Skip to main content Skip to search
06 Sep 2023
Video Overview
Contemplative Sciences Center

Cognitive Effort and Control Practices: To illustrate how meditation involves effortful cognition, this domain concerns characterizations of mindfulness-based meditation in terms of present-centered attention or memory. Interlocutors discuss relevant theories in Buddhist texts, cognitive science, and philosophy of mind with special attention to the extent to which these theories distinguish mindfulness from (a) pleasurable absorption, and (b) cognitive control, both of which involve enhanced attention and memory. Considering contemporary models of the expected value of control in the sciences and philosophy, the domain will discuss the primary achievement in meditation being meta-control: gaining control over typically sub-personal elements of the control process.  

Transcript search
No results found for this search
0 of 0
  • Discussion Participants
    Oh, hi. I have a microphone now. I was, yeah, basically practice is boring was my point. And so I'm wondering how different the samadhi mechanism that you're describing here really is from other mechanisms that would allow you to develop skilled action. Maybe the generalizability thing? But then I would wonder if it isn't the case that getting good at sports or getting good at playing an instrument is because you're still getting control of that over that same mechanism, which would then not make samadhi itself the thing that's really distinctive, but rather just control over this mechanism is the same thing that underlies kind of all of these forms. I mean, here's how I think of what changes in skill. Right? And I'm heavily influenced by sort of cognitive science models of of the cognitive architecture of skilled attention. Is that what I think is that there's a reinforcement learning process, which is a process that is basically looking at past experience with the world in what types of attention were valuable, right, and rejigging sort of like salience in order to sort of like and maybe I'm butchering this model, Chandra, you're one of the experts, and so rejiggering salience or changing around what is salient in order to track what's better in the world. So what's really boring here is yeah, the practice is still boring, but the object of it isn't to gain control over this mechanism. The object of it is to make the activity salient. And
  • that's the end goal. Whereas in contrast, look at the fourth Jhana that Karin was talking about, right, not super salient. It's totally unlike playing a musical instrument where it's like it doesn't feel I don't know, I don't play music, I'm a philosopher. I don't do things. But like, I don't know, this keep coming up. But like, I don't know when I'm doing philosophy, I'm like really jazzed about it. Right? Like, that's like the thing that I'm skilled at and I'm like really excited about it and super salient for me. And the point is, well one way of explaining the subtraction method is that you're able to do the sustained attention thing without that at the end process. Right? So both are boring. One's boring because you're trying to rejig your salience map, the other's boring because maybe you're trying to do that, too, but you're also trying to do this other thing, which is gain control over the klesa. And can I can I raise a worry about - the model is is intriguing. And, you know, from a first person perspective, it surely captures something about what's going on.
  • But the the worry is that there's a homuncular regress that is emerging. And I can say the regress this way - sorry, I'm losing my voice, so I'm squeaking. It sounds, it's distracting - but that choice like phenomenon, we use the language of control for things like decisions and choices. And that's where representation - like feeling like representations, pleasantness and aversion can feed into doing this or that. So - and EVC is one of these representations of aversion in doing this, and so the mind pulls away. And any of these type of choice like events that have affective or valence input, the valence input itself cannot, needs to be supplied externally. One can't choose the valence. Rather, one chooses on the basis of valence that is furnished in a non-volitional way.
  • That's - this seems to be a kind of a constraint. OK, so you say that we gain control over our EVC. The valence now becomes a target of our control. Would that then need some higher order? Entity, that itself has valence as an input for which there is aversion or attraction that leads us to control the thing that is controlled and that has a non-volitional valenced input, that higher order thing. Is that the picture? It seems like it would need something like that. Otherwise, there's a homunculus doing the control. So what say, what say you to that? Yes, I see. So you agree that there's a there is a - it's a higher order. It's meta-control. It's a higher order input, right, that I think has a valenced input to the higher order input because it's like, look, I really care about this thing, I'm trying to do this thing. But yeah, that's the idea is that you gain this higher order thing, the object of which isn't first order attention or behavior, the object of which is control. So it's, so. But just
  • to make it clear, the problem was that there are unconscious inputs that are beyond our control that serve as klesas that are a barrier to contemplation, but something unconscious still needs to be an input for OK, so we never, ever step out of the web of involuntary inputs. OK. I guess I think maybe another way of asking this question is, is it just a matter of a different kind of habituation? The mind is normally habituated in one way, and as the practice progresses, the mind becomes habituated towards other things so that these input valences - sorry I'm a little unfamiliar with the language - are changing. And so I wonder I always have this question is, is it habituation or is it control? What do we mean by control? Who is doing the controlling? It can be a new kind of habituation, right? Depending on the level at which we're characterizing to what are one, is one getting habituated to. Right, like I think there's maybe a new class of things being made available for one to begin getting habituated to on this model, I think.
  • And including the breath becoming not boring. But I think that's a great example. So this is Karin's response to - I think this has been pretty consistently the response - but the breath is not bloody boring. Yes, it is. And I think now watching that's an issue. But this is. Yes, with this focus, our conversation, right? Yes, in a very nice way. Yeah, right. So what's happening with this disagreement? Well, I think we're talking about the salience of the object, right, and I think. I mean, I'm really not very familiar with this computational language, and I think much more in terms of habit, because this is how Buddhist text talk about and I'm not sure how these two theoretical language kind of crossed and how they match to or do not match. But I think salience is a function of how the whole system works, right. And so I think when you become better at controlling your attention, the object becomes more salient. So - so what does that involve?
  • What does that involve? Yeah, well, I understand it in terms of habits. Right. I mean, I think I think let's not just talk about in terms of habits, though, right. Like so so contrast two different things, right. There's like for me, there's, do I have any control over when I start, when something starts feeling effortful? Not really, not directly, right? Do I have control over, like if there's like some chips and some other like there's like two, you know, Sonam's bottle of water is in front of me and I'm like do I drink from Sonam's bottle of water? I choose not to because that would be a super weird and bad thing to do. Yeah. So that would I don't know, I didn't have anything. I usually have a coffee cup in front of me and that's like my stock philosophical example. But so when you have a coffee cup in front of you and you choose to drink from the coffee cup, that's something you can choose to do, right? You can choose first-order actions like that. You can choose to do certain things like oh I'm going to now focus my attention instead of the microphone, I'm going to focus it on Cat. Right. I can do that. Those are first order things that I can
  • choose. The model here is that here's another thing that you can now - but but in me, I can't choose whether, what feels effortful and what doesn't. Right, I can influence that by trying to cultivate new habits, but that's not an object of my choice. And the model here is that becomes an object of my choice. As we're talking here, I am reminded of that there's actually a tension in Buddhist tradition over exactly what's happening with cetana in and so in the Nikāyas, you have some places where it said that the path itself doesn't need cetana, sorry, cetana is intention. And it was that thing that you gain control of. The monk doesn't think any thought he doesn't want to think. He can direct his attention wherever he wants, and not where he doesn't want. And then Sonam had brought up this quote from the Mahāyāna-sūtrālamkāra about the cetana, which is unfree or made unfree.
