welcome pragmatic dharma and how I meditate

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Welcome, Pragmatic Dharma folks!

(e.g. http://kennethfolkdharma.com/http://www.buddhistgeeks.com/ )

Given a bit of influx from a new audience, I thought this would be a good time to go over some of my general thoughts on meditation.

First and foremost, I have no doubt that noting practice (e.g. http://integrateddaniel.info/book/) is ridiculously effective for some people. I also think that noting practice is risky and dangerous for some people.

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/the-dark-knight-of-the-souls/372766/

I have a personal preference against noting practice. One thing I’ve noticed is that it leads to “attentional thrashing.” Whipping attention around really fast is “noisy;” it drowns out and obscures all sorts of interesting and important phenomena. To me, it just doesn’t feel particularly healthy, when doing it quickly and precisely for an extended period of time.

In order to see what Daniel Ingram calls “out of phase” phenomena, I believe the attentional allocation needed is very different than when you first start out (e.g. when you’re sticking solely to sensory phenomena). I suspect that not everyone realizes how to make the switch, which leaves some people in the dark night and also grinding away at a practice which I don’t think is that great for your brain.

I refer to “out of phase” phenomena as stuff which you need to look at with “inner peripheral vision.” If you look directly at these phenomena, they “disappear” or “always move out of the spotlight of attention.” You get inner peripheral vision by stabilizing foreground attention and then using your non-foreground attention to look around, without letting your foreground attention take a new object.

(If this resonates with you and you think there’s a step after what I’m describing, I’d love to hear about it. I’ve gotten tremendous mileage out of this mental move, and I want to know if I’m missing a move that comes after it.)

I describe the meditation protocol I recommend and still use in this post:

http://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/how-to-do-foregroundbackground-meditation/

Not much has changed since I wrote that post, which was a summary of what I’ve learned from a decade of meditation (which isn’t that much).

An important point is that, for most of our mental lives, we are not there. We go from thought to thought, as if in a dream, and those thoughts are lost forever because they are never attended to. This is fine. I talk about mental gears turning in that post above. Daydreaming and reverie is healthy and normal. The brain does lots of important work while we aren’t there.

Certainly that reverie can be a source of suffering, a living nightmare in which you don’t realize you’re dreaming. And that’s a good reason to meditate. But that reverie, when you’re not there, is also a source of problem-solving, growth, insight, exhilaration, relaxation, motivation, etc. My protocol above explicitly acknowledges reverie, which I think is not treated in a balanced and healthy way by most meditation protocols.

I want to give a shout out to Jason Siff’s Recollective Awareness Meditation, which helped me understand the importance of reverie:

http://skillfulmeditation.org/

Herbert Demmin’s book, Ghosts of Consciousness also discusses the phenomenology of reverie in great detail.

Next I want to talk about my skepticism of classical Buddhist enlightenment. No doubt, classical enlightenment is a real phenomenon. You can get it; you can have and live that experience. People who are living it say it’s worth it.

I guess my “skepticism” centers more around getting enlightened as well as whether it has to be all or nothing. (I know there seem to be 1-3 big attainments that have all been labeled “it”. I’m talking even smaller helpings and pieces and aspects and shades of gray.)  I’m skeptical that one *needs* to have a fruition experience to get those insights and that sharp drop in suffering. I’m skeptical that one *has* to possibly brave some of the negative side-effects of meditation to get the benefits.

This isn’t too controversial anymore, but the benefits of meditation can start on day one. You don’t have to wait for something big to happen at some uncertain date. And I, and probably everyone, would argue that the best way to move forward is by paying attention to what’s happening right now, to what the practice is doing to you right now.

In this vein, I discuss how meditation is a “human invention for human purposes” in this post:

http://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/spiritual-stuff/

I discuss how meditation might turn you into a zombie in this post:

http://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/deeply-valuable-experiences-meditation-zombies-and-planning-preview-2700-words/

My take on meditation practice is that, within the constraints imposed by reality, in accordance with one’s values, that one should become the artist and architect of one’s own mindstream and life. (Reality bites back–and yeah you’re gonna die–but you can bite right back in the meantime, even if that looks like effortless, graceful surrender, for example.) I discuss “how big your practice can become”:

I feel like the ideal is folding absolutely everything one possibly can into a single process, a single meditation protocol. That might be phenomenologically complex, but there’d be a subjective simplicity on the far side of that complexity. I’ve used the analogy of a symphony before: you might think of yourself as simultaneously being both the conductor and the entire symphony at the same time while you’re meditating.

