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What is will, and does it have a cause?

 
White Eagle
 
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White Eagle
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09 September 2017 10:36
 

“Your supposition was that selflessness liberates the brain from rationalisation which leaves brain resources free for unselfish and inventive outputs, and that meditation is a unique driver for good in that its benevolent effects on the self ripple outward through these outcomes.

If you are really determined to argue for this position that’s fine, but you have the burden of proof and you haven’t given me any reason to agree with you apart from just re-asserting your opinion.  How do you know this is true?  I am only expressing caution and wariness about using grand and universalist terms, or inferring deterministic moral correlations, I’m not even saying you are wrong. “

Kalessin - like you said - it’s a supposition, a hypothesis that makes sense to me as an engineer. The burden of proof is on me - we are in agreement there, and i have none. What i am trying to say is that it would be a pretty awesome avenue for research. I guess a better way to engage with this would be to initially ask - is this a good question to pose that’s worth investigating? I think so, because if proof is found it will provide direct objective observation of impact of transcendence on the brain and therefore on behaviour.  What that impact is and how to measure it - those are the real questions.  And of course you start asking these questions out of subjective experience.

“It makes sense subjectively because it happened to me ...  In this case, I argue that there will be tendency for new ideas to be of more service if they come out of the selfless state than otherwise.
I’ve provided a range of examples, but you are still forcefully dismissing all art and creativity produced by non-meditative means as potentially morally inferior to what you personally are doing?  And when you look at the history of transformative art and creativity, do you have lots of examples? “

Are you seriously going to argue that if someone works in a more peaceful state vs. a state of anxiety that the fruits of their labor are independent or unrelated from those states? Some things I guess are self evident - mental state and intention in a large degree impacts the quality and content of one’s work. I won’t be wasting my time proving that.

“Could we just agree that meditation is mostly a good thing and that selflessness has some proven benefits and maybe some we can’t prove yet, and steer clear of the hyperbolics”

Yes we can agree, but why stay clear of hyperbolics? How else are we supposed to generate ideas and design ways to test them if we are not brave enough to say something stupid. What’s the difference between hypothesizing and hyperbolics anyway?

 
NL.
 
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NL.
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09 September 2017 11:37
 
White Eagle - 09 September 2017 10:36 AM

Are you seriously going to argue that if someone works in a more peaceful state vs. a state of anxiety that the fruits of their labor are independent or unrelated from those states? Some things I guess are self evident - mental state and intention in a large degree impacts the quality and content of one’s work. I won’t be wasting my time proving that.


Sorry to interject on this particular point, but I would argue they ain’t called ‘tortured artists’ (or even ‘mad scientists’, although that’s half archetype half convenient movie trope) for nothing. I think Harris once said he got into meditation in part because he was into philosophy, and saw how the brilliance of people like Wittgenstein was paired with just the most outrageous neuroticism. So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to note that there can be, at the very least, correlation between suboptimal mental health (on a spectrum from Woody Allen to Van Gogh, say,) and creative output. But, as I’m sure you know, correlation can mean many things. It can as little as “X does not actively prevent Y” (i.e., poor mental health may prevent one from holding many jobs but not from painting, although the happiest most resilient people, when they choose to go into the profession, do no better or worse than anyone else.) It can mean that “Some third variable causes X and Y to frequently show up together”, i.e., people with diabetes can have difficulty with a variety of potential health problems, but the underlying cause of those is diabetes, it’s not that one symptom of diabetes causes another symptom. Or, it can be there is a causal relationship.


There is some evidence, I think, that very mild forms of mental illness (or maybe at that point they’re not even ‘illness’, maybe they’re just on the extreme end of a normal curve,) can be associated with things like high creativity - for example, studies of first degree relatives of those with full blown, severe mental illness can have higher levels of creative achievement in many cases - although usually we use the term ‘illness’ when some level of suffering is implied. It’s not clear if the suffering is always going to be an inevitable byproduct of brains that are wired a bit differently, due to the specific design of how they’re wired differently, or if it’s an avoidable scenario. Heck, maybe even if Van Gogh would have painted just as well if he was a cheery guy who kept both his ears - again, hard to know on that one.


