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05 Jun 2023
Video Overview
Contemplative Sciences Center

Tibetan “Great Perfection” (Dzokchen) practices involve the deliberate elicitation of effortless self-emergent visionary experiences through gazing at the sun, a cloudless sky, or complete darkness while applying specific postures, gazes, attentional modalities, focus, breathwork, and at times visualizations to stimulate and influence dynamic and autonomous visions of buddhas. Visions are endogenously generated, meaning that they are amalgamations of past experiences and the architecture of the brain. Thus, self-emergent visions could be interpreted as externalized manifestations of the self, further contributing to the expanding representation of selfhood. The practice has implications for understanding conscious experience as constructed through perceptual predictions interacting with sensory data, suggesting that much of the world we experience is from inside rather than outside.  

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  • David Germano
    OK, so in our culminating session for the conference, we're going to be talking about effort, effortlessness, and self emergence. And so we're going to split this up into three parts, but only one break. And so the first two parts, myself and Per Sederberg will be going; and we'll be talking about effort and effortlessness in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and in neuroscience, respectively. And then James Gentry and Anne Klein will be going after a discussion break to talk about specific examples of effortless meditations in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. And then we'll have an actual break after a discussion. And then I will come back and David Glowacki to talk about self emergence in both Tibetan Buddhist context and also in an aesthetic and virtual reality context as well. So I'm going to be starting by talking about the complexity of effort, effortlessness, and agency in Tibetan great perfection contemplative practices.
  • So to start with, I'm going to present some practices that offer a touchstone for us over the course of the afternoon, and I'm going to be referring to a systematization of great perfection or Dzogchen meditation by Longchenpa in the 14th century, drawn from the Treasury of words and meanings. Longchenpa was the great systematizer and universally recognized as really the greatest author of the Dzogchen tradition within the context of Tibet. So we begin with what a meditative practice is, and meditative practice by definition in Tibet involves effort. It involves a discipline, a discipline of setting times, of going to specific places and other kinds of contexts, such as bodily postures, mental postures, attitudes, attentional modalities, etc., verbal postures, silence, chanting, etc., and other kinds of discipline. And the Tibetan word for what we think of as meditative practice is most typically taking it into your own experience. So with that
  • in mind, Longchenpa divides meditative practices into two types. The first kind he calls referentiaL practices. And these are seen as of less value in the context of the great perfection. And referential practices -- just to mention a few of the highlights -- first of all, they have a focus or centrality on intentional objects. There's an object that you hold intentionally, and usually that object is more singular in character. It tends to be more static. There's a lot of intentional focus on that object the way we talked about in our first session. Number two, the logic is called a karmic logic. And karma in in Tibetan is usually glossed in one of two ways: cause and effect, but it's also glossed as acceptance and rejection. And we've heard a lot about that in terms of world construction, the construction of interior and exterior. We accept certain things; we reject other things. We might take wholesome states on, we might reject unwholesome states, etc., so that construction of interior and exterior, that construction of what's good and what's bad, the construction of how we build the world. So that's the focus on these referential practices.
  • We are intentionally, deliberately adopting certain things as our focus, rejecting other things as not our focus. And there's a focus in these practices on technique. And that technique is generally heavily scripted. It tells you to do this first, this second, this third, and you have to adhere to it. And as we'll see, technique -- in the context that I'm going to present this -- contrast to experience. So self emergent practices is the second category of practice that Longchenpa discusses. And self emergent practices, instead of having intentional objects -- objects that you take and say, I'm going to intentionally keep my focus on this -- there are self emergent processes, processes that you don't intentionally trigger. You don't intentionally determine when it happens and how it unfolds. And so there's this gnostic logic is the way that Longchenpa talks about it. There's more porosity. There's more fluidity between subject and object, between self and world, between agent and patient, and more fluidity. So and the focus, instead of on technique (like this technique, that technique, take this posture, do this verbal technique, this attentional modality), the focus is more on creating an environment where experiences begin to self emerge and those experiences dictate the practice. Those experiences become the driver of the dynamics and specifics of the practice. And
  • so I'm juxtaposing here technique and experience, which is not a juxtaposition that happens within Longchenpa itself, but I think well captures what he's trying to discuss. And these are unscripted or relatively less scripted. And so with that in mind, I'm going to give you a really dense and brief overview of what the specific practices are and then only focus on a couple of them. [inaudible] Yeah, it's like mikpa yulkyi lochen and rigpa rangnam or rangnam rikpachan or something like that or something like that. [inaudible] Yeshe and lay. Yeah, and those are very explicit in the tradition. Yeah. OK, so the referential meditations of intellect, they they talk about these in terms of conduct, view, meditation and fruit, but for the moment I'll just focus on the meditation part. And even within that, I'll just focus on this fourfold typology. The first three, which really represent a kind of overview or an anthology of all sorts of classic types of Buddhist meditation. There's the yoga of food where you do alchemical practices or you visualize an internal flame within your subtle body. There's the yoga of dreams that we talked about. Those are classified within this context.
