Philosophy of Meditation & the Non-Narrative Self | Voices with Vervaeke | Rick Repetti | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Philosophy of Meditation & the Non-Narrative Self | Voices with Vervaeke | Rick Repetti".
Note: This transcription is split and grouped by topics and subtopics. You can navigate through the Table of Contents on the left. It's interactive. All paragraphs are timed to the original video. Click on the time (e.g., 01:53) to jump to the specific portion of the video.
Welcome everyone to another Voices with Raveki. I'm so excited to have yet once again, one of my favorite interlocutors and companions on this journey, the amazing Rick Ripetti. So Rick, it's so good to have you back again. I'm so excited about this conversation. - John, it's always a pleasure and an honor to be a part of your work. As you know, I love your work and I am very happy that you are not only somebody who invites me onto your platform, but that we are developing a nice friendship. So yes, nice friendship and we're working on various projects together. And I thought I'd give you the opportunity to mention a project that you invited me onto and that came to a wonderful fruition, which is the anthology. Maybe you could speak a little bit about that. And I've been mentioning it frequently, both in a popular setting and in academic settings.
Exploring Anthology And Meditation
- The Story of the Anthology of Meditation (00:46)
- Well, let me show the book. I don't know how clear that'll come out. - I mean, pretty clear. Rutledge Handbook on the Philosophy of Meditation. And this is actually my wife is the artist who made the cover design. Valerie, and that's, you've been looking at her stuff every time I'm on the platform here. Yeah, so this is the Rutledge Handbook on the Philosophy of Meditation. There are 26 chapters in there. One from me, one from John right there. John, should I rehearse how I got you involved in this at the last moment or is that anecdotal? - I think that's a good story. Let's just bring that in because that's how we actually met. - That's right, that's right. Yeah, so I was in the late stages of editing this book with 26 chapters. And in the last couple of months, I was about maybe a month away from my deadline to hand over the manuscript, completely edited by me. And I had a couple of contributors who kind of just went AWOL. So I was scrambling to think what to do about that. If they showed up at the last minute, if I'd have time to do their work and they just weren't responding to my email side, who knows what happened to them. But so I knew I could possibly, if I found someone else, I could maybe put someone in there. In fact, one of the people who I wasn't hearing from was doing stuff in neuroscience, contemplative neuroscience, all that kind of stuff. And I wanted somebody in the science space. And I accidentally found your work while I was preparing to teach a course in ancient philosophy that I hadn't taught in quite a while. And I was just boning up on my presacratics and whatnot. And so I was watching YouTube videos or really listening to them while I'm jogging because I'm multitasking. And I found voices with, and not not voices with breaking, the awakening from the meaning crisis. But it didn't even come up because of that. It just came up because there was some presacratics mentioned or something in my search. And one of your videos in the early sequence that was from the ancient era and you're awakening from the meaning crisis series, I forget what it was about, but it was one of the ancient Greeks. And I was so impressed. And you were mentioning in there how you were trying to reverse engineer enlightenment or whatever, and I was like, this is really interesting. This is a lot more than what I was just looking to remember. What's the difference between an axamander and an axamenie, you know, this kind of thing? I just wanted to refresh back 'cause the names I always get them, you know, I'm sloppy with that. So let me listen to a couple of videos while I'm running. I was hooked. I started listening. I went back to the beginning and I listened to the entire series. I was halfway through it when I realized this guy might be perfect for a chapter. I've got it one or two openings. You know, I had promised to publish a certain amount. I had word counts. I couldn't go too far over, but I don't want to go under either. So I said, you know, what do I got to lose? You know, most people, especially this guy, he seems so busy, but let me just try. So I emailed you. I said, hi, I'm so-and-so. This is my project. I have an opening. I think your work, if you can, you know, knock something out in a matter of a month, which most people need a half a year to a year when they agree to write something for an anthology. And you said, yes. So I think you said, I might need an extra week, but I said, okay, fine. And like, but you got it to me before I think the deadline, even I don't think you actually needed that extra week. I don't remember the details. Doesn't matter, but I was so thrilled to have a chapter by you. And that's how we met. 'Cause you agreed to do it. You wrote an excellent show. And not only that, but very few of the contributors write a chapter that has only minor, like, you know, editorial proofread-aid kind of changes. So yours was like almost 99% perfect when you gave it to me, which was also wonderful. I only had maybe one other author who was, you know, that clear in their writing and very little editing work on my end. So yeah, I love the piece and I really resonate with your piece. So that was it. And then after we started that correspondence, you invited me onto this platform. So that's, yeah, that's the how we met thing. That's so I got a lot more than what I had hoped for. So yeah, I guess one of the takeaways for people is don't be ashamed or hesitate to ask people for things. - Yeah. - You know, it might work. - So about the anthology, I think it's a wonderful book. Maybe clarity by contrast would help. How would it differ from the psychology of mindfulness meditation? 'Cause there's several books around that topic out there. - Yeah.
