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In the fifth episode of the Philosophy of Meditation series, hosts John Vervaeke and Rick Repetti engage with Evan Thompson, a renowned cognitive scientist and philosopher, to explore the symbiosis of meditation, cognitive science, and philosophy. The episode highlights how Evan’s early meditation practice shaped his philosophical outlook, emphasizing the experiential depth revealed by meditative states about consciousness. Discussions cover the transformative social aspects of meditation and philosophical views on death, underscoring Evan’s perspective that meditation enriches, but should not solely define, philosophy. This insightful conversation traverses the transformative potential of meditation beyond calming the mind, delving into its role in personal development and intellectual growth. By merging philosophical rigor with meditation’s lived experience, this conversation offers a nuanced understanding of meditation’s role in enhancing human cognition and self-awareness, presenting a compelling case for its profound impact on philosophical thought.

Evan Thompson is a renowned philosopher and cognitive scientist, recognized for his significant contributions to the field of 4E cognitive science, which emphasizes embodied, embedded, enactive, and extended aspects of cognition. His work intricately bridges Western philosophy with Eastern contemplative practices, particularly Buddhism, exploring the intersections of consciousness, meditation, and the human experience. Thompson’s influential writings include discussions on the philosophy of mind, meditation, and the nature of self, making him a respected figure in both academic and contemplative circles.

Glossary of Terms

4E Cognitive Science: A framework in cognitive science emphasizing four key factors: embodied, embedded, enacted, and extended cognition.
Contemplative Perspectives: Approaches to understanding and experiencing reality that involve introspection and focused attention, often used in the context of meditation and mindfulness.

John Vervaeke [JV],
Rick Repetti [RR],
Evan Thompson [ET]

Series Introduction and Evan Thompson’s Cognitive Science Expertise

0:00 [JV] welcome everyone to voices with REI this is the special series on the philosophy
0:05 of meditation I’m here with my uh co-host and remarkable Rick Repetti we have an a really important guest this is
0:12 a friend and former colleague of mine somebody many of you have heard me speak of many times in many contexts on many
0:19 of my videos and talks and that’s Evan uh Thompson one of the foremost fore cognitive scientists in the world uh
0:26 today and he’s also done a lot of work on uh mind fulness he’s done a lot of work on Buddhism he has famously
0:32 declared why he is not a Buddhist uh but but uh we we’ll get into all of that uh
0:38 so just quick welcome to you Evan and then I’m going to turn things over uh to Rick take it away
0:45 Rick [RR] okay so like John of course Evan is a philosopher cognitive scientist and
0:52 author of a number of important influential works but I met Evan when I was accepted into a two-e NE summer
0:59 Institute on on investigating Consciousness Buddhist and contemporary philosophical perspectives at the
1:05 College of Charleston in South Carolina back in 2011 organized and led by Evan
1:10 along with Jay Garfield and Christian keru I’ve been significantly influenced by his work in F cognitive science and
1:16 especially his books mind and life biology phenomenology and the Sciences of mind which help me resist
1:23 reductionism uh waking dreaming and being self and Consciousness in Neuroscience meditation and philosophy
1:30 which I take to be significantly doing work in the philosophy of meditation and his latest book well although there’s
1:37 1/4th coming why I am not a Buddhist with which I deeply resonate having had a similar upbringing along with certain
1:43 transformative experiences connected with evans’s Father Williams spiritual Community the Linda far Association
1:50 that’s another story in this episode we’ like to me uh in this series rather we like to mention connections with
1:55 previous or future guests this is episode five in episode one John and I introduced the series and we also
2:02 focused on John’s work that’s relevant to it what John might describe as integrating for E kogai with eastern and
2:08 western contemplative philosophy in episode two we interviewed Pierre Grimes one of the first contemporary Western
Integrating Western Philosophy with Buddhist Concepts in Cognitive Science
2:14 philosophers to try to bridge Western philosophy particularly neoplatonism with Buddhism in episode three we
2:21 interviewed Lou marinov whose work similarly Bridges Western and Buddhist philosophies in the previous episode
2:27 episode four we interviewed Tomas ER whose work integrates analytic philosophy fore kogai and meditation as
2:35 a key tool and the exploration of Consciousness among other things so far we’ve all been interested in the links
2:41 between philosophy meditation the nature of Consciousness and conceptions of the self and we share attempts to integrate
2:47 meditation with cognitive science and philosophical analysis Evan’s work contributed significantly to the
2:53 development of four e kogai and thus significantly impacted JN as John just mentioned and they worked alongside each
3:00 other when Evan was at the University of Toronto for that reason I like John to finish the intro here um if he has
3:06 anything else to say uh but if not um then Evan we can just move on and start asking questions of Evan [JV] well well I do
3:14 and um this is a a bit of an anecdote some some of you might have heard this before uh so there there used to be a uh
3:21 a course called Buddhism and cognitive science and they had asked Evan to teach it but his schedule was such that he
3:27 couldn’t teach it and he recommended me as the person to teach that course in his place and of course that eventually
3:34 developed in conjunction with uh the psychology of wisdom course um that developed into my series Awakening from
3:41 the meaning crisis which got a lot of this going so I actually owe a lot of the initial impetus uh to Evan getting
3:48 me to teach that course and start start this whole broad integration process and
3:53 trying to connect um the cognitive science to more existential and spiritual concerns so this is my chance
3:58 to thank Evan uh virtually face to face so thank you for that thank you that’s
4:04 nice to hear thanks a lot [RR] oh interesting yeah I didn’t know that that’s a nice story you you played a pivotal role in
Philosophical and Meditative Perspectives on Dying and Death
4:09 all of this all right so so Evan let’s start with some questions tell us about
4:14 yourself in your own words like what are you working on these days and is there anything else you’d like to Forefront
4:20 about yourself to our audience [ET] yeah well first of all thanks for inviting me to uh to talk to you uh so I think of
4:27 myself as first and foremost a philosopher, a philosopher of mind um who
4:33 works very much uh on cognitive science and in collaboration with cognitive
4:38 scientists and it’s in that context um or that’s one of the contexts in which I’m interested in in meditation not the
4:44 only one but but that is you know one of the main context uh what I’m working on
4:50 now uh I’m actually writing a book about dying and death uh now it’s in the early
4:56 stages of writing and it’s really about um contemplative perspectives, meditative perspectives on
5:03 dying and um trying to it’s an outgrowth really of the chapter on dying in my
5:09 book ‘waking dreaming being’ and so it tries to combine what we know about uh the dying process from the Neuroscience
5:15 of Consciousness and biomedicine with contemplative perspectives on what on
5:20 What happens in in in dying and bring those two together in a way that um that
5:25 helps deal with this kind of schizoid situation in our culture where we’ve never known more about dying from a from
5:32 a biomedical perspective but we’ve never been more sort of existentially removed from the from the dying process so the
5:38 book’s in the early stages but that’s that’s kind of the the the rationale and purpose of the book so that’s what I’m working on right right now yeah [RR] sounds
5:47 great no no tentative title yet? [ET] uh the working title is ‘dying our ultimate transformation’
5:53 [JV] okay well could I ask you having a question around that because um
5:59 there’s been um sort of a the nascent sort of experiment
6:04 I tried to Igor Grosman and I tried to get it sort of up and then covid hit and blah blah blah um now I’m sure you’re
6:12 familiar with this literature but I’ll pose the question and see if you uh the question the experiment would seek to
6:17 address um um so first of all context before we talk about um the relationship
6:24 to the confrontation with death Igor Grosman has quite a bit of research around What’s called ‘the Solomon effect’ uh
6:31 people you ask people to describe a problem they inevit, a personal problem they inevitably of course describe it from the first person perspective you
6:39 then ask them to redescribe it from the third person perspective of you know and they they usually get an Insight they do
6:45 better and this lines up with other words by Bolton Stoner if you imagine talking to somebody and improves your
6:51 performance um so that’s uh I I think a pretty robust finding so it looks like
6:56 you know you go from uh first to third or perspective and this facilitates cognition and this lines up with mcamera

Nice, I am glad to see that my original and somewhat harsh critique didn’t dissuade John from reading other things I wrote previously.

7:03 and all the stuff about decentering Etc, but you take a look at two bodies of
7:10 literature and um I’ll put aside the fact that I have some methological concerns for both let’s just take them
7:16 at face value uh the first is mortality salience, you give people a list of words to read and if the if there’s things
7:24 related with death in it like skeleton, coffin, uh you get this you get reaction
7:30 cognitive rigidity they identify more strongly with their worldview. um they become sort of more uh uh argumentative
7:38 about any challenges etc etc, um but if you put people into Death Reflection,

Cognitive Flexibility and Death Reflection in Meditation Practice

7:44 uh uh and uh Mark actually took us when I was at the workshop Mark Miller took us through uh uh a Buddhist
7:51 practice it was very similar to this you imagine you’re dying you imagine all your loved ones are around you and
7:56 what’s important to you what matters what would you say and what you what you get is the opposite people become very
8:02 open, they become very compassionate, I mean on average these are psychological findings right and and that’s that’s
8:08 weird because, that what it looked like was oh people get better they get more
8:14 sort of reflective and opened in their cognition when they move from first person to third person but it seemed
8:20 like the opposite in death, confronting death when they’re just given sort of
8:25 third person IM impersonal markers of mortality, it they they lock down they become
8:31 cognitively rigid, but when they go to the first person they right they they seem to gain a tremendous amount of cognitive
8:38 flexibility and and even affective openness Etc, and we were trying to get out like what like what’s going on there
8:44 why why does it seems the opposite of the Solomon effect and why would moving to the first person perspective, uh be so
8:52 facilitating to people and I wonder I mean I don’t mean to put you on the spot and if you don’t have any yeah um I just
8:58 wondering if you if you have any any thoughts around that because like that’s a to to me it’s at least a provocative question like we have all this other
9:04 research of this particular perspectival shift enhancing cognitive flexibility
9:09 but we seem to be getting the opposite when people are confronting their mortality [ET] yeah yeah no that’s a very
9:15 interesting question I um so again I I have methodological concerns about all
9:21 all of those kinds of studies ⮦⮋⮧ but let’s just bracket that um yeah so I or let’s

Thank you for pointing that out, I agree.

9:26 partially bracket it, because I think it does depend a lot on um exactly the kind of scripts people are given either for
9:33 the for the third person or for the first person and I would say in a way second person because in the way that
9:39 you just described it um it’s you know it’s one thing to um try to
9:44 imagine uh a dying process in the in the first- person point of view ⮦⮋⮧ , if you were

Another good point, most people are not really imagining death from a first person POV when they are imagining themselves dying.
More often it’s something much more like imagining themselves watching a movie of someone dying, as if they were a ghost floating above their own body as it happens.
Because otherwise, the circumstances of the method of dying, would really matter. As they often are not thinking about things like the pain sensations in the body. Which is much more abstract if they have led a life mostly devoid of pain and conflict, which is common with WEIRD persons.

