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."

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For contrast I provide Rosch's metaphysical Buddhist take in this post and several following in that thread. She co-authored The Embodied Mind with Varela and Thompson. The more a priori among you might find solace...I mean support in her shentong views.

From this Thompson article:

"Meditation teachers, and practitioners of meditation more generally, draw from their first-person experience in explaining how the forms of attention training they practice may result in health and other benefits. Yet the above comments on the relationship between attention training and consciousness are more poetic than precise. Specifically, they do not aim at the kind of theoretical sophistication and controlled, third -person perspective needed for a scientific understanding of how attention training may result in psychological and behavioral changes. [...] Hence, our aim in this chapter is to show how cognitive science may be able to illuminate mindfulness by detailing some of the ways that attention, affect, and consciousness interrelate. In this way, we hope to contribute to a more rigorous scientific and philosophical understanding of precisely how consciousness and wisdom relate to each other in the cultivation of mindfulness" (3-4).

I am very sympathetic to Evan's projects. It is especially important, in my experience, to distinguish between "minding" and "present moment availability" in experiments with mindfulness. And I am pleased to see him reading and referencing Tononi whose work on the neural correlates of consciousness continues to be highly valuable.

This article bothers me by conflating "qualitative" and "subjective" experience in the traditional manner. Not all knowable and massless things are of the same kind. 

And it could benefit from the old Gurdjieffian critique that mindfulness practice (what he called self-remembering) is a hybrid affair combining (a) remembered intent toward wholeness (b) balanced mental alertness (c) active emotional vulnerability (d) generalized proprioceptive awareness of body states. The drift toward intellectualism exists as a potential limiting factor in both academic researchers and traditional Buddhists. This is presumably a near Eastern teaching which suggests that the developmental benefits are directly proportional to the intensity of sensation that is shared equally among physical, emotional and mental intelligence systems in the body -- both in their localized neural networks and in the related neural systems within the skull.

Lane's recent IW article applies here. A relevant excerpt:

"Practically speaking, if we focus on the physics of awareness we will be much more successful in our endeavors than opting for a spiritual first explanation. [...] The study of consciousness is best served by a multi-pronged approach, but focusing on the evolution of the brain and how it works first seems to be the most practical course at present. Perhaps the distinction between 'outside' and 'inside' will melt away once we get a firmer grasp of the mechanics of how self-reflective awareness arises from complex nervous systems. [...] I see no inherent conflict in studying the brain objectively and in voyaging subjectively within, since each can better inform the other about what they find and dovetail their findings respectively. The meditating Buddha as a neuroscientist isn't a contradiction in terms, but rather an enlightened proposition for where the future of consciousness studies is leading."

Thompson from this interview:

"Religious extremisms are particularly troubling and it’s very important to transform religious traditions in a way that maintains and enriches what’s best, which are the contemplative traditions and the social ethics informed by them, while leaving behind regressive and outmoded belief systems."

From a developmental perspective we have to both agree and re-nuance this kind of remark.  In seeking to maximize healthy and progressive forms of traditional religion we must not mistake primitive for regressive and outmoded.  Adults can leave behind childishness but children cannot.  So the "conveyor belt model" or something of its kind must have tremendous flexibility to embrace the apparently problematic elements of religion. 

There is a danger is over-focusing on the parts of religion that are most liked and most tolerable to the most evolved citizens -- namely contemplative practice and ethics.  Such people already do not need much traditional religion.  Religion exists, in the main, to unite the higher and lower, the profound and profane, all the "gods" including the ones we despise. 

Those most skillful in coherence often casually lose sight of the necessity to provide quasi-tantric or therapeutic mechanisms that receive, deepen and transmute the fixations and problematic intelligence responses common to lower levels of complexity.  I daresay a lot of "dogmatic nationalists" in Religion would fit into the overall pattern much better with a nutritious diet and course of bodywork psychotherapy. 

Thus in order to perform what Thompson is describing we need to tease apart healthy (even if distressing) from unhealthy forms of "outmoded" psychology. 

