Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
We have a thread for Varela in this sub-forum so I figured his cohort from The Embodied Mind would be worthy. I've provided some of his recent material elsewhere that I'll move over here. For now this is his homepage. Therein is a link to some of his selected articles, one of which is a condensed version of what will be in his forthcoming book, Waking, Dreaming, Being: New Light on the Self and Consciousness from Neuroscience, Meditation and Philosophy (link). The article is "Dreamless sleep, the embodied mind and consciousness: The relevance of a classical Indian debate to cognitive science" (link). (Kela in times past would have loved this one. Wonder if he's still around out there?) Abstract from the article:
"One of the issues debated between the Advaita Vedānta and Nyāya schools in classical Indian philosophy is whether consciousness is present in dreamless sleep. Advaita Vedānta argues that the waking report 'I slept well' is a memory report and hence requires previous experience, whereas Nyāya argues that the report expresses a retrospective inference. Consideration of this debate, especially the reasoning Advaita Vedānta uses to try to rebut the Nyāya view, calls into question the standard neuroscience way of operationally defining consciousness as that which disappears in dreamless sleep and reappears when we wake up or dream. The Indian debate also offers new resources for contemporary philosophical concern with the relationship between phenomenal consciousness (subjective experience) and access consciousness (accessibility to working memory and verbal report). At the same time, findings from cognitive neuroscience have important implications for the Indian debates about cognition during sleep, as well as for Indian and Western philosophical discussions of the nature of the self and its relation to the body. Finally, considerations about sleep drawn from Advaita Vedānta, as well as the Yoga school and Indo-Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, suggest new experimental questions and protocols for the cognitive neuroscience of sleep and consciousness."
I like this from p. 10. Ring any bells?
"But whereas the Advaitin takes this minimal selfhood to be a transcendental witness consciousness, I think itʼs open to us to maintain that it is my embodied self or bodily subjectivity, or what phenomenologists would call my pre-personal lived body. In this way, I think we can remove the Advaita conception of dreamless sleep from its native metaphysical framework and graft it onto a naturalist conception of the embodied mind."
I also like this practice from p. 19, something I've been doing for years, "treating going to sleep and waking up as themselves occasions for meditation—for watching the mind as it enters and emerges from sleep."
Also of interest is that according to Thompson Vedanta is using a transcendental argument to support consciousness in deep sleep, that sort of argument being "to deduce what must be the case in order for some aspect of our experience to be possible" (9). Recall that Bryant also uses Bhaskar's elucidation of this sort of argument to support his ontocology. But Vedanta uses not only the transcendental argument but conscious experience as justification. The latter is traditionally distinguished between phenomenological and access consciousness. Vedanta's transcendental argument accepts the possibility that we do not access consciousness during deep sleep, that we only deduce it as necessary. But Vedanta (and its yogic-influenced Tibetan Buddhist varieties) also claim we have access during deep sleep. And this is exactly what Bryant and Bhaskar would call the epistemic fallacy from their transcendental perspective.
In the last section of the paper (starting at 16) Thompson explores access in lucid dreamless sleep as consciousness without an object. It is described "as disclosing a basal level of pre-personal consciousness that lies deeper than the modes of awareness that characterize the ego-centred waking and dreaming states" (20). I'm thinking this goes beyond (below) the core consciousness described above. Recall this post from the states thread, of a base awareness without contents. It seems that core consciousness with its rudimentary ipseity still has contents given its differentiation and relation to objects or contents of consciousness. Tonic attention though seems more akin to consciousness without an object.
Thompson then asks if the traditional metaphysical interpretations of such phenomenal states can be separated for purposes of scientific study. In one experiment it was shown that long-time meditators exhibited 20-25% more gamma activity during deep sleep than did the controls, gamma being correlated with conscious processes, as well as distinguishing lucid from non-lucid dreamless sleep. It appears this could suggest be access to the base state without contents described above during sleep. Further tests are required, but this could indeed lead to a postmetaphysical de/recontexualization like that presaged in our prior states thread, sans the transcendent-metaphysical frames.
I think the above de/re also handles the epistemic fallacy because what is being accessed is a tonic attention that is fully embodied and thereby limited by that embodied constraint. Such a consciousness without an object doesn't lay claim to access to the reality of All, or even access to all of our personal cognitive unconscious or collective unconscious. It's just accessing that embodied part of our natural awareness available to us by virtue of having the body and brain we do, with all its limitations.