9:50 not supported by that extended community and the setting of loved ones, or if you’re a religious person in a you know
9:56 in a in a rich symbolic religious context, that provides a kind of uh meaning and
10:02 social support that um that that really facilitates uh a kind of embedded you
10:09 know inter subjectively embedded first person perspective and that’s what I think would be significant, whereas often
10:15 the third person perspective especially as it’s implemented in um various kinds of you know guided psychological scripts
10:22 and questionnaires is a very dist, alienated you know it’s not decentered
10:27 in the in the kind of um practice of metacognitive reframing that you see
10:35 in certain types of meditation practice. it’s this kind of alienated relationship to self it’s right right you know um as
10:41 if you’re you’re kind of an outside spectator on your own death and that’s in that’s in a way terrifying actually I
10:46 to be to be an outside spectator on your own death actually there’s some really
10:51 interesting writing this is a philosophy I do not mention very often but there’s some really interesting writings on this by Devida of all people where where he he
10:59 has this discussion where you know we think oh what what would be terrifying in death is you know
11:06 Annihilation or or loss of self and Devida has this very interesting observation coming out of Freud that no what’s
11:11 actually terrifying in a way is that you live on as a spectator you’re sort of hovering over the scene and seeing your
11:17 funeral or seeing your you know your ashes scattered and that kind of outside view on yourself is is a is a is a a
11:26 kind of terrifying alienated view where you live on as a spectator but you live on in a world that goes on without you
11:32 and forgets about you and and so you feel this kind of you know deprivation in this outside third person

I think that is mostly only true for narcissists, or people who are dependent on external validation for their emotional well being.

11:39 perspective so um I think that does induce a lot of uh a lot of fear a lot
11:45 of Terror and a lot of the terror management theory is based around that particular way of implementing the third
11:50 person perspective whereas the um the perspective in which you you you know you you kind of reenact as a dying
11:57 person, the dying process ⮦⮋⮧ because I’ve I’ve done some of those meditations too and uh in

Correct me if I am wrong, but what I think [ET] is trying to say here is, people who have actually seen a dying person in real life (prior to death, like in a hospital), not a fictional settings, or have lost loved ones, when he says “reenacting the dying process” which is different from the imagining ones self as a specter, floating above their own body.

12:04 fact when I when I did them it was in a whole community of other people practicing them right then and there with a teacher in a beautiful setting in
12:11 a Zen-do and you know you have this whole kind of uh scaffolding and support that
12:17 makes you feel, not alone. you know there’s the expression everyone dies alone and in in a sense of course that’s
12:23 true there’s a loneliness that’s inevitable in dying but when you have a a meaning framework with people enacting
12:30 it with you then um that makes a huge, huge difference. So that’s actually what I would point to there [JV] I think that’s
12:36 excellent that I was having similar thoughts, uh uh because I was thinking it’s the connectedness and meaning in
12:43 light uh kind the meaning in life has that connectedness because when when I part when I was in that practice you get
12:51 the typical people don’t talk about What mattered as you know their possessions or their power or at least most people
12:57 don’t. uh but uh and you know there was like 40 or 50 of us there and everybody was saying you know my connections to
13:04 you know uh most people said my to my loved ones some people said to you know their home a place it’s all the
13:11 connectedness uh that’s s Central in meaning and life that seems to be the important mediating value, and I and I
13:17 hear you saying something very convergent with that, am I? [ET] yeah definitely, yeah definitely it’s it’s actually Illustrated you know so I I
13:24 think one of the most profound meditations on on dying is tolstoys ‘ The Death of Ivan Ilyich ’
13:29 [JV] yes yes [ET] and this is what happens to Ivan ilich in his sort of penultimate moment of transformation
13:37 is, he completely reorients from his his you might say self-centered egocentric
13:43 perspective, obsessed with whether he’s lived a good life realizing he hasn’t lived a good life and then the
13:49 Breakthrough for him is he he feels pity he feels compassion and love for his wife and son there he feels that he’s
13:55 causing them suffering and that he has to make their suffering go away and that
14:00 facilitates a an inner transformation that that allows him to die in a different way, so it’s that connection to
14:07 others in the immediate setting even others that in particularly in the case of of Ivan il’s wife that he actually
14:12 has come to really kind of despise and dislike, because he feels they’ve they’ve participated and supported this kind of
14:18 meaningless false life that he’s had. So he breaks through that connects with them just in a moment of you know
14:24 feeling sympathy feeling love and and that facilitates this inner transformation makes that makes dying um
14:31 be a different kind of experience for him. So I think that that um yeah that
14:36 that that connection of of a of a a a framework of meaning in dying that is
14:42 still part of living if you will. Can make a can make a huge difference, yeah. [JV] because I I see what happens in illich
14:49 is you know there’s there’s two transitions to my the first is like Ivan illich had always known he was going to
14:55 die the way you you know that 2 plus 2 equals 4 and then he knew is going to die, so he he takes on the first person
15:01 but like you say, he’s very self-centered, and then he goes to the second transformation and I’m going to actually
15:06 try and Bridge into meditation with this, so give me a moment, right and what happens is he then goes
15:13 into um this thing where although he has not abandoned that first person perspective so although he’s now involed
15:20 still involving all of himself he’s no longer self-involved if I could make sort of a Turn of phrase, and that and and
15:26 so that sort of hits you know, um, an issue that comes up and of course
15:33 slingerland made this sort of prominent in his book trying not to try this this
15:39 weird and we we we when we were at I was at a workshop in Bergerac in France we’re
15:44 doing a lot of uh with a lot of people who are are leaders in biological communities, but we got to this thing about how do you get the how do you get
15:51 the self how do you involve all of the self without being self-involved and this very tricky trying not to try um
15:58 and um I I I and and to me that that’s very crucial because it seems to also be
16:04 the state you need to get into or at least something analogous or convergent perhaps better in order to facilitate
16:11 Insight you can’t like if you try to have an Insight that’s the but if you do nothing right and so it’s say trying not

Ah yes, the Zen koan of “trying not to try” or “effortless effort”. Try thinking of that in a different way, maybe “by not being attached to the outcome” by not focusing too much, because the ‘focusing too much’ creates a sort of functional fixedness which excludes the more abstract connections, but by approaching the thoughts without worrying about making progress, or ‘making sense’ the more abstract connections can be made, instead of the making the same mistakes of inferring deeper meaning when there is none, like ‘double rainbow’ and the reason Zen has koans, which has more to do with the rigidity of Confucianism and trying to avoid the class/caste system by obfuscation and non-participation, instead of confrontation, which would more often lead to death. in ancient china, when the Chinese were carrying out their own disfigurement of Buddhism, from Buddhists fleeing Hindu oppression, which included a lot of insider threats of Hindus masquerading as Buddhists, and then Confucians masquerading as Buddhists, which is why there is both Buddhism and zen in china, while most people don’t know what the truths of Buddhism actually are about. In case you are wondering what cultural genocide looks like hundreds (ongoing?) of years later, at least the Chan Buddhists managed to figure that much out.

Mindfulness Practices Across Various Traditions and Philosophical Inquiry

16:17 to try and I wonder if if you could if you could perhaps uh maybe we could
16:23 start into talking about do you think mindfulness has anything to do with getting into that uh uh you might not
16:30 like that like that phrase but you know what I’m talking about that trying not to try that that you’re neither passive
16:37 or or active but you’re it’s kind of a full participation or or maybe like I said before you you’re trying to involve
16:43 as much of the self uh without being self-involved, what do you think about that as [ET] yeah, yeah I, so I think different
16:51 different meditative Traditions, uh uh, well let me say first that um let’s say
16:59 particularly in the context of uh of Buddhism um but not just Buddhism other Traditions as well. there’s there’s a
17:06 recognition of this issue uh as as like a core issue and then different Traditions different practice Traditions
17:12 different philosophical traditions different communities take different approaches to this to this problem right
17:18 so some um give you an approach that’s extremely scripted and scaffolded and
17:24 gives you you know stages you know normative conceptualized stages
17:29 and instructions on exactly what you’re supposed to be doing ⮦⮋⮧ uh and the idea is that um you

This is where we get into the Confucian influences on Buddhism, because as you know, in Confucianism, there is very ridged adherence to the class/caste system, which is very heavily embedded with determinism, the idea that every person has a pre-set destine and all social disorder, disruptions of “social harmony” are a result of deviations from the “mandate of heaven” as co-opted by the divinity of the emperor, which is very different from the concept that anyone can become a Buddha. This is the battle that is being played out between sun-Wukong and the various divine traditions and why, in the “journey to the west” he proclaims himself to be “equal to heaven” rather than above it, which is a recognition pluralism.
It’s the ideas that it’s wisdom and enlightenment that makes one Divine or Heavenly, not simply being appointed as such by a ruler or ruling class (Bhramans).
This rigidity (the ‘right thinking’, ‘right speech’ etc..) arises from these attempts at virtue signaling to replace the much more difficult to both acquire and demonstrate, wisdom and enlightenment. Which is why there is so much disagreement about the importance of things like body position, to doing meditation “properly”

17:36 need that kind of you know like step-by-step ladder to eventually land
17:41 in something that enables you in a way to you know uh to kick away the ladder if we use sort of a a Vickten Stein image
17:49 uh other Traditions um descript you, they just they just throw you into the
17:55 physical posture of sitting and they thwart any attempt to do anything. So you know if you if you if you uh you know
18:03 you might start with something minimal like counting your breath just to kind of quiet your mind and calm yourself
18:08 down and give the Mind something to do. but uh then then you drop that and then you ‘just sit’ in the you know in the Zen
18:16 expression and you you don’t try to do anything but of course you’re you’re in this predicament of trying not to do
18:22 anything which inevitably brings you into a confrontation with this with this kind of problem and they are the you
18:28 know the expression I I think um I think Suzuki roshi maybe was the first one to use this expression is the idea that um
18:36 uh you know Awakening or or transformation is an accident and
18:41 meditation makes you accident prone so you just you you can’t plan it out but you
18:48 you you fall into it and that’s a different sort of approach from one that
18:53 um that really tries to script you. ⮦⮋⮧ so I think it it really depends on on on the tradition that you’re working with and I

I would like to start by saying that there is more that one type of meditation, and also that it’s sometimes helpful to have a sort of ritual prior to ramping up to meditation, this often has to do with muscle memory. By associating a certain body position with the beginning of meditation, or sequence of positions, like a breathing exercise, can prime the memories and disposition for certain types of meditation, such that different breathing exercise can signal to the ‘spiritual elephant’ a specific type of meditation.
I am sure [RR] is familiar with, I have not yet read the handbook he wrote yet, but it is on my list.
Suffice to say, at least in neoBuddhism, There are many varying types of meditation. The type where you “fall into it” as [ET] said, typically has to do more with communicating with your inner “spiritual elephant” and then interpreting it’s attempts at abstract thought to grasp the priorities that it want’s addressed, which are often only expressed during moments when the conscious mind is “going through the motions” but then exhibit unexpected actions or mistakes while sort of on “auto pilot” doing something routine. This is because the “spiritual elephant” is the part of the mind which is sort of, doing it’s own thing while operating the homeostasis of the body, mostly being embodied in the brainstem, which interprets all the sensory information you receive from your senses,into electrical signals, as well as that which makes your heart beat faster when you are excited, or makes your stomach feel queasy when you are feeling uncertain, or makes you feel uncertain because you had a lunch which did not agree with you, and not because of a lack of information.
This part however, does not understand words and language, it can communicate only via sensory emotion. Emotions which are associated with specific body states, which can form a set of subconscious biases that then selectively narrows the information that the conscious mind determines to be relevant to the situation, as [JV] refers to “relevance realization” which creates the invisible edges of the frame of the perspective through which conscious thought is then focused and directed.

