Ep. 12 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Higher States of Consciousness, Part 2
(Sectioning and transcripts made by MeaningCrisis.co)
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Welcome back to awakening from meaning crisis. So we have been engaged in a very long discussion because we're talking about a topic that is central about the possibility of Enlightenment, and to try and make that something plausibly accessible to us. Rather than something wrapped, and shrouded in mesmeric mystique. Instead we've been trying to understand this from a cognitive science perspective that could tell us why these higher states of consciousness might in fact provide a means for the radical self-transformation, self-transcendence, enhanced inner peace, and connectedness to reality that are the central legacy of the Axial Age revolution, and that are still needed today even if we no longer believe in the mythology of the Axial Age religions, and philosophies. How do we find a place to vouch-safe the value, the precious value, that these states can confer on lives in terms of meaning and transcendence, when we no longer can understand and articulate, and legitimate that in terms of a two worlds mythology?
So if you remember we have been discussing the properties of these higher states of consciousness. We had discussed what the world is like. It's a bright, both comprehensive and detailed, intricate and interesting, "the world in a grain of sand". It's highly intelligible, it's beautiful and behind it is a pervasive sense of oneness: the self that is resonating with that world in the higher state of consciousness is a self deeply at peace. Like in Plato's description of anagoge. It's experiencing joy, it's experiencing a kind of deep remembrance, "Sati" of the being mode, it's true and authentic self. It is losing its egocentrism. We talked about the connectedness between the self and the world as one, so intimate, so flowing so anagogic, that the sense of participation and conformity is achieving a sense of identity. Deep and profound. Being at one with the oneness. But that it is so profound that it is almost always described as ineffable.
We then took a look at what might be going on in these states because we're trying to, remember... we're trying to give a descriptively adequate and a prescriptively adequate account. We took a look at the Continuity Hypothesis, that they're the same machinery that's at work in our everyday experience of the fluency of reading into moments of insight, into the insight cascades of flow, and then being exapted even more into mystical experience, and then some of those mystical experiences bring about a quantum change. They bring about a deep transformative experience and I suggested to you, I proposed to you that what's going on in these higher states of consciousness is something like a state of flow, but that the skill, the expertise, that is flowing is not this particular skill of rock climbing or being a martial artist or playing jazz! It's this skill, the Domain General skill of getting an optimal grip on the world. And so what's happening is people are getting a flow state in their ability to optimally grip on the world.
This connection to the machinery of insight helps to explain why disruptive strategies are used in order to try and bring about the higher state of consciousness because disruptive strategies are so central to trying to create insight. They're both naturally disruptive strategies and you can acquire them through mindfulness psycho-technologies. We were examining what these disruptive strategies do. They massively increase variation in your processing and that reveals invariance. Both good invariance; you get to see more of the real patterns that are remaining unchanged through all the variation - that's what science does across all of their variations, we try to find the real patterns that are invariant and what science does is increase the variation! We run experiments; we increase the variation, we do all kinds of manipulations and increased variations to try and find what remains invariant because we take that [to] point out to us what is more real. That's what you're doing! But it also... So it's opening up the invariants of the world and you're using the flow states capacity for enhanced implicit processing, implicit learning of complex patterns, tracking of causal patterns to do that.
But, it's also picking up on the bad invariants. It's picking up on... It's helping to reveal all the ways in which you are systematically mis-framing so that like a child going through a developmental stage - and I would point you to the work of my former student, friend [and] colleague Juensung Kim for this idea of development as a systematic form of insight. Something that he and I are working on together - like a child going through a developmental stage realizing, not just this error or that error, but a systematicity in the way that they're mis-framing reality and finding a nexus, a point, where the insight is not just an intervention in this problem, but in a whole class and type of problems. That developmental change of seeing through illusion and into reality that is so central to wisdom is also being afforded by these higher states of consciousness.