- What makes Rick's Anthology different (06:13)
Yeah, this is not only the psychology of meditation, but just meditation. So there's an Oxford handbook on meditation. - Yes. - There's all sorts of handbooks on mindfulness and this and that and I'm in one of those. And same thing with psychology, you know, it's, the key difference is that while there is a philosophy of meditation in the history of Asian philosophy, Asian philosophy is loaded with philosophy about meditation and there's some philosophy about it in the Stoics and whatnot. - Yeah. - Very little that's explicitly even discussed as meditation. Right in ancient Western philosophy, you know, the stuff that Hado talks about. And this is also related to something that I've heard you talk about how analytic academic philosophy has kind of veered away from this deeper contemplative approach where philosophy is a way of life and it includes a kind of meditative reflection. Most Western, you know, in the history of Western philosophy as particularly the contemporary era, there's almost no discussion of meditation, philosophy of meditation. Only very recently that individual philosophers like you or me or Evan Thompson or this one or that one have even addressed meditation. And if they have, it's only part of some larger thing. It's been a kind of ancillary, auxiliary, secondary foot meditative or whatever. I mean, there have been a couple of things that have come out that have been more directly about meditation, but not entirely about it. Like Evan's book, "Waking, Dreaming, Being," he discusses meditation in there, Evan Thompson. Yes. Of course, his recent book, "Why I'm Not a Buddhist," that discusses meditation. It's not the primary topic. Right, right. Let's talk about what would or should philosophy think about and want to say about and explore about meditation itself.
Mindfulness in Western Society (08:25)
Right, right. So meditation has entered into the kind of mainstream culture with mindfulness is everywhere. Mindfulness for dummies, mindfulness. I've heard you talk about that, the critique of the watered down kind of consumerist alternative to popping a prozac mindfulness. But it's being absorbed in all kinds of context, the boardroom, in the business world, in police departments, in schools, in the healthcare system, in the UK, in all sorts of places. But philosophers, that's that metaphor about the owl of Minerva. The philosophers are represented by the owl of wisdom only come out after something's been established and accepted by the culture. It's like Monday morning quarterbacks usually. Yeah, yeah, yeah. They are not usually prophetic or early on the scene of anything. They like to wait till the dust settles, at least modern Western philosophers do. Right, right. Or they'll chime in on anything. But you've got little fragments of it appearing here and there. Like the philosophy of psychedelics, Chris Leatherby just came out with at books. So Western philosophy, even analytically kind of informed Western philosophy, not continental, I mean Anglo-American, you know, the analytic tradition, is very slow to kind of move into these other areas, like the philosophy of psychedelics or the philosophy of meditation. But it's happening now. So, and as you know, meditation is kind of like the synaquana of my own meditate, my own philosophical practice. Right. It revolves around meditation. And so this is just something that I've been thinking about, a need for this for the longest time. And I think the time is ripe. And apparently the publishers agreed. So. Yeah, like I said, it's a beautiful volume. I think it's, I think it's really pertinent. You know, post-Hado, we've got the revival of philosophy as the cultivation of wisdom. And even within the Anglo-American tradition, wisdom is now a topic again, after centuries in which it was not addressed. And then of course, one of the goals of meditation and contemplation has crossed cultures in times in the cultivation of wisdom. So it's, they should naturally go together. At least philosophy is a way of life and a mindfulness set of practices. So I think it's really needed to bring them together.
Situated Cognition/Action of Meditation (11:33)
I wonder if you could say what would they get in a philosophy of meditation? Like what's the philosophical approach to meditation? And what is it gonna be? 'Cause I think one of the things it does, although, I mean, I'm a little bit biased 'cause that was the centerpiece of my article. One of the things philosophy does is bring, you know, the perennial reflection on wisdom into deep discourse with perennial practice of the cultivation of wisdom and meditation. And so what do you think this book would offer the reader that they wouldn't get? Like you say, there's a thousand books on mindfulness and there's a, the brain is doing this, neuroscience, or psychology, right? You know, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. A mindfulness enhances insight and top regulation and all that, but what is it that somebody could get? Like for one thing I think is, you know, exactly the bridging between, you know, the cultivation of wisdom and the reflection on wisdom and a way of life, but also, you know, philosophy can often bring like a synoptic integration and attempt to get an integrated whole, an understanding, a comprehensive understanding and in-depth understanding of a particular phenomenon. So I guess, do you have a sense of my question? I'm leaving it very open. - Yeah, no, I do. And your question was already formulated in a very rich and contentful way. You know, it almost already implies the answer. That it's certainly a philosophy of meditation is going to do all the things that you just asked about, ideally. But, you know, this is like a kind of, this book is kind of just like a baby step in the direction of a comprehensive philosophical account. Of what meditation is, how it might work. You know, it's relevance to philosophy and vice versa. - Yes, yes. - And I don't know if you recall in a previous talk with you about meditation and philosophy and their relationship to each other. I mentioned one of my Dharma teachers, Ruth Denison, her Buddhist name is Dhamma Dana. She was a student of Goenkas, a Theravad and Burmese, you know. - Yep. - At a retreat at IMS, the Insight Meditation Society in Barry, Massachusetts, she casually in a Dharma talk said, mindfulness is just extraordinary attention to ordinary experience. - Right, yeah. - And I remember having a kind of insight that I thought that's what philosophy is. - Yes, yes, yes, yes. - Right, so to me, meditation is a philosophical practice. - Right, right. - So that's the foundation of what I think the two, you know, coming together is all about. They're both, they're two different tools for the same thing, the sabbat-iential process. - Right, right. - So what about the continental-- - One moment, that's the first thing I would say. - Oh, and then, yeah, and then, so like in this book, you've got different, 26 different chapters from different perspectives, right? And I said, it's kind of like a baby step. It's the first step, you know. My desire is to just get this into the conversation. - Right. - So when Western philosophers in the Anglo-American tradition or even in the continental tradition or other people in this space see that there are people on both sides or on three or four different sides, all starting to speak the same language and address the same questions that gives the subject matter credibility for others who might be on the fence, there's a lot of scholars who are privately practitioners also. Right, and so this is an opportunity to get them out and into the fray and to contribute to this, you know. What should we think about meditation as philosophers, as professional academics and scholars, whether or not you're a practitioner, what should we think about it? There's, you know, the epistemology of it, does it help us with, or how does it help us with our epistemology? You know, what can it contribute? And what can it help us with metaphysically? In terms of, I think like some of the questions like Heidegger is concerned with, you know, continental, slow phenomenology, certainly meditation and phenomenology are very, very similar. So I don't know if you had time, you probably didn't have time to read these chapters, but 'cause there's 26 chapters in there were all pretty tense.