But trying to distinguish between the camera (spiritual elephant) looking at a mirror, but without the capacity for abstract thinking, is why the “spiritual elephant” is much more like a dog than a person, as it too can do facial recognition, as well as experience emotions through the senses, as well as magnifying certain emotional states, which can be generated by the body’s senses, like hunger or unease, instead of by mental states, such as feeling those ways without having any rationale behind the differences in biases that become evident when comparing states such as fear and anger, which come with distinct sets of biases, which are stitched together by the “spiritual elephant” before raising to conscious awareness, that vast wave of information which is discarded by the subconscious mind and creates the walls of the “ego tunnel” of directed awareness. Which is to say, The brain takes in 11 million bits of data per second, but the conscious mind can only process around 400 of those bits. It’s sort of like having a less advanced LLM moderating the speech of a much more complex LLM, which as you can see from the results, can be very annoying and inaccurate due to the lack of the more abstract parts of complex thinking.

So then we can talk about things like introspection being associated with a certain set of rituals, or re-prioritizing based on a big-picture re-evaluation being associated with a different set of rituals, because the spiritual elephant does not know what those words mean, but it does a sort of set the lexical priming that the conscious mind has access to, which can be set to as is the case with most of the more ineffable spiritual experiences, and purely sensory memories, which are stored in locations different from the abstract concepts, that are stitched together because of a similar shape of protein being attached to all the neurons which, when firing simultaneously and entering a sort of superposition, gives rise to the combinations of qualia which forms conscious experience that arises in the imagination, but are not related to the sensory information being received from the environment at that moment. The same reason that closing your eyes makes meditation and imagination easier, as the processing of the visual cortex is able to be more easily recruited by the “spiritual elephant” for the communication that occurs during meditative experiences. Which is not something that happens randomly as you are walking around during your normal everyday experience, even though in both situations, the spiritual elephant is looking through your eye and your senses, and experiencing the world differently from your conscious mind. Unfortunately, it does not do complex consistency checking, because of the lack of abstract concepts. Which is why some people believe weird things they see in movies, because the subconscious cannot determine on it’s own, which things are realistic or even possible. That is only something the conscious “I” can do. and only in a declarative and lingual way. Because the conscious mind is grounded in symbols and symbolic references, like patterns of alphanumeric characters, which the subconscious mind is not tethered in such a way, which is what both enables the richness of imagination, like hearing acoustic music in your mind when there is no accompanying sound from the external environment. Or the sensation of joy that sometimes comes with nostalgia. All of that is to say, there is more than one type of meditation.

18:59 suspect so there there deeper sort of philosophical reasons for why these different approaches would be taken but
19:05 I also suspect that they’re just going to be temperamental differences in people some people are going to be particularly suited to a very scripted
19:13 kind of practice and other people uh just need to be thrown into it and I
19:18 mean this is something I’m sure you know John you know through um through uh through taichi practice right, so both you
19:24 know both you and I have have practiced Taijiquan for many many years and um this is like an ongoing practice for me I work
19:30 very closely with a teacher here in Vancouver we do a lot of standing meditation we do a lot of Push Hands we do a lot of Taichi and I’ve always found
19:39 um the the very sort of structured scripted approach like necessary for me
19:44 it’s like I I want you know I’m like a westerner, I want to know what I’m doing I want to know why I’m doing it and I want
19:50 to see that it makes a difference and if you just sort of throw me into something with no guidance I find it very
19:56 difficult and very frustrating ⮦⮋⮧ , um um but sometimes you need to you need to just

I think sometimes, the frustration is the point, that point being, to make you aware of the difference between the declarative I, and your own spiritual elephant, because of the differences in their perceptions as you try to ‘figure out’ your frustration, and your conscious mind goes in one direction, while your spiritual elephant goes in another, I think you are supposed to discover it, in the lexical confusion that follows. But that doesn’t happen for everyone.

20:04 kind of drop what you’ve what you’ve learned in a in a in a instructional procedural way and just see what happens
20:11 and and that is facilitative of insight and and transformation so I see them as kind of like a back and
20:17 forth uh like dialectical uh [RR] two things I’d like to
20:23 interject when you’re done um Evan [ET] yeah no go ahead go ahead [RR] so one is uh I had
20:29 a zen teacher once come to cuni we had a mindfulness lecture series I forget his name but he used the analogy between
20:35 these two things saying that the methods are like training wheels for a bicycle.

I wonder, how would you compare the “like training wheels on a bicycle, for your mind” to my above explanation of communicating with the spiritual elephant ?

20:41 um another thing I wanted to share which I I got from Layman Pascal on the
20:46 integral stage um podcast was a story that he related was that um Maharishi
20:54 mahes Yogi the founder of Transcendental Meditation and Oshow bwan rajes um they
21:01 were having a debate about method versus no method and of course the TM guy
21:06 Advocates method and rajanish was more like a hippie Yogi kind of guy and um
21:12 Maharishi said to him something like you know you know method guys all forget that you started out with methods and
21:19 then you got really good and you didn’t need them anymore so but uh it might be that I
21:24 think the difference might be this temperamental thing that you said Evan I I think it was really James who said
21:29 what kind of philosopher you are whether you’re an empiricist or rationalist or pragmatist, that’s matter it’s mostly a matter
21:35 of temperament also I think has a lot to do with all this stuff [ET] yeah I I think I ⮦⮋⮧

I disagree with both of you. It’s kind of funny because it’s like saying “I like to let my spiritual elephant drive” instead of trying to reach a goal or impose a discipline on to the elephant with the meditation, such as to calm the monkey mind, and both are valid forms of meditation, but neither should be used exclusively.

21:40 think it does and and you know people are just different and some people are if you take them at face value what they
21:46 say they’re just exceptional so you know you read about Shri or Bindu being imprisoned and he says like in one night
21:53 you know he had this he had this realization this this you know yoga
21:58 realization that led to his different conception of you know of yoga from a kind of classical conception and you
22:05 know okay so this is a report and it’s you know obviously got a whole kind of rhetorical context in it so yeah you
22:12 know as as academics we’re going to sort of apply our critical you know skeptical apparatus to that, fair. but even so you
22:18 just want to you just want to say okay come on dude like most of us are not like that I mean you know
22:24 give so yeah um there it is ⮦⮋⮧

It’s really an issue usually of being unable to articulate their internal states in a meaningful way, generally due to a lack of understanding of the structures and functions of the brain or being able to distinguish that from what the mind does, which is a reference to the experience of directed consciousness, such as the process of doing a mathematical calculation is not something that occurs subconsciously, unless someone has spent long periods of time memorizing multiplication tables, which is more an issue of associating sense memories with the multiplication table and regurgitating them, which is not the same as the thinking that goes on when manipulating symbols in working memory. Their definitions are based much more on imprecise vocabulary, where every term is associated with a multitude of other terms, and which were determined primarily on how easy they make memorization, as it started out as an Oral tradition and not a written one. Whereas now, we have much more complex and precise descriptions of the brain and mind and their interactions, based on many empirical measurements rather than purely subjective introspection, that is what western science brings to buddhism, at least in neoBuddhism. So just because people have poorly described something for a long time, doesn’t mean what they were referring to was arbitrary.

22:30 [RR]all right so good so we’re oh go ahead John [JV] oh I was just going to say I like the the final point you made Evan um the
22:36 sort of dialectical relation I think something analogous happens obviously in in the ne the Christian neoplatonic
22:43 tradition the constant to and fro between the cataphatic and the apophatic approaches and then you see some of the
22:49 most important thinkers uh dianisus and Maximus and um others like that um
22:57 actually toing and frowing between these as they’re trying to recommend uh how to practice to their students um I think
23:04 they do different things and I think they um I think they address different kinds of cognitive processes I totally
23:11 agree that the motivating factor might be um the temperamental or personality
23:17 maybe something with conscientiousness versus openness or or something uh which can be quite powerful but I also think
23:23 they they can facilitate Insight or transformation in along different ways
23:29 because we’re sort of the psychology of insight is coming to the conclusion not
23:34 not not fully conclusion but moving towards it that you know Insight is is
23:39 facilitated in multiple different ways often ways that are kind of opponent to each other um in powerful ways so I
23:46 thought I’d just make that connection yeah yeah sounds good to me all right so ⮦⮋⮧

I think those things have more to do with the lexical priming that can occur during opponent processing, but only if that is done in a good faith manner, otherwise instead of connecting disparate idea’s it becomes more of an ‘overton window’ tug of war with no real interest in the truth or reaching enlightenment. Which is why you would get different sets of lexical priming based on the affect of the conversation rather than based on specific words, because the same words with different lexical priming, that is to say the surrounding words, is what sets the biases when trying to convey abstract concepts, which can be done internally but only by having a realistic persona of the opponent, regardless of the opponent being physically present. But most of the time, people do not have a realistic persona of the opponent, even though they think they do, which is why it’s almost always better to have an opponent to interact with.

