Ep. 9 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Insight | Transcription

Transcription for the video titled "Ep. 9 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Insight".


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Intro (00:00)

Welcome back to Awakening from the Meaning Crisis. So last time we continued looking through the myth of Suttartha's Awakening. And we talked about him leaving the palace, the having mode, his attempt to rediscover the being mode and the difficulty he faced in pursuing self-denial as passionately as he pursued self-indulgence and why this ultimately failed because it's still working within the same operation of trying to have a self. And then we looked at Suttartha's commitment to the Middle Path, an attempt to overcome that through the Cultivation of Mindfulness. And then we began our exploration of mindfulness.

Discussion On Mindfulness And Engagement

The historical perspective, Daniel Goleman in Harvard Business Review (01:01)

We first looked at what it meant, Sati. It's this deep remembering, this recovering of the being mode that leads to a fundamental transformation and alleviates the existential anxiety and distress that Suttartha was experiencing and potentially is on offer for us. And then we started to take a look at that, the practice of mindfulness and its attempt to address at least an individual or personal experience of a meaning crisis. And we were doing that because we were trying to investigate more broadly the mindfulness revolution and how that is a response to the meaning crisis within the West. We began by noting that the study of mindfulness is misleading in some ways, the scientific study, because it begins with a feature list. And as we've noted multiple times, feature lists leave out the IDOS, the Structural Functional Organization. In order to do that, we brought out four sort of central characteristics in the feature list, being present, not judging, insightfulness and reduced reactivity or an increased equanimity. And then we noted that what we need to do is to make distinctions between the types of features, between those that are states that we can engage in, actions we can perform, and traits we can cultivate. Once we did that, we opened up the possibility of asking causal questions. How can the practice of being present, for example, produce the trait of insightfulness? And then we also could ask constitutive questions. What's the relationship, the part-hole relationship, for example, between being present and not judging? That being said, we then also noted that we have to replace the language of training with the language of explaining. They operate according to different principles and for different goals. And we began that by starting to ask what does it mean to be present. And then we talked about concentration, we talked about different senses of that, and the kind of soft vigilance that's actually conducive of insight discussed by Alan Langer and others. This kind of involvement is very much about conforming to the inter-assay, becoming deeply interested, connected to the structural functional language. The structural functional organization of something. We noted that that took us into discussion of paying attention, and all the while we're remembering this idea that we got from Sitarthika to Tama, the story about tuning, getting the right tuning, optimization. We started to talk about attention, and made the argument that attention is not very well served by the spotlight metaphor. While that metaphor does give us the idea of attention altering salience, the metaphor misses a lot of what attention is doing.

Optimizing Attention, where are we (04:03)

