despite the fact that your local and state government have absolutely no time, money, or compassion for the individuals suffering at its own hand from mental illness, drug abuse, or personal crisis, there are a handful of individuals within that system who have helped to make some progress. And above and beyond that there are truly miraculous grassroots efforts to improve circumstances for individuals in crisis who have to face off with police – these are tiny groups of advanced trainers who teach law enforcement officials and police how to better handle these situations peacefully. Larger still is the contribution of individuals – doctors, nurses, social workers, advocates, community organizers, families, friends, clergy, artists – the burden continues to remain on medically unskilled persons to bear the emotional weight of their troubled loved ones. Out of these massive support networks, and the associated tragedies, a number of groups have emerged to offer the world’s most advanced training in crisis intervention. Various survivors of police encounters, police trainers and officers themselves, and other healthcare, emergency medicine, and psychiatric experts are the meat and bones of these entities, who are few in number but great in power. With great pleasure I am describing to you groups like Minnesota’s own Barbara Schneider Foundation – a nonprofit that focuses on the CIT model of crisis intervention.
I have spent some time speaking, teaching, and consulting with this group in particular about my own experiences. This past January I also wrote their director a brief proposal that articulated my understanding of the work BSF is accomplishing and my small vision for how it might be improved. In summary it is my opinion from experience and academic training that the brain sciences (and particularly the areas of affective neuroscience, developmental neuroscience, and psychiatry) will in coming years offer a revolutionary and unparalleled set of solutions and strategies for communities and nations to address the issues of brain disease, extreme personal crises, and the psychiatric stability of the public. The World Health Organization is of the opinion that by 2030, depression will be the leading cause of disability on earth. I would rather not cite statistics on how many persons with mental illness are killed by police every year – just go read about it yourself. The brain is the source of these mysterious issues, and it is through an accumulated world history of powerful, personal, and sometimes tragic anecdotes, combined with new and nearly mystical insights into our own existence through the study of the nervous system, that will begin to alleviate the suffering of so many. This must start with basic empirical research at the level of how mental health crises emerge in the brain, in the moment, and in the world – hence, ‘3 levels of the mental health crisis.’
enjoy. this is a very rough draft; judge accordingly.
By thus being set face to face, however weak the mental faculties may be, there is no doubt of one’s gaining Liberation. Yet, though so often set face to face, there are classes of men who, having created much bad karma, or having failed in observance of vows, or, their lot [for higher development] being altogether lacking, prove unable to recognize: their obscurations and evil karma from covetousness and miserliness produce awe of the sounds and radiances, and they flee. [If one be of these classes], then, on the Fourth Day, the Bhagavān Amitābha and his attendant deities, together with the light-path from the Preta-loka, proceeding from miserliness and attachment, will come to receive one simultaneously.
I’ve gotta admit it, guys. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is really messing with me.
Tibetan Book of the Dead? What’s that? Google it. Read it. There are a few different editions and .pdfs you can find online [if you’re too cool to go to your local bookstore]. Many of them have commentaries and commentaries and commentaries and commentaries throughout or preceding the text. Whether or not that’s helpful for you is completely your choice. When I first starting reading this text towards the end of last year it was fantastically fascinating.
Here is a book that seems practical. In fact, books about death seem extremely and incomparably useful for any human being that might have to…you know…..anyway.
In extremely lucid and relatable language this text (AKA the English translation I quoted above) describes the process of death. Whether or not the authors of this arcane, ancient anomaly managed to accurately articulate the post-humous experiences of sentient beings is unknown. But in any case the document serves as an incredible artifact and, for me personally (and many others), a touching and eerie account.
Should law enforcement officers engage in on-the-job meditation practices as a regular part of training or workflow? Might the use of certain contemplative exercises such as mindfulness training enhance the ability of police officers to perform their job safely (or recover afterwards)? Or, more simply: would meditating be good for cops? Should the police meditate? This note is written in response to a few online publications about this question that briefly describe the increasing osmosis between law enforcement and intentional, secular meditation practice. Only several online pieces from the early 2000s will be discussed [rather than the history/subject matters of police practice & contemplative practice in general]. If anyone doubts that exploring all possible strategies to reduce police violence is important, let’s just step into the comment area. Before initiating or joining any critical conversation about something as subjective as meditation (or something as serious as law enforcement) we might want to take a few things into consideration.
First, as your author, I am not [& never have been] ordained or certified as a meditation teacher — nor as a law enforcement officer. This places me in a position of relative inexperience when it comes to the following topics, and I encourage any and all from these communities to provide input (or contact me at email@example.com). My relevant expertise will be mentioned below but it is not of primary importance for our conversation anyway.
