Category: Contemplative Neuroscience

TOO MUCH NOISE

most of us can relate to being frustrated by noise at one moment or another…

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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!

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?