De-centering strategies - The Solomon Effect
What about the de-centering that's so central to both flow, mystical experiences and then ultimately to Higher states of consciousness? My colleague Igor Grossmann has produced quite a bit of good experimental evidence that such de-centering strategies - although this was prefigured in earlier work by the Berlin Paradigm - Igor Grossman has done some excellent work on showing that such de-centering strategies are very relevant for bringing about wisdom. He has worked on what he calls the Solomon effect. Let me describe it to you. You'll see why these disruptive, these de-centering strategies can be so powerful. Get people to find a problem that's very messy, problematic, and that they're stuck in. Usually it's an interpersonal problem because, as Sartre said, "Hell is other people"! (So is heaven by the way! He didn't say that but...) Our deepest and most pervasive problems are generally problems with other people. Why? Because the thing that is - I've mentioned this before - that is most predictive of how meaningful your life is, is your meaningful relationships to others. The problem is human beings are endlessly complex.
So you're describing this interpersonal problem and when people describe it, they are of course mesmerized by the mirage of their own egocentric perspective. They describe it without thought - default - from the first person perspective. And they remain stuck! Remember this notion of "stuckness"! We'll come back to it again when we talk about Gnosis and Gnosticism... Then you get the person to re-describe the same problem from the third person perspective. You get them to de-center. What will often happen is they will break frame. They will realize the way in which they have been blocked, systematically locked in not solving their problem. They'll often have a central insight into how to resolve their problem. This is why it's called the "Solomon Effect" because it tends to make you more wise! Think about the radical de-centering that's going on in these awakening experiences; in these higher states of consciousness. Notice the systematicity of the error of egocentrism: It's not an error in this problem or this problem or this problem, it's a systematic error. That's why it's often described with metaphors of like "being asleep". Because when you wake up you have a systematic change in your consciousness.
So what's happening in these higher states of consciousness, in these awakening experiences, you're get a transformation. An intervention in systematic error. You're seeing through illusion precisely because of the powerful de-centering that they are affording for you. Now that of course can be a powerfully traumatic experience. It can be a terrifying experience. Pursuing this in an auto-didactic fashion, like all auto-didactic - being completely self-taught - is very very dangerous! Autodidacts tend to get into echo-chambers, vicious circles of their own egocentric intunement and entrapment. The Buddha gives a wonderful parable about this. He says "this is how you catch a monkey. You put some pitch on a piece of wood and it looks like something very shiny and tasty - it's salient, it's attractive - and so the monkey grabs it with its hand and it gets stuck and then it uses its other hand to try and free itself. And it gets stuck. So it uses its right foot and then its left foot and then it puts its head its mouth on and then it's completely trapped. And then the hunter comes and kills it." But de-centering can alleviate that.
But if you are still pursuing this as an isolated individual, as an autodidact, then think about how ill prepared, unskilled, untutored and egocentrically you're trying to confront this radical transformation. That is why I think it is a very poor idea for people to take psychedelics without having them placed within a Wisdom tradition in which they have a committed community that can give outside, de-centering and wise advice for how to process and handle these transformations. But once again I point you to an aspect of the meaning crisis. We have institutions of information. We have institutions of knowledge. We have traditions and we have respected experts who give us guidance. We do not have this for wisdom.
Now what is amazing of, course, is that some individuals like Siddhārtha are able to do it as individuals. I want to point out two things about that. They deserve our admiration for successfully doing it as individuals, even though the Buddha had training from other people all along the way. But we should not take from that some kind of promotion of our North American individualism because the Buddha made it very clear that the "Sanga" or the community was necessary for the cultivation of these transformative states.
So, you've got this radical de-centering, it can afford wisdom and I want to try and show you how it's not just a **"perspectable knowing"**: It's not just a radical transformation in our salience landscape. This is a participatory change. This involves not just the machinery of cognition or the machinery of consciousness. This alters the machinery of the self. And therefore is also fundamentally a transformation of character. Participatory knowing is knowing by conforming. Well the radical at-oneness of these brings about a radical kind of participatory knowing. We'll come back to this when we return and talk about Plotinus. But, it's so beautiful precisely because the coupling is so profound and - think about... - you're getting reciprocal revelation: the World is revealing itself more deeply and the depts of yourself are being revealed in a coupled fashion. Well, that's love!