And this extends to that basic awareness or response mechanism (prehension, if you will) all suobjects have by virtue of their embodied structures, per Bryant. Hence this isn't just about humans and their relation to other objects, but the structural integrity of all suobjects in their relation and response to their worldspaces. All suobjects have some access via their structure, and yet that access is limited by that structure as well, with plenty hidden (withdrawn) never to be accessed in total.
Also note that Fallio describes tonic attention as a "condition for" cognitive processes. Here we have our transcendental, yet embodied, condition necessary for consciousness. Also recall that Damasio posits that awake attention is prerequisite for both mind and self consciousness. He of course is limiting his focus to sentient creatures, and his terms are specific to that. But as I said, this basic awareness or attention seems like it can be an embodied basis for any structural organization, even non-sentient. But again, humans evolved minds on top of that, as did other sentient creatures, and then developed self consciousness on top of that, as did a few other creatures. Humans of course developing the latter much further than others, and what distinguishes them from a rock, ants or even horses. Still, basic prehension seems inherent to our particular structural universe and we have it too.
In part 2 he starts to talk about the self related to meditation (around 7:00). Around 7:45 he notes it has 2 aspects, the present-centered "I" and the narrative self which adds past and future. He relates it to Damasio's ideas.
The end of part 2 was on Damasio's core self, the beginning of part 3 on his autobiographical self. The rest of the latter part discusses how we might differentiate them via meditative practice.
Part 4 goes into some experiments with those who meditate and those who don't, measuring the brain activity correlated with these 2 selves. Those who meditate have much more flexibility to distinguish and go between the core and narrator, whereas those who do not conflate them. Moreover at 4:55 the meditators have some command of voluntary (aka conscious) regulation of attention and emotion.
Part 5 continues the discussion at the end of the previous section on large-scale brain dynamics, where conscious activity synchronizes the brain regions and produces high frequency gamma waves. He goes into a study of long-term practitioners doing compassion meditation, which displayed a lot of high amplitude gamma synchrony. And voluntarily produced. At 4:45 he goes into volition and emergence. At 6:00 he calls this volition interventionist causation.
The beginning of part 6 concludes from a study that meditation is a strong top-down causative effect of self-generated attention on brain dynamics. This global activity emerges from the local brain activity and shapes and constrains it. This is no way denies that local brain activity can also cause effects, i.e, our zombies. But the zombies do not exhibit the kind of global synchrony as does volitional control, so we're talking about the very real differences between conscious and nonconscious acts. Hence the conclusion already provided in the beginning.
I definitely think this is a worthy thread here, theurj. You know what I've been busy with, so I haven't had time yet to dip in to all of this, but I hope to do so soon. I enjoyed the post above about the lucid sleep practice. As you know, I used to do that in the Dzogchen context and have found that the practice does work; but I've never been comfortable with the Vedanta-like interpretation that Wilber has applied to such experiences. Anyway, more later. (I wanted to post a reply here, so I would get notifications when you add new comments or links).
I'm not sure that (Advaita) Vedanta uses 'experiential evidence' in its argument vis a vis deep sleep, at least not classical Advaita. Classical Advaita tends to use scriptural 'evidence' as its primary evidence. It does though seem to refer to the experience of waking and feeling refreshed after deep sleep. Whether its argument for the nature of the self refers to experience while in the dream state may be a different matter.
How about neo-Vedanta? Also I'm interested in some preliminary neuroscientific results suggesting the possibility of 'awareness' of some kind during deep sleep. And what that might indicate irrespective of a metaphysical view.
One question that pops up for me is whether the long-time meditators experience this base awareness all the time during deep sleep? Or just some of the time? Do we requires some time during deep sleep to go completely unconscious in order to allow our biological processes to refresh and rejuvenate us? Would even a minimal base awareness get in the way of that process, since such a base sans it metaphysical description does not in any way fully access deep unconscious processes and may in fact inhibit or detract from them? Maybe we need to let go and let Zombie* during sleep? Just wondering.
* This adds a whole new dimension to the metaphysical phrase "Let go and let God." Perhaps Godzilla instead? Or Cthulhu?
Integral Options Cafe introduced me to a recent Thompson interview. More after I listen to it.