  • Yeah. So there's in the Nikāyas there is some in the Aṅguttara Nikāya there's a sutta which talks about, yeah, the path just naturally unfolding from that very beginning of just wholesome conduct it just unflows actually, intention's just in the way. Just get it out of the way. Other suttas talk about well what is the intention involved in the path it's different than in in wholesome conduct. Once you're in the noble path, and you're becoming liberated, the intention involved there is simply an intention of abandoning. And so it's just a letting go. It's not a doing. And so I think this is where I get a little confused when we talk about control and I worry about homuncular agent isn't going to work and I worry about are we messing with kind of the Buddhist way of just it's either letting go or it's, you know, no intention involved at all. So we have a picture of agency where it looks like the commission of an overt action is what agency has to look like. But sometimes letting go is one of the most dramatic exemplification of one's
  • agency. Right. Like in English, I mean, or even in Sanskrit and Pali. So it's important not to allow our sense of what an action looks like or what what our agency is only to manifest in overt actions that have a certain kind of precondition of deliberation and before them to make it look like that's what that version of agency looks like. Here we're saying that even we're in first thing, we're expanding the scope of what the things we do have an influence on. Just that feature is enough to start talking, right, that we're saying, hang on a second. What do you mean I can influence the things that constitute the things that determine what I typically care about or not. How do I change the kind of person I am? That's actually bloody mysterious, right? Like I mean, that seems very strange. If it were to say, like you say, all of these things like the valence setting and the the the cognitive preconditions for believing what you are inclined to believe, all these things could be, are framed by and make available certain things for us to care about or not care - I mean, like in the classic picture, right. And here suddenly
  • we're talking about even just the scope that something I'm doing is influencing that, not the precise picture of how will this influence is carried out. I agree is not so, is not clear and there are problems in the way, but. The letting go is actually super. And then the letting go is also a really nice case where this is actually the original case that Sonam and I started talking about is what's going on in it was early Chan observing the mind practices. [inaudible] Right, so so what happens in some practices where in early, early Chan, at least, our interpretation of Moheyan, really what you're trying to do is you're trying to achieve sustained mind wandering for a long period of time where your mind is just drifting from one topic and not being directed to any particular thing. So what are you doing there? What kind of action is that? And it's precisely like trying to control the control process so that you can let go because like in an ordinary person like me, when my mind wanders for a little while, after a while I get bored and I want to do something. And so stopping that feeling of boredom again is going to require kind of control over these basic mechanisms that control us. Right. Or maybe constitute us, I don't know, make us up.
  • Right. Gaining control over that is going to allow you to do this kind of a thing too. So letting go is like part of that. But it looks like letting go. It's not going it looks like letting go. It's not, it looks like trying to be passive, trying to sort of like let something like not, but that requires you gaining control over the control process. So I have some I have some doubts. And one of them is, I think and some of this may kind of go toward the homuncular or even the even the metaphor of control here. So a question I have is how does the hierarchy of task-sets in the EVC model get established? And I think the Buddhist assumption is that some of that you just have inherited and we could think of that is cultural, so to speak. Right. You know, your family culture, your societal culture, whatever. But then also some of it is probably based on reward. Right. And I mean that literally like in the brain. And one
  • way of thinking about what's going on in Buddhist practices, I think, is that you're actually targeting the reward so that you're not really trying to control that fundamental mechanism of the hierarchy. You're just saying these things are not as rewarding as they seem to be. And one place where it might be interesting for you to look at is the work on the use of contemporary mindfulness styles that Jud Brewer has done on smoking cessation, which has turned out to be really super effective, and that, you know, they're not you know, what they're targeting actually is the sense that this is actually as rewarding as the reward system is telling me it is. And so since the rewards you, since you managed to manipulate that reward, it's that task set goes lower and lower and lower and you're able to replace it with something else. [inaudible] I wouldn't say that you're kind of in other words, you're not in the position that you're in is not where you're consciously having to effortfully, you're not effortfully choosing. But then I
  • think the metaphor of control is really problematic because you're not actually in a sense, you're not kind of flipping any switches, you don't have an homunculus who's in, nobody's in charge. So that's, I think, a problem. But let me just go. So, so so the main approach there is actually not to raise the salience of something. It's actually to say, you know, all this reward stuff is the problem. So if you're trying to make your breath more rewarding, you're not going to succeed with that either. In other words, grasping, you know, attachment and aversion which are driving that reward system are the thing that's going to disrupt that's called they call salience, they constitute salience, and that's what's going to disrupt your attention. And so, you know, that's why mindfulness is so important, where it's defined as what's you know, it's what stops attention capture, basically stop salience. It's not, it's always defined. The only way it's defined across all of the different traditions consistently is that it's about — is the way Asanga puts it. Right. It's about, its function is to prevent distraction. It's not doing anything positive. It's not enhancing, you know, the salience of something or the value of something. It's just stopping attention capture.
  • And the kind of guaranteed way to do that seems to be where basically you just take salience out of the picture. I want to say two things really quickly. Like I think I love this comment. Yeah, I think so. One of the things we have to address, what what control means and what we don't mean to mean. About the salience thing, I think that's dead right. I think the dampening down or reward system is what these guys are really interested. I'm not always convinced by the Buddhists who say that they have not then finding other things that the Path told them to find important salient. I'm not always convinced that that's not going on right. Like something they're getting ravished by the objects that their religion is telling them are super important, exciting, and then their bodies are glowing with a list of a thousand lotuses blowing, it feels like that's a new kind of salience, right? There's a certain kind of affective system pulling in and keeping them into these very difficult achievements. That's a conversation of what's really going on. I do think that this dampening down of the salient system as currently constituted has to be part of what we thought was [inaudible] the word control [inaudible].
  • Yeah, well, let's. I just wanted to add a comment here. I think you're right in talking about mindfulness, but I think the different meditation practices and different stages of meditation practices tap into the salience in different ways. So I think it really does happen that the breath becomes very, you know, attractive at certain stages. But yes, in the fourth jhana. Yeah, there's there is a change there when you when the equanimity becomes done. But it's also it's seen as a danger. Right. Right. Right. Exactly. Yes. The salience is seen as a danger - it's not the end - it's like a side benefit. But if you go after it - but - then you you get stuck. But in the development of practice, the sort of natural inclinations are used in service of getting to the goal. And so I think it just depends on practice, the state. This fundamental metaphor of control and what it does and what it does not imply because that's how Chandra started out. Yeah. Yeah. Can I raise an issue with that? It's kind of a
  • clarification for you, I guess, which is, you know, here is the resistance picture that Zach briefly glossed and is familiar in contemporary philosophy. So you're performing an incredibly boring task and mental effort is high, and in order to stay on the task, you overtly perform a mental action of resistance, resisting the aversive sensation of of staying on the task. And you manage to stay on the task for a little while. So it's some kind of mental action that I perform. It's an act of top down control. But you're describing another route where the salience and the mind's tendency to be attracted to reward itself is somehow curtailed. Should I conceptualize that as a different kind of mental action that I perform? If so, then the language of control may be appropriate because control is some type of higher order, mental action that I do to modify the the primary of unfolding of a process that would unfold in a different counterfactual way were control not
  • exerted. So if a mental action model is appropriate for this kind of no longer being a hostage of salience, then then it may very well be a form of control. So I'm asking, I guess, is a mental action picture appropriate? I think it would be to depend a lot on the stage of practice. I think that the ideal would be that eventually you get to the point where aversion either doesn't occur or if it occurs, it has no effect on you. So it's like you could say, the sort of the function of aversion is to get one to change what's happening. Right. And so maybe aversion arises, but it just doesn't do that anymore. It doesn't make you want to impel one to change. And there's no choice or control involved in that. It's just doesn't it doesn't feel like something you have to get rid of anymore. And that's what the model implies. Yeah. And the model also predicts the thing about the smoking cessation, right? So
  • here's here's a model of what's going on in mindfulness that I think doesn't predict the smoking cessation. You should totally go. So it doesn't predict smoking cessation, is is we're going to - there's the queue and we want to finish the queue before - doesn't predict the smoking cessation is like you're just getting really good at a skill. Right. Because then, like, you know, if you want to quit smoking, like getting good at playing guitar doesn't help that. I don't think, even though you're changing salience landscapes. Right. So there's the explanation of why does mindfulness do that. Right. One kind of explanation is well, mindfulness dampens the salience of like all rewards, right, and therefore, the, it's going to dampen the salience of smoking as well. Maybe that's part of the story, right? That's one prediction. Again, that's the sort of like you reduce affective biases prediction. Another prediction of this kind of model is mindfulness gives you control over the mechanisms that result in those kinds of some of those kinds of valuations. And therefore, what you can do is, and you here is that I can explain what I mean by you here, but like what what what it's in the scope of an action is to just change those things so that smoking, just like, you know, the effort, just like your smartphone, just like finding the washroom, everything else that you can just say no, no not that important right now. Not that salient, you don't have to you don't have to focus on that.