Meditation and Affect (16:44)
But there are a few chapters, there's a whole section, what is it, part four, which is about meditation and phenomenology. - Right, exactly. - So there's one guy in there, Staniswar Tamalcina, who's a Vedantic scholar and a really brilliant philosopher out at San Diego, who wrote about phenomenology and Vedanta, which is like, you know, the Monast view. And then there's another, a paraphillosophus, Dan Zahavi, you might have seen his name, self, no self, that guy, phenomenology and everything. And one of his students, PhD student Odysseus Stone, they wrote a critique of the idea that they see some people claiming in the mindfulness community that mindfulness and phenomenology are the same thing. So they're like defenders of phenomenology and they have a kind of critique, their critique is largely of the mik mindfulness or the John Cabbat's in, MBSR, mindfulness-based stress reduction and saying how, you know, the goals are very different.
Rhetorics of authenticity and profoundity? (17:46)
- Yes, yes. - You know, you could do that. And then the person after them is Christian Kosaru, who's a scholar of Indian philosophy and phenomenology, who thinks that most of Indian philosophy can be seen through the lens of phenomenology. So he defends the ways in which those two things are in common, you know, this kind of thing. So that's just one little thread about phenomenology and meditation. And that's important to have those people all talking to each other. That's one sample. - Well, that was exactly the question I was gonna bring up. I wanted you to, 'cause you talked about the Anglo-American tradition, but I know the book addresses, especially the phenomenological tradition and they, like, yeah, it seems to me, and again, the book is addressing a pertinent thing. Those two things need to be in deep discussion with each other. I agree that they're not identical, but I disagree with any proposal that says they're not intimately related to each other. - Right. - Yeah, so I think that, so that's very clear. I think about, I think the book is definitely fulfilling a role that, and I don't think this is preposterous to propose. I think this book is fulfilling a role that I have not seen in any other book about meditation or mindfulness. And I think it's an important role. Even these two things that we've just talked about, I think are really, really important. - Yeah, one way that I would put what you just said is that having these discussions within the normative context of contemporary philosophy, right, contextual norms govern arenas, right? So, like the debate between the McMindfulness, the critics of McMindfulness and the defenders of it, that's in one space, but it's not really in the philosophical context. So we're bringing these things into the philosophical context where professional philosophers, they specialize in, communicating with each other with philosophical norms. - Yes. - Right? - Charitable interpretation, positive critical feedback. Being careful about points of agreement and disagreement, you know, those norms are good, they're not enough, as you and I know, from doing what, you know, Ron Lahov calls deep philosophy. It will be great to get all those people to do some deep philosophy about this stuff. Because, and I think, of course, meditation and deep philosophy go very closely. - Yes. - Yes. - And it's great to begin almost every exercise in deep philosophy with some kind of meditative practice. So, just to, if we can bring that set of facts that I just mentioned to the broader analytic, Anglo-American and the continental traditions and have them see these discussions play out within this new domain, the philosophy of meditation, well, it's only new in the West, as you know, it's ancient, you know, in Taoism and Hinduism and Buddhism, but that's been kept separate from, largely separated from Western philosophy. But that's all opening up now. - It's very, very cool. I hope that maybe there'll be a follow-up volume because I think it's, like you said, it's, it can be, yeah, easily. Because I invited twice as many, more than twice as many people as the ones who were able to write. And then most of those people who I invited were like, oh, I love the idea, I'm just too busy right now. - Yeah, yeah. - If you had a later deadline, I could do it, you know, that kind of thing. So I know there could easily be a volume too.