We began to investigate what's missing by making use of Christopher Moll's idea that attention is not a direct action performed by walking, but it's something you do by modifying something else, by optimizing something else. That's why you can successfully pay attention by doing many disparate and different kinds of things. You can pay attention by optimizing your seeing into looking, by optimizing your hearing into listening, by optimizing your seeing and listening into a coordinated tracking of what somebody is saying like you're doing right now. All of those are different ways in which we're paying attention. So what we needed was an understanding of attention that could capture the way it's an optimization strategy, which lines up with its tuning idea, and how such optimization might be linked to a response to existential modal confusion and the alleviation of the suffering found therein. So I want to continue that discussion about attention and start to point towards what might be going on. If you remember, Moll talks about this idea of cognitive unison, getting a bunch of processes to share a goal to be coordinated together in some fashion. Now he leaves it abstract like that, and I think we should try and investigate a little bit more further, more concretely, what that might mean. And attention is one of the hottest areas in cognitive science right now. There's a lot of good work done by Frank Wu, by Sebastian Watsol, Christopher Moll. Many people are talking about this, and I'm not pretending to canvas all of that rich and very fertile, and it's very creative, it's advancing. I'm not trying to do that. I'm trying to pick up on some key themes here, because what we want to understand is how can mindfulness train attention so as to cause more insight to make one more dispositionally capable of insight. Because after all, and we've talked about this before, we're not talking, when we're talking about wisdom, we're not talking about an individual insight, we're talking about a systematic set of insights that are mutually related to a fundamental transformation of the persons, as we said last time, existential mode. So, let's talk a little bit more again about what's missing from the model of attention. So, this cognitive unison, I think we can make use of another important cognitive scientist, philosopher scientist who did work on attention, and that's Michael Polanyek. And he pointed out that attention has an important structure, and we've been trying to follow the platonic idea of turning the feature list into feature schema picking up on structures. And the way in order to bring out what Polany is talking about, I'm going to run through an experiment with you, an experiment you can sort of follow along with me. So let me describe it to you first. I need you to get some object like a pencil or a pen, and we will call that your probe. Nothing untoward is meant by that, that's just what it's called in psychology, it doesn't involve any alien doing graphic things to your body or anything like that. So what we're going to do is let me describe it to you first. Okay, so what I'm going to ask you to do is going to ask you to find some object that you could put on a desk in front of you or hold in your hand, and then you're going to do the following. Do not start yet because I want to describe it to you. I'm going to ask you to tap on the object as if you were blind, and you're trying to figure out what the object is, its shape, its structure, its weight, its density. Oh, that's a cut. Right? That makes sense. Now, it's important while you, now you should close your eyes, you're doing this. I'm using touch because touch is slower than sight, and so you can become more aware of what's happening. Now, it's important while you do this that you continue tapping. So I'm going to ask you in a moment to close your eyes, start the tapping, and then while you're doing it, continue the tapping as you are following my instructions. And this will give you a sense of what you're doing. Okay, so what I want you to do is close your eyes, you start tapping on your object, right? Start tapping. Okay, until you start to form an image of the object in your mind. Okay, so your eyes are closed, you're starting to get an image of what that object is in your mind. Okay, so right now you're aware, like you're focus your awareness on is the object. I want you to keep tapping, but I want you to shift your awareness into your probe. Feel how your pencil or your pen is moving around, shifting. Okay, keep tapping. And then I want you to shift your awareness into your fingers and feel how your fingers are moving around, shifting around. Okay, some of you may be able to pick up on the individual feelings that are occurring in your fingers. Now go back, feel your fingers and your thumb how they're moving. Now feel how the probe is moving. And now allow the tapping to reveal the object to you once again. So I've done this multiple, multiple times with people. And what's interesting is the following thing. Most people find this very readily easy to do. And a couple things. When you're initially tapping, for example, I was aware of my cup, but then my awareness moves into my marker and then my awareness moves into my finger. And when my awareness is in my finger, I'm not aware of the cup at all. Then I was able to reverse it. I go from being aware of my fingers to being aware of the probe to being aware of the cup. And you're saying, what's all this about, what's going on? Well, there's an important structure. Let's take a look at it step by step. So here's the cup, or whatever your object was, right? And I'm tapping on it with my probe. Okay? Now here's the interesting thing. It's not like I was completely unaware of my probe, because I was completely unaware that I couldn't manipulate it. But I wasn't actually aware of it. I was aware through it. I was aware through my probe of the cup. So I'm aware through this, and I'm aware of this. So it's like my probe is transparent to me. And let me give you an analogy right now, where this is opaque. Right? Here's the analogy. And we talked about this before, but let's do it again. My glasses are like my framing. My glasses are transparent to me in the sense that I'm looking through them, beyond them, by means of them. They're transparent to me. But what I can do is I can redirect my awareness so that I'm now looking at my glasses rather than through them. So my glasses have now become opaque to me. So I can do a transparency to opacity shift. Now what does that ability to shift indicate? Well, this is part of Pliny's idea. Here's my probe. I'm aware through my probe. He has what I call a subsidiary or an implicit awareness. Because I'm aware through it. I'm not aware of it. I'm aware through it, right, of my focal object, for example, my cup. And this, I have a focal awareness or an explicit awareness. Now his point, which is really quite good, is that attention is this kind of structuring phenomena. What it is, it's always attention, as he says, from to it. It's an attention through subsidiary awareness into focal awareness. When I'm paying attention, I'm doing this. But here's the interesting thing. I was then able to step back and make this focal, right? And now it's my fingers that I'm aware through my fingers of my probe. And then I can even step back and be aware of my feelings. What some people would call sensations. So I can keep stepping back and stepping back. So I'm looking at the cup through my probe. Now I'm looking through my fingers at the probe. And now I'm looking through my feelings at my fingers. And of course, the whole time I was actually looking at the cup, I was doing all of that. I was looking through my feelings, through my fingers, through my probe into the cup.

