Friday, January 30, 2015

First and Third Person Religion. Or: Compassion and Hate


Hello S.,
        You supposed that many people here probably were not religious. In my opinion, once human beings start to think there is no way not to be religious. Religion deals with questions of existence, which can be asked as thinking develops.  Let us assume, for a moment, I define myself as not religious. Let us also assume, in opposition to religion I define myself as scientific empiricist. As such, I cut experienced phenomena in parts and assign names to them. Then I combine, cut and combine again. As long as my combinations follow the rules of logic, I add to them. If they do no longer fit, I tear them down and reassemble them in a different way. Empirically, I can only handle observed phenomena. Observations do not answer questions of existence. So as an empiricist, I follow Popperian falsification as a method to satisfy my thirst for truth. What has been falsified is false; everything else has a vague chance to remain true. This definition is an explanatory principle. It simply means that scientifically I will not be able to come any closer to existence than observing, modelling and falsifying. As I know I cannot do any better, I may leave it at that. My tormented mind is appeased as I know that's how far I will ever be able to reach out. It is obvious that the boundary drawn around things, which this ontology builds upon, takes up infinitely small space the more I magnify. At the same time, existence itself takes up the infinitely large space in between. So in terms of existence, this method ultimately explains nothing, but only defines how to handle nothingness.
       Science appears to go well with book religions or thoughts of creation. Science is third person perspective. Approaching the question of existence, one simply remains in third person, externalizing the cosmic principle and producing a third person God as supreme principle of existence that creates. Or one calls them natural laws that produce a big bang. Then, one can argue about whether God is or caused the Big Bang, until that question becomes irrelevant and peace of mind is back or both parties are dead.
        Now let us assume I'm a Yogi. So I don't apply external but internal empiricism. I observe on the inside, name phenomena, like sensation, form, thought, mind, and integrate. I observe again, and integrate. In the end, I will end up with some perceptional model. With this attempt, one also cannot reach beyond observation. With the awareness that everything is observation and existence appears to manifest as observation (consciousness), nothing is left to achieve. There is no further insight available. Again, an explanatory principle remedies the situation. One can assume this most integrated first person perspective and leave it at that, with the mind appeased. Or one may call it God-perception, or Buddha-mind, self-as-context, or whatever. In the process, a first person supreme principle is created that cannot take any further step of integration.
        Both need to leave the existential question unanswered. Upon noticing this fact, the first illogical argument one can possibly start is asking which of the journeys will lead to peace of mind more quickly. Both have been used as a justification for violent behavior, because this question of appropriateness has been argued. However, violence is a matter of ethics, not existence. Not separating questions of existence from questions of ethics, people become violent about violence.
        Becoming trigger-happy in psychology and applying self-discrepancy theory, one could argue that the internal way is one of ideals and the external is one of norms (Higgins, 1997). Therefore, comparing own behavior with external norms, third person religions operate in concepts of guilt, fear and anxiety. Approaching a third person god happens as a relief of norm discrepancy, preventing failure to comply. They are full of ritual, because norms define behavior. There is equanimity, in the best case, if compliance is attained. If nothing changes, things appear to be in order. Change means a need to adjust, which causes discrepancies for the followers. Therefore, religions with third person Gods may attempt to delay change as long as possible, and define themselves in terms of status (quo). This view also promotes conservatism. First person religions, on the other hand, compare own behavior with one’s ideals. They operate between equanimity and joy. Their vocabulary is one of compassion, as fear in this ontology is something that has to be left behind to approach the eternal principle. Relieving the discrepancies of this path leads away from anxiety. Change is the only constant in these ontologies, so everything is defined in doing, not being. Status means being trapped, hardening out where the natural flow of things must go on. Not to be caught in this trap, change has to be embraced no matter in what form it reveals itself.
        There is one hypothesis that I dare to formulate. Third person religions, in their anxious attempt at compliance, tend to declare everything that is noncompliant as their foe. Similarly, science declares anything that does not follow empiricism and logic invalid. Compliance, taken to the extreme, will try eradicate everything that is outside of its system in a logic fallacy of including external people as noncompliant members. Outside phenomena are really irrelevant for religious systems, and their attitude toward them should be indifferent. This fallacy has a higher chance for violence than its first person counterpart. Pursuing first person Gods comes along with the insight that the inside is easier to change than the outside. Thus, Yogis or Buddhists usually develop compassion to people who do not follow their system, suggesting that they are chasing third person ghosts. However, there is no reason to annihilate them. On the contrary, outsiders, strangers, foreigners, differents are the best practice on the path one can get. In any practice, no matter what perspective is taken. 

