Mostly Links: Extracting Invariants: Symbolic and Nonsymbolic Representation in Human Consciousness

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If I had to summarize all of this it would be something like, “explicit understanding and implicit participation with the phenomenology of the interplay between symbolic and nonsymbolic representation in human consciousness and the phenomenology of the dynamics of meaning and belief in the context thereof, or something like that. Or, how to experience tremendous cognitive flexibility and spaciousness, or something, if you’re also meditating to complement this, or something like that.

Relevantly, this is my favorite quote of all time:

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

–Marcel Proust

(If you ask questions I might compulsively respond with 3000-word blog post answers.)

[Note the lack of CBT in the above list.]

(More reading, some of it very, very advanced; You might have to work with the above, first, in order to have access to the referents that match up with the signifiers found in these works: Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy, Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, How to Realize Emptiness, Distinguishing Phenomena and Pure Being, On the Origin of Objects, Nine Levels of Increasing Embrace [pdf], Wilber Gigagloss [pdf])

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Draft: One Sketchy Generalization of Meditation: Diachronic/Synchronic Meditation

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I’m still always working on powerful, general protocols that rival the power and generality of meditation. One aspect of this is better integrating some of the mechanics of Focusing, Internal Family Systems Therapy, Coherence Therapy, the Lefkoe Method, etc., into the practice of meditation. As it stands, there is plenty of synergy, and sometimes the boundaries blur, but, for the most part, meditation versus that list seems to exercise different muscles, turn different gears, cause different types of change. I’m always wondering, how big can my practice become? How much can I incorporate into a protocol while sacrificing nothing? How much of my brain can I light up in a single practice? What kinds of change are possible and how efficiently? What is the potential of a human being, in their own words, on their own terms? For healing? For becoming something imagined and valued? And what role do deliberate inner behaviors have in that?

Here’s something that I’ve sketched out that seems like it might or might not be very powerful. I’ve been playing with it and exploring, to work out this flowchart along natural grooves and mind movements, to get at real levers [1, 2], and I may work with it regularly in addition to foreground/background meditation. (F/B and D/S meditation are definitely interpenetrating but still emphasize very different machinery or at least inner stances.) It’s a work in progress. Your mileage may vary. The latest version is here. Click for a pdf. Note the tl;dr at the bottom!

synchronic diachronic meditation

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Draft: Activated Controlling Beliefs

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You might be experiencing an “intolerable life situation.” You might be experiencing “irrational” thoughts or behavior (though those thoughts or behaviors will still have internally consistent inner logic, almost without exception, as we’ll see below). You might be suspicious that you’re exhibiting extreme or “emotional” thinking. You might be suspicious that you’re falling prey to false dichotomies, black and white thinking, etc.

Additional things to notice: “I should,” “I have to,” “I can’t,” “I won’t,” “I mustn’t,” “If only I could,” “Things would be so much easier if…”

Depending on the development of your meditation practice, you might experience the above as coexisting with nonverbal, nonsymbolic, “phenomenological,” felt inner barriers–stuff in way, stuff coming up, maybe more like inner stances and postures, clenching, reactions, different inner configurations that protrude strangely, or seem strangely static, or at least exist only in discrete states, states that won’t “mix” or “integrate” or play nice with each other. Your metacognition senses that more is possible but that you’re limited in the ways in which you can arrange yourself internally, and those limitations seem somewhat arbitrary. You can move and internally arrange yourself in some ways, smoothly, effortlessly, but not others.

This metacognition around “inner arrangement” comes later. The thing is, as most readers of this blog know, most of our behavior and decision-making is automatic, unconsidered. Automatized complex behavior is great, except when it boxes you in, and it’s not working, and you don’t know you’re boxed.

Non-Conscious Controlling Belief Automaticity

Your brain thinks it knows the way things are. Usually this is great: you don’t consider teleportation as a solution to a problem you’re having because… it’s not a solution; it’s not an option. It just doesn’t come up, so your conscious mind doesn’t get distracted by it. Sometimes it’s pretty practical stuff, not like teleportation at all, but you’ve learned to habitually bypass these practical possibilities, so much so that these possibilities are never automatically engaged nor ever consciously considered.