Paradox of self-transcendence (21:54)
- Well, I'd like to pick up on something that you and I, before we turn the camera on, we're talking about, we could have gone in the anthology or could go into perhaps a future special issue of a journal, but also in our last conversation, we were, I wanted to talk to you about the Agnes-Calard, Gailin Strassen, paradox of self-transcendence, which is integral to the mindfulness tradition, the wisdom cultivation tradition, and obviously to the work of LA, Paul, and Agnes-Calard and transformative experience and aspiration, but it was also connected to some of the problems around, you know, the paradoxes of free will. And we had a really, you actually shifted my position in that discussion in a way that I found very, very helpful and grateful for, but perhaps we could zero in on, you know, bringing it into this, because mindfulness, at least when we put it back in an aspirational, sapiential framework and not just a therapeutic or fitting you well for being a corporate drone kind of thing. We, when we put it back into that framework, it puts us right into this challenge that Strassen has posed. You know, I do bring it up and awaken it from the meaning crisis, I brought it up in other work. And I believe I talk about it again and after Socrates, we have 17 episodes filmed by the way, and we only got-- - I can't wait to see that. - Yeah, yeah, and I'm getting a lot of positive feedback from some of the sort of beta watchers. So, so maybe I'll just quickly review the paradox or the problem or the dilemma. I think Galen, Strassen thinks of it as a dilemma, perhaps it's more of a paradox, but we can talk about that. So, the paradox goes like this. He uses the term self-creation, but it's clear that he means something like self-transcendence. He doesn't mean the non-controversial self-creation of an auto-poetic being that's growing or something like that. He means you become a self other than you are. And so I think, in fact, a better term would have been self-transcendence, but I understand why he brought in creation 'cause it puts the pivot point, it makes the pivot point more explicit. So, when I say self-creation, hear self-transcendence, but I'm gonna still use self-creation because I think it is a fortuitous phrase. He says, "Okay, so you're going to create a self other "than you are. "If you'd merely extrapolate or grow from the self "that you are, that's not self-creation "because you're not making another self, "you're only extending or developing the self." So you need a source of genuine novelty from outside the self. But if the self that is created is other than yourself, then it is not self-creation, it is creation by an other. And therefore, it is not self-creation. So, on either choice, and these are the horns of the dilemma, right? It's either the self, but it's not genuine self-transcendent creation, or it is genuine transcendent creation, but it's not done by the self. So therefore, you can't put the two together other than in an oxymoron. And yet, we seem to constantly invoke across all of these sub-iential traditions, including the mindfulness tradition, like the possibility of enlightenment, et cetera, a radical self-transcendence is a real possibility. Do you think that's a fair presentation of the paradox? - Yeah, that's excellent. Two things right off the bat that reminds me of the Mino Paradox. - Yes, yes, yes.
New knowledge and self-transformation (25:43)
- And I think the same answer has to be brought in here, that they're can be, and same as they can be partial knowledge, they're going to be partial self-transformation. - Yes. - This is the process, it's a gradual process. So there's incremental new self coming in, some of it from the outside, perhaps, maybe, maybe not, but it's being assimilated by the self that's already in the self now, and this kind of thing. It's also like a kind of sorities thing, or the fallacy of the heap. - Yes, yes, yes. - Those are my intuitions about that, and I've critiqued straws in about this. In fact, my very first paper at, well, it wasn't my first paper, it was one of my first presentations in public on Buddhism and Free Will, was at the Columbia University, they had a conference on Buddhist ethics that was revolving around Owen Flanagan's book just came out, the Bodhisattva's brain, which Buddhism naturalized was the subtitle. And Struson was in the audience, I'm friends with him, and 'cause I just know him from communication and whatnot, but I gave a criticism of him in that presentation, which was precisely about that I thought he was guilty of a fallacy of the heap. - Right, right. - I made some analogies with it, I don't remember them off the top of my head, but he came up, when it was over and it was people could come up to the microphone with the Q&A, I got very nervous when he got up and walked up to the mic, but he said, you know, I agree with you 100%. He said, "I am some kind of a compatibilist, "I was just kind of pointing out the problem." - Yes. - You know, said, "Okay, fine, I was so happy "that he said I agree with you." You know, he thought it was reasonable that of course it's like Zeno's paradox. You know, it would be as if I was critiquing Zeno's paradox and Struson came up and said, "I do believe in motion, "but I just think that we do have a logical puzzle here." You know, that kind of thing. So I was very happy about that, but the other thing I wanna say, coming at this from a completely different point of view, maybe supporting steel manning him, the problematic part of the paradox, I don't remember maybe 30 or 40 years ago, I had a friend who moved out to Marin County where there's a lot of, you know, crystals and all that kind of that new age, hooey stuff. And I remember him telling me, there's a community of people who believe in something called walk-ins.
