WDB Chapters 3 & 4

Chapter 3:

p.68 What did [the Dalai Lama] mean by physical?

p.73-77 … during the meditation practice, numerous “neural assemblies” – populations of neurons that fire together – rapidly established communication and thereby formed a massive interconnected network. … Can practising meditation affect the architecture of the brain-web? Three additional findings from the 2004 PNAS [proceedings of the national academy of sciences] study suggests that it can. … for the monks … the ratio of fast [gamma] to slow [alpha and theta] rhythms increased sharply during the meditation period and stayed high afterward. … reportable conscious awareness correlates with large-scale gamma phase synchrony in the EEG. … there seems to be some relation between meditative expertise – the ability to generate at will certain inner states of consciousness and sustain them over time – and large-scale patterns of gamma frequency in the brain. … greater clarity in awareness was reflected by stronger gamma frequency activity in the EEG. … It’s precisely this kind of fine-grained phenomenological information … that we need in order to get a better picture of the relationship between consciousness and dynamic networks of the brainweb, especially on a moment to moment scale.

p.90-94 Buddhism [must be open to] critical examination from the side of science. If we are going to assess the view that pure awareness is independent of the brain, then we need to evaluate the reasoning and evidence Buddhists use to support this view. … How could we legitimately infer from experience alone that this subtle energy can occur independent of any biological support? … absence of evidence for a form of consciousness not contingent on the brain isn’t the same as evidence for the absence or nonexistence of such a consciousness. … If the phenomenal character of an experience isn’t transparent with respect to how it’s physically embodied, then we can’t conclude that consciousness and matter have totally different natures just because consciousness as experienced from the inside through mental awareness seems different from matter as experienced from the outside through the senses.

p.97-99 Consciousness itself has not been and cannot be observed through the scientific method, because the scientific method gives us no direct and independent access to consciousness itself. So the scientific method cannot have the final say on matters concerning consciousness – Thupten Jinpa

Ned Block [ ] the “methodological puzzle” in the science of consciousness “how can we find out whether there can be conscious experience without the cognitive accessibility required for reporting conscious experience, since any evidence would have to derive from reports that themselves derive from that cognitive access?”

When we use the scientific method to investigate consciousness, we’re always necessarily using and relying on consciousness itself.

p.102-103 … we can’t infer from the existential or epistemological primacy of consciousness that consciousness has ontological primacy in the sense of being the primary reality out of which everything is composed or the ground from which everything is generated. … We can never step outside consciousness, but consciousness always shows up contingent upon our embodiment, and we can never step outside our embodiment, but our embodiment always shows up contingent on consciousness. … consciousness is a natural phenomenon and [ ] the cognitive complexity of consciousness increases as a function of the increasing complexity of living beings.

p.105 … we need … a new understanding of what it means for something to be physical …a nondualistic framework in which physical being and experiential being imply each other or derive from something that is neutral between them. … a framework, in which both contemplative practice and scientific observation and measurement are seen as grounded in direct experience … (Varelas neurophenomonology).

Reflective inquiry arising from chapter 3: A new understanding or more inclusive framework of physicality (physics) which integrates inner and outer observations of direct experience (phenomenology) helps the science of consciousness to achieve what?

Chapter 4.

p.113 “loosening of ego boundaries” is a key feature of the hypnagogic state.

p.125 The hypnagogic state offers a unique concoction of relaxation, absorption, diffuse and receptive attention, ego dissolution, reactivation of recent memories as well as older ones, synaesthesia, and hyperassociative and symbolic thinking.

Reflective inquiry arising from chapter 4: What might a reliably accessed hypnagogic mind be useful for in terms of information relevant to Varelas neurophemononlogical inquiry?

Getting Down to the Basics


I am trying to keep track with the very basic elements that are covered in these topics of consciousness, awareness and self. I am hoping we can find out the absolute most fundamental theory we can all agree upon, and then map our different interpretations from there, and derive interesting questions from those differences. Wanna play?

