Saturday, September 16, 2017

Power of Repetition--suggestion for cognitive scientists

Neuroscience must take a penetrating look at the power of habit. What I mean by that is the "selection" processes involved in what we call "choice" are weighted by quantity. How many times has an action, or associated action, been repeated? This may be mapped or perhaps even quantified and it might lead to a theory of habit or a repetitive execution model of selection.

As always, there is no perceivable beginning to this process, only an end to certain habits via their being drained of attention by oppositive habits or a type of non-judgmental witnessing. It is attention, of consciousness, feelings, perception, forms, and history-laden fabrications to various intentional formations that determine their "place in line," their strength. It is attention to these formations or fabrications and both the quality and quantity of attention that determine the "weight" of habits.

Of course, this suggestion leaves the topic of physical causality out. However, we may venture another suggestion here. If these history-laden habits have physical properties that would be seen by many cognitive scientists as causal, then the locus of historical sediment in the brain would also be responsible for the structuring of experience. While I am not concerned in this blog to locate causality in either consciousness or the brain, I am suggesting that this analysis may be a fruitful path to follow for cognitive science. Also, please forgive me for not knowing whether this has already been a serious path of inquiry, I simply have not come across it in my limited research into the brain sciences.

I hope to continue writing more on this topic in future blogs. It involves the notions of free will and determinism as well as a phenomenology of decisions and choice. Stay tuned, please.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Craving and Imposition, edited somewhat

For always, more to follow.

What's perceived as reality is, more often than not, the imposition of history on the present toward a future dictated by the past--in word intentionality. That which holds history to that which is seen is an existential thirst, what we may provisionally term desire. This desire is born of habit to provide sanctuary, i.e., spatial/temporal location and security of being, for selfhood. Take the example finding a bag of paper currency, dollars. One look at that bag of money is all it would take for most of us to perceive it as valuable. "Wow, a bag of money!" Yet, if I took say a fifty-dollar bill out of the bag and placed it on a table and asked you to look at it as its form alone, I doubt that many of us would be able to do so without some effort to abstract the notion of money-value from it and see its shape, probably a rectangle. (I have yet to come across any triangular or circular paper money.) It would be with a quick glance that the dollar bill would be perceived as valuable. One would certainly not have to look, then detect it as money, then posit it as valuable. There would be an immediate, i.e., non-mediated, perception of the bill as valuable money. Only one glance! So, let's take the glance as indicating our conceptual model or paradigm for the manner in which most perception works. Therefore, our experience includes our perception of the form money, our consciousness of it as money, our feeling of perhaps "elation" in finding that what we see is money, the role history (past acts of interpretation) plays in the perception (Let's call this fabrication.), and the perception itself. Now, we have "isolated" no less than five co-implicated components or factors of the glance. How does a self-sense fit into this? All five of those co-implicated (complicated) factors will have taken place in our example as being a personal experience, an experience that "I have." Our conventional, usual experience of objects, the glance, wears the clothing of a narrative. The experience of the bag of currency or the fifty-dollar bill is experienced with an attending sense of self, an I or me. You can observe this for yourself. (No pun intended.). Simply take note of the experience of almost anything and you will see quite plainly that it feels as though you are the one seeing, feeling, tasting, touching or hearing what occurs. In this case, finding the money is certainly a good feeling. This may lead to the desire to keep the money. "I have it now and it feels good; it will feel better if I keep it." "It will feel even better if it's mine." "Boy, what I can do with this money." That initial good feeling is, as we have already intuited, a process. We feel, an active feeling, that finding the money is a feeling we can surely live with. The fleeting nature of feelings is, at some level, apparent. We want to hang on to them by keeping the money, perhaps even knowing that it does not belong to us, but it could. We crave to continue feeling the feelings we feel now and into the future. Desire has taken root in the form of present and future narratives. Now, consider that our desire is rooted not only in the narrative, but in the form, perception, feelings, consciousness, and fabrications that are at play in our example. Recall that these five components are co-implicated. They are inseparably linked together to provide us with experience. Of course, we have abstracted them conceptually, from our experience. They are certainly abstractions. However, these abstract concepts may prove useful for a more inclusive analysis of experience as well as a means to overcome the often burdensome weight of our desires that are bound to them. It was the narratives of history, the meaning making fabrications, that provided us with the defined object, the money. History (karma), personal, social, and cultural provided us with the significances or fabrications that are inseparably linked to our feelings and (possible) desire to keep the money. We liked what we saw, the feelings it gave us and the potential extending of those feelings into a hypothetical future. We could be rich! So, we have ensured the continuity of a group of historical determinations for future incarnations. Our repeating of historical determinations, our karma or acts, have ensured our future is full of similar desires.
This same perceptual process applies to all conventional perception. Desire or craving results from repetition and only repetition. Repetition determines what inheres in the seen, felt, tasted, touched, smelled, and conceived. How does this relate to a self?