Did you ever hear this phrase? - No. - Yeah, also, you know, you can have a walk-in appointment in a beauty parlor, but yeah, I didn't either. And he said, "Well, it's this belief "that there are these kind of ethereal aliens "who will just kind of walk into "and take over your mind and body." - Right. - And he read a book about it and everything. And I said, "Well, that's insane, "but some agent external to you comes in "and then your new being, "it would be kind of like a walk-in." - Yes, yes. - Which was a displacement and a kind of murder of the self, so to speak. - Yes. - You're killing of the previous self or at least an annihilation of it. If a completely external self entered you, it would be like a possession. - Yes, yes. - That's a strong intuition in this problem. - Yes. - I think it's really important. And you have, of course, this paradox comes to the fore when you have radical meta-noia like in Saint Paul or Siddhartha, where the old man and the new man, right? The unawakened, the awakened. - Right. - So I think that's, so I wanna give you my response and then what you think about it, because I think it dovetails with this, which is, and this goes to another famous article that Strassen wrote around the self. And we did, Greg and Chris and I talked about it in the elusive eye. - The great series. - Yeah. - The folk list of self attributes.
Autonomy and relationship, Tielhard de Chardin (30:01)
- Right, and it's a monadic, autonomous self, right? And so I'll bring in a notion from Tillick. Tillick says, you know, you can have autonomy, which of course is the primary value of the enlightenment. It is the value par excellence of the enlightenment, of the, you know, of the European enlightenment, the autonomy, the autonomy of this, the autonomy of that, right? And then you have a heteronomous, you know, and Tillick talks about like if you were possessed, like you say, by the foreign agency, he calls it demonic, but the Watkins would be at least demonic, they could be demonic too, right? - Yeah, yeah. - And then he says, - They were actually being viewed as in a positive way, like when you see those UFO fans, hoping that the good aliens will come and save us, you know? - So it would be demonic, not demonic, right? - Right. - And then he points out quite rightly that both of those are in a sense polarities and therefore misrepresentations of the fundamental nature of the self. That the self is actually a dialogical tonus between individualization and participation. Our own cognition is, right? This interpenetration between individual cognition and distributed, we're both using English, neither you nor I, but it is. Is that an alien possession? No, is it part of our autonomy? Well, not quite, right? Because we are participating. And so he talks about a Theonymous notion, which is God, right? And the idea is, one of the problems I have with Strosson is he has a monadic model in the question. I'm not Strosson himself, but in the problem, there is the presupposition of a monadic self. Whereas I think of the self as not either individuated or participating, but in this, right? In this dialogical relationship at all times. And this is part of the four E cognitive science. And so I think the question could almost be reversed. I've been arguing, for example, in my course on cognitive development, that it's not the case that there's a history of the mind and the functionality of the mind. That's a computational model. But to the degree that the mind is inherently self-organizing and especially when it's self-organizing between the organism and the environment, there is no way to pull apart. It's history and it's development. It develops by functioning and it functions by developing. And you can't separate those out. The notion of self-organization completely merges together, these two things that we put as polarities. And so I think the self is something that is dialogically participated rather than autonomously generated or demonically or demonically received. And so I think the paradox is resolved by getting at a fundamentally different understanding of the nature of the self. If you see the self as inherently developmental, as inherently self-organizing, then you can't actually separate it into these two moments that he wants to separate it in order to pose the problem. That's how I would respond.
Embedded and embodied mind, Fours-E cognition (33:29)
- Yeah, I like that line of thought. And you said that was Tillic. - Yes. - Yeah, so I think he's right about this kind of false dichotomy. - Yes. - The model that's being presupposed and then that gives you this paradox. - Yes, yes. - The ironic that Strossen, I love what you said. And one of the thoughts that came to me is just even the embedded and embodied, the four-e thing really is a tremendous framework for your solution. - Yes. - You know, our embodied nature, our bodies alone are constantly exchanging oxygen and carbon monoxide and food and waste material. And you know, there's, that paradox is completely refuted just by our eating. - Yes. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. - So that means our cells are constantly changing and so what does that mean? - Yes. - On every level it seems to be that your model is the more appropriate one. When I, some of the things that I said, what's ironic about Strossen even more so is that he's a Buddhist meditation practitioner. - Yes. - The scholar practitioner. And you know, I've talked to him about this that he has said that over the years, he was still, you know, what did you find the most tangible consequence of meditation in your life? He said, I've noticed that over the years I've become less reactive.