First, we have the three distinctions: consciousness, awareness and self. Sometimes they overlap, wherein a conscious person is aware of their self, sometimes they do no. A sleeping person is conscious but not aware of it. The self comes and goes through different states. Changes in consciousness we call “state” changes. We usually only call them changes is “states” when the changes are broad strokes (such as between waking and dreaming, dreaming and lucid dream) or rather non-ordinary and rare (OOBE, clear light experience). However I do not see any reason why we should not use the same term for rather ordinary changes in consciousness (for example, between the kind of consciousness you have when you are deeply immersed in reading, and then you read something that triggers an old, painful memory and you are steeped in self-reflective memory consciousness) … or in what are conventionally termed “pathological” states, such as visual or auditory hallucinations.

The reason is, I think we can derive a single underlying process that describes what a “state change” is, across ordinary, non-ordinary, casual and pathological experience.

Secondly I want to list what elementary phenomena (ep) may or may not arise in experience, depending on the state:

self, sensory feed, body feelings, affective resonance, concrete objects, abstractions, thoughts, internal representations of sensory feed (inner images, inner talk, inner sounds), and memory

Thirdly, I want to notice that state changes have to do with two kinds of change 1) what ep is present and 2) what order the ep are enfolded. So for example, in a conventional waking state, I have the experience of a self inside a felt-body, navigating objects in an external world that my senses take in. In an OOBE, I have the experience of a self, and external objects, including my body as an external object “over there.” A dream includes imaginal images without a self (just a dream-self which is imaginal), but seems to rely on the function of memory, which gives the waking self cognitive access via memory to the dream. A hallucination also includes imaginal images, but also the self appears, and the imaginal images are projected out into the world. Sometimes, as reported by Shinzen Young, for example, these imaginal images become so articulated, they actually appear as 3D “real” objects in world-space. If you have your wits about you, your self can be aware that these are projected imaginal phenomena. If you aren’t aware of this, then you might lose your wits.

This is why, in our AGS Course (Authenticity and the Generative Self) we call the process that is the “self” (as Thompson says) the self-state system. There are hundreds of configurations of self-state, including ones that are built-up by combining eps. Consider, for example, a “higher emotion” that arises from primary affect, body feeling, and tertiary processes in the narrative mind.

So here is a working proposition:

A state of consciousness can be identified as what eps arise, the order of enfoldment, and iterative complexity (downward causation of higher order processes complexifying the experience of lower order).

Perhaps we can talk about this on the call today.


WDB – Chapters 1 & 2

Excerpts from “Waking, Dreaming, Being” – Evan Thompson

From Glisten:

Chapter 1

p.3 In the waking state, the person travels this world; in sleep, the person goes beyond this world. The person is his own light and is self-luminous. – from Upanishads

pp.6-7 … important difference between Western cognitive science and the Indian yogic philosophies. Cognitive science focuses on the contrast between the presence and the absence of consciousness … The Indian yogic traditions, however, focus on the contrast between coarse or gross consciousness and subtle consciousness … From a meditative perspective, consciousness comprises a continuum of levels of awareness, ranging from gross to subtle.

In short, “consciousness” can mean awareness in the sense of subjective experience [phenomenology] or awareness in the sense of cognitive access [rationality].

p.14-15 “Luminous” … the power to reveal … Consciousness is fundamentally that which reveals or makes manifest because it is the crucial pre-condition for appearance. … Simply put, without consciousness there’s no observation, and without observation there are no data. … not only does something appear to your consciousness, but you also apprehend it in a certain way, depending on your senses and cognitive capacities. … Thus, the waking state is that state in which consciousness apprehends the outer world through sense perception and conceptualisation. … [the author will] use the word “consciousness” to mean experience in all its forms …

Reflective inquiry from chapter 1: What insights might we gain from an exploration of how mind and brain are integrated – what is the experience of “conscious embodiment”?

