Mindfulness meditation and the brain

Discuss

68 Responses to “Mindfulness meditation and the brain”

  1. Anonymous says:

    “Experience” happens when something causes a subjective quality of awareness in a subject. Plenty of things can happen in your brain – and do all the time – without you experiencing them. If I punch you in the face, you’ll probably experience pain. If I punch my couch, it won’t. Yes, the proximate cause of the experience is the stimulation of nociceptors in the brain, but that’s not equivalent with the experience of having pain.

    Second: the German Idealists. the “thing-in-itself” is certainly different from your experience of the thing. Your car is that thing in your garage that looks, feels, etc, a certain way – probably the way you perceive it. But it’s not only that. You’ve only got a certain number of senses, and even they are extremely limited. You can’t see what your car looks like in infrared, for example, or hear what it sounds like at frequencies below 20 hz/s. You couldn’t even hope to perceive what it looks like in ten-dimensional space. Your phenomenal experience of it is only a tiny tiny piece of its actual reality, filtered imperfectly through your very few senses, with their very limited ability to perceive information about the world. The thing-in-itself is the totality of the reality of an object. You don’t have to say that this means there are two cars in your garage, one you can perceive and one that you can’t, but it’s not that much less true to say that the overwhelming majority of the one car you’ve got in there IS utterly imperceptible. That’s your noumenal car.

    • noen says:

      “Your car is that thing in your garage that looks, feels, etc, a certain way – probably the way you perceive it. But it’s not only that.”

      Actually, I claim that it is “only that”. If there is some part of my car that cannot be perceived then it doesn’t exist.

      “You can’t see what your car looks like in infrared”

      Yes I can.

      “or hear what it sounds like at frequencies below 20 hz/s.”

      Yes I can.

      “Your phenomenal experience of it is only a tiny tiny piece of its actual reality”

      Nonsense. Since phenomenal just means experience how can there be an experience that cannot be experienced?

      “the overwhelming majority of the one car you’ve got in there IS utterly imperceptible. That’s your noumenal car.”

      Nonsense on stilts. Every bit of my car is perceptible. I can take it apart, cut it up and inspect every single bit of it. I can determine the placement and composition of every single atom that makes up my car. Nowhere will I find this noumenal car you speak of. Where is it? How would I know when I come across it? Is my noumenal car blue and leaks oil like my phenomenal car?

      I believe you are deeply confused. I’d like to sell you my noumenal car. I’ll accept 20 grand for it. Deal?

      • Anonymous says:

        [quote]Every bit of my car is perceptible. I can take it apart, cut it up and inspect every single bit of it. I can determine the placement and composition of every single atom that makes up my car. Nowhere will I find this noumenal car you speak of.[/quote]

        Your definition of existence is question-begging. You posit without any evidence that everything that exists is perceptible (by you), and therefore that anything you can’t perceive doesn’t exist. What is so hard to stomach about the idea that the universe doesn’t begin and end with your limited, fallible, human senses?

        You can’t sell me your noumenal car without your phenomenal car, because the latter is a part of the former.

        • noen says:

          “Your definition of existence is question-begging.”

          No it isn’t. Existence is the world we are aware of through our senses, and that persists independently without them. There is nothing question begging about that. If it is, as you claim, self contradictory then you need to *prove* it. (Hint: you can’t)

          “You posit without any evidence that everything that exists is perceptible (by you), and therefore that anything you can’t perceive doesn’t exist. What is so hard to stomach about the idea that the universe doesn’t begin and end with your limited, fallible, human senses?”

          A teaching moment. You shouldn’t personalize these things. It isn’t about you (or me) or our limited senses. So when I say “you” or “me” I am not referring to you or me in particular but in general. I can indeed know things that exist beyond my ability to sense them. I know what the world would look like if I had X-ray vision. I know what goes on in the interior of stars and black holes. If something *in principle* can never be experienced or conceived of then it cannot be said to exist. So words like supernatural, soul or mind, or god are incoherent because they are empty concepts that refer to nothing.

          • Anonymous says:

            “If something *in principle* can never be experienced or conceived of then it cannot be said to exist.”

            You’re taking that as axiomatic, but it’s far from it. There’s absolutely no reason – or evidence – to assume that we have some privileged position with regard to accurately apprehending reality.

    • Quiche de Resistance says:

      “Your car is that thing in your garage that looks, feels, etc, a certain way…”

      And your tires are the things on your car that make contact with the road.

  2. PaulR says:

    One of these days, I’ll stop clicking Submit when I want to click Preview…

    In any case: Dennett doesn’t believe there are such things as zombies. To quote:
    We are all susceptible to the Zombic Hunch, but if we are to credit it, we need a good argument, since the case has been made that it is a persistent cognitive illusion and nothing more. I have found no good arguments, and plenty of bad ones.
    (The Zombic Hunch: Extinction of an Intuition? – 1999)

    ..

    I thought of qualia and phenomena as interchangeable terms, but it’s obvious now that I was wrong. I’ll have to do some reading…

  3. Anonymous says:

    when is this mindfulness fad gonna pass and these guys start looking at transcending thought instead of watching your thoughts.

    • themadelf says:

      “when is this mindfulness fad gonna pass and these guys start looking at transcending thought instead of watching your thoughts.”

      First, that’s rather a simplification of mindfulness based meditation. It’s rather like describing TM as just repeating the same word over and over.