In that “single” ideal meditation protocol, there’s room for experimenting; there’s room for surrender; there’s room for not attacking yourself with exacting standards; there’s room for warmth, intimacy, safety folded into the practice itself, yet there’s room for precision, for striving; you can radiate and gamify at the same time.

Subjectively, how big can your practice become? How much can your practice embrace?

Objectively, crudely, somewhat literally, how much of the brain can we light up with a single practice?

http://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2014/09/12/rick-hanson-phd-gets-it-too-a-unified-meditation-practice-and-is-it-time-to-buy-or-steal-some-fmri-time-2000-words/

So, it’s late. I think that’s everything for now. There’s so much more on this blog. There are so many more points that I think are important to make. Please have a look around. A final thought:

It eventually becomes very obvious that meditation leads to living more experientially deeply, richly, brightly, excruciatingly painfully and electrically joyfully. Reality becomes more vivid, choices become more decisive and more painful, regret hits you harder, ambivalence stretches you thinner… It becomes safer to feel more and more intensely.

It becomes safe for every shameful, dirty, ugly, self-involved, masturbatory, altruistic painful aspect of your life to become a seamless glorious, vicious, joyful, fuck-yeah, fuck-up of a grand adventure.

Holy shit this is real life. It’s happening right now.

Now, does everyone want that? I don’t know. Separate issue, maybe. Reality is scary. It bites back, it will destroy your hopes, leave you in chains, rub your face in it, and then kills you in horrible ways. Poverty or cubicles for decades and then you die slowly, disgustingly, and painfully with beautiful people laughing in your face or just ignoring you as the light goes dim and you know you’ll never, ever fulfill those life longings and everything’s over forever and ever. Or you get hit by a meteor and die instantly. It could really happen. You don’t always get what you want. The hungrier you become the more you open yourself to devastation and disappointment.

And the type of meditation that I sell makes you hungrier. More alive.

Act wisely. Act skillfully. The stakes are your life, the stakes are your realization of your intimate, ultimate concerns, your heart’s desires. And the relative control you have over it all is a feather against concrete.

How shall you proceed?

How do I give people a taste of that, so they can see if maybe they want to go there? How does that not devolve into fucking bullshit feel-good guided imagery or something?

How do I convey the possible tremendous sacrifice, opportunity cost, possible impedance mismatch with the culture you grew up in, how it might simultaneously ruin you or free you or neither, depending not just on your individual luck and smarts and effort, but also life situations, savings, support of family and friends, social safety net…

“I just want to, like, be more relaxed, man. And, like, not have things suck so much in my head.”

We have to be clear whether we’re offering gentle healing, self-medication, mindfucking adventure, or all of it, and how to tell them apart. And what’s maybe contraindicated depending on your mental state.

For my part, I want people to see that the texture of their experience in every moment is vivid and electric and skillful navigation and surrender thereof can yield counterintuitive and valuable freedoms of mind and movement in the world. Or at least you’re slightly better able to laugh and cry and fight and comfort and love and not be a complete asshole to everyone who cares about you when your life goes to shit around you.

All this might seem insane or just really woo, but I reject the metaphysics of it. It’s brains doing brainy things. The right drugs or the right nanotech hanging out in my synapses could probably do the same thing. But we don’t have that yet. And, even if we did, consciousness will still be consciousness, then and now, either knowing itself or not, manifold configurations of matter and energy either dancing human values with the lights on, or not, not to mention it’s the only way you’ll ever know anything, from quarks to the concept of cognitive biases.

http://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/cutesy-diagrams-and-mindfucking/

twitter, language games, teaching meditation

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I’m currently kicking back and forth some thoughts about the ethics and effectiveness of meditation instruction on twitter.

Below are a few posts where I touch on these issues:

http://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/freewriting-rough-draft-ethics-questionable-instruction-tangential-sex-scandals-and-what-makes-good-meditation-instruction/

http://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2014/09/12/rick-hanson-phd-gets-it-too-a-unified-meditation-practice-and-is-it-time-to-buy-or-steal-some-fmri-time-2000-words/

http://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/cutesy-diagrams-and-mindfucking/

http://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/what-rationality-actually-looks-like-from-the-inside-4500-words/

“free in ways you are not”

If you like my blog you need to read this new ribbonfarm post:

http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2014/11/05/dont-surround-yourself-with-smarter-people/

“Awakening from a finite game is not a skill, let alone one you can perfect.” <– I disagree with this point. Awakening from a finite game is precisely the project of this blog.

