THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Gupta On Enlightenment

That story about the blockchain-based dating site gets better: its designer is an enlightened being.

I got this from Vinay Gupta’s wiki, which describes some of his thoughts and experiences. Since reading Mastering The Core Teachings Of The Buddha, I’ve been looking at a bunch of this stuff, and it’s interesting how it does (or doesn’t) converge. For example, from the MCTB review:

If you really, really examine your phenomenological experience, you realize all sorts of surprising things…one early insight is a perception of your mental awareness of a phenomenon as separate from your perception of that phenomenon.

And from Gupta:

The real process of meditation is paying real close attention to what is happening around you without passing it to the mind immediately for analysis…the mind becomes perceived to be another sense. You see, you listen, you hear, you smell, you think. Once you are aware that you are not your mind and your mind is basically a sense organ, it’s a thing that brings information to you, you enter the real work of enlightenment, which is: what is this me that the mind is bringing information to? And that’s the big one. That question is at the heart of everybody’s enlightenment process.

From the MCTB review:

The main point of [mindfulness] meditation is to improve your concentration ability so you can direct it to ordinary experience. Become so good at concentrating that you can attain various jhanas – but then, instead of focusing on infinite bliss or whatever other cool things you can do with your new talent, look at a wall or listen to the breeze or just try to understand the experience of existing in time.

From Gupta:

Building the instrumentation to keep your consciousness stable enough to put the attention on the thing, is about three or four years work. It’s like grinding a mirror if you’re going to make an astronomical telescope. It takes years to grind a perfectly smooth reflector. Then you silver coat it. Then you point it at the sky and now you can see the moons of Jupiter. It takes you years to design the microscope, you look into the water, now you can see the microbes and you just discovered germ theory. Building the instrumentation takes time. Years and years and years because you need long periods – 35, 40 seconds minimally – when there are no thoughts in the mind to be able to begin to turn the awareness onto itself. So lengthening the gap between thoughts means lowering the mental background noise.

There are lots of these matches. My first impression was that it’s a good sign that people are finally converging on being able to talk about this kind of thing in a sensible way. But here’s a point Gupta makes over and over:

The weird thing is – everyone who opens up the big door and looks out into the magical Universe where all the cosmic shit lives, sees something different. The purpose of religions is to enforce conformity on the mythology that floods your brain once you open up the cosmic forces.

If you are a strict moslem and you experience your enlightenment in a moslem context, the mystical model of the world that gets slammed into your head when you finally look at the Universe in that way, will be in conformity with the dominant culture around you at the time.

This is part of the reason that everything in Western culture went nuts when they discovered LSD, because you had all these people experiencing enlightenment outside of the conformity of the church. So rather than becoming Saint Ignatius of Loyola, you wound up as acid-crazed Bill. I’ve got this mythology of the Universe, and it’s all to do with Spiral Dynamics. My name is Ken Wilbur. Where the hell did that come from? He made it up and then told you it was cosmic law. Just like all the others did.

Everybody experiences the mythological aspects of enlightenment on their own terms, and if they are a slick talker, they can convince you that’s how it works, and then when you experience enlightenment, you experience the same mythology you were loaded up with.

This is how it really works. You’ve got your Buddhas and your Christs and your Mohammeds, and your Abrahams and all the rest of these people – they experience these cosmic states of consciousness, they generate their own mythology and then they run around telling you they’ve discovered the secrets of the Universe – you should do it their way now.

Later in the session, a questioner asked:

I don’t believe you. I think what you’re describing, getting rid of frameworks, is just a new framework. You’re just talking about another way of understanding consciousness. It’s the same as the Stoics and it’s the same as the mystics and it’s the same as Nietzsche, just another perspective. You didn’t talk about anything specific. You talked about some beautiful abstractions. It feels to me like the things you’re talking about in very abstract terms are the same things that every other philosopher talks about. You haven’t got rid of frameworks.

And Gupta answered:

Every individual who goes up there sees the same shit, more or less. And then you come back down and try and tell people about it in language, and you wind up building a model that you use to communicate. That is exactly correct. It’s the same shit.

So. I read Ingram, and I read Gupta, and they seem to be saying broadly the same stuff, and it appeals to me, and seems to fit with what I already know of the world, and gets me thinking that all this enlightenment stuff is starting to make sense. But (says the devil’s advocate) two Christian saints may have similar experiences of the Beatific Vision, write them down in similar terms, and the average Christian will nod and say it agrees with what they already know of the world (eg that it is run by a triune God who lives in the Empyrean). Does “scientifically minded, religiously tolerant people come back and say it’s all science, and also all religions are one” give us a better framework than “Christian people come back and say it’s all Christ”?

One possible escape from total relativism: forget about whatever’s on the other side of enlightenment. We can at least trust people to report on this side of the veil accurately, and that’s where some of the most interesting insights are. The description of what meditation is doing. The distinction between samatha and vipassana meditation. The idea of the mind as a sensory organ rather than the be-all-and-end-all…

…actually, wait, that one doesn’t sound very scientific at all. Maybe we should reframe it as talking about two different parts of the brain? Maybe this isn’t as easy as I thought.

I’ve been focusing a lot lately on the idea of the Bayesian brain and its input channels. Some input channels, like vision, are high-bandwidth; we get so much data about the real world that (optical illusions and PARIS IN THE THE SPRINGTIME signs aside) we usually see pretty much what is really there.

Other channels, like pain, are low bandwidth. This is why the placebo effect works – we get so little data about how much pain is coming from different parts of our bodies that even our strongest percepts are wild guesses, where we fill in the gaps with predictions and smooth away conflicting evidence. If our predictions change – ie we know we just got morphine and morphine lowers pain – then the brain will happily change its guesses. This would never happen with vision – I can’t use the placebo effect to make you think an orange crayon is blue – but pain is low-bandwidth enough that it works.

Reason is one of the lowest-bandwidth channels of all, which is why biases are so omnipresent and rational debate so rarely changes anyone’s mind. Most people revert to their priors – the beliefs of their tribe or the ones that fit their common sense – and you have to provide an overwhelming amount of rational evidence before the brain notices anything amiss at all.

It sounds like, in this model, enlightenment is effectively super-low-bandwidth. I say “effectively” because the bandwidth concept doesn’t really make sense here, maybe it has more to do with the alienness or uncompressability of the information. But Gupta seems to be saying that you will see it exactly as you have been conditioned to see it. That wouldn’t be too surprising. But it sure does suck if you’re trying to figure out which religion is true, or prevent people from becoming religious fanatics, or anything like that.

This is a pretty agnostic (in the sense of non-knowledge-claiming) description of what enlightenment is. But it does at least suggest it’s…something…in the brain…that goes through the normal perceptual process? Except that realistically if you see a rhinoceros the sense-data will be in your brain and go through the normal perceptual process, but that doesn’t mean a rhinoceros is just brain activity. Except that nobody was claiming that your perception of a rhinoceros is actually more fundamental than ordinary brain activity, and some people do claim that about enlightenment, so maybe this is telling us it isn’t? Or something?

Other interesting excerpts from Gupta:

Every tradition that has enlightened people has stories of wizards. The Daoists that run across water, all this Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon stuff, the European Alchemists – do you guys know about a guy called John Dee? Course. Course! What kind of audience do you think this is?

So John Dee for those who are not overly read, was Queen Elizabeth the First’s court magician. John Dee has one essential claim to fame, which is that he invented the concept of the British Empire. He wrote two books arguing that, as the Romans had used roads to create a trade network, and to move armies around an Empire, Britain could use ports and ships. So he invented the concept that we would reimplement what the Romans had done but with London at the centre.

John Dee’s primary work, what he was proudest of in his life, was a 400 page volume of angelic magic called the Enochian Magical System. So you look at this and you’re like, the guy’s smoking crack. Then you look at Isaac Newton. Newton’s laws of motion, colours, he named the colours of the rainbow. By the way he named the colours of the rainbow with seven colours, even though indigo and violet are the same colour. Because he needed one colour per planet and one colour per alchemical force. Three quarters of Newton’s work is alchemy and that’s all the stuff where everybody’s like “Oh Isaac Newton he was such a nonsense lover – all this alchemy stuff. Love the laws of motion though.” Because you’re not allowed to take the other side of these men’s work seriously because if you do – Voomp – Oh my fucking god – that’s really there! Yes, it’s really there.

The weird thing is – everyone who opens up the big door and looks out into the magical Universe where all the cosmic shit lives, sees something different. The purpose of religions is to enforce conformity on the mythology that floods your brain once you open up the cosmic forces.

I keep hearing people talk like this, but I would really like to see some analysis of how the Western hermetic and alchemical traditions match the Eastern enlightenment traditions. I know a bit about John Dee, and it all suggests he was a very weird and gullible person, and none of it sounds like meditation as the Buddhists and Hindus think of it. The same is true of Newton’s mystical researches. I’m open to arguments for why these things are really the same deep down, but somebody needs to actually argue it instead of just gesturing at it, and I’ve never seen this done well. Aleister Crowley was neck-deep in the western mystical tradition, hung out in Sri Lanka for a while studying yoga, and (when he wasn’t being deliberately obscure) is one of the clearest and most lucid writers I’ve ever had the privilege of reading – and even he never actually made this argument in any comprehensible way. Come on, people.

Lowering the mental background noise means going through all the emotional layers and all of the attachments that generate thought. A single emotion that you don’t really deal with properly can generate 5 years of internal chatter. Should I? Shouldn’t I? Should I? Shouldn’t I? You finally come back and it’s this deep feeling of uncertainty about your place in the world. You feel it – it goes away. You’ve been liberated of an emotion, that stream of thought stops. And as a result your mind gradually empties and empties and empties and empties.

If you’ve been taught that you are your mind, that process feels like dying. This is why there’s all this nonsense about the abyss in the Western magical tradition. “Oh the Abyss. Oh the Abyss.” You go to India; they’ve never even heard of the Abyss. Because in India they don’t think that you are your mind. So having mind go away “Really, that thing back there.” “Yes.” “I used to use that for saying mantras – now it doesn’t work any more.” Whereas in the West, if your mind stops, that means your identity is gone, and everybody freaks out and calls that the Abyss.

Okay, this is actually one of the better East-West mystical comparison theories I’ve heard.

So, how much meditation is a lot of meditation? Typically to get enlightened takes about as much work as getting a PhD. So you would expect it to be the dominant occupation of your life for something between 7 and 10 years, including working your ass off for your A-levels, getting through an undergraduate degree, doing a Masters, doing a PhD. Getting enlightened is about a PhD’s worth of work. Very few people in the West claim to be enlightened, even fewer of the people who claim to be enlightened are enlightened and even fewer of them are doing anything other than teaching.

About 15 I started to meditate, about an hour a day, sometimes 2. I was physically ill at the time; I had nothing but free time. Although I’m half Indian, I had no real exposure to Hinduism as a tradition. I just started to meditate because there was nothing else to do and it seemed to help. After 6 years of an hour or something a day, after a very, very intense, shall we say, “collaborative celebration”, in the morning after the trip, we were having a kind of debriefing session. In my head, as we were talking, I saw an amplifier, just a very simple aluminium amplifier with a big knob, little blue LED on it, and I saw my hand reach down and turn the knob off. And my internal dialogue completely stopped. This was about 1993, 1994 and it never came back.

Living in the condition of having no internal dialogue, no flow of thoughts, no flow of images, just Smack, into the present is quite an abrupt thing. For the first couple of weeks I thought I’d gone completely mad. Oh my god I’ve totally broken myself. I’m fucked. And I discovered that I could still go to work, and I could still socialise with people and I could cook and get through all the basic things of life. Nobody outside of me seemed to notice any particular change in my behaviour, even though I was lost in this rapturous state of total absorption with the world. Wow, this is amazing, woah! And then life continued.

I’d run right off the edge of every reality map that I had because if you go to a psychologist or a psychiatrist and say, by the way I did really a lot of meditation and my internal dialogue has totally stopped. Any ideas what I do now? Nobody ever winds up there in the West because nobody does enough meditation, at least they don’t do it right.

Actually, sometimes people do come to psychiatrists with these kinds of complaints. I usually try to explain what’s going on, and they usually tell me they were just meditating because someone said it relieved stress, and nobody warned them they could actually have mystical experiences, and this was not what they signed up for. Symptomatic treatment and a hard ban on further meditation successfully de-mysticize most of these people, and they are able to go back to their regular lives. I assume if there’s an afterlife some sort of cosmic wisdom deity is going to be very angry at me – but hey, I’m just doing my job.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

627 Responses to Gupta On Enlightenment

  1. MartMart says:

    I never meditated. I was somewhat curious about the subject in my early 20s, but I can’t get myself thru more than a paragraph of text with mysticism without thinking it’s a bunch of crap and that someone is probably trying to scam me somehow. I could get by a little farther by translating the mystical stuff into non mystical terms in my head as I went, but that had its limits too.

    In my mid thirties my doctor mentioned that my blood pressure was running a touch high and prescribed 5mg of lisinopril. A few days into taking it, the metal dialog ceased. By itself, for no seaming reason. I realized then that I spend a great deal of my life being angry at who knows what, relieving some meaningless instances when I felt slighted, if I couldn’t find anything more concrete to be angry about. A few weeks later the effect went away, and I got back to my normal self. I tried asking everyone I knew, but no one could comment on the experience in any meaningful way. It wasn’t until I read this post that I relied that is exactly what happened to me.
    It was blissful and great, and I felt like I was a better person for a short time. I’d like to go back to being that person. I thought I’d share in case it’s relevant to someone.

    • drunkfish says:

      I haven’t dug into it myself, but second hand I’ve heard that UCLA’s mindfulness meditation stuff is very evidence based and not mystical, so if you want to dig into it without the mysticism you might have luck? I keep meaning to do it myself…

    • Vinay Gupta says:

      !!!

      • MartMart says:

        Could you elaborate?

        • Vinay Gupta says:

          a nonpsychdelic drug which closes off internal dialogue?!!!

          • MartMart says:

            Well temporarily at least (roughly 2 weeks or so). Can’t absolutely swear as to completeness, since I can’t compare it to anything. But certainly sufficiently effectively to read this part

            “Lowering the mental background noise means going through all the emotional layers and all of the attachments that generate thought. A single emotion that you don’t really deal with properly can generate 5 years of internal chatter. Should I? Shouldn’t I? Should I? Shouldn’t I? You finally come back and it’s this deep feeling of uncertainty about your place in the world. You feel it – it goes away. You’ve been liberated of an emotion, that stream of thought stops. And as a result your mind gradually empties and empties and empties and empties.”

            and instantly think “Yes, that! I know exactly what that means and I didn’t know how to say it, and I feel wonderful just knowing that there is someone that can describe the feeling, because that means there is some hope of getting back there”. But nothing felt the least bit mystical about it. Just absolute silence and clearity, and command of thought so that it did not come on its own at all. Also that realization of “I spend way too much time being angry, and most of it for no reason, as if I seek reasons from the past in order to be angry”. I never thought of myself as an angry person before, and I doubt I would be described as one by people who know me (although I have been told that I look extra mad when I’m concentrating. Also, concentration for me usually involves imagining shapes instead of words, and that means cessation of internal voice). And to be fair, the part about not being my mind still doesn’t make any sense to me, unless the interpretation is more along the lines of being aware of ones mind and its imperfections, which I thought was the whole point of rationality.
            Also, it has to be an incredibly uncommon side effect. As I mentioned bellow, I believe that lisinopril is a very commonly prescribed blood pressure medication and 5mg is about the lowest dose available (could be wrong, not a doctor).
            But this definitely made me want to pick up a guide to meditation (the least mystical one available, any recommendations?).

          • Kaj Sotala says:

            The Mind Illuminated would be my recommendation, it’s entirely non-mystical and has very detailed instructions and theory.

      • nameless1 says:

        I tried LSD at 19 and I had this famous “satori” experience where I felt one with everything and it was an incredible blissful and loving feeling, yet impersonal. Every little thing, like a leaf or a pebble felt infinitely meaningful without pointing to anything beyond itself. It was truly profound and I wanted it again and again but did not want to use drugs, mostly because I felt uncomfortable maintaining contact with dealer types.

        Since it was something like a religious experience but not the presence of a personal god, I naturally looked towards the Eastern religions. Zen, zazen meditation actually gave me even at the first try a brief period of vibrant awareness, but my knees hurt so much from sitting in half lotus that I ran away nearly crying.

        Finally I found my way to a Vajrayana, Tibetan, Kagyu center, of the Ole Nydahl type. I stuck there simply because Ole is a charismatic, manly in the good sense, attractive man and thus he tends to attract seriously hot female students. Almost everybody, men and women, were pretty, party animal types, who dance and drink to sunrise, strongly hedonistic types, literal opposite of the monastic way of boring puritanical renunciation. To the extent that at larger parties in the meditation center we have set up a sex room for couples wanting privacy.

        However, Ole, despite looking like Dolf Lundgreen starring in a super-soldier movie, actually expected us to be good guys and take ethics and karma seriously, not necessarily the kind of aultristic do-goodery like feeding the poor, but he was very positive that the only luxury a boddhisattva cannot afford is anger. Even though he criticized Islam because of how they treat women, there was never an ounce of enmity in his way of talking. He was just very sad and feeling for them about how people can be that misguided and harm both others and themselves.

        I could not keep up. I am not such a good guy and I don’t want to be, I want to be more normal and natural, I want to actually be allowed to feel anger and even hatred for people who I think do seriously harmful and evil things, I want to be allowed to have enemies if some people deserve to be so. I am not cut out of that saintly type. I lose my temper easily.

        After that I fell back to materialism. I flirt with Catholicism because they allow righteous anger and think it is compatible with love, but the idea of a personal god is just something I cannot swallow. In my mind the nonpersonal is obviously superior to the personal.

        However, perhaps due to this materialism, now I am struggle with depression as literally everything seems kind of ultimately pointless.

        Do you have any criticism, advice or anything like that about this? I am interested in your opinion!

        • Vinay Gupta says:

          Look into Nisargadatta Maharaj and the Nath Sampadaya. Vajrayana is our nearest neighbor, but we operate with way less restrictions.

          None of this boddhisattva stuff. Real people are allowed in the door.

        • John Richards says:

          Look into Eastern Orthodoxy. It has a much richer, more coherent theology than Catholicism and has a richer mystical tradition.

        • lazydragonboy says:

          Often being miserable involves self directed ill will. Ill will directed at others fuels this process because, necessarily, you are directing ill will towards yourself. At least, the versions of other people that you are hating are fabrications your mind has constructed and by feeding anger you are essentially venting toxic waste into your mental ecosystem.

          This is not to say that one cannot attempt to prevent harmful people from behaving harmfully. This does not even mean that one cannot take action that causes harm in order to prevent greater harm from being done. The fundamentally important thing are the intention to prevent suffering, and rationally acting on that intention without delusion.

          As an aside, the form of Buddhism you describe sounds like it’s pretty woo. The unappealing nature of asceticism aside, you may prefer the rational approach of the more hardheaded traditions. One monk in particular in the Thai Forest Tradition, Ajahn Buddhadasa, has (had? I think he might be dead) a reputation for discounting all things that cannot be materially validated. Rebirth, for instance, he grounded in the mental experience of being born into various mental states rather than a literal transfer from life to life.

        • Aharon says:

          If you felt good with the Kagyus, maybe return there? I think you misuanderstood the position on anger – Ole likes to use the metaphor of a cinema with a film going on, and you watching. It’s ok if there’s anger on the screen.

          I would advise trying other Vajrayana sects, though – I have had very good experiences with the Nyingma tradition (specifically, Kum Nye as taught by Tarthang Tulku).

          However, I had the same experience you did (everything seeming kind of ultimately pointless). I still believe that is the case, and just try not to think about it too often – I don’t think there is an answer other than “Life has the meaning you give it.”, which isn’t very satisfactory…
          I think focusing on fun stuff and good experiences helped me get over this feeling – although I admit I am afraid of it returning.

          I continue to meditate irregularly (maybe 3-4 times a week, for 20-30 minutes). One of the benefits of meditation might be that, as others have noted, you are better able to recognize these thoughts as passing (or, at the more advanced level some people experience, not having any thoughts at all).

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @aharon I’ve worked with one or two of Ole’s people. It’s clearly powerful stuff, and he is clearly an odd duck.

            I don’t know if any of his students have become enlightened yet.

    • Tarpitz says:

      the metal dialog ceased

      Getting rid of those intrusive, repetitive, inane thoughts about whether Ride the Lightning or Number of the Beast is a better album? Blissful.

      I spend a great deal of my life being angry at who knows what

      Yup, sounds pretty metal.

    • andenyalaa says:

      I tried asking everyone I knew, but no one could comment on the experience in any meaningful way.

      My handy-wavy explanation:

      Emotions tend to have sensory correlates, and those emotional-sensory links can lead to feedback loops. Feel a specific sensory experience, think the associated thoughts, those thoughts further bolster the sensory experience.

      Perhaps the blood pressure medication removed or diminished a sensory experience of some sort associated with that anger and interrupted the feedback loop.

      For many years I had back pain that was coupled with anxiety; anxiety would trigger back pain and the back pain would trigger anxiety. I took years to break that link. I did break it (or at least seriously weaken it) by doing a lot of strength work for my back. I also paid close attention to my back (and the specific detailed experience of pain in the moment) so that my mental map of that area became more precise and accurate; eventually it became specific enough that it no longer blurred into my lower gut which is were the anxiety feedback effect is worst.

      There are damage issues in my back so the pain isn’t ever going away permanently, but now I can experience back pain and it’s not emotionally loaded, just pain.

      Anecdata and hand wavy interpretation, for what it’s worth.

      A serious meditation practice can lead to some interesting effects in the long term…

      • MartMart says:

        Thanks for the reply. My theory was much like your own (I can’t think of any other explanation that could be used), but it doesn’t fit too well.
        My understanding is that lisinopril is a very common blood pressure medication. It is commonly prescribed. It is incredibly inexpensive. 5mg supposed to be about the lowest dose you can possible get it in. The side effects I was warned about were something about a strange cough and dry throat (neither of which I experienced) and most certainly did not include anything about a sense of cosmic enlightenment. My doctor responds to my repeated and persistent questions with a “That’s strange, how about we talk about something else” as if he’s never heard of such a thing. This is similar to the response I get from anyone I could talk to on the subject.

      • mtl1882 says:

        I also paid close attention to my back (and the specific detailed experience of pain in the moment) so that my mental map of that area became more precise and accurate; eventually it became specific enough that it no longer blurred into my lower gut which is were the anxiety feedback effect is worst.

        I think I have something like this going on – encouraging to hear someone else speak of it. I’ve been totally losing my mind, but it honestly feels like there’s something physical going on that is causing a feedback loop of panic, that I can’t break. It’s in my lower gut, but I can’t quite figure out the physical issue. Since I had my wisdom teeth out, something is wrong with my facial muscles and jaw, and also my lower chest keeps clenching, but it seems like the discomfort is erroneously perceived in my stomach, though there’s no pain. My body keeps interpreting it as anxiety. I can’t seem to convey this idea to others or even to myself, though. I just sound crazy. When I focus on my stomach, I can kind of realize that it’s not the actual source, and map it out, like you said.

        • andenyalaa says:

          It’s in my lower gut, but I can’t quite figure out the physical issue. Since I had my wisdom teeth out, something is wrong with my facial muscles and jaw, and also my lower chest keeps clenching, but it seems like the discomfort is erroneously perceived in my stomach, though there’s no pain.

          I’m sorry to hear you’ve been experiencing that, it sounds quite unpleasant.

          I thing the generalizable aspect of my fix was a combination of attention while working on the area in a new way.

          My wife was helped by Cranial Sacral massage after an impact injury to her cheekbone left her feeling wrong, you might consider trying that…

      • lazydragonboy says:

        Funny thing: I actually experienced that feedback cycle too. I had anxiety, which caused muscle tension and back pain, which caused further anxiety. I attacked the anxiety through loving-kindness meditation, and the back pain almost entirely went away. I get occasional flashbacks if I have too much caffeine or something, but now back pain is rare enough to be a noticable event.

        • andenyalaa says:

          I actually experienced that feedback cycle too. I had anxiety, which caused muscle tension and back pain, which caused further anxiety.

          I suspect it’s a common phenomenon.

          I attacked the anxiety through loving-kindness meditation, and the back pain almost entirely went away.

          I love me some metta! Would love to see some analysis of oxytocin levels induced by metta practice. It really seems to be a direct manipulation of the oxytocin levels of the brain.

          There are some neat features of traditional metta practice teachings which seem to address the ingroup favouritism induced by oxytocin; you’re considered to have mastered it when you are able to invert the categories and feel no difference in the level of lovingkindness (all men/all women, all big enties/all small entities, all entities above me/all entities below me).

          • lazydragonboy says:

            Have you tried forgiveness meditation? It’s pretty related to metta, but I find that it’s got some distinct benefits. I didn’t noticed until I started, but there are a lot of stages in my life where I have forgiven neither myself for my behavior, nor others for theirs.

    • It was blissful and great, and I felt like I was a better person for a short time. I’d like to go back to being that person.

      Try:

      – Shift your focus onto your body and the external world–the sights, sounds, textures. Really soak into and enjoy it. How is it? Would you like to be this way more often? If yes, then it’s easy. Just return to this state whenever you get pulled away, when bored, or when it occurs to you. Gradually you will pacify your thoughts.

      – Alternatively, ask yourself “Who am I?” Notice how it creates a gap in the thought stream. Rest in this gap. Do this whenever you feel like it and soon your mind will begin to incline toward this state.

      Humor me and spend a couple minutes sincerely trying each–surely your well-being is worth a five minute gamble?–and if one or both resonate with you, great! Play with it, investigate, improvise! Either technique will take you where you want to go and I think you’ll be surprised at how fast you progress.

      I’ve collected some relevant excerpts about this state, too, if you’re willing to wade through some mystical language.

    • wiserd says:

      I had a similar experience with high doses of piracetam. I hated it.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Let me just chime in with my medical and psychopharmacological expertise to say I have no fricking idea how this would happen.

      There are a couple of rare cases of ACE inhibitor induced psychosis (not saying your experience was psychotic, just that this is a proof of concept that ACEIs can affect the brain). See Neuropsychiatric Consequences Of Cardiovascular Medications. Most plausible proposed mechanism is that they shift sodium and potassium levels in the blood, but this paper mentions that they can also affect hydrolysis of opioid peptides in the brain.

      • Deiseach says:

        Aw man, I never get the good side effects 🙁

        I was depressed long before I started on beta-blockers and they’re doing nothing for my anxiety (I’ve had some beauteous fits of anxiety and panic attacks at all hours of the day).

  2. rob5289 says:

    Scott,
    You might take a look at this body of research:
    http://www.nonsymbolic.org

    • KarenEliot says:

      To add to that: They have a cool paper named “Clusters of Individual Experiences form a Continuum of Persistent Non-Symbolic Experiences in Adults”, where they interviewed people who had a “persistent non-symbolic experience”, people who were at least slightly “enlightened”, often by accident. There are certain clusters of “seeing yourself” and “seeing the world” like “experiencing your thoughts as deterministic”. It’s another argument for the universality and – one might therefore argue – the “truth” of these experiences.

      The people behind it also run the “Finders’ Course”, a bootcamp / retreat like training course that’s supposed to take you to stream entry. The idea is to evaluate all kind of meditation and training methods from different traditions and psychology, and bombard the student with the ones that they found to be the most effective. Anecdata says it actually is effective with stream entry for something like >50% of the participants, but they annoy a lot of people by charging a few thousand dollars for a spiritual training while actually doing a science experiment. It’s like participating in a clinical study and having to pay for it. But nevertheless, they seem to get results.

    • A Bc says:

      I’m sure it’s all on the up and up (although the steep fees do raise my BS detector a bit), but “Finders Course” is just about the creepiest name imaginable for such a program. I can’t help but imagine myself ending up in a cage on the island from “Lost,” hooked up to a “Nirvana Helmet” or something of the sort.

  3. Eiður Á. Möller says:

    Might be of interest:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztKJ6BPIe0k&index=2&list=PLIF2fI2p4cWPwFUsB4lheWM9RFyP43mgP

    On another note I’d be interested in hearing you elaborating on how you see Crowley as “clear and lucid writer”. I’m not contesting it. I read most of his books in my twenties, and came from it with some admiration but also the assumption that the man was overly indulgent in power fantasies…. Wondering if I should give him a second chance, and on what grounds.

  4. skef says:

    ’94 is awfully early for a blue LED as a consumer electronics indicator. Even a metaphorical one.

    • Vinay Gupta says:

      I know. It’s one of the weirder things about that experience.

      • skef says:

        Well, I built and still have a small hexayurt in 2006 that I’ve taken to three burns, so I guess I’ll trust you on this one.

    • jrdougan says:

      Perhaps it was Blaupunkt gear.

    • Lambert says:

      The commercial blue LED came out in ’94.
      So I’d imagine it’s quite a salient thing for someone in the tech scene to have floating around their subconscious at the time.

  5. Space Ghost says:

    > Living in the condition of having no internal dialogue, no flow of thoughts, no flow of images

    Hmm. What does “flow of images” mean? I’m not capable of visualizing things (“Aphantasia”) and I also don’t experience “internal dialogue”. What does that even mean? Like, “I’m going to drink the milkshake now” as you drink the milkshake? Talking to yourself to work out a problem?

    FWIW I don’t think I’m enlightened so I strongly suspect I’m missing something here.

    • doublebuffered says:

      I have anxiety/depression and am also working on meditation so I’ve thought a fair amount about my internal dialogue. The best way I can describe mine is that I am debating with myself, where the debate is sometimes in explicit almost vocalized thoughts, sometimes in thoughts that are logical but not at all verbal, and sometimes in pure emotions. So it might be something like:

      “I need to relax right now”
      (I specifically notice that my shoulders are tense, but not in a vocalized way)
      “Why are my shoulders tense”
      (I feel irritated in a vague way)
      “My shoulders shouldn’t be tense. I need to fix this”

      At least in my experience it’s not that you’re doing running verbal commentary on the actions in your life, it’s that sometimes your brain moves into a verbal mode for thoughts that are either judgemental or complicated. I can force myself to do a constant commentary but it’s not the default. This internal dialogue is completely absent when I am doing something that takes my entire attention, like playing a hard video game or programming. It’s currently pretty loud when I am meditating.

      • Space Ghost says:

        That’s super interesting, thanks.

        > This internal dialogue is completely absent when I am doing something that takes my entire attention, like playing a hard video game or programming.

        Do you think video games might be a form of self-medication for people who experience those thoughts in a negative way?

        • doublebuffered says:

          It certainly is for me! Video games are one of the easiest ways to get into a Flow state where you’re using all of your attention. And when my attention is fully occupied it doesn’t really have a chance to waste time thinking about random social mistakes I made 10 years ago.

      • poignardazur says:

        At least in my experience it’s not that you’re doing running verbal commentary on the actions in your life, it’s that sometimes your brain moves into a verbal mode for thoughts that are either judgemental or complicated

        Uh, that’s interesting. That’s the first time I see someone discussing something meditation-related that resonates with me.

        Yeah, I get the “verbal commentary” thing when I’m under high levels of stress and fatigue, often due to stuff like missed deadlines or being overworked.

        When I’m in this condition, my thoughts tend to go back to familiar patterns and turns of phrase, and my brain keeps giving me sarcastic commentary on everything I see or do; the sarcastic commentary is often worded in similar, repetitive expressions, like by brain is obsessed with a few catchphrases.

        When I’m in that mood, I mostly avoid paying attention to what my brain is doing, go on autopilot, and try to avoid anything stressful (eg I go play low-intensity video games and browse the internet).

        I never really thought about it, but now I’m wondering how other people relate to this “commentary state”. This could be a “my fundamental experience is different from yours” thing, where different people have more or less commentary than me. That would explain why so many people relate to using meditation as a way to still one’s mind, which never really clicked with me.

        • allspoilersallthetime says:

          I have a loud and constant internal voice which chatters away to me almost all the time. And yep, video games are pretty good for shutting it up, although I hadn’t thought about that until you said it. Just being with other people helps too. Harder to talk to yourself if you’re talking to someone else.

          The voice is mostly scolding me about things from the past, and offers lots of suggestions for how things could be done better. It nags me about what I ought to be doing. It offers running commentary on what I’m currently doing and criticises alot. It often creates a sort of indecision, where it debates with itself about whether or not something should or shouldn’t be done, never reaching a conclusion.
          But it also debates with other people a lot. I’ve actually decided to go on a politics diet and avoiding all news and current affairs, because I can’t believe how much time I spend mentally explaining to other people why their opinions are wrong!

          Since I’ve started meditating it actually makes me laugh because the voice does narrate. I find that if I can get my attention to stablise on the breath for more than a few seconds then the voice will pipe up, so clearly it’s almost sub-vocal, ‘Hey, Nick, look at that! You’re meditating. You’re paying attention to the breath!’ And then it answers itself, ‘You’re not meditating, how can you be meditating if you’re talking to yourself. That’s a thought.’ And then it replies, ‘Well, stop thinking then!’ And so on, eventually it will go off and imagine telling someone else how I managed to stabilise attention, and how great it was, but then how I lost it. That’s usually the point at which I’m able to let it go and return to the breath.

          Part of the reason why I’ve taken up meditating and I hope it works is that I think this kind of thought process gets worse with time. My mum does this too, and I know because she does it out loud. If you leave her alone and go into the next room you will hear her talking to herself, ‘Well, Mary, have you done the washing up? No? Better put it on the list then. Pull your trousers up, dear.’ She almost always has the TV or radio on, she says it’s because she hates the quiet.

          • doublebuffered says:

            Yeah this is literally exactly how my brain works sometimes. It really is exhausting spending all that time explaining to imaginary people how they’re wrong. Well, for me it’s more about imaginary people telling me I’m wrong 🙂

            I was worried for a bit that my meditation is making these processes worse but I don’t think that’s the case, I’m just more aware of them. We’ll see where it ends up in a year or so.

          • allspoilersallthetime says:

            Doublebuffered, I’ve just started meditating and I was worried too that it was making it worse. One thing that meditation has highlighted for me is how repetitive it is. I have a few favourite shames that I revist, a few pet political positions that I advocate, a few old grudges that I bear. Now that I’ve noticed how unoriginal they are, I’m actually starting to feel a little bored by them – which I hope is a good sign! As you say, we’ll see in a year.

            I’m following ‘The Mind Illuminated’ by Culdasa (I think I saw it recommended here on SSC actually).

            In stage 3 he recommends labelling distractions and then letting them go, eg. ‘planning’ ‘remembering’ ‘pain’.
            One thing I’ve done, elaborating a bit on this, is sort my chatter into 5 main types eg. type 1 is berating myself about past mistakes, type 2 is berating other people about how they’ve failed me, type 5 is arguing with other people about their politics etc. etc.
            It’s weirdly effective at taking the sting out, even when I’m not meditating. As soon as my mind starts nagging me I just say, ‘Oh that’s a type 1.’ And sometimes that shuts it up!

          • mdet says:

            This is an accurate description of my mental processes as well. I’d like to find out how common this is, as opposed to Space Ghost apparently not experiencing internal dialogue at all. I’m a pretty inattentive, head-in-the-clouds kind of person, constantly getting lost in my internal dialogue & debates and only half paying attention to whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. On the one hand, I think my SSC-reading, rationalist-type tendencies are a result of constantly dialoguing with myself. On the other, I fully get what allspoilersallthetime means when they say they can’t believe how much time they spend internally debating (especially politics-related things). It’d be great if I could be more present and attentive to what I’m supposed to be doing, and spend less time reasserting my opinion on Natural Law, or re-ranking my Kanye bracket and why.

            Possibly relatedly, my mental visualizing ability is the equivalent of a 120p youtube video that buffers every few seconds

      • Michael Handy says:

        I get this from games too, but shutting off internal dialogue, for me, makes it utterly impossible to do anything productive. I just don’t care if rent gets paid or if I eat food that isn’t in front of me unless I have a voice yelling at me in my head.

        How do you, you know, do work when the voice is your main motivation to do anything?

        • mtl1882 says:

          I have this problem, too. I’ve become a mess due to my constant, scolding internal dialogue, but when I just “calm down” or do something distracting, I lose all motivation, even for eating. The voices used to be somewhat more motivating, but I seem to have lost intrinsic motivation, and now an anxious voice is the only thing that works. I for the first time missed a car insurance payment last month because I simply don’t care when I turn off the anxiety. I totally forgot its existence.

      • Andkat says:

        This is baffling to me; I strongly experience an internal verbal monologue intermittently with varying degrees of generated imagery ranging from hazy to vivid. Intense emotional reactions (as associated with diagnoses of depression and anxiety I likewise possess) are often involuntarily transduced as intense, fantastical, and macabre imagery. The voice will sometimes articulate the rationalization of an intense emotion as a self-judgment (i.e. ‘pathetic’) but there’s no consciousness that this is not simply my own self-judgment (sometimes emotion-> monologue will skip cognitive evaluation altogether which can sometimes cause me to blurt out what it is saying, but I rapidly try to clamp down on that as an unacceptable malfunction). However, for me the internal monologue is indistinguishable from me- it is active at all times including in periods of intense engagement (indeed that is when it is most active)- it is indistinguishable from the concept of ‘thought’ itself. There’s no concept of a back and forth- I simply change what it is saying, I can shut it off at any time, but then there is nothing for me to do- it’s like asking what happens when you try to run a program if you delete all the code. I can’t comprehend functioning at the level of a sapient being without it.

        The only exception is if I am actually speaking- and indeed if I am alone sometimes I will simply convert the internal monologue to an audible external monologue.

        The portrait of distinct voices ‘arguing’ with one another etc. or taunting oneself articulated by preceding posters makes me wonder as to what degree we can envision a continuum between, say, aphantasia and schizophrenia. I.e. purely conceptual or proprioceptively linked thought (aphantasia, from what I’ve been told) vs. emotional and thought processes transferred to sensory processing to the point of vivid experience of autonomous auditory or visual externalization (how I would rationalize portrayals I have seen or been told of psychotic hallucinations), and the in-betweens of a singular clearly ‘self’ voice vs. multiple opposing voices, controlled vs. uncontrolled imagination, etc.). Speculating of course as a dubiously informed layman on this issue…

        • LTK says:

          I have a suggestion: When you find yourself verbalizing a thought, a plan, an action, or anything, pay attention to the non-verbalized source of the thought and cut off the inner monologue. You might find that the thought itself forms much faster than the verbalization of it. My inner monologue is slow, maybe just 20% faster than speaking out loud. When thinking through a problem, I can go from step A to Z much faster if I don’t narrate it to myself.

          It’s like the brain has a ‘print’ command after every complex operation, which recruits all the language centers to put an abstract concept into words because that’s how we’ve learned to think, but it’s actually a slow process that’s unnecessary except for the things that truly challenge your understanding. Abort the command and you can get on with the productive part of thinking.

          But maybe you’re different, and your internal monologue plays at the speed of thought, whether that’s faster than my internal monologue or slower than my thought (both are possible). Regardless, I think it should be possible to some degree to think non-verbally, non-pictorally, and so on.

        • mtl1882 says:

          I can shut it off at any time, but then there is nothing for me to do- it’s like asking what happens when you try to run a program if you delete all the code. I can’t comprehend functioning at the level of a sapient being without it.

          Yes, that’s the perfect way of putting it. I do think there is a way around this, though I’ve rarely experienced it.

    • b_jonas says:

      As far as I understand, these are some of the more genuine differences among how people think, and most people are surprised to find that other people think differently.

      The first of these is visual imagination, that is, the ability to form vivid images of visual stuff in your head. The first paragraph of “http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/03/17/what-universal-human-experiences-are-you-missing-without-realizing-it/” talks about this to some extent. Merlyn gives a clear testimony in “http://www.perlmonks.com/?node_id=461272#461784”

      > Of course, I had no idea people could even see pictures in their head until I was 20 or so. My brain is all about sounds and physical positions.

      That one was in 2005, shortly after the time I first became aware of these differences, which was the reason why I started that discussion. The realization was slightly less shocking for me, because I had some remnants of visual imagination in my childhood. I have none now, and anecdotes suggest that becoming a mathematician can suppress visual imagination in others as well to some extent. I do have the spatial imagination merlyn describes, that is, I can think of positions and directions and shapes and movements.

      The other difference is about an internal monolog. “http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/03/17/what-universal-human-experiences-are-you-missing-without-realizing-it/#comment-47279” gives a description of this that somewhat agrees with me, but let me describe my experience in more detail.

      In my head, there’s generally a single foreground voice doing most of the observable work. I can hear this voice in my head, and it sounds very similar to my own voice (or rather, how I hear my own voice directly when I’m speaking, rather than what it sounds like from the outside). The voice tries to talk in somewhat complete sentences, but often fails and gets the sort of double-takes and erasures you get in a realistic dialog, only even worse because I have less need to clarify to myself about what I’m thinking. Occasionally I don’t know a real word for something I want to say in this voice, but still know what the meaning is supposed to be, in which case I hear a sort of short buzzing or humming sound instead of a word. These days the internal dialog is sometimes in Hungarian and sometimes in English, mostly depending on the topic I’m thinking of and the texts I’m currently reading or listening to about that topic, i.e. when I’m replying to your English question right now, I think in English. The Hungarian and English are almost never mixed in the same internal sentence, and it takes a small effort to switch. If I am very tired, then I am more likely to think in Hungarian, even when reading an English text, in which case I have to translate what I’m reading on the fly, which gets rather inefficient.

      The internal monolog isn’t always active, but comes on very quickly. In particular, when I’m reading, I have to simultaneously repeat the same text I’m reading quickly in the voice of my internal monolog. If I don’t do that for any part of the text, then I perceive very little of it and have to repeat reading the same part of the text properly. This most often happens if I start to think of something unrelated to what I’m reading, for which I have to use my internal monolog. The repetition can be a little bit delayed to the actual reading and seeing the words, there’s a sort of short buffer between them. Similarly, if I’m speaking or writing, I have to think of the words with my inner monolog. Geekethics describes that very well in his comment I linked above: if I’m writing or speaking carelessly in a casual context, then the monolog happens simultanously with the speaking or typing; but if I want to speak or write carefully, then I have to compose the sentences with my inner monolog first without speaking loudly or typing them out. When I’m listening, I also need to use my inner monolog. There are two modes for that as well: either I perceive the words immediately as I hear them, in which case the inner monolog is less perceptible as I just directly use what I hear; or there’s a buffer and inner monolog repeats the words I heard after a bit delay, which lets me get my own thoughts between.

      As a result, external speech that I can hear and understand (even in vocal music) can be distracting from other tasks. If I understand correctly, there are some experiments that can detect whether you have an inner monlog by testing what two tasks you can do at the same time.

      I don’t do all the thinking with my inner monolog. For some types of thoughts, imagining positions and shapes works better. Even when I do use my inner monolog, there’s clearly some more thinking happening in the background, and the inner monolog only recaps it in a form I can understand. I need the inner monlog the least if I do a routine automatic task I’m very used to, such as washing my teeth of locking the door as I leave my apartment. When this happens, I remember less of the details of these automatic tasks, which is why soon after I leave the apartment, I very often have doubts whether I’ve locked both locks or locked the door at all.

      Update: my inner monolog isn’t the kind of nagging critique like allspoilersallthetime describes his in his comment.

      > Like, “I’m going to drink the milkshake now” as you drink the milkshake?

      Yes.

      • Moriwen says:

        anecdotes suggest that becoming a mathematician can suppress visual imagination in others as well to some extent

        I’ve never heard this particular claim before! I’m intrigued; care to expound further and/or link to other places I could look into it?

        • b_jonas says:

          Sadly I don’t remember where I heard that, and I might not even have seen it in writing. A quick web search doesn’t find any mention of this. You could try to ask Mérő László on this, he’s written a lot of stuff about left-brain and right-brain thinking and being a mathematician.

      • Randy M says:

        I’ve noticed of late that reading challenging text out loud is a significant help in focusing and comprehension. Maybe just because it forces me to slow down and see every word, but it might have something to do with syncing up the inner monologue.
        However, sometimes when reading aloud to my daughter I’ll find myself at the end of a paragraph with no recollection of what it was about.

      • LTK says:

        The role of the inner monologue in listening is important to me in a way I never really thought about. I’m partially deaf and often have problems hearing what people say, but sometimes when I play the sound of their voice back through my inner monologue it clicks into place.

        By contrast, I’ve often thought about whether I use my inner monologue for forming sentences, because I have the impression that sentence formation is more of an automatic, procedural process. When I just typed out that sentence, I didn’t know I was going to end it on ‘procedural process’, even though I had the abstract concept I wanted to express clearly in my mind. If I think back, it doesn’t feel like I ever use my inner monologue to construct a sentence before speaking or writing it, because it’s such an open-ended process and it would take as long to think a sentence through as to speak it, when in both cases it ends up being grammatically correct and (hopefully) conveys the idea I had in mind.

        Not using your inner monologue for speech might be one of those experiences that you don’t know is different until you ask other people if they do. I still don’t know, and I’ve tried asking!

    • FeepingCreature says:

      As far as I can tell, my internal dialogue happens:

      * every time I’m reading something (unless it’s REALLY engrossing and renders as a movie)
      * every time I’m writing something
      * when I’m trying to remember something for later
      * when I’m thinking about what to say
      * often when I’m thinking about a topic, I’ll narrate it vocally to myself in my head
      ** this helps! it seems to force my brain to encode/decode it, which makes it run sanity checks that it wouldn’t normally do for “mere” thoughts
      * when I’m not thinking about anything specific, I usually have background music.

      The narration is not my train of thought! – my train of thought exists first, and then the narration renders it out. (It’s easy to tell because when I’m not paying close attention, my narration runs in a “background mode” where I know what’s being said, but it runs a lot faster than spoken word.) I can test this by being in the middle of narrating a thought and deliberately halting my narration, which lets me examine the thought in its “unrendered” state. I can go on thinking that way, but it feels “unsafe”, like my brain might go on to think anything without the narration keeping it honest. Seems to fit my pet theory of consciousness as the debug mode of the mind.

      • Swimmer963 says:

        One of the longest-lasting effects from the first time I did LSD was a permament decrease in how verbal my internal monologue is, and a corresponding increase in how much I use visual imagery. (I don’t think my visual imagery got *better* per se, but I’m more likely to have images in my head at any given time now).

        I think this made me a bit less verbally fluent, as I need to do more “translation” to speak or, especially, to write fiction. As a child I was basically *constantly* making up stories in my head, and it was entirely direct-to-words – if I wanted to write it down I just needed to transcribe the phrases. This wasn’t an instant transition and may have been shifting a bit even before my trip, but now scenes from something I’m writing usually render as movies, and I need to generate the sentences to describe them. This may have made me better at writing in the long run, but it definitely made it a lot slower for a while!

        • bassicallyboss says:

          Interesting! I’ve moved in the opposite direction, though there were no drugs involved. When I was younger, my thoughts were nearly entirely imagery, usually mostly visual scenes and emotions associated with them, along with some minor perceptions of temperature or sound, and occasionally a word or phrase specifically connected to the scene. When I spoke back then, it felt like translating. Writing felt very easy, especially poetry, because I just had to break the thought imagery down into small enough parts and then describe them. I never needed to plan; I just wrote stream-of-consciousness style until I’d written enough or lost the mood. The only trouble was when I knew there was one word I needed to perfectly capture the meaning, and had it on the tip of my tongue, but couldn’t call it to mind.

          Over about a year as a 17-18 year old, my thoughts gradually became almost entirely verbal. Not in a stream-of-consciousness narration way; just that I noticed that when I tried to think, it was as though I were assembling words in my mind. This caused a huge problem for me entering college, because I couldn’t write the way I used to. Now I have to construct writing plans in fractal detail, refining each section until I’ve planned out not just sections or paragraphs, but sentences and even words. And it feels like every sentence comes out boring. On the other hand, I am far, far, better at explaining concepts, abstractions, emotions, and other idea-like things verbally than I was before. Probably because I had to do it to myself just so I could think again.

          (The change happened as I started to get about 2 hours less sleep per night, became depressed, had intrusive & obessive thoughts about a girl, and consciously tried to not be depressed or have obsessive thoughts. I always assumed that cluster of changes was related somehow, but this thread leads me to believe it was probably monitoring and suppressing bad thoughts that mattered in particular. The change really bothered me at the time, because I thought I was losing something precious. I suppose I might have, because I never notice the small details I used to spend lots of time inspecting, and I feel emotions much less strongly–though this may be a blessing, as it means I’m less bothered by the whole thing than old me would have been.)

