Big Mind

I'm going to take a bit of a risk in posting this, but:

...I've made a reputation for myself as a skeptic and an atheist; I am.

But Roshi's train of thought is something that I feel is remarkable. While I think he gets a few observations about "big mind" wrong, the point is still amazing, and this is a technique that I think everyone who cares about practical philosophy* should be familiar with.

* Is that an oxymoron?


Victor said...

Oh boy...

First of all, there is nothing particularly unusual about practical philosophy. At the end of this post I will tell you about some of my own practical philosophy -- i.e. having studied philosophy, what practical results and views I drew from it. In the meantime, I don't think this guy says anything particularly embarrassing to a skeptic. instead, it seems mostly to be psychobabble; a type of cold reading. You could slice the mind ten ways till Sunday, and come up with many different, yet seemingly profound, results.

Now a blow-by-blow account...

1) It's actually false about dukkha and sukha. They mean crap, unease, and comfort, ease respectively. Stuck/unstuck wheel is a metaphor used for those notions, not their literal meaning. if he starts off with a BS which is BSed to aid the narrative, that's immediately suspicious.

2) Controller. Immediately another red flag. When he asked, whom do you wish to control -- my immediate visceral answer is "myself", before anyone in the audience spoke up (it's not the only thing I want to control of course, but the first and most important one). He acts as if everyone secretly wishes to be king of the world. I score near the bottom on authoritarianism and social domination scales, but I am not alone. he is not addressing how people are, he is addressing how people conveniently fit into his narrative.

3) Skeptic. Ok, nothing particular to say here. I like how he draws it all out without countering it, just letting it flow. Let is pass through.

4) Child & Protector. Yeah, vulnerable and protective respectively. I pretty much agree with this section. Moving on...

5) Damaged self & Fixer. Oh boy, self-pity galore... [puke]. Agreed about fixing though. Bullshit about damage being unfixable, I think -- the damaged self doesn't fear fixing. It doesn't have to be a life-long victim trip.

6) Desire, Seeker, Seeking mind. I desire peace, now. :) Right, the wheel of desire doesn't cease. However, desire the the motive force of life. It should be embraced and guided. I seek to understand. Everything. Seeking mind, my favorite part.

I found what i seek BTW -- a way for me to frame myself within the world, my own context and purpose. More about this at the end.

7) Non-seeking mind. Don't have it, except during meditation or inasmuch as I found what I sought.

8) Big mind. Babble for those who wish to believe. Yeah, there is no purpose. We make our own. BFD. Good point about [non-]duality and the self-struggle though; more on that later.

9) Dropped-off body-mind, Big heart. OK, body&mind are one, no prob. Sorry, no big heart here. I meticulously squelch my empathy. My heart is tiny, shriveled, and cold. Sorta*.

10) Yin-Yang Big Heart. OK, m/f duality, no prob. Empathy and protectiveness, I read about them in a book somewhere. :)

11) OneHeartMind, Master, Integrated Being. The whole self. Could have skipped the whole rest of it and gotten straight here. Master/fool... It's not about control, it's about function, fluid and integrated with the world, free from the illusory subject/object distinction -- neither subject nor object, neither master nor slave, but participant.

Integrated self is what it's all about -- embracing it all without illusions about the separateness or roles of different aspects.

All in all, seems like a waste of $150 for those who went there. A rather convoluted path to arrive as a pretty simple realization.

* I think one of the biggest problems we encounter is that we spend an awful lot of time persuading ourselves that we are good, when in reality our love and compassion mostly extends to the tiny slice of the world in our immediate vicinity. I spend $400 on a PS3 recently -- the money which could probably save half a dozen starving children somewhere in Africa. I am fully aware of that, I feel a pang of guilty hypocritical conscience (not because i want to save them, but because I feel like I ought to want to save them), and then I sleep soundly at night. I prefer not to engage in illusions about myself, not to put up this Potemkin village for my own benefit.


Now, where I came to, and come from... mostly modern science&philosophy, with some of my own thoughts mixed in. This is my 'practical philosophy'.

1) The subject/object distinction is an illusion. The observer and the observed are entangled. To observe is to participate. We like to think ourselves as bubble of separation from the world, us vs. everything else, but we are more like an eddy in a river, having distinct characteristics yet an inseparable part of the stream. The self is an eddy in the river of life.

2) There are no things, only perceptions. It's not that things don't exist, but rather that perception is the content of the concept of existence. To speak of existence apart from perception -- and interpretation of perception, and predictive models based on perception -- is meaningless. What exists is not things but relationships between things. Perception is a relationship. Existence is perception. The world is a web of relations/perceptions, not things.