      Most of the studies available today are on mindfulness based meditation but the few I found on TM show it to be no more effective than mindfulness. Maybe a good line of inquiry for future study is what is it about any meditative state that brings about the changes described in the study?

  4. irksome says:

    Geez, all they had to do was stop by and ask.

  5. Jack says:

    Now this is the kind of thinking I can get behind; that “time hacker” guy should really choose a cognitive “hacking” path like this.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Okay, it makes me nervous to type this, but I’ll go ahead.

    I tried several classes of mindful meditation, and they all focus on following your breathing

    I can’t do that. I get an anxiety attack. I can’t stop thinking about my breathing, that I’ll stop breathing. Breathing is supposed to be something you don’t think about, you just do. If I focus on it, I become anxious.

    • Danny O'Brien says:

      Hey Anon,

      Two things: it sounds like you have a generalized anxiety. It might make sense to combine meditation with something to calm down that anxiety, like specific medication.

      If it’s breathing that makes you specifically nervous, one alternative exercise instead of concentrating on breathing is to pay more attention to external phenemona*: find somewhere relativelyquiet and then listen to the noises you can hear. Apply all the stuff people say about concentrating on breathing (don’t try and identify the noises; if ideas come into your head, let them come in, and then just let them go, etc).

      The actual thing they’re going for in the breathing, FYI, is that thinking about briefing often has a slowing effect, which can be calming; also you always have breathing handy, so you can fall back on that. Like you, I sometimes prefer having external things to focus on.

  7. HereticGestalt says:

    And it’s probably not a story you’d want to hear, being a naive realist, since his monist reconstruction of Kantian metaphysics is idealist/subject-oriented, rather than realist or physicalist or whatever term you prefer.

  8. I Like Cake says:

    I don’t think the point is some kind of neurorealism-based notion of “meditation is real because it produces visible changes in the brain,” so much as getting a better idea of specifically what is affected by meditative practice.

    Of course, undoubtedly lots of people are going to read this as reaching the former conclusion anyway.

  9. DSMVWL THS says:

    “that’s pretty much the definition of experience: ‘something that changes your brain’”

    That’s pretty much the reductionist-materialist definition of experience… in which a mental model of the world is presumed to be more fundamentally “real” than the mind which contains the model.

    My definition of experience is “something that I experience.”

    • bjohndick says:

      I really can’t tell if your trolling, or if your definition of definition is flawed.

      When your definition doesn’t provide any more meaning than the original word, it’s not really a definition.

      • Hools Verne says:

        When your definition doesn’t provide any more meaning than the original word, it’s not really a definition.

        Reducing phenomenal states down to “something happens in the brain that means its real” tells you almost less than nothing.

        • PaulR says:

          I used to attend a weekly discussion group (incidentally, led by Tim Campbell, author of Pyroto Mountain). One week, it was my turn to lead the discussion – I had planned to introduce Daniel Dennett’s ideas about consciousness.

          I had long ago learned that one of the problem with discussions about the world as we experience it is that a lot of people use, for example, the word “reality” as a substitute for phenomena, noumena, qualia, and phenoms. This makes for confusing, unproductive discussions.

          Picture college/university discussions we’ve all had where someone says something like “But my reality IS reality, my reality makes reality. And it’s different from YOUR reality, man!”

          So I wrote up a little lexicon of consciousness/reality terminology to use as a handout:

          Kant distinguished Phenomena – things as they appear (Webster’s defines it as: a temporal or spatio-temporal object of sensual experience as distinguished from a noumenon, and Noumena – things as they are in themselves (Webster’s defines it as: an object or concept which according to Kant can be known to exist but cannot be experienced and to which no properties can be intelligibly ascribed).

          Other terms:
          Qualia – (Latin for qualities, singular: quale) “phenomenal qualities”: the way thing look, sound, feel, smell, to us. Sensory input, in a way.

          Phenomenology – Philosophers and psychologists often use the term as an umbrella term to cover all items that inhabit our conscious experience: Thoughts, smells, itches, pain, imagined purple cows, hunches, and all the rest.

          Phenomena, what Dennett calls “our phenomenological garden”, are divided into three types:
          i) experiences of the external world: qualia
          ii) experiences of the purely internal world: recollections, daydreaming, bright ideas.
          iii) experiences of the emotion (or affect – the term favoured by psychologists), in a loose ordering of complexity:
          bodily pains, tickles, hunger;
          anger, joy, lust, embarrassment;
          pride, anxiety, awe, icy calm.

          [Note: Phenomenology: Around the beginning of the 20th century there was a school of philosophy based around the works of Edmund Husser. Called Phenomenology, its aim was to find a new foundation for all philosophy (indeed all knowledge) based on a special technique of introspection, in which the outer world and all its implications and presuppositions were supposed to be "bracketed" in a particular act of mind known as the epoché. Phenomenology failed to find a single, settled method that everyone could agree on. Contrast & compare this with meditation in its many forms.]

          Ideally, our interactions with the world would be heterophenomenological:
          Heterophemomenology, a term coined by Dennett:
          …”The heterophenomenological method neither challenges nor accepts as entirely true the assertions of subjects, but rather maintains a constructive and sympathetic neutrality, in the hopes of compiling a definitive description of the world according to the subjects.”