        • rm0 says:

          I was interested (and still am) in the Tulpa community. One of the ideas they have is about “tulpish“, a sort of proto-thought that bypasses the narrative and feels a lot raw-er. I was able to train myself to start thinking this way more. It seems a lot less concrete. There are not so much images as patterns and emotions and all of the information that my narrator has to parse, but unformatted. It feels more like “seeing” or feeling raw multicolored blobs being passed around in my head instead of my “normal” mode of thought which is a more auditory experience of hearing a mental narrator. It feels faster. There are some very cool things you can do with mental language when it’s no longer restricted to things you can type or things you can say.

          (Sidenotes on tulpas: very interesting, would love to hear rationalist takes on what they are, the book “Magic and Mystery in Tibet” is great reading and seems to be where people got the idea (but is quite distinct from the thoughtforms people talk about; they are much more similar to Yidams))

  6. j r says:

    This is interesting. Perhaps even more interesting is that there is analogue in the Western tradition. The Cartesian cogito (Descartes’ “I think therefore I am,” described more fully here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cogito_ergo_sum) is one of the foundations of Western philosophy and the Enlightenment tradition and it comes out of a process that could be viewed as a form of meditation. Descartes was trying to deal with the problems of doubt and skepticism that arise when you consider that all of our empirical reality could be an illusion. So he tries to actively disbelieve everything that he knows about the world. He starts with every bit of sense data, everything that he knows about the empirical world. Then he applies the same process to everything that he knows by way of rational thought (geometry, mathematical theorems, logical proofs, etc.). And the only thing that he is left with are his own thoughts. In the act of doubting the existence of everything, he observes that while everything in the world may be false, there must be something real that is doing the doubting. He realizes that he is doubting; therefore, he is thinking; therefore, he must really exist.

    A good deal of Western philosophy since has been people critiquing, supporting, or refining Descartes’ model of existence. It is interesting to think that all of this comes out of an imperfect and undisciplined attempt at what is essentially meditation. And it’s more interesting to think about the possibility of what could come out of a better practice of meditation.

    • doublebuffered says:

      Techniques like what Descartes practiced is often described as “Analytical Meditation” in buddhist/meditation circles. Normally when you meditate you focus on something physical like breath, but thoughts can be just as effective. Most of the literature I’ve read strongly advises you to keep a ratio of only like 10% analytical meditation, to avoid getting more fixated on thoughts. But, it can be really helpful at resolving “impasses” in your thought processes

    • Jayson Virissimo says:

      Descartes didn’t arrive at the cogito ergo sum from meditation though, but from reading Augustine’s City of God (which contains the Si fallor, sum as well as many other defenses against skepticism), which was probably required reading at the Jesuit school he attended.

  7. Bugmaster says:

    What is the purpose of all this meditation and enlightenment ? From what I can tell, people are routinely conflating several answers to this question. Here are a few that I can gather so far:

    1). “The purpose is to undergo an unusual mental experience, mostly for entertainment.” Ok, there’s nothing wrong with that, and meditation at least seems a lot safer than drugs, so that’s cool.

    2). “Same as above, but the experience is therapeutic in addition to being entertaining.” Now we’re getting into medical category, so we need to see some actual evidence that meditation has positive effects on mental health. Otherwise, we risk being irresponsible, by misleading people into bypassing more conventional mental treatment methods in favor of meditation, which not work at all.

    3). “Meditation enhances one’s cognitive capabilities, e.g. by boosting IQ, allowing one to solve real-world problems more optimally.” Excellent, this seems like a pretty useful technique which should be easy to test, right ? So… has anyone actually tested it ? Does meditation make you smarter, or does it just make you feel smarter ? There’s kind of a big difference there.

    4). “Meditation allows one to understand the Universe on a much deeper level than anything accessible by conventional techniques.” This is the same proposition as (3), only a bit less easily falsifiable. Are the insights obtained through meditation actually applicable to anything ? If so, let’s see some results. If not, we’re back to (1).

    5). “Meditation gives you special powers such as a rapid healing factor, flight, or laser-eyes.” I’ll absolutely believe it when I see it.

    • j r says:

      Now we’re getting into medical category, so we need to see some actual evidence that meditation has positive effects on mental health. Otherwise, we risk being irresponsible, by misleading people into bypassing more conventional mental treatment methods in favor of meditation, which not work at all.

      This strikes me as a false dilemma. Why must it be a choice? This isn’t my bag, so I’m happy to be corrected by Scott or any other mental health professional, but it is my understanding that environmental factors play a pretty big role in the success of any mental health intervention. In other words, a person’s willingness and ability to get themselves into a situation conducive to getting better may be more important than whatever the specific treatment is (at least from within a range of treatments that work).

      To the extent that meditation can help you be more conscientious and to disassociate from your stressors, it’s only going to be additive to most mental health interventions.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Imagine that you have some physical condition, such as e.g. diabetes. You can mitigate it by taking a shot of insulin once a day; and/or by wearing a crystalline amulet made from pure rose quartz and enchanted by a Chi Bender. Those options are not mutually exclusive, you can totally do both. What would happen to you if you became totally convinced that the crystal chi amulet will effectively mitigate your diabetes all by itself ? The answer, as it turns out, depends on whether the amulet is actually effective in real life.

        In my opinion, handing out those amulets to people as alternative diabetes cures would be grossly irresponsible, until we have sufficient evidence to suggest that they work at least as well as the insulin shot.

        • j r says:

          That is a terrible analogy. Here is a better one:

          Imagine that you have some physical condition, such as e.g. diabetes. You can mitigate it by taking a shot of insulin once a day; and/or by meditating. You can’t prove that the meditating affects your blood sugar levels, but you are having a very difficult time sticking to the low-carb diet that is now part of managing your diabetes. Someone suggests that meditation might help you manage your sugar cravings. How is that like a magic amulet?

          • Bugmaster says:

            It’s pretty similar, unless you can demonstrate that meditation actually reduces your sugar cravings by an appreciable amount — as opposed to, say, making you forget about how much sugar you actually ate.

        • cuke says:

          There’s a growing heap of research over the past 15 or so years on the benefits of meditation and other mindfulness practices to anxiety, depression, PTSD, BPD and other mental health conditions (as well as physical conditions like perceived pain, blood pressure, hot flashes during menopause, and so on). The research includes clinical trials, brain imaging and so on. Just like all other psychological research, we could debate about the strengths and weaknesses of the data, but there’s a lot of it.

          More broadly though, meditation (and other mindfulness practices) can be seen as one collection of tools within cognitive behavioral therapy, which itself has been studied to death for its efficacy in treating mental health issues (and we could also argue over the merits of the data, but it’s more like 30 years of data).

          CBT is aimed at teaching people to relate differently to their thoughts — to identify irrational thoughts, recognize patterns of useless rumination, notice the endless parade of self-criticism, and use a wide range of mental tools to stop and replace those thoughts. Meditation is one of these tools in that it trains a person to notice the default narratives they’re running in the background all the time, redirect their attention to other things (breath, sensations, better thoughts), and then in the big picture, to relate to their thoughts differently. That last one is key: meditation, even more than CBT in general, trains a person to see thoughts and feelings as transient unreal things, which enables us to hold all of our experience more lightly. Which means we are less likely to get caught in repetitive mental loops that create pervasive moods (like anxiety or depression).

          • cuke says:

            My main point really was that whatever we may think of weaknesses in the research about various interventions for mental health, meditation/mindfulness has a lot more evidence of being effective for mental health issues than amulets, magnets, or crystals.

            But that doesn’t mean that amulets, magnets, or crystals may not also work for some people, or that both approaches might not include placebo effect.

            I also think it’s possible to rigidly pursue nothing but meditation practice, without CBT or without a therapist or without a larger understanding of the Buddhist psychology that much of meditation comes out of and to get no relief from anxiety or depression.

            It’s a little like saying “These sit-ups I’ve been doing haven’t solved my back pain.” Like, the sit-ups could be helpful, but if you’re doing them wrong or if you’re doing nothing else but them, you may need some other things in the mix to get a good result. Meditation is an exercise, a practice. Treating anxiety or depression or other mental illness in a person requires some kind of integrated treatment plan that’s designed for that specific person. We don’t have a one-size-fits-all solution for mental health problems.

    • skef says:

      Are the insights obtained through meditation actually applicable to anything?

      Like what? By what standard?

      Suppose something akin to a Christian cosmology is correct: there’s a set of rules and at least if you are aware of the rules, following them admits you to an eternal paradise on dying, while not following them leads to eternal torment. Before you die, however, things pretty much go as they would have anyway. Are the rules then applicable to anything?

      A shift in perspective that leads to what could mundanely be called “different priorities” is inherently “applicable”, isn’t it? Or if not, applicability isn’t the relevant standard.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Like what? By what standard?

        It’s a tough question to answer, because most of those insights aren’t even comprehensible — at least, not by someone who is unenlightened.

        Suppose something akin to a Christian cosmology is correct: there’s a set of rules and at least if you are aware of the rules, following them admits you to an eternal paradise on dying, while not following them leads to eternal torment. Before you die, however, things pretty much go as they would have anyway. Are the rules then applicable to anything ?

        Oh, absolutely ! Eternal paradise and/or torment is a big deal. On the other hand, following rules has costs. Is there any evidence to suggest that Heaven and Hell actually exist ? If so, then we should absolutely follow the rules, no matter how crazy they turn out to be. If not, then it’s quite likely that we should dedicate our time to doing something more productive.

        A shift in perspective that leads to what could mundanely be called “different priorities” is inherently “applicable”, isn’t it?

        I have no idea what this means.

        • skef says:

          A shift in perspective that leads to what could mundanely be called “different priorities” is inherently “applicable”, isn’t it?

          I have no idea what this means.

          To be simplistic, someone who sees success in terms of making big bucks, for example, is likely to judge things on applicability to making big bucks. If after enlightenment the person would no longer see success in those terms, it’s not clear what the relevance of that metric is. So what if it’s entirely inapplicable to what you think now? You wouldn’t be thinking that way.

          • Bugmaster says:

            If after enlightenment the person would no longer see success in those terms…

            You are proposing that meditation/enlightenment can be reliably used to significantly alter one’s personality — and perhaps even that the direction of those changes is predictable. This is definitely a falsifiable claim, and a strong one. As such, it is absolutely “applicable” to our improved understanding of the world, just as any other strong, falsifiable claim.

          • Aapje says:

            I don’t think that changing priorities necessarily requires a change in personality. In fact, it might be that the priorities are due to social pressure and an intervention results in this person realizing that they will be more happy with a different priority, that matches their personality better.

          • skef says:

            Bugmaster:

            I think I agree with Aapje, but taking your premise, the part of your OP I was responding to was:

            Are the insights obtained through meditation actually applicable to anything?

            I take it this is a much narrower question than “Is enlightenment associated with any evident changes whatsoever?”

    • Said Achmiz says:

      There has, semi-recently, been some discussion on the new Less Wrong about this topic. There are many comments, so it’s hard to summarize—I encourage you to take a look for yourself—but my takeaway stands as follows (note that I myself have never engaged in any such activities):

      1) Yes, it’s an unusual mental state, which feels quite amazing and indescribable.

      2) There can be some therapeutic effects. (Among other things, it seems to me like there’s a specific class of such effects that are of particular benefit to sufferers of anxiety disorders and certain sorts of scrupulosity, etc., which are prevalent in certain rationalist and rationalist-adjacement communities.)

      3) Meditation (done sufficiently to induce “enlightenment”, etc.) makes you think that you’re smarter, more insightful, etc., but does not actually make you any more smarter, any more insightful, etc.

      4) Meditation (done sufficiently to induce “enlightenment”, etc.) gives you a deep sense understanding of the universe on a much deeper level, etc., but you do not actually gain any particular insight, nor do you learn anything very interesting. (You may, of course, learn some interesting things about how the mind works, but these are essentially trivial, and also are not what “enlightened” folks are talking about when they speak of their deep understanding.)

      5) Meditation (done sufficiently to induce “enlightenment”, etc.) obviously doesn’t give you special powers, but it is absolutely capable of breaking your brain enough to make you hallucinate all sorts of things (including the aforementioned special powers), and also can make you generally more credulous of woo, and much less apt to be skeptical and critical of notions like “I have special powers”.

      One interesting thing about (4): a common claim you’ll see is that the one has gained some insight(s), but that these insights are not explainable to the unenlightened. So you might say “let’s see some results”, and receive the reply that the results are such that you wouldn’t understand them or wouldn’t perceive them, because you haven’t been enlightened.

      The problem with “enlightenment” seems to be that it drives you crazy, and breaks your brain, causing you to lose the ability to reason sanely and rationally, or to perceive nonsense as nonsense, etc. It also seems, in some cases, to remove your sense of self (essentially, to cause depersonalization). To be honest, I don’t see how the therapeutic benefits could possibly be worth the risk of what seem to me to be some truly horrifying (on an existential level) detrimental effects.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Are you saying there’s evidence to suggest that meditation can have lasting psychoactive effects, up to and including what sounds like schizophrenia ? Are you sure this isn’t a case of confusing correlation and causation ?

        • Said Achmiz says:

          Nope, I definitely can’t be sure it’s not a correlation/causation thing. There’s certainly evidence, though. Whether it’s conclusive evidence, I wouldn’t (yet) venture to say. Click the links I posted; it’s in there.

      • adder says:

        Regarding “let’s see some results”….
        The big claim made by many meditators is that enlightenment reduces suffering. In terms of third person verification of this, we at least have the correlation between self-reported positive affect and frontal lobe activity, the latter of which is very high in advanced meditators. More work needs to be done, and sooo many Western meditators are champing at the bit to be part of this sort of research.

        But besides, what’s wrong with subjective evaluation of results? If someone says “Oh, a glass of wine will make you feel nice,” or “a massage feels great,” we could try to find studies about that sort of thing, but they’ll ultimately depend on self-reported feelings anyway. Those experiences can’t be communicated (adequately) without undergoing them. Sure, one can do so by reference to other things we understand, but that is true of enlightement, too! e.g. Gupta’s discussion about internal dialogue. Or, idk, analogy the Buddha makes (SN 36:6):

        “Bhikkhus, when the instructed noble disciple is contacted by a painful feeling, he does not sorrow, grieve, or lament; he does not weep beating his breast and become distraught. He feels one feeling—a bodily one, not a mental one. Suppose they were to strike a man with a dart, but they would not strike him immediately afterwards with a second dart, so that the man would feel a feeling caused by one dart only. So too, when the instructed noble disciple is contacted by a painful feeling … he feels one feeling—a bodily one, not a mental one.

        You don’t have to buy the authority of scripture or anything, but the point is: here is someone trying to explain what enlightenment is like. I think it is pretty clear what benefits he’s talking about, and not simply appealing to some vague indescribability of enlightenment.

        Re: horrifying existential concerns…. they’re surmountable. In fact, your example of depersonalitation, in the case of the Buddhist tradition, is the cure for the terrifying existential state of belief in self. Fear of death, e.g., can be somewhat terrifying if attached to self, but if you read some Derek Parfit or meditate to the point of losing that sense of self, you’ll be able to breathe a lot more easily.

        I get annoyed about this talk of “breaking your brain.” Yes, sure, meditation changes your brain, in ways that our brain probably wasn’t selected for evolutionarily. But so what? It’s not like reducing suffering or developing human civilization was selected for either. Is using an IUD “breaking” your uterus? In a certain sense, sure, but it seems like well worth doing (for some people).

        • Bugmaster says:

          Are you saying that meditation reduces the intensity of physical pain ? This sounds like something that should be possible to confirm experimentally. On the other hand:

          Yes, sure, meditation changes your brain, in ways that our brain probably wasn’t selected for evolutionarily

          So does crack cocaine or morphine; and yet, most people would avoid deliberately (and permanently) changing their brains in those specific ways, if they could.

          • allspoilersallthetime says:

            I haven’t ever experience it myself, so I can’t vouch, but I’m under the impression that meditation doesn’t reduce the intensity of pain. It reduces the intensity of suffering. One of the things that you supposedly realise when you pay attention to your mind and how it works is that pain and suffering are different things, and while pain is inevitable, suffering is not.

          • Bugmaster says:

            What is the practical difference between pain and suffering ?

          • allspoilersallthetime says:

            Bugmaster, just looking back at your comments above there’s a lot of ‘this is a falsifiable claim’, ‘can this be proven’, ‘is there evidence for this’.

            Given that we’re mostly talking about self-reported subjective states, it seems a tricky think to objectively measure, but there have been some studies done of proficient meditators which seem to confirm what they subjectively report about their internal experiences.

            You might be interested in reading ‘Why Buddhism is True’ by Robert Wright, which has a lot of interesting references to studies done on meditators. One that I remember off the top of my head is a guy called Gary Weber, who claims that after many decades of meditation he has almost no self-referential thoughts, and sure enough, brain scans show that his default mode network is very very quiet even when not meditating.

          • allspoilersallthetime says:

            Re: the difference between pain and suffering.

            NB. I am a very novice meditator and not widely read, so I may be wrong, but here goes…

            As I understand it, pain is the information that your nerves send you about the experiences you are having. Suffering is how you chose to interpret that pain and the meaning and emotion you put onto it.

            So pain is feeling the heat from the hot stove. Everyone, including expert meditators feels this, and it’s obviously good to be able to pull your hand back from the stove. Suffering is all the baggage that goes with is: ‘Heat is bad, I’m angry and traumatised about the time I burnt myself in the past, I’m afraid that I might burn myself in the future, it’s not fair that life includes pain, I don’t want it, this pain is unbearable etc. etc.’

            When you learn to let go of all the suffering, then the pain just becomes information, you can feel it but you can also accept it for what it is. Eg. Vietnamese monks who set themselves on fire in protest, but didn’t seem to suffer at all while they burned with beautific smiles on their faces.

          • Kaj Sotala says:

            I just recently posted the following:

            For a few weeks or so, I’ve been feeling somewhat amazed at how much less suffering there seems to be associated with different kinds of pain (emotional, physical, etc.), seemingly as a consequence of doing meditation and related practices. The strength of pain, as measured by something like the intensity of it as an attention signal, seems to be roughly the same as before, but despite being equally strong, it feels much less aversive.

            To clarify, this is not during some specific weird meditative state, but feels like a general ongoing adjustment even when I feel otherwise normal (or otherwise like shit).

            I can’t help but to wonder whether the difference in intuitions for/against suffering-focused ethics is a consequence of different people’s brains being naturally differently configured with regard to their pain:suffering ratio. That is, some people will experience exactly the same amount of pain, unpleasant emotions etc. during their life as others, but for some people the same intensity of pain will translate to a different intensity of suffering. And then we will have people who say things like “life *is* suffering and possibly a net negative for many if not most” as well as people who say things like “suffering isn’t any big deal and a pretty uninteresting thing to focus on”, staring at each other in mutual incomprehension.

            There have been a few studies on this, finding that “[Long-Term Meditators], compared to novices, had a significant reduction of self-reported unpleasantness, but not intensity, of painful stimuli”.

            As for the difference between pain and suffering, my version is something like:

            * Pain is an attention signal; things which are very painful, have a tendency to very strongly force themselves into your consciousness.
            * Suffering is the extent to which you resist the pain being in your conscious, and dislike it being there.

          • lvlln says:

            One easy way to notice that pain and suffering are different things is to notice that it’s quite easy to suffer without being in pain. When one gets bored, one suffers. But there’s no need for pain to be involved – one can induce boredom just by doing nothing.

            Now, just because it’s possible to suffer without pain doesn’t mean that it’s possible to have pain without suffering, but it does show that they’re 2 different things. My personal experience with meditation has indicated that it’s quite possible to reduce the suffering caused by any given pain. I don’t know if it’s possible to reduce it down to zero, as I’ve come nowhere close to that, but it also doesn’t seem absurd to me.

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            What is the practical difference between pain and suffering ?

            Suffering:

            “Man, it really sucks that my foot hurts! Every step I take is like agony! I wish it could stop hurting so I could just get on with my day…I can’t concentrate on anything. I was going to go running later. Now I can’t run so I’m probably going to get fat. Hold on, I’m overreacting, I can just go running tomorrow…what if my foot still hurts tomorrow? What if it’s really serious and needs to be amputated or something? Ugh GOD I wish it would stop hurting so I could just get on with my day and stop worrying about it!”

            Pain:

            “My foot hurts.”

        • Said Achmiz says:

          The big claim made by many meditators is that enlightenment reduces suffering.

          Hah! If only that were the “big claim”! Oh, no. No, the “big claim” is stuff like this, and also like this and like this; and who can forget this right here (see also this comment), where Daniel Ingram claims to be able to control fire with his mind.

          It’s a motte-and-bailey situation, you see. The motte is “it reduces suffering!”. The bailey is that it makes you a goddamn superhero with magic powers.

          But besides, what’s wrong with subjective evaluation of results?

          Nothing, until your subjective evaluation starts saying things about reality, which are false.

          Re: horrifying existential concerns…. they’re surmountable. In fact, your example of depersonalitation, in the case of the Buddhist tradition, is the cure for the terrifying existential state of belief in self. Fear of death, e.g., can be somewhat terrifying if attached to self, but if you read some Derek Parfit or meditate to the point of losing that sense of self, you’ll be able to breathe a lot more easily.

          Well, what can I say to this? “No, it’s ok, destroying your sense of self is the whole point!” really speaks for itself.

          • KarenEliot says:

            No. The big claim is “reduction of suffering”. Everything else is irrelevant or even a distraction from the real goal, something that people are warned against. That’s standard buddhist doctrine. It might seem like a big claim fto you, but it’s really not important. I prefer “reduction of suffering” to anything else.
            Nevertheless, extraordinary concentration definitely is a superpower in itself.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @KarenEliot:

            Do you see how incredibly bizarre what you’re saying is?

            “Yes, yes, sure, I can stay up for 36 hours with no loss of cognitive performance, and, yes, I can generate novel scientific and mathematical insights easily, but none of that is important! Sure, yes, I can levitate and control fire with my mind, but forget about all that, it’s irrelevant! Yes I can perceive and control parts of physical reality that other people cannot, but really, why talk about any of that? All of that is a distraction… the important thing is, I suffer less.”

            First: that is an insane perspective. If someone actually can do these things, then of course that’s bloody well important!

            Second: it’s not up to you to decide which of your claims are “big” or “important”. It’s up to your interlocutors, your audience—the people who must evaluate your claims, and decide whether to accept them.

            You don’t get to just say “yes, I’m making some completely bonkers claims, but forget those things, let’s not talk about them, let’s instead talk about this other thing”. No, let’s not forget those things. We’re absolutely going to talk about the most extraordinary, the most unbelievable, the most unlikely, the most nonsensical, of the things you’re claiming—and it is utterly absurd to expect otherwise.

          • lvlln says:

            I mean, people who make supernatural claims about meditation exist, as in the links you provided, but those are weird outliers who are either disavowed or just ignored by the vast majority of meditators.

            Saying that the “big claim” of meditation is that you can levitate would be like saying that the “big claim” of martial arts is that you can make people fall down by waving your hand in front of them. Undoubtedly there exist martial artists who claim to be able to do that, but that describes a really non-central, tiny, and actively marginalized portion of the martial arts universe.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @lvlln:

            I mean, people who make supernatural claims about meditation exist, as in the links you provided, but those are weird outliers who are either disavowed or just ignored by the vast majority of meditators.

            That is not a credible claim. Daniel Ingram, whose book was reviewed here on SSC, has made such claims. When that review was posted, the comments were markedly not filled with disavowals of Ingram.

            One of the leading personalities of Bay Area rationality has also made some fairly extraordinary claims (though not of the “telekinesis” sort).

          • lvlln says:

            That is not a credible claim. Daniel Ingram, whose book was reviewed here on SSC, has made such claims. When that review was posted, the comments were markedly not filled with disavowals of Ingram.

            “I mean, people who make supernatural claims about meditation exist, as in the links you provided, but those are weird outliers who are either disavowed or just ignored by the vast majority of meditators.”

            I mean, perhaps it’s reasonable to want active disavowal rather than mere ignoring. But I think that comes from the proportion of meditators who make actual explicit supernatural claims being so tiny and marginalized that most meditators are actually just ignorant of them. I don’t claim to be an expert in the field, but in my lifelong dabbling in meditation, the only times I’ve encountered supernatural claims have been by skeptics claiming that meditation makes incredible supernatural claims.

            And the thing is, it’s perfectly reasonable to be skeptical of meditation, because there’s plenty to be skeptical about! Suffering is an inherently subjective experience that can’t be empirically tested. And the claims related to psychological claims also seem subjective and rather vulnerable to confirmation bias. It’s a good thing to want rigorous scientific research in this stuff before buying it as something more than just self-delusion.

            But latching onto the most extreme, implausible claims as the “big claims,” as if most meditators are, at best, quietly going along with pushing those notions, if not actively engaging in a motte-and-bailey tactic of sucking people into a supernatural cult, isn’t skepticism, it’s just bald dismissal.

            I don’t feel the need to disavow Ingram or anyone else, in part because I’m not fully sold on meditation anyway and don’t identify with them, but in terms of whatever benefits that I believe that meditation confers, I categorically deny that the supernatural enters into it at all. I’m quite confident that anyone making supernatural claims about the benefits of meditation is speaking bunk and is likely either lying or is deluded, and that furthermore, the vast majority of people who claim that meditation is beneficial would also agree with me on that. Regardless of what some author or guru might say.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            I categorically deny that the supernatural enters into it at all. I’m quite confident that anyone making supernatural claims about the benefits of meditation is speaking bunk and is likely either lying or is deluded …

            Indeed, this is a clear enough position, and you’ll get no argument from me…

            … furthermore, the vast majority of people who claim that meditation is beneficial would also agree with me on that

            See, now this is the kind of thing that ought to be testable. Do you know if it has been tested? If not—then perhaps Scott should add some questions about this to the next SSC survey…

            That aside, there’s another aspect to this, which is that the following aren’t the same things:

            1. What most members of group X think

            2. What most prominent members of group X think

            3. What most members of group X who talk about X in public say about it

            Obviously, I can’t read minds, so I have no direct access to the opinions of the world’s population of meditators. All I see is what I see. And what I see is a startling prevalence of blatant woo.

            Meanwhile, a couple of comments on this bit:

            I mean, perhaps it’s reasonable to want active disavowal rather than mere ignoring.

            Yes, I do rather think it is. Now, of course, neither you nor anyone else has any duty disavow anything; there’s no obligation, either epistemic or moral, to do so.

            That having been said, it is at least surprising that a member of group X can publicly get up and speak nonsense, woo, and crankery, and the rest of group X, despite not at all believing in any such things, can be totally unconcerned. It at least speaks to some rather strange attitudes, among said membership. Perhaps there’s something here that I’m missing.

            I think that comes from the proportion of meditators who make actual explicit supernatural claims being so tiny and marginalized that most meditators are actually just ignorant of them.

            With respect, this strikes me as implausible. Not only meditators, but basically anyone with any contact with Western pop culture, is likely to be aware of the “Eastern mystical practice gives you superpowers!” meme.

            Finally:

            But latching onto the most extreme, implausible claims as the “big claims,” as if most meditators are, at best, quietly going along with pushing those notions, if not actively engaging in a motte-and-bailey tactic of sucking people into a supernatural cult, isn’t skepticism, it’s just bald dismissal.

            To be clear, I do not think that any such thing is going on. (The closest thing, perhaps, might be that some unscrupulous operators use “meditation” and similar things as pretext/contexts for various scams—but I think it would be quite unfair for anyone to blame the general population of meditators for this; I certainly don’t.) In fact, I don’t see any good reason to impute any real ill intent to the majority of folks who are into meditation—even those who buy into, and promulgate, woo.

            Sadly, one may spout nonsense, and engage in epistemically blameworthy rhetorical tactics like the motte-and-bailey, without at all being a predatory, unscrupulous cult-recruiter. There is no need to assume ill intent, or to perceive accusations thereof.

          • KarenEliot says:

            @said achmiz:
            No, it’s not bizarre. Ingram says more or less “weird things might happen if you meditate in a certain way, for completeness I will mention them, but just ignore them for now because they are not relevant”. Of course each one of us can decide for oneself what is the most important message of a text, no matter how idiosyncratic and unnatural our respective personal triggers are, it’s a free comment section after all, but the few pages about magick are obviously completely unrelated to the rest of the book. You could leave them out and the rest of the book would stand on it’s own.

          • Kaj Sotala says:

            I’m also happy to disavow any claims of supernatural stuff like controlling fire with your mind and that kind of thing; I haven’t seen anything that would make me think that that’s a thing which actually happens.

          • adder says:

            But besides, what’s wrong with subjective evaluation of results?

            Nothing, until your subjective evaluation starts saying things about reality, which are false.

            You really don’t conclude anything about reality based on subjective evaluation? Is there a computer sitting in front of you? Are you going to get an objective opinion before you make any conclusion about this question of reality?

            Look, how do you ground any beliefs about reality except in subjective evaluation? It’s your only window to the world! I don’t want to get into an esoteric philosophical debate here, but modern western science is hugely influenced by the empricism, the theory that states knowledge comes only or primarily from the senses.

            Plus, the way we do cognitive science today still depends overwhelmingly on subjective reporting. Any cool claim made by neuroscience about what they can determine about someone by examining their brain is ultimately calibrated by patients self-reporting about their mental states while their brain state is examined. Subjectivity is here to stay; it borders on nonsensical to talk about learning about reality with subjectivity completely removed (it might be a fun exercise to try).

            Well, what can I say to this? “No, it’s ok, destroying your sense of self is the whole point!” really speaks for itself.

            Are you holding ‘sense of self’ to be a basic value? Then, sure I can’t convince you that it’s good to get rid of. If you’d rather have strong sense of self over happiness, pleasure, reduction of suffering, social harmony, then there’s nothing a meditator (a Buddhist one, at least) can say to convince you. But if you’re like most anyone who inhabits this blog, you probably think that reducing suffering is important and good. If letting go of a sense of self is what gets people there, what’s so bad about it?

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @adder:

            Uh, I think there’s been some miscommunication—you seem to have misread that quoted sentence of mine (which, to be fair, was ambiguous, so I do apologize). To be clear, I meant it as:

            Nothing, until your subjective evaluation starts saying (things about reality which are false).

            I certainly did not mean that anything that your subjective evaluation says about reality is necessarily false! That would be silly (for all the reasons you give).

            Anyway…

            Are you holding ‘sense of self’ to be a basic value? Then, sure I can’t convince you that it’s good to get rid of. If you’d rather have strong sense of self over happiness, pleasure, reduction of suffering, social harmony, then there’s nothing a meditator (a Buddhist one, at least) can say to convince you. But if you’re like most anyone who inhabits this blog, you probably think that reducing suffering is important and good. If letting go of a sense of self is what gets people there, what’s so bad about it?

            This is sheer insanity. Without a sense of self, there is no “me”, and thus no one whose suffering, happiness, etc., I care about. Destruction of the self is death. What’s bad about “reducing suffering” by destroying the self is the same thing that’s bad about “reducing suffering” by putting a gun to your head and pulling the trigger.

          • Kaj Sotala says:

            Without a sense of self, there is no “me”, and thus no one whose suffering, happiness, etc., I care about. Destruction of the self is death.

            Notice that in the first sentence you talk about “the sense of self”, and in the second you talk about “the self”. These are not the same.

            The sense of self, in the way that my experiences lead me to believe it’s understood in Buddhism, is literally a sense of self. That is, it’s a specific kind of cognitive feeling. It is the kind of “feeling” that includes plenty of high-level interpretation, in the same way that feeling that a certain person is your friend (or your enemy) includes plenty of interpretation.

            But whether someone is your friend, is distinct from whether you feel that someone to be your friend. (Otherwise you could make everyone be your friend by just altering your brain.)

            In the same way, “who experiences my happiness, suffering, etc.” is not the same as “who do I feel is me”. Buddhist theory claims – and both my experiences and my knowledge of philosophy of mind lead me to agree – that the entities which a person’s mind normally tags as self, are not that which is self. “Destroying the sense of self” does not mean that you die and stop experiencing things, it means that you become aware of the mental tag not matching the object that it’s supposed to be a tag for, and stop applying it as a result.

          • adder says:

            This is sheer insanity. Without a sense of self, there is no “me”, and thus no one whose suffering, happiness, etc., I care about.

            Hm, okay. Let me try to give a short(ish) explanation of what the notion of no-self is getting at, and how one might arrive at that point independently from a place of rational reflection (which has been done).

            First off, getting enlightened/eliminating a sense of self doesn’t mean that one cannot reference oneself in the conventional sense. This is why enlightened people, by and large, are perfectly functional people.

            When we assign identity to someone (or ourselves), we’re pointing to a chain of interrelated causes. I “am” the same person as I was as a child because I can (theoretically) trace a line of causality from that child to me. Each state was close enough to the previous that we generally think it makes sense. We do this even though the matter in my body has been completely replaced and my personality, habits, memories, attitudes are completely changed. The same thing is going on from moment to moment. “I” am simply a system state at a given time t, and that system state changes all the time.

            So anyway,an enlightened person sees the self for what it really is, a conventional term for a system state, not some fixed metaphysical entity. And I’m not trying to Motte & Bailey here! You might find that this explanation about no-self is pretty mundane, and it is. It is good that one can arrive there on simple reflection. But meditators are interested in eliminating the sense of self, as is pointed out above. By paying for close attention to one’s sensory/mental world, the notion that our minds are just a series of causal events becomes more immediately graspable. And when that sense of self is lost/reduced, the one can interact with the world in a way that involves less mental anguish (or, to rephrase that last sentence without any reference to personal identity: the cluster of mental events that used to result in a fair amount of suffering and discontent no longer/less often has those states arise).

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @adder:

            Let me try to give a short(ish) explanation of what the notion of no-self is getting at, and how one might arrive at that point independently from a place of rational reflection (which has been done).

            I am familiar with Parfit’s writing on this subject. My opinion of it (and of Partfit’s work in general) is very low.

            So anyway,an enlightened person sees the self for what it really is, a conventional term for a system state, not some fixed metaphysical entity. And I’m not trying to Motte & Bailey here! You might find that this explanation about no-self is pretty mundane, and it is. It is good that one can arrive there on simple reflection.

            Yes, I should think that this is fairly obvious to anyone who’s reasonably well-read in philosophy of mind / psychology / etc. (and certainly anyone familiar with the rationalist canon).

            Note, however, that calling this “no-self” is deeply misleading, and even, I might say, mistaken. Eliezer Yudkowsky’s essay “Explaining vs. Explaining Away” is the usual reference, here. (One might also refer to Dennett’s Consciousness Explainined, and similar works of the “functionalist” perspective in philosophy of mind.) Yes, what you say explains the self. In no way, shape, or form does it explain away the self!

            But meditators are interested in eliminating the sense of self, as is pointed out above.

            So I gather, yes. And this continues to look to me like a foolish and insane goal. My “self” just is me. Why would I want to lose my sense of myself? That’s utterly mad. Not everyone has a strong sense of themselves in the first place; for many people who do (myself included!), gaining a strong sense of themselves is something that took a non-trivial amount of struggle. And you’re telling me that you want to destroy that? Frankly, that motivation strikes me as totally alien.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @Kaj Sotala:

            Notice that in the first sentence you talk about “the sense of self”, and in the second you talk about “the self”. These are not the same.

            Indeed, this is sloppy writing on my part. I was using “self” as shorthand for “sense of self”, but you’re right that this is a misleading and incorrect usage.

            Buddhist theory claims – and both my experiences and my knowledge of philosophy of mind lead me to agree – that the entities which a person’s mind normally tags as self, are not that which is self.

            I can’t speak for your experiences, but I strenuously disagree with your characterization of Dennett’s work. I would absolutely not characterize Consciousness Explained that way; indeed, in my comment above, I cited said book in support of the exact opposite claim—that that which a person’s mind normally tags as self, indeed and precisely is self—and I stand by that citation. (One concise way to summarize Dennett’s position is that the “self” is constructed and constituted by this “tagging”.)

            “Destroying the sense of self” does not mean that you die and stop experiencing things, it means that you become aware of the mental tag not matching the object that it’s supposed to be a tag for, and stop applying it as a result.

            Well, this seems entirely wrongheaded to me. But consider this: if the mental tag, in your case, doesn’t match the object, maybe it’s because you have modified either the tag or the object (or both), due to your meditation? Maybe what meditation does is break the mental object that we normally call the “self”—as a result of which, the tag of “self” no longer fits it? Or, perhaps, maybe meditation breaks the mechanism which “tags”, or senses, the self, thus leading to the “tag” or “sense” now being inaccurate? That seems to me to be, on the face of it, at least as plausible an account as yours (indeed, more plausible, because unlike your account, it doesn’t seem to say any bizarre things like “your sense of self is wrong, that’s not really your self you’re sensing”, etc.).

          • Kaj Sotala says:

            Not everyone has a strong sense of themselves in the first place; for many people who do (myself included!), gaining a strong sense of themselves is something that took a non-trivial amount of struggle.

            It’s true that there’s something like a “sense of self” which some people lack, suffer from that lack, and then struggle in order to acquire one. But I suspect that this (no pun intended) sense of “sense of self” is a different one from the one that we’re referring to.

            The most obvious indication comes from the fact which you just pointed out: that people who lack the “sense of self” in your sense, seem to experience that lack as unsatisfactory. Whereas people who manage to lose their “sense of self” in my sense, seem to experience that as freeing and liberating. If they were the same thing, you would expect the reactions to be more similar.

            Though some caveats are needed, since there are also people who report hitting upon something like no-self in meditation practice and being terrified by it, rather than experiencing it as liberating. I’m not sure whether they are hitting the same thing that I’m talking about but being scared because they don’t understand what’s happening, or whether they are actually hitting a different thing. But at least we know that for a substantial fraction of people hitting on something like no-self in meditation practice, it does feel freeing.

            I can’t speak for your experiences, but I strenuously disagree with your characterization of Dennett’s work. I would absolutely not characterize Consciousness Explained that way; indeed, in my comment above, I cited said book in support of the exact opposite claim—that that which a person’s mind normally tags as self, indeed and precisely is self—and I stand by that citation. […] But consider this: if the mental tag, in your case, doesn’t match the object, maybe it’s because you have modified either the tag or the object (or both), due to your meditation?

            Now, I’ll have to admit that it’s been many years since I read Dennett’s book, and I only read part of it even then. So it’s possible that I’m mischaracterizing it. But at least based on that LW summary, the point of the book is that

            This book might have also been called “455 Pages Of Implications Of There Being No Homuncular Observer Inside The Brain.” But that probably wouldn’t have sold as well. This is absolutely the most important point of the book, and it shows up again and again in different variations.

            The “sense of self” that I’m referring to, seems to be a kind of an intuitive belief in a homunculus, a belief that whichever subsystem currently happens to dominate the global workspace is the homunculus and the entirety of self, and a belief that whichever subsystems it’s struggling to keep out of the workspace are not self.

            It doesn’t seem plausible to me to say that this is normally the case, and that meditation breaks this connection. A person is not just the currently-dominant subsystem; a person is all of their subsystems. A person is also not a homunculus, but rather the whole of the distributed system making up all their activity.

            Certainly in the normal functioning of the mind, there is a function in constructing a fiction of a self – but like adder said and which you replied was “obvious”, the self is a conventional term for a system state, not a fixed metaphysical entity. But even if you believe that this is obvious, does not mean that you deeply alieve it on all levels! There are parts of the mind hardwired to alieve in the self as a metaphysical entity with an independent existence, and they will not recognize the self as a theoretical fiction unless they are shown the true nature of the self – the way that meditative practices do.

            And you’re telling me that you want to destroy that? Frankly, that motivation strikes me as totally alien.

            It seems worth noting that, in my experience at least, imagining what it would be like to be rid of the sense of self as I mean it, does not at all correspond to what it’s like to actually be rid of it.

            There was a time when I was reading a lot about no-self stuff, and trying to convince myself of it, not just on an intellectual level but on a deeper level. And the thought of having to accept the lack of a self, felt terrifying, because it felt like I would have to accept some kind of a death.

            And then when I actually had a glimpse of no-self, it turned out that the way I had been imagining no-self was all wrong. It wasn’t like death at all.

            I think that this is where we get back to concept-shaped holes, and the thing Val was trying to talk about in his Kensho post. Because there are deep parts of the mind that are hardwired to interpret everything in terms of an ontology where the self is an actual metaphysically existing entity, if you start telling them about being being liberated from the sense of self, they interpret that as something like “your sense of self being dead”. They are still modeling the world in terms of something like, there always existing a “slot” called “sense of self”, which is normally filled but which might be emptied by meditative practices. And since they are running on the assumption of the sense of self being necessary, this slot being empty feels terrifying.

            It is not until they are shown what the nature of self is actually like, that they update their assumptions and ontology: they go from “no-self” meaning that the “slot for the self being empty”, to the slot not existing in the first place, or at best being something that keeps getting actively constructed and maintained all the time. Until they are shown this, they literally cannot accurately imagine what it’s like to actually experience no-self (in the sense that I’m talking about).

          • Said Achmiz says:

            It’s true that there’s something like a “sense of self” which some people lack, suffer from that lack, and then struggle in order to acquire one. But I suspect that this (no pun intended) sense of “sense of self” is a different one from the one that we’re referring to.

            The most obvious indication comes from the fact which you just pointed out: that people who lack the “sense of self” in your sense, seem to experience that lack as unsatisfactory. Whereas people who manage to lose their “sense of self” in my sense, seem to experience that as freeing and liberating. If they were the same thing, you would expect the reactions to be more similar.

            Notice, however, that you can use this same logic to point out that while people who are ill (i.e., have a deficit of health) suffer from this deficiency, people who are dead (i.e., have lost all their health) do not suffer at all. Clearly, then, illness and death are unrelated, and while the former may be bad, the latter is just peachy…

            Some people have an insufficiently strong sense of self, and experience this as a problematic condition. Some people, meanwhile, have managed to entirely destroy their sense of self, and (as expected) do not experience this as problematic (and, perhaps, may no longer be capable of experiencing anything as problematic).

            I am not sure if this account is true, but it seems to me to be quite consistent with what we observe.

            Now, I’ll have to admit that it’s been many years since I read Dennett’s book, and I only read part of it even then. So it’s possible that I’m mischaracterizing it. But at least based on that LW summary …

            I do urge you to read the book. It’s excellent—perhaps Dennett’s best (though I haven’t read some of his most recent stuff; in any case, it’s very good).

            The “sense of self” that I’m referring to, seems to be a kind of an intuitive belief in a homunculus, a belief that whichever subsystem currently happens to dominate the global workspace is the homunculus and the entirety of self, and a belief that whichever subsystems it’s struggling to keep out of the workspace are not self.

            Well, then perhaps we’ve uncovered at least one source of the disagreement between us, because this description sounds totally alien to me—I recognize none of this as a description of my own mental life, or my view thereof. In fact, this notion of “subsystems” “dominating” the “global workspace” sounds very bizarre to me, and the idea that there are other “subsystems” that the first “subsystem” is “struggling to keep out” of the “workspace” is even more bizarre. (All the scare-quoted words/phrases are parts of the described ontology of which I am highly skeptical.) I have questioned this sort of thing previously on Less Wrong, and continue to find it all very dubious.

            Certainly in the normal functioning of the mind, there is a function in constructing a fiction of a self – but like adder said and which you replied was “obvious”, the self is a conventional term for a system state, not a fixed metaphysical entity. But even if you believe that this is obvious, does not mean that you deeply alieve it on all levels! There are parts of the mind hardwired to alieve in the self as a metaphysical entity with an independent existence, and they will not recognize the self as a theoretical fiction unless they are shown the true nature of the self – the way that meditative practices do.

            This seems correct to me. It also seems fairly obvious (not quite so obvious that I would dismiss any alternate accounts, mind you, but close to it) that deeply alieving in this fact would interfere in the normal functioning of this “theoretical fiction”, and would break the normal processes that construct the sense of self. I have no reason at all to introduce any such defect into my mind.

            … stuff about no-self …

            I believe you. And everything you describe sounds exactly like reasons not to want to experience no-self, in the same way that “no, you can’t really imagine what it’s like to wirehead yourself, it’s actually way more amazing than you might imagine” is exactly and precisely a reason to avoid wireheading.

          • adder says:

            I believe you. And everything you describe sounds exactly like reasons not to want to experience no-self, in the same way that “no, you can’t really imagine what it’s like to wirehead yourself, it’s actually way more amazing than you might imagine” is exactly and precisely a reason to avoid wireheading.

            The difference between the wireheading example and the no-self situation is that we have a bunch of people who have done the enlightenment thing and come back and said “It’s amazing. I see everything clearly now and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.” And then continue on to be completely functional humans.

            I think a better example would be something like climbing a mountain. You might say, “Being a little bit cold and tired and hungry and worn out kind of puts me in a bad mood. No way would I climb a mountain, and if you try to tell me that being really cold and tired and hungry and worn out is half the reason climbing a mountain is so great, then count me out. There’s no way this could be good for anyone.” Meanwhile, people are headed down from the summits with life changing experiences that they’re sharing with the world. Will that necessarily convince me to go climb a mountain? Perhaps not, but I at least have some epistemic humility to recognize that my initial impressions of the idea might be incorrect. It seems that people really do get something special out of it, and maybe I would too if I tried.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @adder:

            The difference between the wireheading example and the no-self situation is that we have a bunch of people who have done the enlightenment thing and come back and said “It’s amazing. I see everything clearly now and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.” And then continue on to be completely functional humans.

            Ah, but that’s just the thing, you see. It’s true that a bunch of people come back and claim to see everything clearly now and be very happy. But do they, in fact, continue to be completely functional humans? A not-insignificant portion of them seem to be totally crazy. (And, of course, the “see everything clearly now” claim is dubious as well, since they don’t quite seem to be able to explain this “everything” that they now see clearly.)

            More generally, the folks who come back from this no-self business—even those who do not really appear to have been driven mad by the experience—seem, at an alarming rate, to no longer be themselves. They seem like different people—strange people.

            What would Cognitive Trope Therapy say about this?

            I think a better example would be something like climbing a mountain. You might say, “Being a little bit cold and tired and hungry and worn out kind of puts me in a bad mood. No way would I climb a mountain, and if you try to tell me that being really cold and tired and hungry and worn out is half the reason climbing a mountain is so great, then count me out. There’s no way this could be good for anyone.” Meanwhile, people are headed down from the summits with life changing experiences that they’re sharing with the world. Will that necessarily convince me to go climb a mountain? Perhaps not, but I at least have some epistemic humility to recognize that my initial impressions of the idea might be incorrect. It seems that people really do get something special out of it, and maybe I would too if I tried.

            Your characterization of climbing a mountain is partly accurate, and partly inaccurate.

            To the extent that it is accurate, the obvious response is that one person’s modus tollens is another’s modus ponens. More or less the reasoning that you describe is exactly why I have no plans to ever go to Burning Man, for instance, nor to hitchhike across Europe, or take a drive through Africa, etc., etc. People have life-changing experiences doing these things, you say? Yes, no doubt they do; but “getting killed, or worse” is also a “life-changing experience”. In any case, I have better things to do with my life. (Consider also the massive list of cognitive biases that distort the self-reports of those who undertake such adventures.)

            But to the extent that your mountain-climbing example is convincing, it relies on an inaccurate—or rather, I should say, incomplete—characterization. A more complete characterization would be more like: “Do you like nature? Do you enjoy walking? Fresh air? Do you like looking at beautiful vistas from high places? Does physical exertion make you feel good? Do you enjoy pushing yourself to the edges of your physical capabilities, and beyond? If so, climbing a mountain is a thing you may well enjoy!” And, of course, if someone’s answers to most or all of these things were “no”, then talking about “life-changing experiences” would be silly and unconvincing.

            (For my own part, I do like nature, enjoy walking, like fresh air, etc., but I don’t have any interest in extreme physical exertion and so on, and therefore I do go on hiking trips into the local mountains, but have no interest at all in climbing Everest, no matter how many “life-changing experiences” are reported by those who do. And I would certainly be skeptical of any claim that climbing Everest results in some amazing enlightenment.)

          • Kaj Sotala says:

            Notice, however, that you can use this same logic to point out that while people who are ill (i.e., have a deficit of health) suffer from this deficiency, people who are dead (i.e., have lost all their health) do not suffer at all. Clearly, then, illness and death are unrelated, and while the former may be bad, the latter is just peachy…

            People who are dead don’t suffer, true, but they also aren’t happy, so I don’t really see how this analogy works.