And he nails the associated existential fear and risks.

book, “rationality” versus, say, “vision logic,” redux

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So things have been quiet around here. I’m working on a full-length (actual clean prose) book that overlaps but is not identical to the project on this blog. I don’t want to quite pin down the book project, yet, but, it’s ideally intended for a more general audience, and I’m hoping that just reading the book will be an (ethically consented) life-trajectory-altering, psychoactive intervention. Or, at least, that’s what I want versions of the book to iterate on. I’m going to leave that psychoactive intervention vague, for now:

The prose on this blog, terse and cryptic as it is, comes out to around 50,000 words. The average self-help book is something like 30,000-50,000 words. (A novel is like 80,000-100,000 words, for reference.) I’ve been specifying the rhetorical and pedagogical goals for my book, and that specification alone is 10,000 words as of yesterday and no end is in sight. So, yeah, I’m not even going to try to boil that down into a descriptive paragraph or sentence, just yet.

Unless I do some sort of brilliant coordinate transformation on my maps, which I’m trying to do but not expecting any miracles, there’s no way I’m going to compress all my rhetorical and pedagogical goals into a single, punchy book that hits the reader like a freight train. Good enough, low dimensional projections are hard.

Anyway, that’s why things have been quiet around here. I’ve been rereading some key books (hint, hint) and taking notes. I liked this quote from Herbert Demmin’s Ghosts of Consciousness:

[…] Wilber refers to the next stage above and inclusive of Formal Operations as Vision-Logic (VL). Wilber says that VL reflects one’s ability to look within the mind and operate on the rationality of Formal Operations itself. As a result, one is beginning to differentiate from rationality and can now integrate or embrace (and not just be) the mind.

Wilber (1995) indicates that where the rationality of Formal Operational Thought entails the ability to generate all possible perspectives (as reflected by thoughts that can stand for anything and be manipulated in the mental world space), VL adds them up in a totality. Where Formal Operational Thought establishes relationships, VL establishes networks of those relationships. He says VL can freely express itself in single ideas, but its most characteristic movement is mass ideation, a system or totality of truth seeing at a single view. Such vision or panoramic logic apprehends a mass network of ideas, how they influence each other, and how they interrelate. It represents a higher order synthesizing capacity of making connections, relating truths, coordinating ideas, and integrating concepts. Wilber says it is dialectical, nonlinear, and weaves together incompatible notions into a new and higher whole, their partiality negated but their positive contributions preserved. (pp. 111)

Finally, if you’re new to this blog. Here’s a nice, curated sequence:

  1. http://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/cutesy-diagrams-and-mindfucking/
  2. http://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/spiritual-stuff/
  3. http://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/sorting-through-inner-activity/
  4. http://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/muscles-you-didnt-know-you-had/
  5. http://lesswrong.com/lw/hc8/developmental_thinking_shoutout_to_cfar/
  6. http://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/how-to-do-foregroundbackground-meditation/
  7. http://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/what-rationality-actually-looks-like-from-the-inside-4500-words/

Focusing, Internal Family Systems Therapy, Coherence Therapy, to what end?

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Brienne Strohl (who I do not know personally) is asking on Facebook:

“People who resolve conflicts between their various parts in IFS and who cause felt shifts in Focusing are changing the way they think and feel. To what end? What is the terminal goal this is aimed at? *Why* do you want to understand yourself better, and how will you know when a new belief or emotional shift has led you toward or away from that larger goal?”

https://www.facebook.com/strohl89/posts/10152802817274598

I’ve spent probably a few hundred hours using these specific techniques and related. Different people will use these practices for different reasons, of course.

Mechanically speaking, I believe these techniques can forge new neural links between system one and system two. Successful application, for a particular issue, gives you three specific gains. First, for that issue, you acquire the *energy* of system one, raw motivational drive. (Whereas, before, this energy was blocked or dissipated.) Second, for that issue, you acquire *inhibitory powers,* specifically, system one *permits* itself to be overridden by system two, with respect to that issue. Third, you unlock the possibility, though not the necessity, for instrumental and epistemic *integration.* System two is now able to chew on the issue and turn gears in a way it wasn’t able to before.

For myself, I experience self and world as vague and inchoate. Possibilities, beautiful possibilities, stirring possibilities, flicker at the edges of awareness at all times: new ways of being, new ways of relating, new ways of seeing, new means, new ends. I wrote in a previous post that one of my ultimate concerns is to have ever better ultimate concerns.