  • Right, and you here is not like a little atman, like a little, you know, substantial self that sits and has actions, you is just the thing that's made up of all of these other agential processes and states and mechanisms. So you like. Yeah. So you don't have to say that there's a substantial self here. It's just a system. Right. The system. And the point is the system now includes this meta-control thing where the system didn't include that before. And so that's just a claim, not that there's like a magic soul that - because they're obviously not going to want that, but [inaudible]. Well, just that discussion about letting go and a klesa - what I understood reminds me of a piece of neuroscience by Regina Lapate and Richard Davidson that suggests that when you're more aware of emotions, actually they have less influence on what you do. And so I wonder if I don't know the relevance of that compliment or kind of or if it's part of your model of just like also that process of being more aware of the emotions actually weakens the influence of what you do.
  • Yeah, I think because that's going to happen, not that's going to happen in basically anyone like even an untrained participant in a psych laboratory, I think is going to have that effect, too, right? Yeah. And then so so there I wonder whether that has to do with emotion regulation strategies, where there's various techniques that we can have to dampen emotions. I think like actually the most effective technique was actually detailed in the Satipatthana Sutta, which is like which is basically like if you have an emotion, like imagine the really disgusting version of that emotion. So you're like, oh man, I really want some coffee. I'm going to imagine the coffees are like little turds, right? Or like, I really love my body. I'm going to imagine my body as a corpse that's decaying and blah, blah, blah, blah. Right. And so that's actually a really effective emotion regulation strategy. That is the kind of first order, mental action that that that like everyone's able to perform. Right. As at least when you're trained to when when you learn that you can do that, anyone can basically do it to varying degrees of effect, the the idea here in the model here is that, no, the monks gain another kind of action where it's not just doing these second emotions to counter the first one. It's
  • rejiggering voluntarily the the the mechanisms that create value. Well, in that piece, you don't need necessarily to have another emotion to kind of balance is just like the fact of being aware of the emotion, you have less influence on what you decide next. OK, cool. I assumed that it was tied to emotion regulation. This is very basic stuff, but it's not - that's really cool - it builds that observation too as - that's lovely- that capacity will have to be an ingredient in these things like that. Yeah. So I [inaudible] Well, actually, we're going to touch on this a little bit in the third session, where we will point out that the meta, the metacognitivity built into even moments of mind that get, that are at stake in the contemplative practices, including like this kind of like motivational capacity, right, or a like a degree of confidence in certain kinds of groups.
  • But so that it's packed in to even the smallest units of mind of its dimensions are there to be all available, I suppose. Yeah, my guess is there will always be something that mediates between the meta awareness and the loss of effectiveness, right? Whether it's whether it's some intervening factor, which is like when I become aware then I can engage in this emotion regulation strategy. When I become aware, then I can say, OK, yeah, this is biasing my choice, but like, I'm just going to do the other thing because, like, this is a I don't actually want to give in to this whether it can. Yeah. And there could be a lot of different things that mediate that. I mean, if it is just like this, bear awareness causes reduction, that would be super interesting. I have no idea how to explain that. But I do want to say, I guess, there'd be mediators - the klesas work in the dark, so to speak, and so when the klesas become like like are brought into a sphere of awareness or the scope of or typical traffic or cognitive traffic, they attenue, they can't function as they would, as they do when they're unabsorbed, right. So that that is something interesting that's in the model. And I do to John's point, I want to say, like, I think that's absolutely right about this idea that the effortlessness is indexed to training processes, not to the accomplishments. Right, that
  • something very different happens once these bases that we're talking about when we [inaudible] contemporary cog-science, or with these dispositions of the klesas, once that's rejiggered, the way in which it is experienced and flows out is very different. Right. It will have a very different kind of valence after that. Valence is not [inaudible] how we want to cash it out. Buddhas do not expend effort and are not spending their lifetime controlling the control methods, they flow out almost automatically. But that's a different because those are Buddhas we're talking about the process of getting good at this. So this is definitely intensive. That's why you guys are coming next. You're the achievers. We're just struggling. [inaudible] Yes, do you guys need breaks? I mean, like we love like like you need think if you would like to get some water, coffee while we're talking, please feel free, and someone to tell me where to go. Yes, yes. Yes. So this is a - we have a question and then we'll come to you. Oh, no, she, her hand was up, I'm sorry, let's get you a mic. [inaudible]
  • I'm just wondering if klesa is, I'm not sure pronouncing this right, probably not, is another word for, um, what sounds like it might be, I know the word sankhara. Oh, and that's usually translated as a formation, concoction or something like that. So I think that that one is Pali, whereas klesa probably a different language if it corresponds, if it's the same word in a different language. [inaudible] oh, that's right, I need this, too. I'm not there yet. So we're these are overlapping ways of talking about similar phenomena, right. So, so, so. Well, some of the conditioning factors will count as a flicked of factors in certain contexts. So just think of it as a rubric for talking about the stuff that shapes the the mind and body over time. Is klesa a Sanskrit word or a Pali word? These are all - and the word of the Pali form of klesa's, kilesa, but there is a Pali equivalent to it. What is the one that you’re using? What language is it in?
  • That's a good question, Sanskrit. My teacher, my Pali teacher said I have bloody Brahmanical like tendencies, that I always revert to Sanskrit. He's not he's not entirely wrong. So it's kilesa in Pali, yeah. One sec, I think we should go to Willa and then we'll. And did I miss someone? Oh, I'm so sorry. You've got to keep yours. I need my. This is a question for Sonam. I know you're getting a lot of air time here, but - you make one joke. In the materials in which you work, is there any examples in which klesa are not an impediment to freedom but actually are its cause? Is this is this is this a do you study tantra, don't you?