          “It is in fact something that is familiar to us all, layman and scientist alike, but we must introduce it with fanatical caution, noting exactly what it presupposes and implies, since it involves taking a giant theoretical step. Ignoring all tempting shortcuts, then here is the neutral path leading from objective physical science and its insistence on the third-person point of view, to a method of phenomenological description that can (in principle) do justice to the most private and ineffable subjective experiences, while never abandoning the methodological scruples of science.”…
          (Dennett ’92)

          • noen says:

            “Kant distinguished Phenomena – things as they appear … and Noumena – things as they are in themselves”

            This is incoherent. Do I have two cars in my garage, one that I can see, touch, hear and feel and another that is utterly invisible and can never be perceived by any means?

          • PaulR says:

            Re.: Noumena vs. Phenomena.

            Well, no it’s not incoherent to me. As I understand it, it’s simply to distinguish what you think/feel/perceive is going on vs what is going on. Usually, there’s a pretty good fit between the phenomena and the noumena.

            Off the top of my head, the closest example I can come up with is:
            Phenomena: the sun rises in the East, over there, across the street over my neighbours’ houses and it sets in the West just North of the old folks’ home – this is what seems to be happening, this is my spatio-temporal sensual experience.
            Noumena: the Earth rotates, exposing your patch of the planet to the Sun and after a while the rotation brings it into the shadow – this is the thing as it actually is.

          • Hools Verne says:

            If you are an empiricist then yes, in a manner of speaking. If you are a naive realist then no.

          • Anonymous says:

            There’s a car in the garage. It is what it is. There’s another one in your mind… that you “know” and have seen, felt, touched. Ask your significant other to describe your car by jotting down 10 attributes in decreasing order of importance (3-word phrases is max…), and please no VIN or license tag… You do the same. Compare. Same or different? How can this be? Isn’t it the same car? No. Apparently it is now 3 cars. Show the lists of attributes to a stranger. Ask if it describes one or 2 cars. Show a picture of the car. And ask, is either list about THIS car? Wow… now there are 5 cars.

          • Ambiguity says:

            “Kant distinguished Phenomena – things as they appear … and Noumena – things as they are in themselves”

            This is incoherent. Do I have two cars in my garage, one that I can see, touch, hear and feel and another that is utterly invisible and can never be perceived by any means?

            That’s German Idealism. You can take exception to it on many grounds, but taken in total I think it’s hard to argue that it is incoherent. It is actually quite self-consistent, and when an incoherence arises you have another philosopher who comes along and makes a career of pointing out the incoherence of the original. This went on for hundreds of years.

            They may be right or wrong, but they are very coherent. Almost to a fault, IMO!

          • noen says:

            “That’s German Idealism.” — I know.

            “it’s hard to argue that it is incoherent” — No it isn’t, I just did.

            “It is actually quite self-consistent” — No, it’s internally incoherent and inconsistent.

            “They may be right or wrong” — “They”, German Idealists, are most certainly wrong. Why? Because their position is incoherent. Please tell me again, what exactly is the “thing-in-itself”? How can my car in my garage both be phenomena, something that can be perceived, and noumena, something that can never be perceived, at the same time? These are two contradictory concepts. To claim that my car can both be a thing and not be a thing is incoherent.

            With regard to Dennet — He does more than deny that qualia is real, he denies that consciousness is real. Contemporary cognitive philosophers claim there is no such thing as consciousness. We are all ZOMBIES!

            And as everyone knows, zombies don’t meditate. ;)

          • Ambiguity says:

            If I watch a YouTube video on a gummi bear being dropped into a strong oxidizer, it bursts into flames. This is pretty cool, and I enjoy watching the relatively lo-fi FLV video of it.

            But my enjoyment of the video contains no ontological contradictions or incoherence with regards to the “real” gummi bear that died to amuse me.

          • malthusan says:

            “it’s hard to argue that it is incoherent” — No it isn’t, I just did.

            No, you didn’t. You contradicted it, then asked a question so someone else could explain the answer to you. You did not, in fact, argue anything.

            To answer your question about your car, consider it in terms of what you can sense and what you cannot sense. You could, if you wished, see, hear, smell, touch, and taste your car. These are the only methods by which you can apprehend its existence. Thus, it only exists because you can physically sense it. You experience the phenomenon of its existence through your senses.

            Take away a sense. Say, sight. The car still exists for you via the remaining for senses. But just because you lost your sight doesn’t mean it is no longer visible in the sense that it is physically present and capable of reflecting light. Now remove the remaining senses, and the conclusion is the same. You can no longer experience it at all. Does the car cease to exist? Or does it continue to existence in a noumenal realm to which you no longer have access.

            Take it one step further. You never had those five senses, so you never had the ability to apprehend the existence of the car. If we accept as a given that things exist in themselves (do not rely on an observer to exist), then your car now has both phenomenal and noumenal existence.

            It is not, in fact, incoherent. Unless, of course, you’re a strict solipsist and claim that if you cannot make sense of it, then there is no sense to made of it at all.

          • noen says:

            “No, you didn’t. You contradicted it, then asked a question so someone else could explain the answer to you. You did not, in fact, argue anything.”

            If you tell me that something is both red and green all over and I reply that that’s incoherent I have indeed given a valid argument in response. Saying that things can be both perceivable and absolutely imperceivable is plain contradiction. Even so I was polite and asked if someone could explain how this can be. Could you explain it to me?

            “You could, if you wished, see, hear, smell, touch, and taste your car.”