Second, both law enforcement and meditation are kind of hard to talk about with any truth or accuracy. This is because law enforcement and meditation are both quite common and and varied – they happen all over the place, and in a lot of different ways. This piece of writing you are looking at is coming from someone with no experience as a police officer and no authority on meditation. This means that we will fail in covering the breadth and scope of both of these practices…oh well.
Third, the observations to come are not meant to be judgmental or laden with approval/disapproval – they are simply observations. Those individuals working in both the meditation & law enforcement communities have my support, & it is from a place of interest that I enter the discussion about them.
Why would the police meditate? (We’re talking about on-the-job meditation – not any personal practice at home.) There have been a few internet publications about this recently [see list below]. There are at least some of us who are of the opinion that when it comes to police and law enforcement, the United States is in a crisis. This crisis, as described by Buddhist dharma teacher and former police officer Cheri Maples, is characterized by “[an] unnecessary use of force, racial profiling, militarization of police departments, lack of trust between communities and police departments, lack of strategies to address trauma and emotional health of police officers, unconscious and unspoken organizational agreements in police culture, and a lack of informal safety nets for people across the country….” All of these issues warrant immediate and honest speculation on how to improve our state of affairs. And for the past several years, especially in the midwestern United States, the quest for solutions has been a hot topic. Among existing thoughts on how to reform police practices is the idea of introducing and/or standardizing traditional mental and emotional training techniques for law enforcement.
A healthy amount of the existing chatter in this conversation comes in from the angle of affective neuroscience. Affective neuroscience is the multidisciplinary study of the nervous system in the context of mood, emotion, and affective processing. One of the pioneers in this field who has publicly offered thoughts about police work is the research psychologist Richard J Davidson, a Harvard-trained buddy of the Dalai Lama who does most of his brain research in Madison, Wisconsin. Richie is a righteous dude who gave me the chance to chat with him when I was 19 – not too long after I had some experiences at the hands of the Madison Police Department that were not ideal. A year later, just as my own personal Zazen practice was deepening, he let me volunteer in his laboratory in Madison. I am grateful both for his input on my experiences and career at that time, and for my current opportunity to reciprocate.
Because a lot of Davidson’s work has focused on the neurophysiology of mental illness, well-being, and other emotional states, it seems clear why he might be interested in the neural correlates of (and effective steps towards) compassionate police work. Not only do police officers deal with homelessness, mental illness, and behavioral crises on the job – they also go home with personal trauma. This is notwithstanding the myriad instances of police brutality in the news, including some shootings in Madison and some unfortunate practices in Dane County Jail. Mediating stress, fear, anxiety, and panic responses under pressure are certainly complex issues at the level of media social discourse, but also at the level of the central nervous system – Dr. Davidson seems to be interested in connecting the two. He is already helping to get the police to meditate. According to a 2015 article in the Atlantic he has been helping the police in Madison, Wisconsin to either learn some contemplative practices or to connect them with someone who can. (I’ve reached out to the handful of officers that I know in the MPD to see what they think about it – updates to come.)
This seems like a great idea to me…generally speaking. But what are the specifics? What benefit(s) to police tactics or police work overall might be found in sitting practice? As much as I love both topics I wonder why the MPD first chose to talk to Richie: in other words, I am skeptical about the immediate intersectionality between police practices and high-level neuroscience research. Certainly as a prominent researcher of meditation (and a personal meditator himself) Richie likely some great insights about how the practice works, as well as great connections in terms of teachers. But is he really the best (or only) individual to be providing such practices or consultation to the police? With no information about the program in place at the Madison Police Department I can’t say much. But my academic familiarity with Richie’s research, experiences in his lab, encounters with the Madison police, EMT training, my personal Zen practice, and role as a law enforcement instructor for the Barbara Schneider Foundation have given me a thought or two: I have some initial doubts about the application of “mindfulness” to law enforcement. My opinion is that the types of mindfulness practices – at least those being explored at the Center for Healthy Minds (previously the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds), where Davidson is in charge – are likely beneficial for the emotional stability of police officers, but perhaps less relevant during actual fieldwork or crisis intervention. Elsewhere there are similar programs – a quick Google search shows that meditation programs are appearing in a variety of police departments. A mindfulness program in Oregon has been implemented for several years now, and some initial results and data shared at a conference in April 2014. There’s also some similar stuff happening in India. As a certified EMT and supporter of technology I have wondered about the possible efficacy of some type of an App for blending these skill sets – a mindfulness trainer for law enforcement and EMS that could fit in one’s pocket. Maybe that will be the subject of further research and another brief piece. Time will tell how these law enforcement/meditation programs play out and it is my modest prediction that the futures of neuroscience research, public interest, police work, and federal/municipal/private funding may continue to overlap in a big way.
(fall 2011) http://www.ntoa.org/massemail/RyanFA11.pdf