  • Yeah, the short answer is no. But just just give it a few. Give it a few, like actually from Sthiramati's times, it's probably already happening. But others, of course, will say that these are not necessarily impediments to freedom. Right. These are could be occasions for the exercise of freedom. Right. So the tantric stuff is going to happen tomorrow, folks. Maybe a little bit later. But that's right. But this is very important, right? One of the things we're tracking here are very different paradigmatic senses of what we mean by mind. Is mind like mental structure and mental action? Dealing with the really simple measures. Yeah George keeps saying this. I think this is not the really simple - We don't understand it. We don't understand it, not exactly so. But this is - let's not make it more complicated, you know. But this is a beautiful point. It is. Yeah. So I think it's going to be exponentially difficult to understand how these things work when when they are more under control than in the natural - you know, I should say, one, two things. What Chandra and I are going to present now following in Session three, I've lost track of time completely. But one
  • of two things to hear as we're presenting is one, a paradigmatic sense of what I'm talking about when we talk about mind, right. Like we're going to like other sessions, you're going to start to see mine becoming more like consciousness or the sphere of nominal presence or the expression of certain kinds, like experiential dimensions that we're not going to be hitting on. We're going to be talking about a suite of mental actions and mental structures. That's what the Buddhists are thinking about in these texts and traditions and in the particular discipline. And then the other thing is what does that do for the notion of freedom and what's our paradigmatic sense of what it looks like to be free? Does it look like having control? Or does it look like letting go? Right, the early text talked a lot about restraint and control over the things of mind as stricter agency, but this is not necessarily about conditions over centuries. [inaudible] And just what we do really need to move on to the next one. Michael, is it OK if we move on without a break? Yeah, cool. So we are going to move on to the next session. To be
  • not restrained, though. I just want to make one one other point about the klesa model. Right. Is that there's two there's two things. And then we're going to come back to a general discussion. So we'll we'll put you first. So there's two things that are wrapped up. There's one sort of an action theoretic model about what's going on with the agency. And there's the other which is like a normative model or an ethical model about the soteriological path, which is like what's good and what's bad. Right. And like there's two claims there. Right. Is like one, there are these impediments. And two, the impediments are bad, but those things are separable. Right. And you could just like, reject the. Yeah. So I do think it's important to separate the normative and the and the descriptive about the action theory. Cool. All right, next session. So just while everyone's settling, I wanted to to say. I wanted to say a brief note on how the last session hooks up to the other ones, because we're going in a little bit of a different direction.
  • Zach Irving
    We've been talking about a specific contemplative practice. And here what we're trying to say is how that conversation fits into a broader conversation about the overlap between Abidharma theory and Abidharma theories of the mind and the theories of the mind that you find and the kind of computational expected value type of neuroscience that we were - or cognitive science - that we were talking about. And so that's what Chandra and Sonam are going to talk about, and we'll have a discussion about this, and then a general discussion. OK, so what follows is going to be very cursory and basic, but hopefully not too terribly boring. One hopes. Boring can be good, as we learned in the last, but takes work. OK, so the theory of mind I'm going to present in a cursory outline derives from a place and a time, as far as I can tell and others, I'm basing myself in the work of others. This is a theoretical picture of the mind that developed in ancient Gandara, and it's the real theoretical energy that went into making it the system that became available for later Scholastic's to work with seems to have been from the 1st to the 4th century, CE, after which there are developments, but not as radical as what happens in this time period. Now, it was a
  • Sonam Kachru
    situated picture that I'm going to present to you a theory from the ancient world, from an even from an ancient place, ancient Gandara. But we're going to look at its contemporary salience. We're going to I'm going to present it with an eye on the conversation with contemporary theories. It's going to sound weird moments, actually, rather surprisingly new. And this conversation that we're having, the conversation between Abidharma theories of mind and contemporary science is not new either. It also has a history. One of the earliest students of Buddhist thought, Caroline Rhys Davids already said, "it is this psychologizing without a psyche that impressed me from the first." And what she went on to say in her work is that if you want conversation partners at that time in the history of thought, you would not find them in philosophy departments, you would find them amongst in the growing field of psychology. And that's a conversation, actually, and the promise of a conversation we're still carrying on today. And it's important in what I say, not to think that the tradition of Abhidhamma or Abidharma's dead. It is it, too, is a living
  • tradition, as the work of Nina van Gorkom will will allow you to see in Thailand. And what's even more interesting is that the conversation between Abidharma and science, or Abhidhamma and science, I don't want to prevent the Sanskrit, feeds back into contemporary Abidharma as well. So contemporary monks and nuns training in these Buddhist scholastic theories or Buddhist practitioners learning scholastic theories tend to use interpretations of Abidharma, or don't tend to, but can, that are influenced by conversations that point out certain contemporary significances of ancient terms and theories. So, so very short presentation, but with a long line of antecedents. OK, look, here's the basic idea, all right? It's credited I credited to Vasumitra. I like to think of all of these as Kashmiris, and so do my uncles, this one is probably not Kashmiri, but you won't tell.
  • In a work, called On The Five Sorts Of Things, that Pancavastuka, a very important short treatise, Vasumitra presents the basic architecture of mind we're going to be talking about. And according to this mind means the presentation of content. Mind is being identified with intentional structure, the directedness at content. This is very important in other in other sessions you're going to hear more about consciousness. Here, mind is intentionality. It's a generalized model of perception. Thought is being directed at content of various kinds. Sensory is an example, but not exhaustive. It's selfless. The factors that we're going to be talking about are not actions undertaken by separable autonomous agent, nor are they properties of an underlying substance that could be identified as a self. They involve, instead, events and functionally characterize properties related via causal relations. So structure and causation is really what we're going to be talking
  • about. But here's the key thought to go with it, having an object or having content is not sufficient to characterize mind. This is I'm quoting Georges’ article with Evan Thompson. “The basic insight is that mental states have two types of cognitive functions, awareness and cognitive and affective engagement and characterization. The mental state is aware of an object. For example, the sense of smell is aware of a sweet object. But mental states,” or Georges’s having a memory right now of having written this or not having written this. “But mental states are not just states of awareness. They're not passive mirrors in which objects are reflected. Rather, they actively engage their objects, apprehending them as pleasant or unpleasant, approaching them with particular intentions and so forth.” And so forth? Well, the precise number and the nature of the kinds of engagements, every mental state, event, or we'll get to a little bit more precise characterization in a minute. Then the precise character, the functions that are present in mental states can
  • vary. People disagreed about them, but an example might be sensory contact, or as is some other thinkers that I work with, would consider the sensory silhouette that the senses broadcast to our awareness, or you get a sensory apprehension that's distinct from the kind of cognitive labeling that can happen when I identify the sensation or when I have praised something hedonically as pleasant or not, that's vedana, or I intend, cetana, or I concentrate, or I advert, or I desire to act, or I understand, or I am vigilant with respect or maintain and memory, or I decide. Now the precise number and nature of these are contested. But the idea is that to understand the mental event, you have to ask what engagements go into composing it? Does it have attention or not? And you have to ask what quality of the factors is present, how much attention is present or not. And then that's how you start getting a grip on what kind of mental state or event you're in. All right, it gets a little bit more radical and fun.
  • According to, this is Vasubandhu saying, according to the encyclopedias, the mahabhumikas, who basically consolidate a range of opinions on a number of disputed issues, including disputed issues on this theory, all the mental engagements of functions that I just listed exist, and here's the important part, in every moment of mind. So now you have to sort of miniaturize mind into episodes, fleeting events in which a suite of possible engagements take place. So what looks like at the meso level, even in our grammar, as something like Sonam is talking and you are struggling to pay attention because it's so bloody boring and it can be captured in ordinary grammar, would be broken down by the Abidharma into a stream of episodes, each composed of many functions which, when bundled together later by subsequent ones, can be talked about as states of mind of a person doing an activity that takes time, et cetera.