            No I can’t. According to Kant I can *never* perceive the thing-in-itself in principle. The car in my garage isn’t the “real” car, only it’s phenomenal aspect which is an illusion. The real or noumenal car in-itself can never be perceived by me or anyone by any means whatsoever. There is a reason Kant is called an Idealist.

            “You can no longer experience it at all. Does the car cease to exist? Or does it continue to existence in a noumenal realm to which you no longer have access.”

            You misunderstand Kant. The noumenal isn’t a tree in a forest that no one heard but could hear if only they were present. The noumenal tree can never be heard at all, ever. Only the phenomenal tree can be heard or potentially heard to fall. It takes a powerful load of philosopzin’ BS to convince people of that gibberish.

            “If we accept as a given that things exist in themselves (do not rely on an observer to exist), then your car now has both phenomenal and noumenal existence.”

            I don’t know what it means for a thing to exist in itself. I agree that things exist when we are not there to perceive them but I don’t agree that we need to invent a ghostly noumenal realm to account for the objective independent existence of my car in my garage.

            “It is not, in fact, incoherent.”

            You keep saying that. Repetition doesn’t make your argument correct. Saying that things are both perceptible and imperceptible is a flat contradiction and by all accounts…. incoherent. You really need to respond to that.

            “Unless, of course, you’re a strict solipsist and claim that if you cannot make sense of it, then there is no sense to made of it at all.”

            I am a naive realist. I think that when I look at my car I am seeing my car and not the phenomenal projection of an imperceptible noumenal car.

          • HereticGestalt says:

            You fundamentally misunderstand the noumenal/phenomenal distinction. Kant’s argument is that our perceptions are organized into intelligible structures that we can extract meaning from by categories like space, time, number, and so forth – synthetic a priori judgments – which are properties primarily of the mind and of observation, rather than its objects. An equivalent notion in analytic philosophy is that of “theory-laden” observation.

            Thus, there is an unavoidable ontological and epistemological gap between reality as we construct it out of the otherwise-meaningless babble of raw sense impressions, and reality as it is in itself absent the conceptual schema that is imposed on it as a prior condition of human knowledge. The former is the domain of phenomena, literally ‘things-showing-themselves’ (Anc. Greek nom. mid/pas part. of phano^, ‘to show’ or ‘appear’), and the latter is the domain of noumena, which is a little more difficult to translate, but ‘things being apprehended in thought’ is close enough. So-called because while, by definition, we can have no descriptive knowledge of noumenal reality, we still conceive of and recognize the category as a logical necessity, as Descartes does when he considers the limits of his certainty about the world outside his mind.

            Of course, then Fichte came along and pointed out the untenable dualism in Kant’s thought and reworked the whole system, but that’s another story.

          • noen says:

            “You fundamentally misunderstand the noumenal/phenomenal distinction.”

            No, I think I understand just fine. To the extent that I can understand an inherently incoherent philosophy.

            “Kant’s argument is that our perceptions are organized into intelligible structures that we can extract meaning from by categories like space, time, number, and so forth – synthetic a priori judgments”

            Oh cripes, more double talk. “Synthetic” means derived from experience, “a priori” means independent of experience. So please tell me all about this “synthetic a priori judgment” that is red and green all over. How does that make *any* sense at all?

            “our perceptions are organized into intelligible structures that we can extract meaning from”

            Really? What do you mean by “we” kemosahbee? Who is doing the extracting, the little man inside my head?

            “Thus, there is an unavoidable … gap between reality as we construct it out … of raw sense impressions, and reality as it is in itself … that is imposed on it as a prior condition of human knowledge.”

            If all we have are sense data how could we ever know “reality as it is in itself”? That’s more than a gap, that’s a friggin’ bottomless canyon. The trick is to reject this idea of yours that there is a little man (or woman in my case) in my head who is the one receiving sense data and extracting meaning from a chaotic random world.

            “by definition, we can have no descriptive knowledge of noumenal reality, we still conceive of and recognize the category as a logical necessity”

            I have said about as much. The difference is that I don’t think that something of which I can never have *any* knowledge is worth bothering about. I categorically deny that something which I cannot even conceive of must *necessarily* exist. Sounds like BS to me.

            “as Descartes does when he considers the limits of his certainty about the world outside his mind.”

            Oh god, there’s another in a long line of disasters.

            Down with Descartes!
            He was a dirty old fart
            He said: “I yam what I yam what I think
            I am what I think I am I think”
            But I think I’ll have another drink.

            “And it’s probably not a story you’d want to hear”

            It’s not a preference. I’d like nothing better than if I were the center of the universe. Alas I am not (lucky for you). It’s just a plain fact that there is a real world and we have direct and immediate access to it.

          • robulus says:

            “Synthetic” means derived from experience

            No it does not.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think you’re misunderstanding the distinction. You can perceive noumena, but not without applying some kind of interpretation of them. As such, your perception of them is a phenomenon, rather than an encapsulation of the noumenon itself. This is as non-contradictory as the difference between a printed page and the text you understand.

          • HereticGestalt says:

            For someone who very obviously hasn’t read the Critique, your arrogance and rudeness are astounding. Also wow megapost, I know you won’t respond to most/any of this, but it’s directly relevant enough to my thesis (in the institutional sense) that I feel productive working through it anyway.

            “Synthetic” means derived from experience, “a priori” means independent of experience. So please tell me all about this “synthetic a priori judgment” that is red and green all over. How does that make *any* sense at all?

