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."
The problem of separating "outdated beliefs" from their problematic holding and expressing of those beliefs is echoed politically. Much of the problem in the American system is that the moderately progressive attitudes of the majority of citizens are not being communicated into the legislative and judicial branches of governance. So here the problem is not the activist orientation of regressives but rather that the mechanism by which which government uptakes intelligence from the population lacks precision, sensitivity and agility. If we continue to run 18th century software we will almost certainly get a lot of old fashioned results. Anti-progressive surges are regular in American History (although accelerated in by the omni-accelerating power of electronic communication networks) as the operating procedures of public decision-making constantly gravitate back to the ethos of the time periods in which they were created. Without sacrificing too much continuity we need to be remaking the "form" of voting according to a more comprehensive understanding of how collective intelligence operates.
Thompson's 5/1/14 presentation at CIIS on the new book:
At 59:50 he discusses the difference between Yogacara and Madhyamaka on the self. He follows this with comparing them to the neuroreductive and enactive views in cognitive science. The latter includes social cognition through language, so language is a legitimate part of a performative self, whereas in Yogacara it is merely illusion. We discussed this quite a bit in the Batchelor thread. He sees the enactive view as a middle way where "the self is a dependently originated process with a conventional identity." The self is not an illusion while not being an independent essence (1:05:30).
At around 1:07:00 he's asked if his view is Prasangika. He clarifies that is it more how Tsongkapa reads Chandrakirti, also distinguished in the Batchelor thread with how Gorampa sees Prasangika. Hence the two truths debate elaborated therein. Thompson is using the distinction between Yogacara and Madhyamaka, and the Batchelor thread shows the heavy influence of Yogacara in the Gorampa versions of Prasangika Madhyamaka.
Around 1:21:15 he is asked about the narrative self. He responds that it is doesn't have to be seen as an fixed substance with independent existence or substance (1:23:30). Which reiterates previous points above that the narrative self through language is not necessarily an illusion divorced from our pre-linguistic or core self but can be an extension of it.
Another point Thompson made in the last post was that the narrative self can go to far and get disconnected from the core self. Which reminded me of this post by Thakchoe on conceptual elaboration, which in itself is beneficial and has a place in the transcendental. It is only when it becomes 'proliferation' that it is a problem.
From the Lingam video at the link, speaking of Nagarjuna's teaching:
"The idea being to clear the mind of any and all concepts about reality so that reality itself could be directly experienced" (5:20).
Recall this from Batchelor:
"As soon as the seductive notion of 'truth' begins to permeate the discourse of the dharma, the pragmatic emphasis of the teaching risks being replaced by speculative metaphysics, and awakening comes to be seen as achieving an inner state of mind that somehow accords with an objective metaphysical 'reality'" (92).
Immediately following Kennilingam goes on to say that every branch of Mahayana agreed with the last above statement. (Wrong, see the Batchelor thread.) And he then admits that the third turning was Yogacara, which also is in agreement with that statement. That is true, but again it is a continuation of a of metaphysics of presence, not at all the kind of postmetaphysics Batchelor talks about. Or Nagarjuna of Tsongkhapa, for that matter. At 7:00 he notes it's time for the fourth turning, and with that I'll agree. But it's Batchelor's sort of postmetaphysical turning, not the metaphysical rehash he's talking about in the above quote that he apparently wants to retain.
At 1:39:40 Thompson responds to a question about metaphysical naturalism, which a questioner heard him refute in a previous lecture. He was asked if enactivism isn't that, then is it a new kind of ontology? His response seems to indicate that metaphysical naturalism is equivalent with scientific reductionism and materialism. Phenomenology offers another avenue that investigates lived experience, which had different validity criteria, so to speak. It almost sounds like a 'nondual' methodological pluralism in an ontological monism.
Thompson's "Dreamless sleep, the embodied mind and consciousness." One study measured experienced Theravadan and Tibetan meditators during deep, slow-wave sleep and found they had 20-25% higher incidence of gamma wave activity in the parietal-occipital region. This indicates that they are maintaining some phenomenal, lucid awareness during deep sleep. Thompson still maintains though that this awareness is the pre-personal lived body and not the metaphysical witness maintained by the traditions. And this skill can be trained via meditative discipline to experience this 'consciousness without an object' while not in deep sleep but certainly deep meditation.
That's a nice teaser for his new book (which I'm looking forward to getting). When you say "while not in deep sleep" in your last sentence, are you talking about not training while in deep sleep, or not maintaining awareness in deep sleep? Thompson seems in the article to be open to the possibility that maintaining awareness in deep sleep is indeed trainable (and should be studied further), and my own experience at intensive dream and sleep yoga retreats supports (for me) the contention that this is indeed possible.
Neither. I mean that the training one does through meditation that elicits consciousness without an object while not sleeping provides the basis for maintaining such an awareness while in deep sleep, which is what Thompson is asserting through the study. (That was a tough sentence to construct; it took several tries.)
See this Thompson review of a book on phenomenology and naturalism. It seems again like a methodological pluralism in comparing the above two paradigms. It reminds me of Bryant in that it deals with how the real, symbolic and imaginary simultaneously expand and constrain each other. For example:
"Phenomenologists generally argue that naturalism overlooks and cannot account for the necessary conditions of its own possibility. [...] Husserl (1970) also argues that scientific naturalism presupposes and overlooks the 'life-world' as a transcendental structure of intersubjective understanding, without which science would not be possible."
"Cognitive science and phenomenology can be mutually enlightening and reciprocally constraining. [...] By proposing that to reconcile naturalism and transcendental phenomenology we need naturalism to be 'minimal' and the transcendental to be 'domesticated.' 'Minimal naturalism' requires phenomenological accounts not to conflict with science but allows for the possibility that empirical science may not be able to illuminate certain cognitive phenomena (e.g., constitutively normative or ethical ones), whereas the 'domesticated transcendental' takes the necessary conditions of possibility for human cognition to be historically contingent (where 'history' includes natural and cultural history)."
And this one seems akin to the object a at the heart of Bryant's model:
"Grasping the world in perception and thought as an open space of possibilities of presence and absence. [...] Following Husserl, Ratcliffe claims that our ability to distinguish between 'is' and 'is not" presupposes an understanding of the world as a richly structured cognitive and affective possibility space."