I’ve been trying to find a good analogy to what this feels like. Venkatesh Rao’s latest post resonates strongly:

http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2014/10/29/crash-only-thinking/

“Accelerating into a crash helps you regain actual control authority and predictability. If you force a crash into unfolding faster than it naturally wants to, you gain control over it.”

These practices (Focusing, IFS, Coherence Therapy, etc.) facilitate fundamental structural changes in one’s map of the territory. They “accelerate you into the crash,” as it were. They accelerate an ontological crisis that is already happening anyway.

Some of us find old patterns, old beliefs, old habits, old jobs, old careers, old relationships, becoming stale. Yet, there’s no good way to get from old A to new B. And the very idea of A and B are becoming unglued. There never was an A; there never was a B. And I’m running out of time and money; And, what the fuck do I do now? Or, simply, I sense more is possible, and it’s eating at me, clawing at me, and it won’t let me go, and I’m so very confused. It’s like, from the very depths of your soul, you sense something on par with immortality, or godhood, or the most luminescent friendships, or the kinkiest sex you can possibly imagine, beyond imagining, and, if you don’t try to reach out and take it, it will grind you to dust and destroy your pitiful little life that you pitifully covet.

But you can’t just reach out and take it. You live in three dimensions and it’s calling to you from a 4th or 5th or Nth dimension. These practices help you reliably reach into new dimensions, into new regimes of neural phase space, that you didn’t know how to access before, that didn’t precisely exist before.

Someone once commented to me that Focusing was fishy because if you did it a second time you’d get different words. How could it possibly be used for personal or general map-making if it’s giving wildly different answers each time? (Well it can be used for this, but that’s a topic for another post.) In fact, it’s a feature, not a bug. The reason is that Focusing is about becoming; it’s a transformative protocol. You are not static, the territory is not static, and “nearby in reality-space” does not necessarily mean “nearby in word-space.” The territory exists prior to logic, prior to words, prior to understanding, and it’s alive and changing.

And practices like Focusing help you adapt to that territory, when your logical system is starting to fail you, especially when your logical system fits the territory perrrrfectly, except for this one liiiittle tiny piece, and, in fact, that liiiittle tiny piece contains an entire *universe* that structurally dwarfs your entire logical system.

And you have nothing to hold onto, and you want to do a controlled free-fall, into something new.

For me, Focusing-type practices are less about achieving goals and more about what to do when goals are globally ambiguous or disintegrating, and I want to minimize the upheaval as I try to carry my entire life forward anyway.

P.S. Are these techniques an ancestral intuition sinkhole? A way to reliably self-generate personalized insight porn? I don’t think so. And, also, these practices act on a level *beneath* the level that decides whether or not to get better at rationality techniques. That said, it’s something of a strange loop…

Writing Resources

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Of course my blogging is stilted, cryptic, rambling, and unpublished. But some people have commented that I have my moments of clarity and power. I’d like everyone around me to be effortless, fast, fluent writers. Writing is a FANTASTIC asynchronous communication mechanism and strategic tool. Anyway, I posted a LessWrong comment about writing:

http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/l3x/open_thread_oct_13_oct_19_2014/bg3g

Copied, here:

Writing is hard.

Alright, here’s my list of writing resources (in no particular order):

Books:

This is an excellent article about writing:

http://nautil.us/issue/18/genius/shakespeares-genius-is-nonsense

Some more inspiration:

http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2012/01/11/seeking-density-in-the-gonzo-theater/

http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2012/05/03/rediscovering-literacy/

AI luminary Schmidhuber has written about complexity and beauty, and I’ve found his thoughts helpful:

http://people.idsia.ch/~juergen/beauty.html

Diagrammatic loops: Startup tempo reduction paradigms

[This is a guest post. New? Start here: http://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/articles/]

Warning: 1st draft, half-baked ideas, poor yEds, proceed at your own peril
There are two life-or-death domains in which prediction is impossible, the actor is part of the environment and pre-set goals don’t exist. One is the startup environment. The other one is your life. I suspect that understanding startups leads to understanding your life (and when I say “understand” I actually mean: deliberately craft otherwise impossible, desirable realities). In this post I will lay out the current state of some of my thoughts about startups.

 

Winning

“It’s somewhat the same thing with instrumental rationality or any sort of OODA-loop, you want to be running on an internal cadence, faster than reality, not driven by reality.” 