            Wrong. A synthetic judgment is one which is not a necessary entailment of the premises (concepts, sense data, etc.) – anything that’s not tautological. An example of a synthetic a priori judgment is “all events have causes.” (be careful to distinguish this from “all effects have causes,” which would be analytic) Not just the abstract proposition, obviously, but the universal intuition of causality that we organize our view of the world around. It’s synthetic insofar as we can easily conceive of an event that “just happens,” yet a priori insofar as experience can’t teach us a universal, and furthermore clearly doesn’t – we observe events whose cause we don’t know constantly, yet still make this primal assumption.

            Really? What do you mean by “we” kemosahbee? Who is doing the extracting, the little man inside my head?

            Right, right, the subject doesn’t exist, “I” has no semantic value, we’re all p-zombies. “I” certainly has no fixed positive referent – one of those rare, strange things that Kripke and Sartre would’ve agreed on – but that doesn’t mean it has no semantic function. Categorical recursive reference is the organizing principle of human cognition. It doesn’t matter if (continuity of) identity/perspective is an “illusion” created by memory – it is – because the real/illusory distinction is meaningless when what we’re talking about mental events. If I feel happy, I am happy. If I feel myself to be myself, then in the domain of this analysis, I am myself.

            I’m fully aware that this issue at least is going to come down to me being absolutely, directly certain that I am self-aware and perceive myself as an observer with mental states, and you categorically denying the existence of mental states and observation/consciousness because it can’t coexist with a fully reductive account of ontology.

            Which is a qualified version of Dennet’s thesis that I’m on board with – you can’t have both reductive realism and consciousness in a well-defined, internally consistent theory. We just draw different conclusions from that. Consciousness is the only thing of which I am absolutely certain; so reduction’s gotta go. Eliminativism is like anarchoprimitivism; it’s useful to the extent that it carries out a highly educational reductio ad absurdum on a widespread and insufficiently well-examined set of assumptions.

            I find denial of one’s own consciousness very puzzling, though. Even if we throw the self-certainty thing out the window, and acknowledge the possibility that you and I are complex automata saying things there’s no one home to ‘understand,’ why would we evolve (genetically and memetically) to act as if there was? Were I to respond to your mockery in kind instead of making a serious effort to discuss this, I’d take you at your word and draw the conclusion that you’re right in your own case, and are simply an automaton that’s become very effective at simulating behavior indicative of consciousness.

            The difference is that I don’t think that something of which I can never have *any* knowledge is worth bothering about. I categorically deny that something which I cannot even conceive of must *necessarily* exist.

            The problem here is that you’re still positing the noumenal and phenomenal as two separate groups of things that separately and simultaneously ‘exist’ in the same way, rather than as two aspects or modes of existence of the same group of things, which would be more accurate. The distinction is epistemological first and ontological only second: “noumenon” at root simply designates the potential space demarcated by the conceptual limit of human knowledge, which is that I can’t simultaneously observe and not be an observer.

            So, yes, there is nothing you can say about the thing in itself. You’re right, it’s an epistemological “bottomless chasm.” But the point is not – and I’m transgressing beyond what Kant would say here, but there’s been two centuries of philosophy since him – that there’s some definite transcendental ‘thing,’ God or the Neoplatonic monad or whatever, with definite properties that we simply can’t know or describe, behind the veil; it’s that human reason’s logical production of its own limit concept says something interesting and important about the human mind and its relation to its perceptual environment. As Feuerbach said contra Hegel, man is not God self-alienated, but rather God is man self-alienated.

            It’s just a plain fact that there is a real world and we have direct and immediate access to it.

            It’s interesting that naive realists are, at a practical level, far more defensive of the classical subject and folk psychology intuition than Descartes and his successors proved to be. The proposition you insist on is that the contents of your mind have a trivially truthful correspondence to an already and inherently intelligible reality. Instead of invoking God to justify this assertion, you deny the category of the subject altogether – even though what you’re actually defending is the stability and confidence of the subject itself. Freud would’ve pegged it as reaction formation.

          • Anonymous says:

            HereticGestalt, thank you for your illuminating post!

            Anybody who can understand pointers in C should be able to understand your explanation with small effort.

          • noen says:

            “For someone who very obviously hasn’t read the Critique, your arrogance and rudeness are astounding.”

            How have I been rude to you? I don’t believe I have but sure, I’m rude to dead philosophers who invent BS metaphysics to defend religion, sue me. We are waaaaay off topic here but I guess it must be ok to continue.

            “Wrong. A synthetic judgment is……”

            Yes yes, I know. You see, I tend to run ahead and assume that people know the basics. The upshot of the analytic/synthetic distinction is that analytic statements are based in pure reason and synthetic judgments are all inductive and based on empirical experience. We know that “all bachelors are unmarried men” is true merely by inspecting the meaning of words. We can only know the truth of synthetic judgments by getting off our butts and empirically investigating the world. Which is what I said.

            “An example of a synthetic a priori judgment is “all events have causes.””

            No, that is purely synthetic because the concept of its predicate (have causes) is *not* contained in its subject (all events). The claim that all events must have a cause is a synthetic a posteriori. There is no such thing as a synthetic a priori judgment.

            “Which is a qualified version of Dennet’s thesis that I’m on board with”

            Consciousness is too big to discuss here but I don’t deny that it exists.

