Mostly according to a contemporary philosopher, with some mutation, one can think of the bodymind as something that acts on the basis of representational content. Representational content is more or less beliefs, and beliefs are more or less representations that represent the world more or less accurately.
Those beliefs are sculpted by having experiences and surely the bodymind also operates on itself, changing and hopefully improving beliefs with reference to remembered or recorded past experience.
This leaves things out, but one can really simplify thinking about the mind, even the brain by thinking about brainy-mind stuff as a collection of representations that changes over time.
One can then think about the space of all possible representations and the space of all possible collections of representations. The space of all possible total mind states will be a subset of the latter.
So, a mind in any particular time slice, in this simplified (but not that simplified?) model can be fully described by it’s representational content. It’s probably the case that we’d need to know some things about the environment that that mind is in, in order to know that mind’s trajectory. But, absent certain classes of interventions, many features of that mind might be overdetermined by that it already is (karma…), that is a mind’s trajectory may be heavily determined by the operations it performs on itself, which are determined by the current representational content in the system (So perhaps a mind encounters a teacher, a mentor, a meditation practice, depth psychology, a revelation… In my concepts I call this “grace.”)
In any case, we can also think about the space of all possible mind trajectories.
A mind(’s trajectory) might have necessary fixed points and contingent fixed points. That is, maybe minds always needs to have hope or hope in something. Or maybe minds intuitively grasp something about action or goodness. (Kant has some things to say about this, and probably the Buddha.) So, for any mind, if we have good epistemology, either empirically or a priori, we can start making claims or proofs about properties shared by all minds. I’m sort of thinking mostly about beliefs, here, but of course there’s going to be physical or mental laws, transformation laws, about how to determine a mind’s next state from a mind’s current state. And perhaps all minds are running on the bare metal, as it were, but perhaps minds tend to have a huge amount of built up structure, operating systems, virtual machines, if you will, lots of boxed operations, powerful but far away from the base transformation laws.
The necessary fixed points give you something like an envelope or a cone within which any particular mind can transform.
Personally, I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about stream entry or enlightenment in that I don’t think the laws of the system change. Things feel very, very different from the inside, of course, and models like the above don’t trivialized the profound value and tremendous achievement of getting one’s mind into a particular abstract state.
I think of how to do this as, given that a mind changes based on experiences, what one wants to do is pay attention to sensations as such, particularly the spatiotemporal properties of sensations that are common to all sensations and the relationships between all sensations. Then something magical happens.
I don’t think it’s quite this simple, but this gets one pretty far.
I think it’s actually really complicated, but the goal is to find really simple cranks to turn that unwind and/or move the system in the right direction, as opposed to cranks that wind the system up (create or reinforce contingent fixed points) until the system gets stuck.
I think lots of practices both unwind and wind, that is cause the mind to trade off on progress in different parts of itself. I think an ideal meditative practice will generally unwind the mind and sometimes you’ll have to solve small or medium-size puzzles that a relatively simple practice can’t quite untangle by itself.
I do think lots of meditators are doing a sort of tradeoff thing, where they’re making progress but also winding themselves up in some way. Additionally, with a strong will, you can smash yourself into the edge of the envelope, and then it feels like your metaphysics, the entire universe is breaking. This is one possible explanation for the dark night. If you slide along the wall in your travels instead of moving well away from the wall, then you could be in the dark night for a very long time. See also spiritual bypassing. Likely all practices have at least minor “adaptive valleys,” nonmonotonicity, where things get a little locally messed up before getting even better before the hiccup, possibly over and over again.
So, what are the correct general cranks to turn (meditative practices), what conceptual distinctions do we need to make, what phenomenology needs to be pointed at, how do we generally describe the idiosyncratic puzzles that particular practitioners needs to solve to make or continue to progress, and how does any particular practitioner reliably know whether and where they’re unwinding and winding?
Addendum: think also constraints, slider puzzles, Rubik’s cubes, tower of Hanoi problems, contingent locks and keys, all the way up and all the way down
Addendum 2: Backchaining [from sub or terminal goal states], acontextual or diminished or abstract context correct moves