And generally speaking (aside from contemplative practices like meditation-in-school, etc.) this is largely a matter of physical and emotional well-being combined with decent inter-group etiquette training.

What is perceived as bodily or emotionally healthy at a lower stage is replaced with progressive knowledge. There was a time that bloodletting was a valid treatment but now not so much, meaning not at all. There was a time when a frontal lobotomy was considered valid for certain mental illnesses, now not so much, meaning not at all. There was a time when a nutritious diet was lots of fatty meat, now not so much, meaning not at all.

We don't promote a child's health by feeding them a diet of candy and soft drinks just because they like it. We don't promote a child's emotional health by letting them throw tantrums and indulge their rampant egocentricity. We don't promote a child's mental health by letting them sink into in-group prejudice and hatred. And we don't let a child's religious beliefs accept worship of metaphysical gods and goddess, especially the kind of deities that behave like children. We don't promote such behavior unless we ourselves are still children, even if 'integral' children.

Exactly.  That is the kind of distinction making I mean by 'teasing apart' the primitive from the regressive.  In being prudent in our distinguishing we must avoid two extremes:

1. the tendency to accept unnecessary self-destructive and other-destructive behaviours because it appears to be superficially appropriate to the historical manifestation of a particular "level"

2. the tendency to confuse what we emotionally dislike and do not personally want to engage in as being necessarily inappropriate.

So I would say that problematic lobotomies, blood letting and child-chosen diets need to be "top-down" repatterned.  But the consciousness of metaphysical deities, even when they behave like children, has its place (admittedly that place may mostly be between ages 5-7... based on the famous Princess Anne experiments). There is no need to remove the notion of Santa Claus for it naturally falls away from the maturing consciousness of children.  When it does not we presume that something has gone wrong -- there has been an integrity breach or mismanagement, etc.  Fixation has occurred. That must be prevented/treated but the issue is not necessarily one of whether or not to tolerate primitive forms of belief.  It is their limiting quality and not their content which is problematic.



theurj said:

What is perceived as bodily or emotionally healthy at a lower stage is replaced with progressive knowledge. There was a time that bloodletting was a valid treatment but now not so much, meaning not at all. There was a time when a frontal lobotomy was considered valid for certain mental illnesses, now not so much, meaning not at all. There was a time when a nutritious diet was lots of fatty meat, now not so much, meaning not at all.

We don't promote a child's health by feeding them a diet of candy and soft drinks just because they like it. We don't promote a child's emotional health by letting them throw tantrums and indulge their rampant egocentricity. We don't promote a child's mental health by letting them sink into in-group prejudice and hatred. And we don't let a child's religious beliefs accept worship of metaphysical gods and goddess, especially the kind of deities that behave like children. We don't promote such behavior unless we ourselves are still children, even if 'integral' children.

Sure we can not only tolerate but play along with Santa Claus at appropriate ages. But what if the parents never grew up? (Or governments?) They may have let go of Santa Claus but not Jesus H. Christ as Lord and Savior of my ethnocentric religion, and only those that believe are saved with the rest destined to burn in hell for eternity. Do we allow that too as some sort of 'level' appropriate behavior? Our secular law certainly does not. Oh wait, the Supreme Corp is changing that.

You are making a strong case for my statement that we need to tease apart "the offensively primitive" from the "self-destructively regressive".  As soon as it become pathology (i.e. when the primitive level tries to operate systems that require more sophistication than it yet possesses) then it is no longer tolerable.

Our laws already try (from their own inadequate, ideologically-distorted, nihilistically-menaced and intentionally-compromised position) to make this distinction.  Passionate distress, for example, is treated as a mitigating factor in sentencing homicides.  We need to render this general tendency of discrimination into something vastly more intelligent.

One of the major obstacles to progressive reform is an attitude that fails to ask itself how to safely accommodate diverse "ignorant and uninformed and offensively-expressive" types and stages within communities. 