References


Higgins, E. T. (1997). Beyond pleasure and pain. American Psychologist 52(12), 1280-1300.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Cognitive Hierarchy of Wholes. Or: Yoga's Perceptional Model in Terms of Modern Psychology.

The biopsychosocial model, as proposed by George Engel, models trajectories of biological and social wholes. Biologically, the causal chain contains molecule, organelle, cell, tissue, organ (system), nerves (system) and person. Socially, this person participates in two-person interacts, family, community, culture, society and biosphere. However, the psychological axis of the person is reduced to “experience and behavior”. This article expands on the biopsychosocial model in the psychological dimension. It demonstrates levels of cognitive closure, comparing E. Tory Higgins’ theories that build upon each other. Drawing from a model of perception it develops a cognitive chain of subsequent wholes and shows how it can be used to fit psychological conditions with contemporary therapies, concluding with its soteriological limits.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Cognitive Integral

As this article is too long and probably also too theoretical to be posted as a graded paper, I may as well publish it here, so I may later on refer to the idea. Have fun. -- JDS

The Cognitive Integral

The biopsychosocial model as proposed by George Engel models trajectories of biological and social wholes. Biologically, the causal chain contains molecule, organelle, cell, tissue, organ (system), nerves (system) and person. Socially, this person participates in two-person interacts, family, community, culture, society and biosphere. However, the psychological axis of the person is reduced to “experience and behavior”. I suggest that there is a causal chain along the psychological trajectory missing that is independent of the other two. To demonstrate this, the evolution of E. Tory Higgins’ Theories shall be investigated. (Engel, 1980, p. 537)

Beyond Regulatory Fit
First, there is Self-Discrepancy Theory. If ones own behavior does not match one's ideals, then there is depression. If it does not match one's oughts, there is anxiety. (Higgins, 1987)
Second, there is Regulatory Focus Theory. One either has a tendency to promote goals (the ideal axis), with joy in the success case, and depression in case of stand-still. Or one has a tendency to prevent failure (the ought axis), with a comfortable feeling in the positive case, and anxiety if one closes in to undesired states. (Higgins, 1997)
Third, there is Regulatory Fit. People are supposed to feel better about actions and decisions that match their regulatory focus. So if a person is in goal oriented promotion focus and an idea is presented in promotional terms, that person is said to spend more effort and feel better about choosing that alternative. The same applies to prevention focus. (Higgins, 2000)

Therefrom, a couple of questions arise:
  • What if one does not feel better about a decision, but feels better about feeling better in a decisional situation, i.e. one feels good about the regulatory fit that one is aware of?
  • What if one feels bad about feeling better in a decisional situation, i.e. is aware of the decision (a rational situation) and about how one is feeling (an emotional state), but deliberately wants to separate the two, no matter whether there is regulatory fit or not?
  • What if in one instance one likes to conform to one’s regulatory fit, and in other instances takes care to stay equanimous?
Maybe in one situation, where one feels good about a decision that is presented according to one’s regulatory focus, one will stop and suddenly feel bad about feeling good. One caught oneself exhibiting an emotional response in a rational situation and wants to eliminate the bias, voluntarily countering the associated emotion. Grown-ups are expected to be able to do this. Or if I for some reason am in an avoiding mood, and somebody presents me ideas of racial bias, I will suddenly feel bad about my avoiding bias and counter it with a wave of empathy. These alternatives are common behavior. The first case exhibits common sense for anybody who does not constantly want to be fooled by merchandise marketing. The second case is necessary to create even minimally worth-while societies. People who cannot exhibit that behavior may be considered ethically questionable.

Cognitive Differential
The connecting element between the above steps, their transition, in all cases is done by the same. The prior dichotomy becomes an object of observation in a cognitive transformation. First, behavior/idea discrepancies produce feeling. Then, promotion-prevention biased feeling produces feeling. Then discrepancies between promotion-prevention biased feeling and experienced feeling produces feeling. In all these examples the production of feeling stems from cognitive judgment of the perceived discrepancy. Cognition in the process advances from idea and behavior (that produces emotion) to the more integrated view of emotions themselves.
As these dichotomies span a potential of behavioral tendencies, one may illustrate this principle by producing the cognitive differential:


E' = dE / dc

Here, a new experiential state E’ emerges from a prior state E once its dynamics have been transcended by the razor blade of intelligence turned upon c (cognition). In this process, the dichotomy itself, not its contents, becomes an object of observation. This differential is likely the most intrinsic function of human intelligence. The elements of E’ are new knowledge, new perspectives. With new differentiations, also new integrals become available in the chain of construction: new wholes that have been created by the re-entrant process of cognition. Thus an integral represents the now, after differentiation of phenomena has been performed, and the form of their differentiation has been comprehended. The elements of E at this point become irrelevant with regard to context E’. They can be seen as underlying constituents of a dynamic when concentrating on them, but they are not part of E’s directly experienced phenomena. Transitioning from one experiential state to another thus is a discrete step, not a continuous function.
These experiential states can be seen as produced by cognitive closure, the re-entrant cognitive process. Thus, because of the causal forward-loop within experiential states, self-similar, but also periodic and chaotic phenomena may arise.