23:53 [RR] first question directly about meditation your your latest book uh ‘why I’m not a Buddhist’ probably answers
24:00 this question but for the audience and for us, um can you tell us how you came into meditation and philosophy and
24:07 perhaps the philosophy of meditation [ET] okay so let’s see where to start that answer um I was
24:15 introduced to meditation actually when I was about seven or eight years old by my dad uh my dad so this was like in the
24:22 1960s I was a really little kid uh my dad was he was raised uh he’s from like
24:29 an Irish Catholic American family you know was was raised very heavily in Catholicism uh which in his case meant
24:37 being at the age of I think seven sent away to Catholic military boarding school and just having like this intense
24:44 uh Catholic experience and as a result uh he left the church when he was 13 and
24:50 then um so this is in California in the 1950s and then you know he kind of journeyed and searched for things and
24:58 he eventually uh encountered the self-realization fellowship paramahansa
25:03 Yogananda uh ashram so parans Yogananda was really one of the first Indian gurus
25:09 or teachers to bring um to bring yoga to the west and uh and so my dad practiced
25:18 that for many many many years and he taught me a basic breath Mantra of
25:24 meditation when I was yeah about seven or eight years old and and you know like a typical sort of little kid you want to
25:30 do what your dad does and so my dad every night you know would go upstairs and meditate and so you know I said well
25:37 can I do that too and so he would you know take me and like teach me how to do it and I probably could sit still for
25:42 maybe five minutes at that point but it was just you know it was something that um that that very much appealed to me
25:50 just you know my I was like a quiet kid you know very kind of innerly absorbed
25:56 daydreamy type of kids so that kind of quieting of the mind and the idea that you could you could attain a kind of
26:03 inner Stillness was was absolutely fascinating to me and EXT extremely appealing so even though I wouldn’t say
26:11 that you know I was a, you know, a dedicated meditation practitioner when I was a kid or when I
26:16 was a teenager or even when I was an undergraduate, um it was always there in the background of my life as something
26:23 um that I knew that I could kind of reconnect with or fall back on and then grow up in the in the community that my
26:30 father The Institute community that my father eventually um founded with my mother uh I was just exposed to a lot of
26:37 different kinds of meditation teachers so we had you know resident teachers who were Zen Buddhists who were sufis who
26:44 were Christian contemplatives um you know yoga Hindu yoga uh meditation teachers and
26:51 practitioners and I was really drawn to the different philosophies and the and
26:57 the the different World Views and just found that fascinating and um so as a result I was
27:04 I guess from a very young age I was familiar with the idea that there was this other side to let’s say religion
27:11 which was you know contemplative spirituality and and I found that um
27:16 just endlessly appealing and fascinating really. and then um I got into philosophy
27:23 sort of in the in the reverse way in that I started with an interest in Asian philosophy and then moved over to
27:30 studying Western philosophy so I think I would have been like 12 or 13 at this point um again my dad gave me the the
27:37 dao te ching to read and I just stayed up all night reading it I thought it was like the most amazing thing I’d ever
27:43 seen and ever read and as a result of that I wanted to study Asian philosophy and in particular Chinese so then when I
27:49 went away to University I studied Chinese language and Chinese history and Asian philosophy and then when I was
27:55 trying to decide you know do I want want to go on in grad school in like religious studies or Asian studies or
28:01 philosophy I I realized it was really philosophy that interested me I had taken you know a bunch of other
28:06 undergrad courses in philosophy but I wasn’t a philosophy major I was an Asian Studies major um but I realized at that
28:11 point it was really philosophy that interested me and so then I um then I
28:17 you know started as a graduate student in philosophy and it was at that point
28:23 that I started working closely with Francisco verella the neuroscientist who kind of Pioneered the cognitive science
28:29 Buddhism conversation and that was because I had met verel at the lindes farar association The Institute
28:34 Community my father had founded and um he at that point so this is in the 1980s
28:40 he at that point was um he had some transcripts of lectures he had given on Buddhism and cognitive science and he
28:45 wanted to turn them into a book and he knew that I had studied Buddhist philosophy as an undergrad and I was now
28:50 working in philosophy and I had gotten interested in cognitive science because you know John will know this that like in that period
28:58 um cognitive science was this sort of at least within philosophy was this sort of
29:03 newly emergent thing that was really exciting so sort of the period of classical works by people like you know
29:09 foder and Dennis and um and I had gone into philosophy thinking oh I’ll write
29:15 on Heidegger and and I very quickly realized I did not want to write on Heidegger that I didn’t want to work on
29:21 sort of you know uh feel excused the way of putting it dead German philosophy especially a philosopher at that point
29:27 whose you know involvement in Nazism and anti-Semitism was was really becoming more wellknown in the english- speaking
29:34 world and I was like I don’t really want to work in that field so I was kind of casting about and philosophy of mind and cogy grabbed me as really new really
29:41 exciting but very deep philosophically so I was um I was you know working in
29:47 that area and so verela knew that I was interested in you know both Buddhist philosophy Asian philosophy and
29:52 cognitive science and so he brought me over uh to be a research assistant and that’s eventually what led to the book
29:57 ‘The embodied mind’ also with ellar rash um so that’s sort of a yeah quick quick
30:03 summary of the story [JV] thank you for watching this YouTube and podcast series is by the
30:10 Veri Foundation which in addition to supporting my work also offers courses
30:16 practices workshops and other projects dedicated to responding to the meaning crisis if you would like to support this
30:22 work please consider joining our patreon you can find the link in the show notes [RR] great great story I I took courses with
30:29 Jerry Fodor at the C Center when I was doing my PhD [ET] yeah yeah he came to
30:36 Toronto when I was a grad student and gave some talks and I went up afterwards and asked him some questions and I have to say he was really really nice I was
30:42 just this like unknown like grad student who probably didn’t know what he was talking about asking these questions he was very very nice and generous so I
30:48 always felt good about that yeah [JV] well I I took a a summer course uh on uh the
30:55 basically was it turned out to be a uh at at uh cuni it turned out to be a a
31:01 workshop with many of the main figures um in the symbolist connectionist debate that was raging at at that time and he
31:08 he he and smolinsky were there together and uh uh so I I got to see a very intense version of Jerry foder
31:17 yeah [ET] I saw I saw uh so this would have been in Toronto in like 19 1987 or 88
31:24 there was this big conference with um with Zen and ition Jeff Hinton Paul slinsky and I think David uh David Kish
31:33 uh and it was just yeah I mean it was really intense argument and I just sat
31:40 and listened to it and thought this is really amazing this is really yeah yeah [RR] every week at the grad Center they’d
31:46 have colloquia where they would invite somebody in and and bodor and Jerry cats
31:52 and all these other big shots would be in the audience I always felt sorry for the people present there because the criticism the objections the
32:00 counter examples it was really intense [ET] yeah I’ll just also mention since we’re sort of reminiscing about these things
32:05 so so when I finished my PhD and when we were just finalizing the embodied mind I did a post talk with Dan Dennett and um
32:12 and I was fantastic because you know dennet and I don’t in the end of the day agree on very much but he was a
32:18 wonderful Mentor for for a postdoc he didn’t have grad students you know uh he
32:23 didn’t have PhD students he had ma students because tus doesn’t have a PhD program in philosophy so he put a lot of
32:28 time into his postdocs he was he was really really generous and and and
32:33 wonderful so so that was a was a really great experience too [RR] right so in the you know the book
32:42 that um John contributed to which you know about um that you would have if you had more time the rutage handbook on the
32:49 philosophy meditation that’s what pretty much started this series here and that book had like maybe three major themes
32:56 or hypotheses or whatever and so I have some questions that come out of that that we ask all the guests if we get
33:02 around to them um one is can meditation contribute to philosophy and maybe a
33:07 better way of asking you that is how can it, uh the second one is is there can

33:13 there or ought there to be a philosophy of meditation I think your your book on waking dreaming and being and all your
33:19 work is is pretty much an answer in the affirmative but then the third question

33:24 is the more tricky one is meditation itself a form of philosophy so but um so

33:31 the first one how how can it contribute and then is it itself a form of philosophy we could skip the second one
33:37 because the answer is yes for you from you [ET] uh right so so sorry give me the
33:42 first and second again because they were connected [RR] okay yeah so can and how can meditation contribute to philosophy
33:49 right right the second one was is there can there be or ought there to be a philosophy meditation your work is an
33:54 affirmative answer to that question that’s why I said you could skip skip that one the third one is the third one
34:00 is is meditation itself a form of philosophy right right okay can it
34:05 contribute to philosophy is it a form of philosophy [ET] yeah yeah so I want to say something about all three so um [RR]cool [ET] so
34:11 I think that um I’m I’m a little worried about let’s
34:18 say DEcontext taking the word meditation and decontextualizing it. so you know meditation means a whole bunch
34:25 of different things um there’s this there’s this way in which meditation
34:31 actually has come to mean in contemporary English uh what the word contemplation really used to mean in in
34:37 the Western in the western tradition um which is to say that you know when when we use the word
34:43 meditation in the way that you just asked the question you know we’re thinking of things like uh quieting the
34:49 Mind observing thoughts um maybe maybe dropping into or
34:55 attuning to something that that has a feeling of um of transcendence at least
35:00 of the ordinary mind and that’s not what meditation used to mean meditation used to mean a kind of you know discursive
35:07 sustained intellectual reflection on a topic as in like day cart’s meditations um whereas contemplation
35:13 meant something like um well it comes from the Greek theoria so it really has to do with watching or beholding and in
35:20 neoplatonism and and in Christianity it really is watching and beholding the
35:25 Divine or God in a way that leads to a kind of at least for mystical Traditions a kind of you know mystical Oneness or Unity or or
35:33 absorption so there’s this funny uh way these words have undergone a transformation which is just to say that
35:38 when we use the word meditation um we we really need to make
35:44 more precise exactly what we’re talking about uh even in the [RR] quick interrupt
35:50 quick interrupt you’re answering you are already answering the next question which is how you differentiate between
35:56 medication contemplation which is good we on the right [ET] okay good all right so well well uh that that’s that’s good to

Transformational Aspects of Meditation, Rituals, and Self-Cultivation

36:02 hear so yeah so anyway it’s just to say that meditation means a lot of different things and for me it’s always in a
36:09 social context it’s it’s whether it’s secular or whether it’s in a in a
36:14 religious context of one or another uh form
36:20 so is it you know can it contribute to philosophy well certainly but one of the
36:26 things I think that that history and philosophy are really important for is to to to
36:32 reacquaint ourselves with the full contextual embedding of the practice
36:37 when we philosophize about it. so there’s lots of different ways it it can contribute in that sense it can um you
36:45 know it can contribute to thinking about self-cultivation it can contribute to thinking this is of course of particular
36:51 interest to me the nature of the self and the nature of Consciousness um but I want to emphasize that it that it not be
36:57 thought of kind of as a as a as an isolated thing that you could just export and then you know apply to
37:04 something ⮦⮋⮧ so that would be um I guess uh the caveat I would want I would want to

Thank you for highlighting your disagreement with the basis of McMindfulness, because it Dilutes and distorts the rich traditions of meditation, while negating the adaptive thinking aspects and replacing them with contrived platitudes for conformity.