Opacity, transparency, and shifting (12:48)

And you see the spotlight metaphor is missing all of that layered, recursive, dynamic structuring that's going on. And notice you can move in both directions. You can do a transparency opacity shift, in which I step back more and more into my mind. Or I can go the opposite way. I can do an opacity to transparency shift. That's when you went the opposite way. That's when you go from looking at your fingers to looking through your fingers at your probe and going from looking at your probe to looking through your probe to the cup. And your attention is doing that all the time, flowing in and out, doing a transparency opacity shifting. Now that's very important because that's an important, what you're seeing is how many different processes are being coordinated, integrated together, to optimize and prioritize, to use an important term from Watson, this particular object or this particular scene or situation. So that's one way in which attention is operating. Now, for reasons I'm not quite sure of, I think it has to do something with we're using a visual metaphor and the way vision is oriented in our bodies. We tend to use an in-out metaphor for this. That's why I'm stepping back and looking at, as opposed to looking through. Notice also something that's really important for where we're going to need this when we talk about gnosis and participatory knowing. Notice when I was, if you'll allow me, when I was knowing the cup through the probe, I'm indwelling the probe. It's not like I'm participating in how the probe is being with respect to the cup. I'm sort of indwelling it. I'm not knowing the probe, I'm knowing through the probe. I'm inter-essé. I'm so deeply interested that I'm actually integrated with it and through it into the cup. The way my vision is integrated with these glass lenses so that I'm actually seeing through them and by means of them. And the point about this, and we've talked about this before, of course, is this also works not with just technology, but psycho-technologies. We've talked about this with second-order thinking. You can so integrate literacy, for example, into your cognition that you don't look at literacy very much, you automatically look through it. We'll come back to that. All right, so this is right. As I said, this seems to be, people talk about this metaphorically as moving in and out with their awareness. So one of those ways of tensions work is it moves in and out. You can look through a lot of processing deeply out into the world, or you can step back and look at a lot of processing and withdraw towards the center of your mind. There's another important axis upon which your attention is working, and I can bring it out by a famous example. All right. So you give this to people and you ask them to read it, and they say, "What does it say?" and they'll say, "The cat." And they're like, "Oh, yeah." And then you point out to them that they're reading this as an H, and they're reading this as an A, and these are exactly the same thing. Why are you reading one is an H and the other is an A? And so what they'll typically say to you is, well, because it fits in with this word as an H, and it fits in with this word as an A. So let's use language we've already developed. The letters are the features, and the word is the gestalt, the overall structure. Now notice here, you've got a problem. It's almost a pseudo-zen problem. In order to read the words, I must read each individual letter, but in order to dis-ambiguate each letter, I must have read the whole word, therefore reading is impossible. Now, of course, reading isn't impossible, which means something else has to change. What has to change is your model of attention.

Flowing into and out of slide 173 (17:05)

The searchlight metaphor, the spotlight metaphor, can't address that problem. Here's what your attention is actually doing. It's simultaneously going up from the features to the gestalt, the idos, the structural functional whole, and it's going down from the gestalt, the words, to the individual letters, the features. It's simultaneously doing that. Your attention is also doing this. So not only is your attention flowing in and out doing transparency, opacity, shifting, it's also flowing up and down between feature and gestalt. Your attention is doing all of that and it's doing it right now. And the spotlight metaphor doesn't capture any of that. And mindfulness has to do with making use of all of this complex, dynamical, remember what dynamical systems are, dynamical processing.

Mindfulness and scaling (17:57)

