Ep. 13 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis: Buddhism and Parasitic Processing

Discussion for Episode 13 of John Vervaeke’s Awakening from the Meaning Crisis

Here are my notes:

Vervaeke Episode 13: Buddhism and Parasitic Processing

  • Last time:
    * Finished cognitive scientific exploration higher states of conscious
    * Psychologically accurate description of higher states of conscious
    * State of consciousness where getting flow state improving optimal grip, optimizing our performance for making sense of things and enhancing our overall capacity for learning.
    * Justification for these states being guidance for transformation of life. Give brain state that is highly optimized, giving sense of plausible grip on the world. Foundational for us.
    * While doesn’t give good theories/propositional claims, these states do justify their claim to give us guidance. Rational in sense of wisdom.

3:00: Buddha

  • Buddha awakens, fundamental transformation in how understands the world, and himself
  • Deep remembering (sati) seeing through the modal confusion
  • Remember being mode, and transcend systematic illusion, also see the pronouncements he made through this state.
  • West often misunderstood Buddha
  • Stephen Bachelor: recommend his works
    * Buddhism without Beliefs, After Buddhism
    * Argues we face interpretation crisis when trying to understand Buddhism.
    * Suggests must interpret Buddhism from within a tradition. Not about altering belief, it’s about:
    * Transformation
    * Participatory knowing
    * Fundamentally altering agent/arena relationship and existential modes
    * So need to be within a practice. Understood from within.
    * Problem is that’s myopic. Many buddhist traditions. To claim that that particular interpretation is sole pathway to interpreting buddhism narrow minded. Subjective and biased
    * Alternative : outside any tradition such as academic study of Buddhism
    * But often don’t engage in practices. Lose objectivity if get too close.
    * Objective account.
    * Similar to problem that Socrates faced:
    * Transformative relevance.
    * Attempt to get at the truth.
    * Buddhism is about both of these: Trying to find transformatively relevant truths.
    * 10:00: How?
    * Interacting with the meaning crisis in society.
    * Break out of all of this
    * Tries to see where each fixated: argues this will become myopic if becomes fixated on particular propositions - fixated on beliefs.

( Interesting parallel to the discussions going on twitter between Atheists and Theists. Often really focussed on beliefs but not as much focussed on the role that religion plays. That it DOES something to people that goes beyond their mere beliefs.)

            * Buddhism without beliefs: fixed on trying to understand Buddhism as a set of beliefs. Gotten so used to this way of thinking, that these axial legacy traditions are to be understood as creeds, as systems of belief
            * Ideologies are attempts to create meaning but fail for deep reason because meaning making machinery not occurring at level of propositional knowledge, beliefs
            * proposes: **need to look at buddhism existentially**
            * **Beyond belief** : transforming states of consciousness, transforming self
            * 4 noble truths understand as things that can help afford kind of transformations talked about - reenact the buddha’s enlightenment.
            * Should call them the **4 Ennobling Truths** , Vervake says call them the 4 **Ennobling provocations: trying to provoke such change**

4 Noble Truths/Provocations: 16:15

  • Standard Way:
    * All of life is suffering :
    * technically false
    * Suffering is comparative term.
    * more: All is threatened by. Not a metaphysical interpretation
    * Suffering : original meaning is “insane” but come to synonymous with “angry”
    * Anger if extreme can render temporary insane temporarily “mad”
    * Suffering = pain, but that’s not what the word means: it means “to undergo” to lose agency. Can suffer pleasure, so much pleasure lost control of the situation
    * Not just “pain”: loss of agency
    * parable: monkey gets stuck in pitch then gets killed. Not pain, but entrapment

(This rings true. When I feel like I am suffering its like being caught in a wave. Feel helpless, lost. Part of therapy is focussed on taking back control and agency. We have these cognitive distortions when depressed. CBT focuses you to not just be carried along by the wave but to stop, analyze and possibly change the direction)

            * **Taste of freedom**
            * **Provocaation:** All of life is threatened with losing freedom/agency.
            * **Dukkha:** like a wheel off its axis. As wheel turning destroying itself. Out of joint, as moving destroying itself.

(This hits true too: Self-destruction is huge part of depression/suffering)

            * Ex: Pattern in cognitive processing: processes that make you adaptively intelligent also make vulnerable to self-deceptive and self-destructive behaviour

(Just being “smart” doesn’t entail you escape suffering. In fact, I think it could enhance the chance of it. Ability to think fast also the ability to distort fast. Or to get caught up in thoughts. Overthink things)

            * event happens, interpret as bad. Brain always trying to anticipate other such events
            * Can’t take in all the events in environment. Use heuristics, zero in on relevant information
            * **Representativeness heuristic:** judge how probable an event is by how salient/proto-typical it is.
            * **Availability heuristic:** judge how probable event is by how easily can imagine another event occurring
            * Adaptive: in a bad state because something bad happened, **encoding specificity:** when sad difficult to remember events in which happy and easy to remember events in which sad

( oooh boy! That’s depression!)

          * memory stores the state you were in: way to help remember is to get back in the state was in
          * **Experiment:** group A and B remember words, A does 2nd test in the same room, B in another room. A will do better.
          * Adaptive: **Brain fits you to the environment**
          * Bad thing happened, salient, so judge more probable happen again
          * **Confirmation bias:** adaptive strategy, look for info that supports current belief. Finding disconfirmation takes too long, complex.
          * So in memory look to confirm memories that highly probable
          * Can **mislead - ex:** plane crash think probable even though low, but get into car (death machine)
          * But can’t do without them: adaptive.