            “The problem here is that you’re still positing the noumenal and phenomenal as two separate groups of things that separately and simultaneously ‘exist’ in the same way”

            Uh, yeah, because that’s how Kant defined them. Well, as best as he could given that his project was incoherent. His whole metaphysics was muddleheaded. Noumena are what constitute reality and yet utterly unknowable but at the same time are responsible for our phenomenal experience. This is a plain contradiction so I call BS. I get out my razor, remove his “noumena” and turn Kant into a gelding. ;)

            “there’s some definite transcendental ‘thing,’ God or the Neoplatonic monad or whatever, with definite properties that we simply can’t know or describe”

            Bullshit. If we cannot know it, cannot even *conceive* of it, it is an empty concept and can be safely rejected.

            “Instead of invoking God to justify this assertion, you deny the category of the subject altogether – even though what you’re actually defending is the stability and confidence of the subject itself.”

            You keep attributing to me positions I do not hold. I am not a dualist nor am I a monist or reductionist or even materialist. I think consciousness is real but I don’t think it is immaterial or can be reduced or eliminated or is an epiphenomenon. Space is too limited here.

            “Freud would’ve pegged it as reaction formation.”

            Oh gawd, another dead white guy who got pretty much everything wrong.

          • zebbart says:

            HereitcGestalt, thanks for taking the time to write that out, it was really interesting and informative.

          • Ambiguity says:

            I’m no expert of Dennett’s thought, but from what I’ve read he doesn’t seem to provide the best framework with which to think about these things. He seems so ideologically committed to the tenets of analytic philosophy that he seems to go through some pretty counter-intuitive contortions. Doesn’t Dennett, for example, deny that there is even any value in speaking of qualia at all, being that it can’t be cast into precise analytic terms? He reminds me somewhat of the Behaviorists of the 50′s, who would ignore entire class of phenomena because they couldn’t be easily cast into behaviorist terms.

            Am I missing something?

        • bjohndick says:

          I think you’ve got me wrong here, I don’t particularly like the definition “something that changes your brain” but I think “something that I experience” is a plainly a worse definition.

          Neither definition is strictly wrong, but they’re both quite reducing when it comes to explaining the actual meaning of the word experience.

    • Anonymous says:

      While I support that your response is sincere, perhaps a more careful investigation into the long held, i.e. conditioned concepts of experience and the notion that “I am having an experience” will be helpful. Quite frankly, there is no “proof” that an “I” is, in fact, “….having an experience”. Your statement is simply what you’ve learned to say.

  10. bjohndick says:

    I had to google “mindfulness” and I’m honestly surprised here because it sounds like I do it a lot already.

    To attempt to clarify – I think It’s important to be able to truly open your senses sometimes, and be capable of operating your mind without always having to resort to the convenient short-cuts judgements, labels, and words usually provide.

  11. noen says:

    “You’re taking that as axiomatic”

    Yes I am. To exist is have the potential to be perceived. To say that a thing can exist which can never interact with any other thing is like saying you can have an inside without an outside.

    “There’s a car in the garage. It is what it is. There’s another one in your mind…”

    Minds and mind stuff do not exist. What exists are brains, not minds and I am quite certain there is no automobile in my brain.

    “There’s another one in your mind… that you “know” and have seen, felt, touched.”

    This is called the homunculus fallacy. There is not a little man in my head who sees, touches and feels the little cars in my head.

    “Isn’t it the same car? No. Apparently it is now 3 cars.”

    The words we use to represent a thing are not the thing. There is only one car in my garage but there are multiple descriptions of it.

    • Hools Verne says:

      This is called the homunculus fallacy. There is not a little man in my head who sees, touches and feels the little cars in my head.

      See, it has almost always been introduced to me as the homunculus problem.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      This is called the homunculus fallacy.

      I thought the homunculus fallacy had something to do with Joe Francis having a career.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Yes I am. To exist is have the potential to be perceived.”

      Citation?

      But anyway, even if I grant you this, that doesn’t mean that anything that exists has the potential to be COMPLETELY perceived BY HUMAN SENSES. It’s profoundly arrogant of you to presume that reality is completely delineated by our capacity to apprehend it.

  12. furthur says:

    No point in quibbling over definitions and evidence. Either you test it out for yourself or carry on reading and arguing about other stuff. No one is being conned here so you don;t need to worry.

  13. Anonymous says:

    “that’s pretty much the definition of experience: ‘something that changes your brain’”

    @DSMVWL THS – I agree with bjohndick that a definition which doesn’t tell you anything is not really a definition.

    Evidence is piling up that for any given mental state there is a corresponding physical process in the brain. Equally mental states – including experiences like ‘will’ or ‘out of body perspective – can be had by stimulating the brain directly. Likewise for any given pin-point brain injury there is a corresponding deficit – whether cognitive, perceptual or motor being determined by the location. The conclusion that consciousness is entirely explained by activity of the brain is not reductionist in the sense you mean it. It is simply the most concise way of describing what is observed without inventing invisible and undetectable entities. Inventing non-observable, supernatural entities to explain consciousness is no more valid, and does not advance knowledge but stifles investigation and progress – as it does in the Catholic Church.