            Some people have an insufficiently strong sense of self, and experience this as a problematic condition. Some people, meanwhile, have managed to entirely destroy their sense of self, and (as expected) do not experience this as problematic (and, perhaps, may no longer be capable of experiencing anything as problematic).

            My sense of self hasn’t been totally destroyed, though. I’m not enlightened: most of the time, and especially in emotionally intense situations, my sense of self is just as anyone else’s. I’ve had glimpses of what it might be like for it to be totally gone, and on good days/moments I can make it much weaker. But generally its strength fluctuates between “very strong” and “kind of weak” over my waking hours, which doesn’t seem to fit the hypothesis of “the sense of self getting weaker feels bad, until it gets totally destroyed and then it feels good”.

            Well, then perhaps we’ve uncovered at least one source of the disagreement between us, because this description sounds totally alien to me—I recognize none of this as a description of my own mental life, or my view thereof.

            This stuff isn’t obvious at first. I remember a point when I was reading about no-self stuff and being about as skeptical as you are. In particular, I remember thinking something like “meditation might reduce suffering, but I don’t think that the mechanism is what the Buddhists think it is; ‘belief in the self is the source of suffering’ sounds like the kind of pseudotheory that a folk psychology with no scientific understanding of the mind might produce”.

            It was only when I learned to look more closely at my mind that I became convinced that they were right.

            In fact, this notion of “subsystems” “dominating” the “global workspace” sounds very bizarre to me,

            My thinking here is influenced by stuff like this paper, which has various stimuli becoming consciously available when they come to dominate the workspace, as in e.g. figure 2a (it might be more precise to say that the outputs of the subsystems dominate it rather than the subsystems themselves, I guess).

            This seems correct to me. It also seems fairly obvious (not quite so obvious that I would dismiss any alternate accounts, mind you, but close to it) that deeply alieving in this fact would interfere in the normal functioning of this “theoretical fiction”, and would break the normal processes that construct the sense of self. I have no reason at all to introduce any such defect into my mind.

            I agree that theoretically, there seems to be no a priori reason to assume that a human mind would be able to continue operating normally after it stopped alieving in the self. But empirically, it does seem to be the case that it can. I’m guessing that you need to develop the alief in an independently existing self to get started – a child that never developed it might come across as intellectually disabled – but once you get past a certain point, you’ve built up structures which allow you to go on just fine even without it.

            I’m not trying to convince you to meditate, though. I do feel sad about you never getting to experience a state which I think is fantastic and freeing, but I respect your preference to stay out of it.

            More generally, the folks who come back from this no-self business—even those who do not really appear to have been driven mad by the experience—seem, at an alarming rate, to no longer be themselves. They seem like different people—strange people.

            Which people are you referring to, here? There was also that non-symbolic states paper which reported that for many people in some kind of a no-self state, their friends wouldn’t notice any difference in their personality.

          • “Yes, yes, sure, I can stay up for 36 hours with no loss of cognitive performance, and, yes, I can generate novel scientific and mathematical insights easily, but none of that is important! Sure, yes, I can levitate and control fire with my mind, but forget about all that, it’s irrelevant! Yes I can perceive and control parts of physical reality that other people cannot, but really, why talk about any of that? All of that is a distraction… the important thing is, I suffer less.”

            To say that something is or isn’t important is an appeal to a value system. You might be wrong about values. Other people might have insights into values that you don’t.

            A not-insignificant portion of them seem to be totally crazy.

            Similar problem. How are you judging that? Are they failing to function? Do they believe things you disagree with?

          • rlms says:

            @TheAncientGeekAKA1Z

            Do they believe things you disagree with?

            Presumably: I don’t think Said Achmiz believes the pyrokinesis claims.

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            Ah, but that’s just the thing, you see. It’s true that a bunch of people come back and claim to see everything clearly now and be very happy. But do they, in fact, continue to be completely functional humans? A not-insignificant portion of them seem to be totally crazy. (And, of course, the “see everything clearly now” claim is dubious as well, since they don’t quite seem to be able to explain this “everything” that they now see clearly.)

            Are they actually “totally crazy”, or are they functional human beings (i.e. able to make a living and have healthy, positive relationships with other human beings) who say things that you disagree with?

            You do understand there’s a difference between “totally crazy” and “prone to saying stuff i disagree with”, right?

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @ wysinwygymmv:

            Yes, they actually are (or, at least, seem to be) totally crazy.

            … now what have we gained by you asking that question and me giving this answer…? (What were you expecting? That I’d respond “oops, your rhetorical question slash insinuation that I’m dumb has pierced my argument, alas, and now I am defeated; nothing remains but for me to admit that I have been a fool”? Or what?)

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            @Said Achmiz:

            (What were you expecting? That I’d respond “oops, your rhetorical question slash insinuation that I’m dumb has pierced my argument, alas, and now I am defeated; nothing remains but for me to admit that I have been a fool”? Or what?)

            I was wondering if you might offer some more concrete criteria for “crazy” than “says stuff I don’t agree with”, or if you might otherwise justify your statements, or otherwise demonstrate that you are in any way worth engaging with in a discussion on this topic.

            You didn’t. 🙂

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @wysinwygymmv:

            Perhaps, then, you should’ve asked that directly, in place of your contentless sarcasm. (But then, the fact that you assumed that when I said “actually crazy”, I in fact meant “says stuff I don’t agree with”, is hardly the sign that you were interested in anything I had to say.)

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            @Said Achmiz:

            You know what would help you deal with some of your anger issues and be a happier more fulfilled person? Meditation.

            ETA:

            (But then, the fact that you assumed that when I said “actually crazy”, I in fact meant “says stuff I don’t agree with”, is hardly the sign that you were interested in anything I had to say.)

            To be fair, you had already provided a lot of evidence that you had nothing interesting to say.

          • rlms says:

            @wysinwygymmv

            I was wondering if you might offer some more concrete criteria for “crazy” than “says stuff I don’t agree with”

            Said Achmiz gave some perfectly concrete criteria, or rather some clear examples. Do you think it is unfair to describe the claim that meditation lets you control fire with your mind as crazy?

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            @rlms:

            Do you think it is unfair to describe the claim that meditation lets you control fire with your mind as crazy?

            I think saying that a statement like “I can control fire with my mind” is crazy is different from saying a person who makes such a claim is crazy.

            Saying that the statement “I can control fire with my mind” is crazy basically means that you think it is so implausible that it is obviously false. I’d agree that “I can control fire with my mind” is so implausible that it is indeed obviously false, neglecting the fundamental uncertainty involved in not being sure I’m not a brain in a jar or living in a simulation.

            Saying that a person is crazy seems different to me. It doesn’t seem to me that if Alice makes one statement that Bob believes is “crazy” in the sense described above that it’s reasonable for Bob to therefore conclude that Alice is “crazy” unless he has a very weak, loose definition of crazy — in which case, I shouldn’t take his opinion on Alice’s sanity very seriously!

            If Bob were to say that Alice is “crazy”, I would assume that he means that Alice has serious problems holding a job or maintaining healthy relationships with other human beings. Alice saying stuff like “I can control fire with my mind” doesn’t necessarily have much bearing on those sorts of things, even if we might colloquially describe such statements as “crazy”.

            In fact, if Bob disowned Alice and concluded she was crazy because she said something like “I can control fire with my mind”, I’d probably conclude that Bob was the more poorly adjusted of the two when it comes to social realities — and therefore more reasonably described as “crazy”, even if he’s not as prone to making scientifically implausible claims.

          • rlms says:

            @wysinwygymmv
            I think you are using “crazy” in an unusually strong way. Some people who actually have severe mental illnesses are still able to function normally in the way you describe, but I think it would definitely be reasonable (if politically incorrect) to call them “crazy”. Furthermore, lots of people use “crazy” in a broader way to talk about people with beliefs that are heavily at odds with reality in a way that doesn’t have broad social approval. A person who is crazy in this sense can be and usually is perfectly functional, and may even have good ideas about some things (people can compartmentalise a lot). But it is strong evidence that you shouldn’t bother listening to their ideas on the thing they are crazy about.

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            @rlms:

            I think you are using “crazy” in an unusually strong way.
            Some people who actually have severe mental illnesses are still able to function normally in the way you describe, but I think it would definitely be reasonable (if politically incorrect) to call them “crazy”.

            1. Can you give any examples or are these purely hypothetical functional yet severely mentally ill individuals? Or can you at least provide a plausible anonymized example of a situation like this?

            2. Are they able to function normally largely due to medication or because their symptoms do not prevent functional engagement with reality? If the latter — if they are capable with functionally engaging with reality — what is the pretext for calling them “crazy” in the first place?

            3. At the point where you have someone with a severe mental illness but who is nonetheless capable of functionally engaging with reality, doesn’t it make a whole lotta sense to qualify your description as “crazy” as a personal opinion rather than a statement about the state of the world?

            Furthermore, lots of people use “crazy” in a broader way to talk about people with beliefs that are heavily at odds with reality in a way that doesn’t have broad social approval. A person who is crazy in this sense can be and usually is perfectly functional, and may even have good ideas about some things (people can compartmentalise a lot). But it is strong evidence that you shouldn’t bother listening to their ideas on the thing they are crazy about.

            It could be strong evidence that you shouldn’t bother listening to their crazy-sounding ideas, but it also could be evidence that you’re missing something and you actually should listen to them to try to clue in. Most of the examples cited by Said Achmez actually strike me as the latter.

            As for Daniel Ingram’s claims about pyrokinesis, well — I’m not a physician. In fact, I have enough self awareness to say that if I had tried to go to med school right out of college I would have bombed out catastrophically, and I did not have the mental or emotional fortitude in my 20’s to have coped with residency or being a new doctor. I can also say that my mental and emotional fortitude has grown enormously in the few months since I began meditating.

            So on the one hand, yeah, the pyrokinesis stuff sounds kind of loony. On the other hand, it’s clear that Daniel Ingram is in many ways a smarter and more emotionally resilient person than I am, and it seems very plausible to me that this is in no small part due to his meditation practice. So I can conclude he’s crazy and dismiss everything he has to say. But in this case, Im pretty sure I’d be missing out by doing so.

            Given the low cost of hearing the guy out and keeping an open mind, is it really crazy to do so? Or is it actually crazier to respond with skepticism when a more accomplished and fulfilled person offers to share their trademark secrets with you?

            If you had to choose between every statement you make being factually correct on the one hand, or being successful and happy on the other, which would you prefer? Another way to put this: are your beliefs paying rent?

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        The problem with “enlightenment” seems to be that it drives you crazy, and breaks your brain, causing you to lose the ability to reason sanely and rationally, or to perceive nonsense as nonsense, etc.

        I would say that this depends a lot on what your rationality skills were before you started meditating. (In fact, this seems like a thing where LW-style “extreme rationality” is most useful, even though people have been arguing that it does nothing useful!) If you don’t have a strong epistemic grounding, it’s easy to interpret your experiences in ways that make you more detached from reality; but if you do manage to hold on to your grounding, doing this kind of thing can make you much more sane. (people reading this comment wondering how exactly it can make you more sane, see Said’s second link, which has my explanation of just that)

        • Lambert says:

          I think this might be what Scott’s writings on truth/beauty in Raikoth and esr’s views on neopaganism are about, sort of. And possibly ‘Life of Pi’.
          That a mystical understanding of the world can safely coexist with a rational one, given the right interfaces between them.

        • Tarhalindur says:

          Interestingly, that sounds similar to some comments I’ve heard about the Golden Dawn tradition: in its original form there’s apparently an initiation ritual for one of the grades that’s supposed to integrate/attune the practitioner’s consciousness to one of the higher Kabbalastic spheres (Tiphareth?), but if you screw it up you get the downsides of the sphere – IIRC “they become an arrogant jerk convinced of their own omniscience” was how one person described it.

        • Erfeyah says:

          Here is the explanation of the situation from the perspective of the Sufi tradition. This is a passage from Idries Shah book ‘A Perfumed Scorpion’. I am not claiming that I have any evidence of the truth of the claims but they are spot on with the issue discussed in this post and exemplified by Gupta’s behaviour. I have added emphasis to the relevant part.

          THE CONDITIONS OF THE HUMAN SELF:

          The Self, called the Nafs, goes through certain stages in Sufi development, first existing as a mixture of physical reactions, conditioned behaviour and various subjective aspirations.
          The seven stages of the Self constitute the transformation process, ending with the stage of perfection and clarification. Some have called this process the ‘refinement of the Ego’. The stages are:

          The Commanding Self
          The Accusing Self
          The Inspired Self
          The Tranquil Self
          The Satisfied Self
          The Satisfying Self
          The Purified and Completed Self

          Each one of the words given above signifies a major characteristic of the Self in its upward ascent, hence, in Sufi eyes, most people in all cultures are generally familiar only with the first stage of the self as represented in their ethical systems as something which seeks only its own interests. The ordinary person, staying at the level of ordinary religious and moral teaching, is at the stage which the Sufis would regard as only struggling with the Commanding Self, with, in action, the Accusing Self reproaching itself for its shortcomings. It is because of this scheme that observers have styled Sufi development as going five stages beyond that known to the ordinarily ‘Moral’ person.

          It cannot be denied that in Sufi eyes the stages of human service, for instance, and concern for others, are regarded as not very great achievements, though lauded to the skies in moralistic-centred systems as almost impossible of attainment. Hence when Sa’adi says in the l3th century:

          All Adam’s sons are limbs of one another,
          Each of the self-same substance as his brothers,
          So, while one member suffers ache and grief,
          The other members cannot win relief.
          Thou, who are heedless of thy brother’s pain,
          It is not right at all to name thee man . . .
          (Gulistan, tr. Browne)

          he means that the Sufis, though recognizing its vital importance, still keep the door open for many stages of greater function for humankind. They maintain that to regard human well-being, though essential, as the highest possible, the sublime, achievement
          of humanity, is to limit oneself so much that it is, effectively, a pessimistic and unacceptably limited stance. Again, the desire for human well-being is the minimum, not the maximum, duty of humanity.

          The Commanding Self is the origin of the individual controlled by a composite consciousness, which is a mixture of hopes and fears, of training and imagination, of emotional and other factors, which make up the person in his or her ‘normal’ State, as one would ordinarily call it. It is the state of most of the people who have not undergone the clarification process.

          The Accusing Self is the state of the Self when it is able to monitor its behaviour and perceive the secondary nature of so many things formerly imagined to be primary, the actual relativity of assumed absolutes, and so on. This part of the man or woman is
          both the check on imperfect action and also the area through which the legitimate reproach of others or of the environment gets through to the individual. This is the stage of ordinary conscience.

          Most people stop and mill around here.

          When the depraved or commanding self and the reproaching or accusing selves have done their work, the organ of perception and action becomes susceptible to the entry of perceptions formerly blocked. For this reason it is termed the Inspired Self. In this stage come the first indications, albeit imperfect ones, of the existence and operation of a reliable higher element, force, power or communications system.

          Although people have often translated the word Nafs,which we call ‘Self’ here, as ‘soul’, it is in fact not such at all, but what might be called the real Personality of the individual. The word for soul is ‘rouh’, spirit.

          The so-called lower self the Nafs, passes through the stages in which it is said to ‘die’, and be transformed. Since it also is held to die on physical death, the phrase for this process is ‘dying before you die’. Hence the death and rebirth cycle takes place in this life instead of being assigned, to supposed literal reincarnation births and deaths.

          Attempts to cause the self to operate out of sequence; that is, to receive perceptions when the third stage has not been reached, or to provoke and benefit from mystical experience before the fifth stage, produces the sort of confusion – and sometimes worse – which is reflected in some current literature of experimenters who choose their own sequence of events, and may cause developments which they cannot handle.

          It also makes people crazy or nearly so.

          Many of these imagine themselves to be spiritual teachers, and some of them convince others that they are, too.

          The inner psychological problems of people who try to force developments in their psychic life are a matter for clinical, or even experimental, psychology. But there are many who stop short of this, who have not even got to the stage where they realize that their superficial interest in metaphysics bars them from something deeper, and who try exercises mechanically or spasmodically. No wonder they try to store up with emotion.

          Some of these are often otherwise quite nice peopte. They get superficial delusions, because of a rationalizing tendency.

      • CherryGarciaMillionaire says:

        The problem with “enlightenment” seems to be that it drives you crazy, and breaks your brain, causing you to lose the ability to reason sanely and rationally, or to perceive nonsense as nonsense, etc. It also seems, in some cases, to remove your sense of self (essentially, to cause depersonalization). To be honest, I don’t see how the therapeutic benefits could possibly be worth the risk of what seem to me to be some truly horrifying (on an existential level) detrimental effects.

        That is precisely true, and here are the experiences of an “enlightened” individual to support that claim:

        My neurological research reveals that [the] so-called “very small minority” of individuals “ready” for “The Path” is constituted of persons who already have and/or self-induce neurological damage and neurological dysfunction—or are neuropsychiatrically ill ab initio. Indeed, and once again, these so-called mystics, meditators, and spiritual “Masters” with the “big realizations” are suffering from various species of (i) brain damage, (ii) epilepsy, (iii) psychosis, (iv) schizophrenia, and (v) debilitating depersonalization disorder, or (vi) some combination of these five.

        In my case, I was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy as a youth and years later delusively believed myself to be making “spiritual” and meditative “progress” when all my weird “mystical” experiences started (as a result of intensive and protracted meditation practice). To this very day, these experiences are always with me, in varying degrees and forms, and never cease. I do wish, however, that they would stop, forever, and never plague me again.

        In the case of a good friend of mine (a highly religious and committed priest) who has had some of these “realizations” and mystical experiences, he, too, was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was younger….

        These phenomena are NOT anything “supernaturally mystical,” intimations of SELF or MIND, a timeless and unmediated intuition of the … Absolute, or anything of the sort. From what I can gather from my neurological research, ALL these phenomena have a wholly mundane neurobiological etiology. For instance, the sustained “white light” experience, or “entering into the light” through meditation, is a form of what neuroscientists call cortex disinhibition—the random firing of neurons in the brain. This random firing, in turn, stimulates the visual cortex producing these lights and luminosities fanatical mystics and zealous meditators talk about. Moreover, the greater the number of neurons firing, the greater is the intensity of the white light. Quantitatively put, with few neurons randomly firing, all one sees during meditation is a small circle of white, to bluish-white, light. With a moderate number of neurons randomly firing, one sees, during meditation, a moderately large circle of light. With all or most of the neurons randomly firing, one sees a circle of light so large, brilliant, and luminous that it literally engulfs the field of vision during the meditation session. The mistake, here, of mystics, meditators, spiritual “masters,” and Near Death Experiencers is to identify the “neural noise” or “white light experience” for God, Self, Mind, “mystical realization,” satori, etc….

        [A]ll ideas and doctrines of mystical “enlightenment” constitutes a myth just as untenable as are the myths and superstitions of, for instance, heaven, hell, levitation, telekinesis, and salvation by Jesus alone.

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          CherryGarciaMillionaire: That is precisely true, and here are the experiences of an “enlightened” individual to support that claim

          Several texts on meditation explicitly note that the various weird experiences – like the white light mentioned – are not signs of enlightenment and that getting lost in them and imagining yourself to be enlightened, means never actually achieving enlightenment. E.g. Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha says the following:

          “I would suggest care and caution in dealing with all the visions and other supernormal or paranormal experiences which might arise in practice. The primary danger is taking them too seriously and thus assuming that they are more important than they really are. It may be a good idea to leave them until very late in one’s practice unless one has someone around to guide them through their skillful use or unless one is fairly balanced and has a good sense of humor about them. If not, they can very easily become further tools of our defilements, long psychedelic and manipulative tunnels to nowhere or destruction.”

          “I remember a letter I received from a friend who was supposed to be on an intensive insight meditation retreat but had slipped into playing with these sorts of experiences. He was now fascinated by his ability to see spirit animals and other supernormal beings and was having regular conversations with some sort of low-level god that kept telling him that he was making excellent progress in his insight practice, i.e. exactly what he wanted to hear. However, the fact that he was having stable visionary experiences and was buying into their content made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t doing insight practices at all, but was lost in and being fooled by these siddhis. You get the picture.”

          Similar things can be found in lots of other texts. It sounds like the people discussed in your quote, saw things they didn’t understand and got seduced by them into thinking that they were enlightened, when those things are actually just random stuff on the road to enlightenment that a lot of traditions tell you to just ignore, or at least only come back to playing with them once you’re at a stage where you won’t take them too seriously.

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          That is precisely true, and here are the experiences of an “enlightened” individual to support that claim

          Several texts on meditation explicitly note that the various weird experiences – like the white light mentioned – are not signs of enlightenment and that getting lost in them and imagining yourself to be enlightened, means never actually achieving enlightenment. E.g. Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha says the following:

          “I would suggest care and caution in dealing with all the visions and other supernormal or paranormal experiences which might arise in practice. The primary danger is taking them too seriously and thus assuming that they are more important than they really are. It may be a good idea to leave them until very late in one’s practice unless one has someone around to guide them through their skillful use or unless one is fairly balanced and has a good sense of humor about them. If not, they can very easily become further tools of our defilements, long psychedelic and manipulative tunnels to nowhere or destruction.”

          “I remember a letter I received from a friend who was supposed to be on an intensive insight meditation retreat but had slipped into playing with these sorts of experiences. He was now fascinated by his ability to see spirit animals and other supernormal beings and was having regular conversations with some sort of low-level god that kept telling him that he was making excellent progress in his insight practice, i.e. exactly what he wanted to hear. However, the fact that he was having stable visionary experiences and was buying into their content made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t doing insight practices at all, but was lost in and being fooled by these siddhis. You get the picture.”

          Similar things can be found in lots of other texts. It sounds like the people discussed in your quote, saw things they didn’t understand and got seduced by them into thinking that they were enlightened, when those things are actually just random stuff on the road to enlightenment that a lot of traditions tell you to just ignore, or at least only come back to playing with them once you’re at a stage where you won’t take them too seriously.

          • Robert Jones says:

            From memory, St Teresa of Avila says much the same.

          • Jiro says:

            I think there’s a difference between “those aren’t positive” and “those are negative”. Your quotes seem to say that those experiences don’t mean all that much, but not that they’re signs of brain damage, and that’s very different.

      • CherryGarciaMillionaire says:

        Here is more research on the frequently detrimental effects of meditation, from Michael Murphy, et al.’s (1997) The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation:

        Long-term meditators reported the following percentages of adverse effects: antisocial behavior, 13.5%; anxiety, 9.0%; confusion, 7.2%; depression, 8.1%; emotional stability, 4.5%; frustration, 9.0%; physical and mental tension, 8.1%; procrastination, 7.2%; restlessness, 9.0%; suspiciousness, 6.3%; tolerance of others, 4.5%; and withdrawal, 7.2%….

        Ellis (1984) stated that meditation’s greatest danger was its common connection with spirituality and antiscience. He said that it might encourage some individuals to become even more obsessive-compulsive than they had been and to dwell in a ruminative manner on trivia or nonessentials. He also noted that some of his clients had gone into “dissociative semi-trance states and upset themselves considerably by meditating”….

        Hassett (1978) reported that meditation can be harmful. Carrington (1977) observed that extensive meditation may induce symptoms that range in severity from insomnia to psychotic manifestations with hallucinatory behavior. Lazarus (1976) reported that psychiatric problems such as severe depression and schizophrenic breakdown may be precipitated by TM…. Glueck and Stroebel (1975) reported that two experimental subjects made independent suicide attempts in the first two days after beginning the TM program.

        Murphy co-founded the Esalen Institute/retreat; he’s a “believer” who would prefer it if meditation was all-good, not a skeptic who wants to find fault with it. But even he can’t deny the “adverse effects.”

        For more, see Catherine Wikholm’s Seven common myths about meditation. (Wikholm co-authored The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You?, which summarizes the actual research on this subject.)

        • Vinay Gupta says:

          Asian traditions consider meditation to be a strenuous, dangerous activity best undertaken only with skilled overseers with extensive experience to act as guides.

          OF COURSE it’s dangerous if people are just playing around with it, the traditionalists would say.

      • Erfeyah says:

        Here is the explanation of the situation from the perspective of the Sufi tradition. I would point to such passages, as can be found in many wisdom traditions, to emphasise the quotes on your use of the word “enlightenment”. Not that I can claim that I know this end state to be a real one.

        It is passage from Idries Shah book ‘A Perfumed Scorpion’. I have added emphasis to the part most relevant to your comment.

        THE CONDITIONS OF THE HUMAN SELF:

        The Self, called the Nafs, goes through certain stages in Sufi development, first existing as a mixture of physical reactions, conditioned behaviour and various subjective aspirations.
        The seven stages of the Self constitute the transformation process, ending with the stage of perfection and clarification. Some have called this process the ‘refinement of the Ego’. The stages are:

        The Commanding Self
        The Accusing Self
        The Inspired Self
        The Tranquil Self
        The Satisfied Self
        The Satisfying Self
        The Purified and Completed Self

        Each one of the words given above signifies a major characteristic of the Self in its upward ascent, hence, in Sufi eyes, most people in all cultures are generally familiar only with the first stage of the self as represented in their ethical systems as something which seeks only its own interests. The ordinary person, staying at the level of ordinary religious and moral teaching, is at the stage which the Sufis would regard as only struggling with the Commanding Self, with, in action, the Accusing Self reproaching itself for its shortcomings. It is because of this scheme that observers have styled Sufi development as going five stages beyond that known to the ordinarily ‘Moral’ person.

        It cannot be denied that in Sufi eyes the stages of human service, for instance, and concern for others, are regarded as not very great achievements, though lauded to the skies in moralistic-centred systems as almost impossible of attainment. Hence when Sa’adi says in the l3th century:

        All Adam’s sons are limbs of one another,
        Each of the self-same substance as his brothers,
        So, while one member suffers ache and grief,
        The other members cannot win relief.
        Thou, who are heedless of thy brother’s pain,
        It is not right at all to name thee man . . .
        (Gulistan, tr. Browne)

        he means that the Sufis, though recognizing its vital importance, still keep the door open for many stages of greater function for humankind. They maintain that to regard human well-being, though essential, as the highest possible, the sublime, achievement
        of humanity, is to limit oneself so much that it is, effectively, a pessimistic and unacceptably limited stance. Again, the desire for human well-being is the minimum, not the maximum, duty of humanity.

        The Commanding Self is the origin of the individual controlled by a composite consciousness, which is a mixture of hopes and fears, of training and imagination, of emotional and other factors, which make up the person in his or her ‘normal’ State, as one would ordinarily call it. It is the state of most of the people who have not undergone the clarification process.

        The Accusing Self is the state of the Self when it is able to monitor its behaviour and perceive the secondary nature of so many things formerly imagined to be primary, the actual relativity of assumed absolutes, and so on. This part of the man or woman is
        both the check on imperfect action and also the area through which the legitimate reproach of others or of the environment gets through to the individual. This is the stage of ordinary conscience.

        Most people stop and mill around here.

        When the depraved or commanding self and the reproaching or accusing selves have done their work, the organ of perception and action becomes susceptible to the entry of perceptions formerly blocked. For this reason it is termed the Inspired Self. In this stage come the first indications, albeit imperfect ones, of the existence and operation of a reliable higher element, force, power or communications system.

        Although people have often translated the word Nafs,which we call ‘Self’ here, as ‘soul’, it is in fact not such at all, but what might be called the real Personality of the individual. The word for soul is ‘rouh’, spirit.

        The so-called lower self the Nafs, passes through the stages in which it is said to ‘die’, and be transformed. Since it also is held to die on physical death, the phrase for this process is ‘dying before you die’. Hence the death and rebirth cycle takes place in this life instead of being assigned, to supposed literal reincarnation births and deaths.

        Attempts to cause the self to operate out of sequence; that is, to receive perceptions when the third stage has not been reached, or to provoke and benefit from mystical experience before the fifth stage, produces the sort of confusion – and sometimes worse – which is reflected in some current literature of experimenters who choose their own sequence of events, and may cause developments which they cannot handle.

        It also makes people crazy or nearly so.

        Many of these imagine themselves to be spiritual teachers, and some of them convince others that they are, too.

        The inner psychological problems of people who try to force developments in their psychic life are a matter for clinical, or even experimental, psychology. But there are many who stop short of this, who have not even got to the stage where they realize that their superficial interest in metaphysics bars them from something deeper, and who try exercises mechanically or spasmodically. No wonder they try to store up with emotion.

        Some of these are often otherwise quite nice peopte. They get superficial delusions, because of a rationalizing tendency.

        • Andkat says:

          Rationalizing from what has been related here (but from a perspective of personal ignorance), an analogy to successive stages of practice as discussed above simply seems to be that you can learn how the moving parts of your drives and thought processes work by coupling and uncoupling them, enabling one to learn in the long term to how tune them as appropriate on a more fundamental level than most other therapeutic approaches. If you do this with some level of success but without due discipline and care (or simply bad luck or unfortunate psychiatric predispositions) then you’ll smash the parts back together in the wrong way, permanently detach something, etc. while vivisecting your own cognition and produce enduring psychiatric dysfunction as a result.

    • Murphy says:

      I’ve never been much into meditation but when I looked into approaches the basics sounded a lot like habits I developed to simply calm myself and deal with stress. I’ve come to realize that many people I know don’t automatically do those steps.

      So a simple/minor is to help control everyday anxiety and stress. I imagine that to some people who struggle to calm themselves internally when they need to meditation probably adds a useful tool.

    • b_jonas says:

      See “http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/09/18/book-review-mastering-the-core-teachings-of-the-buddha/” , especially part IV.

    • wysinwygymmv says:

      Last year a bunch of stuff happened that forced me to confront that I was getting angry for very little reason and that I didn’t understand why. I tried meditation not because there was a lot of peer reviewed research suggesting it was effective (though from what I understand there is a lot of such research; you might want to follow up on that if your questions about whether anyone has tested it are sincere). I tried it because there’s an exceptionally low barrier to entry and it seems intuitively plausible that practicing focusing your mind on something 30 minutes per day will actually make you better on noticing what’s happening in your mind.

      And lo and behold, practicing focusing on things really did make me better at noticing what was happening in my mind.

      Since you “prove it to me with peer reviewed studies” types are so enamored of the 5-factor model of personality, I’ll also mention that I seem to be much more agreeable, much more conscientious, and much less neurotic than I was before I started.

      2). “Same as above, but the experience is therapeutic in addition to being entertaining.”

      The decreased neuroticism and higher capacity for adversity make me much less prone to depression and anxiety than I was before, and meditation itself provides some tools for dealing with depressed or anxious thoughts (basically you notice them and then focus on something else) so they don’t become overwhelming.

      I’m not sure how recommending to try it could be irresponsible since the downsides are pretty limited. At the very worst you spend 30 minutes a day doing nothing that you probably would have spent watching TV or browsing the internet or something similarly time-wasting anyway.

      3). “Meditation enhances one’s cognitive capabilities, e.g. by boosting IQ, allowing one to solve real-world problems more optimally.”

      I don’t think it’s really increased my IQ, but it’s increased my effective IQ by allowing me to stay on-task and deal with annoying crap that I don’t really want to deal with. Most of the real-world problems it has helped me with aren’t really IQ-related in the first place, though.

      4). “Meditation allows one to understand the Universe on a much deeper level than anything accessible by conventional techniques.”

      It doesn’t give you special insight into scientific facts. In the blog post discussed by the OP, Gupta even mentions that no enlightened gurus ever discovered the theory of evolution.

      But inasmuch as all your experience of the universe takes place in models constructed inside your brain, and inasmuch as meditation trains you to pay more and better attention to what happens inside your brain, it can help you understand your universe on a deeper level than conventional techniques. That will continue to be true until brain imaging gets a lot more sophisticated than it is now.

      5). “Meditation gives you special powers such as a rapid healing factor, flight, or laser-eyes.”

      The buddhist nun who I took lessons from told us if we experienced anything paranormal to assume it’s a delusion and ignore it.

    • Are the insights obtained through meditation actually applicable to anything

      Is any other deep insight applicable to anything? Its typical for rationalists to treat humans as paperclippers who only want ( can, should) to become efficient at achieving arbitrary aims. But if anything can tell you what is really with achieving , it is deep insight.

  8. Alkatyn says:

    “Designer of blockchain dating site achieves enightenment” is possibly the most SSC headline ever

    • vV_Vv says:

      LoL, true!

      Btw, wasn’t this Gupta guy the dude that made a fool of himself on the comment section of this very blog, by responding to people asking technical questions about his blockchain dating site with answers like “Can you fight?” and then accusing people of racism?

      If that’s what enlightenment looks like then I’ll stick to my materialism.

      • Vinay Gupta says:

        Nice rewriting of history there. I hope you feel better about that now.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Thanks! I missed that the first time. But I don’t think that’s a very accurate description. The blockchain stuff was completely separate from the “Can you fight?”

  9. Markus Karner says:

    The weird thing is – everyone who opens up the big door and looks out into the magical Universe where all the cosmic shit lives, sees something different. […]If you are a strict moslem and you experience your enlightenment in a moslem context, the mystical model of the world that gets slammed into your head when you finally look at the Universe in that way, will be in conformity with the dominant culture around you at the time.

    Alan Watts said the exact same thing using almost the same words, 50 years ago…

    And: on similarities between Western and Eastern traditions… I look at existentialism and I see sour grapes Zen.

    Finally. If you do a physically intense activity, e.g., woodworking, car racing, any kind of sports, playing music etc – the sense of flow a la Csikszentmihalyi … that’s pretty close to ordinary experience of the same kind of wordless existence. It’s really just a process of de-symbolization. By taking away language, you take away the symbolic intermediary between perception and action, but the thought process is still there int he middle, just in a non verbal way. At least, that’s how I see it.

    • Trevor Adcock says:

      If that is what this is all about than doesn’t it just round off to “meditation is what happens when your default mode network isn’t activated.” Mediation seems to be little more than getting your default mode network to shutup even when you aren’t actually doing anything else. It is not clear why this would lead to any real enlightenment. I can understand why observing your own brain doing practically nothing would be traumatic for some people and why they would need to explain away this trauma with stories about enlightenment and magic, but it’s not clear why I should believe these stories they make up to explain what they experience. It all seems easily explainable in materialistic terms as the result of information processing happening in the brain.

      • allspoilersallthetime says:

        Just quoting from ‘Why Buddhism is True’ by Robert Wright, in which he quotes a guy called Gary Weber. Brain scans have shown that Weber has almost no default mode network activity whether meditating or not meditating.

        Weber and Wright have a conversation about his experience and Weber tries to explain why it’s better:

        You haven’t lost your nerve endings… Green tea still tastes like green tea, red wine still tastes like red wine. […] But it’s a much cleaner perception. If I’m tasting a glass of wine and I’m trying to impress some restaurant critics or some friends who’s a great wine fancier, then I may have a story going, I may have an expectation for how this wine should be and how I should expect it to taste, and so it really blocks my clear, simple perception … So by getting this thought out of the way, I have a much higher likelihood of directly perceiving whatever the sensation is.’

        Wright goes on to discuss his on experience on retreat of becoming totally immersed in the flavour of food and the texture of tree bark, and he emphasises that there is a particular pleasure which comes from experiencing things directly, not through the filter of analysis, categories, labels, etc.

        Obviously, this doesn’t go anyway to explaining any mystical claims, but I think it does help see why it’s appealling to people.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          “a much cleaner perception” beating out “an expectation” sure sounds like a testable hypothesis.

          • allspoilersallthetime says:

            How would you test it? Isn’t it all just people’s subjective experience? After all, we only have Weber’s word for it that he has cleaner perceptions than before and that they are preferable to perceptions clouded with narratives.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            No, it’s not just subjective experience. He specifically said that he is not fooled by expectations, whereas wine professionals are fooled by false labels on wine and even food coloring. Can self-proclaimed enlightened people tell red wine from white by taste?

          • allspoilersallthetime says:

            Oh, I see what you mean! I thought he was saying that he wasn’t fooling himself with his own expectations, not that he could never be tricked.

            It’s a great experiment though! I reckon anyone could be fooled into believing that white is red with food dye. The interesting part would be to see if he made the same mistake of completely changing his vocabulary to fit the different colour or whether he would describe it more accurately.
            The false label test would be better, I think, because that really does just come down to just noticing that it’s exactly the same wine!

            I wonder if there’s enough master meditator wine-tasters to make up a study between meditator and non-meditator and see if the meditator group does better on average? Would they use a larger vocabulary to describe wine tastes instead of relying on cliche, or would they use fewer because they’re not imagining fruit and floral tastes?

          • Lambert says:

            I always felt like the the thing where they catch out wine tasters was a little unfair.
            Like calling someone illiterate because they are fooled by ‘Paris in the the spring’.
            The question is: To what extent can tasters determine objective facts about the wine (origin, grape variety etc.) in a blind tasting, compared to chance and to laymen?
            I’d hypothesise that meditators with no prior experience can learn to taste wine faster than non-meditators, on average.

  10. Hi, Scott! Have fun digging into enlightenment, it’s a wild ride! I’ve been rough drafting a lot of stuff about my investigations into awakening from a rationalist perspective. Links:

    Science stuff.
    Recommended reads on awakening.

    Also, if you ping Daniel via email there is a good chance he will come answer questions here.

    But (says the devil’s advocate) two Christian saints may have similar experiences of the Beatific Vision, write them down in similar terms, and the average Christian will nod and say it agrees with what they already know of the world (eg that it is run by a triune God who lives in the Empyrean).

    You should really, really read Bernadette Roberts’ book, /The Experience of No-Self./ She pushed Christian contemplation so hard that she broke through into the wilderness, way off of the Christian maps, only later stumbling on and appreciating certain bits of the Buddhist models–one of which is the 6 skandhas, this notion of mind as just another sense organ. Sound familiar?

    Anyway, here is the question, then: is enlightenment one or many? Do all the great mystical traditions converge onto the same thing, or is it more /enlightenments/, a sea with many possible shores?

    It’s both! It’s always both. If we zoom out and squint, enlightenment does seem like one thing. If we consider it as insight into no-self, we have pretty good convergence there: Buddhists, neo-advaitans, at least one Christian (Bernadette), the Actual Freedom people, western philosophers (Parfit?), some neuroscientists.

    If we zoom in more, we can still make a compelling case, one where enlightenment is a mystical state of union in which there is no longer any notion of separateness between self and experience. We mostly have to leave non-meditators out for this one, but we still have at least the Buddhists and the neo-advaitans, along with some secular-ish Westerners like Daniel Ingram, Gary Weber, and (maybe?) Robert Forman.

    But when we keep zooming in, things start to break down. Soon we are left with only individuals, all manifesting something unique. Burbea keeps talking about emptiness, Bernadette about compassion, and Daniel about perceptual thresholds. Are they all fundamentally the same, or individuals? Well, it depends if I was born red or blue! Ack!

    Anyway, one final thing. Part of the reason that awakening accounts read so differently is because conscious experience is much more malleable than one initially anticipates and it becomes more-so with practice. You become more sort of able to channel the top-down processing thing.

    • Ousiagonnacall says:

      Have you read St Teresa de Avila? I’m working my way through The Interior Castle at the moment and it seems like she is describing levels that are pretty analogous to some things you would find in Eastern traditions.

      Also, Peter Kingsley on Parmenides (try Reality) suggests that the presocratics were using very similar processes (stillness, contemplation) and magical practices to achieve enlightenment.

      Generally I’m with you that while the flavours differ, the fundamentals seem in broad agreement. Alan Chapman who’s shaped my thinking most in this talks about these as cosmologies, and encourages his students to create their own after spiritual experiences, and continually revise and create new ones as these go on, so as to not get stuck in something that is based on a partial or excessively cultural view.

      As an aside though, I think it’s kind of cool that these experiences are channeled through cultural contexts and create something unique. This is what gave us all the Orphic poetry, at the least, which appear to be post-enlightenment cosmologies pure and simple.

      • Have you read St Teresa de Avila? I’m working my way through The Interior Castle at the moment and it seems like she is describing levels that are pretty analogous to some things you would find in Eastern traditions.

        Just skimmed through it now! My main exposure to it before this was via The Yogi and the Mystic. It has a chapter contrasting the Visuddhimagga and The Interior Castle, so it sounds like it’d be right up your alley.

        My impression is that the two works are describing two paths that occasionally overlap.

        Also, Peter Kingsley on Parmenides (try Reality) suggests that the presocratics were using very similar processes (stillness, contemplation) and magical practices to achieve enlightenment.

        Sweet recommendation, thanks. I’ll see if I can get my hands on a copy.

        Generally I’m with you that while the flavours differ, the fundamentals seem in broad agreement.

        Yeah, my feeling is that this label “enlightenment” points to a group of states of consciousness that tend to share certain characteristics (present focus, reductions in felt agency, alterations in sense of self) but at the same time I hate how lumping them all together obscures what may be profound differences in the just-walking-around experience of these individuals, and I think that’s what a lot of the “real enlightenment” debates are about: seen from the inside, the distance between two enlightenments may feel about as vast as that from the default state.

        As an aside though, I think it’s kind of cool that these experiences are channeled through cultural contexts and create something unique.

        Agreed, the rich variety is fascinating and wonderful and fertile inspiration. I’ve been thinking a lot about this when trying to figure out how best to write about it. Like, “How ought I season this thing?”

  11. Peter Gerdes says:

    Is it really the bandwidth of a perception/experience which determines how mutably it is perceived? But rosarch tests seem like they generate quite mutable reports despite requiring a ton of optic nerve bandwidth to communicate while it’s hard to influence someone into smelling poo as bleach despite the much lower bandwidth. Also, are we even sure the extent to which placebo tricks to make people feel less pain actually result in less pain as opposed to, say, a change in how one converts that pain to a number (perhaps because it’s hard to remember just how much pain we were in before).

    Whether or not this is the case it seems like another perfectly good explanation for understanding something as conditioned is simply that it’s a really complex unfamiliar concept that’s hard to relate to ordinary talk. For instance, it is common for people trying to explain complex abstractions like Quantum mechanics to reach around for all sorts of varieties of metaphor and description and even people who understand QM are easily pushed into popularizing it via whatever metaphor they’ve heard used previously. Maybe this isn’t quite what is being claimed but seems somewhat relevant.

  12. Peter Gerdes says:

    Also, I’d really love to hear why people who have these undesired mystical experiences meditating want them to stop as well as how they describe them. I mean is it just that it’s unfamiliar and unexpected so they fear something is wrong with them? Or do they still find it undesirable even once convinced that it doesn’t mean they are going crazy or anything?

    At a lower level what could account for this kind of relatively stable switch to a new kind of equilibrium in the brain? I mean why would it persist after sleep for example? Thoughts?

    • Ousiagonnacall says:

      One of the most common experiences is fear of annihilation. Starting to get a glimmer of the sense that the states you take for granted are not real or permanent, and then being left with a fear that you are on the verge of going “poof”. Related fear is that of your consciousness expanding so you are sucked up into the wider rushing whirl of activity with no mind to separate yourself from it. You become nothing or everything – two concepts we’ve been brought up with as a way of making sense of the world – and either is terribly frightening. However, once you directly experience the event that you were scared of, and wake up a little more to the nature of experience, these fears turn out to be unfounded – you were putting the only models you had at your disposal (if i’m not me, i’m nothing; if i’m not me, i’m everything) to work, but direct experience shows you something new and kind of cool.

      • Vinay Gupta says:

        Yes. Clear thinking about time inevitably leads to clear thinking about death, and time is right in front of you when you meditate, and death close in upon it.

        Meditation is all meditation on death, if you are doing it right, because all experience is bounded by the end of life. It brackets everything, and everything alive is in a contingent state. Being now cannot be separated from not being later.

        Meditation brings this fact home very clearly to most of us eventually!

      • lazydragonboy says:

        Saying all meditation done right centers on death seems a bit all real scottsman-ish to me. It could be true depending on what “right” means, but it seems an unusual claim to me. For example, the Brahmaviharas—Loving Kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity— are cornerstone meditative practices, but they center on goodwill rather than death. They are in fact recommended to balance out death contemplation so one does not become fractious or unhappy.

    • b_jonas says:

      Have you read “http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/09/18/book-review-mastering-the-core-teachings-of-the-buddha/” ? Part III tells a lot about why the experiences from meditation are undesirable and how to describe the mental effects in clear term. I mean specifically the more permanent mental effects, the ones that happen while you’re not meditating.

  13. Vamair says:

    I’ve had that paradigm of mysticism as essentially brain program testing. There are some kind of bugs in the program that haven’t been corrected by evolution as people in the wild usually don’t do that stuff (meditate for hours, intentionally skip sleeping for days, change the rhythm of their breath, spin around, whatever). Then you do that and you get a bug and maybe a core dump. And it looks familiar, because it’s a core dump of your own brain. So then you look at all the strange core dump symbols and think: “That’s what the world actually is!” But no, that’s just a bug. Most bugs just make you crazy, but sometimes they make you a better person and then other people would come to you for advice and ask them to teach you. And this is what a mystical tradition is. The answer to the question of “why do spiritual experiences make people less stressed and more whole”. They don’t. Unless they’re carefully selected for that as most old spiritual traditions are.

    • Fluffy Buffalo says:

      That actually seems like a reasonable approach, and you stated it beautifully. Thanks!
      (A possible consequence of that assumption is that, by carefully examining the bugs and failure modes, we might learn a lot about the regular operation of our brainware. But I’m afraid we’re still a long way from that.)

  14. Fluffy Buffalo says:

    This mystical stuff worries me, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Soooo… we have certifiably bright, often highly functional people who spent years honing their minds to directly perceive the deeper levels of reality, and then they have a miraculous breakthrough, and come back with all kinds of wonky shit that is, at best, completely orthogonal to the world we ordinarily perceive. Just as an example, I recently stumbled across this dude, who without a trace of self-awareness writes serious blog entries arguing that Astaroth is undeniably fundamentally the same deity as Astarte, like a biologist would argue that the Bubal hartebeest is the same species as the Tora hartebeest. And his evidence is coinciding “gnosis” (direct insight) from him and a bunch of other demon-conjurers.
    I have no doubt that these people have interesting experiences. Fundamentally, I see three questions:
    – what is the ontological status of the entities/ events that are experienced in mystical states of mind? Pure illusion? Some meaningful expression of brain structures (archetypes?) that are deeply embedded through genetics or culture? Or actual metaphysical truths that exist outside of human existence? (That last option would mean we’re all in deep trouble.)
    – what is the cause of the difference between the reported experiences? Cultural preconceptions, or actually differing insights due to different personalities/ circumstances/ something else?
    – what do we make of this? It doesn’t look like gnosis is a particularly reliable tool to arrive at robust knowledge, seeing how it resulted in dozens of fundamentally incompatible religions and who-knows-how-many crazy cults…

    • Vinay Gupta says:

      Stan Groff has some interesting ideas about where these archetypes emerge from. I don’t know if I believe that model or not, but worth a look maybe.

      • CherryGarciaMillionaire says:

        Stan Grof (one “f”) roots the “meaningful expression of brain structures (archetypes?) that are deeply embedded through genetics or culture” in a re-experiencing of the physical birth process:

        According to Grof, there are four “hypothetical dynamic matrices governing the processes related to the perinatal level of the unconsciousness,” called “basic perinatal matrices” (BPM). These BPM’s correspond to the stages of birth during the process of childbirth.

        BPM I is The Amniotic Universe: “This is the original symbiotic unity of the fetus with the maternal organism. Elements of this state can be accompanied with, or alternate with, experiences of a lack of boundaries and obstructions, such as the ocean and the cosmos. The extreme expression of the sacred and spiritual quality of BPM I is the experience of cosmic unity and the unio mystica.”

        BPM II: Cosmic Engulfment and No Exit: “This matrix starts with the onset of labor. The intrusion of chemicals and the pressures of labor change the situation in the womb, and ‘interrupt the fetus’ blissful connection with the mother and alter its pristine universe.'”

        BPM III: The Death-Rebirth Struggle: “This matrix is connected with the move of the fetus through the birth channel. It involves a struggle for survival. When experiencing this layer, strong aggression and demonic forces are encountered. Biographical memories associated with this matrix include struggles, fights, and adventurous activities.”

        BPM IV: The Death-Rebirth Experience: “This matrix is related to the stage of delivery, the actual birth of the child. The build up of tension, pain and anxiety is suddenly released…. The transition from BPM III to BPM IV may involve a sense of total annihilation….”

        I don’t know if I believe that model or not, but worth a look maybe.