( So this is one thing that’s important in our internet debates. Pointing out things like confirmation bias is a big part of debate. But many people treat it like a character flaw. It’s not. It’s baked into human nature. Like Vervaeke says: it’s adaptive. It has its users. But it can also lead us astray. Worth keeping in mind in your next discussion)

          * Judge the probability to be great - happens automatically. Imagine if had to do it all consciously -too much. Need cognition to be self-organizing.

(So in our analysis we can disrupt these biass)

          * 32:30: Effect of judgement on you is not emotionally neutral: **Anxiety**
          * **Anxiety: lose cognitive flexibility**
          * Framing becomes very narrow, limited rigid, ability to solve problems goes down.
          * Make lots of mistakes and FAIL -> increases anxiety, reinforces bad events happening, then gather in mind as “I’m doomed!”, become fatalistic. Start to interpret regular events as bad.

( Oooooh boy, this hits me hard. I suffer from depression and anxiety and all of this rings REALLY true. Very helpful model.

          * Whole thing feeds on itself. Very things that make you so intelligently adaptive: zero in on relevant information, makes it salient, fit you to environemt, all these things ALSO make you vulnerable to self-destructive/self-deceptive behaviour **THAT’S WHAT IT MEANS TO SAY THAT ALL YOUR LIFE IS THREATENED BY DUKKHA**

(BAM! This hits home. But it makes me wonder: we tend to think of anxiety/depression as a modern day problem. Was it as prevalent back in Buddha’s day or are we retrofitting?)

          * Not that everything do is painful and distressing, its that every process makes vulnerable to self-deceptive/self-destructive processing: **Parasitic processing. (35:18)**
          * Not just bad events. All kinds of spirals.
          * Depression Schema:
          * Parasitic processing: like a parasite: takes up life within you and it takes life away from you. Causes you to lose your agency. Causes you to suffer.
          * Capacity of brain to be self-organizing/heuristic using, to create complex systems has a downside. **Know when you’re in one of these spirals.** But knowing doesn’t do anytihng. It’s self-adapting. Can adapt and preserve itself as try to destroy it. Trying to avoid you being destroyed but words against us. **Perennial threat**
  • 38:00 Mark Lewis: dynamical processing. Addiction.
    * Addiction: loss of agency: way diagnose them is by how dysfunctional they become.
    * If stops from pursuing goals want to do in life.

(Used to have bad Twitter addiction!)

    * loss of agency
    * Mark Lewis: says standard model of addiction incorrect: That have chemical dependency, leads to overwhelming need for it. Sounds common sense but false.
    * Can get addicted to processes that have no biochemical basis (gambling).
    * Most people spontaneously give up addiction in 30s. Selection bias b/c focus on those who get trapped.
    * Soldiers in Vietnam getting addicted to opiods, then come home and vast majority spontaneously stop using is when come back.
    * When in Vietnam had identity (solider) and arena (war), back home citizen, country. Relationship between agency and arena alterred.
    * **Reciprocal Narrowing:** drug use associated with particular agent/arena relationship. Coidentification: always asusming/assigning identity. Lose cognitive flexibility, number of options in the world start to decline, lose variability for agency, as get tighter, narrower, less flexible agency. Reciprocally narrow, so no options for who you can be and how the world can be. Learned, participatory leaning of loss of agency.
    * If there is a sprial down, must be a spiral up. Agent/arena expanding. Move towards enlightenment.

( If this is true that’s huge. It would seem to apply to depression/anxiety as well. But it sounds daunting).

    * **Parasitical processing and reciprocal narrowing reinforcing each other.**
    * That is **Dukkha**
    * No matter where turn, this is always threatening. Can’t run away from it.

( All of this hits home very hard. It reflects my experience. But it is SO hard to overcome. Which suggests following the 4 noble truths could help with this. But again, seems so daunting!)

  * **That’s what the buddha meant.**

46:15: How do we address this?

  • aYou should feel threatened! Then starting to enact the process to moving towards enlightenment.

( I don’t need to wonder, I’m living it!)

  • suffering caused by desire. Leads to all kinds of problems. Weird loops.
  • 2nd noble truth: Better way: Realise that Dukka can be understood: attachment : sense of narrowing of the world so that agency and options are lost.
  • 3rd noble truth: sensation of suffering is attainable. Better way : realize that can recover your agency - can use the same machinery to anogically leave the cave. Can use it to reduce capacity for self-deception
  • Psycho-technology: practices - cultivate a counter active dynamical system that is operating for you
  • Keep on falling into the same cycles. But what if could create dynamical system that interacts simultaneously across the system? Didn’t just operate at level of belief but operates at level of states of consciousness and character.

(this is what I have trouble with in therapy. I easily get the intellectual points that are being made. I understand where I’m being self-destructive. But that knowledge doesn’t help avoid the patterns. The solution being presented here is to dive into all of this. Again: seems daunting, but maybe could be life-altering).

  • that’s what the Buddha offered: 8 fold path: counteracts parasitic processing and does reciprocal opening beyond the ego self and beyond the everyday world
  • Why it’s represented by an 8 spoked wheel. Self-organizing system, that rolls itself
  • Each part interdependent.

8 fold path:

  • To say there is “right” means there is incorrect. Means Right-handedness. Means getting an optimal grip.
  • 1st 2 about cognition. Next 3 about character. Last 2 about consciousness.
  • Anagogic awakening.
  • Trying to show us that higher state of consciousness set in context of helping us do important transformations:
    * Remember being mode.
    * Get out of modal confusion.
    * Counteract parasitical processing and reciprocal narrowing.
    * Open up to self transcendence in a reliable and powerful way.
  • We should be encouraged (enact the courage)