I do think meditation can be helpful for channeling certain types of creative impulses. I am not Van Gogh over here, ha ha, but like every human, I do have a creative side that I enjoy expressing sometimes. When I was younger I would just have a head buzzing with a whirlwind of un-manifest ideas, occasionally picked up briefly and dropped. As I’ve gotten older and started meditating (I mean I can’t prove that’s been causal, but I suspect it has,) I’ve been able to turn that kind of ADD thinking into something that I think is more practical and beneficial in the real world. I party, vacation, and holiday plan (Oh how I love a theme! Just give me a theme to work with and a craft store and I am entertained for hours.), I come write lesson plans (something I don’t technically have to do as a therapist, not a teacher, but again, that I think is beneficial,) for activities at the school where I work, and recently I was thrilled to get over 100 downloads for a plan I uploaded to a teacher sharing site on teaching kids about compassion and empathy (and compassion versus empathy, like thinking about being a ‘helper’ if they feel upset) in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. I say that not to toot my own horn but to say I really do feel pleased that meditation has helped me to turn a mind that used to simply be ‘daydreamy’ into a mind that produces things that maybe help others, no matter how small the scale. No brilliant philosophy books or moving works of art over here, but maybe I make the circle of people around me a bit happier by actually turning ideas into something actionable.


So, my hope is that if there is a bright side to meditation and creativity, it is this - but I do worry that certain facets of mindfulness, while wonderful for many thing, could potentially hinder creativity and innovation somewhat. Again, if you think of ‘brainstorming’, it is almost the complete and exact opposite of mindfulness. I don’t think we should just assume that mindfulness and other Buddhist practices are the answer to everything. Again, Western civilization, for all its faults, did manage to produce a lot in the years when such concepts were unheard of - I don’t think we should just toss that aside and assume we were doing everything all wrong for the past few centuries.

 
 
Kalessin
 
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Kalessin
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09 September 2017 11:40
 
White Eagle - 09 September 2017 10:36 AM

Is this a good question to pose that’s worth investigating? I think so, because if proof is found it will provide direct objective observation of impact of transcendence on the brain and therefore on behaviour.

There is already some limited research on this which I have alluded to, and particularly in relation to religion and psychedelics which you keep deliberately ignoring.  I also remember reading some research about sound frequencies and feelings of transcendence or spiritual depth.  Most recently I believe there have been some positive findings in relation to using psychedelics to treat schizophrenia or other mental illness.  If you are genuinely interested I would suggest you do some internet research, and see what you can find.  Here’s one more for you, which may be somewhat relevant to your desired outcome -
“In an experiment performed by Marian Diamond, a neuro-anatomist at the University of California at Berkeley, a bunch of rats subjected to a high stimulus environment (with swings, ladders, treadmills and toys) as compared to another set of rats kept in a low stimulus environment (bare caged) lived to an advanced age of 3 years, which is equal to the human equivalent of 90 years of age. Also their brains had an unusual growth of glial cells, which connect neurons. i.e the rats subject to stimulation were brainier than the others.”

Are you seriously going to argue that if someone works in a more peaceful state vs. a state of anxiety that the fruits of their labor are independent or unrelated from those states? Some things I guess are self evident - mental state and intention in a large degree impacts the quality and content of one’s work. I won’t be wasting my time proving that.