These are dynamic self-organizing processes and they can be optimized. And mindfulness optimizes them in some way. So, I'm going to put something up on the board. It looks like a graph, but it's not a graph because it doesn't have absolute position. It's just a schema because it has relative position. So, when I move this way, like we were talking about when we were talking about Polanyi's work, I'm doing transparency to opacity shifting. And going this way is to do transparency to opacity and to go this way is to do opacity to transparency. It's not an app, no position is transparent and the others opaque. It's always the direction that matters. The more I move this way, the more I'm stepping back and looking at. The more I go this way, the more I'm indwelling and looking out into the world. Then we have this. I can be going down from the Gestalt to the features using the word to decide the letters. For example, and I can be going up from the features to the Gestalt. Nothing is inherently a feature. Look, the letters are a feature in the word, but the word is a feature in the sentence. Nothing is absolutely a feature. It's always relative. That's why I'm putting these double arrows. This isn't a Cartesian graph. This is not a Cartesian graph. This is a schema. But one thing you should know is that although I can describe and you can understand these two axes independently, they're almost always operating in a highly dynamic integrated fashion. Very often, as I'm moving towards a Gestalt, grabbing a bigger picture, I'm using that bigger pattern to look more deeply into the world. So often, I'm doing this. I'm grabbing bigger patterns and I'm using those deeper patterns to look deeper into the world. So when you find this is what we do in science, for example, I find this and this and this. I get a pattern and then I find a way to integrate it together and then I use that pattern to look more deeply in the world. This is what this is. I found a pattern and it allows me to look more deeply into the world. I'm no longer looking at these individual things, force, mass and acceleration. I'm integrated them together and that allows me to look more deeply into the world. Often, when we're stepping back and looking at our minds, our awareness processes within attention, we're also often breaking up Gestalt into features. For example, you were breaking up your experience of your whole finger into individual sections of your finger when we were doing the experiment. You were breaking up the whole of the cup into individual moments of contact. So very often, we're all these two to come together. Let's call this scaling up of attention and scaling down of attention. First of all, let's map these onto mindfulness practices to make clear why we're doing this. So I teach my students vipassana, a very traditional form of meditation. Notice what the word meditation means. It actually means moving towards the center. So we know it's going to have this aspect to it. So what do you do? Well, typically you train people by telling them to pay attention to their breath. So first of all, what they're doing is paying attention not to the world. They're stepping back, but they're not really paying attention to their breath. What you tell them is the following. Again, language of explaining, not the language of training. Look at it with a much more fine grain. You tell them to pay attention to the feelings and sensations that are being generated in their abdomen as they breathe. So as they inhale, they're feeling sensations in their abdomen and as they exhale. And what they're doing is trying to do that like I did with my finger. They're trying to maintain and renew their interest, constantly make it salient to themselves. Now notice what's happening. Normally, our embodied sensations, I'm not happy with that word for sort of philosophically important reasons, but I don't have time to go into it right now. Normally, we don't pay attention so much to our sensations. We pay attention through our sensations to the world. So normally I'm not paying attention to my feelings. I'm paying attention through my feelings to the cup. With meditation, I'm stepping back and not looking through my sensations. I'm stepping back and looking at them. That's like I don't look through the way my mind is framing things. I'm looking at the framing. I also do something else. I don't just look at it as one blob. I do something like observational analysis.

Break up (23:29)

I break the gestalt up into separate experiences. I'm doing this. I'm stepping back and looking at and I'm breaking the gestalt of my experience up into its features. Its atomic features if you'll allow me a metaphor that you shouldn't push too far. That's what you do in meditation. And we'll talk about why would you do this? Why would that matter? And importantly, our question is why would that help cause insight? That's meditation. That's vipassana for example. I also teach my students a contemplative practice. So the word meditation means to move towards the center and that fits perfectly with vipassana and this kind of thing. Contemplation. Now it bespeaks how overly simplified the West is in trying to understand this in that these terms are now treated as synonyms. Contemplative practices, meditative practices. It's all the same thing. Aren't these just synonyms? They're not synonyms. And paying attention to their etymology will quickly reveal this. First of all, the Latin etymology. Look, what's in the center of this is temple. It comes from a temple which actually comes from the Latin word for a part of the sky that you look up to to see the signs from the gods. To contemplate is to look up towards the divine. This also goes well and is convergent with the contemplatio. The Latin term was a translation of this Greek word, theoria. And theoria also, originally doesn't mean generating a theory. A theory is a species of theoria. Because what I do with theoria is I try to see more deeply into reality. You see, meditation is moving this way and contemplation is moving that way. Meditation emphasizes scaling down. Contemplation emphasizes scaling up. And I was taught both. In fact, I was taught three things in an integrated fashion. I was taught vopassana, a scaling down strategy. I was taught meta, a scaling up strategy, and you're scaling up with your sense of identity, by the way. We'll come back to that later. And then I was taught tai chi chuan. Because tai chi chuan is about moving, right? In and out. In and out. Flowing between these inner and outer movements in a dynamic and optimizing fashion. Why teach me all these things together? Because it's actually a system of these psychotechnologies that will optimize your cognition for insight. Okay, so do you remember we did the nine dot problem? Right? We talked about that? Remember the fact that you can misframe things. So let's do the nine dot problem again. Join all nine dots with four straight lines and people find it difficult. Why? Remember we talked about this. They automatically listen to the words. Remember, they automatically and unconsciously project a square there. And then they automatically take this to be a connect the dot problems. And so no non dot turns are possible. And therefore they can't get the solution. The solution is here's four straight lines. One, two, three, four. The reason why people find that so difficult is I have to break the square and I have to not treat it as a typical connect the dot problem. I have to not treat it categorically to use language you've heard already. Because you don't do non dot turns. Do you remember this? Now notice there's two moments to having an insight. I have to break up an inappropriate frame.