The gradual process of self alteration (34:59)
Okay. Now that's not an alien entering into him. Right? That's a gradual process of more mindful interacting with his own, you know, contents of his psychophysiological, visceral, et cetera, right? Gradual process of deconditioning, plus it's part of Buddhist philosophy. - Yes. - That as you increase mindfulness of all the different aspects of your being, some of them of which are captured in the eight fold path, the eight folds of the eight fold path, right? Your volitions, your views, you know, that your speech and listening, I always add listening 'cause it's not just speech, speech is a two way thing, hearing and speaking, you know, your effort, your actions, your livelihood, all the different, the ways that you meditate, all of those things create this kind of processual transformation, gradually that you just described. And he knows that, and it's built into the, he knows that. - Yes. - He has to know that. And so that's why he said, it's just a puzzle, it's like a Zeno's paradox that he's articulated. And one of the things that I said is like, I made the argument that, look, the more you practice meditation in the Buddhist tradition anyway, you cultivate, and studies have shown this, you cultivate detachment, even very simple meditative practices like mindful, even mindfulness. - Yes. - So over eight weeks, they give, there are a bunch of these scales that test people, you know, like the Toronto mindfulness scale and the scale. So over the course of eight weeks, people experience decentering, detachment, you know, all sorts of things like that. So I argue, that's where I bring my philosophical lens and I made this comparison with Frankfurt. Frankfurt says, you know, higher order volitions are volitions about lower order volitions. I don't want to have that desire. I don't want to act on that desire, right? So when you meditate, you're detaching from those things and you're in the same time, approving of dharmic or pro nirvana, you know, approving of volitions that will lead to more mental freedom and reduce suffering. That's a meta-volitional thing that you're doing. So you're constantly altering the contents of the self, whatever the self, the metaphysics of the self are, you know, your self is certainly composed of your volitions and your habits and all of that. Whatever the metaphysical self is irrelevant, you're in this endless transformative process. - Yes, yes. - With this, you know, it's the feedback loop. It's like eating, you know, it's gradual, so those people who have these eureka moments often transformation hits you like a light bulb and there's a radical shift that people notice, but those are typically the result of lots of efforts on the small scale. And in my analysis, I think I even mentioned it in the article that we discussed last time about free will. This libertarian philosopher, not political libertarian, but the ones who believe in that autonomous, - Yeah, yeah. - You know, what is it?
Concept Of Self
Self-forming actions (38:43)
Almost dualistic that, you know, the self is a monadic mind that's not conditioned by anything. One of the, this libertarian, Robert Kane, he says, "Oh, he tries to defend this idea by coming up "with this concept of self-forming actions." So it's like the first time that you, an agent, a young moral agent, maybe age 5, 6, 7, right, has some kind of dilemma or conflict or torn decision. And he says, "It's almost like the pro and con of it "canceles out and they're stuck, like Borden's ass." - Right, I was gonna say, yeah. - Yeah, so then he makes the analogy that it's like the collapse of the wave function. The agents, it's both intentions are the agents. So it's not external. They have both the agents' desires. But agency first manifests in enacting a choice. And then, okay, so then that builds an identification with the agent's own will that I chose that over that. And the agent forms itself over time. Well, that part, there's something right about that part of it, but it doesn't, you know, whether or not that justifies the libertarian model, that's another question. But he came up with that just as a way to try to show that a model could be possible that wasn't completely irrational and incoherent was because libertarian, it's very hard to do that prime move or unmoved self thing.
Model of the Becoming and the Self (40:04)
- Yeah, yeah, yeah. - So he tried to show how there's this gradual process that the self creates itself and bootstraps itself, but not X-Nee, hello. - Right. - So, but then I said, when you practice mindfulness or meditation or any of these, you know, sapiential practices that transform you, a lot, not all of them, but many of them, particularly the detachment and de-centering that you can get from meditation in the Buddhist tradition, you're engaging in self-unforming actions. You're just conditioning yourself. - Yes, yes, yes. - So, and then you're also creating new attachments or identifications of like the dharmic ones, right? I wanna be more loving and altruistic. And right, so you gradually de-conditioning the old self and adding new, so you're doing self, unself-forming actions and self-forming. And I'm not talking about the metaphysics of self, it's a pragmatic placeholder. - Yes, yes. - Process, you know, this is a causal functional process that I'm talking about, which is organic, it's completely naturalistic, there's no creation X-Nee, hello, but you know, Strassen himself who poses this dilemma is doing that in his practice over the years. - Yeah. - You know, so that's the way I come at this. And you know, I said, to deny it is to engage in something like the fallacy of the heap that if it's either a hundred or zero, it's either an area in or it's a continuation. That's like something like, "Well, I can't put my finger on exactly "and is a number of grains. "Plus one is a heap, "minus one is not a heap. "And it's the number in between the heap and the non heap. "Because you can't put an exact number on it." It doesn't follow that there are no heaps of sand. - Yes, yes. - Just like with the Zino paradox. - I think your argument and my argument actually converge. - Very much so. - Yeah, very much so. We're coming at it from slightly different-- - Yeah, yeah. - Emphasis in attention to different details of the same process. - I think that's right. I think that's deeply right. I wonder if Strassen, 'cause the place where I actually saw his meditative practice showing up in his work was in his critique and denial of the requirement for narrativity to the self. That's where I saw, that struck me as, "Oh, that's something I wondered." When I saw, 'cause he has that famous thing where he talks about, I forget which volume it was on the self. I was reading all these anthologies when I was preparing for the elusive eye. And actually when I was preparing for the course that I teach that became the elusive eye. But he makes that argument that many people think the way the current self and the future self are bind together or with narrative. And then he claims that he does not have that experience. - I know, I know. - And I thought the only thing I could reach, and I've been a strong proponent of the fact that the self can be non-narrative. And I've been arguing with people like Johnathan Pejot and Paul Vanderklei around this issue, because I thought when he was talking about that, I thought, well, I get what he means, 'cause I've experienced that in deep meditation, deep contemplation, a non-narrative. And I talk about a pneumological sense of this, a sense of the, like the ordering of one's being and that ordering to the ordering of reality that is not a narrative thing at all. It's more logos to logos to use a neoplatonic idea than it is the extension of a mythos, right? And so I got what he was saying there, but I was wondering just now allowed to you, I'm wondering if his experience of the self as more punctate and non-narrative is maybe part of what is going into the problematic. So what I'm proposing to you as the following, that one way in which people think they can respond to the paradox is to invoke the narrative nature of the self.