You should, because as before you have offered no evidence, and it is by no means self-evident on any logical grounds.  “Peaceful” as a state has no a priori relationship to either productivity or quality.  How about these examples -
* Beethoven - a stormy, cranky and tortured genius who also suffered from deafness, colitis, rheumatism, rheumatic fever, typhus, skin disorders, abscesses, a variety of infections, ophthalmia, inflammatory degeneration of the arteries, jaundice, chronic hepatitis, and cirrhosis of the liver.  Peaceful?
* Mark Rothko - after a divorce with his wife, Rothko suffered from a painful depression. His life was entirely dependent on alcohol and cigarettes. In 1970 after a month of painting Black and Grey, Rothko was found dead in his kitchen being covered with blood. He was 66 years when he committed suicide slicing his arms with a razor.
* Vincent Van Gogh - after years of anxiety and mental illness, he shot himself. He was 37 when he committed suicide.  Peaceful?
* Carlo Gesualdo - (a brilliant Renaissance composer known for his books of sacred and secular vocal music) also known for his behavior characteristic of possible mental illness, including lewdness, violence, and sadism, culminating in the brutal murder of his wife and her lover. He is also believed to have engaged in masochistic practices and possibly to have ordered his own death.  Peaceful?
* Freidrich Neitzche - (a philsopher who has exerted a profound influence on Western thought and modern intellectual history, in case you don’t know the name) - in his writings, Nietzsche consistently criticizes Buddhism, condemning it as a “nihilistic” belief system, and in his advocacy of self-assertion and the will-to-life,  Nietzsche defines himself in direct opposition to Buddha.  Neitzche suffered from mental breakdowns and was a manic depressive.  Peaceful?
* Alan Turing - a gentle, eccentric genius and one of the fathers of computing, also an atheist and materialist, committed suicide after being convicted of the criminal offence of homosexual behaviour in 1952.  Peaceful?

Anyway ...

What’s the difference between hypothesizing and hyperbolics anyway?

Nothing if you are blowing smoke on your own, but on a public forum associated with a systematic thinker like Sam Harris then the difference between good and bad reasoning, between evidence and logical fallacies, and between effective or unhelpful use of language, are all up for friendly public comment smile.

Just to close I don’t think I have a lot more to say on this (you can have the last word if it’s important to you) since you are strongly wedded to your beliefs.  We are in agreement on some general things and I have enjoyed trying to make sense of this discussion, but I think others on this thread have really nailed it better than probably either of us.
All the best smile

[ Edited: 09 September 2017 11:45 by Kalessin]
 
Kalessin
 
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Kalessin
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09 September 2017 11:51
 
NL. - 09 September 2017 11:37 AM

So, my hope is that if there is a bright side to meditation and creativity, it is this - but I do worry that certain facets of mindfulness, while wonderful for many thing, could potentially hinder creativity and innovation somewhat. Again, if you think of ‘brainstorming’, it is almost the complete and exact opposite of mindfulness. I don’t think we should just assume that mindfulness and other Buddhist practices are the answer to everything. Again, Western civilization, for all its faults, did manage to produce a lot in the years when such concepts were unheard of - I don’t think we should just toss that aside and assume we were doing everything all wrong for the past few centuries.

Wish I had said this smile I agree and applaud your choice of words.

 
NL.
 
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NL.
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09 September 2017 21:57
 
Kalessin - 09 September 2017 11:51 AM

Wish I had said this smile I agree and applaud your choice of words.


Thank you Kalessin, I appreciate your kind words. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts as well, I should probably remember to take the time to tell posters this more.


Eagle, I don’t want to sound as if I’m being overly discouraging of your point of view here - I just think many of these concepts are circular, and therefore different pieces of them manifest in different cultures. Regarding creativity, for example - one could say, on the one hand, that the dramatic, emotional, complicated work of artists from Beethoven to Van Gogh stir up emotions and are not conducive to ‘quieting the mind’, ergo the ‘true’ artist is the person playing a quiet, soothing, simple tune through a reed pipe. On the other hand, one could say that the roller coaster landscape of expression we see in Starry Night and the 5th Symphony are exercises in equanimity and acceptance - acclimating to ever expanding stimuli from the world, rather than the predictable and the calming. Depending on what your end goal in viewing ‘art’ is, either could be true. Both could be claimed as ‘supporting’ various spiritual ideals, depending on how you want to look for it. A calm mind is important. So is acceptance of a wide range (and, hypothetically, eventually, ‘all’) stimuli.