  • There's the yoga of latent propensities, which we've been talking about, to deconstruct those habitual patterns. And then there's these meditations of the profound secret mantra, which are all these classical, subtle body meditations that are done, meditations that replicate sexuality, that replicate dying like we heard about earlier in this morning and so forth. And then the means of concentration goes back or harkens back to our first session where we talked about this samadhi and the attempt to focus in at one pointed fashion on objects. And these just represent a broad variety of objects, ranging from just a letter in front of you to a leaf from a particular tree that you rub against your body to the vibration of a musical instrument to emptiness, et cetera. So there's many different objects, but it's kind of an anthology of classic Buddhist meditations. And we're not going to be talking about those practices. Those are just there kind of -- to go back to that theory of exclusion, this is what self emergence is not. And so what are the self emergent meditations of awareness? We're going to talk about the following three. I'm going to leave the breakthrough to, I think, James, and Anne will kind of talk about that in various ways. But this meditation in particular is one that's like open awareness, the most classic presentations. There's no instructions whatsoever. It doesn't say start here and then go there and end here and so forth.
  • They're just like poetic evocations about freedom and spontaneity and naturalness and so forth. Now, the two I'm going to quickly give you some background in are some preliminary practices that are called the sounds of the elements and the differentiation of samsara nirvana. So I'm going to turn to that in a moment. And then finally, there's direct transcendence, which is using darkness, an open sky or the sun to cultivate spontaneous visions. And so I'm going to talk about that in the second part of the afternoon, so not right now. So, to give you a background on those two practices I just mentioned, the yoga of the sound of the elements. The basic idea: water, earth, fire, wind, and space. You find naturally occurring places where these sounds occur and you spend days and weeks and even months immersing yourself in those sounds for hour after hour after hour. Like you go to a waterfall; you go to the top of a mountain and you sit in a house with all the windows open so wind rushes through it. You go to a fire and listen to the fire. And so, naturally occurring elemental sounds -- that's the basic practice. And what you do is you immerse yourself, you immerse your ears. It says take your ear consciousness and insert it into that sound. But it's obviously multisensorial. You don't focus on a fire without having tactile sensations and olfactory sensations and so forth.
  • But the text I'll just talk about for the most part is the sound. And the self emergent part is once you do this practice for days and weeks and weeks, you begin to discern patterns in the cacophony of sound. And those patterns are self emergent and they represent cosmological voices of different agents to dakini spirits, animals of different kinds and so forth. So that's the self emergent part of this practice. The second practice is the differentiating between the domains of samsara and nirvana, and this practice has three steps to it. The first one is a kind of self emergent emergence. It's acting like this guy right there, which is whatever comes to your mind -- body speech and mind -- you act it out and you just do this for hours and hours and hours. And you just cycle through the traditional six realms of Buddhist cosmology, animals and ghosts and gods and humans and so forth. And you just keep expressing whatever pops into your body and your mind and you act it out.
  • Now, at some point you settle or you collapse into naturalness. You basically collapse because you're so fatigued, you're so exhausted. All you can do is collapse. And that's represented by the second figure over there. And that's called settling into naturalness, which we could talk about this if you want. But it's typically represented both as an intransitive and a transitive. It's represented intransitively in the sense that you just collapse into that. But it's represented transitively -- sometimes it says do it at six o'clock -- well, how do you schedule a collapse at six o'clock? [laughter]? So, you know, that's always perplexed me. And then finally, the end of the practice is what's called restoration or revitalization. Like after the frenzied activity of which is a kind of self emergence, after the collapse, which is another kind of self emergence, now you deliberately take a certain certain posture and you begin to weave together the naturalness, the stillness and the activity. And this is called Restoration or Revitalization sorzhuk. So, with those things in mind, what I want to do is look at transitivity in linguistics. Now, transitivity -- for those who aren't linguists, I assume most of us, including myself -- is basically the idea of I hit the ball, where you have a subject, you have an object or an agent and a patient, and there's a transference of energy. So when I fall down, I just fall down.