The Conscious Hierarchy
Reviewing the ancient Samkhya model of perception, we can get a decent picture of what meditators observed as mental phenomena upon introspection. Starting from the senses, with the operation of cognitive closure described above, we can draft a psychological (experiential) hierarchy of conscious emergence:
  1. There is sensation (in eye, nose, ear, tongue, body)
  2. Form arises as sensation of sensation (shape, smell, sound, taste, touch, internal tone).
  3. Idea (thought) arises as form of form (items, scent, tone, food, affect).
  4. Mind arises as idea of ideas.
  5. Identity arises as mind of mind.
  6. Person arises as identity of identity.
  7. Actors arise as persons of persons.
  8. Observers arise as person of person.
  9. Buddhas arise as observers of observers.
Following Vygotsky’s developmental approach, each transition comes with a shift in experiential gravity, which changes the way we perceive the world and in turn produces a profound progression in epistemology. (Vygotsky, 1978, pp. 28-36)
External stimuli are always brought by sensation, the biological cause on which conscious experience can arise from. Each epistemology within this causal chain of construction displays a different way of reacting to sensational stimuli. Within few cognitive differentials from sensation, conscious beings react associatively. The higher order one’s current cognitive closure, the less one is driven to react but may rest centered. So, cognitive integrals characterize cognitive contents that have been made comprehensible by prior cognitive differentiation. Cognitive differentiation produces states that are “mindful” of their prior cognitive contents. This cognitive integral is also called consciousness. Mindfulness meditation aims at this cognitive integration by first becoming an observer and subsequently observing observation. Concentration aims at the opposite, i.e. to absorb conscious awareness into one particular phenomenon that may reside on any level.
For Buddhas, every other suitable explanatory, transcendental principle, or God may be substituted. At this stage, further integration is not known to be achievable for human beings. It is the highest integrated state known and produced by the subtlest differentiation of cognitive phenomena. Beyond, there can only be myth.





References

Engel, G. L. (1980). The clinical application of the biopsychosocial model. American Journal of Psychiatry 137(5), 535-544

Higgins, E. T. (1987). Self-discrepancy: A theory relating self and affect. Psychological Review 94(3), 319-340.

Higgins, E. T. (1997). Beyond pleasure and pain. American Psychologist 52(12), 1280-1300.

Higgins, E. T. (2000). Making a good decision: Value from fit. American Psychologist, 55(11), 1217-1230.


Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Rooms of Consciousness

Here is a first attempt at a paper on clarifying the mind-body problem. It was never turned in and I've completely rewritten it as the chosen path was too figurative. As the metaphor I developed helped a lot sorting my thoughts, I'm happy to share.

Here is a shortened abstract:

It appears that science shares a common problem with talking about meditation: The fallacy of trying to recreate observation from that which is observed can be re-entered on every level of understanding, however progressed our understanding may be. The argument about dichotomies of ideas in psychology has been going on since the rise of the discipline. The progress of this mind-body debate is fundamental to human cognition.
 Taking Thomas Kuhn personally, I will illustrate this problem by painting a room of consciousness analyzing different aspects of this argument to show that scientific research and logic alone will not be able to advance us to an integrated view of the mind-body problem. Without a thorough understanding of the contemporary, scientific consensus on consciousness, mind and body we lack a satisfying foundation for scientific studies.


Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The Form of Unmanagement

Towards a Definition of Unmanagement

In the Sutra of Unmanagement I elaborated on what management is not. The fictitious dialogue between manager Wen Bo and the old sage Lao Tse by deductive argument debunks common myths that management is widely constructed upon. The sutra leaves the reader with the somewhat puzzled view that management is not control, not motivation, not planning, not organizing, and is not leadership

        Using the Spencer-Brownian mark of distinction one can formalize the message as follows:

        The mark of distinction separates constructions from their environment, i.e. creates them from the void by distinction, in the above case as mere explanatory principles for the term management. The denoted term is written below the mark, with the empty space across denoting the infinite rest. Strictly following Spencer-Brownian conventions, the mark symbolizes and is read as not, the equal sign as can be confused with. Thus, the above line reads:
"Management can be confused with not control, not motivation, not planning, not organizing or not leadership."