        How are Grof’s ideas on birth-rooted archetypes not obvious nonsense? Why would anyone take them any more seriously than his closely related (and thoroughly debunked) “NDE Hypothesis“?

        In the late 1970s Grof proposed a psychological hypothesis to explain the near-death experience. According to Grof the NDE reflects memories of the birth process with the tunnel representing the birth canal. Susan Blackmore [the “Sheep Who Became a Goat,” i.e., a former believer in paranormal claims who became a prominent skeptic] claimed the hypothesis is “pitifully inadequate to explain the NDE. For a start the newborn infant would not see anything like a tunnel as it was being born.” The psychologist Chris French has written “the experience of being born is only very superficially similar to the NDE” and the hypothesis has been refuted as it is common for those born by caesarean section to experience a tunnel during the NDE. Michael Shermer also criticized the hypothesis “there is no evidence for infantile memories of any kind. Furthermore, the birth canal does not look like a tunnel and besides the infant’s head is normally down and its eyes are closed.” An article in the peer-reviewed APA journal Psychology of Consciousness suggested that Grof’s patients may have experienced false memories of birth and before birth.

        When you can thoroughly disprove the most testable aspects of a so-called theory, it would be foolhardy to take any further, related flights of fancy as being more likely to be valid.

        There is no “maybe” about it.

        The one interesting, non-quackworthy thing about Grof’s work is that his Holotropic Breathwork can have similar effects as meditation and psychedelics, in terms of launching one into transpersonal states of consciousness.

        That “work,” BTW, just involves breathing in and out very rapidly and deeply.

  15. Ousiagonnacall says:

    Actually, sometimes people do come to psychiatrists with these kinds of complaints. I usually try to explain what’s going on, and they usually tell me they were just meditating because someone said it relieved stress, and nobody warned them they could actually have mystical experiences, and this was not what they signed up for.

    Yes, definitely a problem. Some schools are trying to take this issue seriously and address meditation traps that the unwary have fallen into (or that the rest of us step into with somewhat more awareness of the implications). See http://wiserbydesign.com/help-for-meditators

  16. Markus Ramikin says:

    > a hard ban on further meditation

    You monster.

  17. Robert Jones says:

    I think a greater degree of skepticism is warranted. We know that it is possible to induce mystical experiences by various combinations of drugs, fasting, meditation, chanting and so on. Basically all religions include something of that sort, although of course it coexists with some strong anti-mystical traditions. We do not take seriously the visions of saints, sufis or shamans, even though we recognise that those experiences feel profoundly real to them.

    It seems perfectly plausible that a person can train themselves to pay close attention to their environment, although the benefit of doing so is unclear. But the mind isn’t a sense organ, and there is no ‘me’ that the mind brings information to: a person who thinks that has fallen into dualism. Gupta is presenting a naive error as if it were a profound truth. Likewise, there is no “big door” and no “magical universe” and if you want to look out on “all the cosmic shit”, you have to use a telescope. It is not possible to discover truths about the universe by introspection: that is the core insight of the Enlightenment.

    There is nothing impressive about the similarity in the reported experiences of these writers, because they are not independent: they both draw from the same sources. It’s even possible that they’ve read each other.

    We can trust people (mostly) to report on factual claims, but we can’t trust their reports of their own thought processes, because we know that people’s accounts of their thought process are largely ex post facto rationalisations of what is really a chaotic and fragmentary process. The brain is not adapted to have insight into its own function.

    • nestorr says:

      >It is not possible to discover truths about the universe by introspection: that is the core insight of the Enlightenment.

      Thanks, I gotta jot that one down. Articulates something I’ve always felt. Now if I could only convey to the anti science types that this stance is actually humble.

      • Vinay Gupta says:

        Mathematics is structured introspection.

        Discuss.

        • Bugmaster says:

          It is not possible to discover truths about the universe by introspection … Mathematics is structured introspection.

          The word “universe” is a bit ambiguous here. I would amend the first statement to say, “It is not possible to discover truths about anything besides your own thoughts by introspection alone”. Note that this statement is not equivalent to saying, “it is totally possible to discover everything there is to be discovered about your own thoughts by introspection alone”, nor “introspection is irrelevant to discovering truths about the universe”.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            And yet thought gives us math, which gives us calculus, which opens up physics.

            I think you need a much more precise framing of the idea that introspection can’t teach us about the real world, if you want to exclude mathematics.

            Because if math is in the picture, I think we can’t avoid the idea that introspection has massive practical value in the process of discovery!

          • Bugmaster says:

            And yet thought gives us math, which gives us calculus, which opens up physics.

            As I said above, “It is not possible to discover truths about anything besides your own thoughts by introspection alone”. This is not the same thing as saying, “introspection is irrelevant to discovering truths about the universe”.

            In case the difference between these two statements is still unclear, let me put it this way. Arithmetic is a branch of math, and math is structured introspection. I currently have a stack of coins sitting on my kitchen counter (several stacks, actually). Right now, without leaving your room, can you use meditative introspection in order to tell me precisely how much change is on my kitchen counter ?

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            This seems like a non sequitur.

            We can discover useful truths about the universe by pure thought: the Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics by Wigner, and the discourse around it, make that VERY plain.

            So the kid stays in the picture. And I don’t know what that has to do with your coin stack.

          • I think you need a much more precise framing of the idea that introspection can’t teach us about the real world,

            You could change it to “introspection alone”. You have to do empiricism to confirm empirical truth. Physical truth is a subset of mathematical truth. Mathematics would be even more unreasonably effective if the two were always the same.

          • DocKaon says:

            Mathematics does not give us physics. You can build an infinite number of consistent mathematical models which could describe the physical universe, but until you do actual experiments you know nothing.

            The effectiveness of mathematics is itself an empirical observation about the universe unavailable via introspection.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Additionally, physical truth led us to Calculus.

            There are an infinite number of branches of mathematics to be explored; we did not explore them randomly, but chose those that would be useful. There’s nothing extraordinary about the fact that mathematics is so useful; we explored those parts of it that were.

            The mathematics defined by the discrete set elt, cur, sif, lim, and shi, and the operations of filtisnoc, perifiltisnoc, perimocafiltisnoc, sibnot, and perisibnot weren’t pursued, because they aren’t useful. The fact that sibnot of shi cur lim is elt sif lim doesn’t tell us anything useful about the universe, and we never developed that branch of mathematics; certainly we did not search it for deeper insights or more powerful techniques.

          • @Thegnskald

            Applied maths is a sub-discipline, so no. Also note how things like non-Euclidean geometry in existence, and regarded as theoretical curiosities, before they were found to be the way things are.

          • Thegnskald says:

            TheAncientGreeks –

            Yes.

            Non-Euclidean geometries start with the concept of a geometry, a mathematical concept firmly rooted in observable reality.

            Consider a mathematic concept which has no relationship to reality. There are an infinite number of them – surely you can come up with one?

          • I can easily come up with an infinite amount of maths that is wrong. If physical space is three dimensional, then every other dimensionality is physically wrong.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Wrong, but still connected to the physical universe, derived from it by its negation.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Vinay Gupta:
            As others have pointed out, you cannot discover truths about the universe by pure thought alone. You also need observation, and hopefully experimentation (which is just structured observation, really).

            For example, you can invent a myriad beautiful, complex, and self-consistent mathematical structures inside your head; but none of them will help you figure out how many coins I have on my kitchen counter… or how far the Moon is… or what color a pea plant’s flowers are likely to be… or pretty much anything else.

          • aho bata says:

            @Bugmaster

            If you accept math as pure introspection, then you can discover things about the world using pure introspection. It’s just that the things you discover will be conditional truths, not absolute truths. With nothing but arithmetic you can say “In no place at any time will two pairs of objects come together to make three objects,” which is a true statement about the universe.

            I don’t understand where you’re coming from with the change-on-the-counter argument. Nobody said thought/introspection alone could be used to derive every fact about the universe, only some facts.

          • Thegnskald says:

            aho bata –

            Arithmetic is a branch of mathematics derived from empirical observation. There’s nothing to guide us to the idea of addition as an operation; it’s no more inherently meaningful than any other operation. We developed arithmetic because it is useful, and it was developed by observing reality and writing laws based on that reality.

          • aho bata says:

            @Thegnskald

            I agree with you. However, that doesn’t make arithmetic-based conjectures from vacuum-dwellers any less true, it only creates the possibility of their being vacuously true, e.g., “If the conditions for arithmetic to be applied exist in the universe, then if two pairs…” In effect you’re just pushing the antecedent back one step.

          • Andkat says:

            Mathematics as far as we have observed is sufficient to describe all of known physics; it thus follows that exhaustively exploring mathematics alone will contain as a subset of it all mathematical models that will describe physics. Likewise, if given a perfect knowledge of physics we simulated every possible universe, one of those universes would be our own. And if we simulated every possible solar system formation one of those would be our own containing our earth. And if we simulated every possible abiogenesis event and sequence of subsequent chemical feedback loops i.e. ‘evolution’ on that earth one of those would be the trajectory that was actually followed and would yield us, and likewise simulating every possible trajectory of human development and migration would yield our real history as one of many possibilities etc.

            However, we could not possibly know which history, which evolution, which earth, which star, which universe, which physics was that which pertained to us without empirical information to reference each component to.

            Assuming that all of physics can be described to some sort of conceptual limit of precision (although our abilities to think about such are pegged to mathematics in a way that makes this a tad circular) with mathematics within the range of human cognitive capacity, then necessarily all of physics is contained within mathematics- but there’s plenty of mathematics that is nonphysical, just as there are plenty of universes one could construct using different physical constants that are not ours and plenty of solar systems that could evolve that are not ours etc. and you’d have no way of knowing what model applies where without some empirical reference.

            Many mathematical models are not usefully descriptive of anything in reality- analogously mathematics is a subset simply of cognition, but that doesn’t imply that all cognitive operations articulate a mathematical truth or that exploring every possible thought is necessary for a complete description of mathematics.

        • aho bata says:

          Introspection is not the same thing as thought. Introspection is thinking about your own mental processes. It is distinct from the mental processes it observes. Thought can make discoveries about the universe, although as bugmaster points out it will always be supplemented by experience. (That’s actually trivial, I think, since no one lives in a vacuum, and any thought will always be causally affected in some way by experience.) Of course, the more abstract your thoughts are the less direct and obvious the connection to experience will be, and the temptation to credit them to pure cogitation will arise.

          Introspection can only make such discoveries in the special case where you have a true thought X that exists in some capacity, but below your ordinary threshold of consciousness. If you use introspection to dredge it up — that is, if your consciousness goes from the thought “I was just thinking X” to “X” — then you have arguably discovered something about the universe by introspection. Otherwise you can only discover things about your own mind.

        • Most of the discussion here is concerned with the Buddhist tradition of meditation. However, there is another tradition of meditation which is no less significant; in fact, it is probably far more significant. This tradition is said to begin with the ancient Greek mystic Pythagoras, who lived at around the same time as the Buddha. However, accounts across cultures all over the world provide independent corroboration of many of the specific claims of the Pythagorean tradition, establishing that they are haven’t just been made up, but are universal truths. Those who practice the Pythagorean form of meditation are guided towards a fundamental truth, which is that all is number.

          Disciples are frequently asked to contemplate mantras, written in a strange language impenetrable to the uninitiated. To those that know how to interpret it, however, each mantra provides instructions to guide their mind to a more perfect knowledge of the arcane secrets of the world. A common mistake is that novices of the practice simply learn to repeat these mantras and falsely think they have grasped it, without letting its essence fully penetrate their minds. Some teachers sternly discourage this practice, but others permit it, thinking that this shallow insight might at least set the roots for deeper insight later on. Students are also frequently given koans, or riddles, intended to force their minds into the insights given by these mantras. Once a student has grasped the insights of a certain set of mantras, she is ready to be given a more advanced set of mantras.

          People who have mastered these arts have made various claims of incredible magical abilities, such as mastering the power of flight or making light appear with a flick of the wrist. I advise you not to pay too much attention to that. The true goal of these arts are to find true knowledge about the world, such as understanding the fundamental insight that all is number, and perfecting your thoughts.

    • Vinay Gupta says:

      But the mind isn’t a sense organ, and there is no ‘me’ that the mind brings information to: a person who thinks that has fallen into dualism. Gupta is presenting a naive error as if it were a profound truth. Likewise, there is no “big door” and no “magical universe” and if you want to look out on “all the cosmic shit”, you have to use a telescope.

      Here, you have assumed everything which you want to prove!

      Tell me, what is the nature of mind? What is the nature of magic, so that we may know whether the universe has that characteristic, or not?

      This kind of conceptualization, where things are Very Definitely One Way Or The Other? When we are dealing with questions of this size and epistemological depth?

      You need to have more respect for the unknowns here. They are large.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Your objection sounds quite profound, but I can’t figure out what it actually means. Are you arguing in favor of dualism, or perhaps against methodological naturalism, or what ?

        • Vinay Gupta says:

          We have a methodology which reliably produces data which cleanly integrates into no known framework.

          Think of the drug experience: nobody has a good way of studying what happens on massive doses of LSD. We just can’t instrument what happens, but stuff definitely happens, and maybe it cures cluster headaches or depression. Those effects can be studied, but the subjective impact of LSD is hard to study, and it’s hard to make the tie between the subjective experience and the relief of cluster headaches or depression or whatever the claimed benefit is. Why does seeing stuff which isn’t there help? Who knows?!

          Meditation is just as hard to study in an objective way. It’s even harder, in fact, because you can’t tie the experiences to a drug which was ingested. It’s far, far harder to deal with the shifts in our subjective state which exist, because we can’t point at a drug as a cause: there’s just nothing to grab on to and analyze, really.

          It’s a real phenomenon, but a hard to study one.

          • Bugmaster says:

            You keep talking about subjective experiences. On the one hand, I do agree that they are hard to study. On the other hand, I’m not a solipsist, I don’t really see the point of doing so in a purely subjective way.

            If subjective experiences can do things like cure cluster headaches or change people’s personalities, great ! These are important effects, and they should of course be investigated… but at this point, we are leaving the realm of pure subjectivity. Headaches are detectable and comprehensible, and enlightenment is not required in order to sense them.

    • Thegnskald says:

      It seems perfectly plausible that a person can train themselves to pay close attention to their environment, although the benefit of doing so is unclear. But the mind isn’t a sense organ, and there is no ‘me’ that the mind brings information to: a person who thinks that has fallen into dualism.

      Not… quite.

      If you are thinking in terms of dualism, you are misunderstanding. In materialistic terms, it might be regarded as the recognition of the separation of the part of brain responsible for consciousness, and the part of brain responsible for thought – I suspect different people think with different parts of their brain, and some people utilize the language center whereas others us other pieces, but it doesn’t really matter. The point is that, for most people, thoughts aren’t under conscious control – few people can refuse to think about pink elephants on demand – and that this causes them severe issues, particularly when this part of their brain they have no control over is confused for their true self.

      • Robert Jones says:

        It’s slightly disconcerting that you begin a sentence “in materialistic terms”: it seems like you may be “translating” (presumably from some non-materialist metaphysics) for the benefit of my unenlightened intellect.

        I don’t think I am misunderstanding. The quote is “What is this me that the mind is bringing information to? And that’s the big one. That question is at the heart of everybody’s enlightenment process.” Maybe the writer is misunderstanding, but it’s fairly clear that he thinks there he has a self independent of his mind, to which his mind brings information.

        Now, thinking about what mind is gets us into all sorts of problems, and perhaps mind is not a useful concept at all. It probably is correct that what we call “mind” is only a part of ourselves (not least because we also have bodies), but, if it’s anything at all, it definitely is at least part of ourselves and not something separate from ourselves.

        What you have done is replaced the statement in the quote with a completely different idea. It is true that our consciousness is only part of our mental process, so it’s plausible (at least on the priors) that we could make our own mental state the object of our consciousness, although I don’t think this is particularly consonant with the ‘Surfing Uncertainty’ understanding, essentially because it implies a higher degree of compartmentalisation than actually exists.

        But even if that (plausible seeming) understanding were correct, that wouldn’t amount to a division between self and mind, because we should all be able to agree that consciousness is part of mind.

        I am afraid there is another disconcerting comment at the end: I’m pretty sure that all of your brain is part of yourself. If you think you have a true self which is isolated to a particular part of your brain, then even though technically that may be a materialist understanding, it seems pretty close to dualism in spirit.

        • Thegnskald says:

          All communication is translation, and is highly lossy besides. I am signaling that I am attempting to convey an idea in a way it doesn’t fit neatly.

          “True” self is misleading; actually, language in general is quite misleading when discussing this. It is more appropriate to say that the mind is not the -whole- of the self, which most people don’t realize without meditation; they think their internal monologue -is- them.

          There is a subtle and important difference that is going to sound like a semantic argument. Imagine you said “I am hungry” and I said “No, you feel hunger” – that is the kind of difference that applies.

          • Robert Jones says:

            I do agree that many people identify with their internal monologue in a way which is both unhelpful and inaccurate (and which, for example, can cause them to be excessively focussed on the sensation of hunger in a way which causes them suffering). I just don’t think it’s a good idea to make the opposite error.

          • Thegnskald says:

            If we imagine, for a moment, that the mental abstraction of oneself is one’s body, and the internal monologue is the mouth – it would be a mistake to conclude one’s true self is the brain of this abstraction.

            One is that in which this abstraction was constructed; that which is outside this abstraction, but not the abstraction itself.

            But again, language fails me at this point, and I gesture vaguely at something without being able to specify it.

    • m.alex.matt says:

      It is not possible to discover truths about the universe by introspection: that is the core insight of the Enlightenment.

      No, that was the contention of the Empiricists and they ended up butting heads with the Rationalists for a century without being able to actually win the battle.

      The core insight of the Enlightenment was Kant’s Prolegomena.

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      Likewise, there is no “big door” and no “magical universe” and if you want to look out on “all the cosmic shit”, you have to use a telescope. It is not possible to discover truths about the universe by introspection: that is the core insight of the Enlightenment.

      I partially agree and partially disagree.

      Partially agree: yes, there is an obvious sense in which you can’t learn truths about the universe by introspection. If you want to draw a map of the stars, you need to actually look through the telescope and see the stars, and so forth.

      Partially disagree: at the same time, it can be the case that the way your mind works systematically deludes you about some things about the universe, which you would realize if you weren’t deluded. Maybe there is some part of the sky that you never look at because you want to believe that it’s empty (for some reason), and if you did look at it, then you would see it.

      Meditation has the potential to reveal this kind of thing. It won’t free you from the need to actually look at the sky, but it can point you to mistakes you’re making with acquiring the data and interpreting it when you have it.

      By reducing the amount of distractions in the mind, it can also help you notice things you wouldn’t otherwise have noticed, even if you were looking at them. The analogy here might be, imagine that there was a pulsating disco light in the same room as the telescope, and you kept trying to tune that out and missing some of the dimmer stars as a result. (Here the pulsating disco light is analoguous to noise in your mind, which meditation may help quiet down; and the real-world equivalent of the dimmer stars are things like some of the subtler strains at the back of your mind.)

      Of course, this kind of thing alone might not get people making large grandiose claims about the fundamental nature of reality. So there’s an element of something more too.

      That something more is again less of a claim of how things are (in the sense of getting some kind of extra-sensory insight into the physical reality), but more of a claim about how your mind processes information about reality.

      Intellectually, people can make all kinds of claims about how we’re living in a simulation constructed by our brains and everything we experience is a result of many layers of processing and transformation. But it’s quite another matter to experience it, by getting access to somewhat earlier processing stages of sensory information. Knowing something on an intellectual level is a very different thing than knowing it on an experiental level: knowing the physical processes of light, is different from actually seeing the color red for the first time. In particular, there are many assumptions of the nature of the self, of the nature of the world, etc. that people take granted because they are fused together with those conceptual structures. Seeing how those structures are constructed, makes them less convincing as absolute truths; they’re more correctly experienced as things that involve certain assumptions, where those assumptions may be wrong.

      Now, of course, it’s true that those assumptions can be correct too! And it’s certainly possible for some people to experience enlightenment and draw the wrong lessons from it – such as seeing their belief in materialism as just a mental construct, and rejecting it in favor of something they like more. That’s why I suspect that it’s good for people to have a strong intellectual understanding of why things like rationality and materialism are correct, before they start going down this rabbit hole – because this process may remove one’s strong emotional conviction that some particular belief structure is true, at which point they will need to use their intellectual understanding to decide which things they should believe in. If they never had a very strong intellectual argument for why things like materialism and rationality are correct in the first place, and were just believing in that because all of their friends did, then they might go quite crazy. Insight practices can make you question all of your beliefs and unquestioned assumptions more – for good or ill.

      (At the same time, people who do this kind of stuff may also become more open towards things that seem woo or mysticism, and use that without becoming crazy. The increased mental flexibility means that they be more open to looking curiously at mystic language and frameworks and see what it might be pointing to that’s compatible with materialism, without needing to instantly reject it because “that doesn’t make sense” in terms of the way of understanding the world that they’re currently fused with.)

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      Likewise, there is no “big door” and no “magical universe” and if you want to look out on “all the cosmic shit”, you have to use a telescope. It is not possible to discover truths about the universe by introspection: that is the core insight of the Enlightenment.

      I partially agree and partially disagree.

      Partially agree: yes, there is an obvious sense in which you can’t learn truths about the universe by introspection. If you want to draw a map of the stars, you need to actually look through the telescope and see the stars, and so forth.

      Partially disagree: at the same time, it can be the case that the way your mind works systematically deludes you about some things about the universe, which you would realize if you weren’t deluded. Maybe there is some part of the sky that you never look at because you want to believe that it’s empty (for some reason), and if you did look at it, then you would see it.

      Meditation has the potential to reveal this kind of thing. It won’t free you from the need to actually look at the sky, but it can point you to mistakes you’re making with acquiring the data and interpreting it when you have it.

      By reducing the amount of distractions in the mind, it can also help you notice things you wouldn’t otherwise have noticed, even if you were looking at them. The analogy here might be, imagine that there was a pulsating disco light in the same room as the telescope, and you kept trying to tune that out and missing some of the dimmer stars as a result. (Here the pulsating disco light is analoguous to noise in your mind, which meditation may help quiet down; and the real-world equivalent of the dimmer stars are things like some of the subtler strains at the back of your mind.)

      Of course, this kind of thing alone might not get people making large grandiose claims about the fundamental nature of reality. So there’s an element of something more too.

      That something more is again less of a claim of how things are (in the sense of getting some kind of extra-sensory insight into the physical reality), but more of a claim about how your mind processes information about reality.

      Intellectually, people can make all kinds of claims about how we’re living in a simulation constructed by our brains and everything we experience is a result of many layers of processing and transformation. But it’s quite another matter to experience it, by getting access to somewhat earlier processing stages of sensory information. Knowing something on an intellectual level is a very different thing than knowing it on an experiental level: knowing the physical processes of light, is different from actually seeing the color red for the first time. In particular, there are many assumptions of the nature of the self, of the nature of the world, etc. that people take granted because they are fused together with those conceptual structures. Seeing how those structures are constructed, makes them less convincing as absolute truths; they’re more correctly experienced as things that involve certain assumptions, where those assumptions may be wrong.

      Now, of course, it’s true that those assumptions can be correct too! And it’s certainly possible for some people to experience enlightenment and draw the wrong lessons from it – such as seeing their belief in materialism as just a mental construct, and rejecting it in favor of something they like more. That’s why I suspect that it’s good for people to have a strong intellectual understanding of why things like rationality and materialism are correct, before they start going down this rabbit hole – because this process may remove one’s strong emotional conviction that some particular belief structure is true, at which point they will need to use their intellectual understanding to decide which things they should believe in. If they never had a very strong intellectual argument for why things like materialism and rationality are correct in the first place, and were just believing in that because all of their friends did, then they might go quite crazy. Insight practices can make you question all of your beliefs and unquestioned assumptions more – for good or ill.

      (At the same time, people who do this kind of stuff may also become more open towards things that seem woo or mysticism, and use that without becoming crazy. The increased mental flexibility means that they be more open to looking curiously at mystic language and frameworks and see what it might be pointing to that’s compatible with materialism, without needing to instantly reject it because “that doesn’t make sense” in terms of the way of understanding the world that they’re currently fused with.)

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      Likewise, there is no “big door” and no “magical universe” and if you want to look out on “all the cosmic shit”, you have to use a telescope. It is not possible to discover truths about the universe by introspection: that is the core insight of the Enlightenment.

      I partially agree and partially disagree.

      Partially agree: yes, there is an obvious sense in which you can’t learn truths about the universe by introspection. If you want to draw a map of the stars, you need to actually look through the telescope and see the stars, and so forth.

      Partially disagree: at the same time, it can be the case that the way your mind works systematically deludes you about some things about the universe, which you would realize if you weren’t deluded. Maybe there is some part of the sky that you never look at because you want to believe that it’s empty (for some reason), and if you did look at it, then you would see it.

      Meditation has the potential to reveal this kind of thing. It won’t free you from the need to actually look at the sky, but it can point you to mistakes you’re making with acquiring the data and interpreting it when you have it.

      By reducing the amount of distractions in the mind, it can also help you notice things you wouldn’t otherwise have noticed, even if you were looking at them. The analogy here might be, imagine that there was a pulsating disco light in the same room as the telescope, and you kept trying to tune that out and missing some of the dimmer stars as a result. (Here the pulsating disco light is analoguous to noise in your mind, which meditation may help quiet down; and the real-world equivalent of the dimmer stars are things like some of the subtler strains at the back of your mind when a part of you is trying to flag something as being amiss and worth your attention.)

      Of course, this kind of thing alone might not get people making large grandiose claims about the fundamental nature of reality. So there’s an element of something more too.

      That something more is again less of a claim of how things are (in the sense of getting some kind of extra-sensory insight into the physical reality), but more of a claim about how your mind processes information about reality.

      Intellectually, people can make all kinds of claims about how we’re living in a simulation constructed by our brains and everything we experience is a result of many layers of processing and transformation. But it’s quite another matter to experience it, by getting access to somewhat earlier processing stages of sensory information. Knowing something on an intellectual level is a very different thing than knowing it on an experiental level: knowing the physical processes of light, is different from actually seeing the color red for the first time. In particular, there are many assumptions of the nature of the self, of the nature of the world, etc. that people take granted because they are fused together with those conceptual structures. Seeing how those structures are constructed, makes them less convincing as absolute truths; they’re more correctly experienced as things that involve certain assumptions, where those assumptions may be wrong.

      Now, of course, it’s true that those assumptions can be correct too! And it’s certainly possible for some people to experience enlightenment and draw the wrong lessons from it – such as seeing their belief in materialism as just a mental construct, and rejecting it in favor of something they like more. That’s why I suspect that it’s good for people to have a strong intellectual understanding of why things like rationality and materialism are correct, before they start going down this rabbit hole – because this process may remove one’s strong emotional conviction that some particular belief structure is true, at which point they will need to use their intellectual understanding to decide which things they should believe in. If they never had a very strong intellectual argument for why things like materialism and rationality are correct in the first place, and were just believing in that because all of their friends did, then they might go quite crazy. Insight practices can make you question all of your beliefs and unquestioned assumptions more – for good or ill.

      (At the same time, people who do this kind of stuff may also become more open towards things that seem woo or mysticism, and use that without becoming crazy. The increased mental flexibility means that they be more open to looking curiously at mystic language and frameworks and see what it might be pointing to that’s compatible with materialism, without needing to instantly reject it because “that doesn’t make sense” in terms of the way of understanding the world that they’re currently fused with.)

      • Said Achmiz says:

        Here’s the problem with this sort of reply:

        In your astronomy analogy, perhaps indeed there’s a part of the sky that people never look at, for some obscure (but universal) reason of mental-makeup. The one meditates real hard, and—aha!—clears away this mental block. He then looks at the sky and sees some stars there (or whatever).

        But then, he should be able to point out those stars. He should be able to describe, in specific detail, where this part of the sky is. (Inclination, angular measure, etc.) He should be able to take pictures of the stars in that part of the sky. He should be able to make predictions about, say, total amount of light captured by a telescope trained on that part of the sky.

        In other words, the evidence that the meditator has managed to perceive something new and real should be absolutely unambiguous.

        Needless to say, this is not even close to the being the case in actual practice.

        • Vinay Gupta says:

          You can share a telescope.

          You can’t share a silent mind. You have to get your own.

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          In your astronomy analogy, perhaps indeed there’s a part of the sky that people never look at, for some obscure (but universal) reason of mental-makeup.

          I meant the analogy slightly differently; I didn’t mean to necessarily imply that everyone would universally have this mental block. The astronomy analogy was talking more about the kind of blocks that are more subjective. Maybe the new star would have been discovered even without the meditation technique, but the first astronomer to get hold of a telescope good enough for seeing the star had the mental block, and if he hadn’t managed to overcome it then someone else eventually would have. But overcoming the block meant that science proceeded slightly faster.

          So yes, since this is just an ordinary scientific insight, the astronomer can explain it in ordinary scientific terms. No problem there.

          Of course, if people want evidence of meditation having been useful for discovering this star, then it gets difficult. Maybe the astronomer recalls having always flinched away from looking at that section of the sky, noticing that flinch reaction, using meditative techniques to realize what he was trying to avoid, and then having actually looked at the right part of the sky and seeing the star. That may be a good reason for him, personally, to believe in meditation having been useful. But if he tries to tell this to others, they may be reasonably skeptical, saying something like “that’s not evidence of meditation giving you superpowers, that’s just evidence of you having looked at the sky, and anyone can do that”.

          As an example that’s not an analogy, some time back I started getting the feeling that some of the conflicts I’d been having with an ex, were because we’re more intimate than friends but more distant than lovers, in a specific way that left my brain confused about how exactly I should behave around them. As a result, one part of my mind had been trying to solve the issue by pushing them away and another part had been trying to solve it by getting closer to them. Becoming aware of this helped me fix the problem, and I believe that I now relate to them in a healthier way which causes fewer conflicts.

          I believe that the reason for why I noticed this, and was able to fix it, was because I applied meditative techniques. I have internal evidence of this which is compelling to me. But again, since it was a specific bug which I happened to have, and someone else might not have had it, there’s little that I can do to convincingly show you that I couldn’t have done it without meditative techniques. (Besides – who knows, maybe I could have, eventually. I don’t have any reason to believe that this was the only way to realize this, just the one that happened to work this time around.)

          As for the deeper, more universal insights – yes, there is much about them that can be translated into unambiguous terms and expressed in a scientific language. I’m working on one post about the functioning of the mind which draws on meditative insights that I’ve had, and expresses them in a way where you don’t need to have meditative experience in order to follow or test the claims. But again, it’s exactly because I’m drawing on non-meditation-based information that this will also be weak evidence of unique meditative insights at best; after all, someone could plausibly have come up with the same insights even if they hadn’t meditated, by just putting together all the conventional information in the same way. (Though the post should still be some evidence, because there must have been something that helped me locate the hypothesis originally.)

          This is probably a big part of why a lot of meditators and meditation teachers refuse to give a big intellectual argument for this stuff working: because they know that if the other person insists on a totally waterproof argument, then there’s no way to deliver that. The only response you can give is always just “here are the things that are some weak evidence” and “we’re not asking you to take anything on faith; just investigate these things by practicing meditation, and then you can see for yourself”.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            So, to be clear, the claim seems to be:

            “Meditative practices (can) make you slightly better at perceiving/noticing certain things which can be perceived without meditation.”

            (“Slightly”, of course, because if it was “much better”, then it would be noticeable; the astronomer, in the analogy, would be noticeably more productive than his peers, would find a lot more things, etc.)

            That’s not an altogether implausible claim, of course. But, of course, it is a much weaker version of this sort of claim, than can commonly be found even in the comments section for this post. (It also means that there’s no reason to expect the discoveries/insights in question to be incomprehensible or unexplainable to the unenlightened.)

            Do you concur with this summary?

            (By the way, concerning “weak evidence”… evidence being weak, is really a poor excuse. We know how to discern a strong conclusion from weak evidence—if there’s enough of it. We have mathematical tools for doing so. “The evidence is weak, therefore I’m just not going to give you the evidence” is very, very suspicious.)

          • Kaj Sotala says:

            So, to be clear, the claim seems to be:

            I’m not entirely sure how we are defining “slightly” versus “much”, but based on my experience so far, “slightly” would be the strongest claim that I could support with high confidence, yes. I do however find it plausible that the reports of much greater perception would be true as well, given that there’s been a gradual but steady increase in what might be called “my perceptual abilities” for this whole time.

            Nothing in my own experience suggests that the stage at which I am, would be the final one past which there can be no progress. Especially since there are other people who report much stronger abilities, and the things that they’ve said about the experience of getting to the point of having those abilities, matches my experiences so far.

            As for much better being impossible because then the astronomer would be much more productive than his peers, hmm… a friend recently mentioned this to me:

            * For his new book “Tribe of Mentors,” bestselling author and star podcast host Tim Ferriss sent 11 questions to 140 people at the top of their fields.
            * He found that regardless of industry, the vast majority of respondents had a mindfulness or meditation practice.

            Obviously this doesn’t meet the criteria for a scientific study and is more anecdotal evidence than anything… but still, if your argument is that “if meditation really did give you such strong powers, then we would see meditators dominate their fields” and it turns out that a sampling of impressive people has many of them being meditators… well, that would at least be compatible with the world where meditation really does give you strong boosts in perceiving/noticing things. Especially since, while a lot of people do meditate, meditation – and especially dedicated regular meditation practice – still isn’t so common that many of the kinds of top fields we notice, couldn’t be mostly dominated by non-meditators simply because there aren’t enough people with advanced meditation abilities and interest in those kinds of fields, to take over all those fields. (Remember that there’s no reason for why a meditator couldn’t remain a gardener or taxi driver or whatever – if someone was a super-good taxi driver due to meditation, how many people would ever notice?)

            It also means that there’s no reason to expect the discoveries/insights in question to be incomprehensible or unexplainable to the unenlightened.

            Depends somewhat on how we’re defining “discoveries”, but sure, at least based on what I’ve experienced so far, all the insights so far are explainable in objective terms in principle. You may still run into concept-shapes holes when trying to explain them, though (which is basically what Val’s Kensho post was talking about).

            “The evidence is weak, therefore I’m just not going to give you the evidence” is very, very suspicious.

            Yes it is. It is also very much not what I said.

            I said that I can’t communicate to you anything that you would consider to be strong evidence; I didn’t say that I was refusing to give you evidence.

            If I witness an event of which no physical evidence remains and there are no other witnesses, then I may have reasonably strong internal evidence that something like this happened. If I tell you that this event happened, then for you this is only weak evidence, because I could e.g. be lying. But if I tell you that the strongest evidence that I can give is my testimony, then that’s both true and also a very different thing from refusing to give any testimony at all.

            I’m doing my best to share all the evidence I have available and which I can communicate. I’m not refusing to answer any questions. (Yet; I might decide that this conversation isn’t worth my time if the tone starts getting very adversarial, such as me being accused of making excuses when I’m doing my best to communicate my evidence and models in good faith.)

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Obviously this [the Tim Ferriss thing] doesn’t meet the criteria for a scientific study and is more anecdotal evidence than anything… but still, if your argument is that “if meditation really did give you such strong powers, then we would see meditators dominate their fields” and it turns out that a sampling of impressive people has many of them being meditators… well, that would at least be compatible with the world where meditation really does give you strong boosts in perceiving/noticing things.

            Yep, very true. I would definitely love to see a lot more investigation of this, and it would indeed be strong evidence, if it’s a real thing.

            “The evidence is weak, therefore I’m just not going to give you the evidence” is very, very suspicious.

            Yes it is. It is also very much not what I said.

            Sorry, I didn’t at all mean to imply that you said this! It was a comment on this bit:

            This is probably a big part of why a lot of meditators and meditation teachers refuse to give a big intellectual argument for this stuff working …

            You are definitely making what seems like an honest attempt to give evidence—I am absolutely not denying that!

          • Kaj Sotala says:

            I would definitely love to see a lot more investigation of this

            So would I. 🙂

            You are definitely making what seems like an honest attempt to give evidence—I am absolutely not denying that!

            Oh! Okay. Thanks for the clarification, I’m sorry for misinterpreting you!

      • Robert Jones says:

        It can be the case that the way our minds work systematically deludes us about the universe. Indeed, I’m pretty sure that it is the case. What I’m skeptical of is the ability of the mind to “pull itself up by its bootstraps” and overcome the delusion by pure thought. It seems more likely to me that the supposedly enhanced perspective is itself a delusion.

        I want to be clear that I don’t doubt the subjective intensity of the experiences or that they seem fully real to those experiencing them.

        One factor which supports my skepticism in this is that some people who claim to have profound this insight into the nature of reality go on to make wild claims. I think that you and some other commenters here are asking me to ignore the wild claims and trust that the underlying insight is accurate. While it’s certainly possible that someone could have a deep insight into the nature of consciousness (say) while also holding the inaccurate belief that he could fly, the latter belief does give reasonable cause to doubt that meditation leads to accurate conclusions.

        My brother once said of the benefits of prayer that it seems highly plausible that people might deal with their problems better after taking some time for quiet reflection. In the same way there is a mild claim for the benefits of mediation which it seems reasonable to accept. The question is, did meditating help improve your relationship with your ex in a way which simple quiet reflection would not have done? As I think you recognise, once you explain the insight, it does not seem particularly obscure. I would guess a lot of people have those sorts of issues and they sometimes manage to resolve them without meditation (although obviously there are also many cases where they fail to resolve the issues and the relationship is a train-wreck).

        Have you read Dennett’s book? It was written a while ago now, so may not be up-to-date, but he has a whole chapter explaining why it is a mistake to think that knowing the physical processes of light is different from actually seeing the colour red. Again, I want to be clear that it certainly does seem to be different. But we’ve agreed that our mental processes are prone to give misleading impressions.

        I would like you to consider that perhaps what you experience in meditation is not really “access to somewhat earlier processing stages of sensory information”, but rather a change in the final processing: a step sideways rather than a step down. How do you distinguish those two cases?

    • DM says:

      ‘We can trust people (mostly) to report on factual claims, but we can’t trust their reports of their own thought processes, because we know that people’s accounts of their thought process are largely ex post facto rationalisations of what is really a chaotic and fragmentary process.’

      I do think it’s worth thinking about the threat this poses to our way of making sense of our own lives in everyday mundane context, rather than just using it as a stick to bash silly mysticism (even if the latter is worth bashing in my view.) It seems fair to ask humanists about the problems this creates for humanism as well as religion.

      • Robert Jones says:

        There seem to be a lot of these types of conceptual problems (what is knowledge? what is truth? what is moral?) what people can debate endlessly without reaching a very satisfactory conclusion, but at the same time, everyone is able to get on with their lives (usually making reasonable judgements about knowledge, truth and morality). For instance I myself have quite radically changed my understanding of morality over my lifetime (from believing morals to be Platonic forms, via believing morals to be ordained by God, to believing morality to be a social convention), but it has made embarassingly little different to my actions. I used to give money to the church and now I give money to (supposedly) effective charities, but it makes no difference to my life.

        Similarly, I think it more likely than not that we are living in a simulation, and people occasionally object that this doesn’t seem to affect my life choices, but why would it?

        In fact, believing as I do that my conscious thought generally does not affect my actions, it is unsurprising that these particularly high level conscious judgements about the nature of reality have very little apparent impact on my mundane life. I just continue responding to stimuli in accordance with my (simulated) biological imperatives.

        All that having been said, I think it is possible to distinguish between the sort of information about people’s thought processes that we rely on in mundane life and meditators’ reports of their thought processes. If you think about discussions at work or making a social arrangement, the information you need about others’ thought processes is really basic: that they hold a certain belief or intention or that they’re experiencing a certain physical sensation.

        The only type of discussion I can think of where we do often seek to convey or obtain information about an enduring mental state is in romantic relationships. But these conversations are in fact fraught with difficulty. It happens fairly often that A thinks she loves B, but then realises she doesn’t (or vice versa), or C is unable to say whether or not he loves D. These confusions demonstrate that we are not self-transparent (and I think the meditators would agree with that).

        I was thinking of positing here that this is all the fault of novels, and we would be less confused if we had stuck to epic poetry, but I’m due in court, so I will have to leave that thought for another day.

        • allspoilersallthetime says:

          Interesting! Regarding novels, I think the exact opposite. Novels are the best fictional medium for really getting inside the minds of characters and seeing exactly how humans change their minds, deceive themselves, only half-understand themselves.

          Novels have been an excellent tool to help us understand ourselves, and each other!

          • Nornagest says:

            Novels are the best fictional medium for really getting inside the minds of characters and seeing exactly how humans change their minds, deceive themselves, only half-understand themselves.

            While this might be true, I’m not sure you can appreciate that sort of thing without developing the theory-of-mind skills for it first, and I’m not totally convinced you can develop those skills from reading, either. Occasionally I go back and reread a novel I’d liked as a teenager, when I had infinite free time and devoured every speck of written material I got my hands on, and what I always find is that I’d totally misunderstood what the characters were about.

          • allspoilersallthetime says:

            I’d agree that if you didn’t have any theory-of-mind skills novels probably wouldn’t help you, and it also seems likely that, like anything else, people who are already good at it enjoy it more and therefore do it more.

            But it seems common-sensical to me that you’ll improve whatever your practise. Spend a lot of time modelling the minds of fictional characters, and you’ll get better at modelling minds (assuming you’re reading fiction that’s any good!)

            Here’s a paper that I remember literary people crowing about, it claims to have found a correlation between reading literary fiction and improved empathy. I’ve only read the abstract, I’m afraid!

  18. Vinay Gupta says:

    One thing to note is that I don’t really teach. I run a firm, http://mattereum.com and helped launch Ethereum (I did project management and comms) but I fundamentally believe I have better things to do with my time than teach meditation. This is not because meditation isn’t important: it is. But I’m not very good at teaching it – I’m a good engineer, but not an innately talented meditation instructor – so I’ve specialized in doing other things.

    People often assume that enlightenment makes people special and they have to then spend all of their time trying to spread it. That’s basically the equivalent of a Christian Evangelical movement within the enlightenment traditions. But in Hinduism things are different: many enlightened people live fairly normal lives (railway auditor, landlord, mining engineer, corner shop owner to name the profession of four famous gurus).

    I run a firm with lots of laywers. I hardly teach. That’s my activity.

  19. fion says:

    I still can’t get anywhere with this “you are not your mind; your mind is a sense organ” stuff. It seems to me like the more we learn about the brain the more likely it seems to be that it is the organ responsible for being “me”. To what extent is the distinction between mind and brain important here? Do I have to reject materialism entirely? Is there a good motivation for doing that?

    • allspoilersallthetime says:

      It’s my understanding that mediation doesn’t lead you to reject materialism like: ‘My mind is nothing to do with my brain I am an incorporeal soul’. It causes you to re-conceptualise yourself like: ‘I had this idea of what was me, but now that I’ve paid close attention to how my mind thinks about ‘me’ I can see that it was totally incoherent and made me suffer, and now I’m better off without that concept’.

      I think it’s clear that enlightened beings still have a fundamentally practical idea of themselves for day-to-day functions because they can still talk rationally about themselves when necessary, eg. they still use the first person pronoun, or the Dalai Lama has written a biography. Obviously he must have some idea of himself to have writtten about himself.

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      You don’t need to reject materialism; this has nothing to do with that.

      A partial explanation of the “your mind is a sense organ” thing from a materialist perspective would be something like global workspace theory: that the function of consciousness involves being a “global workspace”, where different subsystems of the brain exchange information. Our attention keeps moving to whatever some underlying dynamic deems to be most important to process at that moment, and anything that’s at the center of attention will then be broadcast to all brain systems that might be listening at that moment. Different processes will work on the information, and compete to get some of their responses into the workspace, to be processed by other systems.

      In this sense, you could say that the mind – in the sense of “those things that we are consciously aware of” – is kind of like a sense organ, as it “senses” that information which is put into the global workspace.

      This also gets into additional stuff relating to cognitive fusion. Cognitive fusion is a term from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which refers to a person “fusing together” with the content of a thought or emotion, so that the content is experienced as an objective fact about the world rather than as a mental construct. The most obvious example of this might be if you get really upset with someone else and become convinced that something was all their fault (even if you had actually done something blameworthy too).

      In this example, your anger isn’t letting you see clearly, and you can’t step back from your anger to question it, because you have become “fused together” with it and experience everything in terms of the anger’s internal logic.

      Another emotional example might be feelings of shame, where it’s easy to experience yourself as a horrible person and feel that this is the literal truth, rather than being just an emotional interpretation.

      Something that the “you are not your mind” thing also refers to is that people will rarely see these the mental constructs deposited into the global workspace as mental constructs – rather they are typically fused together with them, and see them as the literal truth about the world. Part of what some meditation techniques do is that they teach a systematic skill of cognitive defusion, so that you come to see all your experience as something constructed by the brain. Part of this shows that the “you” that experiences things is not your mind in the sense of being your anger, your identity, your values, etc., since when you are not fused together with them, you will see them just as more information being deposited into the global workspace.

      • Robert Jones says:

        I think throughout you are in danger of confusing things which are useful mental tools with things that are true.

        In particular, we should be very cautious about making emprical claims based on therapeutic techniques. It may well be helpful for a person with anger issues to conceptualise themselves as having been fused together with their anger, but it isn’t a fact about the world. It isn’t even comprehensible as an empirical claim.

        On the other hand, thinking that you are a horrible person is an empirical claim, which could be true or false (although I believe that you, Kaj Sotala, are not a horrible person). It’s something that people can be (and often are) mistaken about in either direction. You can’t get out of being a horrible person by disassociating yourself from your base instincts.

        I don’t know whether global workspace theory is true, but in any case it’s a perversion of natural language to define mind as “those things that we are consciously aware of”. The things that we are consciously aware of are thoughts. Mind is the we that is consciously aware of them. If consciousness is the global workplace, there’s no additional step required to make “us” aware of the information in the global workplace.

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          I don’t agree that someone being fused together with their anger is not comprehensible as an empirical claim, though I do agree that defining it precisely gets tricky soon. My first stab at it might be something like “a constellation of mental subprocesses – corresponding to the superordinate program of anger and its associated subprograms – dominating the evaluations and actions that are being output to the global workspace, in such a way that subprocesses with alternate interpretations of the perceived events do not manage to get substantial access”.

          I’m not quite sure what you mean with your “disassociating yourself from your base instincts” paragraph, though I’m guessing you to mean something like denying the validity of your anger. To clarify, defusing from an emotion does not mean that you need to reject it. As you say, the factual beliefs associated with the emotional state can be false, but they can also be true. Defusion doesn’t mean that we couldn’t choose to act according to the anger, or choose to re-fuse with it if the anger seems like the correct reaction; it just means that we aren’t compelled to automatically believe in the assumptions underlying the anger.

          Re: language – I’m not sure of how exactly you understand “thoughts”, but many people interpret the term to exclude things like bodily sensations, which we may also be consciously aware of, so thoughts aren’t the only thing that we’re aware of. That said, I agree that if consciousness is the global workspace, then there is no additional step required to make “us” aware of the information in the global workspace, and didn’t mean to suggest otherwise.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Observe your thoughts. Realize that you are the observer, and not the thinker. The thinker claims to be you, but is not.

      What, therefore, are you? Taking care not to let the thinker imagine for you an internal eyeball, letting the thinker convince you once again that its fictions are you.

      Doesn’t really have anything to do with materialism, or spiritualism. It’s just observing that part of your brain is monopolizing your internal attention, and pretending to be the whole of your brain. It is realizing that that thinker isn’t you, which is how internal contradictions can arise – if you have ever had the experience of thinking you shouldn’t be doing something while you were doing it, you will realize this was that part of your brain, pretending to be you, yelling at you for doing something it did not approve of.

      Note that this description is a metaphor (as everything is metaphor); the thinking part of your brain isn’t an independent entity, per se, and no more disapproves of your actions than do your fingers; it yelled at you for misbehaving because you expected it to yell at you for misbehaving, and you, in a fashion, told it to do so. You can control it as easily as you can control your fingers. But first you have to realize that it is more like your fingers than like your soul. You have to separate yourself from it, realizing that it isn’t you, but a part of you.

      • Robert Jones says:

        Think about your observations. Realise that your are the thinker, and not the observer. Then remember that a minute ago you were the observer and accept that you are fragmented and stop trying to elevate one of the fragments into your true self.

        • Thegnskald says:

          Consciousness is a distinct process, for me, which is not handed from fragment to fragment, but rather is alike to an eye, moving attention without itself moving.