Or take even a topic like scientific innovation. This is not without its pitfalls. One example (of many) - we are living in ways that are both extremely inequitable and unsustainable, where these two factors amplify one another (i.e., the unsustainable production of trash in the US promotes inequality, because we’re somewhat screwed given that we, as a small percent of the global population, do this, but would be really screwed if we created a world where everyone could be ‘equal’ to us in trash production.) There is really no energy source that can meet our current needs without harmful ‘side effects’ (for want of a better word). I believe we’ve wiped out a huge number of the Earth’s animal species - I’m not talking the few animals you think of when you picture ‘endangered species’ lists, in the grand scheme of human history I think it’s been a huge percentage, well over half at least and still on the rise. If we could wave a magic wand and create a world in which everyone was happy - not ‘sigh, sure, whatever, I’ll do this for the greater good’ - but really and truly, even blissfully, happy - living an incredibly simple life with one tenth of the technological advancements that first world countries enjoy today, would that be a good thing? I mean, again, I think you can make a case for either side there. The benefits of scientific advancements are readily apparent, but if the pitfall is our extinction, would we be better off learning to be happy mystics who get eaten by bears, have a high infant mortality rate and short lifespan, and are in danger of starvation during bad years?


I think there’s wisdom to be taken from both sides here. It’s good to both calm the mind and expand one’s horizons. It’s good to cultivate a love of living simply and accepting life rather than constantly trying to conquer it, and it’s good to alleviate suffering when and where we can do so responsibly. I think we should look to maximize what is positive for humans and our ecosystem as a whole, and that probably means pulling wisdom from both poles here.

[ Edited: 09 September 2017 22:01 by NL.]
 
 
White Eagle
 
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White Eagle
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13 September 2017 08:12
 

Kalessin and NL, thank you both for spending your time on this. I learned a lot, and there is a lot to think about. Unfortunately at this time work has really ramped up and my leisure time is temporarily on hold for deep and thoughtful responses.

I am over the moon about the latest podcast #96 - wow.
Yesterday i thought i understood this phrase, but today it’s hazy again smile
Phenomenal properties of consciousness only nomologicaly supervene on functional properties (Thomas Metzinger, from Sam Harris’s latest podcast #96)

 
dhave
 
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dhave
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18 September 2017 10:45
 

Just browsing, a couple of comments.

Kalessin - 07 September 2017 03:24 PM

None of this felt like an exercise of “free will” or volition, and that concept or even the engine of thought was and is very distant from my experience in those moments, but on reflection and with some critical thinking I have felt there is some kind of differentiation between aspects of the meditative experience, and that those with potentially ‘moral’ connotations (compassion, unconditional love, pathos, karma etc.)  are somehow overlaid on whatever the essential thing in itself is for me.

Most of these meditation chats seem to be about selflessness.  I might add that, at least in Tibetan traditions, there is a wealth of practices focusing on other qualities like compassion, loving kindness, and so forth.  Tonglen is one that may ring a bell.

I have tried these on occasion, with semi-regular practice, and they do work, it is like they rewired my brain.  I found myself feeling spontaneously more compassionate toward people I met and, more surprisingly, more compassionate toward myself!  It is funny, like I had not noticed before how critical I could be.

I heard that the Dalai Lama once said something like “We teach our children math and history and reading in school, should we not teach them compassion?”

Maybe we are.  My neighbor says they have yoga and meditation in her daughter’s first grade class now.  My how things have changed.  smile

White Eagle - 08 September 2017 02:13 PM

Kalessin writes: “An oppressive tyrant might also meditate and it might be hugely beneficial to them, there isn’t an a priori effect that would ameliorate their behavior towards others. ”

Please notice that i spoke about self transcendence and not just meditation or mindfulness. If an oppressive tyrant experiences self transcendence… He is pretty highly likely to stop his oppressive activities - it will loose all meaning. Of course oppressive tyrants do not spend years practicing meditation - they spend them oppressing. So that’s a pretty unlikely scenario.

That’s a nice story but you remember the Japanese suicide bombers in WWII?  They practiced Zen and selflessness is definitely helpful when dive-bombing into ships; helps one keep focused on the task.

Islam includes meditation practices.  Modern ISIS suicide bombers are a step away from meeting Allah.  Imagine such a state.  “You” can almost feel Allah calling you.  That might be called selfless in a curious way.

Perhaps this leads back to the OP.  I’ve had times when I struggled to change a behavior and other times where I just decided to change and did so effortlessly, no questions asked.  I do not know why I acted these ways.  Perhaps will lives in the collection of our experiences, memories, and habits leading up to an action.

Regards,
Dave.

 

 
 
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