Potentially Conscious Controlling Belief Automaticity

Other stuff is more in the realm of possibility, like “talk to Bob,” “revise your resume,” “try a phone call instead of email.” Sometimes these sorts of options are actually a workable path forward, especially with a little bit of thought and nuance. Except, for whatever reason, they’re not. Your brain shuts them down, though maybe they stick around for a few hundred milliseconds. Usually, these fleeting glimpses of seemingly unworkable behavioral possibilities go unnoticed. But a meditator can start to notice them. This is where you can start to get a better sense of some of the phenomena mentioned in the introductory paragraphs.

Activated Controlling Beliefs

You can slow down, maybe get a little bit creative, maybe start to ask why you’re not doing X, which might seem “reasonable” to an outside observer or to someone who got air-dropped into your body. You can start to call up a felt sense* for “what’s going on,” why you might be doing or not doing “reasonable” thing X.

A clue that you might be able to call up such a felt sense, that there’s something there is that you realize you’re “emotionally activated.” You might feel jangled, or shaky, or triggered, or defensive, or “doth protest too much,” or internally “whip-lashy.” There’s something there. (This is related to the experience and concept of your true rejection.)

Elaborated Controlling Beliefs

You might be able to gently evoke and ease your felt sense, your fairly discrete, bounded, contained, nonsymbolic, felt sense of “what’s going on,” into a form something like this:

  1. I might take steps towards possible life puzzle pieces A, B, C (xor I might step away from activities, responses, behaviors, A, B, C)
  2. But, I prevent myself from doing this or myself prevents me
  3. Because if I were to take steps towards/away-from A, B, C: then
  4. Intolerable U, V, W would definitely happen and/or vital X, Y, Z would definitely not happen.

Shortened: I can’t do X, because if I did do X, then Y. So, of course I can’t do X. (This is phrasing is pretty much exactly Coherence Therapy. I’m going for something possibly a bit more general.)

You explore around until you get a sense of whether/how something like that is going on. You sense this potentiality, but barely, distantly, dangerously, because, if you took the slightest step in that direction, disaster. And you can work out a sense of that, all at once, with some of this internal structure.

It’s important that you’re not looking for something top-down and theoretical. This is not hypothesis-spinning, theory-spinning. If you’re doing it “right,” it will perhaps have a bottom-up, “phenomenological,” behavioral sense to it. Your fingers might itch and twitch. You might feel it in your body as pre-behavior. It will have feeling, and weight, and truthiness. It will resonate; it will feel right; it will feel true. Sometimes this resonance will be weak or fleeting but it’s distinct and unmistakable, and it might take some practice and persistence to get a felt sense with these sorts of emotional and behavioral components. And it’s not the Truth with a capital T. It’s a provisional map that’s acceptable to system one, that feels right and true to system one, that is right and true–to system one (for now, perhaps fleetingly).

And note that, this can remain distinct and structured yet nonsymbolic. You can put words to it, but you don’t have to.


And as you approach your unique life situation, and pay attention your inner dynamics, and gently stabilize stuff with concentration, deft touches, and working memory, you can build up some fairly complex, deeply resonant maps, all activated, all at once. And then… I’ll keep working on fleshing this out… See Coherence Therapy, see the Lefkoe stuff.

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currently reading 4/x

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Andrews, Paul W., Aadil Bharwani, Kyuwon R. Lee, Molly Fox, and J. Anderson Thomson. “Is serotonin an upper or a downer? The evolution of the serotonergic system and its role in depression and the antidepressant response.” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 51 (2015): 164-188.

Willner, Paul, Margaret Wilkes, and Arnold Orwin. “Attributional style and perceived stress in endogenous and reactive depression.” Journal of affective disorders 18, no. 4 (1990): 281-287.

Monroe, Scott M., and Kate L. Harkness. “Life stress, the” kindling” hypothesis, and the recurrence of depression: considerations from a life stress perspective.”Psychological review 112, no. 2 (2005): 417.

Harkness, Kate L., and Scott M. Monroe. “Childhood adversity and the endogenous versus nonendogenous distinction in women with major depression.” American Journal of Psychiatry 159, no. 3 (2002): 387-393.

Panikkar, Raimundo. The intrareligious dialogue. Paulist Press, 1999.