What do I have to do? I have to break up the gestalt. Right? And I also have to de-automatize my cognition. I have to make it not operate unconsciously and automatically. Well how do I do that? I take stuff that's normally happening unconsciously and I have to bring it back into consciousness. Yes? That makes sense? How do I do that? I do that by doing a transparency opacity shift. Normally I'm automatically sensing through my probe. But I can shift my awareness and become aware of my probe. I can bring things back into awareness. So you de-automatize cognition by doing a transparency to opacity shift. So I break up the inappropriate frame and I de-automatize my cognition by scaling down. Now interestingly enough there is lots of work by noblic and other people showing that you can improve people's ability to solve in-prosite problems. If you get them to do what's called chunk decomposition and constraint relaxation. Chunk decomposition is just breaking up a gestalt. That's what chunk decomposition means. Constraint relaxation is basically de-automatizing your cognition. De-automatizing your cognition. Scaling down helps you to break up the chunks, break up the gestalt and it helps you to de-automatize your cognition. But is that enough for insight? It's not enough. Yes I have to break up the inappropriate frame. But I have to make an alternative and better frame. I have to watch. I have to widen my field of awareness. I have to take stuff that was in the background and change its relevance. I have to look more deeply for deeper broader patterns that I have not considered before. What do I have to do? In order to make a new frame I have to scale up. And we also have lots of independent evidence having nothing to do with mindfulness or meditation. That one of the ways you can improve people's ability to be insightful is that they get trained. If they have training or practice or are naturally disposed to be able to scale up. If people can complete patterns in a kind of leaping that CC-Bender Baker talked about and other people. We can scale up in that way if we can take pictures that are out of focus and refocus them mentally so we can suddenly see what the picture is. Again and again and again when people can scale up better they are better at solving insight problems. So both make you better. But there is a problem because both also make you worse. Because if I just scale up, if I just maximize, like tightening the string, and of course I immediately project the square and then I am locked. So then I just scale down, just meditate. If I just keep breaking up the stalls I will never make the solution. I will choke myself. That is what happens when people are choking. If you are sparring with somebody, a way to get them off is to compliment them. That was a really good right hook you just because then the person will start stepping back and looking at it and they will get all screwed up. Because they will break up the ability to generate the gestalt. So notice what I am saying because stick with me because this is really sort of tricky. This can improve your chances for insight by breaking up a bad frame. But it can also mess up your problem solving by causing you to choke. This can improve your ability for insight by causing you to make a better frame. But this can also cause you to leap into an inappropriate frame and be locked in fixation. So what should you do? You don't want the strings too tight. You don't want the strings too loose. And you don't want it just half way. What do you want to do is you want to train people in both of these skills and then train them to flow between them. It is called opponent processing. So they are pulling and pushing on each other. And so they are forced to coordinate and constantly get the right degree of attention engagement that is most dynamically fitted to the world. That's why the people who trained me trained me in all these things. That's why you shouldn't equate mindfulness just with meditation. It's not. So if you pay attention for example to the eightfold path, you'll have people be trained in meditative practices, contemplative practices, practices in which you flow between the opposites until you learn like in a martial art to get an apt and constantly adjusted fittedness, attentional fittedness to the world. Now this leads very naturally into talking about mystical experiences and the kinds of mystical experiences that people can have within their mindfulness practices. But before I do that, let's gather. Notice what we've said here. We have an understanding of mindfulness. What's mindfulness doing? So mindfulness is basically teaching us how to appropriate and train a flexibility of attentional scaling so that we can intervene effectively in how we are framing our problems and increase the chances of insight when insight is needed. Notice that this didn't really, how is being present making you more insightful? But I've given you a way of understanding being present that works. When I'm scaling down, I'm actually like making my mind less representational, less inferential. I'm doing all of this work to become aware of and gain some mastery over my processes of problem framing and thereby training skills that will make me more insightful. What happens if you were just to scale down and practice scaling down and scaling down and scaling down and scaling down? Well, you can actually get to one kind of important mystical experience. So Forman calls this and it's well attested, calls this the pure consciousness event, the PCE, the pure consciousness event. It's a kind of mystical experience you can have after extensive mindfulness practice. I've experienced this.