Observing the nearly neolithic shambling of certain homeless people in my own city I am appalled that they are treated as failed citizens rather than as a type of citizen.  In the debate between "suppress them" or  "force them into provided housing" it is seldom asked: Where in our region could people go to live like this in the best way possible?

Likewise: What is the best use of our dogmatists while they yet remain dogmatists? 

Treating drug addiction like a medical rather than criminal problem has these two complementary aspects: (1) working to help people achieve a higher level of nontoxic well-being (2) helping people to live better as drug addicts in the meantime.

So we need to encourage and skew systems toward higher levels of development while operating from higher levels of development to allow as much opportunity for the safe exploration of lower styles as possible.  Permeable but controlled tiers of society are necessary but they must be based on healthy versions of internal capacity -- rather than unhealthy versions or external qualities.

"As soon as it become pathology (i.e. when the primitive level tries to operate systems that require more sophistication than it yet possesses) then it is no longer tolerable."

Which is exactly the case in US government and courts! And all due to allowing people to not progress religiously beyond ethnocentric and metaphysical beliefs. Our secular law (in theory) requires at least a 'reasonable person' standard, but we don't require this of religion. And these unreasonable believers end up in governments with so-called reasonable standards like the separation of religion and state.

So how would your version of integral handle requirements of religious folks 'growing up' to at least the other levels of a society, like reasonable religion? If we allow them to get stuck in ethnocentric and metaphysical religion this drags down the entire system if/when they enter government. And US government is dominated by them at present, which is regressing democracy back to oligarchy (and its Great Chain).

Yes, I am often tempted to morally provoke integralites by observing that the close split in many of the most humanly-destructive Supreme Court votes would be redressed if something were to be "slipped into" the drink of one of the elderly regressives on the bench.

Now I would argue that American secular law in no sense requires even a putative "reasonable person" standard.  This is what I mean by irrationality and upset being used to reduce the sense of guilt in sentencing a homicide.  There is no "skill-test" at the voting booth.  The reasonableness of secular law does not require reasonableness of citizens in order to operate -- in fact it reasonably guarantees their right to be unreasonable in certain contexts. 

But to address the problem of maximizing the natural throughput of psyches and groups into rational and trans-rational forms of religion.  I've mentioned a few things already -- basic full spectrum nutrition and exercise (physical health), bio-emotional ease, mandatory meditative practice in schools and instruction in inter-group etiquette (i.e. how to work and take pleasure with types of people you instinctively dislike) -- which already go a long way to making pre-rational religion into something more like a child's belief in Santa Claus.

The point in general is to maximize the factors which allow people to grow into and then through every level which is possible for them.  So an integral legal framework, like a rational legal framework, operates to make some things universal while allowing more primitive phenomena to exercise itself in definite contexts.  The more definite these contexts are, the more legitimate it is to reduce their effect upon other contexts.

Mythic-membership individuals are very sensitive to roles, conformity, order, rank, etc.  One must say to them, consistently, simplistically and with some of the pageantry of imperial symbolism, that they can think, feel and believe whatever they like but they will be regularly and predictably required to behave according to determined limits.

Many "good soldiers" in the Armed Forces are spiritually and emotionally disposed to believer-levels of consciousness but they training ought to inculcate in them a sacred duty to the etiquette of nation, the commander-in-chief, etc. regardless of whether he appears to belong to their type. 

I fear I am rambling now but the issue is not how to replace the lower with the higher but how to replace the worse lower with the better lower -- which serves both the lower and the higher. 

Our secular law (in theory) requires at least a 'reasonable person' standard, but we don't require this of religion. And these unreasonable believers end up in governments with so-called reasonable standards like the separation of religion and state.

So how would your version of integral handle requirements of religious folks 'growing up' to at least the other levels of a society, like reasonable religion? If we allow them to get stuck in ethnocentric and metaphysical religion this drags down the entire system if/when they enter government. And US government is dominated by them at present, which is regressing democracy back to oligarchy (and its Great Chain).

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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

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