Fausto‐Sterling, Anne. “The five sexes.” The sciences 33, no. 2 (1993): 20-24.

Mundt, Christoph, Corinna Reck, Matthias Backenstrass, Klaus Kronmüller, and Peter Fiedler. “Reconfirming the role of life events for the timing of depressive episodes: A two-year prospective follow-up study.” Journal of affective disorders59, no. 1 (2000): 23-30.

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web meetup topics from yesterday plus some logistics-ish notes

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Good conversations this weekend: meditation vis-à-vis epistemology; meditation vis-à-vis ontology; mysticism vis-à-vis von Neumann, Gödel, neuroscience, and evolutionary psychology; public personalities and “paranormal” experiences; conscious and non-conscious aspects of thirst and salt drives; depression subtypes vis-à-vis serotonin, blood-brain barrier, neurogenesis, synaptic reconfiguration, analytical problem-solving, and energy metabolism; podcasting; internet analytics; practical application of Pali and Sanskrit technical language; and more…

A couple notes which I’ll add to the scheduling page:

  • Sometimes acoustics have necessitated mic muting, and messed-up nonverbal cues make everything harder, but the ideal is always for remote people to be 100% a part of the conversation: interrupt, interject, suggest topics, ask for the camera to get moved around more, etc., etc. If noise levels are low and the connection latency is having a good day, this works really well. (It’s also fine to mute yourself and just listen, by the way.)
  • First-timers, don’t freak out if you connect and you’re the only remote person facing down multiple Chicago-local people. People in different time zones have been coming and going at different times, chatting for 15-90 minutes and heading out, and have been fairly consistently missing each other. 😀

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romantic settling, monogamy, polyamory, culture, genetics, memetics, and long, interweaving chains of demand characteristics and selection bias (dating correspondence)

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[So normally I try for meeting someone after like a couple brief messages. These long chains of long messages are very rare for me. But sometimes they happen. :-D]


[On Settling]

Yeah… I know one person can’t be my everything. But I go back and forth regarding how much to hold out for how much, if that makes sense? Like, at what point of e.g. sexual and intellectual compatibility do I settle and then go elsewhere for the rest? Multiply “sexual” and “intellectual” by about 500 other things. And I don’t mean settle in a negative sense. I’m still talking mutuality, respect, intimacy, affection, and unique, idiosyncratic, deep attachment between two unique, idiosyncratic human beings. Maybe it’s more like I haven’t found the variables and behaviors and contexts within and around self and other that trigger that emotionally deep, lasting, logistically acceptable attachment that one might feel right down to their bones. Multiple threads of interweaving limerence and attachment across different time courses. I have felt these things in fickle, oft fleeting ways. In addition to my usual thinking, feeling, and reading really hard, I keep playing with my behaviors, my beliefs, meeting people that evoke different things in me in different ways, I spend time with them, see how it feels, see what happens… I communicate as much as I possibly can, strive for mutuality. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years… I keep reading all that back against myself, self as sounding board—how does that feel, what does that mean, what might happen next, what might I want?

And I find that the different experiences I have with different people at different points, the things I get and give and don’t get and give, in each novel situation, sort of lead me in this lazy drift back and forth between “monogamy” and “polyamory,” each time more nuanced, more personal, more idiosyncratic, more contingent, more elaborated…

The meanings of those words change, what those things mean, to me, change. This is gratifying and challenging because, there’s this translation step between two people, like, “Ok, we’re sort of using all these same words, but we might mean different things by these different things in different times and different places for different purposes…”


[On social/environmental vs biological/physiological]

I’m curious about your thoughts on the social/environmental influences on sexuality. After your last message I thought about the proximate causes of gender, orientation, and presentation.

One piece of evidence I have are anecdotes about gay boys and trans girls. One might think that if dolls and trucks were purely socialization then gay boys and trans girls would play with trucks as children. But, anecdotally, gay boys and trans girls go for dolls, princesses, and clothes, regardless of the trucks and dinosaurs and guns that get pushed on them.