Step back (35:21)

Let's do it. So right now I'm looking at the world. And the thing you're doing when you're practicing meditation is you try and step back and look at the lens of your mind, if you'll allow me. And what happens is it's hard to maintain because you have such deep, deviled habits of directing your attention back out towards the world. And you start thinking, "Well, I've got to do my laundry. I've got to do this." And then what you have to do is you have to bring your attention back again. You have to do that. You have to re-center and step back and look at your mind rather than automatically looking through it. And you keep practicing. And that's like that. And it's arduous. But these are like doing reps. That's meditation. Meditation is that you're building this ability to step back and look at your mind. And then what happens is, remember how we went back in layers? We went into the probe and then into our fingers and into sensations. When I do this with people, it's often the people who've had some mindfulness training that can step back all the way into their sensations. That's not a coincidence. So I start, now I'm looking at my mind. And then I start looking at the more subsidiary layers of my mind, the deeper layers by which I was looking at the upper layers. And then I step back again, I step back again. So now I'm just looking at my consciousness. And eventually I step back and I'm not even conscious of anything. I'm not conscious of this sensation. I'm just conscious. It's what's called the pure consciousness event. You're not conscious of anything. You're just fully present as consciousness. You're not aware of yourself. You're not looking through your self machinery. You're not looking through your consciousness. You're not even looking through your mind. You're just fully conscious, the pure consciousness event. This is the event that results from this.

Non-duality (37:12)

What about if you were to really scale up? Well, think about things that you might have heard associated with the Buddhist view. I see, I'm going to see everything is interconnected and everything is flowing, impermanent. I'm going to create this overarching gestalt and that gestalt is going to be so overarching, it's going to include and encompass me. I'm going to experience this resonant at one minute. And you already know what that's like because we've already talked about it. Think about that as just a super flow state in which I'm deeply at one with everything. Super flow state, resonant at one minute. I don't use a tonement because that has a particular Christian meaning that I'm not trying to invoke here at one minute. See, this model of mindfulness explains why people get into these kinds of mystical experiences. If they do a lot of meditative practices, they will get a pure consciousness event. If they do a lot of contemplative practices, they will develop this empathetic, participatory, flowing, super flowing, resonant at one minute. But remember what we want ultimately is we want these two together. There's a third state and this is actually the state that matters. This is called the state of non-duality. So let me try and explain to you a way in which you can at least imagine you could get into it. It's a way I train people. Imagine that you're going to be cycling, scaling up and scaling down with your breath. So as you inhale, you scale up and you do that sort of resonant at one minute. You're trying to be flowing at one minute with everything and then as you exhale, you're doing the vapassana. You're trying to step back as close as you can to the pure consciousness event. And you oscillate back and forth with the breath. You often have to do that for years. But what can happen, and there's other ways of getting into this state. This isn't exclusive. This is one way, the way I was taught. What can happen is you can have the third kind of mystical experience. It's not the pure consciousness event. It's not resonant at one minute. It includes both and transcends both. It's both at the same time. Your awareness is deeply to the depths of your consciousness and deeply to the depths of reality and it's completely at one. It's all at once. There's a progenic state, a state of non-duality. This is one term for wisdom. This is kind of mystical experience. Now this is the state that's actually sought for, that non-duality because this is the state that should lead to a comprehensive capacity for insight. Because you're not going to have an insight about nine dots and four straight lines. You're going to have an insight into the fundamental, the guts, the grammar of the agent arena relationship. You're pushing to the ground of the agent and you're pushing out to the circumference of the arena and you're pushing that machinery to optimize so that you can see in as deeply integrated a fashion, as possible, that connectedness between the two. So you have the capacity for an insight, not into this problem or that problem, but into your existential modes of being. This is how you can remember the being mode.