Chapter 2

p.25 … consciousness and the makeup of an individual being – it’s living body, environment, and perceptual and cognitive systems taken as a whole complex – are mutually supporting; one is not found without the other. … “It is the interplay of these tow aspects – consciousness on the one side and name-and-form on the other – that makes up the ‘world’ of experience (Anãlayo).

p.28 Neurophenomonology combines careful study of experience from within with investigations of the brain and behaviour from without. It uses descriptions of direct experience to guide the study of the brain processes relevant to consciousness.

p.33 Waves of conscious perception correspond to waves of synchronous oscillations in the brain. … the slow rhythms divide the sensory stream into discrete temporal units or moments of perception, while the fast rhythms bind the features discriminated within a given moment into a coherent perception.

pp.36-37 … all consciousness is consciousness of something in one way or another … how we are aware deeply conditions what we are aware of … there are at least five “ever=present” mental factors that are always functioning in every moment of consciousness: “contact”, “feeling” , “perception”, “intention”[where attention is directed], and “attention’.

p.45 … the brain activity preceding an event is crucial for determining the significance of that event for perception and action … Put another way, the brain meets the stimulus on its own terms, so to comprehend any neural response we need to see it as it emerges from the context of the brain’s ongoing activity.

p.65 … the “unified field model”[of consciousness]. According to this model, the neural correlates of individual conscious states aren’t sufficient for those states, because those states presuppose that the subject is already conscious with a field of awareness. [we arrive at] … the distinction … between being conscious in the sense of having transitory moments of object-directed awareness and being conscious in the sense of being a conscious creature with a persisting field of awareness that changes across waking and sleeping and is ordinarily permeated with a sense of self.

Reflective inquiry from chapter 2: How might a hypothesis of the continuous nature of a field of consciousness in which our self identification is embedded effect the way we engage with experiences arising in our awareness?

WDB: Week 1: Prologue and Intro


The Dalai Lama’s Conjecture:

whether all conscious states — even the subtlest states of “luminous consciousness” or “pure awareness” without any mental images — require some sort of physical basis


Subtle consciousness isn’t an individual consciousness; it’s not an ordinary “me” or “I” consciousness. It’s sheer luminous and knowing awareness beyond any sensory or mental content.


To stay with the open question while following wherever the argument leads requires that we be resolutely empirical in our approach. By this I mean cleaving to experience and suspending judgement about speculative matters falling outside what’s available to experience. Experience includes inward experience of the mind and body gained through meditation, and outward experience of the world gained through scientific observation and experimentation.


The central idea of this book is that the self is a process.


To understand how we enact a self, therefore, we need to understand three things — the nature of awareness as distinct from its sensory and mental contents, the mind-body processes that produce these contents, and how some of these contents come to e experienced as the self.


I argue that although the self is a construction– or rather a process that’s under constant construction– it isn’t an illusion. A self is an ongoing process that enacts an “I” and in which the “I” is no different from the process itself … . I call this the “enactive” view of the self.


A Deeper Possibility

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Many of you in this course I already know something about, many of you will already know each other. Others of you will be meeting me and new friends for the first time. Welcome! It is always good to remind ourselves that there is to be expected a wide range of perspectives on the themes that we will be exploring in this book. Evan Thompson’s subtitle to the book is “self and consciousness in neuroscience, meditation and philosophy.” Some people will find a more natural fit with the neuroscience, some with meditation and their own first-hand phenomenological experiences, and some will be more naturally inclined to speak conceptually and philosophically. Thompson’s friend and mentor, Francisco Varela, yearned for a time when these three separate paths could blend into one integrative view on consciousness. Varela spoke of an approach called “structural homology” or “dynamic isomorphism” — where the language of one perspective could map naturally and intuitively onto the language of another perspective. The larger aim of such a view would be to demonstrate the deep continuity of feeling and intellect, of nature and consciousness, of life and mind. Similarly, Thompson is not interested in reducing meditative experience to neuroscience or philosophy; but he is trying to tell us that there is a deeper homology between the language of meditators, scientists and scholastics than is first apparent. During the six weeks of this course I hope you can get a taste of this deeper possibility that is being offered.