(This is my impression; I hold it loosely in case someone throws some systematic research study at me.) In any, I hold the above as evidence that genetics and prenatal endocrinology have a proximate influence at least as strong as culture, at least in this limited case. There’s also stuff like how birth order influences the likelihood of boys being gay. And I think there’s a bunch of studies, using phenotype as indicator of prenatal testosterone exposure, to all sorts of other boy/girl spectrum traits.

All that said, I haven’t dug deep into the quality of all that research. If I were really going to put a stake in the ground, like if I really had skin in the game, I would want to see meta-analyses to see how much girl brains, boy brains, girl hormones, boy hormones, girl behavior, boy behavior, prenatal this, prenatal that, testosterone this, testosterone that, how all those individual pieces actually held upon their own, once you start kicking the tires of the long, interweaving chains of demand characteristics and selection bias that lead to seemingly case-closed (ha!), convenient, tidy, cutesy, just-so narratives.


On the other side of the fence, you’ve got the social/culture stuff. I’m thinking of a few examples off the top of my head. Ummm, cultures of machismo are one example. Dudes being dudely, god forbid they show any weakness, and maybe individual men and women experience quiet desperation and wish things were different. Or they can’t find words, can’t articulate it to themselves, and they internalize the culture, and hate themselves, and police themselves, try to shape themselves into something more like what they think peers and culture are asking for.

And then you’ve got the human rights movement. And then you’ve got examples like female genital mutilation evaporating with a dash of physical safety and a dollop of education. Or, you sidestep the ideal of honor (killings) by redefining honor so it no longer involves killing. (That honor thing is a great example of culturally reshaping what’s probably an evolutionary impulse.)

So it does seem like culture is malleable and can dramatically influence the expression of nature and prenatal/childhood nurture.


Anyway, I think it’s fairly uncontroversial that a person’s internal milieu and embedding culture both evolve via simultaneous transmission across a spectrum from genetic to memetic. Culture drives mate choices and technology. Mate choices and technology drive genetics. Repeat for thousands of years.

I guess I personally experience emotional intensity around this because, yeah, I do feel like culture wants to shape and deny my felt expression of internal milieu and behavior. And of course my reflection upon my felt expression of internal milieu and behavior is partially shaped by the culture and my access to, Google books, Tumblr… And around and around it goes. Fuck quiet desperation. I’ve had it soooooooooooooooooooooo easy compared to like as much as 15% of the population, and I’ve been miserable enough.


[ Re:


Genderbread person! I’ve seen this before but I didn’t look as closely as I could have. I usually think in terms of three or four knobs (gender, orientation, presentation, and maybe romance). But, omg, there’s TEN knobs, here! This is great. 😀


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raft building and map making

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>> […] needing to be practice focused rather than conceptualized or philosophized about […] <<

yeah i need to be more nuanced about this. like, mental models are extremely important, if only in order to differentiate between “correct” and “incorrect” meditation (mega scare-quotes), not to mention all other consequential, discriminatory behavior. sometimes hair-splitting makes the critical difference. but there’s this parable about building a raft to cross a river then carrying that raft on your back for the rest of your life. don’t want to carry the raft after you’ve already used it; don’t want to gold-plate the raft before you use it. i think of transformative practice as building, using, and discarding an unending series of rafts… an unending series of boot-strapped mental models and concurrent execution of behaviors within the context of those models (which bootstraps the next model)…

deliberate transformative practice iterates models faster; sitting around and thinking without action (reality testing, physiological and neurological transformation) does not. that’s why I read and think but then force myself to craft a worksheet and fucking execute; lather, rinse, repeat…

it gets really deep, though… my mental models have explicit representation of behavior governed by explicit models (rule-governed behavior) versus non-representational feedback loops (environmentally-contingent behavior). that is, my maps include maps of map making, map following, off-map navigation… that is, my maps are composed of dynamic, reflexive, participatory, metacognitive symbolic-nonsymbolic, representational-nonrepresentational bridged, self-dissolving, self-reconstituting strange-loops :-D, and meditation helps you bootstrap, refine, build, bleed, surrender into, surrender as maps like that…

cf. perhaps, perhaps, in no particular order:

  • on the origin of objects
  • experiencing and the creation of meaning
  • how to realize emptiness
  • distinguishing phenomena and pure being
  • the origin of concepts
  • integral spirituality gigagloss appendix
  • cook-greuter updated nine levels doc

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