Radical Transformation (41:03)

You can have a fundamental insight into it. Now this is in fact of course what Siddhartha experienced. He'd been practicing the pastna and a contemplative practice called meta very deeply, very powerfully. It looks like one of his great innovations was to conjoin the two together. You often talk about them. And what happened was a radical transformation. He experienced enlightenment. We're going to talk about what that might mean. So after his enlightenment, after his awakening, he's walking down the road and people come up to him and his visage has changed. Think about when you see somebody and you know they're in the flow state and they're flowing. And you can, that grace and that energy and that musicality of intelligibility that's playing across their face and their gestures and their emotions. And you can't, most of it you're only picking up implicitly, but you've got a sense, what's going on? Oh that's so beautiful, that's so graceful, there's so much power and there's a charismatic and you're just caught up in it. So these men are approaching Siddhartha and he's filled with that. And so they say to him, "Are you a god?" Think about what conditions have to be like where that's a reasonable thing to ask of someone. And he answers very clearly, "No, I'm not." Are you some kind of angelic messenger or being? No, I'm not. Are you some kind of prophet? No, I'm not. Are you just a man? No, I'm not. They're frustrated. What are you then? I am awake. That's how he gets his title. He moves from talking about an identity he could have to a fundamental way of being. I am awake. He has fully, deeply the depths I try to indicate here. Sati remembered the being mode in a way that isn't an insight about this or that problem, but is a fundamental insight into what it is to be a human being. A systematic set of insights that optimizes your entire being that triggers and empowers a fundamental transformative experience. So, as a cognitive scientist, especially one who studies the connections between Buddhism and cognitive science, I've become very interested in these kinds of experiences that people have. And I have colleagues and collaborators who are also interested in this. Why do people pursue altered states of consciousness? Why is the mindfulness revolution, which is the pursuit of altered states of consciousness so powerful? Why are we going through the psychedelic revolution right now? Because unlike other therapeutic pharmaceuticals, psychedelics work exactly by bringing about an altered state of consciousness. Why is this so powerfully important? Why is it that we're not the only creatures in fact that pursue altered states of consciousness? It looks like the more intelligent a creature is, the more it will pursue altered states of consciousness. Caledonian crows will tumble down rooftops in order to make themselves dizzy, which is a risky thing to do, but they do it because they're enjoying the altered state of consciousness. Why is it that some of these altered states, mystical experiences, certain types of psychedelic experiences within a therapeutic context, we're going to talk about all of this, can bring about and afford such powerful transformations? What is it that's going on there? And here's what's interesting. Sometimes people will have a kind of altered state of consciousness that in my mind it recapitulates the axial revolution. Look, normally when you have an altered state of consciousness, let's pick up on Siddhartha's metaphor, awakening, wakening up. That's in contrast to being asleep, to dreaming. So what happens in your typical state of altered state of consciousness, one that you experience every night, you're dreaming. And when you're in the dream state, you think that that world is real. You interact with it as if real, but when you wake up you go, "Aha!" That was just a dream, that wasn't real. This is real. This. Normally when we come out of an altered state of consciousness, we point at it the finger of rejection and say, "That isn't real." "Oh, I was drunk. That's not real." "Oh, I was high. That's not real." But sometimes people have certain kinds of experiences, altered states of consciousness, in which exactly the opposite occurs. They go into that state and they come back and they say, "That was more real. That was really real." And this is less real. Do you see how that's axial? That's like, "Wait! That higher, higher, why do we call it a higher state of consciousness?"

