A Train Without Rails

One way to really waste your time is reading on and on about mindfulness. And there is surely no end of long long long books books books offering a thousand lifetimes’ worth of answers about mindfulness. Complex, marketable, secular answers. Let’s set those answers and those long books on the shelf for now. When I was 18 years old, a scientist in Madison posed a question in the first half of a brief article. That question was Are questionnaire-based self-reports of mindfulness valid?

Now I’m 25 years old. Unresolved is ‘the questionnaire question’, but absolutely certain to me this morning was my own mindlessness. Here’s a small sample of the day’s distractions, brought to you from first-semester chemistry (via self report…validity to be determined):

 

11:15am Distracted by goal-flavored thoughts about writing a memoir of high quality, visualizing the steps associated with such a venture
11:15:30am Writing-thoughts bubbling up to account for the possibility or inevitability of memoir-thoughts
11:19am Anger-thoughts about institutional life, hot heated word-thoughts offering critiques of abusive power structures and their creations, which stemmed from thoughts about writing
11:24am What’s the best way to steal a lot of stuff from Whole Foods?
11:26am Anger-Argue thoughts about my old job, and the gross inability of my former boss to do her job (or live her live generally)

 

My intent for that 15-minute period was to simply write those thoughts that were most distracting for me. So when I noticed that my attention was unstable even for a moment, or that my mind’s eye had been occluded by some material other than coursework, I wrote down that material non-judgmentally and as it presented itself. It can be hugely valuable to understand and observe our consciousness without responding to or agreeing/disagreeing with it.

Do you have a wobbly attention span? Are you seeking more FOCUS? Go back to the shelf, pick up those conversations about secular mindfulness, and have some Mental Training™ today!

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they stole my idea

once as a freshman in college I found myself scribbling about the ways that consciousness might arise randomly under certain circumstances. our brain surely evolved under completely random circumstances – so we are at least one random arrangement of atoms that has a sense of self. so maybe other arrangements of atoms pop into existence every now and then that also have a sense of self – and maybe those arrangements are not necessarily brains, or even living.

it’s easy to think that brains are necessary for consciousness. but maybe not. sure, we’ve got a brain with tons of chunks and parts – but if none of those parts are in and of themselves conscious, and if we are relatively complex life-forms that evolved randomly….then perhaps less-complex (non-living) forms that evolved under the same random processes might briefly or spontaneously become conscious.

for example – should consciousness be introduced when a physical system has _________ characteristics, and should those characteristics be emergent in more systems than simply brains, then it’s possible that little selves are emerging and disappearing all over us very quickly all the time.

then i stumbled upon the Boltzmann Brain concept online and realized my idea was not innovative whatsoever. but it’s cool to think that someone reached the same odd conclusion/paradox so long ago.

what are the essential properties of consciousness?

 

Phenomenology, thought experiments and contemplation have in some instances provided valuable insights to physicalist forms of knowledge, i.e. physics or neuroscience. Not unlike Einstein’s successful attempt to access concepts in relativity through thought experiments, Giulio Tononi wants to create step-by-step definitions and images that allow theorization about the subject at hand: in this case, consciousness, subjectivity, selfhood, the feeling of what it’s like to be something.

Plot twist: he completely dodges a great question about unification of conscious experiences in the case of stroke patients. I’m not sure why he neglected to answer or even address that question directly.

 

 

 

it must be done physically

“It is as though we had an uncut diamond. We could not really say that it was worthless, or say it was something other than a diamond. But unless skillfully cut and meticulously polished, its diamond-nature might not be visible. The beautiful color and clarity which make it so highly prized would remain in the realm of potential. Of course, we might sincerely believe it to be a diamond. We might even tell others, “This is a diamond and worth a lot.” Yet it would seem peculiar to say, “I don’t need to cut and polish this diamond. I know that it is a diamond, and that’s good enough for me.” Rather, we must cut that diamond and polish its many facets carefully in order that its lovely nature might be shared and enjoyed by all who see it. So it is with our practice. We don’t wish to make diamonds out of mud – we wish to properly appreciate what is already inherent.

But it must be done physically. Our whole practice rests upon a physical base, just as our lives begin physically. First we learn to bring our bodies into harmony – we learn to sit physically. Once that happens, we stop panting and gasping, and start to breathe easily, smoothly, and naturally. And as body and breath settle down and no longer create disturbances for us, we find that the mind itself is given the opportunity to settle into its own smooth and natural functioning. The racket and babble of our noisy minds give way to the clarity and naturalness of our true selves. In this way we come to know who we really are, and what our life and death really is. ”

Taizan Maezumi Roshi, Why Practice?

field notes pt. 2 (05/06/2017)

“haha Ian I love being in public with you it’s so funny and weird”

“what’s THAT supposed to mean”

“the way you just yell up at crows and talk to them”

“i talk AT them I do not talk TO them”