          Consciousness is self.

          • Robert Jones says:

            I believe that effect is an illusion, but I accept that I will not be able to convince you of that by the medium of blog comments.

            (Actually a similar illusion applies in the case of an eye, which is in fact constantly in motion, but gives the impression of a steady image filling our field of view. We likewise have unperceived saccades of consciousness.)

        • wysinwygymmv says:

          1. Can you think about an observation before you have made that observation? Or is observation always prior to thought about that observation?

          2. Can anyone be aware of what they are thinking? If so, how can that be unless they can observe their thoughts? I believe you can think without observing your thoughts. But are you aware of those thoughts?

          3. You may notice that observation depends heavily on attention. Meditation is mostly a matter of training yourself to be able to put your attention where you want it — to observe what you want to observe, including your thoughts.

          Typically, people can direct their attention volitionally to some extent, but surely you’ve had the experience of zoning out? Or of reading a book and then finding halfway down a page that something reminded you of a conversation you once had and you started thinking about that instead? Or one of a thousand other ways that the attention wanders. Meditation is about getting better at keeping your attention from wandering. And once you get good at that, you can direct it at your thought process to observe it more effectively. (You can already do this — just probably not very effectively.)

          4. So is this attentional sense the “self”? Whatever. You can define “self” however the heck you want to. In fact, part of the point of learning to control your attention and relax identification with your thought process is to be flexible about how you interpret “self”.

  20. ast ron says:

    Your description of ‘examining your phenomenological experience’ reminded me of this piece that describes something similar, but in the context of becoming aware of Schopenhauer’s notion of the Will:

    Raise one of your hands to a position where you can see it, and wiggle the fingers. You see the fingers wiggling—or, more precisely, you see a representation of the wiggling fingers, and that representation is constructed in your mind out of bits of visual data, a great deal of memory, and certain patterns that seem to be hardwired into your mind. You also feel the fingers wiggling—or, here again, you feel a representation of the wiggling fingers, which is constructed in your mind out of bits of tactile and kinesthetic data, plus the usual inputs from memory and hardwired patterns. Pay close attention and you might be able to sense the way your mind assembles the visual representation and the tactile one into a single pattern; that happens close enough to the surface of consciousness that a good many people can catch themselves doing it.

    I personally have no idea what he’s talking about, but I also had no idea what you were talking about when you mentioned being able to experiences your thoughts as vibrations happening at around 40Hz.

  21. Andune says:

    My first comment! 🙂

    his would never happen with vision – I can’t use the placebo effect to make you think an orange crayon is blue – but pain is low-bandwidth enough that it works.

    This is not necessarily true, perception and peer pressure were studied in the Asch experiments, key excerpt from wikipedia, about how the people perceived the length of to unequal lines:

    “Participants who conformed to the majority on at least 50% of trials reported reacting with what Asch called a “distortion of perception”. These participants, who made up a distinct minority (only 12 subjects), expressed the belief that the actors’ answers were correct, and were apparently unaware that the majority were giving incorrect answers.”

    If it is possible to distort the perception of something as simple as the length of a line on a paper, trying hard enough we could probably distort more complex visual experiences (and other high bandwidth experiences) to a great degree.

    • rahien.din says:

      But humans aren’t good at estimating the length of lines – it’s a low-bandwidth subdomain of vision.

  22. Deluvian says:

    Can you elaborate more on how you “de-mysticize” patients?

  23. vV_Vv says:

    I’ve been focusing a lot lately on the idea of the Bayesian brain and its input channels.

    I guess Bayes is the new quantum.

    >After 6 years of an hour or something a day, after a very, very intense, shall we say, “collaborative celebration”, in the morning after the trip, we were having a kind of debriefing session. In my head, as we were talking, I saw an amplifier, just a very simple aluminium amplifier with a big knob, little blue LED on it, and I saw my hand reach down and turn the knob off. And my internal dialogue completely stopped. This was about 1993, 1994 and it never came back.

    Actually, sometimes people do come to psychiatrists with these kinds of complaints. I usually try to explain what’s going on, and they usually tell me they were just meditating because someone said it relieved stress, and nobody warned them they could actually have mystical experiences, and this was not what they signed up for.

    So now “meditation” is an euphemism for taking psychedelic drugs (“collaborative celebration”)?

    I mean, I assume that if you do proper Eastern religious meditation, the chances of breaking your brain are about the same as if you do Christian prayer, that is, pretty much nil, unless you were schizophrenic to begin with.
    If you are a New Age hippy doing “collaborative celebrations”, on the other hand…

    • b_jonas says:

      > I mean, I assume that if you do proper Eastern religious meditation, the chances of breaking your brain are […] pretty much nil

      “http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/09/18/book-review-mastering-the-core-teachings-of-the-buddha/” part III disagrees with that. I’m not sure how much the book critiqued there describes proper Easter religious meditation, but it’s definitely close to that than New Age hippy stuff.

      • Vinay Gupta says:

        Even in well run schools, there is a significant failure/fallout rate.

        It’s a tough way of life.

    • Deiseach says:

      I mean, I assume that if you do proper Eastern religious meditation, the chances of breaking your brain are about the same as if you do Christian prayer, that is, pretty much nil, unless you were schizophrenic to begin with.

      Even in Christian mystical disciplines, there are warnings about running before you can walk, experiencing things you are not able to handle (and leaving yourself wide open to psychic, spiritual and emotional distress), and the necessity of not doing it yourself but having a good spiritual director or other source of guidance.

      You may also, paradoxically, experience spiritual dryness once you start making real progress, and this is a discouragement; the Dark Night of the Soul happens at an advanced stage.

  24. Erfeyah says:

    Oh my oh my. Here is what is happening according to numerous sources of Eastern mystical traditions that I personally consider reliable. Just as an alternative perspective…

    – Mystical experiences are one of the veils towards Truth (enlightenment)
    – One of the most important things on the Way is not to confuse the stages with the destination
    – People that use exercises to produce mystical experiences before the necessary work on the lower self will filter these experiences through that self and all its distortions. The result is usually a kind of pride manifesting as the desire for teaching, though it can take other forms.

    A nice experiment for people that think they have gone beyond the self would be to keep their experiences secret. From everyone. That should give them a good view of the sharing/attention-craving impulse and its connection to the still dominant ego.

    • Thegnskald says:

      There are no big truths. Just small ones. There is no veil over the universe that will be pierced through meditation. Enlightenment is not a door, to be stepped through into something different, and you won’t carry anything away from the experience you didn’t carry into it, if even that much.

      Mysticism is just more of the baggage we carry with us; the idea that there is something more important, more fundamental; it is the idea that the universe we see and experience is not enough. Mysticism is an attachment, a craving for meaning and purpose and destination. Some people fail to set it down.

      • Erfeyah says:

        Mysticism is just more of the baggage we carry with us; the idea that there is something more important, more fundamental; it is the idea that the universe we see and experience is not enough. Mysticism is an attachment, a craving for meaning and purpose and destination. Some people fail to set it down.

        That is certainly a possibility. The other possibility is that there is a developmental path for the human mind. Here is an example:

        Just as you consider the belief ‘that there is something important, more fundamental’ as baggage you should also consider your belief that ‘it is an attachment, a craving for meaning and purpose and destination’ as baggage as well.

        The nature of ‘belief’ has been part of genuine mystical teaching far before the (European) enlightenment.

      • Eli says:

        Mysticism is just more of the baggage we carry with us; the idea that there is something more important, more fundamental; it is the idea that the universe we see and experience is not enough. Mysticism is an attachment, a craving for meaning and purpose and destination. Some people fail to set it down.

        I’ve always wondered why people actually bother with mysticism if it’s not going to lead to what this comments section is calling, “party tricks like telekinesis”, or perhaps parting the occasional Reed Sea for your folks to walk across. Got any info? I just never really saw the point.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Why do people bother with “rationalism?” Some people want to see the world as it really is, damn the consequences. Mystics are aiming at that same goal very a different path.

          • Eli says:

            Nothing I’ve ever heard of mysticism sounds even remotely like accurate viewing of the world as it really is.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Well, I didn’t say you would agree, just that this is what they are aiming for. It’s a very different path from LW rationalists, but both do think they are aiming at a sort of epistemic rationality.

            (Similarly, Jordan Peterson is trying to practice instrumental rationality by very different means from LW. I’d lump our own lambdaphagy into that same bucket.)

        • Erfeyah says:

          Mysticism is not about how the world is. It is about how to act in the world. Through action you get indications about how the world is in a dimension different than the current rational one. That is not to say that mysticism is irrational. Just that rationality has not yet understood mysticism. And this understanding only comes through experience.

          By the way, as I have tried to point out repeatedly in this thread, all this random application of techniques (including meditation) and other emotional stimulation derived from arbitrarily chosen systems is not mysticism.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I think I disagree. Mystics mostly talk about gaining a special insight or glimpse into the world (from an entirely different angle than rationality). Actions are much less emphasized.

  25. greghb says:

    Actually, sometimes people do come to psychiatrists with these kinds of complaints. I usually try to explain what’s going on, and they usually tell me they were just meditating because someone said it relieved stress, and nobody warned them they could actually have mystical experiences, and this was not what they signed up for.

    Scott, based on how many patients like this you’ve seen, can you give a rough lower bound of how many enlightened beings walk among us?

  26. Quixote says:

    “I’ve been focusing a lot lately on the idea of the Bayesian brain and its input channels. Some input channels, like vision, are high-bandwidth; we get so much data about the real world that (optical illusions and PARIS IN THE THE SPRINGTIME signs aside) we usually see pretty much what is really there.”

    This is very wrong. We don’t see anything like what is there. Our eyes have major blind spots which are edited out. There are also veins or blood vessels or whatever that block visions and are edited out. There are little micro bits of pigment floating around that get edited out. There are various micro scratches on our corneas that we got from playing in the sand as kids that are edited out. I’m not even close to enlightened, but I’ve done enough meditation that I can, at will, suspend some of the preprocessing that’s between our vision and our perception of vision and see these things.

    Beyond those there are tons more layers. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saccade Saccades are rapid eye movements as your eyes scan various objects. Your brain edits these out so the world seems to stay still rather than jump around as your eyes do. With practice you can suspend this preprocessing and see them.
    And after that there is still more, your brain runs edge detection and sharpening routines (which some well known optical illusions take advantage of). It applies contrast enhancement. It does even more. What we perceive is very different than

    • Fluffy Buffalo says:

      Yeah, there is a lot of image preprocessing, filtering, extrapolation etc. going on. But the purpose of that is mostly to work around the physical limitations and design flaws in the detection system, specifically to give you, under most circumstances, a pretty damn good representation of “what’s actually there in the external world that the eye is designed to inform us about”, with a slight built-in emphasis on “what’s probably important”. Your statement “We don’t see anything like what is there” strikes me as an exaggeration that is misleading and ungrateful for the marvel that is our vision system.

      • Quixote says:

        I suppose I phrased it imprecisely. I meant to say we don’t perceive anything like what the visual information the eye is receiving. For one, our “camera” doesn’t jerk around as our eyes do, but obviously the underlying visual stream is jumping around. That’s the disconnect I was pointing to.
        But it does also relate to a larger point, which is that we naively think we see what is there. But what we “see” is mostly image processing. Essentially everything we ever see is photo shopped.

        Now, as you point out, the photo shopping must have been adaptive or it wouldn’t be there. And mostly, its adapted to see salient features of the evolutionary environment. Its not going to cause us to miss a lion in the bushes (obviously non adaptive), but may cause us to see lions that are not there if one kind of error is significantly more or less costly than the other. If seeing 20 false alarm lions makes you 1% more likely to spot a real lion and not get eaten, then you will see the false alarm lions.

  27. Carl Milsted says:

    There are indeed 7 distinguishable colors of the rainbow. Isaac Newton used the word blue for what we call cyan today. Think blue sky. The daytime sky is much closer to rgb(0,255,255) than it is to rgb(0,0,255). He used indigo for the pure blue of a computer monitor (rgb(0,0,255)), and violet for rgb(255,0,255).

    • Loris says:

      I’m with you for some of that – certainly it seems plausible that blue was originally intended to cover just cyan (many people here call it “light blue”) ~ but the common definition stretched over time, displacing indigo.
      However, rgb(255,0,255) is magenta (some people here call it “bright pink”, or “reddish-purple”), not violet. The colour at the end of the human-visible spectrum has much less red stimulation than that. I think it’s actually not possible to display violet accurately using RGB, as the blue light stimulates green receptors too much.
      Also, I’d disagree that there are 7 “distinguishable” colours in the rainbow. There are in fact a great many more than that.

      • Carl Milsted says:

        Yes, there are more distinguishable shades. But these are what I personally see as the bands.

        Fair point about violet. And the blue I see is a bit different from rgb(0,255,255) as well.

        Indeed, the difference between the rgb gamut and what the eye can see in between yellow-green and blue is quite significant. Even as a teenager, I used to fiddle with the color controls on the TV trying to get forests to look right. (This was well before I ever heard of the word gamut.)

        I am surprised that with all the upgrades we keep getting in television that we haven’t moved to a more color correct technology. Adding a fourth phosphor would be less bandwidth than having more dots that you can see from the couch.

    • Chlopodo says:

      That’s interesting, as I have maintained for years that the seven colors of the rainbow ought to be “red orange yellow green cyan blue purple”. Do you have any proof for that claim, though?

  28. Deiseach says:

    That story about the blockchain-based dating site gets better: its designer is an enlightened being.

    *grabs a nice refreshing beverage and sits back to enjoy the flaying*

    This is the lad that accused me of disrespecting his culture back when we were discussing the Luna project because I did some mild eye-rolling over his claims of belonging to thousands-years-old mystic tradition in his family line.

    Yeah, well I wasn’t the one using my revered cultural heritage to shill for a dating site, boopsie.

    Re: Dee and the rest of it, yes on the Enochian, no on his glib shallow ‘understanding’ of the Western esoteric tradition. The Abyss is about much more than the death of consciousness and yes Eastern estoeric traditions have similar ideas (see the Tibetan concept of the bardo, where the unwary or those still under illusion can be trapped unless they have guidance as to what to expect and what to do in the Otherworld/post death/achieving Enlightenment).

    If we’re going to use Dee as an exemplar, Gupta (and his influence on/involvement with Luna) savour more of Edward Kelley to my notions.

    • Vinay Gupta says:

      You’d be surprised how much understanding I have of the western traditions. Certainly more than you do, and my practical experience in the field is pretty formidable. Ditto my lineage credentials.

      • B_Rat says:

        I know pretty much nothing about eastern meditation practices, but dude, you’re really not helping with these quite unenlightened-sounding responses.

        • Erfeyah says:

          Wow, spot on B_Rat. It takes quite a unique type of self deception to declare being enlightened while boasting @@

        • Vinay Gupta says:

          “Enlightened sounding”

          hahahahahhahha

          What *precisely* is it you think you know about the nature of enlightenment? Where did you get technical credentials to be able to judge? Perhaps you studied in a Dharma school, or served at the feet of a guru for a few years? Perhaps you… read a book?

          Folk tradition understanding of enlightenment is just as shit as folk tradition understanding of quantum mechanics – and you sound just as stupid talking about it.

          “Enlightened sounding.”

          • zqed says:

            Folk tradition understanding of enlightenment is just as shit as folk tradition understanding of quantum mechanics – and you sound just as stupid talking about it.

            The community of physicists can set tasks or feats that someone who has the ability to do quantum mechanics can reliably perform, while those who lack that ability find very difficult to accomplish. What’s more, you don’t actually need to understand QM to see people perform this feat. In the land of impaired color vision, the trichomat minority would also be able to design such tasks.

            Most abilities, including high-tech ones (the ability to do QM) and low-tech ones (plumbing, carpentry), ones that are detached from physical reality (mathematics) and ones that are very much embodied (ballet dancing), have reliable associated feats or tasks.

            When people claim to have some property or ability, but have trouble coming up with such feats (see e.g. the discussion on wine tasting above), then some people will (rightly) regard these as bullshit.

            Does being enlightened give you any such abilities? Demonstrating those (instead of e.g. lineage credentials) would go a long way.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            Enlightenment does not give you superpowers, that is, the ability to alter objective reality.

            It does allow you to get very substantial control of your subjective reality.

            You live in a world with subjective and objective factors. The subjective factors are often confused with objective factors, leading to unnecessary suffering and anxiety.

            In all probability, you live a life which is substantially worse because of subjective factors you believe to be objective ones: your mind does not accurately know what is within your control, and what is not.

            Were you to study, you would learn how to discriminate between the subjective and the objective, and learn to accurately control the aspects of the subjective which can be controlled, in order to increase your quality of life.

            Increasing quality of life by accurate management of our own subjectivity is often called things like “mastery of the mind” and, in practice, it’s pretty amazing.

            When I was a child, I was gang raped, extensively tortured, and left for dead. A separate and unrelated problem: both of my parents were mentally ill, my father was extremely violent, and I spent years living in hiding so he would not kidnap me.

            I haven’t had a day of depression since I was 25. And I’ve done a lot of very substantial work that has contributed to other people’s lives. What more miracle could I possibly want?

            And you were hoping for what? Party tricks like telekinesis?

            You are fucking chimpanzees. Grow the fuck up.

      • Deiseach says:

        You’d be surprised how much understanding I have of the western traditions.

        Yes, I imagine I would.

        Ditto my lineage credentials.

        I’m entirely sure, Mr Gupta, that if you so wished you could set up your own ashram and soak rich Westerners for expensive workshops and retreats while teaching them Seven Easy Secrets of the Superior Oriental Mystic Ancient Traditions that are better than their Occidental Modern Scientific Mindset. You certainly would be in a long lineage of Eastern, pseudo-Eastern, and homegrown Western gurus of that ilk.

        But that sounds vaguely like the start of a navy seal copypasta…

        If he wanted, he could be the Koot Hoomi de nos jours only he’s much too busy being a lawyer*, entrepreneur, and adviser to tech startups about how to break into the Korean online dating market! 🙂

        *I disremember if the gentleman is also an engineer, the refulgence of his multifarious talents and qualifications in numerous fields is too dazzling for my limited intellect to retain all the details!

        • Vinay Gupta says:

          Now now, child, put your toys back in the pram.

          I’m serious, and I’m the real deal. I did the work. I got the results. I can do things you literally would not believe.

          Your opinion of me literally does not matter to me, at all. All you’re doing is demonstrating your own ignorance, and racism. Why does some random internet white boy even get an opinion?

          Answer: white entitlement. You wouldn’t take this tone with an Irish clergyman talking about Catholicism. That you feel free to try it on with me *is racist.*

          Have a nice day.

          • Erfeyah says:

            You can do so much but you spend your time defending your self on the comment section of a blog. Now, that is what I call real humility. Thank you Master.

          • Thegnskald says:

            You spend far too much time making sure other people know how special and great you are.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            Humility is a Christian virture.

            Not so much in the Mahasiddha traditions, which I cleave to.

            Again, the racism: Mr Gupta you, an Actual Asian, don’t confirm to my stereotype of what you should be like. So then I’m going to throw shit at you.

            Racism, again. Just racism.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I can cleanly perceive that Deiseach is going to have fun with the “white boy” designation.

          • Thegnskald says:

            It is the stereotype you do conform to, much more than the stereotype you don’t, which provokes the response: You come across as a snake oil salesman, a con-man, a predator seeking to take advantage of other people for your own gain. You feel fake and artificial, trying way too hard to present a specific kind of image of yourself for other people to consume.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Thegnskald I’m a remarkable person. Vast real world experience, groundbreaking work in a number of critical fields, enlightened at 26 which is pretty damn rare. Launched Ethereum, invented the hexayurt, and so on.

            I don’t make a big deal of it: I am a polymath. I have real world deeds. I have a little official recognition. I’ve done a lot more than is written.

            What of it? Does it make you feel insecure?

            Do I not conform to your cultural stereotypes? Would you prefer your brown people quiet and inferior?

            It’s not easy to look at, but are you sure this isn’t just more racism?

          • Thegnskald says:

            The diamond doesn’t need to look like a diamond, for it is a diamond. Glass must shine just so, however, and to be sold as a diamond, everyone must think it is a diamond.

            You seem more like glass than diamond, here. Look at me, you say, I shine brightly, I am the real thing!

            For someone who is so special, with such vast experience of the real world, you lack a very basic insight into human nature, such that you apparently do not understand other people at all.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Thegnskald that’s just your cultural model. It’s not an absolute truth of human nature.

            You’re confusing your cultural norms for reality. Don’t forget that.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Entirely true. But I notice this is a change from your previous assertions of racism.

            You have either been disingenuous in an attempt to shut up critics, or you have just learned something about the people you are interacting with. Something which, from the perspective of everyone you are interacting with, a child should have sufficient theory of mind to grasp.

          • Deiseach says:

            Why does some random internet white boy even get an opinion?

            Everybody gets an opinion, no matter who they are. Even people who think they’re enlightened geniuses. Who, by the way, if they’re such Big Deals as apparently they are, should not be fretting over some nobody rando on the Internet pooh-poohing their claims. If you know you can do what you say you can do, why do you care if I believe you or not?

            Oh, but thank you Mr Certified Rishi World-Saving Scientist for granting me the honorary privilege and status of being a white male – when some Huge Throbbing Brain says I’m as good as a guy, what more can I possibly wish to achieve in this life?

            I can do things you literally would not believe.

            You’re right, I definitely do not believe them.

            Again, the racism: Mr Gupta you, an Actual Asian, don’t confirm to my stereotype of what you should be like. So then I’m going to throw shit at you.

            Racism, again. Just racism.

            Ooooh, look, Baby’s First SJW! I haz learned Absolute Crushing Put-Down End All Debates Me Winner You Big Poopy Head iz say “That’s racist!”

            I’d probably be way more susceptible to “Oh no, am I being a bad ally?
            Self-flagellation! Person of Oppressed Identity Group has called me out! Woe, woe, I need to be punished!” if I were a middle-class cringing white liberal, except I’m not, and I’ve seen a lot of this crap being pulled on Tumblr and indeed have had some tussles and jousts with nutcases on the interwebs back before Tumblr was even a thing.

            Aren’t you the person making much of being “half-Indian, half-Scottish, a foot in both camps” in various interviews where (presumably) the interviewers/reporters fawn over you to your satisfaction and therefore don’t need to be haughtily lectured on their racist presumptions of what a Real Asian should be like?

            How do you know what my expectations, assumptions and the like about any racial/ethnic group are, or indeed that I possess in the first instance any expectations about anyone? I fear that you are simply defaulting to the reflexive kneejerk tool you learned when dealing with cringing white liberals: should anyone challenge your ego, pout and sulk about RACISM and this will have them falling over themselves to assure you they’re not racists, pray permit them to kiss the hem of your garment Mr Wonderful World-Saving Genius.

            I could equally turn it around and claim you are being racist for having a stereotypical assumption of what a white/Irish/white Irish person thinks and believes.

            I’ll grant this much: I do have an assumption about how someone who has achieved enlightenment would behave, be that in an Eastern or Western tradition.

            And if you think I haven’t had this kind of dispute with people about being WRONG about Catholicism, you’ve missed some of the comments on here and a lot of me fighting with Calvinists/progressive Catholics/progressive others/Rad Trad Caths on the Internet 🙂 If you think I wouldn’t call a clergyman of my own or another denomination a heretic, boy have you got the wrong vampire!

          • Deiseach says:

            Enlightened at 26 which is pretty damn rare

            That’s nuthin’, kid, round here we have a four year old child who achieved enlightenment before her early death.

            It’s hard to impress with tales of your early spiritual gains someone who’s been fed stories of precocious infant piety about various infants and children in their faith tradition; twenty-six is positively creaking old age by the standards of a three year old martyr 🙂

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m tempted to just sit back and watch Deiseach go, because that’s always fun, but:

            This isn’t a race thing, it’s a cultural familiarity thing. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know Mahasiddha from a hole in the ground and probably very few other people here do either. But whatever one’s other qualifications, “I have achieved enlightenment” is an extraordinary claim, probably somewhere in extraordinary-ness between “I have a fifth-degree black belt” and “I invented cheese”. If I waltzed in here and started talking about how I’m fifth dan in Yagyu Shinkage-ryu (I’m not, by the way, although I have rank in a related system) and so my word is beyond reproach, and you along with most of the other people here had no idea what that meant or how it should cash out in behavior, you would be well within your rights to ask me to put up or shut up.

            That’s pretty much what’s happened here. And instead of putting up, we’ve gotten accusations of racism. That does not inspire a huge amount of confidence in me, particularly since pretty much the same thing happened in the Luna thread.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Nornagest

            But whatever one’s other qualifications, “I have achieved enlightenment” is an extraordinary claim

            For your culture. In my culture, you do the fucking work, you get the fucking results. It’s a lot of fucking work, and few have the will, but it’s not at all mysterious. It’s a thing people do. We have lineages which have been reliably producing enlightened masters for generations, and I am one. And I am one because my guru said I am, and your people don’t get to call bullshit on that because these are professional certifications equivalent to medical degrees. I can do the job that goes with the title, too.

            Because you’ve all got half baked models of enlightenment drawn from the folk wisdom of the 1960s and similar shitty sources, you’re constantly comparing the actual working examples with your Lite Brite folk culture bullshit pictures of enlightenment, and your folk tales.

            And Dei is a racist idiot. What he’s said here will damn him later. He’s literally spewing bigoted hate speech all over this thread, and because you have zero cultural sensitivity to racism against Asians, you’re encouraging it.

            Understand this: I am a religious authority among my own people, equal in status to a senior Rabbi or a Bishop. The Rabbi is probably a closer example. And your mate here is lecturing me because I don’t fit his stereotypical Jew. I call racism, and he doubles down on his White Right to tell an Asian expert how their culture ought to work.

            Filthy little maggot.

            Get this straight: I’m an expert with professional qualifications. Those qualifications are formal entitlements to practice, like medical degrees. Because you are ignorant you don’t understand these things. I have explained. Now learn.

          • Nornagest says:

            Damn, you’re aggressive for an enlightened being.

            Well, I tried.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Deiseach Dei, if you spoke to me in person this way, I would break your arm.

            I’m from a warrior culture. We have extracted respect from our enemies at the point of a sword for a thousand years, and are feared the world over by those who have had the misfortune to cross us.

            And that’s a very practical fact: my lineage is parallel to the Gurkhas. You could think of me as a Gurkha priest.

            Not Gandhian. Very not Gandhian.

            Show a little respect. Because aggressive racism is something I’m willing to be confrontational about, and I’ve pointed out your racism politely. But be aware you are dangerously close to crossing cultural lines which I would in person consider just cause for beating the shit out of you, in much the same way that yelling HITLER WAS RIGHT in Israel could cause you some issues.

            You are not culturally superior to me: you’re an ignorant, racist little prick, and I’ve shut people like you up face to face my entire life.

            Keep going. Dig the hole deeper. Tell me why it’s wrong for an Asian to meet racism with aggression, to fight back, because that’s now how Asians are suppose to behave. Tell me how oppressed people should shut up and take it.

            Go on. Purge the rest of your disgusting filth here, where we can all see it.

            And hope you are never stupid enough to say this to my face, because I will not be amused.

            Do the fucking research. Learn, you dumb ignorant racist shithead.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Nornagest suggest consulting any book collecting the myths of the Hindus, and counting the bodies. It’s usually filled with slaughter. Start with the Bhagavad-Gita.

            WE ARE NOT BUDDISTS.

            Different religion. Different culture.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’ve read it, and I was being at least halfway facetious. The point I was trying to make is that you can’t expect this audience to understand your religious status, they don’t have the background to, and that you can’t expect an audience that doesn’t understand that status to respect it unless you give them some reason to. Again, this should not be mistaken for a race thing: same would be true for e.g. a member of the Mormon Quorum of Twelve. And it doesn’t mean being Gandhi. It means giving us something to work with, or not demanding status respect in the first place.

            A public Internet Tough Guy meltdown is, I’m afraid, a poor choice either way.

          • Erfeyah says:

            > @Nornagest suggest consulting any book collecting the myths of the Hindus, and counting the bodies. It’s usually filled with slaughter. Start with the Bhagavad-Gita.

            I have read and admire the Upanishads and I am currently reading the Bhagavad-Gita. They are some of the most beautiful and wise texts I have ever read.

            Since you did not mention the Upanishads, I will present a few lines from the Bhagavad-Gita that I find contradict what I see in your character. All emphasis mine:

            —————————————

            Those who know truly are free from pride and deceit. They are gentle, forgiving, upright, and pure, devoted to their spiritual teacher, filled with inner strength, and self-controlled. Detached from sense objects and self-will, they have learned the painful lesson of separate birth and suffering, old age, disease, and death. Free from selfish attachment, they do not get compulsively entangled even in home and family.

            —————————————

            Neither agitated by grief nor hankering after pleasure, they live free from lust and fear and anger. Established in meditation, they are truly wise. Fettered no more by selfish attachments, they are neither elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad. Such are the seers.

            ——————————————

            When you keep thinking about sense objects, attachment comes. Attachment breeds desire, the lust of possession that burns to anger. Anger clouds the judgment; you can no longer learn from past mistakes. Lost is the power to choose between what is wise and what is unwise, and your life is utter waste. But when you move amidst the world of sense, free from attachment and aversion alike, there comes the peace in which all sorrows end, and you live in the wisdom of the Self.

            ——————————————

            Other qualities, Arjuna, make a person more and more inhuman: hypocrisy, arrogance, conceit, anger, cruelty, ignorance.

          • Alexander Turok says:

            “I’m serious, and I’m the real deal. I did the work. I got the results. I can do things you literally would not believe.”

            LOL

          • B_Rat says:

            @Vinay Gupta

            […] We have lineages which have been reliably producing enlightened masters for generations, and I am one. And I am one because my guru said I am, and your people don’t get to call bullshit on that […] | Dei is a racist idiot. What he’s said here will damn him later. He’s literally spewing bigoted hate speech all over this thread, and because you have zero cultural sensitivity to racism against Asians, you’re encouraging it. | Filthy little maggot.

            @Deiseach Dei, if you spoke to me in person this way, I would break your arm. | I’m from a warrior culture. We have extracted respect from our enemies at the point of a sword for a thousand years, and are feared the world over by those who have had the misfortune to cross us. […] | you’re an ignorant, racist little prick, and I’ve shut people like you up face to face my entire life. […] | Purge the rest of your disgusting filth here, where we can all see it. | And hope you are never stupid enough to say this to my face, because I will not be amused. | Do the fucking research. Learn, you dumb ignorant racist shithead.

            Let me rephrase my “not helping” comment.

            See, this eastern meditation stuff had my curiosity, but now it has my “LOL nope”.

            A little doubt, are we sure this is the actual Vinay Gupta Scott talks about? Not some impersonator? Seriously.

          • skef says:

            Hey, B_Rat, like he said: He ain’t a teacher.

            And note that, if you read the original article and his comments here, he doesn’t really advocate reaching enlightenment. So although the “why bother” threads on this page are plausible criticisms of Buddhism, they don’t really relate to his point.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @B_Rat:
            His writing style is different from the person Scott quoted, so I’ve been assuming from the very beginning that he’s a different guy.

          • Nornagest says:

            The style closely matches the Vinay Gupta on the Luna thread (different gravatar, though), so if this is an impostor, it’s at least an impostor that’s been around for a while. I find it rather hard to believe that there’d be someone hanging around SSC looking for references to this specific guy in order to impersonate him but not showing up in any other threads, so for now I think the weight of evidence points to him being genuine.

            The style isn’t a perfect match with Scott’s quotes, but a lot of people have a different voice in edited writing intended for public consumption.

          • beleester says:

            Understand this: I am a religious authority among my own people, equal in status to a senior Rabbi or a Bishop.

            If I discovered my Rabbi acting like this online, boasting about his knowledge of the Talmud or how many books of commentary he’d written, I would have second thoughts about going to his synagogue.

            Not because I doubt his credentials, but because he’s being an ass. You may be right that you can achieve enlightenment without being humble and polite about it, but humility and politeness are still really good ideas when interacting with people online.

          • Deiseach says:

            @Deiseach Dei, if you spoke to me in person this way, I would break your arm.

            YOU. COULD. FUCKING. TRY.

            Try breaking my arm, do you think I’d take that passively, you over-entitled, conceited, pampered, trading on your background to impress gullible soft-headed American liberals, jackass?

            “Warrior background” my arse. You think verbal bullying backed up with nebulous physical threats is going to impress anyone? I can boast of my family lineage as well – do you want to try casting curses and inflicting losses by the power of the glám dícenn and the aer? My family line is that of the fílí who were more powerful than kings, as we can raise blisters on the face by our imprecations and physical imperfection on a king disbars him from the kingship. The legendary king who tore out his only remaining eye to give it to a poet who requested it bears witness to our power and status in society, why then should I be intimidated by a buffoon and bully who huffs and puffs over bone-breaking (he would, an he dared, so he could!)? Those of my derbfine and even closer kindred even to this day are poets, musicians and creative makers, you envious little braggart!

            If you are half-Scottish, then we have a share of blood in distant common, and as far-sundered kindred I rebuke you – mo náire thú!

            Is this enlightenment, to be so mired in the sense-trammels of the ego? Every your word shows your vaunting to be false!

          • Deiseach says:

            I’m from a warrior culture. We have extracted respect from our enemies at the point of a sword for a thousand years, and are feared the world over by those who have had the misfortune to cross us.

            Then why do you disgrace and dishonour your ancestors? Bragging of your valour, making threats of force against a non-combatant, and lacking in humility, you are no true warrior but a bully and coxcomb. Or do the other women you interact with in life know that if they dare disagree or argue with you, you will break their arms? (Since your stellar intellect has not enabled you to pick up on this yet, I am not a “he” of any description). Brave warrior, to threaten a woman!

            39. Let him, though he may already be modest, constantly learn modesty from them; for a king who is modest never perishes.

            40. Through a want of modesty many kings have perished, together with their belongings; through modesty even hermits in the forest have gained kingdoms.

            41. Through a want of humility Vena perished, likewise king Nahusha, Sudas, the son of Pigavana, Sumukha, and Nemi.

            42. But by humility Prithu and Manu gained sovereignty, Kubera the position of the Lord of wealth, and the son of Gadhi the rank of a Brahmana.

            Filthy little maggot.

            Consider this, O ten-headed Ravan: you are rich, successful, intelligent, and enlightened (both by your own claims and by worldly judgement), yet a common, stinking, buzzing fly can still put you out of your equanimity to the point of engagement. How much, therefore, have you truly advanced in understanding and control of the senses? Are you enlightened in truth or in the “I passed the exams” way? Anyone of any religion or faith background is aware of the difference between “following the rules” religious types and those who truly are converted in heart. If your boast is “my guru says so”, well, I’ve been confirmed by my bishop but I certainly am not perfect in faith by any means, so I do know the difference between outward forms and inward conviction.

          • Deiseach says:

            And that’s a very practical fact: my lineage is parallel to the Gurkhas. You could think of me as a Gurkha priest.

            I think the Gurkhas might want to have a chat with you about that 🙂

            As I’ve mentioned in another comment, I come down heavily on “the pen is mightier than the sword” view of things. You’re a warrior from a lineage of warriors, tough guy? Warriors don’t make their name, we poets make their name. Who would remember Agamemnon and Achilles, if Homer did not sing of them? Who would know the tale of the Ramayana if not for Valmiki? Fame and disparagement are ours to give, and your glory after death is in our hands to dispense or withhold, be careful how you offend one of my caste!

            Iron rusts, bones crumble in the grave, but words endure.

            And I have worse words that I could put my tongue to in your regard, save that I respect Scott and this place and will not engage in that level. Call me racist all you like, spoiled brat: it makes no difference to the fact that the first one in an argument who has to revert to the threat of physical violence has lost. Mere force (the breaking of bones) does not mean you are right. I don’t expect “Asians” to be or do anything, I do expect people who claim to be intelligent and concerned with the good of the world to speak and act in a manner that backs such claims up. “I can beat you up” is not the manner of a clever, successful person, it’s a playground bully.

            You appear to have real achievements based on your intelligence and competence, which makes this blowhard blustering and fallback on “dats raciss!” act even more regrettable: under all that striving, are we really still seeing the insecure child seeking validation via identity politics?

            EDIT: By cracky, I’ve just realised what all this aggro and fronting has made me think of! The resemblance was niggling at the back of my brain but I suddenly realised: Gupta-ji is the Conor McGregor of block-chain based set-ups! 🙂

          • John Schilling says:

            And that’s a very practical fact: my lineage is parallel to the Gurkhas. You could think of me as a Gurkha priest.

            “This sad little lizard told me that he was a brontosaurus on his mother’s side. I did not laugh; people who boast of ancestry often have little else to sustain them. Humoring them costs nothing and adds to happiness in a world in which happiness is in short supply.”
            – Lazarus Long

            As reported by R. Heinlein, and whose notebooks offer I think a more pleasant and reliable guide to enlightenment than the one we have before us here.

          • lambdaphagy says:

            Jaskologist says:

            With all this talk of lineage, we’ve neglected the real question: Is enlightenment evenly distributed across the races?

            Perhaps cheap genomic sequencing, combined with internet meltdowns authenticated on the blockchain, will usher in a new era of human beatidiversity.

          • Barely matters says:

            This is the hardest I’ve ever laughed at an SSC comment thread.

            The day a silicon valley CEO came in and threatened to break a little old likely quite formidable lady’s arm because she’s “racist”.

            I seriously hope this makes it into the “Highlights from the comments on ‘Gupta on Enlightenment'” followup post.

          • Aapje says:

            He has not been participating for a while now. I suggest letting it go now.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Warning that I would usually ban everyone involved in this kind of thing, but both people in this conversation seem to be enjoying it, Vinay doesn’t bother anyone when the post isn’t about him personally, and I already tried banning Deiseach and it didn’t stick. So go on, but don’t let anyone else think they can get away with these kinds of discussions here.

          • Deiseach says:

            The day a silicon valley CEO came in and threatened to break a little old likely quite formidable lady’s arm because she’s “racist”.

            Fixed that for you, the worst part of me is my tongue 🙂

            Horo, I did a lot worse to him! He only threatened physical violence, I threatened him with the Poet’s Curse! If you take your shraps seriously, you should know how bad that is! 😉

          • Deiseach says:

            We are a trial and a tribulation to the Rightful Caliph, all hail his compassionate restraint!

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Scott Alexander

            Some points of fact.

            1) Nath Sampradaya – my lineage – goes back to Gorakshnath, the founder of the Gurkhas. The Gurkahs as the biological descendants of the army he led, and the Naths are his meditation students.

            2) I trace that lineage through several different teachers, as is common for Naths – 3 gurus is typical. In this we are unusual.

            3) The course of study frequently involves a lot of physical risk – going to dangerous places, and doing dangerous things. This was true for me.

            4) Racism is to be challenged. I’ve pointed it out several times. You seem to have cultivated a culture with a lot of very nasty young men who’s braying and jeering need some adult discipline to keep in line. I’d like to suggest you do it, because you have admin authority here. It’s your living room.

            5) Everything I say is backed up by facts. I’ve done a lot of improbable things. People often find it odd that a single person has done so many different things, but I have, and I get around.

            my military work
            http://science.dodlive.mil/2011/11/22/star-tides-a-medium-for-public-private-cooperation-during-humanitarian-emergencies/

            Ethereum launch role
            https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9977146 (the Ethereum launch post, which went viral right off the google doc draft) – made while I was https://blog.ethereum.org/author/vinaygupta/ release coordinator for Ethereum

            http://appropedia.org/hexayurt I’m sure you all know already.

            etc.

            I’m a smart, well-respected field professional with a relatively quiet personal spiritual practice that I talk about when asked. I also take no shit from racists.

            https://dstormer6em3i4km.onion.link/269362-2/

            I don’t know what it’s going to take to pound some sense into your chimpanzee collection’s heads, but I’d like to suggest some use of your authority as an admin to PUT THESE RACIST LITTLE MOTHERFUCKERS IN LINE.

            *If* you don’t mind. I’ll continue to hold my corner, of course, but make no mistake – they’re riding on your authority here. These are your people – they are doing this because you talked about my work, and they’re in your living room.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Scott Alexander – comment in your mod queue, with a few hyperlinks, which is probably the problem.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            As for the rest of this – what we have is a bunch of uninformed chimpanzees braying about spiritual traditions and practical methodologies they have literally no understanding of. Literally nothing.

            Bits of folk buddhism, mixed in with a level of understanding of Hinduism they got from watching Gandhi once, and India Jones and the Temple of Doom, three times.

            Regarding the Gurkhas – I’ve spend a bit of time with ethnic Gurkhas, and they treat me as they’d treat any other Nath – with the respect accorded to one who’s dedicated their life to these matters. Never even a raised eyebrow. I don’t run across them very often, but it’s always pleasant.

            Enlightenment is not your property. Your culture has no substantial enlightenment tradition of its own – witness the chattering about The Abyss from the kid somewhere up the thread, oh-so-confident about something he’s never seen (and is never going to) – yet you feel free to paw over what is, in many ways, Asia’s crowning achievement – as if it was a bunch of magazines in a dentist’s waiting room.

            Let me make this clear: this is not acceptable. The fight to remove colonial oppression in this world takes time, and moves in stages, and getting incompetent white people off our religious traditions is the next step in that struggle. Back off, back down, and show some fucking respect – or, in time, that respect will be extracted, as with all things, at the point of a sword.

            Nobody that has any feel for the Nepalese strain of Hinduism would read that as a joke. You extend your slaver consciousness and politics over the crown jewels of our civilization, and expect me to sit on my hands?

            Not fucking likely.

            As for the rest: I’ve lived in Ireland, Whatever was there died under a thousand years of Catholicism. Good luck getting it back. And for the people saying “internet tough guy”, no, I’m pretty fucking tough in person – 20 years of martial arts starting at 8, and I can casually bounce around Krav Maga instructors 20 years my junior, and have done in the last year or so. I don’t think much of a four-on-one face off against untrained opponents, and backed down one such group who tried to harass me on the street last year. In fact a substantial part of my religious training and role was to act as the bodyguard to a guru who occasionally dealt with genuinely risky situations, and I excelled in this work.

            So, with all due respect, you are jackals among lions. Sit the fuck down and shut up, you racist beggars.

            It’s all about cultural superiority in the end. The underlying narrative here is simple: “how dare the Asians be better at something than we are, and how dare they not be cowed by our anger.”

            I am not a Tibetan Buddhist teacher begging for your support by pretending to Sainthood. I am not a yoga teacher persuading you to pay twenty dollars an hour to sweat in the mystic traditions of the east. I’m a scholar and a warrior, I think, and I fight. I did not ask Mr. Alexander to feature my work – he did that of his own accord. I did not ask you jackals to piss on my work – you did that of your own accord. In short, I’m not here to sell you anything, and if you piss me off, I’ll bite your ears off.

            You think you know the Indian traditions because of what people who were here to sell you things told you. The real tradition is lethally dangerous, ancient, capable of surviving wars, famines and plagues, and more than capable of taking care of itself and its interests here in the 21st century.

            Enlightenment is our property. We are its masters – we teach, we train, we study, we master, and we replicate. It’s a science to us, and an art. You are know-nothing heathen barbarians talking about things you do not understand, braying your ignorance at the top of your voices.

            MAKE THE SCARY BROWN MAN STOP TALKING!!!

            Gandhi’s been gone a long time. We’re over the age of pandering to westerner’s expectations of us: fuck you, and fuck your bizarre desire for compliant, pliable, unthreatening Asian religions. The real thing has *always* had teeth, and always commanded respect, when necessary, at the point of a sword.

            Try the Sikhs. Try the Gurkhas. Try the Samurai. There’s always been a militaristic streak in the enlightenment traditions, and that’s my branch.

            Any questions, chimps?

            PS: To the person claiming to be a little old lady. You sure do talk like an arrogant teenage boy. Sorry if I mistook you for one.

          • JohnWittle says:

            I spend quite a bit of time cringing along to this thread, as i’m sure most have.

            Then I remembered, in a flash of insight, that this is almost exactly what happened the couple times I have seen EY show up to defend his status in some far corner of the internet. I remember in particular the cringey XKCD comic about the AI Box experiment, and how as soon as I saw the comic I knew that EY would be showing up on the forum thread and loudly defending himself, and that it would be hard to read, just the same way this is. And sure enough, when I went to the individual comic forum, there the horrible feedback cycle was in all its glory. http://forums.xkcd.com/viewtopic.php?t=110467

            Personally, being a Pstzorc fan, I have always had an extremely dim view of ethereum, so I started out not very impressed with you, Gupta. Recovering from a bad first impression is a skill that high-status people like you and like EY are often really bad at. When you come across people who treat you like a normal non-celebrity, it feels like an insult, and you respond as such. To others, this looks like a hilariously transparent attempt to trick people into thinking you’re high status; this trope is so omnipresent that it’s considered a cliche, “uhm, excuse me?! Do you know who I am?!”

            When the response to that is a sort of incredulous mocking, that feels like even more of an insult, even though it is a perfectly natural response. But it makes you more defensive. Hence, the honestly pretty hilarious feedback cycle we see above. Please recognize this and just walk away.

            Edit: also, your misapprehension of Deiseach’s identity politics is absolutely total, you should probably cut it out with the racism stuff, it’s really embarassing

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @JohnWittle Dude, I have outstanding technical expertise on meditation and certain other aspects of my tradition. I mean *outstanding* – Enlightened by 26 is an astonishing achievement in the modern world, particularly for somebody who isn’t a monk. People who actually know about this stuff are often “holy fuck. how did you even survive that?”

            And the answer is, I barely did. It’s an astonishingly hard thing to do. Ditto the linages I carry – some of that stuff represents degrees of understanding similar to those required for (say) publication in Physical Review. You have to be *outstandingly* good at this stuff to get people to pass on that kind of knowledge. Again, nobody gives a fuck because, hey, you’re a bunch of laypeople screaming abuse at somebody with a very serious track record in a field you don’t understand very well at all.

            GO TEAM AGGRESSIVE IGNORANCE. IT’S JUST WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS MORE OF!!!

            As for Ethereum, all I’m going to say is this: build a better one, then we’ll talk. I project managed and I wrote, and the technology certainly has its faults, but it exists, it works, and it moved the state of the art forwards.

            As for the rest, your chimpanzee star chamber formed to pass judgement on my life and works – and I’m here to defend myself, because why shouldn’t I?

            You’d prefer to throw rocks at a dumb brown guy who doesn’t fight back, because you saw Gandhi one time too often?

            I am not that dumb brown guy. You err in attempting to treat me as such.

          • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

            Hi, Vinay. I’ve found this long exchange extremely interesting, and I’m glad you’re here. I have lots of questions but I thought it might be most useful to ask a very discrete question. During the course of this discussion, you have, I think, stated or implied several times that your interlocutors have wrongly assumed that you adhere to the non-violent views of Gandhi. Would you mind identifying particular text in one of someone else’s postings above that assumes that you would have a view one way or another on Gandhi? I ask because, while I admit I read parts of this quickly, I didn’t see a place where anyone other than you introduced the idea of your attitudes towards violence and I’m curious what in the others’ posts led you to think that someone was assuming you shared Gandhi’s views.

            Thanks and best regards!

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie

            Every single time people say “enlightened people shouldn’t be angry” they’re measuring me against a folk tradition understanding of enlightenment.

            Every time they talk about violence and enlightenment, whether they know it or not, they’re comparing to Gandhi.

            These cultural understandings that enlightenment means people behave in one way or another are bullshit. And the insistence that Brown Guy can’t be Enlightened because Brown Guy doesn’t fit out (massively racist) stereotype of what enlightened people should be like?

            You want your brown people to be submissive, not enlightened people. Any time I make a stand on these issues, the whites always scream in exactly the same way: you are brown, and you should tailor the truth to our preconceptions, and to challenge us in our ignorance is a mortal offense.

            Your culture is bankrupt and derelict in its understanding of the mind and the nature of mind: illiteracy in these matters rules all other factors.

          • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

            Thanks for the reply. I guess I do have a follow-up now. Your reply to me included the following sentence: “You want your brown people to be submissive, not enlightened people.“ Am I the “you” in that sentence, or is it a generic “you” based on your assumptions about what ethnic group you think I belong to? If the former, since it is a serious personal charge, could you let me know the basis for your ascription of racism to me personally?

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie I don’t see any evidence of you fighting in my defense against this racist mob here. Therefore you are, at least, complicit.

            If I’m wrong about this, feel free to wade in and make some points.