3) There is no singular self. We commonly bounce between two extremes -- thinking of self as a singular atomic entity, a 'soul' if you will, apart from the world, or thinking of self as being an illusion altogether. Well, it's been well established that there is no singular mind. Human mind is a collection of multiple agents in real-time interaction. A mind is not a horse, but a galloping herd moving in roughly the same direction, an ever-shifting and ever-changing agglomeration; yet it does exist, in the same way a river exists despite never being the same from moment to moment, in the same way an ecosystem exists despite comprising seemingly disparate and ever-changing parts.

4) The self is neither a solid rock in the ocean of change, not an illusion (of such a rock) to be given up. We don't have to either search for the immovable rock to anchor ourselves to, nor to give up on finding any stability altogether -- instead, the self is an ever-moving, ever-changing dance on the waves of the ocean of life. It's a process, not a thing. it's like a school of fish -- an entity and yet not an entity, a virtual, dynamic system the existence of which is a matter of perspective. Oh yeah, and singling our one fish at a time is pointless.

5) The world is dynamic. The self, life, and the world, it's all a dynamic process, an ever-shifting web of interactions and relations. Life is an ocean, ride the fucking waves!

And now for my favorite mind-bender, which I may or may not have told you before.

Imagine a strong AI. Imagine it carrying out some intelligent operation -- say, writing The Great American Novel. The AI (let's call it Bob) is intelligent, right? Now take that entire long AI operation and record it as a sequence of computer code operations. Still intelligent, right? Now convert those into a stack of punchcards. Now shuffle the punchcards.

Where is Bob?

Bob surely is not in the punchcards. They are totally our of order now. But those punchcards represented the computer operations which comprise Bob, and the representations are logically equivalent... so what happened to Bob?

Bob exists as an interpretation of our perceptions. Existence is perception.

Jeremy Rice said...

I'm pleased you watched this, and enjoyed your comments.

My responses:

First, I like the analogy to a cold reading! ...Well, sort of. :) I mean, if a listener perceived this talk as "perceptive" or "insightful", then I think they walked away with a profoundly inaccurate read (so to speak) on what was trying to be accomplished. Roshi isn't trying to prove that he understands anyone intimately, but to show that there are those "slices" of personality that everyone shares.

(Man, I have so much to say about this that I am feeling the lack of bandwidth in language!)

So, for example, why I like the analogy is that this could be one good example of why cold-reading works: everyone has these sides to them which you can tap into and seem insightful. ...But I don't think that's what he was trying to accomplish.

I also want to talk about the Sapir-Wharf hypothesis as it relates to this exercise, because I think you would end up with very different results if you conducted this in any other language. ...And, in fact, I think some of the "voices" used toward the end sort of fail because they are Japanese concepts trying to be wedged into the English language. (Dropped-off body-mind?!? Give me a break...)

Second I wouldn't call it psychobabble as much as "Zen Bullshit", and there's a lot of it here. For example, the whole "would the oak tree please stand up" thing. Sheesh.

Third: uhhh... what is "profound", if it's not something that seems so? : ) (Meaning: isn't the definition of profound that which seems to reveal something relevant?

...Just sayin'.

Fourth: Unfair accusation about dukkha/sukha. Etymologically speaking, they mean (don't laugh) "bad hole" and "good hole", roughly. ...But that's not even the point. They are zen jargon, and thus carry thousands of years of weight with them. Trying to succinctly say what they "mean" is like asking one of us to put a definition on "agile development", if agile development had been practiced for thousands of years.

But, minor quibble. As a linguist, I'm always interested in those "etymologically speaking, this term really means...", even when it's bullshit. So I let these things fly. ; )

Fifth, regarding the Controller problems... ummmn... I see your point, but I think you're saying as much because you're refusing to play along. :) Of course you ("the self", as he keeps referring to it) aren't authoritarian. For the point of the exercise, however, it's valid to say that there is an urge in you (all of us) that would control anything and everything it could, in order to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Practically speaking, we never let things get that far. Of course not. ...That's also part of the exercise: there are all of these concepts tugging at one another, keeping the whole in check.

Sixth, that said, I agree that he has "a narrative", and is trying too hard to stick to it. Roshi is, for lack of a better word, a bit of a dick, and this is one of the ways it shows.

I have a lot of patience for dealing with assholes, though, so I walked away without letting this overwhelm me. Some of my favourite teachers were real assholes! :)

Seventh, may be a waste of $150, depending on why you went.

What I got out of this was a lesson in state-change. Specifically in two ways: first, how it can aid in the process of introspection, and second, how simple it is to feel "at peace" with just a few simple thoughts.