This quote sensitized me to Venkatesh Rao’s book “Tempo”. I didn’t appreciate the book too much, but it led me to the OODA-loop and to Tempo and for that I am grateful.

The basic idea of tempo, and how it relates to winning (in non adversarial setting) is that you need to reduce your tempo, that is, your decision-making cycle time needs to get shorter and shorter. Imagine a decision-making cycle that goes like this “Desired World State -> Action -> New World State -> Compare to Desired World State -> If same, over; else, go back to “Action””. The faster you can iterate through this cycle, the faster you will reach your Desired World State, your goals. That is tempo reduction.

The genius in it is that actually adding things to the cycle can make the overall cycle be much faster: it can make it “faster than reality”.

 

Startup paradigms

In startups there are 2 ways to do this, here illustrateD with a sole agent (a startup can be modelled as an agent). One, focused on acting, highlights future unpredictability and thus wants to  augment certainty through various measures or contacts with reality (fail fast. think do get feedback, iterate). The other one focuses on fixing the quality of your model of the world/yourself/paths to goals/goals by thinking from first principles.

 

Abstract Models

Basic Model

As an illustrative model (from AI), you can see a startup as an Agent that has beliefs (about the world state), desires (of how the world state ought to be) and intentions (how to bring those about).

0 – BDI: Act, feedback

Basic Idea:

  1. Agent exists in World
  2. Agent desires Desired World State
  3. Agent Acts
  4. Agent compares Actual World State to Desired World State
  5. If equal then end, else back to 2.

one feedback

THINKING APPROACH

In this section I summarise increasingly complex (and with increasingly short tempo) feedback loops.

Key: feedback loops that are shorter in tempo allow more cycle iterations and therefore allow you to get more done in less time.

  1. Agent desires World State
  2. Agent imagines what particular Act would bring
  3. If particular Act would bring Desired World State then act, else, back to 2.
  4. Agent compares Actual World State to Desired World State
  5. If equal then end, else back to 2.

 

1- Think, feedback, Act, feedback

2 feedback

2- Think, feedback, Think about thinking, feedback, Act, feedback

3 feedback

This seems to be what is going on in industry (except you need to add competitors and all the interactions those open)

 

3- Think, feedback, Think about thinking, Act, feedback, think, Act, feedback

4 feedback

Science seems to follow this model (distributed over many institutions, groups, individuals)

 

ACTING APPROACH

In this section I summarise increasingly fast (and with increasingly short tempo) feedback loops.

1- Think, feedback, Act, Feedback

2 act

  • Think about how to get feedback as fast as possible.
  • Figure out better measurement/feedback methods. That is, if you want to know if A is the case it might be better to 1) use tool X instead of tool Z, 2) figure out thing A’ which is entailed by thing A which is way easier to measure.

 

2 – Think, feedback, Act faster, Feedback

one act

Act faster:

Note that there seem to be limited tricks you can use to get feedback faster : One is to act faster, to get a short tempo (Not sure how to design this). The other one is to get to indicators that are easy to measure that measure something you care about which is hard to measure.

 

Back to Reality

The Lean Startup Methodology is the epitome of faster. You have an idea, build it as fast as possible, measure as fast as possible, and learn as fast as possible. On learning faster they actually mean better: getting more information (uncertainty reduction) of the same data. The other ones do focus on going faster.

lean-startup

Philosophy of Startups

Notice the promise of better thinking: you don’t need self-sacrifice (which probably fails to be sustainable [might explain high burn out and failure rate] if you can just outsmart everyone by constantly going levels up.

Notice the word “Methodology”. Methodologies involve paradigms which entail epistemologies. The current lean startup be fast vs 0 to 1 think from first principles is a class instance of the empiricism-rationalism (knowledge from experience vs knowledge from thinking) debate in philosophy. (If this seems out there do remember that Peter Thiel studied philosophy and advocates thinking from first principles.)

I’m not entirely sure where I wanted to go with all this (or rather, where all this wanted to take me/us to). The model is generative: It’s value is simplifying reality to generate ideas.

Future Material To be added
  • Startups live in adversarial environment, you do not (to some extent)
  • I think that fragile, robust and anti fragile (NNT) have something else to add here.
  • Tempo explains globalisation: steal and save R&D time, reverse engineer first principles and build from there (China). This can probably be used for individuals.
  • I suspect learning effectuation thinking might be the most meta (and thus multiplicative) possible hack. (Mark seems to disagree on this)
  • Get deeper into 0 to 1
  • Get deeper into lean startup methodology