          • Barely matters says:

            Oh man Vinay, I think most of us are hoping for the exact opposite of ‘submissive brown guy’. I think the people watching this would be tickled pink if you’d actually put your bitcoin bucks where your mouth is.

            Right now the majority consensus is that you’re a pathetic fraud, so you’ll have to do more than yell to the internet about how real enlightened Ghurka warrior priests beat up old ladies to assuage your sullied honour and change their minds. Maybe one of us can schedule a meetup for you to come and get laughed at face to face (I’ll volunteer if no one else wants to). Wasn’t there a Jay and Silent Bob movie that ended like this?

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Barely matters yeah, see, this is your problem

            1) You think I care about what you think

            2) You’re uneducated, shit judges of character, and completely out of touch with the enlightenment traditions.

            What your pathetic little community thinks really doesn’t matter to me. I’m here to write down the truth as clearly as I can, and tell people where they have misunderstood the nature of enlightenment where possible, basically as a public service. Everything I’ve said is true, much of it is backed up by documentary evidence, and so all that I see is a bunch of pathetic weasels clustering together for warmth to shore up their false sense of intellectual superiority.

            You’re as brittle as toffee with nothing resembling critique of ideas: all that’s left is “we don’t like your tone and we think you are lying to us.”

            Sucks to be you.

          • Barely matters says:

            Yes, “we think you are lying to us” is exactly correct.

            You’re willing to throw thousands of words down here to try to correct that notion, but not an ounce of real action. I mean, over here we think of the enlightened warrior spirit as being about actually doing things. I’m glad you’re hear to teach us that real enlightenment is all about being a badass keyboard warrior, threatening to beat people up from thousands of miles away, and then muttering ‘racist’ at your shoes and coming up with excuses when pressed to back it up. Truly, yours is an inspiring lineage that fills us all with dread.

            Out of curiousity, what do Aella and the rest of your startup partners think of you when you participate in these threads?

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Barely matters Yeah, but you’re not interested in doing any fact checking.

            So at that point, while it’s *convenient* for you to say “I can ignore this because this man is clearly lying” there’s no impulse to actually check facts and verify that I’m not lying.

            I mean, I’m not casually going to fight a challenge match to prove I can beat people up – I’ve considered it when I was contesting with the neonazis, and it’s well within my capability – but there really isn’t much interest in the truth here – only people finding ways of defending their fragile little worldviews from other perspectives.

            And as for Aella and co, that’s none of your fucking business, mate. I’m intolerant of bullshit, and I’m not going to change in a hurry.

          • Barely matters says:

            Except it’s not within your ability. Ignoring the fact that you’re thousands of miles away, you’d have a stroke swinging that double chin at someone trying to prove yourself enlightened.

            You don’t seem to even grasp that the onus for bringing proof is on the one making the ridiculous claims. Oh sure, maybe that’s just western cultural chauvinism and the path to true enlightenment is to believe any jag who shows up on an internet forum, but what do I know? I’m just a humble 99th degree black belt navy seal and SAS commander (Warrior culture, you know how it is. Like all my brothers are generals with IQs of 190 too. You get me).

            And, I mean, we could just go ask her? A bunch of people here (who we know you don’t care about) know and talk to her daily.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Barely matters Aella’s lived in my house and knows me reasonably well. I’m not sure what your point is: you think that tolerating racist idiots makes me a better business bet?

            And as for your amusing attempt to fat shame me: is that really all you’ve got left? That’s pathetic. You’ve gone bankrupt.

          • Barely matters says:

            I’m lack of prowess and lack of sense shaming you. Try to keep up.

            And yes, I think not engaging in internet flame threads with randoms and making yourself look like a total jackass makes you a better business partner. CEOs of bigger projects than yours have been sacked for a lot less than this. So good luck avoiding professional fallout!

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Barely matters:
            I don’t think the double-chin comment is fair. Vinay Gupta strikes me as more of a caster than a melee fighter. As such, he’d probably hang back (ideally, in mid-air), kite his opponent, and blast him with ranged spells until victory is achieved. In a real combat situation, Gupta might be at a disadvantage when fighting solo. In a duel, however, he will not only have plenty of preparation time to layer shields, but will also be free from any mana-conservation concerns — allowing him to nova with impunity. Thus, he would have a very good chance of defeating a purely physical fighter of comparable level.

          • Barely matters says:

            @Bugmaster

            He said he was a ghurka priest, so I was presuming most of his offensive spells would be touch attacks. My plan was to focus on saves and touch ac because he’s working with CHA and WIS penalties, so I wasn’t expecting to have to beat terribly high DCs. You’ve got good points though, and I shouldn’t underestimate divine casters.

            He says he’s got perfect self , but even a 20th level monk isn’t that hard to lock down as long as you don’t just stand there and let him fire off full round attacks, and have a buddy scry the whole thing in case he tries to run away when he gets scared.

            We know he has “Favored Enemy: Little Old Ladies”, with subtype “Raaaaacist!” that he’ll try to rules lawyer to cover absolutely anyone he goes up against, but I don’t actually expect that to be much of a problem.

            Aapje points out below that he’s said things before that would imply that he’s dipped a few levels into grand wizard, so you’re right that I can’t rule out arcane powers either. Thanks man, I might have walked right into that one.

          • lazydragonboy says:

            I would like to point out that here in the comments section Vinay is being rather mean. In the Buddhist tradition, that would invalidate his claims to enlightenment. This seems like as good a place as any to point out that despite Vinay’s conclusion in his blog that all traditions enlightenment narratives stem from the same experience, he seems to be making a circular argument; that is, he argues that all the enlightenments are essentially the same with only cultural conditioning changing the manifestation from tradition to tradition, but excluding some Mahayana vs. Therevada definitional debates, the conditions that constitute enlightenment are very specific. Enlightenment has symptoms. Enlightenment has distinct characteristics. The first and foremost of these is the utter absence of suffering. Reading his blog post, that does not seem to have happened for Vinay. Second, is the utter inability to intentionally break precepts. Enlightened beings do not intentionally cause harm to other living beings, and as such they do not kill; steal; harm people through sexual activity; or engage in speech that is untruthful, malicious, harsh, or frivolous. Vinay could argue that through his own experience of enlightenment he has determined this criteria to be false, but he would would be enlightened according to his own definition of enlightenment. Hence, the circularity of his arguments visa vie enlightenment. I might write at further length later braking down the various conditions for and symptoms of enlightenment and how they do not appear to be fulfilled, but I think this will suffice for now.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @lazydragonboy Buddhism. Buddhism is bullshit: it assumes the universe is a giant meaningless machine which causes infinite suffering by its very existence, and the only hope for humanity is extinction. Clearly that is flawed software, and you should abandon it before it gets ground into you too badly.

            And there are practically no enlightened Mahayana or Vajrayana buddhists. The boddhisattva vow strangles them.

            In short: get outside of Buddhism and see what’s going on in the rest of Asia.

          • John Schilling says:

            Buddhism is bullshit…and there are practically no enlightened Mahayana or Vajrayana buddhists.

            So, Deiseach is to be dismissed as a racist bigot because she dismisses your specific, personal mystic credentials and claim to enlightenment, without any need to inquire as to which of several plausible reasons she might have had to do that.

            What sort of bigot is the “enlightened” being who dismisses the beliefs and claims of seven hundred million people as “bullshit”, specifically citing their religion as cause?

          • lazydragonboy says:

            @vinay

            Well, that is your view but “Buddhism is Bullshit” is more ad hominem than it is a refutation of a philosophical tradition. Your representation of Buddhism is also a straw man, though that may be entirely unintentional. You seem to fall into the anihiliationist misunderstanding of Buddhism; I noticed this in your original blog post as well. You have misunderstood the first Noble Truth: the fundamental tenant of Buddhism is not that “life is suffering” as you seem to believe, rather it is that all life contains suffering. There is nothing in life that is entirely, permanently satisfactory—there is no perfect wireheading. Furthermore, all that still is irrelevant to your claims to enlightenment. There is an existing criteria for enlightenment, and your behavior fulfills it no more than that of say, Krishnamurti or Bentino Massaro.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @John Schilling Dude, enlightenment is not a matter of religious belief. It’s just not. It’s binary: you either have it, or you don’t.

            In his book Taking the Path of Zen, Robert Aitken Roshi wrote (page 62),

            I have heard people say, “I cannot recite these vows because I cannot hope to fulfill them.” Actually, Kanzeon, the incarnation of mercy and compassion, weeps because she cannot save all beings. Nobody fulfills these “Great Vows for All,” but we vow to fulfill them as best we can. They are our practice.

            This kind of thing turns out, in practice, to make getting enlightened a lot harder than it has to be. People get really fucking entangled because their morality gets completely wound around their insight practice and the result is simply not very efficient in terms of producing enlightenment.

            So, yes, my critique is based on a specific practice in Mahayana and Vajrayana practice.

            And I have met Theravada practitioners who are extremely advanced and appear to have efficient mechanisms for Getting Things Done, and are not entangled in all this Mahayana moralizing. They sit, they work, it works. Very strong practitioners. So it’s not Buddhism as a whole, but the variations which include bolt-ons like the Boddhisattva Vow.

          • outis says:

            In spite of the differences between Hinduism and Buddhism, I don’t think we can discount the idea that their practices of meditation lead to the same fundamental experience of enlightenment. But if that is true, we should expect to see parallels in the consequences of that experience, both inward and outward.

            And in fact we do: one of the links that Mr. Gupta posted earlier included a picture of him, and I noticed a striking physical resemblance with the Buddhist tulku Chungdrag Dorje – all the more remarkable given the difference in ethnic background. Similarly, the pugnacious behavior displayed by Mr. Gupta here parallels what we know of the personality of Dorje. Is it possible that there is a common mental – and even physical – habitus of the true enlightened, very different from folk ideas of enlightenment, and yet such that even an untrained eye, once exposed to a true example, would be able to recognize in others?

            At any rate, the fact that Chungdrag Dorje is officially recognized as a reincarnated terton under Nyingma Buddhism, just as Vinay Gupta is a credentialed master of the Nath Sampradaya, strengthens my belief that there is something true and powerful here.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @outis Best comment on the thread so far. Well done 🙂

            That made me smile!

          • Aapje says:

            @outis

            The main common element is a ponytail, suggesting that their Warrior power may be contained in their hair. Even the lowly Western traditions tell us this.

            So if I ever end up being challenged by one of these warrior philosophers, I might save myself the effort of spending many years to get enlightened and instead, bring some scissors.

          • Barely matters says:

            Re: professional fallout.

            I spoke with the organizers of our local Burn and mentioned his comments about ethnic superiority and hostility to other religions. We’re no longer using hexayurts in any regional events or camps and encouraging the surrounding communities to do the same. Who knew so many burners were strongly against that sort of thing?

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Barely matters cool story bro.

          • David Shaffer says:

            Mr. Gupta, you assume that the reason Deiseach disagrees with you (and in a manner you find disrespectful) is because of her race, that hostility to extraordinary claims presented without evidence can only be because of white entitlement. And that’s supposed to mean that Deiseach is the racist here?

            I try to be respectful in online discussions, but this is beyond the pale. Enlightened or not, you are an idiot.

          • racism aside, Deiseach was making some pretty firm pronouncements about mysticism without being a practising mystic.

          • A1987dM says:

            [meme]
            Complains that people assume he’s not really enlightened because he doesn’t fit their stereotype of an enlightened person

            Assumes Deiseach is not an old lady because she doesn’t fit his stereotype of an old lady
            [/meme]

        • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

          Interesting, yeah. I would absolutely fight with you against racism against Asians or any other group, but I’m afraid I don’t yet see evidence of a racist mob. Part of what motivated my first question was an effort to understand that claim in a conversation where I didn’t see discussions of race or ethnicity by others. But I appreciate your responses!

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie the racism is simply this – why do random people off the internet see fit to tell a fully trained meditation instructor of the highest calibre that he isn’t enlightened because he’s angry?

            Answer: white privilege.

            It’s that simple. People think they know enough about the extremely serious technical business of enlightenment to pass judgement based on folk tradition stuff they picked up from general internet culture or a few pop enlightenment books.

            It’s that staggering arrogance which is the racism: we are white, we are right, and we are going to discount everything about your culture, your qualifications, your lineage and your knowledge because HEY WE CAN DO WHAT WE WANT, WE DON’T GOTTA RESPECT NO BROWN MAN’S KNOW HOW.

            And that, fundamentally, is racist.

            Our ways of knowing are equal to yours, and they’re empiricist in some very surprising ways – without being scientific in the repeatable experiment mode.

            But nobody wants to talk about that. They’re all far too busy chimping and virtue signalling.

            Now do you see the racism?

          • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

            Thanks again. Look, you’re obviously a very smart and talented guy and I don’t flatter myself that I’m going to tell you something you don’t already know.? But it seems to me that another way of looking at this situation is that this is a web site where the author posts articles and then the community of commenters discusses the articles, presses for evidence, probes for weaknesses, etc. The commenters do this on every article, even though most are not experts on the subjects being discussed. It’s just a good way for non-experts to interact with issues and try to learn more. And — this being the internet — the tone of comments is not always completely deferential. I wonder if looking at the exchange that way might make it seem less specific to you and your areas of
            interest, and hence less of a reason to impute racism as an explanation for the lack of deference.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie

            The only way you’re going to get evidence about meditation is by doing some.

            That’s how subjectivity works.

            Nobody’s remotely interested in meditation. They’re interested in demonstrating that their world models are correct, and beating the bounds of their extremely limited models of rationality: it’s an exercise in cultural reinforcement, not an exercise in learning. It’s not debate, it’s a tribe of apes gathering together to reinforce the idea that they already know everything they need to know, and there’s nothing important left to learn.

            And that’s a dialogue about power, not about knowledge.

          • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

            I’m less interested in defending the merits of anyone’s objections to meditation—a subject about which I know virtually nothing and have little personal interest. I’m just suggesting that if you look at the broader universe of comments here, and there’s no particular reason why you should otherwise be familiar with them, you’ll find that, right or wrong, people tend to push back and ask for evidence about more or less everything, and do so even when interacting with experts. If I can persuade you that this is a truly general phenomenon and not specific to this issue, and hence that racism is not the reason for the skepticism, then I will walk away happy. People here could be totally wrong in their worldview — that’s a perfectly reasonable merits argument. But I hate racism and I sincerely haven’t seen it here.

          • adder says:

            @Vinay Gupta

            Try this analogy:

            [Fair warning: I’m completely ignorant about string theory so please don’t challenge me on the details of my analogy]

            Imagine Scott posted an article about string theory, and some people made some comments suggesting string theory was bunk. Then Brian Greene showed up and insisted that no, string theory was definitely not bunk because he, a physics PhD, has done a bunch of cutting edge work on it. And when people scratch their heads at that explanation, he just reminds them that he has a legit PhD — from Oxford! Do you think that this will make them buy string theory?

            Maybe someone even points to something another physicist from Harvard, critical of string theory, said. They might even say something like “It doesn’t seem like making detailed models about dimensions we’ll never be able to observe is a very good approach to physics.” Then Briane Greene responds “You don’t know shit about physics! Harvard! I am not some Harvard grad! I don’t give a damn what they say about physics! I’m world class string theorist and I have the credentials to prove it! What makes you think you even get an opinion?”

            I guess the hypothetical Brian Greene here wasn’t even trying to sway the readers of this blog. After all, their opinion of him really doesn’t affect what he knows about physics or his role as a top researcher. But it leaves me scratching my head why he would even bother engaging if that was all he had to offer.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @adder Let’s try this again, but this time with some more accurate models.

            Suppose *you* show up, talking about my work, and misinterpret what has been said so badly that corrections are required.

            Suppose I make those corrections, and do – AS INDIAN LINEAGE HOLDERS DO – by reciting the lineage which certified me as an expert in the field and therefore a trustworthy source.

            Suppose, then, further, that a bunch of ignorant bigots who can’t possibly imagine that there are domain experts in an area where they themselves have no expertise…

            etc. etc. etc.

            Your example is pathetic and self serving. Please, jesus, stop.

          • lazydragonboy says:

            @Vinay. Not intentionally causing harm to other living beings is a precondition to enlightenment except in the definition you seem to be working from. You seem to be arguing for a fundamentally more subjective definition of enlightenment, but that is a philosophical argument and, as far as I have seen, you have neither in your original blog post nor in these comments engaged with the orthodox view of enlightenment and attempted to refute it.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @lazydragonboy Suggest you read a lot more about Hinduism. You’re talking from a very deeply Buddhist perspective and we reject all of that as garbage. There’s a lot to Hinduism, and many histories of enlightened beings doing completely fucked up evil things for what appear to be no good reason.

            These lessons are highly instructive

          • lazydragonboy says:

            Suggest you read a lot more about Hinduism. You’re talking from a very deeply Buddhist perspective and we reject all of that as garbage. There’s a lot to Hinduism, and many histories of enlightened beings doing completely fucked up evil things for what appear to be no good reason.

            This seems to argue against the legitimacy of a Hindu code of ethics rather than against the Buddhist definition of enlightenment.

            That being said, you are right to say that I, knowing little about Hindu mythology or philosophy outside of how it is appropriated for Buddhist uses within the Pali canon, am unable to judge your enlightenment within a Hindu context. From a Buddhist perspective, you are clearly not enlightened.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @lazydragonboy Dude, your teachers are shit.

            Even within Buddhism, I suggest you’d look to the utter psychopathy of Padmasambhava for an example of a being who is regarded canonically as being enlightened, but who’s actually a mass murdering fuckhead.

            When Padmasambhava [Guru Rinpoche] came to Tibet, one of those goddesses refused to surrender to him. She ran away from him…She ran up a mountain thinking she was running away from Padmasambhava and found him already ahead of her, dancing on the mountaintop. She ran away down a valley and found Padmasambhava already at the bottom, sitting at the confluence of that valley and the neighboring one. No matter where she ran, she couldn’t get away. Finally she decided to jump into the lake and hide there. Padmasambhava turned the lake into boiling iron, and she emerged as a kind of skeleton being. Finally, she had to surrender because Padmasambhava was everywhere….

            And that’s the root guru of all Tibetan Buddhism.

            So, yeah, your narrow moralizing isn’t canonical even within Buddhism, and you’re showing your ignorance in a very profound way by thinking you can judge whether or not somebody has the goods over the internet. Nobody that knew what they were doing would make a claim like that, particularly on general moralizing.

            It’s extremely hard to tell, even in person.

        • Michael Handy says:

          @Deiseach

          As a son of the Hen Ogledd, I greatly enjoyed your exchange with our Pictish friend. He had it coming.

          That said, the Curse is a bit much, you’ll turn your confessor’s hair white! Seriously, don’t joke about that shit.

          It’s a bit sad, as he genuinely has something to say behind the vitriol. There’s clearly SOMETHING that happens with the various eastern methods with a certain amount of consistency. And it would be nice if we could all just tease it out.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Michael Handy Don’t worry she’s clearly already in hell, it can’t get any worse. Be careful out there.

        • lazydragonboy says:

          @vinay

          Well, that is your view but “Buddhism is Bullshit” is more ad hominem than it is a refutation of a philosophical tradition. Your representation of Buddhism is also a straw man, though that may be entirely unintentional. You seem to fall into the anihiliationist misunderstanding of Buddhism; I noticed this in your original blog post as well. You have misunderstood the first Noble Truth: the fundamental tenant of Buddhism is not that “life is suffering” as you seem to believe, rather it is that all life contains suffering. There is nothing in life that is entirely, permanently satisfactory—there is no perfect wireheading. Furthermore, all that still is irrelevant to your claims to enlightenment. There is an existing criteria for enlightenment, and your behavior fulfills it no more than that of say, Krishnamurti or Bentino Massaro.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @lazydragonboy Your teachers are incompetent and have fed you lies, if you think such a neat bow can be tied on the enlightened condition.

            Yes, perhaps within your specific school, the completion stage practices are only given to people who have cultivated certain personal qualities. You can filter for only helping a certain kind of people get enlightened, but that filter is an institutional choice, not inherent in the nature of enlightenment itself.

            To think that enlightenment has a moral bias is an error. It’s simply a misunderstanding of the nature of truth. An enlightened person can still sit down and accidentally crush a mouse to death: to the mouse, the ass is careless, crushing evil, the force of death made material. To the mouse, it’s murder.

            You need a belief in the supernatural to suggest that enlightened beings are, in some sense, beyond injuring others etc.

            And you say they’d never choose to injure another, but there are situations in reality in which *all* courses of action lead to harm for somebody: should I spend this dollar eating myself, or giving to the poor for their food, or investing in building a hospital? In any case, I’m giving resources to one, and denying another. Somebody suffers because of my choice.

            In this context, then, we examine the so-called negative emotions. Consider your Dharmapallas – in particular, Fudo Myoo aka Achalanatha. Your model is cute, but it is not yet mature.

            Also I believe that public discourse on another being’s enlightenment is a downfall across most of Buddhism. You may wish to check that.

  29. Other channels, like pain, are low bandwidth. This is why the placebo effect works – we get so little data about how much pain is coming from different parts of our bodies that even our strongest percepts are wild guesses, […] Reason is one of the lowest-bandwidth channels of all, which is why biases are so omnipresent and rational debate so rarely changes anyone’s mind.

    You are saying that Pain is plastic because it is low bandwidth, but Reason is rigid…because it is low bandwidth.

    • adder says:

      Hmmm…. I think he’s saying pain is plastic and (some) beliefs are rigid. Reason is plastic in that it “changes” based on context. A syllogism x might succesfully convince you of A, but not convince you of B because you find B so abhorrent, but then later convince you of B because it is presented by someone attractive and confident.

  30. KarenEliot says:

    Since a few of the replies here seem confused about this: “Mystic Experience” ist not “Enlightenment”, and “enlightenment” might mean diffent things for different cultures and traditions. I can only talk from the buddhist perspective (and I might get a few things wrong, check with your local sage) where

    – enlightenment is the intended and more or less only endresult
    – there is more or less agreement across buddhist traditions what this state is
    – there are enormous variations in the methods employed to get to that state
    – and these traditions usually have some kind of “map” of the things experience when you employ these methods – Daniel writes a lot about this in MCTB. The progression of these experiences is rather deterministic.

    Now, many of these experiences can be quite impressive and even reduce personal suffering a lot, or disturb you if you have no idea whats happening. A good example is experiencing “no-self”, when you realize that “you are not your thoughts” and “your thoughts do their own things, deterministically, and you actually don’t have to actively think them, you can let them run by themselves”, stuff like that. This is a very basic and rather easily aquired insight into one of the three characteristics of experience, but an insight that can have massive consequences for the way you feel and how you experience the world. Even if you understand it only a little it will lower your suffering because a large part of any bad thing concerns the “not-you” part – it’s still there, it’s regrettable but what can you do… and because you really don’t know who’s supposed to suffer if all you are is just separate impressions / things causally chasing each other.

    There are many of these possible insights, some of them not really describable in words – how would you describe your sex life and mating rituals to a prepubescent child? – and many will look like “enlightenment”, until you find out out that there is much, much more. However, enlightenment seems to be a certain knowledge that is universal, that is, independent of your culture, and which implies many of these insights, though some might also be artefacts of your peculiar tradition.

    • KarenEliot says:

      My guess is that “no-self” is also responsible for experiencing a drop in internal dialogue because one is not as obsessed with all these thoughts anymore. They might be there and do their thing, but it’s not your job to “do” them, to apply yourself to them, to stress yourself out with them. If somethings not important to you it will show up much less in your head.

      So you might think “I have no internal dialogue and all these crazy thoughts have calmed down permanently, enlightenment yay!”, but thats only a (possible) consequence of enlightenment, or a consequence of some other insight that is by itself “true” in a certain way, and therefore universal, but it’s only a part of the “truth”.

      • Vinay Gupta says:

        @KarenEliot Where I’m from, the cessation of internal dialogue happens before enlightenment. Usually they’re pretty closely related – a few weeks or months from one to the other – but in my case it took about another five years (highly unusual, I’m told.) I got a bit lost in there.

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      – there is more or less agreement across buddhist traditions what this state is

      Note that while there is definitely some agreement (about e.g. “mystical states” being distractions from enlightenment) this paper seems to argue that there’s no super-strong consensus:

      The term ’’enlightenment” is an extraordinarily imprecise construct. Using the term enlightenment or even the term more native to Buddhist traditions, “awakening” (bodhi), as if it referred to a single outcome either privileges one conception over others or else assumes that there is some commonality among the traditional goals of diverse contemplative traditions. There are deep disagreements over the nature of the goal between and even within various Buddhist schools. Scientific investigations cannot assume that there is any commonality among the transformative changes referred to as “kensho,” “stream entry,” “realizing the nature of mind,” and so on, that various Buddhist traditions take as various stages of awakening. Empirical investigations of these constructs can only proceed with reference to the specific psychological and behavioral outcomes described in the native discourse of a specific tradition (see Lutz et al., 2007). […]

      Given the differences between various competing conceptions of awakening, one scientific approach to tracing enlightenment would be to use the tools of social psychology to investigate which states and traits are valued in a particular community. For instance, recent work in moral psychology suggests how value judgments of people and practices as either enlightened or unenlightened could be traced to affective reactions of admiration and disgust (Rozin et al., 1999; Schnall et al., 2008; Brandt and Reyna, 2011; Schnall and Roper, 2011). Some of the most virulent disagreements over what counts as genuine awakening occur between closely related practice traditions, such as the debates between various Theravāda Buddhist traditions in Burma over which states are to count as realizations of nibbāna and which are instead to be counted (merely) as states of deep concentration. Surveying these debates, Sharf (1995) concludes “there is no public consensus as to the application of terms that supposedly refer to discreet experiential states within the vipassanā movement” (Sharf, 1995, p. 265).

      • KarenEliot says:

        Of course these differences in opinion exist, but they exist exactly because there is already some big underlying consensus. There doesn’t have to be an exact definition on enlightenment for it to be a useful and stable concept. Wether someone’s enlightenment is permanent or only shows up during certain jhana states and can still be improved is irrelevant to the questions at hand.

        • Vinay Gupta says:

          @KarenEliot The reason there are so many different schools is that the *form* is 90% of the package you get after people get enlightened. The actual core insight, whatever it is, doesn’t dominate our experience of enlightened beings – their age, their demeanor, their verbal narrations of their experience etc. are all far larger parts of our experience of an enlightened being than their enlightenment.

          Take Tibetan Buddhist monks eating meat, and how that looks to (say) South Indian vegetarians. It just looks *insane* to South Indians to have an “enlightened person” eating meat. It’s bordering on the demonic, frankly.

          The Tibetans are just like “you can’t live in Tibet without meat.” In fact the Dalai Lama has discussed this extensively.

          So the result is that people get very, very fussy about the packaging because, well, you can see and handle the packaging, and getting deep enough that you can get past all the packaging is Hard Fucking Work.

          Anybody who can get past the packaging and directly apprehend what enlightenment is well on the way to being enlightened. This is really important to understand: being able to build a clear understanding of the thing IS THE THING. Hence it’s extremely hard to investigate.

          Anyway, long story short, there’s limited value to the cross cultural approaches. It’s a maze of contradictions even at the highest levels.

          Which is to say: most of the people trying to discuss enlightenment aren’t enlightened, and as a result the conversations are automatically filled with error. The ones who *are* enlightened don’t usually have such a hard time talking together, but they’re such a minority that, even if supported by structural power, the language tends to drift towards whatever limited understanding the local culture settles on. The teachers constantly push back against this, of course.

  31. rob5289 says:

    There is a body of research now that demonstrates meditation can be of significant benefit to large numbers of people. To my knowledge it is the only long-term project that has succeeded in describing stages of meditative practice, and quantifying the benefits based on standard psychological measures:
    http://www.nonsymbolic.org
    rob

  32. LIB says:

    Could someone with experience or expertise please clarify: Can you do mathematics with no internal dialogue? Does asking this mean I have misunderstood what “no internal dialogue” means?

    (Please no one answer who thinks that solving a quadratic equation using the quadratic formula involves doing any mathematics. That sounds really elitist, but I mean the kind of math that requires combining concepts in rigorous ways to discover new things about them, not the procedural application of formulas which also sometimes goes by the name of “mathematics”.)

    • EEriksen says:

      Dear LIB,
      I am a mere grad student and have been in research-mathematics for little less than a year, but as I started thinking about the same line as you did and noone else has replied within a week, I thought I should share my thoughts. Consider this a disclaimer of my limited expertise.

      * I feel that the actual brainstorming work of finding new true statements is very similar to what I imagine the corresponding work in Philosophy being like. I would describe this as getting a “feeling” or an “intuition” for certain concepts and trying to see whether one can guess any new implications. For me this involves “internal dialogue”, but this might not be true for everyone.
      For some if the things I think about this internal dialogue is not in the form of words though, more like imagining the graph of a function and then bending it and cutting it down to press it in a certain desirable shape. Not sure if “internal dialogue” has t be in the form of “words”.

      * To the contrary, reading mathematics can, for me, be done in two ways: Either trying to divine the bigger picture and rephrasing things in a memorable, compressed form (“telling a story”), that makes it easier to apply them in the brainstorming above. This includes extracting “tricks” used in order to re-apply them. Here I am unsure, whether I would say this involves “internal dialogue”. I imagine this to not be different in other natural sciences like physics or biology.
      On the other hand, there is more mechanical proof-checking, which is done very locally, i.e. one implication at a time. I feel that this does not involve “internal dialogue”, it much more feels like checking a statement you read against an internal database of known implications.

      To some extent I feel that this is a question of how mathematics differs from other sciences, so here is my take on that which I basically copied from one of my Professors:
      – In the humanities, the truth-criterion of a statement is “argument”.
      – In the natural sciences (excluding math, depends on your terminology), the truth-criterion of a statement is the “experiment”.
      – In mathematics, the truth-criterion of a statement is a “proof”.
      You might consider a proof as a special form of argument, but it feels different, as the outcome of an argument is to some extent subjective or not definite, while the outcome of a proof is not.
      I would agree that an experiment can be done without internal dialogue. You maybe need some to invent your procedure and set up the experiment, but then you can start it, let it run through and reap the results (let’s think of a physics experiment for now). An argument might not be done without internal dialogue. After all, this involves you questioning every implication and asking yourself, whether you believe it. Now that sounds very similar to a proof, with the only distinction being that a proof can be traced back and expressed in a simple language of logic (which will just involve huge amounts of quantifiers) and is then for example checkable by a computer. There are several proof-checker projects doing this, the one I’ve been in contact with is Isabelle. The most sophisticated statement I’ve seen reduced to checkable format is maybe something in 3rd year topology. While a reduction to this level is not done in practice (!), it is what I think should distinguish a “proof” from an “argument”. Nevertheless, you can certainly argue that there is some “argument” necessary to set up the lowest-level language and I don’t see how I could disagree.
      So why am I bringing this up? In my experience, the “argument” part and the thinking-about-proofs-on-a-higher-level part involve “mental dialogue”, at least in practice, while the low-level-proof-checking part does not.

      I would be very interested in any opinions, other people have on this 🙂

  33. Nick says:

    Henk Barendrekt who is a Dutch logician, known for his work in lambda calculus and type theory and now a Vipassana Teacher has two papers online, Buddhist Phenomenology and Mysticism and beyond. Buddhist phenomenology, part II that might shed some light on the issues. He describes his experiences with great detail. In the part II Barendrekt uses the cover-up model of the human mind to describe the state of enlightenment and how it relates to depersonalization or other forms of mental breakdowns.

    • sonnymoonie says:

      Barendrekt’s description of “feeling” in the Buddhist sense represents pretty much exactly what I’ve realized that I don’t feel: A feeling separate from the input sense of things, including external things and bodily actions (including more or less “involuntary” bodily actions that I can feel, such as feeling goosebumps.)

      I was interested in Vipassana meditation because of this article “Coherence Between Emotional Experience and Physiology: Does Body Awareness Training Have an Impact?” which claims that Vipassana meditators scored ahead of dancers and untrained others at coherence between their subjective experience of emotional arousal and their heart rates. I thought Vipassana might be a way towards learning to feel more.

      If Barendrekt was correct that “The goal of buddhism is to be free from this desire. The mentioned delights will remain pleasant, even after one is enlightened. But then they are pleasant on the level of group (1), the sensory data.” then I guess that Buddhists wouldn’t teach a course in how to feel in an unenlightened way. So my question is, who would?

    • Aapje says:

      The guy’s name is Barendregt, not Barendrekt. Dregt or drecht is old Dutch for ford (as in a shallow water crossing). Baren is obsolete Dutch for muddy. So his name means muddy ford. There is a Dutch town with the name of Barendrecht. There are other places with similar kinds of names, like Oxford, Stratford and the German Frankfurt.

      The guy’s ancestors probably come from the town.

  34. B_Rat says:

    I keep hearing people talk like this, but I would really like to see some analysis of how the Western hermetic and alchemical traditions match the Eastern enlightenment traditions. I know a bit about John Dee, and it all suggests he was a very weird and gullible person, and none of it sounds like meditation as the Buddhists and Hindus think of it. The same is true of Newton’s mystical researches. I’m open to arguments for why these things are really the same deep down, but somebody needs to actually argue it instead of just gesturing at it, and I’ve never seen this done well.

    I’m no expert of these arguments, but I think this is in fact largely a misunderstanding: Alchemy had often rather practical purposes, which explains how Roger Bacon could quickly burn his money on it, and Hermeticism was a very specific tradition mostly made of occult, secret practices. By large, Newton’s alchemical and eschatological research was not “mystical” in the same sense of Buddhist meditation.

    If one wishes to study something analogous in the West, he’d better look at Christian mysticism, whose exponents have already been cited in the comments.

  35. philosophicguy says:

    In my experience as a mid-level meditator, the best, and most scientific, description of the stages of meditative progress (all the way up to Enlightenment, but with no comment on post-enlightenment) can be found in this recent, massive, 500-page book by neuroscientist John Yates:

    The Mind Illuminated

    This book revolutionized my own understanding of the mind and of meditation (which I had been practicing ineffectively for years) by laying it out for the first time in clear scientific language as a progressive brain-training regimen, with the techniques, challenges, and potential pitfalls of each step clearly explained.

    It’s really quite an accomplishment, and I think the book will eventually be recognized as a milestone in the history of neuroscience and meditation.

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      I second the recommendation for The Mind Illuminated (though I’d note that it doesn’t really talk much about neuroscience).

  36. Hitfoav says:

    Enlightenment is an overburdened concept: common conception seems to include a moral saintliness dimension but descriptions like these paint it as some kind of psycho-athletic accomplishment

    • Nick says:

      Buddhist philosophy recognizes this difference.

      There are three types of Buddhas (fully enlightened in the ‘psycho-athletic’ sense): Arahats, Pratyeka Buddhas and Supreme Buddhas.

      Supreme Buddhas (like Siddarha Gautama Buddha) are supposed to be very rare cases. They are not only enlightened, but they have perfected everything else needed to help others (like morality, compassion, skillful means). Other types of Buddhas are just as enlightened but their moral and other skills development is not there yet.

      This is where the idea of Bodhisattva path comes in. Boddhishattva is someone who wows to reach enlightenment and the other skills as well so that they can help other sentient beings. In Buddhist mythology becoming an Arahat can be attained in one lifetime but becoming Supreme Buddha takes many lifetimes and Boddhishattva has to reincarnate again and again to develop these other skills.

      I think most practitioners, especially in the west, are painfully aware that morality and enlightenment can be practiced separately to the large extent.

      • lazydragonboy says:

        There are moral qualities necessary to attain enlightenment. The perfection of the noble eightfold path entails a level of morality that ensures one would not intentionally cause harm, but it doesn’t entail the level of supreme compassion that would be present in a sammasambuddha, nor the ability to teach others the path to complete enlightenment.

        • Vinay Gupta says:

          @lazydragonboy You can’t even define harm: there are maybe three million people in the process of starving to death right now.

          Every bite of food you put into your mouth and not their mouth causes harm.

          Explain to me then how your life represents an efficient absolute morality. Because I can justify, in pretty excruciating detail, the absolute morality of the framework in which I operate, including the issues around murder-by-passive-inaction which plague (for example) the monastic traditions.

          If you believe that enlightenment is a naturally arising phenomena, which can be encouraged by specific practices, but which is not a single point realization (i.e. Buddha or bust) then there’s no justification for inaction in the real world based on the idea that leading beings to liberation is more important than them not starving to death.

          In short: your moralizing is raw and requires vastly more thought before you can roll it out as “we have this covered.”

          You don’t. In fact, nobody does. It’s not that kind of problem. Anybody who thinks it is has misunderstood the fundamental nature of life on earth at this time in history.

          • wilarseny says:

            Hi Vinay,

            You said:

            Because I can justify, in pretty excruciating detail, the absolute morality of the framework in which I operate, including the issues around murder-by-passive-inaction which plague (for example) the monastic traditions.

            If you are still around and replying to comments, I would be interested in reading your justification here, in any amount of detail you felt like sharing. Would you be able to summarize your framework in a sentence or paragraph, or have you typed it up somewhere else? If not, is there another writer or work that you could point to that summarizes your views?

            Genuine question out of curiosity – not hostility as others have shown you in this thread. Thanks in advance if you are able to respond.

            w

  37. P. George Stewart says:

    Great post. From my own small understanding I can tell that the guy is authentic. I am, and always have been since I started thinking as a child, a rationalist by temperament, but I had Satori experiences as a kid, as a result of wondering “Who am I?” intently – it happened maybe 4 or 5 times out of a dozen or so “tries,” and then by the beginning of adolescence eventually I couldn’t do it any more. It was like the ordinary sense of self became an overgrown jungle too thick to hack through. But I swear by all that’s holy, if you do put some serious effort into this stuff, you will bump up against the secret of the universe, against IT, THAT, the meaning of life, etc., etc. 3 months of serious effort at a retreat with no distractions and a simplified life, ramping up from 10-20 mins a day meditation, to 3 or 4 or more hours, will probably turn the trick and get you a “glimpse” at least. (Obviously people vary, and only a really experienced authentic teacher would be able to tell beforehand what your métier is.)

    And yes, of Western writers, Aleister Crowley is probably the gold standard for writing on these matters (and one of the greatest stylists in the English language, to boot), and he really was something of a pioneer (though he is idiosyncratic and not necessarily to be taken as gospel in all things).

    The problem is that authentic teaching is really hard to come by even in the East where these things are traditional. It’s very easy to fake it, because the “normies” don’t know from shit. Those who have been there know and can spot the fakers, but that’s no help to sincere normies looking for the real thing, and they can go down all sorts of blind alleys – and sometimes even fall into death traps. But if you just keep your wits about you and let your spider-sense guide you, you should be ok.

    Also what tends to happen a lot is that someone gets a “glimpse” and they don’t realize that in the traditional teachings that’s just getting your foot in the door, so to speak – there’s a whole other mountain to climb that has to do with integrating that point of view into everyday life, and then being familiar enough with the material to teach it to others, if that’s your will, and that extended course is what people usually call “Enlightenment” in the full-blown sense.

    But then the added wrinkle is that it’s not actually necessary to do any of it (IOW it’s no skin off God’s nose whether you’re enlightened or not, and you are fulfilling His Plan either way – it’s not like you get a gold star from Him for being a special, enlightened being). I liken it to riding a bicycle: bikes are great, everyone should learn how to ride a bike, it’s great fun, and you’re missing out on a fun, useful thing in life if you don’t know how to ride a bike. But not everyone is called to compete in the Tour de France.

    Similarly, this enlightenment thing is everyone’s birthright, and at least a “glimpse” is something everyone should (in the learn-to-ride-a-bike sense) try for, and try hard for, at least once in life, and when they get that glimpse they’ll have a depth of understanding of life that gives them a sense of perspective; but nobody has to go the whole hog to full enlightenment.

    Being an ordinary human being isn’t a sin, it’s what you’re “meant” to be. But being an ordinary human being with a twinkle is just that little bit more fulfilling, and if everyone did it, the world would probably be a better place, and certainly nihilism would fall out of use.

    Addendum: re. Scott’s question about triangulation between Western (hermetic, etc.) systems and the Eastern. Basically “magic” strictly so-called, or magick, is lucid-dreaming-while-awake, and Jung’s take (that you’re exploring your “operating system” via the various symbolisms) is about right, I think, although even then, the question of how much of it is purely internal, and how much of it is to do with another “plane” of existence un-canvassed by science, is a question people have to explore for themselves. But even from the point of view of rational comparison, there’s a tantalizing similarity between the various geographically isolated systems. It’s instructive to look at Chinese magic in particular: generally there, you have the same type of paraphernalia as Western magick, right down to petitioning the celestial bureacracy (analogous to the invocation of angels and spirits in Western magick), talismans, rituals, etc., etc.

    Now, there’s a relationship between this lucid-dreaming-while-awake and meditation, and most of the traditional systems have some element of both (another major system, Tibetan Buddhism, has a lot of both). They tend to work in tandem, because what you learn in one helps you somewhat in the other. But the precise relationship is beyond my pay grade, all I can say is that there is a link, even though they’re two distinct systems of practice.

    • allspoilersallthetime says:

      But if you just keep your wits about you and let your spider-senses guide you, you should be ok.

      I worry about this, because I see this advice as often as I see the advice: ‘Your ego will try to get in the way and deflect, therefore expect to feel resistance to things that are good, and attraction to illusions and distractions.’

      How can you tell if you’re following your instincts or your ego?

      • P. George Stewart says:

        I don’t know, I don’t think there’s any sure-fire way of telling, and to a certain degree it’s Darwin Award time with all of this (sadly, some people just don’t have that spider-sense that tells them of looming danger).

        The most I can say as a rough guide, is that if what a teacher is telling you is stroking your presuppositions, affirming that you’re already right about stuff, then they should probably be avoided. Also teachers who give themselves airs and graces, who cultivate an air of being special beings, are fairly obviously false. (Although that should be distinguished from them being on a high seat as traditional representatives – but if they’re evidently enjoying that too much, watch out.)

        Real teachers are sort of more angular in relation to your preconceptions going in, the real thing ought to feel a bit uncomfortable in relation to the picture of the world you have going in.

        Real teachers are usually quite down to earth, quite ordinary. And generally (though not always, some are voluble), they tend to be reticent, and answer only questions that show that the student has put some work in, and had some experience and insight of their own – because a lot of the jargon refers to things you won’t understand until you’ve had the experience, so the meaning of the jargon only unfolds as you practice, and the questions you ask have a different texture, and that will prick up the teacher’s ears.

        On the “positive signs” side, you should feel in the teacher’s presence at least some moments of mental silence and suspension, as if for a moment you’re poised like a bird gliding at high altitude with the world still and silent around you. The difference between a real teacher and a false teacher is that the false teacher will encourage you in the belief that something they did has made you have the special experience or insight.

        You get insights and experiences yourself from the practices a teacher is teaching because the practices work and their effectiveness is independent of who teaches them, but you can then falsely attribute the insights you’re having to the teacher as causing them. A real teacher will snap you out of that hero worship, but a false teacher will subtly encourage you in your belief that it’s them “doing it” to you (even if they don’t say it overtly, if you find that thought slipping into your mind often, that the cause of your insight is them – run!). Having said that, thinking of yourself or the practices as causal is also a mistake: the thing you’re looking for, you already are, all the practices do is clear away rubbish that occludes your realization that THAT is what you already are.

        On top of all that, there’s the (rare) possibility that a teacher could have been genuine once but may have “fallen.” Those tend to be the most evil, I think – normal fakers are usually just after status, sex and money, but fallen teachers (not to be too dramatic) feed on your very life, they’re vampiric – you get weaker and weaker without noticing. But I think those are extremely rare, and they’re usually drummed out of the business by the genuine teachers (there’s a sort of loose degree of oversight in most of the established traditions).

      • romeostevens says:

        If your query returns a story, it’s ego. If it returns silence, it’s not. If all your queries return stories, well, you are deep in the woods. Sit awhile longer.

  38. CherryGarciaMillionaire says:

    [Gupta:] I’ve got this mythology of the Universe, and it’s all to do with Spiral Dynamics. My name is Ken Wilbur [sic]. Where the hell did that come from? He made it up and then told you it was cosmic law. Just like all the others did.

    It’s Wilber, with an e.

    Ken Wilber completed his first book in 1973; it was published in 1977. By the mid-’80s, he laid claim to “fifteen years of meditation, during which I had had several unmistakable ‘kensho’ [i.e., ‘glimpse of enlightenment’] experiences, fully confirmed by my teachers.”

    None of his books written prior to 1995 contained any mention of Spiral Dynamics. Rather, it was only after completing his “trilogy in one part” (i.e., the massive Sex, Ecology, Spirituality) that Wilber, per Wikipedia, “started to collaborate with Don Beck, whose ‘Spiral Dynamics’ shows strong correlates with Wilber’s model.” (The other two parts of that projected trilogy have never, erm, “materialized.”)

    So that is more than twenty years, during which Wilber was regarded as “the foremost theoretician in transpersonal psychology,” but where he cannot be accused of developing a (“Four Quadrant”) framework which was “all to do with Spiral Dynamics” and/or a “cosmic law.” He was attempting to develop a theoretical framework, to account for the varieties of mystical experience, including how “sages” interpret their mystical/non-dual experiences in terms of their existing culture. (The fact that Wilber—with an e—has self-admittedly gone through numerous stages of theory/thought, from “Wilber-I” to “Wilber-V,” makes him far less of a “cosmic law”-giver than Gupta flippantly pretends.)

    Regardless, Wilber’s work has been thoroughly demolished by a wide variety of critics, including in two book-length works. See http://www.integralworld.net/criticism.html for links. (That site was founded by Wilber’s former biographer, Frank Visser.)

    [Gupta:] You’ve got your Buddhas and your Christs and your Mohammeds, and your Abrahams and all the rest of these people – they experience these cosmic states of consciousness….

    There is nothing in the Bible to even remotely suggest that Abraham experienced cosmic consciousness. That is even aside from the fact that Abraham never existed, any more than made-up Moses did; this is not even open to dispute, among people who know anything about the origins of Abrahamic religion.

    Same for Mohammed, in the Qur’an: There is not even a suggestion of cosmic consciousness underlying his experiences. Astral travel (if it existed, which it doesn’t) would suffice. And if he had experienced cosmic consciousness, consider how little that means in terms of personal transformation, given his subsequent behaviors.

    (Exactly the same claims as Gupta is making, regarding the supposed cosmic consciousness of Axial-Age “sages” like Abraham, and later ones including Mohammed, were made in Wilber’s writings long before he discovered, appropriated, and misrepresented Clare Graves’ Spiral Dynamics.)

    And what of Jesus? He, too, most likely never existed. For a demonstration of that, based in Bayesian inference, see Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus. Long story short: The odds against even a minimal historical (i.e., basic crucified and cult-founding) Jesus having walked this earth are around 12,000:1. The additional claim that JC further experienced cosmic consciousness would only make his existence even less likely.

    So that leaves the Buddha. One out of four. And yet another “Bayesian prior” for evaluating any other claims made by Gupta and his ilk, when they cannot even get the testable, objective stuff right.

    • B_Rat says:

      Carrier is a walking joke among historians, so much that there’s even who whimsically used Bayesian inference to argue that it’s him the one who does not exist.

      His math has been thoroughly debunked. For a popular account of the historical reasons that make his thesis untenable, see Tim O’Neill’s blog.

      The Jesus Myth Theory just has no credibility in academia.

      BTW, since it’s not like we can take the Gospels at face value, we obviously have no way to confirm or refuse this “cosmic consciousness” thing, though obviously it’s quite the overtly-specific claim.

      • zqed says:

        His math has been thoroughly debunked.

        A Scribd document, posted under a pseudonym and ending with the conclusion that Carrier does not make any mathematical mistakes except in the sense that the author disagrees with his assignment of subjective priors is hardly a debunking.

        For a popular account of the historical reasons that make his thesis untenable, see Tim O’Neill’s blog. The Jesus Myth Theory just has no credibility in academia.

        Sure, the consensus is that the Jesus Myth Theory is unlikely. But it’s not beneath the important patristics journals, including the top JECS, to publish mythicist stuff, including Carrier’s papers, so “no credibility” must be an overstatement.

        That said, Bart Ehrman’s blog is a really good and reliable source for anything to do with Christianity. Unfortunately, he does not write anything tangible about the matter in the linked post. However, I’d skip Tim O’Neill, who has no relevant qualifications whatsoever.

        I’m not a mythicist, and I’d be very surprised if these would be the best arguments against mythicism (I understand if you don’t think it’s worth putting in more effort, though; I certainly would not).