Love is mutually accelerating disclosure. If you want somebody... If you want to fall in love with somebody - although you shouldn't/ you can never sort of pursue it that way, I think - but what what happens is if you get two people mutually disclosing from each other in a couple fashion: I just, I honestly disclose something about myself and then you, in response, disclose and then I pick that up and disclose more, and then you disclose... That reciprocal, enhanced, mutual conforming engenders love. And love is something you know by participating in it. Like your culture and your language. This is knowing by loving.
Now what I want to suggest to you is that some recent cognitive science research can give us some understanding about why this de-centering and this transformation of this sense of self might be functional here. There's a lot of work I would recommend to you - the work of Sui and Humphrey from 2015 for example - showing that one of the functions of your 'self' - not your mind but your 'self' - is to act as glue. This is a term they use; it's a metaphor. By making things relevant to my self, I can make them relevant to each other, and glue them together. And I'm always doing that; I'm simultaneously gluing things together as I'm gluing myself together. What the self is, is a powerful set of functions for integrating, actually complexifying processing. To say you have a self is to say you have a systematic set of functions that are integrating - not homogenizing - complexifying things together.
Now if you remember we talked about the work of Michael Anderson - exaptation. The exaptation of the tongue. Here's a proposal to you: this powerful machinery that is central to your cognitive agency, your ability to make sense of the world by gluing the world together as you're gluing yourself together... This powerful machinery of complexification, of information and information processing, can be exapted. What if you were to take all that machinery of integration that you're using to integrate your 'self', and you turned it onto the world? What if you took all of that capacity to glue things together and you exapted it on the world? That would mean that machinery that was normally self-focused about integrating the self and integrating its processing could be used to achieve a deeper integration of the world; to reveal deeper underlying patterns. Novak in 96 Claxton in 2000 both suggest, with argumentation and with phenomenological evidence, and many reports from people who undergo mystical experiences seem to corroborate this, that what seems to happen is all of the energy and machinery that has been bound up in our 'self' has been turned onto the world. That's why the world comes alive to us and we see so deeply into it.
Imagine the intimacy you have in your self-knowledge being turned on to the world! So all of that energy that's stored up in your ego-centric processing; all the time and the resource and all the "Who am I? What, what's going on? Oh how is it? Oh how is it? Well I'd rather...!?!?!" All that... ALL of that! Imagine if you could take that machine and say forget about John vaguely. Just for a while even. Turn it on... Turn all that massive machine onto the world. Radical radical de-centering, I proposed to you, is doing exactly that. All of the time and effort and processing and skill and memory and structures that we've built into our ego can be exapted to disclose the world. And that of course would be coupled with a radical sense of moving into the being mode; in a radical sense of remembering who and what we really are.
So what I've tried to show you is we can understand the higher cognitive process at the psychological level in terms of this de-centering, the exaptation of the 'self' machinery, flowing optimal grip, enhanced awareness of invariance - both in the positive sense and in the ability that allows us to pick up on systematic error. We can see why this machinery is operating and producing the experiential profile it is producing.
The information processing level. Using machine learning as an analogy to help explain.
What about at the information processing level? I don't want to get very technical here, but this is the level at which we turn to work that's being done in machine learning, artificial intelligence, where people are actually trying to make machines that make sense of the world. And what kind of strategies do they come up with for trying to get the machines to be better learners? Well one interesting thing is precisely the use of disruptive strategies. So Woodward et al, In 2014, this is a direct quote from them... They entered (I'll give you the quote in secdond) they introduce randomization into a neural network.