The Narrative Nature of the Self (44:24)
Well, stories don't have, stories have non-logical identity, that's how they work. And I think he is right, now I'm trying to steal person him as well. I think he's right in challenging that presupposition. What I'm proposing is maybe one of the functions of the paradox is to get us out of just assuming that the presupposition of the narrative structure of the self solves that paradox, solves that problem. And I think he's right, this is my attempt to steal man, steal person him, that meditative experience, and you were nodding as soon as I said it, right? And meditative and contemplative experience can put you into a non-narrative sense of self, very profoundly, right? And so we need a notion of self that can solve the paradox without relying on narrativity. And I think you were putting your finger on that when you talked about the deconstruction of the self as taking, because that's a very much a non-narrative.
Deconstruction of the Self (45:38)
And you see that the parapols and the Sufi stories and the co-ons all designed to trigger the narrative and then to black hole it, to make it collapse it on itself and fall apart, to try and disclose the non-narrative sense of the self. So this is what I'm proposing to you. I'm proposing that part of what the problem the paradox does is help to call into question the presupposition of the narrative self and place a demand on philosophers, right? In the sense we've been talking about today to come up with a notion of self that does not depend on narrativity in order to address the paradox. What do you think about that as a proposal?
Outlining Strassens claim as a reference point (46:23)
- That's really brilliant, John. That goes a big step past what I contributed. But I think as you already pointed out, what we're both contributing to this is very synergistic or convergent. That's brilliant. I've thought about Strosson's claim to not have that phenomenology. - Yes. - It's very peculiar, but not that peculiar for folks like us. - Yes. - And he's been practicing for a long time. I don't know when he started practicing, but in his 1986 book, "Freedom and Belief," he brings in Buddhist meditation at the community, the Sangha, as an example of, you know, his father, Peter Strosson's piece about freedom and resentment. Do you remember that? - No, I don't. - Oh, yeah, it was a kind of classic where he says, "Look, if the scientific times or whatever "came out with the headline tomorrow saying, "determinism proven, right? "No free will." Peter Strosson said, "It wouldn't, in the least, "it might have a momentary blip on our normativity." But he thought, "We're so entrenched in our reactive attitudes, "our normative interactive patterns, "that that wouldn't really corrode it, "or force us to revise our belief." The underlying presupposition is that we think we have free will, and that all normativity rests on it, for the most part, right? So Peter Strosson saying, "No." And Galen was saying something like, "Well, Buddhist communities live without that." They, well, on the one hand, they live with the belief, and I think he might have been exaggerating, that everything is deterministic, and they have no conception of the self and all the normativity of the self out the window, right? So it's a kind of interesting continuation from the father to the son in the line of reasoning. But one of the things that he said then, and he actually contributed to my first anthology on Buddhism and Free Will, and he plucked out some stuff from Freedom and Belief and revised it for that collection, where he said, "Philosophers who believe in determinism "but still act as if they have free will "should practice meditation "so that they could really experience "the impersonal flow of causation through them." - Yeah, yeah, yeah. - Right, and then there would be no disconnect between their theory and their phenomenology and their practice, but I'm saying he wrote that original version in 1986. This is a long-winded thing to say, "It sounds based on what he even said in '86 "because what he wrote recently from my other book "was based on that. "He's been practicing for decades."
Reflecting Carrier and Strogatz's claim (49:39)
- Yes, yes. - And he's a brilliant philosopher. - Yes. - And in 1986, he was talking about experiencing the impersonal flow of causation through oneself, speaking about oneself in some causal functional sense. - Yes. - Kind of, I think that he probably is quite advanced as a practitioner and experiences the absence of the narrative self. - Yes. - One of these detachment things that happens when you practice. You start to see your thoughts as his thoughts or as thoughts and not as me, right? So, yeah, it's really a clever angle that you put on that, that the paradox is to get us to reconsider. Like, without actually saying it's targeting the narrative self, it does target the narrative self. - Very much so. - Yeah, that's one of those presuppositions. - That's right. - Questions in the background. Our sense of self that's challenged by that paradox is a narrative sense of self, that's what I think. - It's the notion of the self as a protagonist in a story. - Yeah. - Right, it's true. - As the main character in each of our narcissists think, like, universes, yeah. - And so here's where I invoke Yeraro and the idea that any such narrative actually presupposes a dynamical system of self-organization. And that's the actual rounding of the possibility of narrative. And so, if we move to a non-narrative sense, we can invoke what we talked about from Tillett, we can get a non-narrative sense of the self as this, right? Self-organization that is fundamentally the history and the functioning of the self that is presupposed by any protagonist model of the self. So that's what that, and so I think those two, the early answer we gave together to Strassen, we can now, still together, give a deeper answer to this steel-personing of Strassen's argument. - Yeah, and I think it's not, we're not rejecting him at all. - No. - Yeah, we're employing his brilliant insights and in a way to show that, okay, the causal functional answer to the paradox actually is what grounds a narrative sense of self when there is one. When there is one.