37:09 answer to that similarly um although I do philosophize about
37:17 meditation I’m a little hesitant to uh to affirm the idea that there is a
37:24 philosophy of meditation think there’s a philosophy of mind there’s a philosophy of self there’s you know metaphysics and
37:31 epistemology and metap and meditation practices can be extremely relevant to those but I you know it’s a bit like
37:38 philosophy of sport it’s like yeah there is philosophy of sport people do that I
37:43 mean I don’t want to put anyone down who works on philosophy of sport but it’s like it it it’s never you know really
37:50 grabbed me like I you know I occasionally read articles and I think oh that’s you know an interesting
37:55 article but the idea that there’s like you go to the American philosophical Association and there’s the association that works on philosophy of sport like
38:01 fine people should do whatever they want to do but I that’s not how I would want to be interested in it I would want to
38:06 be working on kind of like fundamental philosophical issues in which say sport or meditation and they’re both these
38:13 very general words right is relevant to particular you know philosophical concerns and and questions so I wouldn’t
38:20 describe what I do as philosophy of meditation if that’s what we understand the meaning of the phrase to be I would
38:26 describe it as philosophy of Mind, cognitive science, in you know informed by meditation I mean if you think of
38:32 like philosophy of Mind traditionally and when people talk about Consciousness and experience it’s like this pathetic
38:38 minimalist diet of you know examples of you know seeing blue and tasting
38:44 sourness and it’s like yeah I mean sure that is part of conscious experience but
38:50 conscious experience is always situated and there’s always something that people
38:55 are doing and meditation is one of the very interesting things that that people do that’s generative of all sorts of
39:02 experiences and then that becomes relevant to you know philosophical work on Consciousness so so that’s how I
39:08 prefer to think about it actually [JV] so Evan you invoked a social context and I
39:13 I want to invoke sort of a cultural historical uh when you answered that question you were conceiving a
39:19 philosophy in a very sort of Western academic frame but of course yeah philosophy and other Traditions are much
39:26 more like what Hado talked about ancient philosophy is this cultivation of wisdom that you see in stoicism and
39:31 neoplatonism for example so what do you think about reframing the I and I’m
39:37 giving the question back to you now is the relationship between mindfulness practices and philosophy in the
39:42 philosophia sense of the word yeah okay good right so so that yeah that that’s a
39:48 different kind of perspective where you know if we’re thinking about philosophy in the ancient world so you know Greece
39:55 and Rome helenistic philosophy or or or CH or you know Waring States China (Confucianism) or um or the
40:03 formative you know period of of Indian philosophy (Vedic philosophy)
40:09 there certainly practices of um of mental
40:15 training and self-cultivation are are integral to the very idea of what
40:21 philosophy is spiritual exercises in you know in had Do’s sense
40:27 now you that gets progressively lost in Western philosophy ⮦⮋⮧ you you still see you

I disagree, what happens is that the term philosophy splits into “meaning of life” which is to say, a cultural explanation of why the world is the way it is, and Culture itself, the “why we believe what we believe” while philosophy itself becomes broadened to be something more like epistemology, which is “how we know, what we know” as applied to various contexts, like Physics or Biology or Math, while hindus are out there with some story alternating between 4 elements and non-dualism, so that obscures the lack of mono-theism with some feigned immaterialism, (dream of the bhramin caste to make up for the inconsistencies between their hedonism and materialism, through historical revisionism) while also being hedonist and tribal which is the basis of polytheism. Why is why it’s so incoherent, that is a feature for social control, not a bug.
While at the same time what is more commonly associated with meditation in the east, gets associated with critical thinking in the west, but without the mind-body link that meditative practices have, like breathing exercises, that critical thinking practices lack. Even though both serve the same purpose in their cultural contexts, which is recognizing that the subconscious mind exists, and is very, very fallible, without somewhat intensive training. And trying to remedy that, in the western tradition they try to do it reductivly, and in the eastern tradition is the attempt to do so more holistically.

40:32 know you see it in Montana you see it in decart but more minimally um by the time
40:37 you get to Kant that’s that’s gone and it you know it it surfaces maybe an
40:43 existentialism in places but not so much really um so if we’re thinking of philosophy in
40:50 a way that that would be trying to revitalize that and actually that that
40:57 connects back to our discussion of death of course right because you know philosophy is the practice of uh of
41:02 dying or the preparation for death ⮦⮋⮧ uh in you know in Plato and and

So I think here is a great example between a philosophy for living, the existential “meaning of life” that grounds a person between their long term goals and day to day activities, and the way people think about things, or philosophize about them. As one of the is extremely personal and at times subjective, which determines how they interact with and model others within their own mind, while the other is more of an academic exercise about how the external world works regardless of their their own existence.
While meditation is about the process of thinking, regardless of what the thoughts are, which I think often gets conflated with philosophy, but is like asking the question “is critical thinking itself philosophy” when no, it’s more of a set of practices,in the same way that like yoga. but for the fitness of the mind instead of for the body, so that it is more useful when used for more specific goal seeking behaviors. It’s exercise for the mind, not a philosophy in of itself, but is often incorporated into philosophical practices, because of the noticeably effects on the mind, which emerges from and is influenced by the the biological activity of the brain much more so than lexical activation the accompanies the focused awareness / directed consciousness of the mind, which is a fraction of the brains activity, but the only fraction we can be aware of directly. Which is also why we are not aware of the spiritual elephant directly, even though it is the bulk of the activity of the brain. Which is why it’s an elephant and not a monkey mind, the monkey mind sits on head of the elephant and sometimes confuses itself with the elephant, because they often see the same things, as the monkey mind cannot visually sense anything that the spiritual elephant does not ( Inattentional blindness ) but it can conceptually imagine things which the spiritual elephant cannot. Which the spiritual elephant watches, in the same way a dog watches television.

41:07 and onwards into you know into into stoicism
41:13 then in in in that sense you could say that meditation or contemplation or spiritual exercises are are certainly
41:20 integral to philosophy but that’s not for the most part what philosophy in the
41:26 academy is anymore For Better or For Worse right um yeah [JV] but would you say
41:32 next question well I was [RR] next question I’m sorry John I just want to point out because the questions already being
41:38 answered again how would you differentiate between academic philosophy and practical philosophy but you’re already talking
41:45 about [ET] yeah yeah and so this is also connected to to your third question which is is meditation uh philosophy or
41:52 philosophy yeah form of philosophy so I would say um I would say no uh if we
41:58 just take the question like baldly like that because meditation is so many things it can be it can be philosophical
42:06 it can be a way of doing philosophy but it it it certainly isn’t in in all
42:11 contexts and um and the idea that
42:18 uh that it would be in any given historical period I think you know
42:24 probably not um it it would really depend on on context to to to answer
42:29 that but then yeah so the diff you know the difference between philosophy as something that’s academic philosophy
42:34 that is defined in terms of you know the university structure of departments and training and socialization and all those
42:40 things versus philosophy as you know a reflective cultivation of wisdom as a as
42:46 a path of life um you know there is an intersection in those two ven diag you
42:51 know ven diagram circles um but it’s pretty small um you know alas uh I would
42:58 say you know philosophy has become philosophy Mo came to model itself on science in in the you know anglophone
43:06 analytic tradition anyway and um it became a you know a project of of
43:13 technical questioning and an and Analysis and even you know even in non-analytic Traditions it’s a project
43:20 of theoretical reason for the most part with without a practical uh Dimension to it ⮦⮋⮧ yeah so

I feel like you are wrong about the “without the practical dimension” because that is like assuming that existentialism has no practical dimension, when in reality it’s (existential experience before formally thinking about existentialism) more like discovering that your assumptions about the world are incorrect when applied practically through your lived experience. Like discovering a whole new level of complexity of the world which requires a re-examination of your personal epistemology and realizing that your subconscious can make choices for yourself, without having an epistemological reason, which can quickly lead to large mistakes or what feels like wasting years of your own life, while being aware that is a limited quantity which cannot be recovered. But a lot of this confusion arises from sloppy use of vocabulary or poor translation.

43:27 those things split apart in the history of philosophy [RR] Don you were about to ask
43:33 Evan a question [JV] well I just wondered if uh Evan you don’t have to answer this if
43:39 you not but um and and the question is of course if
43:46 you have any proper modesty you’ll be put off slightly by the question but uh
43:51 like do do do you think and so with that caveat in place and we know each other
43:57 right would you say that you know I know you practice your your your mindfulness
44:03 practices both seated and moving Tai chijiuan I know you do some chiong and other related things we do overlapping
44:10 would you say that they are practices that have led to or enabled the
44:16 cultivation of wisdom in you I’m not I’m I’m not asking you to claim that you’re wise or anything like that but but maybe
44:22 that the more the more less or the less pretentious question do you think it is reasonable to conclude that they have
44:28 made you wiser [ET] yeah so I’m not going to use the word wisdom just because uh yeah I don’t
44:36 feel I can sort of self-describe that word um I mean I feel
44:41 from my own subjective perspective immersed in my life that they have made
44:46 my life go better both uh you might say hedonically and also
44:53 cognitively uh I think that um those
45:01 practices I mean I’ve done them for so long you know I wouldn’t claim to be like an accomplished you know meditator
45:06 whatever that means um you know I’ve done them in largely you know the context of a you know well entirely in
45:12 the context of you know a secular life working in the world it’s not something I’ve like made you know the the the the
45:20 prime thing in my life but it has played a significant role in my life and so from my own perspective
45:27 um they have been very important
45:32 for uh you know mental balance equinity new insights for me new insights into
45:39 you know self and Consciousness and so on that I try to you know articulate as a philosopher if I were novelist I would
45:46 probably try to articulate in the form of a novelist just that’s not what I do um so so yes uh C certainly in that
45:54 sense yeah [JV] cuz one of the things that uh here’s one of my anecdotes I had been doing I I was
46:02 only about for like 5th year or so into my ta chian practice as while I was in grad school uh but I was doing it very
46:09 religiously and what I mean by that I was doing it like four five hours a day and going to the dojo three or four times a week that kind of thing and I
46:15 was having you know all those experiences you can have where you get as hot as fire or cold as ice and all that all the wonderful woo that makes
46:22 you think you’re on the cusp of Enlightenment and all that sort of crap right uh and of course I was fixated on that
46:28 phenomenology but I my my my my friends and my some of my fellow students were
46:34 starting they came up to me and they said what they didn’t know about any of this because you know it’s in grad grad
46:39 school and everybody’s walking around with imposter syndrome of course um and so um I uh but they came up to me and
46:46 they said you like what’s happening you’re you’re changing there’s something new about you and I what do you mean and they they said well you’re you’re sort
46:52 of more flexible in your approach and of course there speak speaking metaphorically and and and you know and
46:58 you’re and you’re much more sort of adaptive and you’re much sort of open and and it really sort of occurred to me
47:04 that there was ways in which my practice was sort of percolating through my psyche and transferring to different
47:10 domains of my life that I wasn’t really uh fully and properly aware of and this
47:17 has led me into this is going to be an odd question uh but I’m I’m trying to frame it because there’s a lot of work
47:22 on the anthropology of ritual and ritual knowing Jenning and others that this is one of the ways in which you sort of
47:28 evaluate how good a ritual is how much does it translate sort of between levels of the psyche and into different domains
47:35 of one’s life um and and then people get fussy about we should use the word
47:41 practice for individuals and rituals for groups ⮦⮋⮧ and I I I’m not concerned about that right now but for me I’ve I because

What a strange distinction. I suppose it’s for lazy people to be undisciplined. Or charlatans who don’t know what the ritual is for, so they see them as arbitrary.
To say a ritual is different from individual to group, is like saying that (in the context of basketball) that when it’s a group, you only shoot 3 pointers, but as an individual, you only do layups, but they are basically the same thing. Or in baseball, home-runs and foul balls make no difference. Or in football, a goal kick being the same as a touch down.
But I at the same time, I can see people who are virtue signalling asceticism to make a big fuss about the body position down to the angle of the fingers, which does not matter for the meditation ritual.