  • What is, what do I mean by Abidharma theory? But this is the interesting part, the Abidharma world, the world of these thinkers over over centuries, again, in many, many locations of learning, they're not just listing received knowledge. They begin to produce new knowledge about these models by raising problems for the models. For example, some of the problems you saw in these two sessions, the when you were defining a function, let me say that one of the things that's important about having a mental event is keeping an object in view. When I'm characterizing that, I might have to make mention, not just of an event, but the dynamics of events over time. How does something stay in view, given distractions or things that could pull away? That requires taking into account a stream and not just an event. Other problems might occur when you realize that you have to look under the hood, so to speak. For example, having an object is the definition of mind. But then what is the difference between that and attention? A single pointed concentration.
  • They wind up looking the same from just a description of them. To get at the difference, you need to do some causal structuring, that which accounts for our ability to have something in view and so that you can get some hidden structure in addition to the phenomenology that you have to account for and begin to think about. What I'm trying to do here is to give you a feel for what reasoning within this system of thinking looks like and one of the things that they admit, so this is Vasubandhu right after describing these moments of mind and these and trying to come up with a definition of each function, saying, actually, this is bloody hard. It's not easy to say what distinguishes a mental engagement from another, it would be hard to do even if we could pull them apart. But the fact that these functions play out in moments together and that these are sub-phenomenologically given, I mean by sub they are smaller than our typical units of attention. They may be available for attention and they may be available to our awareness, but not they're not typically so. You have to think through the possibilities, training, observation with description and back again, just in the way that gourmands can learn to detect new flavors once they have been trained to do so. So this is a
  • kind of a complex sort of, it's not entirely non empirical, but it's not, not obviously empirical either, like there's a theory driven observation practice that feeds in and we're talking generations of refinements. So, for example, if you ask me what attention is in the system, I don't think any one function will give you the answer. You'd have to have a suite of capacities. For example, Dreyfus and Thompson in the same article say, "concentration differs from attention in that it involves the ability of the mind to not just attend to an object, but to sustain it over time." In the work that I looked at over generations, like so from the fourth century to the seventh century, when they talk about what we would call attention, they're talking about three different functions that have to work together. So you have to be able to once you've adverted to something, you have to be able to keep the content in view.
  • But you can, as it were, not just keep the content in view against other possible distractions, like in the second slide, something pops up and you stick with what you were looking at. You can zoom in, as it were, cognitively, to engage with the content at new levels of refinement and to make it available for cognitive characterisation. So this is - what am I talking about here? My point is these are the kinds of questions I’m just giving you a taste of the theoretical interest that these thinkers have in what they're describing in the mind is a structure with these kinds of engagements. What is the difference between keeping something in view and cognitively engaging with it to make it available for content later downstream? What's the difference between, like keeping it in view and focusing? What's the difference? You see where I'm going with this, right? A recent work that tries to articulate these functional differences with contemporary accounts of cognitive architecture. So to make the differences that Abidharmicas are noticing, to make those things salient and to pump. An example
  • of that kind of work is Jonardon Ganeri. But here's what I'm going to try and say very quickly before handing it over to Chandra. One of the things, we've been focusing on the attention as concentration or the attention system with working memory and advertence, I want to say that what is really remarkable and what I would love for any future graduate students to take up as dissertation topics is how rich the sense of the engagements, the make up of a moment of mind is. What I mean by how rich is there are not all present focused. They involve ingredients of factors, that keep pull in the past and that protend the future. There are factors that are evaluative and factors that are indicative. There are micro actions like deciding that content made available a certain way will enter the system that way. Oh, that's going to be taken this blue. Well, you know what? From here on out for the next next microseconds, it's going to be treated as blue.
  • We're going to there are aspects, there's hedonic categorization of appraisal, and then there is cognitive categorization, the attention system, you know, a little bit more. You see the temporally and in terms of value and modality, it is an extremely rich account of what is going on. Why should that matter? This is Chandra and Co. in a book called Homo Prospectus. They're articulating the difference it makes to analyze the mind with or without certain kinds of dimensions of time and and value. The canonical human being, homo psychologicus, is a prisoner of the past and present. If you want to know what humans will do in the future, all you need to know are four things: their history, the genetic makeup, the present stimuli, the present drives and emotions. Right. But what happens when the canonical human being becomes homo prospectus and our ability to think about our futures becomes our defining ability. The picture of the human will change. Well, so too, the Abidharma model is not necessarily a model of what we are like now. It is
  • a model, I think that takes into account two things. We are active at far more skills than we ordinarily credit and in and the agencies distributed across time far more pervasively than we're likely to credit. Lots and lots of things are happening and some of the those things are shaping the future. And some of those things are integral to being different sorts of people and they can be marshaled through practices in different ways. So this is a theoretical account not just of what we are like now, but what we could be. Right? Like that I think is important, that dimension of modality is important. Is it complete? And here I'm going to hand over to to Chandra. There are elements in the model that to my mind are very suggestive, but they leave off where I think we could start talking about. So, for example, there is this extremely interesting engagement model, a factor called decision or commitment on which, according to which the definition says the mind or the system commits to the information that's been made available to it.
  • And it takes the form of an imperative, let it be that way, or an object of it shall be that way. This flower will be treated as yellow. This smell will be pleasant from here on out, and that's the kind of information that's broadcast to the system downstream. But what they don't tell you is when did this process of decision happen or where does the process of decision happen? So there's a kind of like committing to something that is undecided, formerly undecided. Is X, Y or Z or X, Y or not Y? And then that the resolution to that is what gets carried downstream. They don't tell us whether should we think of their being even more micro levels of analysis or can we talk about the mental frame that they're providing for us in another way with another with an eye to different sorts of activities? Well, that's one way of putting the question for how Abidharma can ask questions which can get carried along in dialogue with contemporary science. The way I like to ask it, though, is is is my good friend Chandra secretly an Abidharmica? I'll let him answer.
  • Chandra Sripada
    Thank you, Sonam. So that was a beautiful telling of Abidharmic theory, and you may, I myself, am not a Buddhist theorist. And so you wonder why did a nice boy like me end up on the stage with these luminaries? So I work in philosophy and psychiatry and I'm very interested in contemporary computational models of agency. And in dialogue with people like Zach and people like Sonam, it came to be that some of the work that I was doing and publishing in philosophy and psychiatric neuroscience journals kind of recapitulate the Abidharmic system. So I want to give a flavor of how this idea of mental moments enters in contemporary computational cognitive science. And I'll just do it very briefly as a way of stimulating thought and maybe stimulating discussion either now or later on in the next few
  • days. So we heard from Sonam that there is a an attempt to take what subjectively feels like an unfolding continuous stream of consciousness and break it into mental moments where these mental moments are, in a way, kind of atoms, discrete events that last very briefly and give way to the next mental moment each prior one conditioning the next. And these moments aren't simply a holistic, unstructured entity, but they are structured elements that contain the mental functions. And so Sonam listed some of them. And then the lists change from different theories, but they include things like sensation and contact and intention and decision and attention and things
  • like that. So there's an atomic role and an arena role. And I'll suggest that contemporary cognitive science arrives at a very similar kind of conclusion. So the explanatory strategy of contemporary computational cognitive neuroscience is to algorithmize things. And what that means is you take a capacity like perception or face recognition or language comprehension and these high level capacities, they are given a step by step procedural characterisation where those steps are each sufficiently simple that they can be executed, quote unquote, without intelligence. That is the foundational idea of cognitive science. And just to take an example, language comprehension, thanks to Chomsky's innovations, there's a set of phrase structure rules that can be unintelligently implemented, like subject goes to noun phrase and verb phrase. This is an older theory, but it's good for illustrative purposes. And that's a sense in which we algorithmize something so complicated as language comprehension.