A neural network is a very powerful and cutting edge form of artificial intelligence that, in some important ways, mimics how brains work. And when you're training these neural - you don't program, them you train them to learn for themselves! But very often what you have to do is you have to introduce noise, entropy, randomness into these networks. In fact he goes on to say that such randomness quote "Is essential aspect, an essential aspect of the self-optimisation process". You have to back to what.... These are not people doing psychology. These are not people trying to understand higher states of consciousness! What they're trying to do is they're trying to make neural networks that learn better, that can self-optimize. And what they do, what they say is 'essential' - that's the word he used - to this is disruption. Disruptive strategies. Why? See the problem with powerful machines is they pick up on patterns and you say "Well, but John! That's good! Isn't picking up patterns good?". Well, remember all the stuff we've talked about, about when we've talked about implicit learning and picking up on only correlational patterns, not picking up on real patterns. See the problem you face is you're always sampling from the world. So here's your experience and then here's the world (draws on the board). And there's some pattern in your experience, and what you want to know is, [is] that pattern in the world or not?
Statistics and overfit
This is... We invented a whole discipline to deal with this! It's called statistics! All statistics is basically this problem. How do I know if the patterns in my sample are the same as the patterns in the world? How do I know that? So, for example, if I was in class at U of T (University of Toronto) and I, let's say it's even... a huge class: five hundred students! This is like 100! ...and I say "how many people here think that student tuition should be reduced or schools should be free?", and they all put up their hands! Should I then conclude: "Look the overwhelming majority of people think that student tuition should be reduced!". You'd say that's ridiculous. And this is what you should say because that is not a representative sample. The pattern there is all students. You need the sample to have the same patterns as the environment.
So why is that relevant to disruption? Very often what will happen with these neural networks is they will overfit to the data. They will too tightly pick up on the pattern in the sample, a pattern that does not generalize to the rest of the world. So let me give you a way of understanding this graphically. So very often we're - you've probably [been] taught this - you do a scatter plot, you point your point[s] (plots points on a graph on the board), and then you don't typically draw a line like this (squiggling through all the points) to try and capture the data! Instead what we typically do is a line of best fit which might not touch any of the data points. This is called data compression: the line of best fit. Why do we do that? We do that in science because what we're trying to find is the function that will generalize. That will go to all kinds of different contexts. That will not be true just of this sample, but will be true of the population. But what the networks do is they do this (squiggly line), they overfit to the data. They track a function that perfectly describes the sample but does not generalize to the population. Precisely because they are so powerful, they over fit!
So what do you do? Well you can throw some noise into the system. You can turn off, you can do 'drop-out', you can turn off half of the nodes. You basically disrupt the processing a lot because what the disruption does is it prevents you from over fitting to the data and it actually allows you to compress. And what does the compression do? It allows you to find the real invariants! The real patterns that will generalize across all the varying contexts.
Now, of course, you don't want to underfit! If you under-fit then you're not picking up on any patterns at all. So, notice again [that] these systems have to toggle. They have to toggle back and forth. They have to disrupt! Very analogous to Breaking frame in order so they can make a better frame and they're trying to find that sweet spot between disruptive variation and compression to detect real patterns that allows them to become good learners. So what we know is that, again, you have to have disruptive strategies set within powerful pattern detection. That's exactly what we're seeing at work, as I mentioned to you, in these people that are pursuing these higher states of consciousness. It's also again why belonging to a tradition that can afford powerful pattern detection, introduce disruption when needed and guide you to help toggle to find the sweet spot is very very important.
If you want to be really good at jamming, and you... You have to have the requisite skill. Jamming without jazz just... Sorry, jamming without skill just gives you junk, it doesn't give you Jazz. So what's going on in the brain? Notice what I'm showing you here (graph on the board). The machines are doing the compression. That compression is... that toggling of attention that you see going on in the higher state of con[sciousness]... they're open... They're disrupting and then compressing and they're trying to find the huge invariant patterns but they're trying to break frame and they're doing stuff that seems, I think plausible to say, is analogous to what we see going on at the psychological level within people.