“uh huh”

“i’m serious. i talk AT them. i can’t talk to animals”

“uh huh. i’m suspicious”

field notes (04/26/2017)

Cold again. Cars pass outside kicking up rain-sounds, each tire spewing and screaming that wet white noise. It really is like a shriek…or some type of awful bodily process. Slept 11 hours. Haven’t done THAT in a while. 4 or 5 hours is the norm. Made eggs, set eggs down, grabbed a pound of ground beef (left it out yesterday to thaw) and threw it outside for the crows. Was initially unsure that any would be out and about. Earlier before I was totally awake my mind jumped to the beef – the question arose as to whether I should refreeze the beef or put it outside. In my sleepy state I figured that crows & ravens stay home on such grey days. But it seemed worth a shot. Sure enough – before I could even finish slicing the package open I heard one outside. & threw meat out & it yelled. Threw the rest of the meat out & it yelled again. Came downstairs, sat in chair. Decided I should pull the curtain to make myself less visible. A few moments later I realized I needed this pen & had to reach around the curtain to grab it off the windowsill. Just then – 2 large crows, or maybe ravens, headed south directly over the west end of the Selby house. They were flying quickly, as if having been in flight for some time already, leaving me unsure if they had been immediately on or near the house. So for the time being I;ll wait. Have about an hour before I should go to class which is enough time.

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10:12 am @ home – wasn’t feeling acting class today. The corvids are gathering. All of the meat is still there which is a surprise. But it might not be for long. Another across the street – southeast, flying eastward over (but close to) the roof of the buildings. Each car is another shriek, a sort of steel pulmonary expulsion.

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Birds aside, it is strikingly green. Grey/white sky yields to the immense and bright pine, verde, grassy, weedy, ivy, flowery, lively, springish, GREEEEN. What are other words for green? Only a few days ago the trees were seemingly barren, suggesting just a bit of buddery at their fingertips. But those distal bits of leaf of leaflet (whatever theyre called) after some time have erupted. In less than a week the trees have grown hairy with neon glo-stick lemon lime fringes. It’s as if that bit of spectrum between green & yellow were scribbled onto twigs. Moments ago as I was seeking another ‘green’ word a massive green garbage truck drove by. Its exterior (the upper half) was also an immensely bright shade of green, though obviously much more discernible and uniform in its coloration. Some bit of the truck was bright orange & that admittedly was offputting. Mostly it was a funny coincidence to see the greenness rolling by – i guess some of those wild wheeled wagons are worth the wily while.

Smaller birds on the roof now – it’s time to figure out exactly what they are. Finches? Sparrows? As two of the littler ones flit onward pas the window & THUD across the street. The shades are thin, sheer white whisps, & thru their ripples a man in a driveway. Also in driveway a truck, red rained on truck, red rained on truck with a bike on the back. Guy lowers back half of truck…unloads bike. My hand cant keep up – I look now and he is nowhere in sight. Neither is bike. Red rained on truck still is and the back of the thing is still down. These mini-moments have grown more compelling in the last year. Truthfully I feel sad or at least a bit silly for having never made an effort to meet any of my neighbors. This regular habit of street- and bird-watching has allowed some small view into the consistencies of their lives. The lady across the street who walks her dog in the morning – almost always walking east and then returning from that direction or perhaps from around the block (westward).

The red rained on truck guy just got back. Engine on. As it lurches out from its receptor site I see in my mind’s eye a vesicle, or vacuole, whose cargo has been successfully delivered to the new home for it, which is here, in this part of the cell. I see the purpose (at least the momentary purpose) of that truck & its driver, which is to deliver the red rained on bicycle, not unlike a vesicle or vacuole would deliver some protein or water or hormone or molecule, and I then see some protein or water or hormone or molecule being delivered, and then the purposeful repackaging of the vesicle or vacuole must take place, because its cargo has been successfully delivered to its new home, so the tail lights are going on and Im seeing this empty vesicle or vacuole take on a new momentary purpose, which is to be returned to the cell for other use. In the span of a few moments these images fly firmly and rapidly through my visual field, which is not to say I literally see them before me, but rather within me an imagination of them briefly occludes my ocular/mechanical sight. The image of a massive cell or organism has been powerful for some time now, and in the likeness between the truck and the little pictures in my neuroscience textbooks (which vaguely show zillions of little vesicles or vacuoles delivering their cargo, which is some protein or water or hormone or molecule, before being purposefully repackaged [once empty] such that it can take on a new momentary purpose, which is to return to the cell for other use). These types of analogies (if analogy is the right word) are occurring in my mind constantly. At the sensory level they can be distracting or begin to invade my–

 

Crow on the roof. A big baby. Well, it’s huge.

Eye contact.

It made me swell, chest still thumping. It landed on the west end of the roof, walked over, grabbed a big bit of meat. Held it in beak.