  • Unless Michael tripped me, which is always a possibility, in which case he tripped me, that was a transitive verb. But I fall down -- that's intransitive. It's only me. There's no transference of energy. And so transitivity in language is a way that language thinks about the interaction of subjects and objects, and their entanglement or their individuation, and the way that energy gets transferred between different kinds of subjects or objects. Or how we become a subject by virtue of transferring energy. And we become an object by virtue of having energy impacted upon us or exercised upon us. So this article by Hopper and Thompson, a very famous article about transitivity, basically says that transitivity has ten parameters to it, ten different aspects that go into the the perception of something being transitive. And they also make the point that transitivity is not a yes or no. Like, yes, it's a transitive activity or a transitive verb or it's not a transitive verb; but, rather, it's a a scalar phenomena. There's different degrees of transitivity. It can be very transitive or weakly transitive. And these are the ten different aspects that go into it. Number one: participants. You need, for the most part, classically, you need two participants for transitivity. Number two: kinesis. Actions can be transferred -- hit, push, etc. -- but not states such as like or dislike. Aspect: is the action completed or not? If it's completed, it's more transitive.
  • If it's not completed, it's less transitive. Number four: punctuality. Is the action ongoing or is there no transition between beginning and completion? Volitionality: to what degree is the agent acting purposefully? The more purposive it is, the more transitive it is. Affirmation: if it's an affirmative verb, it's more transitive. If it's a negative verb, it's less transitive. The mode: is it in the real world or in the non-real world? (And maybe some issues on this one. But classically speaking, this was before virtual reality. They would say in the real world it's more transitive if it's an action in the not real world, it's less transitive.) Agency: how much agency to the participants have? The affectedness of the object: like is the object completely affected? Did I drink all the milk, or did I just drink some of the milk? If I drank all the milk, it's a more transitive activity. And finally, the individuation of the object: how separate is the object from the subject, or how entangled are they? So with this in mind, I created a kind of a scale of transitivity and in great perfection meditation, looking at the tradition and asking the question: how do they talk about effort and effortlessness? And I came up with the following scale, which I'm going to have to do quickly. Intentionality or self emergence: so intentionality is effort. Self
  • emergence is effortless, and yet it's a scale. So there's degrees of intensity behind these two poles. Number two: how scripted is the meditative practice or how spontaneous are the different things that are called for in the practice? Number three: how much agency is the meditator expressing? How much volitional control do they have over the meditative processes, or to what degree are they receiving things that are happening outside of their volitional control? Number four: for how much force is being expressed by the the meditative practitioner, and how much is this perceived as a kind of letting go, or something that's natural? Number five: how conceptual is this? How much is the practitioner conceptualizing what's happening versus not conceptualizing it? Individuation or entanglement: how much does the practitioner perceive themselves as entangled with the objects that they're interacting with (which could be subjects in their own right), or to what degree is there strict individuation? The more individuation, the more transitivity, the more effort. How boundedness or how fluid? How much kinesis, or how much stasis? How much affirmation versus negation? How much dissolution is happening in the meditative practice -- gestures of dissolution versus gestures of evoking (evoking the deity, evoking a letter and so forth). How much are objects focused on, and how much are subjects themselves focused on, the practitioner as a subject? And finally, how much is the meditation a series of gradual steps like doing a diety visualization over, you know, 20 minutes versus an instantaneous diety visualization. So with those