The sense of I-am-ness rises and falls on desire.

We find ourselves on the effect end of desire. Desire or more commonly "craving", has already found its assignations prior to our "personal" incarnations of it. The actions--in thought, word, and deed--of prior births, including our own biographical narrative, have already seen to desire's multifarious costumes. We are normally, existentially situated on the created side, what we might call the "effect" side of this causal process. No origin is perceivable, it is beginningless. However, it does have, for some of us, an end.

What we may provisionally term "unsatisfactory" imputations of desire (or craving), i.e., those whose unfolding effects either are or result in some level of suffering, result in feelings that are pleasurable, in some sense painful, or neutral. We will consider experience so configured to be "afflicted." One may scoff at the idea that our so-called pleasurable experiences are afflicted. However, when we reflect on this conception of the pleasurable, we may readily understand that pleasurable experiences almost always sediment a pleasure memory that, by its very transience, seeks more of itself. For example, when tasting a delicious ice cream cone, the experience of taste--for all but few of us--demands continuity. To elaborate, the movement of tasting is evanescent, i.e., as it is coming into experience, is it simultaneously disappearing from experience. This impermanence, when coupled with a narrative of "I-tasting" or "This sure is good" (clinging)--an autobiographically flavored narrative--will entail some degree of wanting more. Consider the result if the ice cream cone is dropped. Or, consider if we are down to our last bite. Many of us would feel wanting, if not for more now, more in the future. This is, in itself, unsatisfactory experience, a lack or vacuity (?) is born. Craving may be seen to consist in lack.

As a great man once said, "the nature of becoming is origination and cessation." To realize this in direct experience is to "see" beyond craving.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Some speculations about the "hard problem"

If physicalism is to be defended, the phenomenological features must themselves be given a physical account. But when we examine their subjective character it: seems that such a result is impossible. The reason is that every subjective phenomenon is essentially connected with a single point of view, and it seems inevitable that an objective, physical theory will abandon that point of view. (1.)

This quotation is from a very popular paper by the philosopher Thomas Nagel entitled "What is it Like to be a Bat." (See footnote 1.) For those not familiar with philosophy jargon, physicalism (see quote) is the view that everything is, at bottom, physical. In more technical language, everything supervenes on the physical. An opposite perspective would be idealism. Idealism states that everything is mental; or everything is, at bottom, mental or mind. So, all things supervene on the mind. For science, everything supervenes on the physical. Science, not as method but in its metaphysical outlook is physicalistic. In scientific thought, consciousness or subjective experience is supervened by the physical. Consciousness is said, therefore, to be grounded in physical processes, i.e., consciousness is the result of neural processes. 

When Nagel says that "the phenomenological features must themselves be given a physical account" he states the view that most neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, analytic philosophers of mind, and many philosophers hold. The phenomenological features are the subjective contents of consciousness. Hence, Nagel discusses what it must be like to be a bat--the bat's subjective experience of being a bat. 

Digest this and I'll be back for more. 

1. Nagel, Thomas. "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" The Philosophical Review 83, no. 4 (1974): 435-50. doi:10.2307/2183914.

Burning as living, Living as burning

On the Dangers of Translation

One of the most important texts of Mahayana Buddhism is the  Bodhipathapradipam ("Path to Awakening") by Dipamkara Shrijnana Ati...