#63- Why Meditate? A Conversation with Joseph Goldstein

 
Nhoj Morley
 
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Nhoj Morley
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24 January 2017 08:19
 

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris and Joseph Goldstein answer questions about the practice of mindfulness. They discuss negative emotions, the importance of ethics, the concept of enlightenment, and other topics.


Why Meditate?

This thread is for listener’s comments.

[ Edited: 02 February 2017 09:32 by Nhoj Morley]
 
LadyJane
 
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LadyJane
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04 February 2017 08:33
 

You’d think more meditative minds would’ve found this thread sooner.

 
 
NL.
 
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NL.
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04 February 2017 09:29
 
LadyJane - 04 February 2017 08:33 AM

You’d think more meditative minds would’ve found this thread sooner.


Depends on what kind of meditation they were practicing. If they were totally In The Moment and this thread didn’t appear in their line of vision, it would be downright unmindful to see it. wink


I already wrote a ton about his podcast in other threads because I can talk endlessly about meditation, but overall I think discussions such as the one in this podcast highlight the idea that while we talk about ‘meditation’ and ‘contemplative practices’ and ‘Buddhist traditions’ as one thing, in reality it’s probably like talking about ‘exercise’ or ‘politics’ or simply ‘paying attention’. There is a general theme there but it encompasses a huge number of paths, traditions, practices, and so on, each with it’s own surrounding contextually appropriate logic and action. Sort of like the hilarity that might ensue if two people said “Well look, we’re both into politics and paying attention, so clearly we should agree on everything!”, ha ha. It is true to say that a general topic has been defined in invoking those words, and that kind of clarity is important, but there are huge subsets within it.

 
 
ali15
 
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ali15
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09 February 2017 07:45
 

Given the understanding of the self and mindfulness, particularly the idea that our thoughts come into existence as a result of our perceptions, reactions and accepted interpretations of events as they occur – how do you reconcile or explain the variation of personality types? For example the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. This seems to tap into an individual’s cognitive function by observing how they perceive, react and interpret the world around them. It demonstrates that people tend to fall within a defined spectrum of personality types and each type is determined by how an individual’s thoughts are generated and processed. This categorisation seems to work in reverse to the concept of mindfulness because it validates a cause for our thoughts and behaviour – the cause being the self or the creator. I’d be interested to hear views on this.

 
Jmoose
 
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09 February 2017 13:04
 

I would like to see Sam’s App for Meditation. But if it is so difficult to make a new one, why not collaborate with the 10% happier team?

 
NL.
 
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09 February 2017 14:12
 
ali15 - 09 February 2017 07:45 AM

Given the understanding of the self and mindfulness, particularly the idea that our thoughts come into existence as a result of our perceptions, reactions and accepted interpretations of events as they occur – how do you reconcile or explain the variation of personality types? For example the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. This seems to tap into an individual’s cognitive function by observing how they perceive, react and interpret the world around them. It demonstrates that people tend to fall within a defined spectrum of personality types and each type is determined by how an individual’s thoughts are generated and processed. This categorisation seems to work in reverse to the concept of mindfulness because it validates a cause for our thoughts and behaviour – the cause being the self or the creator. I’d be interested to hear views on this.


I think possibly you are misunderstanding ‘mindfulness’, although to be fair, it’s an ethereal concept used in a multitude of ways by different groups and people. In the context of this podcast, however, I don’t think the act of being mindful rests on any assumptions about causality. One could be mindful while falling into total delusion, and additionally mindful of being aware that this was happening (for example, as the result of drugs,) or mindful only of the delusion without access to the thought “this is a delusion” (i.e. mental illness or dementia). The truth value of what is being observed; and the origin of that perceived truth value, are somewhat neither here nor there, as I understand it. Mindfulness is simply a word for open attention or observation, it has little to say about the mechanics of what you are paying attention to.


That said, I still don’t see how Myers Briggs (Which I think is a lot of fun - I am technically an INFP but the only two letters that are unwavering for me are the “IN”, the other two can come out as close to 50/50 or even change depending on where I ‘am’ at a given stage in my life - during spurts of professional productivity I lean more towards ‘J’ overall; at random thoughtful intervals of reading philosophy I’ll test as INTP.) has much to do with self-as-creator or, the associated concept I assume you may be hinting at here, free will. You could easily posit that different brains or bodies or both are wired for different categorically similar algorithms. One can easily imagine a population of androids being programmed to filter information in such a way, to fulfill complimentary roles. I don’t see how that relates to a ‘self’, unless you see ‘algorithm’ and ‘self’ as synonymous?

 
 
ali15
 
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10 February 2017 16:33
 

I get what you’re saying with regards to causality - the self doesn’t have to be the cause, but to me this podcast talks about thoughts as different from the self. So I’m thinking, with the concept of mindfulness, the state of awareness is the experience whereby we feel detached from our thoughts…they are not what we are. With the personality type indicator, it describes both the thoughts and actions of the individual, as well as the underlying algorithm causing the individual to think or act in that way.