        • Deiseach says:

          However, I’d skip Tim O’Neill, who has no relevant qualifications whatsoever.

          And from my point of view, Bart Ehrman is a heretic who has a particular axe to grind in inventing his version of Christianity to fit his biases and notions, so we’re even on “I don’t like this guy because he doesn’t agree with what I think but this other guy fits just peachy”.

          O’Neill is an atheist and seems to be quite firm on “no, really, I’m not trying to slip some kind of deism/theism in by the back door”. He is at least as qualified as an amateur historian as many others in this fray, and having an MA in Mediaeval Literature should at least help towards his credibility in making statements on ancient documents and sources (i.e. he’s not pulling it all out of thin air with no training).

          I do admit that I don’t know anything about Richard Carrier but the tiff between him and O’Neill is amusing in the amount of dislike each seems to have for the other, and I have no sides in that fight but do get entertainment from reading O’Neill’s side of the fight – even though at times it makes me want to go “Tim, relax, mate! This doesn’t matter that much!”

          (It’s always fun to read an online fight when you don’t have a stake in the outcome).

          • zqed says:

            He is at least as qualified as an amateur historian as many others in this fray, and having an MA in Mediaeval Literature should at least help towards his credibility in making statements on ancient documents and sources (i.e. he’s not pulling it all out of thin air with no training).

            I agree with all of this. I mean that I’d discount Tim O’Neill for the purpose of determining academic consensus in the field of New Testament scholarship.

          • B_Rat says:

            @zqed,
            I linked to Ehrman for the consensus, to Tim O’Neill for the popular account.

        • B_Rat says:

          I disagree with pretty much everything you wrote, but since you didn’t really try to argue in favor of your positions I’d rather not add anything to the lengthy pieces you casually dismissed. However, I wonder if we are reading the same Ehrman, since you concede that he’s a reliable source about the history of early Christianity. I quote the beginning of his post about Carrier’s use of Bayes theorem I linked:

          As most of you know, I’m pretty much staying out of the mythicist debates. That is for several reasons. One is that the mythicist position is not seen as intellectually credible in my field (I’m using euphemisms here; you should see what most of my friends *actually* say about it….) – no one that I know personally (I know a *lot* of scholars of New Testament, early Christianity, and so on) takes it at *all* seriously as a viable historical perspective (this includes not just Christians but also Jews, agnostics, atheists – you name it), and my colleagues sometimes tell me that I’m simply providing the mythicists with precisely the credibility they’re looking for even by engaging them. It’s a good point, and I take it seriously.

          In that connection I should say that I can understand how someone who hasn’t spent years being trained in the history of early Christianity might have difficulty distinguishing between serious scholarship that is accepted by experts as being plausible (even when judged wrong) and the writings of others that, well, is not. But experts obviously don’t have that problem, and the mythicists simply are not seen as credible. They don’t like that, and they don’t like it when it someone points it out, but there it is.

          The other reason for staying out of the fray is that some of the mythicists are simply unpleasant human beings – mean-spirited, arrogant, ungenerous, and vicious. I just don’t enjoy having a back and forth with someone who wants to rip out my jugular.

          Here another (far less subdued) reaction to Carrier from a relevant scholar, and on the same blog another scholar gives a more historical total refutation of his use of Bayes. As you can see, they leave no room for your rather generous attitude toward Carrier.

        • timoneill007 says:

          “That said, Bart Ehrman’s blog is a really good and reliable source for anything to do with Christianity. Unfortunately, he does not write anything tangible about the matter in the linked post.”

          He’s written a whole book on why scholars don’t consider Mythicism worthy of attention.

          “However, I’d skip Tim O’Neill, who has no relevant qualifications whatsoever.”

          My qualifications aren’t relevant. My article is simply a summary of the main problems with Mythicism and of the reasons the overwhelming majority of scholars, with a tiny handful not very significant exceptions, accept it’s most likely a historical Jesus existed. Their qualifications are relevant here – I’m just the messenger.

          “I’m not a mythicist, and I’d be very surprised if these would be the best arguments against mythicism”

          Why would you be “surprised”?

    • Deiseach says:

      And what of Jesus? He, too, most likely never existed.

      Do you mean that in the “Not the Son of God” sense or the “not even some first century zealot or local rabbi who had a cult following in his lifetime which later mythologised him” sense? If you’re quoting Carrier, I take it you mean the latter, but by the same token why not quote the Golden Bough as good scholarship and say that plainly the Lubavitcher Rabbi never existed since (some of) his followers staunchly believe him to be the prophesied Messiah, and clearly that is a purely mythical figure out of Jewish belief and tradition and so can’t be anything more than a legend.

      I can see not believing in the Son of God sense, but why not accept even tentatively the euhemerisation hypothesis? Does Carrier have a theory about how Hephaestion never existed, given that Alexander caused him to be created a Divine Hero to whom the customary honours were paid (indeed, Alexander had wished to deify him but on the advice of an oracle had him not worshipped as a god but venerated as a hero).

      I find it somewhat convenient to dismiss epic figures such as Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Jesus and so on as “oh they never really existed” if this conflicts with what a particular theorist would wish reality to have been.

  39. CherryGarciaMillionaire says:

    There are a number of long-extant, solid neurological explanations for the cross-cultural aspects of mystical experiences (including the “timeless, spaceless” state).

    You can start with the following three:

    1. Dr. August L. Reader’s (1994) paper, “The Internal Mystery Plays.”

    2. Andrew Newberg’s (2001) Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. From which:

    The total shutdown of neural input [in interior-directed meditation] would have a dramatic effect on both the right and left orientation areas. The right orientation area, which is responsible for creating the neurological matrix we experience as physical space, would lack the information it needs to create the spatial context in which the self can be oriented. Its only option, when totally deprived of sensory input, would be to generate a subjective sense of absolute spacelessness, which might be interpreted by the mind as a sense of infinite space and eternity; or conversely, as a timeless and spaceless void.

    Meanwhile, the left orientation area, which we have described as crucial in the generation of the subjective sense of a self, would not be able to find the boundaries of the body. The mind’s perception of the self now becomes limitless; in fact, there is no longer any sense of self at all.

    In this state of total deafferentation of the orientation area, the mind would perceive a neurological reality consistent with many mystical descriptions of the ultimate spiritual union: There would be no discrete objects or beings, no sense of space or the passage of time, no line between the self and the rest of the universe. In fact, there would be no subjective self at all; there would only be an absolute sense of unity—without thought, without words, and without sensation. The mind would exist without ego in a state of pure, undifferentiated awareness.

    3. William J. Broad’s (2012) The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards. Gives solid evidence that yoga produces genuine effects in the practitioner’s body simply by placing pressure on particular nerves and glands (e.g., the adrenals and gonads), and expounds on the relation of blood carbon-dioxide levels (e.g., as induced by caves and small, stuffy rooms) to spiritual practice/experience.

    Or, if you want all that, and more, wrapped into a comprehensive essay, you can find it here:

    Sam Harris and “Spirituality Without Religion”.

    The odds are overwhelming that the philosopher/atheist Dan Dennett (who practices TM, BTW) was absolutely right in saying that while meditation may grant us insight into our own minds, it can say nothing about the universe outside those few pounds of “thinking meat.” That is sadly true regardless of how accurately and honestly our world’s “enlightened sages” may narrate the phenomenology of their own internal experiences.

  40. LTK says:

    “This would never happen with vision – I can’t use the placebo effect to make you think an orange crayon is blue – but pain is low-bandwidth enough that it works.”

    Does hypnosis count as a placebo effect? Because that’s how I understood hypnosis to work: you basically allow an external source (the hypnotist) to influence your priors (by suggestion) to such a degree that you’ll see whatever you’re told to see. It doesn’t work on everyone – staunchly refuse the influence of suggestion and it’ll do squat – but highly suggestible people can easily have their perceptions altered substantially. For example, they can be given the suggestion that there is no chair in the room when there is one. The hypnotized will swear up and down that they do not see a chair, but will nevertheless walk around it when instructed to cross the room.

    I’m not 100% certain on the efficacy of hypnosis but I’m convinced it’s a real thing. The book “Varieties of Anomalous Experience” is what I had as a primary source, but there’s lots of research out there. It’s just unfortunate that it tends to be associated with parapsychology and other dubious sorts of research.

    • Nicholas Perry says:

      >The hypnotized will swear up and down that they do not see a chair, but will nevertheless walk around it when instructed to cross the room.

      A similar phenomena happens with optical illusions. Particularly with the Delboeuf and Ebbinghaus illusion.

      Adults (but usually not children) experience the sensation that the dot in the center is larger than the other – but when they go to grasp the dot, their physical finger size does not deviate regardless of their reported strength of the effect. The idea that some people are more susceptible toward implanting these ideas is fascinating. I learned that the line length/ peer-pressure effect of the Asch Experiments is not very well received for those who are schizophrenic/autisitic. I’ve been exploring the Social Motivation Theory of autism as a result.

      I was diagnosed as autistic and major-depressive disorder a few years ago, but I predicted I had some schizophrenic genetics after learning about these illusions – My perception of reality seems to shift depending on my mood and I believe this is due to variations in the top-down vs bottom-up meaning making systems. My sense of the size of the dot shifts in and out and will completely go away when i’m sick (or inebriated). I am also troubled by the the other illusion described here: http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/07/14/can-we-link-perception-and-cognition/ and they don’t seem to work on me as described, but its hit or miss.

      This video https://youtu.be/Y2gTSjoEExc talks about the notion of “subjective constancy”, which I’ve also had issues with. Occasionally my sense of shape will just break and things that I know are square will suddenly appear morphed and vaguely distorted. I’ve also had issues with my sense of size – a sort of alice in wonderland syndrome where things close up appear small, and small things further away appearing gigantic. This effect is particularly bothersome with faces when I’m under the weather and can be quite scary when combined with heightened pareidolia. It reminds me of reading about how people describe their sense of reality when under strange drugs. I suspect that this can occur for normal people, but only during times of great stress or intoxication that may also be responsible for fear and anxiety responses.

      I’m saying this because I did a research dive into genetics that seem to be associated with hypnosis and mentalist. I appear to have some of them that make me more resistant to outside influences. Lots of them seem to be related to serotonin processing and stuff involving acetylcholine – which plays a role in the vagal nerve function, and also balancing out dopamine in the brain.

      I was reading up about how drugs affect autistic people and learned that serotonin associated drug seem to have a significantly lower response. I also found this:

      > ” One of the more interesting experiments was the ‘Hollow-Mask’ study in which subjects looked at pictures of a mask, with the inside (concave) and outside (convex) being virtually the same. For ‘normal’ subjects, the inside of the mask is perceived as the outside since they are more likely to see an outside of the mask than an inside of one. However, schizophrenic subjects and subjects on LSD can consistently differentiate between the two”
      http://psypressuk.com/2014/03/19/psychedelics-more-real-than-real/

      Somewhere along the way I learned about the gut-brain axis effects and the microbiome, and that played interestingly with stuff described in http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/04/05/the-case-of-the-suffocating-woman/ and some other models of depression as a feedback loop that had been posted here earlier. I realized my chronic depression states and memory issues seemed to coincide with odd breathing patterns and a sudden overbearing anxiety response to being overstimulated. That was my aha! moment.

      I reasoned out that I was probably not processing serotonin normally and likely had an overactive amygdala. I made some predictions about my genetics, and then got a gene test. I was spot on. I’ve since changed my diet to increase serotonin production by targeting bacteria that seem to be responsible for serotonin production. After a three day fast as a last ditch attempt to clear out and reset the ecosystem (the appendix has a us after all!), I’ve been nearly depression free for almost 2 months. As an added bonus I’ve have had a lot less anxiety from my persistent sensory processing issues.

      Speaking of illusions. There’s a trick I read that I wanna try: get someone in a conversation while they’re holding their phone. Some people, if they’re paying attention to your face you can perhaps hand them an object and they’ll trade it so you “steal” their phone from them. Theoretically this will only work on people who are susceptible to the kind of attention issues that would also suggest hypnotizability.

      I think this is the kind of thing that Apollo Robbins does with his ‘magic’. https://www.ted.com/talks/apollo_robbins_the_art_of_misdirection as he describes it as manipulating attention as well. Reading up on him further suggests that “Robbins was born with fine and gross motor-skill deficits” ( https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/01/07/a-pickpockets-tale ) and possibly had a condition associated with the motor control issues seen among ADHD symptoms. I’m thinking he perhaps senses the world differently and has figured out how to use it to his advantage.

      Isn’t it said that depressed people have a better sense on reality? I wonder if gut bacteria can mediate the effect of the hollow mask illusion in schizophrenia (after accounting for the degree of negative symptoms).

      • Jaskologist says:

        Isn’t it said that depressed people have a better sense on reality

        This all traces back to one questionable study. I do not think the claim is supported.

        • Nicholas Perry says:

          Ah, despite my rampant editing I still messed up that the last sentence.

          “I wonder if *it is* gut bacteria *which* mediates the effect of the hollow mask illusion in schizophrenia”.

          There does seem to be a difference in processing time among depressed, schizophrenia, and biopolar people. I was referring to that kind of ‘reality’ sense. That might be a better way to look at the concept of perception and timing issues completely. There was a meta-analysis specifically about depression+time https://www.researchgate.net/publication/272013366_Time_perception_in_depression_A_meta-analysis which when combined with https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0278262607000930 seems to fit the top-down bottom-up theory better than simple measures of “realism”.

          I’ve been thinking a lot about confounding factors with regard to that kind of study you linked. For my own depression symptoms it makes me wonder how much selective effects occur in those kind of studies. I could hardly manage getting out of bed or making food on my bad days, so I am suspect of the accuracy of many depression studies to begin with. They seem to mostly just wave it away with taking some kind of depression inventory survey. (The oddness of surveys was covered under this other blog entry: http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/29/my-irb-nightmare/ )

          My thinking would suggest that the finding is less about depression and possibly more to do with overlapping genetics + microbiome/environmental effects. We’re seeing links in GWAS studies like http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ng.3552 and it seems more fruitful way to look at that space vs what has been done so far.

          It also would explain more of the variability in the response to the hollow mask illusion that was talked about in http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/06/28/why-are-transgender-people-immune-to-optical-illusions/ (The spinning dancer illusion is another one that seems to vary with my mental state quite significantly).

      • allspoilersallthetime says:

        Nicholas, this is fascinating. Could you describe or link to the diet that you used to up your serotonin-producing bacteria?

        • noddingin says:

          Could you describe or link to the diet that you used to up your serotonin-producing bacteria?

          I would like to hear about that also. Would it by any chance focus on foods such as
          fruits, nuts, seeds, oils, ripe vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and milk (from contented cows)?

          details

          • Nicholas Perry says:

            My interest in all this was actually rooted in my obsession about ants. There’s a group of people ( http://moreaulab.org/research/ ) who are genotyping the bacteria in ant stomachs that seem to play a symbiotic roll with the fungus they grow for food. One of the interesting things was how different colony’s choice of food both was influcend by, and influenced, the make up in their guts. It paralleled some science pubs that had caught my eye at the time: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-guts-microbiome-changes-diet/

            I keep seeing more and more articles like this being published: http://neurosciencenews.com/microbiome-behavior-8906 which strike me as promising.

            I spent about a year reading every science publication I could get my hand on in the topic of the microbiome and it’s relation to the immune system with a focus on autism associated problems. For the actual food choices I’ve focused on research into particular strains of bacteria that are known to produce serotonin in the human gut and I selected foods that would encourage the environment they live in.

            Lactobacillus strains seemed to be the most useful with regards to serotonin production, so lots of kefir and real sauerkraut, and an occasional kombucha. I’m aiming for lower carb because some of the bacteria that high-carb diets tend to promote are likely causing my extra anxiety. It seems those associated with sweettooth effects seem to also love shitting out CO2 when they aren’t fed, and the amygdala is basically a giant CO2 sensor. I’ve also focused on stuff with certain kinds of polyphenols. Extra dark chocolate and certain red wines seem to prevent the proliferation of less desirable strains associated with poverty situations, especially when in an acidic envirionment. I suspect the high grain+sugar, and lower access to expensive polyphenols is a factor in the microbiome is why the Mediterranean diet is so hit-or-miss when you’re under poverty conditions.

            My gram has MS and I found out indirectly that I also have genes associated with Crohn’s Disease thru her. It was fun because I had predicted I’d have a bunch of them given my experiences during childhood, but no one ever thought to tell me she had actually been diagnosed with Crohn’s. I also have a mix of type II diabetes associated genetics (mostly associated with PCOS and hormones), and a bunch of genes that seem to counteract the associated insulin sensitivity issues. And that whole non-alcoholic fatty liver disease thing that is more common in schizophrenia.

            My particular food selection is perhaps similar to the Multiple Sclerosis version of Paleo Diet or the Mediterranean diet, but I don’t prescribe to the idea of diets in general. I can see how something similar might work for some people, but am of the opinion that prescribed diets are an anti-pattern due to marketing trends. I don’t even know what a contented cow is? They strike me as more of a cult following around food and nutrients and don’t seem to even consider the effects of the microbiome as a complex system.

            Most of what I’m doing is trail and error, but biased by what I’ve inferred from the research I’ve read and my own health history. I can’t give recommendations for diet, but https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06XZM4XJG/ seems to be similar in thinking, so I’d recommend starting there. My reasoning is that the stomach and intestines are an ecosystem and that would be unique to my particular conditions and is probably not something that can be itemized by popular diets.

            I’m mostly happy that it seems to be working because the next step would have been a fecal transplant. There is a clinical trial in the works on that version of it: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03281044 but they don’t seem to be recruiting yet. That seems like such a bad idea due to the antibiotics involved and spillover into unrelated systems. The Fasting thing I did seems to be selective toward the gut and doesn’t accidentally kill off anything living in the blood or other areas of the body.

  41. textor says:

    Scott, could you review The mind illuminated some next time? It’d clarify a few strands of your ongoing investigation, and it’s, in my opinion, the most no-bullshit meditation book so far, primarily because it doesn’t try to appear as one. No vague mysticism, and no exaggerated psycho-neuro-techno-babble to appease nerds fearing to look like uncool New Age crackpots. Technique, detailed reasoning for that technique, all stated in plain terms of subjective consciousness.

    And I strongly suspect that many in the rationalist-affiliated community are procrastinating reading it.

    • adder says:

      I’m a huge fan of TMI, but it still doesn’t give much evidence for anything besides “try it yourself.” I think that is a legit approach, but will not assuage many of the criticisms that readers here have. The explanation of Buddhist psychology in common terms is wonderful, but the neuroscience is completely absent save a few footnotes. As it’s explaining all the different aspects of theory of mind, one can kind of nod along and say “yeah that rings true,” but it’s all based on this phenomenological inquiry that is subject to the same biases as any other “woo” explanation of Buddhism.

  42. Jaskologist says:

    You know, I was just thinking about that “Mastering Buddha” review and how it intersected with my own experience, and here comes the perfect thread to address that! Truly, all is connected.

    Anyway, the first portion of that post was pretty familiar to me. In the terminology of that post, I probably hit an A&P event sometime in my mid-teens, hitting the Dark Night* in early college. I never meditated at all; these were all just from standard albeit regular Christian prayer.

    My experience diverges entirely when it comes the aftermath, though. In that post, the reward for meditation appears to be some combination of mania and depression. This was not at all my experience. There was a light at the end of the tunnel, and I came out the other end much happier and more emotionally stable. It’s no fun to go through the process, but I’m definitely glad I did it.

    I think you guys are missing a big chunk of the picture by focusing only on meditation. It may be tempting because it’s more compatible with atheism, but maybe that’s also why it seems to be so dangerous; it takes something that should be directed outward and turns it inward instead.

    * In St John of the Cross’s terminology, this would actually just be the Dark Night of the Senses, but everybody else calls it Of The Soul.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think the real problem is approaching it as “I want mediation without the mystical experiences” because all traditions use meditation to understand, use, and pass through the mystical experiences which are an expected part of the package.

      So if you are concentrating on “forget the sense of cosmic unity, I want to distill out Ten Practical Steps to Achieve Focus so I can succeed in my career”, you are going to be disappointed – trying to sieve through the traditions to get the ‘ten practical tips’ will have you going “why is there all this religious/spiritual bullshit, why don’t they just tell me how to hack my brain?” (as Scott covered so well in “Universal Love Said The Cactus Person”) or dismissing it all as “it’s a bunch of crap with no practical application and the people who engage in it have mental and/or physical illnesses” (like the quoted text in one of the comments from someone who said ‘everyone I know who mediated and had these experiences turned out to be epileptics or crazy, so I can prove it’s nothing but neurobiology’).

      And if you’re trying to do it on a version of your own that strips out all the metaphysical, you are perhaps likely to run into these types of changed mental states and be unable to handle them.

      The idea of various programmes as recommended as “X does this course and it’s great, very practical, no woo” is very Western of a certain stripe; like the way yoga has been presented as healthy physical exercise with some stress-relieving and mind-boosting benefits, divorced from its definite spiritual and religious functions. And then the kind of vague spiritual (but not tied to any particular set of defined beliefs) aura filters back in, in the kind of ‘candles and chanting’ harmless way that suits the mindset of our times.

      • Andkat says:

        To be fair ‘how do I cope and parse with ‘mystical’ experiences or psychotic side effects etc. without having to rely on constructs and rationalizations that coevolved with arbitrary religious traditions’ seems an entirely reasonable question. The doctrines of old spiritual orders contain important kernels of empirical truth regarding the process, but that doesn’t imply that you could not re-articulate a similarly or more effective set of procedures for regulating progress through this type of internal development from a more agnostic framework about how the universe works and how it relates to the mind. However, it does not follow from that that just trying to port individual components (i.e. meditative practice) without a well-structured supporting framework is optimal or even good.

        This can be thought of as a far more complex (due to the intricacies of sapient minds and the difficulties in extracting objective outputs from them) analogy to distilling and integrating an ‘objective’ medical practice out of traditional medicine- there’s always artefacts and inefficiencies accumulated over an extended period, but it’s not always obvious what is couched in the profound or the arcane but is in truth erroneous or irrelevant and what is in fact a critical piece of the puzzle or an important safeguard.

    • Jaskologist says:

      So, in light of the above, let me again reiterate that maybe all of you who are thinking about meditation should go with prayer instead. We don’t promise enlightenment, but you do get to become a better person, and when we act like raging assholes, we at least feel guilty about it afterwards.

  43. esraymond says:

    Scott, this is ESR. (Not sure you have this WordPress ID connected to my name.) I’ve been a neopagan mystic and also familiar with Zen practice.

    Gupta is talking sense. He phrases it a bit differently than I would, but…read this:

    http://www.catb.org/esr/writings/dancing.html

    That’s my experience. I think you’ll see obvious parallels with Gupta’s account.

    • John Schilling says:

      The Vinay Gupta we have here is calling people “filthy little maggot” and threatening to break their arms, for no cause beyond their being openly dismissive of his claims. That doesn’t seem to be a sensible approach to any positive goal, so if there are paths to true enlightenment I’m going to be looking for one that conspicuously diverges from that of our local Gupta.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’m open to the possibility that the person on here claiming to be Vinay Gupta is not the same person as the real Vinay Gupta author of the Wiki Scott has linked to.

        If it’s an impostor, that might explain the divergence between claimed enlightened beingness and responses in reality.

        • John Schilling says:

          Agreed on both counts. And I think the local version ought to be ignored entirely at this point – not that I haven’t enjoyed seeing you take him down a peg or two.

        • Fuge says:

          Eh, the divergence always happens with any “guru,” because guru is an amazing racket if you can get into it, especially if you target the right people by using a vaguely foreign, dangerous form of spiritual masculinity.

          I think you rationalists are going to need to be very careful, because gurus targeting wealthy persons who suffer spiritual ennui from being too secular are common, and rationalism is very thin gruel compared to what they sell you.

        • B_Rat says:

          To be honest my doubt about his identity is more expression of my incredulity at the choice of taking him as an example of enlightened being than serious concern that there might be a master troll behind the comments (also, I suppose Scott would find and ban him in this case).

          In fact, the very piece linked at the start of this post seems pretty consistent with the comments, both thematically and stylistically. Some examples: (emph. mine)

          Very few people in the West claim to be enlightened, even fewer of the people who claim to be enlightened are enlightened and even fewer of them are doing anything other than teaching. So I’m the rare class of individual where, I got enlightened, I’m actually fucking enlightened and I don’t teach. And I don’t teach because my teacher said I was just not very nice.

          Quite the ego. Also, guys, that teacher might be onto something.

          So instead of teaching enlightenment, I went to war. I went and mounted a massive charge against the world’s militaries to teach them that Buckminster Fuller was god and the hippies were right about everything, making substantial impact on their thinking.

          Because there are many more things you can do with enlightenment, than just sit on your ass teaching other people to end up in the same mess that you’re in. Quietly raise your hand if you have done massive psychedelic drugs at some point in your career. So imagine being stuck at the peak of a trip for about 15 years. It’s not that much fun.

          The more I read, the more this enlightenment thing sounds like something to be avoided at all costs.

          Nobody ever winds up there in the West because nobody does enough meditation, at least they don’t do it right.

          Usual declaration of semi-omniscience.

          So I find a guru and after about 3 years of being repetitively kicked in the head by the woman that the Oracle in the Matrix was based on.

          See above.

          But eventually what happened is – I woke up. Boom. Understood the nature of space and time, the unity of consciousness and matter, the true age of consciousness, the gurus and all the rest of the mystical shit that people talk about.

          Luckily my General Relativity exam didn’t ask me about this.

          Also potentially if you do it right, you become physically immortal. Google the Alchemical Body if you’re interested in that stuff. It’s a very good book. Personally I think that’s probably mythology. Although I have heard some stories, first-hand.

          ?

          This is why I don’t teach. I don’t teach because I’m an asshole.

          While I welcome the honesty, this would make very wise to strictly respect the teacher’s advice instead of “look, I’m totally not teaching anything with these lots of posts and comments about enlightenment”.

          The culture misunderstands enlightenment because the people who are selling enlightenment are shiny happy beautiful people. That’s nothing to do with being enlightened. It’s an absolute by-product. In the same way that hatha yoga produces strong fit people, enlightenment can produce a certain kind of glossiness. It’s just not correlated.

          In my vocabulary “can produce” skips correlation and goes straight into causation…

          Q: What’s your personal strategy for carrying on with material existence?
          A: I’m absolutely shit at it. Nothing in my life really makes sense. […] You’d do better asking almost anybody. Keep calm and carry on. Try not to get killed. Etc. Etc.

          While this is maybe the farther you get from the comments, in a sense it’s totally consistent with the theory of mind I kinda extrapolate from all this.

          • lazydragonboy says:

            Honestly, his definition for “enlightenment” seems to be “no internal dialogue”, and, as you say, judging from his behavior that sort of enlightenment does not seem especially appealing.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @lazydragonboy Cessation of the internal dialogue for reasonably long periods is a *technical necessity* for enlightenment to be reached using the mechanisms I know.

            There may be ways of reaching enlightenment which don’t require it: if so, I don’t know them.

            But cessation of the internal dialogue is only a method on the way: once the internal dialogue is reliably stopped, the completion stage practices are reached – and the real work begins.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Although I agree this is out of line and I’d probably ban him if I expected him to comment on posts other than ones about him personally, my impression is that enlightenment is surprisingly divorced from things like emotional continence. I think Chogyam Trungpa is the go-to example here.

        I like his analogy to medical degrees. If you get a medical degree, we can be pretty sure that you have a lot of knowledge in one specific area. We have no idea if you are nice, or emotionally restrained, or anything like that.

        My guess is there are a lot of spiritual techniques that do make you nicer and more restrained, but that they’re not the same as the ones we call “enlightenment”, especially since enlightenment may not be a single thing reachable by a single set of techniques.

        • Deiseach says:

          Ah, don’t ban him. I told someone to go to Hell, got rightfully banned, and was extended mercy, so I recommend it in other cases.

          And I’m not entirely sure this is the real Vinay Gupta, so it would be hard lines to ban a person claiming to be him and thus blacken the real Mr Gupta’s name (getting banned off a social media site for threats of violence, oh my!) That would surely not sit well with gigs about Saving The Planet And Uplifting The Poor 😀

          And not to engage in stereotypes about our Celtic cousins, but he’s half-Scottish and the Gaels of Alba tend to be rather direct and in-your-face when engaging in a full and frank exchange of views with an abrasive personality such as myself. Hard names do me no harm, and he’s not anywhere near to break my arm in reality (unless he does a lot of work, time, and expense to track me down and show up at my door, which is not so likely if he’s flying out to Geneva and who knows where else round the world).

          Besides, as already stated, I don’t know if this is the real guy or not, and if it is some blowhard impostor, he’s gotten his meed of attention already.

        • Bugmaster says:

          In this specific case, being extremely rude destroyed a large portion of his credibility. If any of his goals had credibility as a necessary prerequisite, they are now largely unattainable. Thus, extreme rudeness was the wrong strategy not merely from the moral or social standpoints, but from the purely rational standpoint, as well. Evidently, enlightenment does not, after all, make one smarter.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            You’re optimizing at the wrong scale, kid. In the long run, lineages which don’t patrol their boundaries die out.

            And you make weird assumptions like I’m here to make friends and influence people: I’m not, I’m here to correct errors in your understanding of enlightenment, Hinduism, and racism.

            I’m here to correct. Not befriend.

          • Aapje says:

            @Bugmaster

            He doesn’t need to persuade us, he will just punch/stab the fasch.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            You are absolutely correct. I have no interest in persuading you. You’re little shitbags who would, in all probability, be rejected by most real schools as unfit for practice.

            Pashu-bhava if you’d like the technical term, but shitbags will do.

            You’ve all absorbed the Buddhist fallacy, that Enlightenment exists to promote Enlightenment. This is not fucking true, it’s a trope which has a long history, but it’s bullshit. In Hinduism, people who want it work for it, a few hit it spontaneously for no discernable reason, but most people ignore it for their entire lives and would derive no benefit from it even if they quest for it – it’s not for everybody, it’s for the people with the temperament, the discipline, and the will.

            This is, on available data, not you.

            There is no fucking course you can sign up to learn these things, at least not from me.

            But if you disrespect me, you disrespect the tradition in which I am a teacher and a worker, and you disrespect the truth that enlightenment does exist, can be attained, and should not be forgotten in this world. And at that point a line is crossed, and I show up armed.

            Why? Because that’s my fucking job, inside of my lineage. What is this lineage? The Nath Sampradaya is one name for it, although the modern form is the Kriya Yoga tradition. As is typical for that line, I had multiple teachers – one who guided me to enlightenment, one who showed me a worked example of enlightened activity, one who showed me my role in the world. And the job? The job is to be the teeth of the tradition, the thing which handles physical problems and ideological ones – to ride shotgun on the train which takes the knowledge of our teachers into the future. I was appointed to that role by my teachers, and I will remain in it for the rest of this life. These are our rules, they’re older than your civilization’s use of soap in bathing, older than Rome, likely older than Greece, and it’s unlikely I’ll change them because they make internet commenters uncomfortable.

            And when you disrespect me, you disrespect the teachers I had, and their teachers, and their teachers beyond their teachers.

            I will not stand for it, and I do not *have* to stand for it.

            Take it or leave it. Now fuck off.

          • Aapje says:

            @Vinay Gupta

            I think that some people here wonder why your tradition deserves the very high level of respect that you demand. You seem to argue that this tradition gives great benefits, but that it is unexplainable how this works without having people spend a huge effort to become enlightened themselves & that we should take your word for it.

            People here are generally not very good at taking people by their word. This is especially the case because we have seen grand claims in the past by Indian gurus, like that meditating can bring (world) peace, perfect health, materialisation, and other remarkable claims for which there is no scientific evidence.

            So where you see a worthwhile tradition, others may have concluded that this tradition is mostly a con job. They thus need strong evidence to change their mind and are logically not going to grant the benefit of the doubt.

            I think that you are drawing the wrong conclusions here. They don’t expect you to be demure and/or shut up, but rather to put up or shut up, which is not the same thing.

            And when you disrespect me, you disrespect the teachers I had, and their teachers, and their teachers beyond their teachers.

            I will not stand for it, and I do not *have* to stand for it.

            You pretty much do, because this is a virtual place where your threats of violence are rather weak.

            Changing your debating style to match the audience seems like a more fruitful approach.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Aapje And what claims have I made that you want me to defend?

            The put-up-or-shut-up is like this: you’re a bunch of new age crystal huggers demanding that somebody with postgrad research credentials explains quantum mechanics to them in terms they can understand.

            Whenever I say something somebody disagrees with, or act in a way which contradicts their incredibly racist American folk tradition fantasies of what enlightened people should act like, they lash out and attack me personally.

            How often in this thread have you seen “that isn’t how enlightened people should be.”

            How would you know? Who here is fit to judge. Some little shitbag quotes the Upanishads. This is relevant how? What’s the relationship between my tradition and the Upanishads? Does anybody even give a fuck?

            No, of course not: all brown person religions are the same, and all brown people should act the same way.

            I point out the racism, and people double down.

            Your people are ignorant. They ask no questions, only scream about their own partial understanding, and demand that I – a lifelong student who became a master – bow before their white privilege and their ignorance.

            Not my department.

            You want to understand? Ask questions with a reasonable degree of respect and insight.

            You want to fight? We can do that too.

            But nobody here is remotely interested in enlightenment except as an object of mockery – “look at the crazy brown people and their outlandish ways” and I’m just not going to be supporting your racist star chamber today.

            Live inside the hells of your own creation for the rest of your lives for all I care. I did not put you there, and it’s not my responsibility to get you out.

            Do what you will.

          • Aapje says:

            @Vinay Gupta

            You seem to claim that enlightenment is very useful for the individual. Yet you don’t argue for a specific benefit or set of benefits. Nor do you present any statistical proof that enlightened people do better on some metric.

            Then it is not surprising that people try figuring out what the actual benefits are of enlightenment by looking at you personally. You give them no better information to work with. Then some of these people are not very impressed by you and conclude that enlightenment cannot work or is not useful.

            When they said so, you could have engaged them with a sensible argument, like telling them that enlightenment doesn’t create geniusses, but merely allows people to make maximum use of their abilities (if that is what you believe). Such an argument would be unlikely to persuade them, but it would be respectful of your critics.

            However, you didn’t and instead argued that you know better than your critics and that they should just believe you. By doing this you didn’t engage the actual criticism, making it look like you are deflecting the criticism that you have no answer to, with an appeal to authority. So people then pushed harder on this point, since they wanted you to address their criticism. From their perspective, you kept deflecting with accusations of racism and such.

            Keep in mind that we live in a world where the internationally most visible representatives of Hindu tradition(s) are people like Deepak Chopra, who is full of shit. So many people are predisposed to categorize your traditions as just one more instance of ‘woo,’ similar to homeopathy.

            Last time I checked, Chopra is not white, so it seems rather facile to blame a (possible) misperception of your traditions among Americans on racism against Indians. You draw the conclusion that the white man wants to keep the brown man down, but I think that a more realistic view is that these people reject Deepak Chopra and his ilk, not all Indians.

            So I suggest focusing on convincing people that you are not like Deepak Chopra, not calling them racist or challenging them to a fight. The latter seems especially unwise, as people here are unlikely to believe that the winner of trial by combat has the favor of the Gods and is thus right.

            Finally, I want to point out that your general response to people making claims about your traditions that you believe to be incorrect, is to merely tell them that they are wrong and claim that you are more knowledgeable. I would argue that people would be far more receptive to this if, instead of claiming superior knowledge, you would demonstrate it, by explaining things.

          • Deiseach says:

            But if you disrespect me, you disrespect the tradition in which I am a teacher and a worker, and you disrespect the truth that enlightenment does exist, can be attained, and should not be forgotten in this world.

            You seem to have had no problems disregarding, dismissing, and disrespecting other traditions, so why should I give respect to you and your teachers when you can laugh off the teachers and teachers’ teachers of others?

            You blather a lot about stereotypical beliefs and views and expectations, but you are using those very notions yourself to bolster your claim: the old, old story of the Westerners seeking something and looking to the Mystic East for the ‘purer’, ‘ancient’ traditions, and the guru who shows up to bask in the adulation.

            I’ll respect your teachers when you honour their teachings by not behaving like a four year old having a tantrum. And my tradition has had militant orders as well as yours, bunky.

            What is this lineage? The Nath Sampradaya is one name for it, although the modern form is the Kriya Yoga tradition.

            Okay, a quick Google tells me that the Sampradaya tradition was founded in the 9th or 10th century; so equivalent in age to some Catholic orders but not as old as others (the Benedictines have you beaten on that).

            It’s as fissiparous as Protestantism, though, which is understandable; the Kriya Yoga got its start with a 19th century founder. So you belong to a disseminated tradition which claims roots back in the far past, much the same way as certain Baptist sub-sects claim to be the only real surviving Christians down through the centuries.

            Functionally, your ancient mystic tradition is about a hundred and fifty-seven years old in its revived form. Again, just like American Protestantism.

            Friend, I too can brag of a familial lineage extending back to a major historical figure in the 4th century A.D., so once again I’d remind you: I’m not an American, I’m not automatically going to keel over in awe at the notion of something being an entire two centuries old. And if you expect those of Jewish ancestry on here, who have a five thousand year old surviving and solid tradition of their own including mysticism, to be impressed by deep analytical traditions merely on the grounds of age and minuteness, I think you’re barking up the wrong tree 🙂

            Or we could stop dick-measuring contests, your choice.

            These are our rules, they’re older than your civilization’s use of soap in bathing, older than Rome, likely older than Greece, and it’s unlikely I’ll change them because they make internet commenters uncomfortable.

            You know what this reminds me of? The black activist blogger on Tumblr who claimed that, until they had African slaves, Europeans were unfamiliar with soap. Yes, it was African-American slaves who invented soap!

            Let’s talk about soap and yoga, shall we? One online site claims:

            By contrast, Pliny the Elder, whose writings chronicle life in the First Century AD, describes soap as ‘an invention of the Gauls for giving a reddish tint to the hair’. He even gives recipes for making soap, indicating that it was used ‘to disperse scrofulous sores’.

            And if “The establishment of the Naths as a distinct historical sect purportedly began around the 8th or 9th century with a simple fisherman, Matsyendranath (sometimes called Minanath, who may be identified with or called the father of Matsyendranath in some sources)”, then sorry, you have it backwards: my (culture-adjacent to my background) has been using soap longer than your tradition has been in existence! 😀

            So your tradition which was created in 1861 is older than Greece? Uh-huh, sure. Hey, in my locality, there are 5,000 year old portal tombs, so ease off on the “old timey living” boasting, why don’t you? And what of your Scottish ancestry, or doesn’t that count at all?

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Deiseach I can give you a detailed technical critique of most of the major Western spiritual traditions, including several of the more esoteric ones, telling you exactly why they are shit.

            And I mean *technical* – that is *NOT* how the concept of self is actually constructed, or there is NO SUCH BEING, and so on.

            They’re basically all bullshit. A few people succeed in doing great work despite being handed such shit tools – there are some good people at work here, no doubt – but the living traditions are almost entirely garbage.

            And the dead ones? They’re dead.

            Respect is earned.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Aapje Scott dragged some years old blog post off my blog, and now we’ve got the Racist Chimpanzee Internet Star Chamber wasting my Sunday afternoon.

            Where have I made any claim that people should be trying to get enlightened? Quote this for me. Where have I said “you should do this?” I think IF YOU READ THE ORIGINAL FUCKING POST YOU’LL FIND I SAY

            I’m not convinced there is [a benefit to enlightenment].

            In an Indian context, enlightenment is seen as something you might do sometime after the heat death of the Universe. The traditional Hindu setting is that enlightenment is for a tiny fraction of people, who’ve exhausted their karma and have really nothing else to do with their time. It’s a tiny minority sport.

            As for Chopra – take it up with Chopra. It’s like saying “hey, you’re all child molesters!” in a Catholic church. He owes far, far more to American Folk Buddhism than he does to Hinduism, I can tell you that much – he’s selling what your idiotic population want to hear.

            As for the rest, again, why do people seem to think I give a fuck about making this stuff accessible for arrogant western know-it-alls?

            You want to learn, you learn. You want to be right? Keep on reassuring yourselves that there’s nothing more to know.

            This will keep you out of our hair, and we can continue very happily doing what we have always done, free from hordes of ignorant idiots prying into our way of life trying to find something they can extract and bring to market.

            OH, WAIT, TOO LATE – CORPORATE MINDFULNESS TRAINING IS NOW MANDATORY.

            Fuck this world. Seriously. Fuck it right in the ear.

          • Aapje says:

            @Vinay Gupta

            Where have I made any claim that people should be trying to get enlightened? Quote this for me.

            I didn’t claim that you did, I argued that you seemed to find it useful. But apparently you don’t, which is interesting and somewhat confusing.

            So your strident defenses of your Hindu traditions are then about other things than enlightenment and the process of becoming enlightened?

            Scott and most of the commenters focused very strongly on (the advantages of) enlightenment, so I don’t understand why you didn’t simply argue that they were missing the point by not focusing on the most worthwhile parts of your tradition.

            In general, I find the way that you communicate very confusing (not just now, but also earlier on the Luna thread). You often seem to have a poor theory of mind and fail to address the concerns that people have.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Aapje you come from a weird, kind of toxic subculture on the internet who’re arguing in a very particular style and for a very specific purpose.

            To the outside world, Less Wrong etc. read like cults. Filter bubble goes both ways.

          • Jaskologist says:

            My lineage can beat up your lineage.

          • rlms says:

            Racist Chimpanzee Internet Star Chamber

            New SSC tagline?

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @rlms you earned it. You really did.

          • Aapje says:

            Racist Chimpanzee Internet Star Chamber

            I AM A GORILLA. YOU SPECIEST!

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Aapje Fuck gorillas. I’m Chimp all the way. You guys are fur covered tree cows!

          • Aapje says:

            I am better at beating up women than you:

            On May 18, 2007, [Gorilla] Bokito jumped over the water-filled ditch that separated his Rotterdam enclosure from the public and violently attacked a woman, dragging her around for tens of meters and inflicting bone fractures as well as more than a hundred bite wounds.

            So do not doubt my warrior tradition. 😛

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Respect is earned.

            Huh, I thought it was angrily demanded in internet comments sections as loudly and belligerently as possible.

            To the outside world, Less Wrong etc. read like cults.

            Not incorrect, but boy oh boy the irony is palpable

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Gobbobobble Irony? The Nath Sampradaya is a cult, sure. It’s so old it’s a religion.

            I’m not seeing the irony here: your cult wants to absorb ideas from my cult, but your retrograde muppets attack the point of contact on the other team with pathological fury to defend their own world model from the new ideas incoming.

            Note that there’s practically no discussion about enlightenment on this thread: maybe 5% of the messages discuss how one reaches enlightenment. Everything else is people trying to pull bits of the ideas into their pre-existing world models, or attacking the idea that there are centers of expertise in the Asian community which are beyond the reach of current Western models.

            And that, by the way, is the real source of offense here, this is what the fight is really about: how dare Asians show pride in their achievements, or be better than us at something significant.

            I don’t fit the stereotype you have of enlightenment because that stereotype was set by Buddhist monks begging on their knees for political support after the fall of Tibet. That stereotype was set by media gurus begging people to come and learn from them.

            I am not a begger. I did not come here to ask you or your people for anything. You came to me, and your community decided to pass judgement on my work, and I have defended my work and passed my judgement in turn.

            I don’t see any irony here at all. I am surprised that you do.

          • moscanarius says:

            @Vinay Gupta

            Respect is earned

            Yes. Exactly. And you have done nothing to earn the respect of anyone here, while also doing everything you could to discredit yourself before the crowd.

            You called people chimps and barbarians. You even insulted our host by calling his site the Chimpanzee Star Chamber.

            You threatened to use violence against an aged woman, and apparently are very proud of it.

            You called people filthy little maggots and shitbags, even when they were not returning your compliments in kind.

            You claimed that Enlightenment is “your” [Asian, I presume?] property and nobody else’s.

            You bragged about your supposed high lineage in a way reminiscent of a French noble in the Ancien Regime.

            You bragged about being basically a superman in a fight, as if this had anything to do at all with the subjects discussed. You’re a repeated offender on this one.

            You dismissed one of the major world religions as bullshit, even though you act SHOCKED, SHOCKED that people here dismiss your faith in much milder terms.

            You behaved as if everyone here not licking your boots is out to get you (guess what, self-fulfilling prophecies exist).

            You have shown a mentality where everyone not with you you call complicit with your enemy.

            All while chimping out, being thin-skinned, pretending not to care (while obviously caring; you’re still here), and not anwsering anything. Honestly, can’t you see why people are not convinced? Has all that enlightenment destroyed your common sense?

            Add the supposed racial angle to this fracas and we get a measure of how ridiculous the thing is. No, it’s not because you’re brown, it’s because you are an egregious asshole breaking every community norm around this corner. In fact, be sure that being “brown” (come on, you’re half Scottish. Your “lineage” is no purer or nobler than mine) is what kept you here unbanned. Any white guy doing this would already have been rightfully tossed out, likely with some alternative media outcry (Whitey Techbro Says Racist Stuff Online). Not even the occasional alt-righter behaves like this here. You, sir, may be unprivileged in Scotland, but here you got a massive dose of privilege that you are clearly incapable of even starting to recognize. So much for intelligence and enlightenment.

            And as, unlike you, I can’t say all I want without being banned, let me just thank you for providing further evidence on the level of hatred that runs in those Old Eastern Religions. If you are indeed what Eastern Enlightenment is about, please keep it to your kin; we already have too much of our own nonsense to deal with.

        • Helaku says:

          Enlightenment and meditation – as I heard often though maybe it were bad sources of that info, and I’m misinformed and stereotyped – are something that goes beyond ordinary lives and simple feelings. Does not meditation help to distance a subject from their emotions, become somewhat more rational, as it were? Does not Enlightenment change your in some profound way?
          Though if we speak about Zen tradition where a Master can beat you with a stick (it’s possible that he does it without emotions), your statement that enlightenment is not automatically gives you peace of mind or makes you a nice person is valid to some extent. But Gupta’s meditation practice and attitude are not related to Zen, as far as I can tell. And in this particular case I really doubt all his statements and credibility as an Enlightened. He is just an arrogant and rude man. Arguments ad hominem is not a good way to show that you are smart or you deserve some respect. Those arguments usually are used by not very smart people though maybe Enlightened use them.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            And what is your formal training that gets you into a position where you can decide how enlightened people should act?

            New age crystal huggers talking about quantum mechanics are better grounded than you chimps talking about enlightenment.

            Seriously, knock this shit off. It’s ridiculous.

          • David Shaffer says:

            That’s twice now you’ve made reference to us being analogous to “new age crystal huggers” to whom an expert physicist cannot possibly be expected to explain quantum mechanics. Except that there exist books doing exactly that, perhaps the best of which is Richard Feynman’s QED: the Strange Theory of Light and Matter. The entire point of the book is explaining quantum electrodynamics in simple enough terms that yes, a new age crystal hugger could understand it.

            Now, perhaps enlightenment is harder to explain to the uninitiated than wave functions-after all, it’s apparently largely subjective, which would of course make it hard to measure, and perhaps hard to teach. But that’s why there’s so much pushback! When a discipline is so hard to explain or verify, the risk of self-delusion is very high. According to you, Buddhism is bullshit. Alright, but if we accept that, we accept that it’s possible for hundreds of millions of people to end up with incorrect beliefs about enlightenment. Maybe we might want to ask a few questions, facing such a risk of bullshit?

            And your response is not to explain enlightenment, at whatever level is suitable for new age crystal huggers, nor even to state that it cannot be explained, which would be disappointing but perhaps understandable. Instead, you beat your chest and demand respect, insisting that we should listen to you because you have “formal training”! How much respect should we accord to those who have formal training from the Buddhists?

        • Fuge says:

          Scott, come on. You cannot divorce enlightenment from morality; it’s not a technique you learn like how to solve a rubic’s cube. It’s supposed to be the way you get opened to or aligned to true reality, and change you as a person; if a person peddles it, and they can’t be nice to the hired help, stay married to their wife, keep their promises, or run a business without exploiting people, why should I think their enlightenment is anything good?

          If anything, too many people use enlightenment to justify treating people like trash. That knowing ultimate truths through technique liberates you to do whatever you want, and the next thing you know you are in a cult, watching the leader sleep with your wife.