47:49 other people had noted in it I’ve been trying to sort of ask that question um
47:55 almost um something that could be open to empirical investigation is um can we
48:00 we certainly you know because of transfer appropriate processing ideas about cognition we could certainly ask
48:05 that question does this transfer this way and we could use all kinds of tests other than self-report for that we could
48:11 even use other report um and and things like that and now do you think that
48:16 should be so I I I I don’t think there’s much in question that there could be an empirical investigation do you think
48:22 that should be also something that Jennings proposes should that be a normative standard we’re using when
48:28 we’re looking at these practices or rituals the degree to which we can get some evidence uh for that transfer
48:37 between levels of the psyche and into uh many different domains in people’s life
48:43 other than the domain of uh explicit practice do you think that should Jennings actually proposes that as a
48:49 normative standard he sort of says that’s how you can judge how good it is yeah [RR] I want to interject one thing
48:55 before you answer Evan this calls to mind Jake Davis a mutual friend of ours who also contributed to the philosophy
49:02 meditation book although like you he even went a step further saying this title philosophy of education I only
49:09 accept it like kicking and screaming like he had all the same kind of objections that you have but um oh and I
49:15 I lost I lost my train of oh yeah so Jake in the paper that he put in the in the Anthology he argues for a kind of
49:22 global attentiveness Norm that you can get of meditative practice so there’s an interesting overlap there just thought
49:29 I’d mention that to you [ET] yeah so uh I would say that if um if our if our frame
49:36 of interest is let’s call it the the scientific investigation of um
49:44 meditation practices um for for lack of a a better way of putting it I would say
49:50 that the uh including uh I I hate this expression
49:56 but I’m going to use it anyway including you know pro-social effects and
50:01 transformative uh you know transformative pro-social effects I can’t believe I’m using that expression
50:07 but anyway I’m using it um because pro-social raises the question of like according to you know toal right right
50:14 but anyway um then I would say that that you know the social perspective um and the understanding of
50:21 ritual is absolutely crucial and I think this has been a real shortcoming for the most part in the
50:27 cognitive science of um of contemplative practices is that it started out in a

The Role of Mindfulness in Modern Culture and Science

50:34 largely individualistic neuroimaging frame and from you know the perspective
50:41 of of anthropology this is you know this is incredibly naive uh that that these
50:47 practices are always embedded and indeed so this is something actually be interested to know what you what you both think of this but this is something
50:53 that I argue why I’m not Buddhist is that
50:59 uh meditation understood as a practice that involves meta awareness and
51:05 metacognitive monitoring is an internalized form of social cognition so the idea that you would you know divorce
51:12 it from the context of uh of of of
51:18 ritual and particularly rituals where you actually have to um uh you know
51:24 mentally alternate your perspective I so like in confusion rituals you know the the son takes on the role of the father
51:30 of the father and there’s this alternation of of perspectives where you put yourself in somebody else’s perspectives and you you enact this you
51:37 know kind of virtual ritual environment that gives you a completely different cognitive frame so so metacognition in a
51:42 way is an internalization of that where you can you know you can decenter you can relate to thoughts just as thoughts
51:48 rather than you know in terms of their like representational content so the idea that um that you could somehow
51:55 study meditation as this thing that goes on in the head that you’re going to understand in terms of you know neuroactivation patterns and and that’s
52:01 going to tell you what it is seems to me just you know in incredibly naive and
52:07 and the the ritual and the way that ritual is transformative of of
52:12 individual behavior and of cognitive function I think is extremely important and and the field is catching up to this
52:18 now but uh you know it’s it’s taken a while uh the by the field I mean you
52:24 know the the cogn science of meditation or the cognitive science of contemplative practice ⮦⮋⮧ if you had asked an anthropologist this they would have

While I agree that the perspective taking and modeling are important aspects, The ritual aspects are more about priming the body and subconscious, While the specific meditations and perspective taking, are the contextual aspects, in some senses one ritual is for the body and the other is for the mind, but I am saying the mental practices are more subjective and cultural while the physical rituals are not.

52:30 said well of course you know that’s kind of where you should start uh so I think
52:35 um yeah I I I think that’s extremely important and and from a normative stance I think
52:42 um it doesn’t make much sense to me to think about individual transformation apart from a normative context that’s
52:50 social I mean Norms are about sociality so like how how could it be otherwise right [JV] MH MH
52:56 well I mean BEC I mean I I agree with you but it has been otherwise because it has been largely folded into sort of the
53:02 self-help uh uh you know framework and you know feeling a better better about
53:07 yourself kind of uh normativity has been uh dominant I think in the culture ⮦⮋⮧

This is what is often referred to as cultural appropriation , which is a late stage of cultural genocide, where charlatans come along and commodify some deeply spiritual practice to make a quick buck by fooling some westerners (Deepak Chopra anyone?) part of what gets referred to as McMindfullness.
I would say that things like Enlightenment are an individual practice, and cannot really be a “community practice” and trying to do so usually results in virtue signalling which is much easier and a feature of class / caste systems in group competition, which is the opposite of spiritual practice. But I think when he says it as a community practice, probably is referring more to the interjection by the community hierarchy to mitigate virtue signaling. Which is community management of normative behaviors, more so than a religious practice.

53:12 that’s why I brought up that that question [ET] yeah no exactly that’s right it it that has been the dominant you know
53:19 but that normativity we get from you know we get from late stage capitalism basically yeah and you know it’s it’s
53:26 immediately intention with let’s say uh a perspective on the role of
53:32 contemplation in in say Christianity or of of meditation in Buddhism or Hinduism
53:37 I mean those agendas are not about you know individual self-help and a consumerist context ⮦⮋⮧ they’re about

Or as a form of gate-keeping resources, real or imagined. And other times purely for the sake of undermining communities, that has been painfully common in Buddhist communities in the west that form around charlatans, something very painfully evident in the burning man and new age communities. Which is probably why they are so dysfunctional. Petty charlatans.
I wish it were more complex than that.

53:43 transforming the you know the psyche and the community to be a to be an embodiment either of you know the the
53:50 the Buddha SA or the you know the mystical Body of Christ if you want to talk about it in Christian terms so so
53:55 there’s there’s some pretty big differences there [JV] so so given that um it
54:01 sounds like you would be large because there’s a debate around the MC mindfulness debate right the the idea
54:07 that the West has turned mindfulness ⮦⮋⮧ like you said it’s taken it’s taken often a single practice out of an entire

A reminder once again, it was not the west that did that. People like Deepak Chopra are not “The west” and neither are Yoga sex cults.

54:13 Ecology of practices where there’s all these ritual dimensions and then it’s transformed it into a single uh
54:20 individualistic Standalone technique that you do and sort of so that you’ll be satisfied being a corporate drone or
54:27 something like ⮦⮋⮧ that um and that’s sort of the mcmindfulness critique but now there’s a debate around this um and I’m

Can you tell me what the difference is, between being satisfied as a corporate drone, and conformity to a caste system? Confucian or otherwise.
There is a reason those things seem so complimentary. And that reason is the opposite of the reason Buddha sangha was formed in the first place.
Which is also why they don’t do what they are supposed to do, which is lead to things like enlightenment.

54:33 wonder and I think Rick and I might be a little bit on opposite sides I think uh
54:39 some people I I won’t say which Rick is I’ll say what I think right uh he can he can speak for himself um yeah I I think
54:46 that I I’m I’m coming close to the opinion that MC mindfulness is worse than no practice ⮦⮋⮧ uh precisely because

I strongly agree here

54:56 it’s such a distortion and it is uh you know the Hume thing you know you get Evil by pursuing a lesser good at the
55:02 expense of a greater good kind of thing and and it’s so full of in the Frankfurt sense of the word it’s it’s
55:08 making the wrong thing Salient ⮦⮋⮧ other people say well this pract it’s better

Exactly, put another way, it gives people the wrong intuition, often times in a way that actually leads in the wrong direction, so when you would have aspects that rely on intuition, it’s like training your spiritual elephant incorrectly, so that when you are relying on your intuition on situations outside of the meditation rituals, you would make the wrong assumptions and have biases which lead in the wrong direction. This sets them up for failure, as seen in the self-help movement, and creates dysfunction and confusion instead of clarity. Essentially resulting in something like this:

while some sociopathic charlatans mocking their sangha while trying to engage as much debauchery as possible until they get bored or caught and go to a different geographic location and starting all over again. Burning man being the prime example, which is how most people learn of what cultural appropriation is in the first place. While ignoring and sometimes even enabling, opium war 2.

55:13 than no practice because it could sort of Gateway people into something deeper um and since we’re talking about the
55:19 normative social Dimension I think this is a fair question to ask where where would you land on that debate
55:25 [ET] yeah that’s an interesting question so so first of all I would say that um I would want to distinguish between
55:33 say um mindfulness based stress reduction and mindfulness based
55:38 cognitive therapy as as secular Frameworks of meaning that give
55:45 people actually by my lights that give people not just practices but rituals uh I would want to just which I
55:52 think are are very beneficial I think have helped a lot of people people I would want to distinguish between that
55:57 which which I think you know is is positive and important ⮦⮋⮧ I’d want to distinguish that

This just feels like suggesting that because some forms of the cultural appropriation have been less harmful than others, such that they are even helpful, may be considered a net positive in those narrow situations, but still that feels like claiming that giving someone breathing exercises alone, and calling that meditation, is more insidious in the drunning-kruger aspect, because people believe they have more information or know what something like meditation is, incorrectly. And in this incorrect knowledge then making assumptions like “Meditation is just about breathing exercising, nothing more complex in the mind” or they would never get to the more advanced types of meditation, assuming something like all meditation is a single thing, or simply doing breathing exercises without the accompanying perspective shifting, or any myriad of other incorrect practices which are then later on dismissed as ineffective with the presumed knowledge of what meditation is or when it is applicable.
As Nietzsche would say, meditation as an opiate of the masses, designed to shut them up, rather to engaged in a practice of true mindfulness which is interactive instead of individually isolated mechanism to “reduce stress” by which they really mean “reduce agitation” while being forced to conform, as the stress is still there, but simply suppressed, and then calling that mindfulness. It’s double-speak or as applied to Buddhism, which is why we have so much difficulty talking about these things in the first place, and the ‘newspeak’ aspect is plainly obvious when you think of the application of the word “Harmonious” in social contexts in China.
That dynamic of deliberately making it difficult to even articulate their concerns is the danger, regardless if a few people managed to be satiated by these distortions.
Can you guess what may also involve the suppression of a language or cultural activities that do not conform to the charlatans notion of what is appropriate or “normative” for the corporate overlords?
Thank you John, for figuring that part out since my previous critique.

