do other mind meditation online right now (if someone else is around)

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According to William Ickes’ many years of peer-reviewed research on empathic accuracy, people can correctly infer the feelings and actual thought content of even complete strangers, around twenty percent of the time. If even strangers, who aren’t making any special effort, hover around twenty percent “mind reading” accuracy, it makes you wonder how high that percentage can go when two people are working together to share their inner experience. […]

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Meetups and fostering far-from-equilibrium dynamics and awesomeness beyond all reason and imagination

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If you’re in the Chicago, Illinois, USA area, I’m kicking off an “other mind meditation” meetup. The first meetup is this coming Saturday, in a couple days.

The meetup establishes a novel context, a novel interaction frame; I churn out these experimental meetups; some of them last a long time before I wind them down or hand them off.

Why do I churn out meetups? People interact under a huge weight of nature and nurture: From the first “hello,” vast realms of “human interaction phase space,” pretty much all of human interaction phase space, is inaccessible, forever, from that first moment of contact, and its attendant, tacit boundaries.

But, I’m interested in ways of taking into account nature and nurture to open up interaction possibilities that weren’t accessible before.

“Taking into account” is necessary because monkey tribal evolutionary psychology, status seeking and signaling, freeriding, deception, self-deceptiongame theory, general awfulness, and everything ever from Overcoming Bias won’t go away. It’s all baked in for the foreseeable future. But can it be embraced and transcended?

I’m interested in both micro and macro (and micro creates macro creates micro): Monogamy is a frame; Polyamory is a frame; BDSM is a frame; Markets are frames; Firms are frames; Peak oil is a frame; Spiritual-but-not-religious is a frame.

So what I want to know is, in micro-land, right here, right now, in the year 2014, is there still a vast, untapped store of eudaimonic potential in human relationships? Of course. But, what internal and external conditions are needed to access that potential? And, can internal bootstrap external?

And, in world-shaping land, I’m curious whether certain practices or certain types of people can collaborate in small groups, or en masse, to produce exotic equilibria and sustain exotic far-from-equilibrium dynamics that simply wouldn’t otherwise exist in human interaction. And might those equilibria and dynamics far exceed any current high waterlines in ethics, efficiency, effectiveness, and eudaimonia?

Like, fucking fuckity fuck the ugliness of the MacLeod Hierarchy. Are status quo hierarchies really all that efficient or effective, anyway? What’s untapped in collective-human-agency space? Certainly technology will facilitate novel types of interaction. But what can we foster and protect right now? And what will it takes?

  • Certain types of contexts and interaction rituals? cf. Joel, Sociocracy, Holacracy.
  • Certain types of transformative practices?
  • Certain types of people, by whatever path? We still don’t know what produces consistent adult development, but we know more than we ever have. And we don’t know what happens when large numbers of high-level (haha) people come together. They used be too few (still) and they didn’t know what they were or how to find each other. But now there’s the internet.

Anyway, I dream about massively flexible and malleable interaction spaces. What if game breaks were a regular occurrence and could be used a jumping-off points to carve unique paths through interaction, play, collaboration, and financial/resource-independence spaces?

I sense something more is possible in interaction space, and I’m laying the groundwork, laying the foundation for it, and playing a very long game.

My current focus is micro-practices that unlock ways of personal being that unlock ways of interpersonal interaction—heart stopping, mind blowing, beyond imagination—that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

Join me.

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adult development, grounded theory, and integral

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If you’re interested in what you are and what you might become (a la The Levels Above Your Own), I strongly, strongly, strongly recommend you read Susanne Cook-Greuter’s recent update to her “Nine Levels of Increasing Embrace” document:

Nine Levels Of Increasing Embrace In Ego Development:
A Full-Spectrum Theory Of Vertical Growth And Meaning Making [2013; pdf]

It’s almost 100 pages long, but it’s worth a careful read from beginning to end; It has my highest recommendation. (The “ego development” construct has been used in a gazillion peer-reviewed papers, and it’s still in use today.)

You’ll notice a lot of “Integral” jargon and mentions of Ken Wilber. The original research had nothing to do with Ken Wilber, but his writing and thinking seem to have provided very useful scaffolding to SCG’s extension of Loevinger’s original work. The Integral memeplex is fairly complex, and I don’t think a lot of readers have much familiarity with it. This might be one place to start (roll-over the icons at the bottom and don’t miss the hidden circle on the right). Integral isn’t necessary for getting something out of SCG’s writing.