          You can’t just make this like auto repair or something.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            You know nothing about enlightenment. Literally nothing.

            This is like listening to crystal huggers discussing quantum mechanics.

            Seriously. There’s fucking literature. There’s any number of living traditions. There are currently actual teachers, from quite a range of places.

            And instead, what do we get? Bleating about American Folk Buddhism and terrible, terrible ungrounded-in-experience-practice-or-lineages bullshit.

            You do not understand. In fact, without doing the work, you *cannot* understand.

            If there’s one thing that ought to be clear from studying the fucking traditions, it’s this: the relationship between conventional morality and enlightened awareness is complicated, unless you’re a monk, in which case most of the horrific evil of the real world is kept far, far away from you.

            I live in the real world. I worked, a lot, in think tanks handling national security issues, or actual military think tanks. The moral frameworks necessary to choose between good and evil can be taught to a five year old.

            Choosing between evil and evil is much, much harder. And if you’re an enlightened being, active in a world like this one, all you have is choices between evil and evil.

            Think about that.

          • Fuge says:

            Dude, you invented the thing whose killer app to date is cryptokitties. This is like the inventor of the 8-track tape coming down to demand us bow down to his superior spiritual wisdom. You’d think enlightenment would awaken you to the absurdity of pride.

            More charitably. There are plenty of very smart people who believe very stupid things, and just because they are smart or excel in one field doesn’t mean they are experts in religious affairs. If anything, the smarter you are the more desperate and more absurd your need becomes; televangelists are absurd, but the rich become swedenborgians, scientologists, transhumanists, and a bunch of far nuttier things.

            As for traditions, who cares? Old bullshit doesn’t become true just because its old. All that eastern wisdom didn’t stop your ancestors from throwing widows onto funeral pyres, or dividing men up into a rigid caste system.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Fuge you’re an ignorant little shithead, braying about things you don’t understand – “who cares about traditions” == “I’ve done literally no reading about enlightenment at even the most cursory level.”

            And as for Ethereum, that’s wait-and-see territory, isn’t it. I don’t remember the Web being recognized as A Big Deal until about 1996, for what it’s worth. And it was still an “alt narrative” until the late 1990s or early 2000s.

            We wait patiently until people catch up.

          • Deiseach says:

            For someone who brags about his wisdom and achievements, you appear to be ignorant of the concept of false enlightenment, a well-known trap that all traditions warn about.

            I think you are in that trap.

            And if you’re an enlightened being, active in a world like this one, all you have is choices between evil and evil.

            You laughed about the notion of the Abyss, but it’s plain to see that you have not crossed it, and so are still in illusion,and the worst illusion which is that of your own enlightenment.

            “Think about it”? We are thinking about it. India is not the only country to ever develop a philosophy, and all these statements of yours run perilously close to the Prime Minister of India claiming that the Mahabharata proves India had genetic engineering and atomic weapons millennia ago. That type of poisonous hyper-nationalism is not making affairs in India run any better than the equivalent populism in Europe and America.

            The history of my own country demonstrates that at times of oppression and feelings of being perceived as inferior to another culture, one response is to delve into the past to hold up a pure Golden Age of native traditions and go “We had advanced knowledge and a better culture than you ages ago!” If you’re feeling conflicted about your heritage, building up the ego by false pride is one way of dealing with the tension. I get it, and why you feel the need to knee-jerk about “racism, racism!” when your coping mechanism is challenged.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Deiseach you’re not qualified to judge if I’m enlightened or not, and you thinking that you are IS RACISM. You assume you’re fit to judge a living master of one of the more esoteric Asian traditions BECAUSE YOU ARE WHITE and white people ought to be able to decide what is real and what is not, because after all their ships, guns and missiles control the world.

            I’m serious about that. Your free disrespect is based in an illusion of cultural superiority based on the facility that your people have for murder.

            It’s just white people doing white people stuff. Don’t feel bad about it, most of you are like this.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Vinay Gupta:

            you’re not qualified to judge if I’m enlightened or not, and you thinking that you are IS RACISM. … It’s just white people doing white people stuff. Don’t feel bad about it, most of you are like this.

            Out of curiosity, do you ever meditate before posting comments ? If not, now might be a good time to start. I would suggest the parable of the pot and the kettle…

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Bugmaster I said exactly what I intended to say: untrained, uneducated white people trying to talk about how enlightened people should look and act is astonishingly racist: they think their opinions have some kind of weight, based on common sense reasoning and folk culture expectations.

            It’s absolute foolishness.

            Sophisticated asian-trained meditators with a decade and a half on the cushion will just about be able to make insightful guesses about enlightenment and the different ways enlightenment may be carried or manifested. It’s extremely hard for untrained people to judge, and it’s notoriously hard for people to select for it when trying to find teachers.

            Yet here we seem to find an entire hall of adepts ready to pass judgement on an unworthy sinner who’s been selected out for comment from among their ranks.

            I did not come here to teach, but that does not mean you can’t learn a lesson: this is what white privilege looks like. Learn some respect.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Vinay Gupta:
            You know, it’s interesting that you should talk of teaching, and of learning. Life often presents us with learning opportunities; though, sadly, few among us are able to seize them in time.

            Take Deiseach, for example. She hails from a venerable intellectual and spiritual tradition; a tradition which most of us here — myself included — do not respect in any way whatsoever. When I search my mind for the most charitable thing I can say about the core tenets of Deiseach’s philosophy, all I can do is to call them “questionable at best”.

            And yet, the the very same people (myself included) cannot help but feel abiding respect for Deiseach personally. One day, Scott banned her for committing some infraction; the resulting public outcry was so powerful that not even Scott — the undisputed iron-fisted dictator of this site — could withstand it. To date, Deiseach is the only person to come back from a permaban, in a manner worthy of Inanna.

            Now, imagine a man who came to this site as a champion of another venerable philosophical tradition; a tradition which is not only held in some esteem by the people here, but is also directly supported by Scott the Terrible himself. And yet, somehow, this man managed to fritter away his considerable advantage, earning nothing but scorn and derision, even from those who agree with his teachings. If such a man were wise as well as enlightened, might he not ask himself: “what am I doing wrong ?”

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Bugmaster cute, but all you’re doing is trying to score points, hoping to win something.

            Go fuck yourself 🙂

          • DM says:

            ‘We can trust people (mostly) to report on factual claims, but we can’t trust their reports of their own thought processes, because we know that people’s accounts of their thought process are largely ex post facto rationalisations of what is really a chaotic and fragmentary process.’

            I do think it’s worth thinking about the threat this poses to our way of making sense of our own lives in everyday mundane context, rather than just using it as a stick to bash silly mysticism (even if the latter is worth bashing in my view.) It seems fair to ask humanists about the problems this creates for humanism as well as religion.

          • DM says:

            ‘Your free disrespect is based in an illusion of cultural superiority based on the facility that your people have for murder.’

            When his people do it it’s a noble warrior tradition. When others do it, it’s murder. Who knew someone could make you long for the self-knowledge of fascists who actually know what they are. At least they understand that they *like* racism, and are opposed to the current cultural trend for valorizing being ‘not racist’, rather than trying to ride on it’s coattails whilst being obviously bigoted as all hell. (The sheer number of massifying uses of ‘white’ and ‘western’ to make group-based sneers he’s managed to pack into one thread is almost impressive.)

          • Deiseach says:

            You assume you’re fit to judge a living master of one of the more esoteric Asian traditions

            One of the more esoteric traditions, a Nath Gurka warrior monk guru, a Nepali magician, a sorcerer – do you ever do anything commonplace, Vinay?

            Right now, I’m afraid I’m in the mindset as described by Emerson:

            he louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons

            This plethora of extraordinary arcane achievement is too overwhelming for my credulity, alas!

        • John Schilling says:

          My guess is there are a lot of spiritual techniques that do make you nicer and more restrained, but that they’re not the same as the ones we call “enlightenment”,

          It’s not just the lack of niceness, it’s the complete ineffectuality of the meanness. Gupta is perhaps enjoying himself, but he’s failing to make Deiseach feel bad, failing to diminish her reptuation, and damaging his own in ways that will make it harder for him to achieve positive results through social or intellectual interaction on the internet – which, given his web site and his presence here, he would seem to value.

          If Enlightenment does not produce the ability to remain content in the face of disrespect, the wisdom to recognize the harm done by an intemperate response, and/or the discipline to stick to more effective tactis, if the positive mental states accessible to the Enlightened are less valued by the Enlightened than the pleasure of an internet flame war, then Enlightenment is IMO running out of places where it might be hiding something worth the effort of pursuing.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @John Schilling “Why, wouldn’t it be more effective to just let people beat you and your culture up?”

            And, while I agree this is generally a pretty shitty scene, it’s a shitty scene because Scott Alexander, who’s a pretty great thinker all round, has allowed himself to become surrounded by a sea of sycophantic trolls he won’t or can’t discipline.

            So when a discussing breaks out, rather than him setting the tone and enforcing civility, it turns into a shit fest, because his trolls act as if they have his implicit moral support because, hey, if he disapproved of their behavior, he would ban them.

            A lazy king is surrounded by evil servants.

            And also people, including you, are really confused about how enlightenment impacts people’s personal lives or their capabilities. It’s the constant influx of bullshit from American Folk Buddhism that makes it so hard to see what it is and what it is not.

            Finally, don’t confuse kindness with weakness. I could be serving people’s brains in slices on this thread, ramming home to them the utter torment of being trapped for eternity – the rest of your life – with a mind you cannot control ramming foolishness, lies and misperceptions into every moment of time, completely beyond the control of the tools your culture has given you.

            But I’m not doing that. I’m just yelling at people, rather than showing them the trap they are in, and the likelihood of their continuing misery.

            Any being who cannot silence their thoughts at will is a slave in their own skull, and will never be free using the tools readily available in your culture.

            If you’d prefer me to fight at that level, we can go there. I do not think you will enjoy it.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Vinay Gupta:

            Finally, don’t confuse kindness with weakness. I could be serving people’s brains in slices on this thread, ramming home to them the utter torment of being trapped for eternity…

            Please do ! Your posts have been extremely entertaining so far, and I’d love to read more of them. Don’t leave on a cliffhanger !

          • John Schilling says:

            “Why, wouldn’t it be more effective to just let people beat you and your culture up?”

            Depends on what you are trying to accomplish, I suppose. But your reputation would be substantially stronger, not just here but anywhere neutral observers learn of what has happened here, if you had let Deiseach “beat you up” in the very limited fashion she was inclined before you showed up, rather than trying to defend yourself in the counterproductive manner exhibited so far. And your culture’s reputation is at risk only because you invoked that culture in defense of your personal reputation; I think most people here won’t carry that beyond the current discussion, at least.

            The injuries you (and your culture) have suffered here, have been almost entirely self-inflicted. Either you are ignorant of this, or you are deriving some perverse benefit from this that I do not understand. Playing to an audience of adoring fans elsewhere, perhaps?

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @John Schilling I’m not here to perform propaganda. I’m here to be myself and speak the truth.

            Some people with think I’m an asshole. Some people will learn something. Some people will get hurt.

            But the tools you are using to measure the situation are not my tools, and my tools are pretty well defined traditional practices: lineages are named, lines are drawn, credentials are stated and repeated etc.

            To a certain degree it is formulaic, but it has to be done a particular way because I’m representing my tradition in the way I was told to represent/defend it, and over the long run it seems to have pretty great effects.

            In the short run there is screaming and furor. In the long run, expectations get violated and people start to question what they know.

          • DM says:

            If nothing else, Gupta is giving a wonderful demonstration on this thread of how the tools of American ‘woke’ liberalism can be deployed rhetorically to defend what is in fact vaguely militaristic chauvinist nationalism, or fascism as it’s even less politely known. It reminds me of the speculation within some of the discussions of the dread ‘reactionaries’ on this blog, that part of the reason for awful ‘social justice’ rhetoric was that for sociological reasons some Americans of colour who are naturally right-wing authoritarians, personality-wise, join left movements instead. I didn’t find that especially plausible (stupid tumblr rhetoric comes out of the mouths and keyboards of white Americans plenty), but I can’t help thinking something like this is going on here. Gupta sounds like a born Nazi frankly, just less aware about it than the (also dreadful) ‘reactionaries’.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @DM Fascism? *Yawn*

            What next? You’ll be accusing me of being a paid Russian shill?

            Get over it.

          • rlms says:

            @Vinay Gupta
            Where can one read about the actual benefits of enlightenment?

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @rlms Not my department, I’m afraid. As I make clear in the original post at the top, I think for most people there are no such benefits. This is probably what you want.

          • moscanarius says:

            @Vinay

            Finally, don’t confuse kindness with weakness

            We don’t, and in this we are similar to you.

            We also don’t confuse hubristic rudeness with being right, alleged physical prowess with being right, or high lineage with being right. We also don’t confuse dismissive online criticism with a call for war.

            This is where we differ from you, and very proudly so.

  44. blame says:

    and I saw my hand reach down and turn the knob off. And my internal dialogue completely stopped.

    What exactly is this ‘internal dialogue’ we’re talking about here?

    For example, while writing this post, I think about what exactly I want to ask and how to phrase the sentences. I ‘hear’ them as some sort of ‘internal monologue’ and I would probably miss this if it went away.

    Could someone give a short description/example of the kind of ‘internal dialogue’ the quote is talking about?

    • allspoilersallthetime says:

      Various descriptions of having an internal monologue happening upthread starting with Space Ghost here.

      There seems to be a lot of variety, so I can’t say whether any of them are the same as Gupta’s.

      • ChrisA says:

        I read the stuff higher up – as blame says I am not recognising any of it. I have an internal voice, but it’s me, thinking my thoughts. When I think something sometimes I verbalise it, sometimes I don’t. But I never feel it is something other than me. I can recognise the concept of flow, when I become completely unaware of time passing, or being in the moment, but to me that is just moving to the non-verbal thinking process. It is true though that I can process some thoughts better this way, like often I have to make off the cuff public speeches, I don’t usually have much time to prepare them, and so I stand up and speak without really knowing what I will say, often I am surprised at how coherent I am and how good the ideas are that I express. Sometimes better than what I come up when I actually engage my verbal thinking.

        • Vinay Gupta says:

          @ChrisA turns out that voice which is “you” can go away, permanently, and somehow life goes on.

          It’s quite weird.

  45. antilles says:

    Here’s an interesting bank shot on the relationship between Hermeticism/alchemy and Buddhism: the tradition of scholarship kicked off by Frances Yates in “Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition” argues that Hermeticism was really a proto-scientific worldview because it embraced an active role for the mind in discovering the nature of the Universe rather than relying on spiritual or textual authority (the Church or Aristotle, respectively). The great Eastern enlightenment tradition is similarly an attempt to understand the mind in order to achieve clarity about the nature of the Universe. So it might be said that the real connection is by way of their quasi-scientific aspects!

    • Vinay Gupta says:

      @antilles “Empiricism without repeatable experiment” is how I phrase it. But, at the end of the day, it’s all an enquiry into human nature, and there’s an awful lot of commonality there. It’s closer to anatomy than astronomy, in practice, where you trace the contours of your own mind to understand *mind*.

  46. Uncle Saturday says:

    There’s a horror story in there somewhere. Weird magical technique, everyone who tries it describes it as pure bliss — and what do you give up? Why, only the voice of your conscience! *dramatic music*

    I’m not under the impression that internal monologue is an exact synonym for conscience, and I’m certainly aware of how nice it is to turn off from time to time. But forever? That seems a bit… ill-considered. I’d rather break on the wheel than sit on my lotus throne blissfully drafting contracts; I am sometimes annoyed by my inner monologue, but I’ve never hated it enough to murder it.

  47. Fuge says:

    Vinay Gupta, in the blockchain thread:

    … Can you fight? Like, have you trained in martial arts, or do you have a natural aptitude for violence?

    again…

    If not, I suggest getting some training, because it hugely changes how the world looks. I’m convinced it’s one of the missing ingredients in making nerd culture more liveable. It is *amazing* how much physical capability changes our experience of being alive, and changes how people treat us. I firmly suggest giving it a try if you have not already.

    yet again…

    … just learn how to fight. It’ll change your life, seriously. I have a good basis for this opinion.

    … Firstly, we’re talking about martial arts because we’re talking about masculinity. What is it that makes the nerds the nerds? We all know who we’re talking about. THE NERDS.

    One of the attributes is physical weakness, or at least the inability to take up space in a way which radiates potential dangerousness to opponents, which is perhaps a slightly different thing. That seems to be an area at which the jocks excel. There’s also the Nerd Social Fallacies stuff.

    You want to look at this guy as any model of enlightenment?

    • John Schilling says:

      I’m not averse to the idea that there is a path to enlightenment that runs through combat. But I think I’ll stick to Musashi and Jünger for that, and I won’t expect too much of it.

      • Fuge says:

        I wouldn’t even stick to them, a thug is a thug no matter how remote in history he is, nor how flowery his language is. I just point this out because the idea that you can wax poetic about the life and universe in one hand, and say “you learn to need to fight, bro” on the other is so absurd as to be delicious.

        • Vinay Gupta says:

          You have no understanding of enlightenment. You just don’t. You need a fuckton of meditation, and exposure to real teachers in most cases, to have enough insight to have any meaningful opinion on these matters.

          What you’re critiquing me from is Internet Folk Buddhism. It’s a bunch of mythology, largely propagated during the 1960s, about the nature of enlightenment and it has NOTHING AT ALL to do with the historical traditions, or, indeed, enlightenment itself.

          You sound like new agers discussing quantum mechanics. It’s that bad.

          • Deiseach says:

            You seem to be labouring under the impression that no other cultures have traditions or schools of mediation and mysticism or that even ordinary white Westerners may have experience with prayer and the spiritual life.

            We’re not trying to lecture you on your own tradition, we’re using our experiences to judge the fruits.

            Screaming “racism, racism” because someone disagrees with you? I bet you were fun in school:

            Vinay, what’s six times twelve?

            Nine million!

            I’m sorry Vinay, that’s wrong

            Are you judging me? You racist maggot! You want brown people to be supine, don’t you? Can’t stand a guy standing up for himself!

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Deiseach Name me a single white person who is enlightened and alive today who didn’t get their training from Asians or people who got their training from Asians.

            I’ve met a fair few pretenders.

            And (while I do not talk about it much) I’ve also got quite substantial mastery of the western traditions you crow about. They’re basically shit, even the most sophisticated of them are incredibly crude and naive compared to the Indian material.

            This should not surprise us: your culture put all of its efforts into making better war machines and invading nearly the entire planet with all the murder attendant to it. Introspection was not ever a major trope, never mind introspection free of toxic ideas like hell, guilt and sin.

            You’re living in a culture where the care of the mind is in roughly the same condition as south east asian public health systems.

          • Deiseach says:

            Name me a single white person who is enlightened and alive today who didn’t get their training from Asians or people who got their training from Asians.

            You wouldn’t recognise the names, they don’t go boasting on the Internet.

            Tell me again how your culture invented water, air, fire, and earth?

            And by the bye, “my culture” is half your culture, unless your enlightenment sessions managed to rewrite your DNA to remove your white parent.

            The main difference between us is that I know I am not enlightened, I am aware of my flaws, and I know when I do that which I would rather not do and fail to do that which I wish to do. I don’t go around pretending my anger is anything more than self-indulgence on my part, and if I do manage to self-deceive, conscience makes that clear to me eventually.

          • CatCube says:

            @Deiseach

            I recommend you walk away from this. No further benefit is going to accrue. I’d take the big red warning from Scott for what it is and stop swinging at pitches in the dirt.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Deiseach hahahahah “you wouldn’t recognize the names” == I don’t think any of these people would stand up to scrutiny, so I’m going to pretend they exist, but not expose the to the light of day and the light of judgement.

            You’ve backed down about as far as you can here. I suggest you admit that you have nothing left to defend, and quit attacking me.

            You’ve made it very clear by refusing to name names that you’ve got nothing of substance to add here. If you think these people are so great, let’s get a look at them.

            Otherwise, it’s just hearsay. I once heard of a 9000 year old man, but I don’t expect anybody to believe that without carbon dating the son of a bitch. You say you’ve seen enlightened people who didn’t get it from Asian sources – well… show don’t tell.

            Show, don’t tell.

    • adder says:

      I think that the learning to fight was kind of weird non-sequitor in the original thread, but it is extremely closed-minded to say “oh he’s a thug better discount him completely.” There are lots of non-thugs out there that are trained in martial arts, and it seems at least plausible to suggest that learning to fight affects how one carries oneself generally.

      The “I’ll break your arm” from this thread, however, . . .

      • Fuge says:

        The thug was not for Gupta, it was more for Musashi, who beat a man to death with a long staff, liked to ambush people, and did such honorable tactics as throwing his sword at opponents. For all flowery prose about no-thingness in the book of five rings, remember this was a man who made his fame killing people face to face.

        As for carrying yourself, no. It’s just “lift weights to pick up chicks, bro” with a side order of violence. It’s Charles Atlas yet again, consoling a sissy to pick up Muy Thai instead of weights so that he can kick sand back at the buff bully.

        • Vinay Gupta says:

          Note: China, India, Japan all have very serious, very ancient traditions in which the capacity for physical violence and the meditation practices are trained at the same time.

          Your opinion is invalid: you’re not really thinking about the material, you’re just snapping back with some kneejerk response not based on any actual analysis.

          In short: bullshit.

      • Vinay Gupta says:

        You’d rather we just took racist abuse lying down? I realize that non-aggression has been a trope since Gandhi, but the Naths (my lineage) survived at least in part because the Gurkhas (the scary people with big swords) protected them. For a thousand years. As I mentioned up the thread, one of my roles was to be bodyguard to a guru from time to time, and taking shit from racists is not my house style: I’ve politely pointed it out, I’ve yelled a little, and now I’m making it clear that I am very, very angry at the bullshit these clowns are throwing around with impunity.

        Everybody hates brown people with teeth. Everybody wants their Hindus compliant and invisible. It’s been sold as our cultural brand since Gandhi, and it’s done us no good at all.

        Seriously.

        • Deiseach says:

          So what have you done since the hexayurt, a concept which you ripped off from the Mongolian original and merely rebranded? I see a lot on your various websites about “I invented the hexayurt” but not much else; a lot of flying around to various seminars and telling people you got militaries to use the hexayurt instead of the conventional tents and that’s about it.

          All that energy yelling about how I’m racist for not kissing your feet about your ascended master gurudom could be put to use in actually doing something rather than bragging about how you’re a major influence on start-ups.

          Your reactions on here really do remind me of this advice site for Westerners doing business in India (bolding mine); someone more secure in their vaunted tradition would not feel the need to insist on how very authentic and ancient they are:

          Begin each meeting with small talk on topics such as your travels, the weather, and positive impressions of India. Indians enjoy talking and will quickly share their overseas experiences with you. It is best to refrain from talking about sensitive topics such as politics or religion. Indians usually believe that they are better informed about the West than the reverse. Western ignorance of things Indian is often perceived as an insult by Indians, who are unable to comprehend why India has not been a major focus for Westerners. Indians have always perceived themselves as a global power and are often miffed when others do not. Be sensitive to these types of issues and display an interest in India and its culture. Building relationship is important and will require more than one meeting.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            Oh, you’d like a resume? Sure

            * I invented the hexayurt.

            * I edited Small is Profitable, The Economists book of the year (one of 10) in 2003.

            * I edited Winning the Oil Endgame, commissioned by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and often credited with greatly reducing the US’s appetite for further middle eastern adventures.

            * I went to the Pentagon, where I laid down the track for STAR TIDES. If you want evidence, read Defense Horizons number 70, which I co-authored with a DODCIO and his team from National Defense University.

            * Then I worked on CheapID, also for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, a genocide resistant biometric ID standard designed for use in Iraq and Afghanistan.

            * Then I created the Simple Critical Infrastructure Maps system, which supported my work on planning for 25% total human mortality pandemic flu scenarios, nuclear terrorism, and a few other things.

            * Then I joined Akvo, a very large and efficient aid monitoring charity, where I designed a major pillar of their communications efforts, specifically on getting good quality video footage from the field.

            * Then I joined the Institute for Security and Resilience Studies, working as part of a small team including a former UK secretary of defense.

            * Then I joined Ethereum, and launched the world’s first fully programmable blockchain, which has spawned an entire genre of new computing platforms – some great, some wickedly stupid – but none the less great engines of progress.

            * Then I defined the blockchain strategy for Dubai, published the Internet of Agreements paper, and wrote a few pieces on the blockchain for Harvard Business Review.

            This is not a complete list, by the way, it’s just edited highlights.

            So go fuck yourself.

          • Deiseach says:

            Have you ever had an original thought in your life?

            – Invented the hexayurt – took the original Mongolian yurt and fancied it up

            – Did some book editing (I too have been asked to write for a professional publisher, but have turned this opportunity down since I don’t have a neck like a jockey’s bollocks unlike yourself)

            – Did some consulting (and I haven’t seen the DoD being hugely altered by whatever interventions you made, we have some people on here who are tangential to the armed forces who might be able to inform me otherwise – “oh yes, we’ve completely scrapped the conventional army tent and now only use hexayurts”)

            – Joined Ethereum (and that seems to be a step down from the claims online I see about you being a founder or co-founder) in a role as an employee

            – Then did your own copy of Ethereum as you did with the yurt, calling it Mattereum: “ether”, “matter”, get it? Oh, you’re such a card!

            – Still trying to get your versions of crypto-currency off the ground, with Luna and its coins being the latest go

          • bean says:

            Some of these things, I’m qualified to comment on.

            * I invented the hexayurt.

            This is a tent. Also, the term “hexayurt” is mentioned nowhere in the entire army.mil domain.

            * I edited Winning the Oil Endgame, commissioned by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and often credited with greatly reducing the US’s appetite for further middle eastern adventures.

            You know, I’d always been baffled by the turn away from middle eastern adventures in about 2005. Thanks for pointing me towards the reason…
            Oh, wait. Why should I believe this book had a major influence (instead of, say, Iraq), and if it did, why shouldn’t I credit it to Amory Lovins instead of you?

            * I went to the Pentagon, where I laid down the track for STAR TIDES. If you want evidence, read Defense Horizons number 70, which I co-authored with a DODCIO and his team from National Defense University.

            I’ve been a defense geek since about 2000, and I’ve never heard of STAR TIDES. I did pull up Defense Horizons, and you’re listed as working for Buttered Side Down and inventing the hexayurt, not working for the DoD directly. Buttered Side Down doesn’t sound like a DoD group, but goodness knows what was going on at the Pentagon in the first half of the 2000s. Also, you’re using work at the Rumsfeld DoD as a resume-booster?

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @bean On the books – I said edited, and I edited. I did not claim written.

            Winning the Oil Endgame was commissioned by the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

            Winning the Oil Endgame has received many positive reviews and the Wall Street Journal called the book “Perhaps the most rigorous and surely the most dramatic analysis of what it will take to wean us from foreign oil … carried out by the Rocky Mountain Institute, a respected center of hard-headed, market-based research.”[1]

            STAR TIDES was created by Lin Wells while he was DOD CIO or shortly thereafter. His budget was $32bn a year or there abouts, which gives you a sense of his seniority. It was kind of a passion project for him.

            The underlying model for STAR-TIDES and its whole-systems
            approach to infrastructure solutions is based on the Hexayurt Project’s
            “six ways people die” model. 9 These are too hot, too cold, thirst, hunger,
            illness, and injury. Shelters can help mitigate the first two risks, sup-
            ply chains can address thirst and hunger, public health and medicine
            can mitigate many illnesses, and safety and security can reduce the
            likelihood of injury.

            You also missed the following text, which resides on an easy to find dot mil domain

            Vinay Gupta probably did not expect to serve as an inspiration for a DoD research project. As a programmer, master of Nepalese magic, editorial staff-member at the Rocky Mountain Institute and, most recently, the founder of the Hexayurt Project – where he promotes easy-to-assemble shelters for disaster-stricken communities – Vinay’s background doesn’t smack of a strong connection with the U.S. defense community. Regardless, in his work with Hexayurt, he has approached disaster-relief with a “6 Ways to Die” model, which argues that humanitarian aid is most effective when targeted at the 6 top causes of human death: extreme heat, cold, thirst, hunger, illness, and injury. Little did he anticipate that it would help inspire the STAR-TIDES project (Sharing to Accelerate Research, Transformative Innovation for Development and Emergency Support) at the National Defense University, and guide our efforts to assemble a searchable database of low-cost, sustainable technologies for a variety of missions.

            Finally, a quick search of google provides an awful lot of pictures of hexayurts in the garden in the middle of the Pentagon, and at various other DoD events.

            You’re a shit researcher.

          • bean says:

            I said edited, and I edited. I did not claim written.

            I know you didn’t, and I didn’t accuse you of doing so. But “edited” has two meanings. You can be the editor of a compilation volume, with lots of other people contributing, or you can be the editor of a volume someone else wrote. In this case, it’s the second.

            Winning the Oil Endgame was commissioned by the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

            Waving around the name of the OSD isn’t going to blow me away. The most notable and active SecDefs are also the ones who get in the history books for being terrible.

            Winning the Oil Endgame has received many positive reviews and the Wall Street Journal called the book “Perhaps the most rigorous and surely the most dramatic analysis of what it will take to wean us from foreign oil … carried out by the Rocky Mountain Institute, a respected center of hard-headed, market-based research.”[1]

            You said it was “often credited with greatly reducing the US’s appetite for further middle eastern adventures.” Quoting a WSJ review doesn’t give me any information as to why it was more important in doing so than, say, the Iraq War.

            STAR TIDES was created by Lin Wells while he was DOD CIO or shortly thereafter. His budget was $32bn a year or there abouts, which gives you a sense of his seniority. It was kind of a passion project for him.

            That’s the DoD IT budget. It’s big, but not overwhelming on defense scales. I’m not saying it’s not a thing. Just that you aren’t going to blow me away with “I worked for the DoD.” Or even the size of the budget he had.

            You also missed the following text, which resides on an easy to find dot mil domain

            I was specifically looking for evidence that the hexayurt was in use as a shelter today, and since the Army (specifically Natick Labs) is the prime for military shelters, I decided to look there.
            Every mention of the hexayurt on any .mil domain is as part of your biography, with the exception of one page in a 575-page thesis from the Naval Postgraduate School. I was interested in answering Deiseach’s question about the military having abandoned all tents for hexayurts, to which the answer is a resounding no. I was looking for something specific, and I found the answer.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @bean the hexayurt isn’t in live use anywhere other than Burning Man, where they build a few thousand units a year by hand because they’re fantastic.

            Commercialization has been slow: I made a mistake when I took the open source route rather than doing a company myself. It was an error, probably set the project back by 10 years.

            As for the rest, I answered your points. Nothing more to say.

          • bean says:

            the hexayurt isn’t in live use anywhere other than Burning Man, where they build a few thousand units a year by hand because they’re fantastic.

            If it’s so fantastic, why isn’t anyone else using them?
            (Just to be clear, I’m not saying it’s a bad design. My guess would be that it’s a good design that’s not significantly better or worse than any of the other options in the same space. But I don’t see how you can reconcile “fantastic design” with “only in use at Burning Man after 15 years”.)

            Finally, a quick search of google provides an awful lot of pictures of hexayurts in the garden in the middle of the Pentagon, and at various other DoD events.

            Look. I’m not in any way, shape, or form doubting the accuracy of your factual claims. I’m doubting their significance. I’ve been interested in the defense world for the majority of my life, and I know that the DoD creates projects like Star Tide at a rate of a couple dozen a year. If Star Tides was really gamechanging, and not just the passion project of the DoD CIO, the DoD would have kept it around after Lin Wells left.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @bean I already explained this: I made it open source rather than going for commercial development.

            As for the significance of STAR TIDES – too soon to tell. It’s one of a series of endeavours in the space, and continues the work from STRONG ANGEL.

            Maybe one day it turns into capability, and maybe one day it doesn’t. If DoD had stayed responsible for shelter in Haiti, it was one of a couple of designs SOUTHCOM was looking at, and has (obviously) excellent logistical characteristics given DoD’s love of 4×8 plywood.

            But, yes, it hasn’t lifted yet. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.

            As for mass adoption: nothing’s been mass adopted in terms of new shelter technology, because the field is completely broken from an innovation perspective, largely because of lack of testing capacity and testing frameworks at UNHCR and the UN. There’s simply no machinery in place to credential new ideas. Witness the recent failure of the IKEA Better Shelter, which turned out to be impossible to set up, and catch fire: no testing system means nobody feels safe to innovate in the field, because of exactly those kinds of outcomes.

        • Vinay Gupta says:

          @Deiseach you’re really kind of stupid, aren’t you? Like, actually, sort of dense?

          Or perhaps just so hateful it makes you blind.

          Perhaps you should try some meditation and clarify that awful, yucky mind of yours (which you’ll probably be stuck with for a lifetime, because you can’t tell the difference between yourself and your mind) and maybe do something about the horrific negativity of your experiences.

          Because if that’s how you view me, it’s probably how you view the world, and that, truly, would be living in hell.

          • Deiseach says:

            Vinay, what would truly be hell would be to think I was so exceptional that it could only be down to a vast, global, historic concatenation of circumstances explicitly designed to keep people like me oppressed that anyone could ever dare disagree with a view I expressed.

            What is it like to live your life, convinced the universe is out to get you?

            EDIT: To take one of your examples:

            I went to the Pentagon, where I laid down the track for STAR TIDES. If you want evidence, read Defense Horizons number 70, which I co-authored with a DODCIO and his team from National Defense University.

            Well, they’re not affiliated with the National Defense University anymore, they seem to have moved on to George Mason University, and the DoD link seems to be weaker; they may be moving into a slightly different role as more of a global NGO. The military angle is played down as far as I can see, the DoD website – both current and archived – has no return for “hexayurts” and the STAR-TIDES material is all archived.

            Were you not able to emulate your idol, Bucky Fuller, in the hoped-for decades-long association with the military?

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Deiseach What’s your point? That my DoD initiative has moved into academia as the person leading it retired and moved into academia?

            Why precisely do you think this matters? What are you trying to say?

            Looks like compulsive hole picking because you can’t fault the argument, so you have to attack the bearer of bad news instead.

  48. ChrisA says:

    To somewhat cheer up this thread which has taken a rather dark turn – here is a relevant cartoon;
    https://www.reddit.com/r/comics/comments/8871qm/meditation/

    • throwaway1729 says:

      It’s always hilarious when people start flaming about their enlightenment.

      If, bhikkhus, others speak in dispraise of me, or in dispraise of the Dhamma, or in dispraise of the Sangha, you should not give way to resentment, displeasure, or animosity against them in your heart. For if you were to become angry or upset in such a situation, you would only be creating an obstacle for yourselves. If you were to become angry or upset when others speak in dispraise of us, would you be able to recognize whether their statements are rightly or wrongly spoken?”

      “Certainly not, Lord.”

      “If, bhikkhus, others speak in dispraise of me, or in dispraise of the Dhamma, or in dispraise of the Sangha, you should unravel what is false and point it out as false, saying: ‘For such and such a reason this is false, this is untrue, there is no such thing in us, this is not found among us.’

      “And if, bhikkhus, others speak in praise of me, or in praise of the Dhamma, or in praise of the Sangha, you should not give way to jubilation, joy, and exultation in your heart. For if you were to become jubilant, joyful, and exultant in such a situation, you would only be creating an obstacle for yourselves. If others speak in praise of me, or in praise of the Dhamma, or in praise of the Sangha, you should acknowledge what is fact as fact, saying: ‘For such and such a reason this is a fact, this is true, there is such a thing in us, this is found among us.’

      In the same way, monks, a monk may be ever so gentle, ever so even-tempered, ever so calm, as long as he is not touched by disagreeable aspects of speech. But it’s when disagreeable aspects of speech touch him that he can be known from experience as gentle, even-tempered, & calm. I don’t call a monk easy to admonish if he is easy to admonish and makes himself easy to admonish only by reason of robes, almsfood, lodging, & medicinal requisites for curing the sick. Why is that? Because if he doesn’t get robes, almsfood, lodging, & medicinal requisites for curing the sick, then he isn’t easy to admonish and doesn’t make himself easy to admonish. But if a monk is easy to admonish and makes himself easy to admonish purely out of esteem for the Dhamma, respect for the Dhamma, reverence for the Dhamma, then I call him easy to admonish. Thus, monks, (thinking,) ‘We will be easy to admonish and make ourselves easy to admonish purely out of esteem for the Dhamma, respect for the Dhamma, reverence for the Dhamma,’ that’s how you should train yourselves.

      “Monks, there are these five aspects of speech by which others may address you: timely or untimely, true or false, affectionate or harsh, beneficial or unbeneficial, with a mind of good-will or with inner hate. Others may address you in a timely way or an untimely way. They may address you with what is true or what is false. They may address you in an affectionate way or a harsh way. They may address you in a beneficial way or an unbeneficial way. They may address you with a mind of good-will or with inner hate. In any event, you should train yourselves: ‘Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic to that person’s welfare, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading him with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with him, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.

      “Monks, even if bandits were to carve you up savagely, limb by limb, with a two-handled saw, he among you who let his heart get angered even at that would not be doing my bidding. Even then you should train yourselves: ‘Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading these people with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with them, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.

      “Monks, if you attend constantly to this admonition on the simile of the saw, do you see any aspects of speech, slight or gross, that you could not endure?”

      “No, lord.”

      “Then attend constantly to this admonition on the simile of the saw. That will be for your long-term welfare & happiness.”

  49. Ninety-Three says:

    Some people are expressing understandable confusion at Gupta’s conduct in this thread: he’s clearly trying to communicate something because he’s still here, but he keeps doing things that sabotage his reputation and thus lower the credence that observers give to his communications. This is an apparent contradiction. The only thing that seems clear is that Gupta is very upset about traditional western conceptions of enlightenment.

    At first this was an eleven-dimensional chess joke, but the more I look at it, the more it sounds like a rational explanation for an otherwise baffling phenomenon, so here goes: Gupta’s goal is to convince people that enlightenment isn’t what they think it is, and he’s serving this goal by contradicting their expectations as hard as possible. Some observers will just think “What a lunatic, obviously he’s not enlightened”, but those with a stronger prior that he really is enlightened will think “Maybe I’m wrong and enlightenment doesn’t preclude behaving like an ass”. If you think that’s an unlikely outcome, several people have already done exactly this, so whether or not this is an intentional strategy on Gupta’s part, it is at least somewhat effective.

    • aho bata says:

      In the short run there is screaming and furor. In the long run, expectations get violated and people start to question what they know.

      We already know he’s playing the long game. Either that, or he’s letting himself get carried away by his emotions, but justifying it to himself, correctly or not, with the idea that it’s his dharma to be the bulldog of the faith, and at the end of the day following your dharma produces the best results.

    • Deiseach says:

      My feelings on all this are that I don’t know what he (or his tradition, or what he says his tradition says) says about enlightenment and frankly I don’t really care. Let him be a sword-wielding guru guard and good luck to him.

      But I started off taking exception to his quoted dismissal of the Western Esoteric Tradition because I don’t believe he does understand it, and instead of saying “Yes, I have explored this”, he came back with playing the racism card.

      He doesn’t like people telling him what his tradition says. Well, I don’t like him telling me what my tradition says, either. I’ve maintained this point on here before: being an expert and a Big Name in one particular field does not mean a straw about how valuable your opinion of matters outside that field are. You can be the World’s Foremost Authority on purple lizards, that does not mean your word is any better than Joe Citizen, Ordinary Guy, about art, music, religion, history or how to cook a boiled egg.

      those with a stronger prior that he really is enlightened will think “Maybe I’m wrong and enlightenment doesn’t preclude behaving like an ass”

      Yes, I already knew that having gone through all the sacraments didn’t mean you weren’t a sinner, because we all need to be forgiven seventy times seven. On the other hand, you are supposed to eventually realise “Hang on, maybe I should stop doing the thing that requires people to forgive me seventy times seven”, otherwise you really have not got it, despite what you may think.

      I wonder if this is how he approaches working with white people either in a venture capital capacity or on other projects: from the get-go let me tell you that you are shit, your culture is shit, you are all dumb stupid racists, now shut up and gimme money, status and whatever else I feel like asking for?

      • Vinay Gupta says:

        @Deiseach Look, my AA lineage to Crowley goes: Crowley -> Mahendranath -> Lalita Mataji -> Me.

        8=3 by oath, and I started a new AA sub-branch by the rights of the Magister Templi outlined in One Star In Sight.

        I crossed swords with Robert Zink in a direct head-on confrontation, and dismissed him out of hand years before his branch of the GD caught up and exiled him. And I won’t tell you what I did to the English OTO.

        So your assumption that I haven’t taken a serious look at these systems is pure nonsense. I’ve gone deep, and can perform a very substantial subset of the things ascribed to these traditions at even the highest grades of initiation.

        You’re just a shit judge of character and capability. You literally just got this one wrong. These systems exist, they’re partial at best, and divorcing them from the underlying pathology and malaise of western culture is nearly impossible. Hence, I don’t rate them, even if I run them.

        • Bugmaster says:

          I have to admit, man, over the course of reading these threads I have developed somewhat of a grudging respect for you. I respect you not for your enlightenment; not for your kindness; not for of your intelligence (certainly not that); nor your teaching skills. No, the one aspect of you I do respect is your titanic capacity for perseverance. A lesser man would’ve given up long ago; and yet, here you are still, engaging in (and, arguably, losing) a mystical wand-measuring contest with an Irish-Catholic cleric-poetess. In the future, whenever I encounter a task that seems insurmountably difficult, I will definitely think of you.

        • Deiseach says:

          Did… did you just brag… about being part of the Golden Dawn? And winning a fight with a guy in the O.T.O.? Even I think these movements degenerated into crap, this is about as impressive as saying “I told a wino he had no palate for good vintages!”

          Man, even W.B. Yeats kicked ass in the internal rows over control in the movement back in the day. It’s odd how you keep upping the ante over your supposed credentials; from Western esotericism not being worth your notice because it’s fake ignorant crap to oh yah I’ve got a high high YUGE high rank doncha know!

          Rolling on the floor clutching my sides right now 😀

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Deiseach Yeah yeah yeah. But of course, your teachers / lineages / enlightened people *you will not name* because “I wouldn’t know them.”

            I bet you I would know them. I bet I would think they were idiots, and what’s more I’d be able to name precisely why.

            You can chuckle all you like, but until you name your sources, it’s all bullshit. You’re just hiding from fair critique. It’s a nasty, cheap rhetorical trick.

            Did I hear you were Irish Catholic? Like, you actually believe that stuff?

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Deiseach oh, and also, your assertion was that I hadn’t experienced the western tradition.

            I reply with fairly substantial experience: whatever you may think of Zink personally, his GD shop had a very significant body of very solid adepts in the middle order. Those people were worth of respect. Zink was a shithead. And I called him on it face to face, and that broke my link with that order.

            So, again, much as you mock, your position is hollow: you change your line of attack to whatever you think you can win on, rather than having any actual loyalty to a position or to the material we are discussing.

            At that point I come back to my fundamental assertion: you are a racist. You’re own culture is an incompetent shitshow in all things spiritual, and I’ve taken a pretty damn good look around looking for anybody who has their shit together.

            I don’t think they’re there.

            You insist they are, but you won’t name them.

            At which point, I’m afraid I don’t have to take anything you say on the matter seriously: you aren’t guarding a secret tradition, because there *is no* secret tradition. It all rotted away generations ago, maybe centuries ago.

            If you think I’m wrong, name your sources. What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

            You’re done.

    • Aapje says:

      @Ninety-Three

      If that were true, what reason would he have for doing something similar in the Luna thread? Did he want us to stay off Luna?

      • Ninety-Three says:

        I just reread every post of his in that thread: There are about two dozen talking in positive terms about Luna, a dozen talking about his general opinions on dating, a couple for his weird “Dude, learn to fight” bit and then there’s the subthread where Deiseach shitposts at him and he makes exactly three posts calling it racist.

        In this thread, he shows a far greater commitment to both volume and magnitude of aggression, and barely any attempts at civil discourse. I don’t think the performances can be called similar.

        • Vinay Gupta says:

          @Ninety-Three enlightenment is serious business, and I’m here batting for my tradition, not just myself as an individual.

          Sacrifices may have to be made, but the tradition survives because people fight this corner, generation after generation, so that people do not forget that enlightenment is real.

          We don’t recommend it for everybody, but for those who need it, the doors must remain open. If that means spending some time yelling at arrogant bastards on the internet, rather than monks travelling to far off monasteries for dharma combat, so be it. More keyboards, less sandals.

          • rlms says:

            Are you aware that your Forbes profile (page 2) says “He picked up a heavy meditation practice after buying a book on the Internet written by an Australian named Paul Wilson called The Calm Technique.”?

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @rlms Yes. I did that technique every day for about eight years, at an hour or two a day rather than his suggested fifteen minutes.

            It’s a solid guide to mantra meditation: not a complicated technique, but he teaches it very well, and it got me to the point where my internal dialogue vanished, which is a pretty substantial point along the way.

            I’m very grateful to that man and his efforts to popularize meditation. It very probably saved my life.

            The techniques work. It doesn’t matter how they are packaged!

        • Aapje says:

          @Ninety-Three

          In the Luna thread, he was very committed to explaining how Luna was a great way to transfer wealth to women and to keep them safe, while not explaining how it would benefit men. Given the demographics of SSC (> 90% men), doesn’t seem like the smartest sales pitch for this crowd. Furthermore, when people said this, pretty explicitly, he just kept going in the same vein.

          That is the pattern I see, a person with a one-track mind who irritates others. Then when he gets mocked, he starts lashing out.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Aapje People expect me to bow to their petty concerns. The Luna model is *explicitly feminist* and if men who don’t like that model don’t like that model? Fuck them.

            Maybe here is the basic misunderstanding your team has: they expect people to bow to social pressure and group think, they think that just because you outrage somebody, you must be wrong.

            Lazy, sloppy thinking has taken root, and it results in embarrassingly weak critique of people with different models and different values.

            I’m not here to make people happy. Why do people keep insisting I should conform to your asinine values?

          • Aapje says:

            I’m an egalitarian (or whatever you want to call it), not your kind of traditionalist feminist, so I think that things should be fair for both genders. Both men and women deserve a measure of safety from abusers, for example.

            However, my criticism is not that you should adopt my views on the matter, but rather that you seem unable to engage with people with other views or criticisms effectively.

            For example, I argued here that in my view, you were making mutually exclusive claims about the benefits of Luna to women and that there seem to be downsides to your solution.

            You never bothered to respond and elsewhere in the thread, you explicitly rebuffed criticisms by pointing out that you were not part of the development team and argued that they would fix it. You seemed to believe that we should just trust you and the Luna team on their credentials (which in my view are close to non-existent, on the specific matter of knowing how to build a better dating site).

            It gave me a strong impression that you are prone to falling in love with your ideas, beliefs & some people and ignore criticisms that cause cognitive dissonance. This pattern of posturing, challenging people to a fight and calling people names strengthens that impression.

            I’m not here to make people happy. Why do people keep insisting I should conform to your asinine values?

            I fail to see why you are here at all. You seem to think that you are achieving some goal, just like you seemed to think that you were achieving some goal in the Luna thread. However, I fail to see what you are actually achieving that is beneficial to you.

            If you believe that Scott and/or other people misrepresented your beliefs, then you could have made far more effective comments to either correct this or merely point it out. It would have been far less effort than the many angry comments that you made that just resulted in sniping back and forth.

            Even just restricting yourself to ‘you are ignorant about my culture, but I’m not here to educate you’ seems like a smarter tactic than what you actually did/do.

          • Vinay Gupta says:

            @Aapje Perhaps the issue is this: you’re modeling a mode of being in which convincing people seems to be of higher precedence than being yourself.

            This is not where or who I am.

            Yes, I could engage in rhetorical games and market the hell out of my ideas, put some kind of slick surface on things. I’ll do that sometimes when I have to.

            But here, I’m just being myself – people shit on me, I slap them. They try and force bad ideas down my throat, I tell them to go fuck themselves.

            It’s not about making friends or influencing people. It’s just about being natural.

            Yes, I’m kind of aggressive when baited about race. I think in the long run there would be far less racism if people were made to pay every time they tried it. So I let that tendency run.

            I’m not here to market, to sell myself or the things I know as product.

          • Aapje says:

            Satisfying your own urges without concern about the impact on others and in what direction you are changing the minds of others seems rather narcissistic, foolish to do under your own name & also what you don’t actually believe. After all, you are concerned about combating racism and perhaps have other conce