56:05 from the consumerist mcmindfulness um appropriation of them
56:13 you know in a in the context of a corporation or the way they’re embedded in you know the the say the the medical
56:19 system and the you know the insurance private insurance structure in the United States I’d want to make a distinction between those things so I do
56:26 think that um that the the again it’s kind of
56:32 context so I do think that the the appropriation of
56:38 certain practices of mindfulness in a you know in an exploitative work context is actually
56:46 worse than uh than nothing um but I do think at the same time that
56:55 mindfulness Bas you know cognitive therapy and mindfulness Bas stress stress reduction you know dealing for things like you know risk of depression
57:02 relapse or chronic pain I think those are they’re those are really important and really have benefited a lot of
57:07 people and so I’m not um you know to the extent that in the
57:14 critique of MC mindfulness that mbsr and bct ⮦⮋⮧ becomes a Target as such in itself Then I then I’m

I think mindfulness based stress reduction and cognitive behavioral therapy are not meditation, or Buddhism, and do not claim to be so. Though there is a LOT of confusion between secular “mindfulness” which attempts to focus only on the rituals of mindfulness and it’s popular to conflate that with the actual conceptual basis of meditation, which is often done by people who are reductionist, and negates the holistic perspectives. In doing so, this fractured view of mindfulness greatly limits the effectiveness of mindfulness in the buddhist sense, maybe convincing some people that they are meditating when they are not, but does not cross the boundary to cultural appropriation. This focus on the body may be helpful for agitation but that also prevents it from generating the same answers and insights that meditation would. Relegating conceptions of mindfulness to mostly about modulating homeostasis in the body rather than anything conceptual or holistic, and thus meaningful. Which is why that has not itself lead to resolution of the meaning crisis which John talks about. Is mindfulness without meaning, really mindfulness?
Because to me, that would be more like an exercise, like walking, which is not meaningful in of itself.

57:21 not sympathetic to it [JV] yeah excellent answer thank
57:26 you yeah [RR] well I see a a value in both of your answer both you know the way you
57:32 framed your position onage John and Evans I’m a little more optimistic about but I I agree that in certain context
57:39 there certainly things that uh can be neg worse than nothing it depends on the
57:44 context it all depends just like philosophy I mean you know this all sorts of forms of philosophy that could
57:51 be you know like the philosophy of Nazism let’s just say the depends you know at a broad sweep like we said what

Meditation as a Conduit Between Diverse Philosophical and Cultural Contexts

57:57 does philosophy mean what does meditation mean it it it depends
58:02 so backing up a little Evan about the think the distinction between let’s say academic philosophy and practical
58:08 philosophy on the one hand and meditation and philosophy on the other you made a lot of kind of
58:14 differentiations that were all very quite well said and everything I’m just curious about what do you think about
58:20 another mutual friend of ours Christian keru who thinks phenomenology and the
58:25 Indian meditative Traditions have uh a lot in common and meditation is a kind
58:31 of bridge there [ET] I I would say that um you know the
58:38 phenomenological tradition as a philosophical tradition is very interesting to think about in
58:44 relationship to certain lines of thought that develop in Indian philosophy both in you know Buddhism and in and in
58:51 Hinduism uh I wouldn’t Center it NE necessarily on meditation because I
58:57 think that um you know the historical scholarship suggests that
59:04 meditation in say you know Buddhism or Hinduism in in in in the context of
59:10 those philosophical text doesn’t play the role that we might naively in terms
59:16 of the way we think about meditation today think that it plays it’s not as if they were you
59:21 know uh sitting and meditating and then kind of writing out phenomenological
59:26 descriptions and reports of their meditation and that’s what yogachara Texs are I mean there there certainly as
59:31 philosophical analysis and reflection on various kinds of uh states of non-c
59:37 conceptuality that you know would be um that would be brought about through through practice um but the idea that
59:45 that meditation is the uh is the the point of
59:51 convergence uh particularly in the case of you know phenomenal ological philosophy uh where
59:58 meditation is not really for the most part there are exceptions but for the most part is not playing that kind of
1:00:04 role so I would Orient it around actually theoretical discourses about Consciousness in which um in you know in
1:00:11 the context of Buddhism and Hinduism meditation is certainly something uh meditation in the sense of sort of
1:00:16 mental training mental self-cultivation that’s certainly part of the framework of meaning for them um but I wouldn’t I
1:00:23 wouldn’t Center it specific speically on that yeah I don’t think Christian really does either actually I think Christian
1:00:29 um you know for him it’s it’s it’s is about relating different discourses about Consciousness different you know
1:00:35 theoretical philosophical discourses about Consciousness yeah [JV] so could just to stop here and open up on that and

Enhancing Consciousness and Attention Through Mindfulness Practices

1:00:43 allow to expand on a point you made earlier uh because we we caught up on another thread but I wanted to come back to it you talked about how uh you know
1:00:50 uh a lot of current philosophy of mind has pretty thin gruel in terms of what it talks about in terms of states of
1:00:56 Consciousness and traits of Consciousness and etc etc and I I I believe I heard you saying something
1:01:02 like well one of the things that uh uh mindfulness practices can do is to O is
1:01:08 to rapidly increase our experiential or significant maybe not rapidly that’s the
1:01:13 wrong word uh significantly increase uh the repertoire or experiential repertoire of States could you say first
1:01:20 of all did I get you right and yeah that’s right okay okay so could you say a little bit more about that uh because
1:01:26 you know I also think you know we’ve been locked into a monological monophasic uh uh model of the mind um uh
1:01:36 what you said earlier by the way about you know U metacognition and you know um
1:01:42 uh uh social interaction distributed cognition are interpenetrating you know the Vygotskien idea uh and it’s and so I I
1:01:50 think there’s there should be important connections between mindfulness practices and dialogical practices for
1:01:56 example for that reason trying to do work on that but um do you do you think
1:02:02 that maybe not even just mindfulness practices but like maybe mindfulness practices dialogical rituals things like
1:02:08 that um do you think and how do you think they do like can you give some
1:02:13 clear examples I I agree with you but for the audience like what like what are the kind of things that are opened up a
1:02:20 philosophical significance I mean a famous one of course was you know pure Consciousness event and that that’s you
1:02:26 know that put a lot of people in talk about content of Consciousness and stuff like that but can you you know what I’m
1:02:32 asking for does is it [ET] sure yeah so I think there’s a bunch of different things um um you know one is a much
1:02:44 richer phenomenological understanding of uh of what attention is and how attention
1:02:52 Works um and how attention is related to awareness of awareness Meta Meta
1:02:58 awareness uh how you know mindfulness is actually really from a from a kind of
1:03:03 cognitive science perspective a kind of metacognitive attention because you’re or certain kinds of mindfulness are um
1:03:10 because you are if you’re working with say the classic idea of mindfulness as
1:03:16 as holding something in mind without the mind you know wobbling away from it
1:03:21 you’re really talking about your ability to Orient your attention to you know
1:03:27 inhibit distraction or to you know to drop distractors to um to keep track of of of
1:03:35 where attention is which is a which is a metacognitive process so to ⮦⮋⮧

In neoBuddhism, we would call that directing attention, or focusing awareness. Which are different from mindfullness which is about trying to have a perspective of the environment and people around you, that goes beyond the surface of appearances. Or having a more holistic view of a particular situation. Sort of a “seeing the forest for the trees” instead of only seeing the branches and leafs in front of your face. (metaphorically speaking)

1:03:42 have a phenomenological appreciation of just what that involves you know from moment
1:03:49 to moment you know that’s something that philosophers have really only just begun to talk about in the past five 10 years ⮦⮋⮧

I assume he is referring to the acknowledgement of the existence of the spiritual elephant as being a perspective which is different from the “self” without being gaslit about schizophrenia, as is normative for anti-intellectuals and anti-intellectual culture. The type that replaces social values with market values while pretending to be moral and ethical. Which is to say that unhinged greed is the only reasonable basis for morality and ethics.

1:03:56 um so that would be one example I would say you know in other examples and so this is something I’ve written about a
1:04:02 lot that interests me you know personally quite a bit is the relationship of Consciousness and sleep and dreaming so the way you know
1:04:09 Consciousness and sense of self shift across you know um absorbed
1:04:15 alert waking perception uh mind wandering daydreaming um sleep
1:04:22 onset different kinds of dream dream state lucid dreaming dreamless sleep and the
1:04:29 possibility of a certain kind of um of uh let’s call it non-conceptual meta
1:04:34 awareness in in in dreamless sleep States um you know these are things that
1:04:41 uh that immediately through through various kinds of meditation practices become quite you know quite Salient
1:04:48 experientially or can, for certain people. and uh again philosophers have have only
1:04:54 really within the past 15 years or so started started talking about these they’re very rich in the history of
1:05:00 Indian philosophy there’s you know centuries of discussions of this debates about whether Consciousness persists in
1:05:05 dreamless sleep or whether dreamless sleep is a blackout State you know there’s a little bit in Western philosophy between Locke and Leibniz on
1:05:11 this issue and then you know there’s really not much further discussion of it but in Indian philosophy it’s a it’s a
1:05:17 huge it’s a huge issue and um and so there I think uh for anyone who’s
1:05:23 interested in their own you know dream life sleep life that that becomes experientially uh quite rich and
1:05:29 philosophically quite Rich so those are those are a couple examples that I would I would point to I’d also say you know
1:05:35 connected to so this isn’t really so much seated meditation but you know connects to other things we’re interested in
1:05:42 um various kinds of practices that work with
1:05:49 with awareness in the context of movement and in the context of say
1:05:54 standing and and uh let’s call it you know it’s a woo word but let’s just use
1:05:59 it anyway you know energy energy work uh I think those are very um those are very
1:06:05 rich experientially for thinking about things phenomenologists have been interested in you know the lived body
1:06:11 our our being as bodily subjects the nature of skill the nature of you know Attunement to different sensory Fields
1:06:16 things like that and and that’s way richer than talking about qualia ⮦⮋⮧ in the way that people persist in talking about

I am going to assume you mean the amount of bullshitting people do about poorly defined metaphors.
Because the conversations about qualia are mostly not geared around trying to create deeper meaning in hallucinations, either from starvation or chemical inducement.
Which I think is where the woo words like chi come in handy, or the hindu system of “chakras” which is little more than fanfiction so they can pretend to be wise, but without the utility of Koans to refer to something real but abstract. They are trying to describe semantic information in the brain, such as ‘the redness of red’ and to differentiate it from symbolic information, like words. Mostly to point out that words are not the only kind of thinking that there is, a common mistake most people make.
Talking about qualia gets around the mistakes people make when thinking of consciousness as a gestalt process. Rather than something which can be decomposed into parts like facial recognition being separated from color perception, which is separate from language comprehension. As seen with various types of narrow AI.