What about at the brain level? Well this is where we have to turn to Newberg because he's done most of the work on tracking brains as people are having these kinds of experiences. And what you see is, initially, you get increased activity in the frontal area and the parietal area. These are the two areas, the frontal parietal connection, that is most associated with your general intelligence - your ability to make sense and get an optimal grip on the world because that's what your general intelligence is. So initially you see these areas get hyper active. And then you see the opposite. You see them hypo-active. So, a huge increase followed by a huge decrease. Now throughout, you have - throughout all of this, this is the frontal parietal (peak on the graph) - you have enhanced activity in the thalamus. This is the area of the brain that tries to integrate all kinds of different information together. The greater the shift. The greater the disruptive shift, the more powerful the awakening experience is. It's just like what's going on in insight. You initially bring all this machinery to bear to frame it. And then you have to massively disrupt it and break it. And then the system re-self-organizes. And that is precisely what's going on, I would suggest to you, in these experiences.
Psilocybin and the complexification. How it's affecting cognitive processes
So, what's happening in the brain, for example, in psychedelic experiences is you'll often see this kind of shift. What's important, and there's a bunch of people doing work on this: "Metastability". So what, for example, psilocybin does according to recent work done by Lauderdale is it increases meta-stability in the brain. So if you look at the work of Kelso, Tognoli and others what meta-stability is is a state in the brain that's doing this complexification I talked about.
So normally your brain is integrating things or segregating. Integrating differentiating. But in psilocybin, what you get is a state called mentastability where, and this is a state in which the brain is simultaneously integrating and segregating. It is massively complexifying. Please remember, complexification is with us when a system is both integrating and differentiating; when you went from being a zygote to being a biologically complex organism, your cells were differentiating into different types of cells: liver cells, eye cells, etc. but they were also integrating. You are complex because you're both highly integrated and highly differentiated. Complexification gives you emergent functions; it gives you new abilities. You can do things as a person, a biological human being, that you couldn't do as a zygote, precisely because you're complex. Look, emergent functions [**come to attack??], because I'm highly differentiated I can do many different things, but because I'm highly integrated I don't fall apart as a system by doing these many different things. I get new emergent abilities. The way you grow and self-transcend as a system is by complexifying. Psilocybin, by putting you into metastability, helps your brain complexify and come up with emergent abilities. It allows you to "see the world (massive integration) in a grain of sand (assive differentiation).
So I think what we can see here is at least a highly plausible - and I'll come back to what I mean by that in just a minute - account at the psychological level, at the machine processing level and at the brain level of what is going on in these higher states of consciousness and why they are so powerfully optimizing your cognitive functionality. Once again, not to repeat this, but that of course has to be placed within the proper "sapiential" context. You need a tradition and institutions, a committed community of cultivating wisdom.
What about the prescriptive argument?
Now what about the prescriptive argument? I've laid a lot of the groundwork for this. Why should we listen to people who have been in this state? Why should this state serve as the justification for a transformation of your life? If someone comes up to you and says I want to transform you... I want you to transform your life according to X Y and Z, you need that claim justified! Not just described and explained, you need it justify! What would make it a good thing to do? Are these states actually good guides for transformation? Well, in order to do that I need to introduce a notion to you first. We're going to come back to this notion again when we talk about the nature of cognitive science. Although I've been exemplifying a lot of cognitive science to you throughout these previous videos. This is the notion of plausibility.
The notion of plausibility
We need to talk about this because plausibility is central to your notion of how real things are. Now there's two senses of the word plausible. One is a synonym for highly probable. That's not the sense I'm using. I'm using it in the sense that Reicher and others made famous where this means "makes good sense"/ "stands to reason" / "should be taken seriously". Most of the time - and I'll make this point in detail in a few minutes - you can not base your actions on certainty, but you have to rely on plausibility. Now there's a lot of work on plausibility, and I'm just going to try to sketch to you what I think, with work I'm doing with Leo Ferraro and Anderson Todd, about trying to integrate work by Lombardi and Nashman and Sinatra from 2015, Kyle/Cobb/Carl 2006, Milgram 1997, Kitcher, Wrestler... Reicher I should say... There's just a lot of different work going into this.