“Integral” is one of those things where it’s been around for decades, and there’s been thousands and thousands of related words published, and it has continuously evolved, and there’s lots of noise in the contemporary signal, and it appeals to a huge range of people, with different needs, coming from different places. So I think it’d be a lot of work to sort out useful stuff starting from ground zero. But it could possibly be useful working backwards. There’s really good stuff in there. But, anyway, start with the SCG link and dip into Integral as needed.

(Here’s SCG’s take on the current state of Integral. Might not be all that interesting or useful coming in from ground zero.)

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other mind meditation first look

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I’ve written before about our capacity to know what’s going on inside us [1], and I did a link dump about knowing what’s going on inside other people [2]. When we meditate, we’re experiencing our own mindstream. It’s interesting to speculate about the possibility and utility of logical complements: What about meditating on someone else’s mindstream? I don’t mean via psychic powers or telepathy [12] (well, maybe partly [17]; I’m agnostic on this, and that’s a long, nuanced, gloriously cognitively dissonant post for another time), I mean empathizing with and modeling the other person’s mindstream, with feedback from them. Meditating with a mindstream not your own.

Remember, people can know feelings and the actual thought content of even strangers above chance [3]. So, what if person A meditated normally and person B took the perspective of A, with B reporting A’s experience, and A reporting accuracy. They could mix in whatever dialogue was needed to help B be more accurate. By the way, when people vocally report what’s going on in their mind when they’re solving math problems, it takes the same amount of time to solve the problem as when they’re silent [4]. I’m not implying that *all* the mental activity going into solving the math problem is conscious and verbal, just that people can report on conscious experience in real time. There’s a huge body of research on the subtleties of so-called “protocol analysis,” that is, reporting on inner experience. In any case, it seems like this could be a beneficial or profound process. Or it could be frustrating, clunky, and unwieldy. I haven’t tried it yet. There are dyad and group meditations being used out there, e.g. see Kenneth Folk’s work, though I believe this is exclusively people reporting their own inner experiences to each other.

“Other Mind Meditation” is of course simple to try out, and I could have tried it out before writing this blog post. But I wanted to get my thoughts and expectations in order, first, because it feels like a really neat, deep practice. My suspicion is that this sort of “spiritual cross-training” [5] would make both meditators progress faster in their individual meditation because of reflection on the generalized properties of mindstreams, abstractly, as well as the simulation of mindstreams and the necessity of gleaning data from one’s own mindstream. Lots of needing system one and system two to be working closely together, or something.

It’s also interesting to speculate on how this practice might influence adult development [10], e.g. Loevinger’s (and Cook-Greuter’s) conceptions of so-called ego development [6, 7, 8]. Meditation seems to accelerate ego development [9], and Wilber seems to think that perspective-taking [13, 20] also accelerates ego development [11, 19].

Anyway, let me sketch this out. Let’s have person M be the Meditator (they don’t even really have to be meditating) and let’s let person O be the Observer. They could be physically co-located or on phone, audio-, or video-chat. For realtime modeling, I suspect in-person would be the least frustrating and most likely to actually be useful and rewarding. They could make eye contact (continuously or intermittently) or not. And O would start attempting to model and describe, possibly starting with more general labels [18] and attempting to drill down into specific feelings, felt sense, imagery, verbal content… And M would give feedback, possibly stereotyped. (yes, no, warmer, colder, past)

An important piece of this would be privacy, deception, and so forth. O might have something in mind but not want to say it, for a variety of reasons. M might have something going on but not want to provide feedback on it, for a variety of reasons, or M might want to guide O but still be hesitant to communicate around it, for a variety of reasons. And yet, communicating those things (sometimes) might in actuality be very safe, productive, cathartic (e.g. M and O have something in common), or not, so let’s see if there’s a way to facilitate it:

Person O could abstract away content and say a general category (e.g. “feeling”), or O could say “something but don’t want to say it.”

M could reply “Go on just say it.” Or, M could try to model and guess at what O was thinking and try to help O out, because maybe O is misreading that saying it would be a net negative. Or, M could provide no feedback or say “pass,” etc.