Quantum Change Theory (47:20)

That higher state of consciousness, that I had access to the real world. And when I come back, like somebody in Plato's cave, I've come back out of the sunlight. This, I now realize, is only echoes and shadows. It's less real. In fact, and because of my desire to be in contact with what's real, I'm going to change myself and I'm going to change my world to try and recapture. Sati, Sati, to remember what that's like. I want to live in greater contact with that really real. And so they start to transform their whole lives and their whole self. The whole agent-arena relationship is completely and radically, radically, revolutionarily restructured. This is known as quantum change theory. Bad name, bad name, good theory. People do this. This is, of course, very important for understanding what happened to people like Siddhartha. In fact, most of the world religions that emerge at the axial revolution are predicated on the idea that there are higher states of consciousness that should empower, challenge, and encourage us to engage in such quantum transformation. You go through these radical transformative experiences. It's obviously at the core of Buddhism. You experience Satora, Satori, right? You realize Srinata. It's at the core, right? Avadanta, when I experience Moksha and release. It's at the core of Taoism. I realize the Tao. So, how is it that these experiences have such authority? But it's not just that they're important historically, right? They're at the core of the world religions, right? And you say, "Well, what about the Western world?" Like Sufism within Islam and the Christian mystic tradition and Kabbalah, like all of the world traditions point to these higher states of consciousness that can bring about these radical, modal transformations in our cognition and our very being. And that's important enough. But when you do surveys, you look at some of the work that's been done, 30 to 40% of the population has experienced these events. And it's like flow across cultures, language groups, socioeconomic status, gender, pervasive and universal. Not universal in the sense that everybody has it, but universal in the sense that there doesn't seem to be any type, class or order of human beings that is not capable of experiencing it. So both qualitatively, historically and quantitatively, scientifically, this is an important phenomena. And here's what's really important for our purposes. There's a deep connection. Remember I said before, there's a deep connection between how often you flow and how meaningful you find your life. That is also more radically the case for these states. People who have experienced these higher states of consciousness and undergone these quantum changes, these deep transformational experiences reliably import and there's good experimental evidence to support it that they have had a significant increase in meaning in life. In fact, many people report these experiences as the most significant in their life and that a lot of the meaning of their life is hinged upon these transformations. There are deep connections between awakening and recovering meaning. There are deep connections between awakening and insight. As I've already indicated, we'll come back to see, there's a deep continuity between this kind of insight, mystical experience and full-blown awakening experience. My lab, we've just finished running with my associate Anderson Todd, my lab director, lab manager, Jensen Kim, all of my wonderful RAs, and they'll show up in the acknowledgement. We just have submitted a paper because we ran an experiment. We did a massive M-Turk survey trying to see if there was a relationship between if people have a mystical experience and how meaningful they find their lives. There is in fact a significant relationship between mystical experience and if you have meaning in life, we did a more fine-grained analysis and this is consonant with the work of Samantha Hintzelman and others, experimental work showing that it's something like a capacity for insight, making sense, which is often called coherence in the literature that seems to be what's doing all the heavy lifting. It doesn't really matter if you'll allow me so much what the content of your mystical experiences. In fact, very often there's no content, they're ineffable. But what seems to be happening is you're somehow optimizing your capacity for making sense, both inwardly and outwardly. It's like what's happening is some improved optimization of this of anagorgae and people find that deeply meaningful. So there is good reason to believe I'm not advocating Buddhism here because I've already pointed out there are similar claims in all of the mystical traditions and I'm not claiming that those traditions are all identical. I'm not Aldous Huxley.

Proof Of Meaningful Existence

Evidence of Meaningful Existence (53:28)

But there seems to be some deep truths here about the nature of attention, the nature of mindfulness and the enhancement of the ability to enter into these higher states of consciousness that can significantly alleviate existential distress and bring about a pervasive and profound kind of optimization of our insight and our capacity for finding our lives meaningful. And that would be being able to do all of those things, right? Elevate the existential anxiety, create a systematic kind of insight, a transformation of agents in arena that recovers the being mode. Forage transformation. I mean, isn't that the core of meaning and the ability to do it, wouldn't that be the core of wisdom? So what I want to do is I want to continue on and I want to explore this. What's going on with mystical experiences? What's going on with these higher states of consciousness? Why are psychedelics coming back into the center of the cognitive-scientific investigation? We've got to talk about consciousness. We've got to talk about altered states of consciousness. We've got to talk about higher states of consciousness and transformative experience. And what is the knowing that's going on here? Because there's no knowing of words. There's no words. There's no content. Peer consciousness event. They're not conscious of anything. This is, everything's the same. There's the resonant at one minute, the flowing. What kind of knowing is it? That's what we're going to take a look at next time. Thank you very much.

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