  • things in mind, I came up with the following to think about effort and effortlessness in Buddhist meditation. It's obviously diverse. We all know this, but thinking about what kinds of diversity are there beyond mental, physical and verbal, all the subtypes of effort. I think more importantly, effort and effortlessness are modular. They're not something like, oh, it's effortful, it's effortless. But each one of these has all these different modular components that I outline for you. And so, the perception when Tibetans say this is effortful or this is effortless, it's an aggregate impact of all of those different scales registering intensity towards effort or intensity towards effortlessness. And third: it's scalar. Each one of those modules is a spectrum. It's a spectrum that can be extremely spontaneous or lightly spontaneous, extremely forceful or lightly forceful and so forth. It's a vector field; there's a directionality to these things; there's transitions between efforts going in this direction and it yields to a certain kind of effortlessness. And then a new effort starts. And there's a whole choreography of the meditative practice that constitutes these, you know, vector being the kind of direction of the intensity. And so, with that in mind, what I'm
  • particularly interested in is transitions in the meditative practice in this choreography; transitions where you go from effort to effortlessness; or when you go from effortlessness to effort. And I'm interested in the different types of such transitions because there are many ways in which those transitions can happen. And it all depends on which way is happening at any particular moment. And so finally, I'm also interested in the way that subjects and agency are shifting in this choreography of a single meditative practice. I begin as the subject and then suddenly the Buddha is the subject; or this amulet is the subject; or this letter becomes dynamically changing and it becomes the subject, and I become simply the recipient of that, and so forth. And so there's this constant shift between who or what is the agent, who or what is the patient, who is the subject, who is the object. And depending upon which that is, who is engaged in an effort and who is experiencing effortlessness? So when we tell a story about meditation, we're talking primarily about the perception of the practitioner. So an effort and agency shifts away from the practitioner to something else -- a glowing light, a Buddha up there or an amulet or whatever it might be -- we experience it as effortlessness. It doesn't mean that effort isn't being expended somewhere
  • else. So. Here is six notable transfers of transitivity that happen in Buddhist meditation in Tibetan practices. And this goes beyond Dzogchen. One is obviously habituation or automaticity. And we could we don't have to talk about it as habituation per se. It could also be deep forms of familiarization. But this is when we take something like the four noble truths or the perception of the three marks of phenomena or diety yoga, and we do it over and over and over until it becomes natural or it yields to an effortless form of expression and so forth. That's very different from dissolution. The dissolution is when we let things go. So we have like an evocation. We build a visualization or we reduce the world. We deconstruct the world to emptiness before visualization. Or we perforate phenomena by visualizing HUM syllables that shoot through phenomena and gradually poke holes in phenomena and deconstruct them. So dissolving -- whether a letting go dissolution or a forceful dissolution -- is a very different kind of transference into effortlessness. Number three (that should have been number two), exhaustion. So the practice I mentioned to you where you just act crazily for hours until you fall down from exhaustion.
  • Exhaustion is very different from from a kind of letting go into dissolution. It's very different from an habituation. Then number four: going the opposite direction, evocation from dissolution. You start with dissolution, and then you evoke things -- like we heard earlier in the morning about that -- subtle body visualizations of channels diety yoga self visualizations, etc. And then number five: relational exchanges where I'm having a relational exchange with an object that becomes a subject, or with the Buddha like in diety yoga, where I visualize myself as a deity. And then the Buddha descends from his or her own free will into my visualization and animates it. I don't do that. Or other things happen. The blessings of the lineage where I pray to lineage tree and suddenly those blessings descend upon me and I feel this overwhelming force well up within my body in my mind. So these relational exchanges that happen where I'm no longer the agent. I'm the recipient, I'm the patient. And so I'm not expressing effort. And finally, self emergence: when a practice focuses on receptivity, opening a space through letting go and dissolution in other ways, and we wait for things to emerge from that field, we wait for the voices of cosmological agents to appear in the kind of cacophonous noises of the sounds of the elements we've immersed ourselves in. We wait in the darkness for vision to be born and so forth. So this is a very different kind of thing that we'll be turning to in the second part of our session today. But that is the end of my opening presentation, and I turn it over to Per.