    “Materialism” has become a favourite pejorative amongst people with supernatural beliefs. Because a so-called materialist (and I think there are very few actual materialists around) asks for evidence they are seen as shallow and somehow lacking in imagination. But if imagination is essential the criteria then all science fiction is science fact. However even the most ardent super-naturalists tend to make the distinction between fact and fiction at some point – most of us can distinguish between the imagined and the real, because as Philip K. Dick said “reality is that which when you stop believing in it, it doesn’t go away”.

    All this empirical evidence is both good news and bad for Buddhists. On one hand we can be slightly smug to have a 2500 year head-start on the rest of the world. We’ve known for this long that meditation creates positive change in people. We’ve known that mindfulness makes life more wonderful and beautiful. It’s great to see empirical evidence for it emerging, but we were already confident in our methods.

    On the other hand the success of these studies also undermines cherished supernatural beliefs like “rebirth” (aka reincarnation – the theory that some aspect of our consciousness survives physical death). The brain studies make it quite obvious that an after-life is extremely unlikely. Which is rather a spanner in the works! Our anti-materialist world-view with its various supernatural features is crumbling and leaving behind a number of myopic fundamentalists, some disenfranchised idealists, and some radicalists who want to drop the traditional supernatural stuff (and are suspicious of standard Western Buddhism expressed in terms of German Idealism, English Romanticism or Protestantism) but retain the label Buddhist because we still employ methods like mindfulness and meditation.

    • DSMVWL THS says:

      I didn’t invoke any “non-observable, supernatural entities to explain consciousness.”

      I simply took issue with Cory “defining” experience as “something that happens to the brain”. That is the essence of materialist reductionism: the belief that the brain is the fundamental reality, and the experience is a secondary phenomenon.

      I don’t take issue with the fact that many correlations between neurological phenomena and mental states have been observed. My point is that mental experience is primary reality, from an experiential point of view.

      I can accept scientific materialism as a very useful model for explaining how various things work. However, I regard it, like other models, as provisional and limited, rather than absolutely true in a way that “trumps” everything else.

      There are other models (which may include things that you might define as “non-observable”, which I might rephrase as “not observed by you”) that can also be useful in some circumstances.

  14. Jimbo1975 says:

    I’ve been meditating every day for the past two weeks (kind of amazed that I’ve stuck with it), and I can start to feel the difference already. The main effect for me is having a clear head and feeling more at ease generally.

  15. PaulR says:

    Now, aside from all of the above:

    The study mirrors a similiar study done at the same hospital. Now we just need to have it replicated at other sites, by completely different people.

  16. Pope Ratzo says:

    The hundreds of millions (or more) of Chinese who have practiced Tai Chi in the past millennium are not surprised by the results of this study.

    And, as a very large test sample in a very long-running human trial, they are amused at the previous poster’s insistence on “replication” of results.

    • PaulR says:

      For centuries, any fool could have told you that gastritis and peptic ulcer disease was caused by stress.
      I mean, everybody knew this, no?

      And that one way to deal with these ulcers, aside from antacids, was to drink milk products as these would help ‘coat the stomach’. Really. I had a buddy who was prescribed milk shakes by his doctor. Oy!

      Well, careful, replicated studies showed that what we knew for centuries was wrong.

  17. RobertBigelow says:

    Thich Nhat Hanh. The Miracle of Mindfulness. 0807012394

    The dearest, most touching work on mindful mediation I’ve ever read.

    My favorite section. “Washing the dishes to wash the dishes.”

    This is *not* “new age.” It is very much “old school,” perhaps by thousands of years. ^..^~

    • Anonymous says:

      Mountain flower sky earth
      mine-foal-nesssss

      Got introduced to this at Jr College. Still believe I’m closed minded enough to not be able to sit through another presentation of it Not that it’s bad. It’s not for me. Makes me squirm in my chair.

  18. Xenu says:

    I bet you’d get more “marked brain changes” during a tour of duty in Iraq.

  19. axleworthington says:

    Meditation is just mind-training. There is a lot of strange mystical Buddhist dogma out there, but for me personally, Buddhism is just a science of observing the mind. And by observing the mind, observing the nature of reality. You don’t have to believe all of the Buddhist dogma to practice meditation, but life is more enjoyable when you are a more compassionate, less selfish person. Meditation has really helped me deal with a lot of problems in my life. But it has be a made a priority in one’s life. We can only fix our problems if we are aware of them. Meditation is about being completely honest with oneself, learning to stop identifying with your ego, and training yourself to open your heart to whatever you are experiencing in the moment. The past is gone, let it go. The future is a fantasy, stop obsessing about it. Only the present moment is real.
    This book, Mindfulness in Plain English is a great instruction manual:

    http://www.amazon.com/Mindfulness-English-Venerable-Henepola-Gunaratana/dp/0861710649

  20. technogeek says:

    Question on behalf of a friend: “Every time I’ve tried meditating, I’ve just fallen asleep. I don’t think that’s the point of the exercise. What am I doing wrong?”

    (I don’t have an answer for her. I do use a meditation/self-hypnosis routine for relaxation sometimes, but while it can be useful as a sleep aid when I’m being kept awake by tension or distractions it doesn’t actually put me to sleep.)

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Question on behalf of a friend: “Every time I’ve tried meditating, I’ve just fallen asleep. I don’t think that’s the point of the exercise. What am I doing wrong?”

      Not getting adequate sleep. Eating too many carbs a couple of hours before meditating. Trying to meditate in bed at 10PM, or in the late afternoon or right after work. If you’re falling asleep, you’re probably tired, hypoglycemic, dehydrated, sick, medicated, etc.