  • The agent problem is a problem that has received extensive treatment in computational cognitive science, and so an agent performs actions in the setting of an environment. The environment yields perceptions for the agent. The actions modify the environment, changing the perceptions that the agent receives in a kind of cycle. So what is the algorithmic story of how temporally extended agency occurs? And the the the thing that has been identified again and again is complex agency resolves into decisional moments. Let me say more about that. So take, in folk psychology we would give a meso-scale description of somebody making coffee, but if I want to algorithmize that and give you a computational story of how that happens, I have to break the complex activity into much
  • more simple steps. Examples would be I have to get the coffee pot, but that entails a decision. Where do I look? Do I look up, left or right? I add coffee and water, but how much do I add? A little, some, a lot? I have to get a mug. Which one? The black one, the green one, and so forth. So complex agency breaks into these decisional events. The same is true of the mind itself. So that's an example of overt motoric behavior. But the mind itself, the same scheme gets invoked. So this is a model. Let's see here, I think there's animations here that I didn't realize, yeah. This is a model of the spontaneous stream of thought. And so in this is, of course, this kind of discursive thought that might occur at the first jhana. We studied this in the lab and we have a model called the clump and jump model. And what happens in this model is there's a series of decisions. So there's a, at every moment the mind is making a decision whether to stay on the current topic or jump to a
  • new one. On the model of foraging in animals where at every given moment the animal is, I'm going to either stay at this bush and eat another berry or jump to another bush. But it's a series of decisional moments. And if you stay with current topic for a while, you get a clump about that topic. But at some point, do the things like boredom or mental fatigue or curiosity or interest, you jump to a new topic. So this is a sense in which the mind's activity breaks down into these individual discrete decisional moments. So this is what one might call a horizontal decomposition of temporally extended agency. To give an analogy of what this kind of decomposition is, is to contrast it with a vertical
  • decomposition. So take something like a train extended spatially and an axis and many, many cars, a vertical decomposition, which is the one kind of more familiar when people talk about reductionism, is you take this kind of an entity located at this ontologic level and you break it into things that are much, much more simple. So a train gets broken down into steel and screws which get broken down into complex chemical compounds that get broken down into atoms. That's not the decomposition that is of interest when we study agency. Instead, we stay at this level of ontological complexity, the train level, and we break it into individual cars. That is, each car is a moment of the train of the same kind of ontological level of complexity. Similarly, contemporary theories of agency break temporally extended agency into individual person level decisional moments, each one at this level of ontological complexity. So one needs to be clear that this is not talking about neurophysiology or algorithmic routines that unfold unconsciously.
  • Rather, these decisional moments are ones that are available. In the first person, especially to somebody trained in contemplative practices, they can identify these decisional moments unfolding one by one. That's what training, that's what Sonam was talking about when he said the Abidharmists are identifying these mental moments. How are they able to do it? They were able to do it introspectively because this is a horizontal decomposition of agency and we're staying at the person conscious level, although we're doing it with now moments that composed the overall temporal series. Each momentary atom of agency, we can talk, we can break that down and look at its structure, and computationalists will talk about a SASA structure, their sensation, or sometimes this is called the state representation, followed by action selection, followed by action. This action selection, this is a sequential sampling model. It's the preeminent model of how action
  • selection occurs. What happens is the options available to the agent, and remember, these are momentary mental acts typically that we're talking about. The options available to the agent are associated with a kind of force of attraction to one as well as the other. And these forces resolve to an overall vector that favors this. And in the lab we identify these grey traces are the actual trajectory of the underlying decision variable. So overall, what I am saying is the action selection is associated with computational models that are very well characterized. And I'll give a quick example of how we understand how action selection works. This is a typical laboratory paradigm where you present letters to a subject and all they have to do is indicate which letter is being presented to them. And after the stimulus is presented, there is a decision processing phase and using computational methods, we can uncover the underlying structure of that decision process. The
  • take home message is this process unfolds very rapidly, roughly 300 to 600 milliseconds, with about 200 milliseconds probably being a lower bound of when these kinds of decision - how fast these kind of decisional events can occur. And so there is an underlying model of what these moments likely look like. They involve sensation or perception of the stimulus, the mind being attracted to one or other kind of response, and the execution of the response, which then goes back to the next moment that involves sensation, action selection, and action in a cycle. These basic decisional moments, one might think of having a atomic roll in that they are the constituents of a series that constitutes once temporally extended activity. But they are not simply atoms, they're also arenas. Many of the kinds of things that have been discussed, such as affective influences, things like intentions, things like executive control, they operate at these decisional moments. So in the history of
  • affective psychology, bears are often used as an example. You encounter a bear, you enter a kind of a fear state. These decisional moments are affected so that now the vector of forces that determine your response previously maybe you were concentrating on your breath, now your attention is changed to the bear. So the decisional moment is where that affected influence manifests. It manifests by changing properties of how these kinds of decision variables unfold. Another factor that enters or that these decisions are an arena for is cognitive control or executive control. Here is the stroop task, very standard task for tapping executive control. You give subjects words that are colors like red, blue, green and pink, but the words themselves have an ink color and the instruction to the subject always is, say, the ink color. And so saying the ink color is relatively easy here because the ink color and the word match.
  • But for these, it's more challenging because people have a habitual tendency to read words, whereas naming ink colors is much less practiced. Without executive control, presentation of the stimulus like this tends to yield the ink - the word reading response. That's the stronger habitual response. But in the presence of the executive control, the actual decision process is modified. Executive control is like a factor or an engagement that enters into the decision process, rendering this vector stronger than that vector, and the person ends up saying the ink color. So the basic Abidharmic strategy is to identify mental moments that play both an atomic role and an arena role. The atomic role is how the temporally extended consciousness breaks into moments. The arena role is the mental functions or engagements that enter into each of these moments. And something very, very similar happens in contemporary cognitive science. Algorithmic models of agency break agency into decision nodes. Those nodes are atomic in the sense they are the elements of the temporally extended agency. But
  • those nodes are also have an arena role, and things like affective qualities, executive control and things like that, they all appear within each of these decisional moments as modifications or engagements. In other words, the decisional moments are the arena in which all of these other factors operate. So in short, decisional events in contemporary computational cognitive science serve a similar theoretical role of mental moments in Abidharmic theory. Can I just point out an overlap? This is what we were talking about, the standard model of how to control things is that you don't actually that these are just given. Right. These salient things. And what you do is you just operate on you don't you don't change those. You just operate on them and influence them through your own control. Right.