Here's what I think it is to make something plausible. First of all it involves what Reicher calls trustworthiness. I think there is an important way in which trustworthiness comes about. You can see this in some of the work that ***Kyle/Cobb/Carl*** has done on explanations we prefer. We regard a particular proposal or a construct or some way of trying to model the world as trustworthy if it's been produced by many independent but converging lines of evidence. Let me give you a clear, concrete example. You will regard as more real information that comes through multiple senses as opposed to one sense. If I'm only seeing something, There's a good chance That it's an illusion or a delusion caused by the subjectivity of my seeing. But if I can see it and touch it and hear it And smell it, Then the chances that each one of those independent senses producing an illusion is radically diminished. The fact that they all are telling me the same thing, now that doesn't give me certainty, but it gives me trustworthiness.
It reduces the probability - that's what trustworthiness is - it reduces the probability that I am self-deceived. Now that's not the same thing as certainty because, unfortunately for example, there is a form of schizophrenia in which people not only hear voices but they see people attached to those voices and when they reach out to touch the person they get a tactile illusion. And it's very hard to convince those people that their illusions aren't real precisely because this is highly trustworthy. This is why science likes numbers. We like numbers because they allow us to converge the senses.
Look, you can see three (writes III on the board), you can touch three - one, two, three - you can hear three (claps 3 times). We like numbers not because we're fascists or something in science. We like numbers because numbers (quantification) help us to increase the trustworthiness of our information gathering. They allow us to reduce the chance that what we're getting, what we're measuring, what we're modeling, is being produced by self-deception.
Is that enough for plausibility? I don't think so. So we're converging to some processing state here, but we also want something to be the case because we're not just looking backwards into how we got there. We're also looking forward [to] what we can do with it. What we want is we want a model that we can now apply to many new domains. That will open up the world for us. That's multi-apt. This is like, again, taking a martial arts [stance]... I don't use "this" (fighting stance) but I'm taking this stance because I can quickly adapt it to many different situations: it's multi-apt, it's highly functional. So, why do I want this: when I can use the same model in many different places? This is, I would argue, what people mean when they say a theory or a model is elegant. You can use the same model. It's adaptive enough, it's multi app that you can use it in many different places and apply it. So you have convergence for trustworthiness, but you have elegance for power: for multi-aptness. For multi-apt application.
Is that enough? No! I think this state has to be highly fluent to you. Remember we talked about this. This has to be one that you can use readily. Powerfully for yourself that you can internalize. When you have this: when you have fluency, convergence, elegance, you need one more thing: you need a balance between the convergence and the elegance. If I have a lot of convergence. Without much elegance that's triviality. Or trivial statements is not that they're false they're true but they're not powerful. They don't transform. Many times we reject things we don't take them seriously. They don't make good sense to us.
Is that enough? No! I think this state has to be highly fluent to you - remember we talked about this - this has to be one that yuo can use readily, powerfully for yourself, that you can internalize. When you have this: when you have fluency, convergence, elegance, you need one more thing: you need a balance between the convergence and the elegance. If I have a lot of convergence without much elegance, that's triviality. The thing about trivial statements is not that they're false, they're true! But they're not powerful. They don't transform! Many times we reject things, we don't take them seriously, they don't make good sense to us, precisely because they're trivial.
What's the opposite? Very little convergence with a lot of promise of power. This is when things are far fetched. Conspiracy theories have this feature. If they were true they would explain so much. If we would just accept that the British Royal Family were lizard beings from outer space we could explain so much of their behaviour. But the problem is, although that would be a very powerful explanation, we have very little trustworthy evidence that that is in fact the case.
Finding the profound in the deep depths of this model
So what we want is, we want that - as Milgram says - our backward commitments, and our forward commitments... we only commit powerfully forward if we've got a lot of trust in the model that we've produced. When all of this is in place, I think we find what we're processing not only fluent, we find it highly plausible. When we have very deep convergence and very deep elegance and very efficient fluency, I think we then find the proposal profound.