This is something I *knew* about, meaning I'd been told specifically in other formats, but never found myself practically capable of. So this was kind of a "walkthrough" of the process for me, which made it rather potent. And that's why I think everyone should watch this: state-management, and using it to facilitate a deeper understanding of our conceptual framework.

That said, once you understand how this works, I don't think it's something you should return to. As you said, Roshi has his own story to tell, and this likely doesn't resonate with everyone (it doesn't with me), but one could use this technique to explore one's own purpose.

...And to preempt your response that, YES, I agree that "purpose" is completely self-created. :) But it's important to identify this, (as you claim you have). Another good zen concept is, "once you truly understand yourself, all decisions are easy". And I believe that... yet I cannot yet claim I've achieved it. ; )

Lastly, you make an abundance of oceanic analogies in your personal practical philosophy! :) I can't say I disagree with any point, either. ...And, interestingly, I'll observe that Zen shares all of these concepts. I guess I'm not looking for a conceptual framework for life... just a deeper understanding of myself. And I think this technique of exploring one's own conceptual framework is one of the tools I was looking for.


Victor said...

heh, this is getting long.

1) Good point about language. It would make for an interesting exercise to see how different languages permit framing of the discussion of self and its relationship to the world.

2) I disagree about profundity. There is such a thing as seeming profound without being profound IMO -- it's when you have a vague feeling of profundity, but no actual new insight, just a feeling that there is something deep somewhere; but dig deeper, and there's no there there. As far as I am concerned, profundity must come with actual profound realizations(s) of some sort, not just a vague impression that something deep has been said.

3) I was sincerely trying to follow along and be a good participant. As you may have noticed, I agreed with Goshi on a number of points. It's just that the controller issue immediately jumped out at me; unlike most other objections (other than BigMind, which I also rejected outright), it was pretty much the exact diametrical opposite of how I approach control.

4) I have no problem at all with assholes, and to be honest, Goshi didn't strike me as one. This entire sequence of videos simply struck me as profoundly unexceptional. Very blah. Remember how in Aikido we talked about learning martial arts vs. feeling as if you are? Comapring to to TKD, I told you a story about a dojo my brother went to, where they charge you a certain sum and 'guarantee' you a black belt within 3 years. That's the feeling I got from Goshi. Like he was peddling an impression of insight and profundity.

5) Oceanic... water analogies, mostly, because of fluidity. 19th century was full of rigid, mechanistic subject/object thinking. What we are instead learning about the world is that's it full of interconnected holistic systems where everything affects everything, that the subject/object relationship is fluid and dynamic. Water lends itself particularly kind to metaphors about this.

Jeremy Rice said...

This is getting long. ; ) I'll be brief.

I think things can cease to be profound, once you've integrated them into your thinking. But profundity comes in the present moment. That said, I suppose you could measure "how profound" something is by how long it blows you away. : )

An interesting comparison to martial arts... but I disagree about it being blah. Perhaps it's a personal preference thing, but I (clearly) got a lot out of this series of videos.


...I wonder how they'll be characterizing 20th century thought, if 19th century was rigid?

Victor said...

Good question. I think the skinny of it is that each time is really a transition, but in retrospect, we remember more whither it went rather that whence it came; we take its successes for granted, since pretty much by definition those are a part of our everyday life now, but its failures stick out at us like sore thumbs.

17th-19th centuries were Enlightenment and its aftershocks -- what I just dismissively characterized as rigid and crudely mechanistic thought was in fact the apex of human thinking at the time, a drastic break with the relatively primitive, magical-thinking past.

Decades or centuries later, i think the 20th century will be characterized as the era when we realized that the world is not clockwork, that it's a lot more fluid and dynamic and organic than that. We will remember it for what it changed, not for what it was, I suspect.

I think in terms of intellectual history, the 20th century contribution can be best characterized as dynamist -- the era when we realized that it's not things but relationships, and systems of relationships, that matter. Of course we are still too entangled in it to be able to take a properly historic view. :)

Jeremy Rice said...

"we take its successes for granted, since pretty much by definition those are a part of our everyday life now"

...It ceases to be profound. ; )

I am not well-versed in philosophy, so I can't say with any authority what characteristics might be attributed to the last 100 years of progress in that field.

...But I'll gladly espouse my completely naĆ­ve opinion: I think it will be remembered as an ego-centric century of thought. There was, to my mind (heh), far more emphasis on the self in the past 100 years than in centuries prior. ...Or so it seems to me. Far more people saying and thinking "what have you done for me lately" instead of asking what they'd contributed to society.

I may only be saying this because the trend toward avoiding/loathing/fearing my fellow humans has started to weigh heavily on me personally, of late.