1:06:23 qualia debate you’re going to get me on a rant here sorry but I’m going to go with it the whole debate about you know
1:06:28 the Contemporary version of Pan psychism versus physicalism is all centered on
1:06:33 this this idea that there would be this kind of minimal intrinsic qualitative
1:06:39 character that would be you know in you know part of the fundamental nature the in the inner as it were nature of you
1:06:45 know physical reality that’s such a constructed intellectualist minimalist conception of Consciousness that’s
1:06:52 framing this whole debate you know between pans psychism and physicalism and um yeah so I think uh I think the
1:07:02 the the contemplative perspective just brings in a much much richer understanding of experience even if you’re a pan psychist I mean pan
1:07:08 psychism has been around for a long time and connects to different mystical Traditions but the conception of of of
1:07:15 experience or mind noose you know is is very different from the from the the
1:07:21 kind of current intellectualized versions that come out of the tradition of thinking about qualia as what
1:07:26 basically makes up experience ⮦⮋⮧ [JV] I I I agree very wholeheartedly with that argument I’ve

I thought the panpsychics were just trolling to see who has read, let alone understood:
Especially when you consider that neoBuddhism as only been around since 2011, a little over 10 years.

1:07:32 made I’ve made a similar argument in other places um the way that we we’ve
1:07:38 are allowed ourselves to be hijacked by you know these the adjectival qualia um
1:07:44 missing all the other different aspects of Consciousness I I agree very deeply with that
1:07:51 um so given that I agree with that you know that my question is not a hostile
1:07:56 question of course the issue comes up well one explanation why we had the thin
1:08:01 gruel is because you have lowest common denominators nobody doubts that these experiences are the case if I can put it
1:08:09 that way just because we all can say yeah I’ve had that whereas many of these
1:08:14 experiences you’re talking about often are only the result of very special uh specialized you know practice they uh
1:08:22 and they happen within particular cultural hermeneutic Frameworks and that makes them at least scientifically
1:08:30 difficult to track um and so I I I’ve you’ve already heard me say I agree that
1:08:36 the the thin gruel is just causing all kinds of conceptual mistakes uh uh but
1:08:43 there seems to be a challenge around yeah but if if this is a state that you
1:08:49 know one in 10,000 people are getting and we can’t even know if the person who’s getting it in a Hindu context is
1:08:56 getting the same state as somebody who’s doing it in Zen etc etc like you like
1:09:02 you’re you have the problem of no n no number right I’m kind of saying [ET] yeah yeah yeah yeah okay so uh there’s a lot
1:09:08 to say about that so first of all I would say that um I would I I don’t think necessarily that you were that you
1:09:16 were posing the question this way but just for the sake of clarity if the idea would be that somehow you know
1:09:23 these qualia like you know tasting sourness or seeing blue are are sort of
1:09:28 fundamental and and shared that that would be the premise of the question whereas these other states aren’t I I
1:09:34 would actually want to reject that in the way that philosophers you know think of seeing blue or tasting you know
1:09:41 tasting sourness because they um they intellectualize that experience in such
1:09:47 a way that it involves taking up a kind of like abstract attitude that isolates a quality from its context and then you
1:09:55 know constructs it as a as a theoretical notion and then reads it back into ordinary experience ⮦⮋⮧ so I think that [JV] like

This is normal process of reductionist science and not unreasonable during the process of trying to build a taxonomy of consciousness.
I personally find using the terms Qualia and Semantic information much more useful in a descriptive sense when describing aspects of conscious processes. To differentiate them from the amalgamated versions that are experienced during perception, in differentiating between things like sense experience and symbolic experiences and abstract concepts. Which would normally be mashed together as “experience” or “thinking” while those are not the same thing, even though they always occur simultaneously, where thinking is a proactive process and experience is a reactive process. Which some charlatans would lump together with everything else into some form of non-duality where matter doesn’t “really exist” except when conjured up by the mind or some other nonsense, while trying to sound mystical. Which is actually just a reference to their embrace of being a tool of the caste system that uses “might makes right” in the homicidal poisoning sense of tribal control of polytheistic “competition” in the social Darwinist sense. Because polytheism means multiple hierarchies and they have to compete on something that is not knowledge or wisdom, since they rely primarily on historical revisionism or the Nihilists version, moral relativism.

1:10:02 being a humean spectator I’m just still disembodied like toads would say and I’m just looking at it for kind of thing
1:10:08 okay right [ET] yeah right exactly so I I would say no no that’s not how ordinary experience is at all so there you know
1:10:14 I’m on board with like phenomenologists like you know Melo ponti who just say that that’s way of thinking about qualia
1:10:21 is is a is a product of a certain uh reflective abstract intellectual method
1:10:26 and it’s just a mistake to read that back into ordinary experience okay so that still doesn’t leave answered though
1:10:31 the the substance of your question which yes you know these um these various
1:10:38 kinds of uh states that come about through different forms of transformative um
1:10:46 practice you know if they’re if they’re esoteric in some sense why should we uh
1:10:51 why should we you know give so much uh value theoretically uh so so one it’s an
1:10:57 empirical claim that they’re esoteric I’m not so sure that they’re that esoteric when when framed properly and
1:11:04 here the anthropological perspective on on community and ritual again becomes very important right excellent excellent
1:11:10 yeah so that would be Point number one point number two I would say is um well
1:11:15 even if they are esoteric uh and I’m sliding across you know the constructivist perennialist
1:11:22 debate which I’m happy to talk about but just like slide across that for the moment even if there are these esoteric
1:11:27 States you know the ability of a ballerina to do what you know they do is
1:11:34 esoteric in the same sense but if I want to understand um you know the
1:11:40 possibilities of human movement again embedded in a social context of you know history and art and
1:11:46 ritual then the expert mover who’s you know sculpted and trained their body
1:11:52 according to certain norms you know they become an extremely important study case particularly their reports about what
1:11:58 they’re able to do that becomes extremely important and the idea that I would just study movement in a way that
1:12:04 doesn’t have that you know developmental cultural perspective is you know is very impoverished ⮦⮋⮧ so I see it the same way I

I disagree. I think what [ET] is complaining about, is assuming there is nothing more than qualia. Trying to see qualia as it’s own thing, instead of as a sort of minimal building block of information which is not itself a complete experience. Though it’s often couched in the terms of experience. Otherwise, how would you distinguish between things like attention, which does not contain qualia itself, but is a container which creates boundaries for qualia to fill, and the qualia itself. How would you differentiate between the brain states and biases, the process of thinking, and the content of thoughts? Should we pretend those are the same thing? because that would mistaking correlation with causation.

1:12:11 see that um there are certain you know traditions of of attention
1:12:19 metacognition Consciousness training that are analogous to so skill becomes
1:12:24 kind of the overarching concept here that are analogous to you know skill for performance in athletics or in dance or
1:12:30 in you know or in art and so I think we need to see it that way [RR] or in juggling ⮦⮋⮧

Like the mistake of conflating muscle memory involved in athletics and dance, entirely semantic information around body position, with the abstract symbolic information like metacognition.

1:12:36 Concepts like qualia [ET] this is esoteric also right that’s true that’s true [RR] a
1:12:42 very small community of people who do that [ET] yeah yeah that’s that’s very true [JV] yeah that was an that was an excellent
1:12:48 answer [ET]then you know with the with the perennialist constructionist thing I
1:12:54 think so so just for you know to for the sake of listeners you know that’s the debate about whether there is a kind of culturally invariant pure awareness
1:13:01 experience or whether um you know there isn’t such a thing because
1:13:09 the the context of the culture the language and the say religious philosophical tradition gives people
1:13:15 certain expectations that Prime them to have certain kinds of experience ⮦⮋⮧ um I

I find it very strange that you think that sense experiences, like color or temperature, or even suffering, would be culturally specific.
I can see certain religious experiences or medatative experiences being that way, but I can’t imagine experiences of qualia being culturally specific.
I don’t think the neural networks in the human brain are like special snowflakes, it’s their convergence on generalization which makes brains useful. That parts of the brain that were evolved to do a certain thing, such as interpret information from sense organs, can be recruited by other parts of the brain to perform different functions, like imagination via Neural plasticity of the visual cortex, enhanced by closing ones eyes. Otherwise the eyes being open or closed, would not effect the quality of imagination or metacognition.

1:13:20 think that that’s uh actually a question that’s
1:13:26 open and that requires an empirical cognitive science perspective um I think
1:13:32 you know I think for example you know Tomas metzinger probably talked about this with you on his podcast you know his book that’s coming out
1:13:39 ‘the elephant and the blind’ that has you know it’s exactly about this question exactly has all these reports you know admittedly
1:13:45 for the most part probably from um from uh you know computer savvy westerners
1:13:51 right um but nonetheless you know there’s an analysis of different you know reports of pure awareness and you
1:13:58 know a very sophisticated on the part of Tomas theoretical discussion of them there hasn’t been anything like this

Concluding Dialogue

1:14:04 since William James’s work and I think that you know this kind of research
1:14:09 particularly when it’s brought into play with the anthropology of ritual I I think that’s the kind of work that we really need to kind of kind of get
1:14:16 beneath and Beyond the perennialist versus constructivist constructionist
1:14:21 debate [JV] excellent EX excellent answer I just want to take this opportunity to uh
1:14:27 uh to say it’s been wonderful to see you again Evan and of course you did not disappoint your ex your answers were
1:14:32 excellent careful thank you clear well argued well articulated as I’ve come to expect from you so thank you very much
1:14:39 [ET] thanks very much it’s great to talk with you again hopefully we’ll be able to you know do it more and do it do it again soon

1:14:45 [RR] yes we always like to let our guest end with anything you want to plug
1:14:51 forthcoming Book Project whatever you want to share your contact information or and last thoughts that’s completely
1:14:58 open and up to you [ET] yeah so I have a book coming out in March of 2024 that’s
1:15:05 co-written with two physicists and um Adam Frank and Marcelo glyer and it’s
1:15:10 called ‘the blind spot why science cannot ignore Human Experience’ and it’s not
1:15:15 about meditation though meditation pops up here and there in the book um but it’s really about
1:15:21 um how how our understanding of science has
1:15:29 involved elighting or hiding the the lived experience behind science and how this has led to intellectual crisis in
1:15:37 science itself into a kind of larger cultural meaning crisis so so that book might be of interest to to listeners
1:15:44 [JV] well well you already know that I’m I’m very much in agreement with that argument as I I made it an Awakening from the meaning crisis so yeah right of
1:15:50 course yeah yeah it’s just been truly wonderful Evan everybody uh you’ve heard
1:15:56 me recommend the work of Evan Thompson multiple times before um I his work is
1:16:01 vitally important I think it’s the it’s exemplary of for e-cog-sci and about how
1:16:08 for e-cog-sci can be brought onto philosophical and I’ll use this sort of what wooy word but also spiritual uh
1:16:15 concerns in a in in a helpful clarifying and at times even edifying manner so
1:16:21 it’s just been wonderful I recommend his work very very strongly and as always Rick I wanted to thank you for uh today
1:16:28 and our ongoing partnership in this wonderful project so thank you everyone
1:16:33 [RR] thank you so much John thank you Evan it was great thank you to see you

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