So, you're saying "why are you going on about this?". Because what I'm trying to show you is what the brain is doing is a... that [it] is performing a kind of evaluation of the plausibility of its processing, when it's in a higher state of consciousness. See this model (drawn on the board so far)? What did we see? What did we see... We saw lots of things going into the higher state of consciousness. (Draws a further, updated model on the board) We saw de-automatization. We saw de-centering. All of these things are strategies for reducing bias. Reducing bias. These are all strategies for reducing bias: de-automatization, de-centering, fluency and processing. The state that you're in is a state of flowing optimal grip. It's intrinsically valued. It's optimizing for processing.
And what's this affording? ...this state? Well you're finding a nexus for development. You're finding that systematic error. You're getting that complexification of your processing. You're getting emergent new functions. You're getting the exaptation of machinery - the insight machinery and the 'self'-machinery - into new abilities.
Do you see what I'm arguing? Your brain is in a state in which it's getting information that's saying this processing is deeply trustworthy (on the left), deeply powerful (on the right), deeply fluent (in the middle), therefore profoundly plausible. Plausibility is not certainty. But plausibility is what we have to rely on.
Science gives us self-correcting plausibility. Plausibility is indispensable.
What do I mean by that? You can't get certainty for almost all of your processing. You have to rely on plausibility. All the time! [But] we say "but I can turn to science! Science will give me certainty." First of all pay attention to the history of science! When is it ever done that? Almost all of the theories that have been proposed in science have all ultimately turned out to be false in some significant or an important way. Science isn't believed in because it gives us certainty or facts. Science is believed in because it gives us self-correcting plausibility. Look... This is... What...? How do I decide what hypothesis to test? I don't test any hypothesis I come up with. I wonder if clipping my toenails will reduce famine in the Sahara? Let's test it out! I wonder if I gather enough frogs together, can I influence the Australian election? Let's test it out! Do you know how many hyp[othesies]....? And you say to me "that's..." What? "...Ridiculous. That's absurd!" What you're saying to me is those hypotheses don't make sense. They don't deserve to be taken seriously. What you're saying to me is "I reject them because they're implausible".
Now I go into my experiment... I'm going to run an experiment in science. What do I have to do? I have to control for alternative explanations. What we're always doing in science is inference to the best explanation. This goes to the work of Peter Lipton and others. Here's some phenomena... What I do is I I have some candidate explanations for what's causing the phenomenon. And then what I do is I put them into competition with each other. Which one of my hypotheses best explains it? And the one that best explains it is chosen as what's "real".
But "this" (on the board - all the 'explanations'), how do you make... How would you make this certain? The way you would make this deductibly certain is you would have to check all possible explanations. How many possible explanations are there? An infinite number. You can't ever make science certain because you're always doing this. This explanation is only as good as the competition it beats. In science, you advance by coming up with plausible alternative explanations that you beat with yours.
Science depends on plausibility judgments. It depends on plausibility judgments when we choose our hypothesis. It depends on plausibility judgments when we choose what variables we're going to control for in experiments. It depends on plausibility judgments once we're done and we have the data and we have to interpret it. What are the number of interpretations I can give for any data? Infinite in number! What do I do? I generate the most plausible interpretation. Before the experiment, during the experiment and after the experiment I'm relying on plausibility. Plausibility is indispensable. That's why your brain looks for it.
A summary of all of these elements
So, notice what we've got: this higher state of consciousness is an optimization of your processing. It brings about a state of high plausibility and it's relying on processes that are fundamental, because optimization has priority. I have to get my optimal grip before I can judge what it is. I have to zero in on the relevant information and have the right formulation of my problem before I can try and answer it. These higher states of consciousness - notice what I'm saying to you there - they have indispensability because they run in terms of your plausibility machinery. They are optimal in terms of getting the best possible functioning for you.