Contextual Virtuosity And Philosophical Insights
Centralizing the contextual virtuoso (52:18)
- Yes, yes, but it doesn't have to. - It doesn't have to be what, yeah, the narrativity is fairly normal and typical of human beings because of the average human being is not some satirologically advanced virtuoso meditation practitioner like Strassen. So like, this virtuosity thing, you know, the virtuoso, the contemplative virtuos I'll call them. - Yes, yeah. - Or, you know, in Buddhism they're called arias, you know, like the advanced, you know, the noble ones. They're trying to get rid of the narrative self because they see it as the primary confusion. I'm that guy in my story. - So I wonder then, if you'll allow me, if we move to the phenomenological, phenomenological sense of the self, right, that we've been talking about here, is that why you also get the dissolution? Like, often you'll see it in various parts of Vedanta, you see it in Buddhism, Buddhism, the one we're both familiar with, but the idea that emptiness is Shunyatta. Sorry, that Samsara is Shunata, the emptiness, right? That everyday world and the world of enlightenment are still are ultimately the same. What I'm saying is, right, when you lose the narrative sense of self, that the sense of that as being a radical, like transition from, you know, not enlightened to enlightenment, dissolves into, no, no, there's been a deep underlying continuity which goes towards your point, I think, right? Because if you drop to that other sense of self, you get the idea, no, no, that self is inherently self transcending, and it is, right, if you move past the paradox of self transcendence, I think you also simultaneously move past the paradox of enlightenment, that it is somehow radically other, and yet radically the same as everyday experience. - Yeah, this is so many metaphors in Asian philosophy about the snake and the rope, - Yes.
Vedanta and emptiness / Nothing (is) ongoing (54:26)
- You know, that kind of thing. - Yes. - And before and after enlightenment, chopped wood, carry water. You know, there's so many of these metaphors that confirm what you just said. - Yeah, yeah. - But the kind of causal functional specifications that we just articulated also remind me of this, what you'll get in Buddhism about individuality. So you've got, like, what is the self? It's not a real thing, it's a process, but what kind of process is it? It's a closely clustered stream of causally connected. - Yes, yes, yes. - And my conditions are different from yours. - Yes. - But we're part of the whole stream, and we're all interacting, so it's interest net, you know. But when you see that, you see that, oh, it's all one big show. - Yes. - I'm in this little part of the stream, whatever, when I say I am, you know. But I'm part of the whole thing, yeah. So if you have the insight, then those kinds of remarks don't seem so paradoxical, like, in the Diamond Sutra that nobody's ever enlightened, nobody ever suffers, you know. That's the idea that there's no real separation. That's the same idea in Vedanta. - I remember once, and there are, you know, that's one, those are some of the interesting things that a philosophy of meditation has to address. - Exactly, exactly.
Where different fields can inform (56:07)
- And I remember seeing once, I think it might have been the first time that the Dalai Lama, or that any Buddhist in over a thousand years, since like one of the first Buddhist conventions, had representatives from all the different Buddhist, you know, sects and traditions, the Mahayana, whatever, Vajrayana, all of them, all in one place. It was in England, I think, the Dalai Lama, a big Congress, I forget what it was, but I saw a video on it years ago, and at the end, there was Q&A, and he has his interpreter there, I forget that guy's name. But some scholar asked him, what's the difference between, you know, the one in Vedanta and emptiness, or non-duality in Buddhism, right? So this is a similar thing. - Yeah, yeah. - He goes back and forth with his interpreter into Benton for like five minutes. - Right. - Five minutes. And then he comes back to the mic and he says, I don't know. - Good answer.
- Good answer. - Right. I don't know what your time was, I saw you looking, I thought you might be checking the time. - Yeah, I just, I like to keep these two around an hour and a half minutes. - Yeah, yeah, because it seems to be like a really good, and it's not like you and I aren't gonna talk again. I think this was, I think this was excellent. Like I said, this really helped me get, right, going on, we might wanna write a piece together about just this resolution. - I would love to do that. - I think that would be really, really cool. But I was looking because I did wanna give you, as I always do for everybody on Voices with Raveki, the final word. - Well, I don't think I could top what the Dalai Lama said, and I don't mind quoting him. When it comes to the bottom line about all this stuff, I don't know. I don't know, but I'm trying to figure it out. And that's what the philosophy of meditation is supposed to do. I've been struggling with how philosophy and meditation integrate my whole life with my confidence and faith and my doubts and my experiences and my knowledge. And having other people like myself, like you and all those people who contributed to the volume, just having more regular discussions and professional research and dialogue and all that, that's why I put that book together because as I've told you before, I need to be in communion with more people like me who understand me and who can help me by talking about stuff like what you and I just talked about. So thank you, John. I really appreciate the good fortune of being a part of this with you. So thank you. - Thank you, Rick. You're always the amazing Rick Repetty. Thank you.