[This is a heavily edited transcript. It’s not as organized or nuanced as it could be. It’s more like a position than an argument, for sure.]
[by enlightenment I mean a state or property of a mind versus an social/cultural/intensional [sic] construction. I think there are many of the latter, of course.]
Lots of people think that there are a bunch of different enlightenments. I actually strongly disagree with this. I think there are intermediate things that can be cultivated, and certainly different people will have a preference at least mediately for different things that they want based on what they think is out there, what they think they can get, and what they think is good/useful.
But, I tend to think that the mind is only trying to do one thing. I don’t know exactly what that is, but it’s probably something like predicting what’s going to happen next as elegantly and correctly as possible. Something in that space.
I think it used to be popular to model the brain as a heinous kludge, but I think that neuroscience is going to go in the direction of there being one fundamental operating principle for how the mind works. After all, in some sense animals or say especially humans have a fragmented telos, but in another sense the telos of a humans (and animals) is quite unified.
And that unity increases with training, etc. Importantly, people have different goals. But people’s goals can change, and there’s a question of how deeply those goals can change. And arguably, meditation or enlightenment are tools for changing desires/preferences/goals in a very deep way. So, what are the fundamental principles, neuroscientifically or phenomenologically, that underly the transformation of telos?
One way to look at this is using the concepts of goodness and “betterness.”
I think that, nonmonotonically, people can tack towards goodness or betterness in sort of a global way. Like, with dips and valleys and mistakes and backtracking, just aim for things being better and better.
Like someone might want to experience things as empty or someone might want to have less life problems, or realize that there’s no goal or one goal or lots of other things…
But, imagining people who’ve been doing the thing for forty years… I think that there’s a way in which people who don’t asymptote or who don’t paint themselves into a corner, or don’t get stuck, I strongly suspect that in the limit they will agree more and more about what the right thing to do is and what it looks like when it’s more and more “done”.
Like, the metaphor, there’s many paths up the mountain, but only one peak.
So, for the people who say there’s multiple enlightenments or multiple axes of development, I would imagine that, yes, that’s the case when one is say 5/7’s up the mountain. But 6/7’s, 7/7’s…
There will still be contingency in life situation, personal experience, and use of mind.
But, I think there’s this globally significant invariant or isomorphism at some level of abstraction, that does have a concrete referent, that is converged on at the highest levels of skill and attainment.
[Update: A part of this thread: https://twitter.com/Malcolm_Ocean/status/1119037981501853697