  • Discussion Participants
    Then there was the second model, which is the salience model of how to how to gain control, which is over a very long process of training. You make different things salient. So instead of feeling fear by the bear, you feel all cuddly or something like that, or instead of feeling instead of feeling like effortful and bored by the breath, you feel, you know, excited and invigorated by it. That's the second kind of model. The third kind of model is instead of changing this through the training, you actually just gain control at an earlier step over that, right, and that was the Vasubandhu and Sthiramati model is that you don't have to just control after this is pre given, right, and effortfully resisted, you can actually gain control over, not in the fear case, I think that's a different mechanism, but the effort mechanism. Right, that that is one of the inputs into here. So that that's where, you know, there's a lot of overlap, again, with this kind of style of thinking and the kind of style of thinking that we saw in the actual text. And that's why we really wanted to point that out, is that there's this kind of explanatory strategy that looks like it overlaps.
  • Why don't you guys come to the table? Yeah, so why don't we think it is it is 12:15, so why don't we open it up to conversation. Can I - you're going to open up for questions? Yeah. Can I make a couple of comments? That's great. It's going to be a good discussion. But I want to ask Sonam something which is one of the reasons the Abidharma can't break consciousness into moments, right, is metaphysical because of the ontology that they want to come up with. And that's one kind of work that they do. And then there is the other work that they do, which is to be kind of a psychologist, slash a phenomenologist, right? Do you, what value do you think there is? So for me, when they talk about moments I see that mostly directed by a metaphysical concern. What value do you see? Do you see much value in the, because I see much value in the Abidharma in terms of the global phenomnology and psychology they provide. But do you see much value in this kind of moment by moment analysis in terms of the psychology and phenomenology that they provide?
  • Because if I understood you, your beautiful talk, thank you, it was really interesting. This is what you're trying to look at, right? Yeah. And I'm wondering, how much do you see there? I think that's great, actually. So, Chandra, if we could answer this together and then maybe Bryce, I know you have thoughts on the value of attending to the mind at these scales of these these these interstitial changes that are continuously happening. So if you have if you can get a mic to jump in, that would be amazing. But OK, while he's getting a mic, Chandra do you want to take a stab at like, why do the why does this level of analysis, because you have no antecedent Soteriological commitments to distinguishing your theory from those damn Brahmins and their and their selves. Right. At least we think - from the end. Exactly. Yeah. From the Brahmins. So so like this but this scale so this distinction that Georges just brought up, kind of like a metaphysical commitment to Atomism and a commitment to psychology as a suite of functions.
  • These that distinction will not play out the same for you. And so what's the what's the value? What is the value? Yeah, fundamentally, this is where the action is. I was just going to - that's what I was going to say. Yeah. I mean, right. So if you're trying to give a theory of something temporally extended like making coffee, and you want to follow the constraint of cognitive science, that it's got to be done, that your explanation has to be algorithmic so that the steps are sufficiently simple that it can be implemented without intelligence. Well, you're going to have to break it up into decision nodes and you're going to like, how does a person acquire the skill of making coffee? Well, whatever supplies that explanation will be a learning algorithm that shapes the valuations occurring at decision nodes. So the mesoscale description of somebody making coffee and learning how to do it, that loses all that is psychologically interesting and all the intervenable action variables is lost at that level of description and the action nodes, their valuations and the algorithms by which those valuations are shaped via experiential feedback with the environment, that's really where the
  • action is. And so you, paying attention to these scales is the, the the more informative, more deeply informative level. Bryce, on skill, like I know, man, you've got thoughts on this, because we're working right now on thinking about the difference that makes to think. Actually, Georges, atomically. And I so I would say, are you ready to jump in, go and say it say it because it's - so I think there's a really difficult question here about how real we want to make these things, which lines up exactly with what Georges is pointing us towards. One way of thinking about, for example, the five factors in the Yogachara sort of tradition is that they give you a structure to make sense of the dynamics of the changes in the unfolding of mental events. If you think about them that way, they might not track determinant episodic structures. Nonetheless, by taking an orientation that centers them and seeing the ways that fluctuations and contact or fluctuations and bending towards yield different patterns in the unfolding of mental life, you can start to find ways to intervene on parts of those variables, which will pull you into a new space. I think
  • that's right. And that gives us, I think, a very different take than the one that Chandra wanted to give us. I didn't see that as a different take at all. I think we're saying that these moments are actually where the the shaping of the mesoscale description is really taking place at these momentary levels and interventions operate there as well. The thing that I'm trying to push against is the "really" there. Are they really doing it? I don't know. Is it helpful to conceptualize the dynamics of awareness in ways that center these kinds of frameworks? Maybe. But those are different ways of sort of centering questions about reality and questions about what is a skillful way of navigating this. Is this a kind of instrumentalism that it's helpful and pragmatic to take these things to be there, but you have no ontological commitment that they're actually there. Interesting. That's right. But the
  • computational model, like the sequential sampling model, that's not a peripheral model. That's a model that has more than 10,000, you know, studies of it. We know that there are these momentary events where the mind bends towards this or that response. We're not doubtful that those moments exist. What we might be doubtful of is that their entire structure is best captured by the kinds of models that are articulated within the Abidharma systems and within the Yogachara variants of them. But one thing that we might find is that using the tools that they're supplying give us ways of reshaping the underlying dynamics. Even if they look like the ones that you're finding, you might be picking out a structure that maps partly to what's going on in these forms of thought, but not mapping it completely. And because of that, we might get different strategies for intervening on the unfolding of the mind by focusing on those Abidharma models than we get from focusing on the decision theoretic models that show up in the cognitive science.
  • Hmm, I just I wonder, so you're saying that they're abstractions about a process, which I think is actually what Vasubandhu says in the end. Because like you can agree that there's you can agree, and I actually don't know if I do agree, but you can agree that they're like the mind breaks into the moments without agreeing on everything that's happening in these moments. And sort of and I guess the idea is that there could be some sort of like, useful falsehoods basically that would allow us to intervene on the processes that are and Chandra's well, I mean, I give you the reality, which again, I disagree. Yeah. Yeah. But I think the fact is. The fact that the Abhidharmakosha and the Abhidharma-samuccaya say, one says there are ten omnipresent functions and the other says there's five chittas. I think that probably tells us something, I mean it's just part of the point, I think, which is that maybe there's only two sometimes. I mean, who knows?
  • So I have a slightly different question, it's come up partly in response to a question to all of you, but really kind of response to Zach's earlier presentation and also Sonam's, the idea that there are these micro actions that occur. And Karin mentioned the idea of antidotal meditation's right, that one tactic of contemplative technique is to apply antidotes. Right. Things that are sweet or pleasant, you think of them as disgusting, et cetera. Yeah. So that's volition in action as one kind of contemplative tactic or technique. Zach talked and walked us through this idea of increasing attentional effort and what comes and how difficult it gets as you walk down sustained attention, right. Increasingly exponentially more difficult. In the contemplative traditions they're suggesting if you sustain attention, habitualization becomes automatization. There's an automaticity that emerges through sustained attentional effort. And I haven't heard really much talk or even kind of gesture towards automaticity and what happens when cognitive effort becomes essentially sustained attention that's effortless or automatic. So if
  • people could talk about that a little bit, that would be interesting. Here's an explanation of why you might think it feels automatic. And I think the model that we were talking about is committed to saying that there's a sense in which that's not true. Right. Because one model of automaticity. Yeah, there's a literal sense in which that's not true because there's there's a there's a thing that you might call automaticity, which is building up the kind of habits. Right. And that's probably partly what's going on here. But in this model, I think it's partially committed to saying that's not all that's going on. And yet the model would explain why it feels automatic is because it feels effortless, effortful, effortless. Right. Usually when you take an action, right, and that's like not habitual, it's hard, right, because you're going to come up against all sorts of habits that are derailing you. And you have to - and those habits specifically in the case of attention are, well, habits and automatic mechanisms like the sort of expected value of control mechanisms.