So I’m finding it difficult to comprehend the state of mindfulness as being something other than, as you say, the algorithm of our thoughts and experiences. And being able to notice this, doesn’t change how it functions…if it is an algorithm. Or maybe it does, and that’s the point?! I’m new to this, and still questioning everything until I fully understand (as an INTP)

 
NL.
 
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10 February 2017 19:35
 
ali15 - 10 February 2017 04:33 PM

I get what you’re saying with regards to causality - the self doesn’t have to be the cause, but to me this podcast talks about thoughts as different from the self. So I’m thinking, with the concept of mindfulness, the state of awareness is the experience whereby we feel detached from our thoughts…they are not what we are. With the personality type indicator, it describes both the thoughts and actions of the individual, as well as the underlying algorithm causing the individual to think or act in that way.

So I’m finding it difficult to comprehend the state of mindfulness as being something other than, as you say, the algorithm of our thoughts and experiences. And being able to notice this, doesn’t change how it functions…if it is an algorithm. Or maybe it does, and that’s the point?! I’m new to this, and still questioning everything until I fully understand (as an INTP)


Apologies if I’m misinterpreting your train of thought here, but I think the Myers Briggs factor is overcomplicating things in this case - it’s a specific example of the larger question you seem to be asking, which is something like “If there is no ‘self’, who or what is doing the observing then? And isn’t mindfulness a little contradictory when it says: a) “You” are not your thoughts so don’t ‘identify’ with them, but b) When you look closely, there is ‘nothing but seeing, hearing, tasting, a thought arising, etc.’, which would seem to imply that you are nothing but your thoughts, at least in the moments when they exist.”


I think this would apply to any explanation of how the mind-body system produces thoughts. In dualistic terms, you could, again, either say that mindfulness a) Must be invoking some spooky, woo-like ‘other’ who observes the functions that are already explained mechanistically or b) There are only mechanics and nothing to be observed, so the idea of observing your thoughts is a moot point.


I don’t think that I’m qualified to answer that question on behalf of various groups, but for the sake of conversation, here’s my best guess. I expect secular psychologists would say that the self is an as of yet unexplained phenomenon but either way training it to engage in certain meditative practices seems to have positive results (even if the self is a veritable robot, you can still program said robot to do new, self-beneficial things); and while I’ve heard spiritual types speak to both a & b (“pure consciousness” and “the last stage is realizing the mind never needed to be trained at all!”, respectively,) I expect they would say it’s a middle path between the two that is hard to describe in words - similar to the way it might be difficult to explain a painting to someone who had never seen any kind of printed medium before. Imagine trying to explain Water Lilies…. on the one hand saying it’s not ‘just’ a bunch of paint smeared on a canvas, in some sense it really does ‘show’ flowers… on the other saying no, they’re actually not flowers… One simply has to have a concept of symbolic representation for that, otherwise it doesn’t make any sense in either of the preexisting constructs.


Honestly, I do think this is where there is a bit of a leap of faith in such practices, the idea that such generally unexplored middle ground exists. I feel I have been changed by meditation but don’t feel I can confidently speak to the existence and nature of such a middle ground. Maybe that’s because I’m not far enough along in my practice or, to keep an open mind, maybe it’s because it doesn’t exist. I think you’d have to ask a more advanced meditator who feels they understand this idea intuitively, in the way that you or I easily understand the symbolic representation of Water Lilies, and maybe see what they have to say about it. It’s not for nothing that the mind-body problem has been a central philosophical question for eons, after all!


Again, however, the latter discussion there is of mindfulness as a more spiritual practice. One can have an entirely dualistic worldview and still think of it as simply good exercise for the brain, robotic or not, ha ha!

[ Edited: 10 February 2017 19:39 by NL.]
 
 
Eureka
 
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16 February 2017 20:16
 

I am open to feedback about this.
My understanding and personal experience is:
We think our thoughts.
We feel our emotions.

Emotions are primarily felt in the body.  The basic emotions are:  Anger, Sadness, Joy.  Fear.  Surprise.  Disgust.
The basic emotions can be recognized in others by distinct facial expressions (physical) which are similar in all cultures around the globe.

Thoughts appear in the mind.
We think happy thoughts.  We feel happy feelings.

There are secondary “feelings” which are a combination of emotions and thoughts… such as “worry”... but that’s another topic.
 

 


Both Mr. Goldstein and Mr. Harris confused the two.

 

 
Clearmind
 
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28 February 2017 12:05
 

Re a stable experience of lack of I.

What Joseph has is an superficial experience of the emptiness of the I. I say superficial - this is pretty impressive but nonetheless lacking in depth.

If he wants to improve this experience he needs to read Chapter 8 of Guide to the Bodhisattvas Way of Life by Shantideva, which explains how to develop deep experience of an object like emptiness. Critical is reducing attachment to people and objects around him. If he does this his experience will improve to the point where he has a vivid experience of emptiness all the time. I hope this is helpful.

 
Giulio
 
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Giulio
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09 April 2017 19:18
 

I have enjoyed the podcasts with Goldstein. As a result I have bought his audiobooks which I am getting through, and recommend to anyone who has practiced some meditation.