  • Per Sederberg
    All right, so I am a computational cognitive neuroscientist. And what that means is I try to understand the world, the universe, actually the brain in the way that a physicist wants to understand the universe. And so what that means is I try to develop computational mathematical theories. So systems of equations that can describe or even generate the sorts of neural activity that we see while we perform these cognitive feats of discussion that we can do. We see we think we all of these aspects of what it is to be human, and and also generate the neural data associated with those. And I I hope that once we have those sorts of equations that we've gained some level of understanding that ends up being useful for this. And so, I'm going to talk to you now about a little bit of the work that I've been doing the last handful of years to try to understand how the brain works. And hopefully this will end up being useful for our
  • conversation. So I'm going to step it way back here. So why are we here? I see I moved away already, so why are we here? And I don't mean this on a metaphysical level. I mean this, how did we get from these these single celled organisms up to these beings that have really complex brains that make use of piles of energy but have amazing abilities? And I would argue that evolutionarily what has happened, gosh, I really wish I could move that away, anyway. Evolutionarily what has happened is that that we optimized for having these much larger brains and we're able to balance this with the energy constraints of having these big brains and big bodies. And this allows us to to expand the spatiotemporal context of our experience. And this is -- and what that then means is that we can make predictions over these larger scales and help us gain benefits and avoid punishments. And if in many ways in a reinforcement learning context, in order to optimize our lives and survive and live in these large scale societies. But the thing is, is
  • if we're going to be learning and extracting information over these multiple scales, we need to have memory. We need to keep information around in order to extract the structure from that experience that we're having. And so then this as well. What is memory? And we could we could spend entire careers trying to describe what these what do we mean by memory! But I'm going to circumvent a lot of this. And I put up the image of an eyeball and parts of our neural apparatus for sound processing. And and I'm just going, this is to remind me to just say, well, memory is anything where we are maintaining that representation beyond the time it was initially received. And by that definition, basically, as soon as as our photoreceptors have turned photons into some molecular changes and changes in neural activity, we now have memory because the photon is
  • no longer hitting our photoreceptor. We have to maintain that information. And so if that's the case, what is the most optimal way for us to maintain this running stream of experience? We can't keep everything. We're not computers. We don't have the energy allocation that we can provide in order to keep all of this. And the key here is that the world, our experience contains information on a multitude of scales. And so this is a figure showing the mutual information, meaning if you know something, if I know one word that was said at one point in some great text -- or English Wikipedia will call that a great text. And if I know one word, then how much of the uncertainty about some other word out into the future have I gained? And so on this
  • axis, this logarithmically scaled axis here. Is that the distance between symbols -- so let's think about words or parts of the human genome -- how much does knowing about one of those reduce uncertainty about something that might happen in the future? And so given that this is basically a log linear scale, that means that there is information of vast proportions well into the past that tells us something about the present and hence the future. And so we would love to be able to efficiently integrate over as much past as possible in order to predict what's going to happen next. And so how does our brain do this? And so there's there's some. Oh, yeah, I should have put this up. And I'd also want to add you've heard about these generative text tools like Chat GPT. This is not how Chat GPT works. It has a finite memory that goes back, say five thousand words and then it's gone. All right. So
  • how does the brain represent these multitude of scales necessary to extract information from them? And so one key piece of information of this this type of neural activity that was discovered a handful of years ago by Howard Eichenbaum, called a time cell. Basically, these are cells that respond to information that comes in, or is endogenously generated, and they keep track of what happened when. So, for example, if I if I make a noise. That clamp, I should have something like that, and so that almost feels as if it's spatially receding away. And it's no longer there, that noise was no longer there, but you have some representation of it as it as it as it decays into the past, and it's moving farther and farther away. And so here these are cells that to some sort of input, they start to fire. And so here you can see cells, some set of some cells start to fire really soon after it. And then another set of cells and then another set of cells. And these are in a couple of different brain regions (the prefrontal cortex, the hippocampus). And so what's interesting about these is that they keep what ends up being (I'm going to gloss over this a little bit) a log, compressed, temporal, receptive field of what happened when.
  • So, there are other types of cells that seem to keep track of time. Here's some more temporal memory in the brain. And I want to really highlight the fact. So these cells in the lateral entorhinal cortex, another deep brain region that happens to send a lot of inputs into the hippocampus. You see these ramps of neural activity. They sometimes they go up, they sometimes ramp down. And I want to call your attention to this x axis here is that this is minutes. These are cells that start to fire and they decay very slowly, many at different rates to track something happening in this experiment. So in this case, these were rats. Some changes in your environment through time. And so we're tracking changes in our environment, and when did they happen? And so we have whole slews of cells that are are are tracking these changes. So what does this mean?