M might want to facilitate O’s modeling but feels like they can’t express something, for whatever reason. M could talk around it and try to have O guess.

If “guessing” is mutually ok, and either one manages to “guess,” then that could normalize the deep dark secret, experience, or assertion that’s being withheld. (And, to reiterate, of course it’d always be perfectly ok to withhold or deny experiencing something.)

Indeed, both O and M could each be pretending that certain experiences aren’t happening (e.g. M could deny or “neither confirm nor deny” a read by O), or O could decide not to select that out in the first place. And that would just have to be accepted as part of the deal.

Finally, M might have unattended stuff in their mindstream that O picks up on, and M might deny a particular experience but actually be experiencing it somewhere in consciousness, and M might deny the experience or be incited to find it or generate it or suppress it (and of course they could simply be misunderstanding each other or using language that doesn’t click with the other), and that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how the interactions will inevitably be influencing each other’s mindstreams.

So that’s a first pass at some of the possible dynamics. There are also distinctions that could be made around surface experience and explicit inference or reference to what’s generating those surface dynamics (and all that could be happening in awareness, too). Some jargon could be developed so that some of these bids could be compressed into one-syllable words to make the interaction flow more smoothly and quickly. Anyway, this could be a cool practice. I’ll probably experiment with it and report back. I’ll just leave these quotes, here, not to mention [16]:

feeling understood: “a subject, perceiving that a person experiences what things mean to the subject and accepts him, feels, initially, relief from experiential loneliness, and, gradually, safe experiential communion with that person and with that which the subject perceives this person to represent.” [15]

mutual understanding: “a significant and valued experience, marked by strong feelings of accomplishment and effectiveness, of empathic harmony with another person, of well-being and peace, and of physiological activation” [14]

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Notes:

[I got pretty sloppy with a few of these. A couple cites might be only tangentially related to the accompanying assertion. Might have doubled up a few numbers, but you can probably sort out which reference I meant.]

[17] Plenty of millenia-old stories and manualized stuff about psychic powers in ancient texts. It’s interesting to think about what’s going on here from a cog bias, evo psych, etc., etc., perspective, among other things.

[16] Cruwys, Tegan, S. Alexander Haslam, Genevieve A. Dingle, Catherine Haslam, and Jolanda Jetten. “Depression and Social Identity An Integrative Review.” Personality and Social Psychology Review (2014): 1088868314523839.

[15] [via 14] Van Kaam, Adrian L. “Phenomenal analysis: Exemplified by a study of the experience of” really feeling understood.”.” Journal of Individual Psychology (1959).

[14] Gordon, Ron. “The Effects of Perceived Mutual Understanding in Interpersonal Communication.” (1983).

[18] https://faculty.unlv.edu/hurlburt/codebook.html

[12] http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/04/28/the-control-group-is-out-of-control/

[11] Hmm, where did I get this impression? I feel like this is pervasive if not explicit in his work.

[10] https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/developmental-thinking-shout-out-to-cfar/

[6] Cook-Greuter, Susanne. “Ego development: Nine levels of increasing embrace.” Unpublished manuscript (2005). http://www.stillpointintegral.com/docs/cook-greuter.pdf

[7] Cook-Greuter, Susanne R. “Postautonomous ego development: A study of its nature and measurement.” PhD diss., Harvard Graduate School of Education, 1999.

[8] Pfaffenberger, Angela H., Paul W. Marko, and Allan Combs, eds. The postconventional personality: Assessing, researching, and theorizing higher development. SUNY Press, 2011.

[9] https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/the-levels-above-your-own/

[5] Wilber, Ken, Terry Patten, Adam Leonard, and Marco Morelli. Integral life practice. Shambhala Publications, 2008.

[4] Ericsson, K. Anders, and Herbert Alexander Simon. Protocol analysis. MIT-press, 1984.

Hurlburt, Russell T. Investigating pristine inner experience: Moments of truth. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

[3] Ickes, William. Everyday mind reading: Understanding what other people think and feel. Prometheus Books, 2003.

[13] Zunshine, Lisa. Why we read fiction: Theory of mind and the novel. Ohio State University Press, 2006.

[19] Wilber, Ken. Integral spirituality. Shambhala Publications, 2007.