        This exactly paraphrases the content of the sutra. To elaborate, another distinction between management and unmanagement has to be made. Unmanagement is created in relation to management as "not what management can be confused with":

        Substituting management in the above formula one obtains a definition of unmanagement:


        Not control, not motivation, not planning, not organizing and not leadership are the contents of management. As unmanagement is beyond the realm of management, it does not share a common border with management's contents. Thus there cannot be a content relationship between unmanagement and the content of what management is not. Control and the related principles are rather extent of unmanagement. Unmanagement knows and elaborates on these principles as imaginary, virtual contents, but neither are they constituents of unmanagement nor does unmanagement contain them. Additional principles may be added as they appear.

        Instead, to get things done, unmanagement focuses on everything that management can not be confused with.



Monday, January 05, 2015

Forms of Culture

The mind-brain debate by some is extended to a consciousness-mind-brain debate, where the brain can be seen as the biology upon which the mind emerges, and the holistic functioning of the mind gives way to a whole called consciousness. An analog chain of construction could be made in the social, as a culture - society - individual trichotomy. Individuals are the participants on which society emerges, and the holistic functioning of societies creates wholes called culture. 
This reentrant construction of culture could be depicted using Spencer-Brownian Laws of Form:

New wholes of the individual are invented by identification; deconstruction of the known results in new wholes of an individuum. New wholes of society are created by interaction; deconstruction of status quo results in new games. New wholes of culture are created by belonging; deconstruction of the modus vivendi results in rituals. Thus individual, society and culture have their own as well as shared histories.
This trichotomy can similarly be constructed for consciousness:


New wholes of the brain are constructed by sensing and motion; deconstruction of perception results in new forms and actions. New wholes of the mind are construted by combination and repetition; deconstruction of thoughts results in knowledge and skill. New wholes of consciousness emerge from attending; deconstruction of attention results in awareness and volition. 
Culture and consciousness thus have their own developmental trajectories. This model has interesting implications when thinking about societies and culture. I'll attempt a quick discussion.
One, particular groups may never cause "cultural collapses" as is sometimes argued by conservative members, unless they obtain the power to break the society as a whole. Similarly, the causal contribution of elites is questionable. 
Two, a substantial degree of stability ("normal interaction") is necessary for culture to be constructed upon society, or the only remedy is a meta-culture of change (cf. Thomas Kuhn's concept of "normal science").
Three, advances in cultural paradigms will not happen linear, but in stages ("extraordinary ritual" similar to "extraordinary science"), when known rituals repeatedly lead to conflicts of belonging. 
Four, if holistic functioning of society is not achieved, and thus new culture cannot emerge, the system must continuously grow (refine itself) to be stable, and it will oscillate in games of opposing positions once it hits saturation (cf. the dynamics of the Logistic Map).
Many of our societies are or have been entering states of saturation that produce these oscillations. At the same time, globalization rapidly changes societies' compositions pointing towards a culture of change to replace traditional cultures. Wars have often reset the counter in oscillating societies, establishing a new phase of growth. This cut defers real resolutions that transcend to a new, integrated whole, but instead just starts the current game over. Holistic integration without the possibility to destruct the system required for real progress, but also without hierarchical or central control over society. The latter was a big mistake in socialism, actually reducing it to its parts, and increasingly is a problem in capitalism driven republic democracies, reducing them to their oligopolistic subsystems.


Thursday, January 01, 2015

Does Meditation Mean to Go Back to Be a Child?

Sometimes in terms of meditation, or non-attachment, the metaphor is used that one should remember looking at things like a child. People may mistakenly deduct, that the process of meditation tries to reverse thinking. This assumption is grounded in false, mechanistic thinking.

When thinking in mechanical terms, processes need to be reversible. Henri Poincare emphasised this point hi his 1893 treatise on mechanism and experience. However, what we experience as mind does not follow mechanistic premises. The mind is a series of constructions upon our experience that are not reversible. Thus the solution can not be to destruct the mind in a Hegelian fashion, but in Derrida's terms, it has to be deconstructed, to transcend it.

So meditation can be framed as a process of deconstructing the mind so that from its observation an integral perspective can emerge. This integral perspective is no longer bound by many of the phenomena that it brackets and enables child-like vision. While the playful attitude of a child is necessary to make new constructions, all that have already been made from experience remain intact and accessible. More so, one would not be able to transcend the mind without having made these experience in the first place. So although thinking is a human trait that comes with many side effects, including negativity, it also paves the way to transcend itself.