Monday, February 02, 2015
"great faith, great doubt, and great determination"
during zazen, you have plenty of reasons to stop. your knees hurt, sitting might even be damaging them. sitting is making your anxiety worse. you could be using the time for something productive. you're doing the wrong thing with your mind and it's creating bad habits. you realized that the philosophy and practice were designed for japanese people and don't make sense for you. you had an important insight about yourself that's going to really help in your life, and you need to think about it, write it down, not forget about it.
this is like the demon mara trying to distract the buddha with his sexy daughters. mara says, "What can you do by struggling now? The path of struggling is too rough and difficult and hard to bear."
parts of your mind say you should quit, because you don't have a path to your goal. this is frustration. when it's really strong, hopelessness or despair.
but with a broader goal, you stay determined and keep sitting. two ideas:
1) this sounds like a function of the dorsal ACC. (it must also be related to, in a xiao-jing wang-esque sense, how neuronal ensembles with long time scales are important for higher and more human cognitive function. and maybe to decoupling gilbert's "nexting" from "imagination".)
the system including dACC feels like it's still making progress toward goal, because it has this meta-stable long-term goal/belief representation.
2) so far, this could apply to anything you stay determined to because you have a broader goal. maybe you persevere with studying because you want a degree, or persevere with running because you want to be fit.
but something about zazen could be that any of these goals themselves ultimately end in frustration when they're faced with their own partiality. if you keep sitting through everything, it can't be put down to a particular broader goal. it could be continually relaxing into broader and broader goals, like poetry. in the brain, maybe this is training dACC in a context-free way - just training the essence of perseverance itself, free from any particular content.
i guess this is like passionate equanimity again. the "passionate" is being absolutely determined, and the "equanimity" is the willingness to allow any formal content to be part of the process.
Sunday, February 01, 2015
kinda related to the last one, this is probably a well-worn point by now, but just to remember that "hierarchy" is not that great of a metaphor, it's probably more like heterarchical "message passing" (john holland), where a given structure can be re-used for processing data at different "levels of abstraction". complementing the idea of scale-invariance; like you maybe could use the same circuitry to find "edges" in retinal pixels or in abstract concepts.
i said before that we can get stuck in a situation where we aren't making progress. i was saying that awareness of this situation allows the energy basins to get washed out by other dynamics.
taking my limited understanding of predictive coding ideas, maybe another part of this could be relaxing precision on "top-down" beliefs.
gilbert says experience is like a vast necker cube with almost unlimited different interpretations - a nasty inverse problem with maybe no real ground truth in some ways.
does having a stronger "top-down" influence -- i.e., asserting an interpretation for this necker cube -- make it easier to get stuck? does it create less-escapable energy basins in the overall space?
with zen, the idea of being "present" or "in the moment" could conceivably be linked to relaxing the precision on these "top-down" beliefs. i suppose this would raise the effective dimensionality of the overall problem, right? without the shrinkage priors, there are a lot more effective degrees of freedom in the overall system. this makes the problem much much harder to "solve" (if that's meaningful), but maybe it also creates more saddle-points in the energy landscape - and makes it easier to re-organize interpretations.
(PS - the therapeutic effects of hallucinogens, ECT, and maybe even standard antidepressants, could be linked to similar effects maybe. it also sounds parallel to norepinephrine (high phasic NE, or low tonic NE) signalling uncertainty and maybe encouraging a re-organization of "higher level" beliefs -- switching models or tasks, or maybe allowing a new level to emerge in the hierarchy by signalling that the extra model complexity is justified.)
so in zen if you keep bringing attention back to sensory inputs, you facilitate this re-organization... but, i feel like there's still a crucial piece missing here. in what i've said so far, reducing the top-down influence could be sort of like raising the temperature of the system - escaping from local minima, but with no particular reason to believe you'd find better solutions. if you subtract what you "know" at the higher levels, you're back to the very hard original inverse problem of your massive-dimensional sensory input. this is why i feel like this view is incomplete and needs something like clark's model. because when you relax your self, there's something like an external gradient that shapes the system toward real improvement. what is that neuroscientifically? i feel like this needs a pretty serious re-organization of my own thinking to get a grip on. but maybe it has something to do with erasing the barrier between form and content. letting the structure of the system be the computation itself. *possibly* this might reveal a flaw in the idea of recreating life in a computer.