[20] Wilber, Ken. “An Integral Mathematics of Primordial Perspectives” Retrieved July 12 2014. (2012) http://integrallife.com/integral-post/ways-we-are-together?page=0,11

[1] https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/inner-life-suck-or-awesome/

[2] https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2014/04/12/links-related-to-perspective-taking/

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Fundamental causes of the dark night? Also, suicide heads-up

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[I’ve written about the dark night before.]

There’s a pattern I’ve noticed over and over again in meditation. You know how when you ask someone about the steps they take to serve a tennis ball, it temporarily messes up their tennis serve? That’s a cliche, and I think there’s at least one thread of research and a popular book about how attention can (temporarily) screw up a local optimum of an automatic process.

Of course, ideally, you reflect on a previous tacit process, take the hit of temporarily messing it up, and your attention and intervention may raise you to a higher local optimum or onto a continuous growth path. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility.

(Opaque, highly compressed tangent: I just want to note that the previous tacit process might not have “existed” before you covered it with a high-dimensional attentional shroud. In some of Wilber’s new language, that tacit process could have “subsisted” as opposed to “existed.” My point is just that, as always, objects are achievements, and there are an infinite number of ways to carve reality up at the joints, depending on what you’re trying to do. Don’t restrict yourself to what you think is there.)

Ok, anyway, so over and over again in meditation, you gradually become aware of all these muscles you didn’t know you had. And you fuck up their smooth, symphonic, seamless operation and integration with everything else. Usually it’s transiently, say, on the order of minutes to days, but, if you’re unlucky, and especially if you rigidly apply heavy-handed rule-governed behavior, you’re going to maybe lock yourself into suboptimal functioning, possibly making you worse off than before you made your tacit or reflected-upon meditation discovery.

With great power comes great responsibility. For example, I hypothesize that meditation facilitates the negative capacity for experiential avoidance, a research construct that is correlated with a bunch of bad stuff. What I mean is that meditators are probably, ironically more skilled at avoiding their own experience, and, if they stumble upon the trick of avoiding their own experience as a sometimes short-term effective (long-term destructive) stance to move forward through their lives, then they’ve got a sticky problem. (And they probably don’t have the conceptual tools to easily escape that trap, though, of course they can still find a way to escape via books, internal exploration, outside mentorship, etc.)

I would go so far as to say that meditation probably attracts people who are already experiential avoiders because they intuitively realize that meditation will give them more and better tools to control their experience. I don’t mean to pick on experiential avoiders; I mean it’s a useful skill if surgically, transiently applied. My point is that meditation can give you tools to enhance your bad habits, and some people can be intuitively attracted to meditation for this reason. (Of course, people will be attracted to meditation for a mix of reasons.)

Now, continuing to use experiential avoidance as an example, I want to emphasize that there’s of course other forces at work within meditators. In addition to acquiring more skill for experiential avoidance, meditation is still making the (conscious) operations of your mind more and more apparent. So there’s this tension there between giving you better and better skill and strength to hide from yourself and systematically making it harder and harder to hide from yourself. This could partially account for the sometimes oscillatory nature of the dark night, as well as being stuck in it for an extended period of time.

Another example, meditation gives you ever increasing capacity to tolerate and operate within discomfort. This is fantastic for personal growth and agency. But, it can also make you hunker down and endure situations for too long, where anyone else would have run screaming, melted down, rooted out causes versus tolerating symptoms, or called out for social help, for good reason. Specifically with meditation, if you’re doing something that’s fucking you up, you’re also getting better and better at tolerating being fucked up, so you just fuck yourself up further and further. So there’s another possible bad spiral.

Possibly worst case, you’re making it easier to commit suicide. I haven’t looked at the quality of this research, but, apparently, a key factor in committing suicide is capacity for tolerating discomfort. And, suicidal people prepare for suicide by increasing their capacity for self-harm. So, at this stage of knowledge, a possible increased chance of committing suicide is probably really, really important to disclose to anyone who wants to learn meditation. (And, sure, as a meditator  you’re simultaneously probably massively increasing your resilience to life stressors, maybe, but there’s a complicated tension here.)