    • Anonymous says:

      She’s not doing anything wrong. It might just mean she needs to sleep.

      My understanding (from the Mindfulness classes I took to combat 5yrs debilitating depression in Oxford UK)is that meditation allows us a chance to observe our needs – whether emotional, spiritual, or physical. The mistake is to think that there is a right and a wrong way/right or wrong things you are trying to achieve. We punish ourselves all the time with thoughts about how we haven’t done this/that/the other the way it should be – mostly without even realising it. Just relax, see what comes, and then think about what you’ve observed in a non-crytical manner. So in this case:
      I meditated.
      I feel asleep.
      I was cross with myself for falling asleep.
      That’s interesting, because being cross doesn’t achieve much.
      What good can I make from this?
      I can use this to go to sleep at night
      Perhaps it means I need more sleep than I’m getting?

    • Anonymous says:

      I used to have to have the same problem, and a meditation teacher told me that it simply meant I needed to get more sleep – which was very true at the time! I don’t know if that’s the case for your friend, but if it is, he/she isn’t doing anything wrong, his/her body is trying to tell him/her something.

    • themadelf says:

      It would be helpful to know what your friend is doing, how is she meditating?
      In typical sitting mindfulness meditation it’s actually rather hard to fall asleep. At a guess, if she’s not doing this as a sitting or standing meditation, have her try it sitting in a chair, near the edge and not using the back rest.

    • Ito Kagehisa says:

      “Every time I’ve tried meditating, I’ve just fallen asleep. I don’t think that’s the point of the exercise. What am I doing wrong?”

      Well, I think usually that’s caused by not getting enough sleep. You reach the state where you are no longer consciously controlling your body, and it says “Yay! Bedtime!” which is probably more beneficial to a sleep-deprived person than actual meditation.

      If I fall asleep while attempting to meditate, I awake refreshed. It’s not something to be avoided, in my opinion.

      On the other claw, after a week of proper sleep, you shouldn’t have this problem, and probably should find a meditation instructor if it persists.

      Keep in mind, too, that people need different amounts of sleep at different times in their lives. I could (and did!) sleep 16 hours at a stretch when I was a teenager, but now I hurt all over if I sleep more than 7 hours.

      People fall asleep while praying, too, incidentally. Even in the religions that purposely pray in postures that are supposed to prevent it! My dad has been known to occasionally snore in church.

      Speaking of which, I’m off to church now! Bye all!

    • Ambiguity says:

      Question on behalf of a friend: “Every time I’ve tried meditating, I’ve just fallen asleep. I don’t think that’s the point of the exercise. What am I doing wrong?”

      Falling asleep.

      It would probably benefit your friend if she were to practice a different style — such as dzogchen in which meditation is performed sitting up with eyes open. In general, it’s a lot harder to fall asleep when your eyes are open.

  21. Ito Kagehisa says:

    Meditation allows people who would rather not be be associated with the language and practices of religion to achieve the benefits of prayer. Or possibly vice-versa, if that’s your mindset.

    Non-theists can “mindfully be at one with the world” instead of “joining their consciousness with the living presence of God” and everybody’s happy! Except people who just like to start fights, anyway.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104310443

    People who haven’t studied theology usually think that prayer is begging a supernatural force for magic gifts, and the initiating rituals often take that form. This conceit drives philosophers and theologians crazy, especially when priests themselves propagate the idea! The point of prayer is to achieve the state of prayerfulness. And whenever someone seriously studies the matter, they find that prayer looks very much the same on a brain scan as meditation. Apparently the achievement of this state has physical and mental benefits to the human organism, which is why people have been doing it for thousands of years.

    What a wonderful discussion thread. Thanks for starting it, Cory.

  22. flaccus says:

    Both Swedenborg and Eckhart posited grey-matter density theories before they were scientifically proven. The imposition of shape-patterns on thought during meditation is crucial. If not, terrible (and ridiculous) things can happen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUI3Xr1HOnY

  23. noen says:

    “See, it has almost always been introduced to me as the homunculus problem.”

    The solution is to rid oneself of the Cartesian assumptions that give rise to it. Descartes assumed that there are two things in the world, mind stuff and physical stuff. Idealists make the mistake of believing in only mind stuff and materialists makes the opposite mistake.

    “Citation?”

    Me.

    “It’s profoundly arrogant of you to presume that reality is completely delineated by our capacity to apprehend it.”

    No it isn’t. The world consists entirely of mindless meaningless particles moving in lines of force. That’s all there is. How could there be anything else? How could there be something which can never be sensed at all under any possible conditions? Perception is one particle slamming into another one and having an effect. How could something which could never interact *in principle* with any other thing in the entire universe? If it exists it takes up space and if it takes up space then something else can bump into it and *that* is perception.

    At the very least this is more interesting and less angst filled than the Dawkins thread.

    • Hools Verne says:

      No it isn’t. The world consists entirely of mindless meaningless particles moving in lines of force. That’s all there is. How could there be anything else? How could there be something which can never be sensed at all under any possible conditions? Perception is one particle slamming into another one and having an effect. How could something which could never interact *in principle* with any other thing in the entire universe? If it exists it takes up space and if it takes up space then something else can bump into it and *that* is perception.

      This sounds pretty damn materialist and Cartesian to me.

Leave a Reply