Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Sam Harris - Waking Up

In his previous books, I had found Sam to be one of the better intellects out there, so I was particularly looking forward to reading Waking Up.  Sam is the kind of person that whether or not you agree with him on various issues, you'd be hard pressed to find fault with his reasoning.  And it was so fascinating that this guy that I had known in the context of being a very rational, atheistic author had actually gone down many of the same spiritual roads that I had.

Being mindful of true spirituality as well as the concerns of his atheistic base, he does sprinkle the text with rational criticisms of religion.  But the main point of this book lies elsewhere.

Here we have a reasonable guy with something of a triple threat: a background in neuroscience, a pretty decent spiritual resume (having sat a fair number of retreats with Sayadaw U Pandita (Mahasi's student), Papaji (Ramana's student), and Dzogchen master Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche), and some significant experiences with psychedelics.  I considered this a must-read.

Many mind-blowing topics are covered from a number of different angles based on this unique skill set.  For example, I found the information about the split brain experiments to be interesting.  If we want to cling to the self, then at minimum, we would have to think of ourselves as many selves.

Being a bit of a Mahasi fan and practitioner myself, I found it perplexing that Sam, while apparently following the Mahasi meditation instructions on retreat with great earnestness, never stumbled into a cessation.  I think he makes a decent case that the hardcore approach may contain a seed of failure, in that one is striving to become what one already is.

I will say that stumbling into a cessation is a bit of a paradox.  On the one hand, the mind must be trained to stay present and unattached in a way that seems unusual for normal modern humans.  And that seems to require effort, practice.  And yet to stumble into the actual cessation, one must let go, one must cease effort.

The cessation route seems to speed things up, if nothing else, and seems to make jhanas easier.  In some ways I think it would be a shame if someone became enlightened and yet hadn't experienced the jhanas.  It would be like never having relaxed in a comfortable chair.

In terms of talking about no-self, this can be a relatively weird topic and I believe Sam does about as good as can be done.  For a modern Western version along the lines of Dzogchen pointing instructions I might recommend something like Greg Goode's The Direct Path, along with other books on non-duality.

For Sam's target audience, his original fans, I suspect this will be a bit of a one-off that will be quietly dismissed (linking to a friend's podcast).  But yeah, there's something here.  Maybe a few more people will get it.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

BBC Doc - The Secret You

An hour long pop-science show, The Secret You (on youtube) touches on existential topics of consciousness.

With the help of a hammer-wielding scientist, Jennifer Aniston and a general anaesthetic, Professor Marcus du Sautoy goes in search of answers to one of science's greatest mysteries: how do we know who we are? While the thoughts that make us feel as though we know ourselves are easy to experience, they are notoriously difficult to explain. So, in order to find out where they come from, Marcus subjects himself to a series of probing experiments.

He learns at what age our self-awareness emerges and whether other species share this trait. Next, he has his mind scrambled by a cutting-edge experiment in anaesthesia. Having survived that ordeal, Marcus is given an out-of-body experience in a bid to locate his true self. And in Hollywood, he learns how celebrities are helping scientists understand the microscopic activities of our brain. Finally, he takes part in a mind-reading experiment that both helps explain and radically alters his understanding of who he is.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Meditation Makes You More Creative

In the article Meditation Makes You More Creative, researchers found:

"Test persons performed better in divergent thinking (= thinking up as many possible solutions for a given problem) after Open Monitoring meditation (= being receptive to every thought and sensation). The researchers did not see this effect on divergent thinking after Focused Attention meditation (=focusing on a particular thought or object.)"

This Is Your Brain on Magic Mushrooms

The article "This Is Your Brain on Magic Mushrooms" describes network theory in mathematics being applied to data from fMRI studies on subjects taking psilocybin.

"The findings seem to explain some of the psychological experiences of a psilocybin trip. Linear thinking and planning become extremely difficult, but nonlinear “out of the box” thinking explodes in all directions. By the same token, it can become difficult to tell fantasy apart from reality during a psilocybin trip; but focusing on a certain thought or image — real or imagined — often greatly amplifies that thought’s intensity and vividness."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Buddhism and Psychedelics

Information on Buddhism and Psychedelics from, presumably associated with the Johns Hopkins psilocybin research.

A list of links to various Buddhists (Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, etc.) and Buddhist-friendly psychonauts talking about the intersection of psychedelics and spirituality.  I think my favorite was the long piece by Myron Stolaroff, "Are psychedelics useful in the practice of Buddhism?"  Stolaroff also wrote "The Secret Chief Revealed" which I linked to at the end of the post on Psychedelic Trip Guides.  I keep meaning to do a trip guide myself, I think I'd better do it before I get too far away from it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Katherine MacLean at BG Conference

A fair amount of the 2014 Buddhist Geeks conference is available on LiveStream, I'm not entirely sure you can get to these links without registering, but we'll see.

Johns Hopkins researcher Katherine MacLean said a few things about psychedelics, I believe that link puts you right in front of that video on the page.  She speaks for about the first 20 minutes.

A lot of familiar stuff.  I was reminded of the TLO advice:  Trust, Let Go, Be Open.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Your Brain on Psilocybin

Your Brain on Psilocybin, a nice little article by researcher Robin Carhart-Harris.
Evidence from this study, and also preliminary data from an ongoing brain imaging study with LSD, appears to support the principle that the psychedelic state rests on disorganized activity in the ego system permitting disinhibited activity in the emotion system. And such an effect may explain why psychedelics have been considered useful facilitators of certain forms of psychotherapy.
 Drops the ego, enhances access to emotional material.