Identity

So, as a general principle, I think a lot of negative side effects of meditation come from reflexively screwing up subtle, automatic processes by (sometimes tacitly) realizing you can influence them and then not slipping into a new local optimum or continuous process of improvement.

Now, I want to focus on a big one in particular: Identity. Logically, perhaps, identity is valence-free: black, gay, cis, republican, kinky… labels are for cans. They are useful, hopefully fluid, interpenetrating patterns and maps of an underlying territory. Use ‘em for communicating and getting your needs met and for improving the world.

But, of course, identity is woven very, very, very, very deeply into our functioning as monkeys. Identity lights up parts of our brains hard, structuring our motivation, perception, cognition, mood, immune system, it just goes on and on and on [2, 3].

So. I think one of the fundamental causes of the dark night is that meditation fucks up the identity system.

Of course, if one is lucky, tenacious, or mentored, neurological identity can become a joyous, multifaceted, lived, seamless, flexible, embodied, consciously deployed tool, something both a useful fiction and neurologically, phenomenologically real, undeniable, potent, and lived.

But, wow. As the meditator begins to see self and social identity as the contingent, constrained-yet-arbitrary fictions they actually are, sooooooooooooooo much can go wrong and stay wrong in deep monkey ways [1]. Social identity and belonging are extremely important [4]. And as described above, you can all these new tools and muscles related to identity, which if used reflexively, might unluckily take you in a nihilistic direction or be used to construct identities of separation and so forth. With great power comes great responsibility.

So, in conclusion, meditation can disrupt automatic processes and not always improve those processes after their disruption. And, social identity is particularly important process that meditation is prone to disrupt. And, these could be contributing factors to the dark night.

So, maybe these are are just more puzzle pieces, or maybe these cut to the heart of the dark night. And I hope that people take these ideas and critique, refine, or recontextualize them. And I hope that these ideas will factor into informed consent in meditation. And I hope that these ideas will suggest more ways to avoid or escape the so-called dark night.

[1] Cruwys, Tegan, S. Alexander Haslam, Genevieve A. Dingle, Catherine Haslam, and Jolanda Jetten. “Depression and Social Identity An Integrative Review.”Personality and Social Psychology Review (2014): 1088868314523839.

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_psychology

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-categorization_theory

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belongingness

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metainstrumentality first pass

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To increase metainstrumentality (cf. metamemory and metacognition), the papers/chapters below are all worth reading and reflecting upon. After I play around some more, I may write something up about putting the findings and principles below into practice.

(I’ve selected these papers after considering a gazilliion choices against my own phenomenological experience (:)), and sometimes more for topical emphasis than rigor*, claims, or effect size. Open to better choices.)

Also, your mileage may vary. For example, I personally haven’t found mental contrasting and implementation intentions, per se, to be useful for “cognition in the wild,” as it were. So there’s nothing (explicitly) about those concepts below, but you may well find those topics useful, and that would be excellent.)

Carlson, K. A., Tanner, R. J., Meloy, M. G., & Russo, J. E. (2014). Catching nonconscious goals in the act of decision making. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 123(1), 65-76.

Andrews, P. W., & Thomson Jr, J. A. (2009). The bright side of being blue: depression as an adaptation for analyzing complex problems. Psychological review, 116(3), 620.

Kruglanski, A. W., Shah, J. Y., Fishbach, A., Friedman, R., Chun, W. Y., & Sleeth-Keppler, D. (2002). A theory of goal systems. Advances in experimental social psychology, 34, 331-378.

Förster, J., Liberman, N., & Friedman, R. S. (2007). Seven principles of goal activation: A systematic approach to distinguishing goal priming from priming of non-goal constructs. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11(3), 211-233.

Masicampo, E. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (2011). Consider it done! Plan making can eliminate the cognitive effects of unfulfilled goals. Journal of personality and social psychology, 101(4), 667.

Patalano, A. L., & Seifert, C. M. (1997). Opportunistic planning: Being reminded of pending goals. Cognitive Psychology, 34(1), 1-36.

Sheldon, K. M., & Elliot, A. J. (1998). Not all personal goals are personal: Comparing autonomous and controlled reasons for goals as predictors of effort and attainment. Personality and Social Psychology, 24(5), 546.

*I’m aware of the whole “replication crisis” thing going on with respect to some aspects of priming.

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