They are prior, because they are fundamental to any and all of your cognitive processing. Getting this optimal grip, toggling between tradeoffs, getting the best relationship between generalizing and discriminating. All of these have priority. These are why these states are such good guides. Again, if they're set within a set of sapiential practices, set within a sapiential tradition.
Now, what... What I'm saying is, these higher states of consciousness are great guides on how to transform yourself. How to cultivate wisdom. How to see through self-deception. But, sometimes people come back from these states and they make pronouncements about the nature of the world. Sometimes these are bizarre! People will come back from DMT (???) and tell them that hyperspace elves have told them that they should remain and forever inside their head or some bizarre stuff.
Here's the thing you should know about the propositions that people generate from this: [They] are largely useless! You can read these reports. People will have these higher states of consciousness and one group of people will come out and say "I know there is a god". Other people have these experiences and they come out and they're they're filled with joy they say "I know there is no God"! Diametrically opposite! Because this isn't about propositional knowing, this is about participatory transformation. This isn't about getting secret metaphysical knowledge. This is about getting wise practices, wise transformations.
Ultimately what we need to do is to take the wisdom from these higher states of consciousness and get it into rational discourse with an independently established - via our best science - metaphysics: the best science and philosophy. When we can put those two together, then we will have properly salvaged what these higher states of consciousness can afford for us. Do not confuse the rationality of wisdom with the rationality of knowledge.
So next time what I want to do is, now that we've got a preliminary account of what these higher states of consciousness, what these awakening, what the awakening of the Buddha might have been plausibly like, we can return to "what did he propose" specifically, thereby finishing off the axial revolution. Our discussion, I should say, of the Axial Revolution in India. And then we will return back to the Mediterranean world and look at what was happening there after Aristotle. Thank you very much for your time.
Episode 12 notes
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Anagoge, sometimes spelled anagogy, is a Greek word suggesting a "climb" or "ascent" upwards. The anagogical is a method of mystical or spiritual interpretation of statements or events, especially scriptural exegesis, that detects allusions to the afterlife.
The Buddhist term translated into English as "mindfulness" originates in the Pali term sati and in its Sanskrit counterpart smṛti. ... The term sati also means "to remember". In the Satipațțhāna-sutta the term sati means to maintain awareness of reality, whereby the true nature of phenomena can be seen.
The Berlin Wisdom Paradigm
The Berlin wisdom paradigm outlines a family of 5 criteria that define wisdom.
Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre was a French philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism and phenomenology, and one of the leading figures in 20th-century French philosophy and Marxism
Plotinus was a major Hellenistic philosopher who lived in Roman Egypt. In his philosophy, described in the Enneads, there are three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas, who was of the Platonic tradition.
Guy Claxton is Visiting Professor in Psychology and Education, and Director of the Research Programme on Culture and Learning in Organizations (CLIO), at the University of Bristol. He is the author of thirteen published books, including Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind.
J. A. Scott Kelso
J. A. Scott Kelso is a neuroscientist, and Professor of Complex Systems and Brain Sciences, Professor of Psychology, Biological Sciences and Biomedical Science at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida and The University of Ulster in Derry, N. Ireland
Research Professor - Complex Systems and Brain Sciences, Florida Atlantic University. Verified email at ccs.fau.edu
Stanley Milgram was an American social psychologist, best known for his controversial experiment on obedience conducted in the 1960s during his professorship at Yale. Milgram was influenced by the events of the Holocaust, especially the trial of Adolf Eichmann, in developing his experiments.
Philip Stuart Kitcher
Philip Stuart Kitcher is a British philosophy professor teaching at Columbia University who specialises in the philosophy of science, the philosophy of biology, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of literature, and, more recently, pragmatism.
Peter Lipton was the Hans Rausing Professor and Head of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University, and a fellow of King's College, until his unexpected death in November 2007.
Other helpful resources about this episode:
Notes on Bevry
Summary and Transcript on awakeningfromthemeaningcrisis.com