  • Right, like these feelings of effort, having to resist those is tough. And the idea is here by changing the things that are creating the feeling of effort in the first place, you would be able to effortlessly achieve this thing, which is sustained attention. Right. But you would be able to do it in a way that unlike automaticity, it's under your control. And the generalizability really matters here. Right. Because here's the thing about habits like playing a sport. Those are habitual things where you can sustain attention on something. But like making me good at - this is false - but like, if I were good at basketball, then that doesn't make me better at stopping smoking. Right. Whereas if I'm good at mindfulness, that does help me stop smoking. And the question is why? Well, because what I'm doing is not just gaining a habit where it's automatic. I'm gaining the ability to get rid of the - voluntarily and non habitually - get rid of the sort of effort that derails me in other contexts, and that matters, too, in the smoking case. That that's the model that we're I think.
  • And, you know, there's several ways in which that question can play out. There's the question of what do we think is the case? What does the model predict is the case? What do individual Buddhists think is the case? What do they think they think is the case? So I, you know, this is a it's a beautiful question and it goes to the heart of, like, so much of what we're talking about here and what the traditions of thought about for eons, not eons, but, you know, felt like like, OK. So here here's an analogy that we find at a certain generation of Buddhist texts that is exactly is the conversation we're having now where we're not sure whether to take the automi– What was the word you had? Automaticity. There you go. Now, that's why we need to work collaboratively. Right, the words, they stumble, you stumble over the words. I can't say, OK, I can't I can't say the word that - automaticity - is appeal to, but it's unclear whether to take it literally or as an analogy for the kind of achievement Buddhas and other perfect beings who who actually transcend the kind of agency that's constitutive of us experience, right? So Buddhas, eventually the perfect beings are like machines that respond automatically to the kinds of solicitations of the environment without any thought or effort. Now, are they literally like those machines which would make them mindless? Are they literally mindless?
  • John wrote a beautiful essay on this. Like, really, really? Or does it feel that way or does it seem that way to others? And if they are, what of it because they're no longer human, like, you know what I mean? Like, this is built into like very complex questions that come about when we're thinking of agency and transcending the structures of agency. I think no matter what, we're going to be asking these questions like what does it really mean to be automatic, really? What is it like to - Right, right, well, so like the Buddha's volition too, right, even as the analogy says, he's like a robot, they say he can think of anything he wishes without impediment and then they say mindlessly. And it's like, wait a minute. Right. Like I mean, like, hang on a second. Like this. But it's clear we're at the limit cases of making sense. So Karin raised a beautiful question that I would love for us to think about, because it brings us back to the experience of effort. The way you put it, Karin, is that there is something constitutive to our sense of agency that we are constantly exerting like this effort to overcome things that seem to that we either do not identify with or that we encounter as resistances to accomplishing what we want to. What is the sense of self and or agency? What would it look like when those impediments are entirely removed? Right. Like,
  • what does that do for one's sense of subjectivity is a really profound question. Right? Remember that that's how we ended our conversation when we were thinking about. And I kind of think that's the question we would be having. Right. And certainly the text we were talking about, they say once the klesas are overcome, it's effortless, but they also say it's ineffable. Right. It's not we don't know how to describe what the hell's going on. Yeah, I make one super big picture question about different ways of approaching these contemplative techniques. I thought, like David's talk this morning was really, really cool. And also, I think a very different explanatory strategy than the one that we were giving today, and the one I think that you kind of found in Sthiramati and Vasubandhu. Right. One way that you can try and explain a thing is like the historical type of explanation. A great historical explanation tells you why this particular thing happened in it's situated context in all the detail that this happened in. Right. And our whole stuff. Right. This whole conversation was like pretty bad by that by that standards. Right. Like
  • we abstracted away from all sorts of stuff that is relevant to understanding the particular practices. But there's a different kind of explanation that's good for different things, which is where one where you abstract away from a bunch of detail and try and pick out some generalisable features of a phenomenon. And I think that that's what was trying to happen here. Right. We're saying like this isn't the only thing that happens. Right. It's not like a counterexample that Sthiramati and Vasubandhu, if you also do some other stuff too, right, like increase salience, if you also have sort of religious rituals, if you also have cultures or communities that support you. Right. That can all be true, too. But all they're claiming is that this is a feature. This is a real thing that's happening that's generalisable that allows you to understand the mind and the scope of what human beings can do, and it's cool and we want to talk about it. But those are very different kinds of explanatory strategies. And I think that's something that's going to keep coming up, and I think often does come up in dialogues between, you know, Buddhist philosophers and Buddhist scholars outside philosophy is this question of what do we get out of these different ways of trying to explain the mind and explain these traditions. OK.
  • [inaudible] I just like to continue on this topic of Michael's question, because I think it's so important and I come at it maybe from a different perspective, having been trained so much in mathematics, that when we that there's something entirely different when you go to the limit of something, so that something that's spontaneously present or that, you know, happens automatically, that when you go all the way to an extreme like dividing by zero, it's a completely different situation. And I wonder if you can comment on that when you, you know, completely go to a state of ease, it's, you know, a different state altogether. I don't want to comment on that so much as to use that to how beautifully what even the texts are talking about. Right. But there is going to come a point, a limit condition after which the transformation is radical, and it becomes very difficult to specify from one side of the limit what is going on the other, right? That there are these, there's a real threshold that's reached all these text styles, like different way of different language, like using positive signs, language to capture what transformation of one's basis entirely mean.
  • But I think that's a limit condition. I think that this practice is designed and what we trying to say is what does approaching that limit or what is the - right? What is going on that would allow you to reach the like? What is what else is happening? Just the just thing where we're reproving attention of sustaining intentional action. I don't know, though. I mean, I think another way to read what's going on in the in the text and the argument is like there's a question about whether what's going on in the limit when you get really, really good at math or when you get an expertise in philosophy or whatever, you're sort of life vocation where you spend tens of thousands of hours, whether that's kind of a different expertise that affects attention differently than this other these other cases. Right. And so that's the sort of question I think these are the two competing models is like - what happens when you change it? Right. And well a little bit. But again, there's one model in which both of them are making the sort of like deeply habitual flow state kind of things. Right. That's the one kind of model that that's what's going on in all these cases of expertise. And this is just another example of that. Right. The other kind of
  • model says, no, no, no, that's what's going on that makes us really, really great at experience, but there's this other case where we're not getting good at something really exciting like math. Right. I think math is really exciting, but we're getting good at something like attending to your breath. And we do that by not just becoming an expert and entering the slow state, but by rejiggering this these basic constituents of agency. Right. And again, like we haven't totally argued that that's like the right model, but I do think those are relevantly different models. But again, sorry, I meant that the limit is achieved by doing this new thing, that there is a there's a limit reached after which it's hard to specify what what has been achieved. So we're going to bring this session to a conclusion. We have one hour for lunch, so we'll meet back here at 1:30 for the non-dual awareness practices. Thank you, everyone. Thank you.