  • This is all kind of cool. And so I'm a computational neuroscientist, so I'm going to show you all an equation. And so what do I think is actually happening here? I think the brain is making a Laplace transform of experience. In the top right here is the differential equation for the real portion of a Laplace transform. In general, if you think about our experience as evolving over the different dimensions that are coming in, different features that we are responding to, that is a function over time. And so the brain can store a representation of that function over time with a Laplace transform, if it has a population of neurons that allow this to happen. And so here this top is the function. You see two little bumps. So that happened once, then it happened again. But you can have a number of neurons that have different decay rates and they start to fire when that happens. And then they decay at different rates and then it starts to fire again. This is really cool! So you can invert the Laplace transform. And here I'm flipping the axis and now I'm having a look towards the past, and you can invert the Laplace transform and now you can pull out with these different temporal receptive fields of what happened when. So those two bumps, well, I have this large activation indicating this one bump happened relatively recently and then another one extending farther into the past. And note that its logarithmically compressed.
  • You have more cells that are are representing the recent past and farther into the past here. And this logarithmic compression gives rise to an extremely important property, and it's called scale invariance. And so what do I mean by scale and invariance? And that is I'm going to give I'm going to say a word. Oct-o-pus. You've probably never heard someone say the word "octopus" at that slow rate. (If I had more time I would have extended that out by about four, four or five more seconds.) But the reason that you understood what I said is because you have a scale invariant representation of language. That you didn't have to hear the word octopus at all, the different rates, all the different scales in order for you to comprehend and represent that information. So that's functions of time. That's already really cool! So this is providing the context of experience.
  • What is it that we have in our brains as experience is coming in or is endogenously generated? But what if I said that not only could you represent functions of time, but if you add this one variable that is just changing how the brain processes the Laplace transform as a function of anything that changes as a function of time? Then you are performing a Laplace transform of that variable. So what does that mean -- anything that changes as a function of time. So what changes as a function of time? Everything! Everything changes as a function of time, whether or not it's where I am in the world, that's dx/dt, that's the easy one that I just read up there. So that's my velocity. So what that means is that the brain can track where I am.
  • What about number? How many how many computers have I fried today? One so far, but eventually I'm just -- the day is young. All right. So now this is really fundamentally important. That means that -- is this the noise telling me I have to be done? Oh, no. It could be. So. Now, I'm going to ask you, so this means that we might have a fundamental way of representing every dimension of our experience, and I want to ask you: what if it really -- and by it I mean all of neural processing -- really is just Laplace transforms all the way down, all the way through. Well, what does that mean for us? Well, SITH -- we call this SITH, it's scale invariant temporal history -- that we're keeping track of because we like to have fun acronyms for things. So we have, as I just outlined, we now have this neural basis for representing basically the entirety of the content of our experience, every dimension of our experience, whether or not that's something that changes through time or space or number. We can have latent variables such as decision -- am I going to eat a salad or beans or nothing today?
  • These are decision spaces. And we talked about sequential sampling models yesterday. You can represent sequential sampling models within this same Laplace decision space. And so what can we use this for? Well, now we have these scale invariant representations of the past. So this is the left side of it. You have a Laplace representation and inverse Laplace representation. Well, now you can flip those and use those to predict out into the future. And so this is what allows us to simulate out into the future as we formed associations and learned the structure of experience and relationships between the items of our and the content of our experience. Now we can simulate out into the future. That's the good news. The bad news here is that we've got this big problem. I started this discussion today on why I think the brain evolved. What do we do that we try to extract structure from our experience in order to guide our behavior.
  • Now, the problem is that modern society is a little bit different than it was where we had different constraints a little while ago. I don't know when that a little while was. I'm not going to put a number on it. And so we have lots of distractions. And as we talked about yesterday, these distractions can be quantified as having some sort of predictive value, or at least we're trying to identify predictive value in changes in our environment. And so, just take us another step further with this classic study by Schulz et al, published in the journal -- you should have more than one paper to do this, but there's been lots of papers on this -- so neurons that are generating and responsive to dopamine, they learn to respond to predicted stimuli. So on the top here, you could see that there's this neural firing that occurs due to some sort of reward. But then once you learn the association between some stimulus and that reward, the brain responds the conditioned stimulus and no longer responds to the reward. So what this means is that now you've taken that reward, you push it back onto that initial stimulus. And
  • then you can keep pushing those back farther and farther. And these are creating these various chains of attachment. And it also creates anxiety in our experience, because constantly we are pulled to identify what is it about our environment, what changes in our environment, are going to allow us to maybe sometimes get some reward into the future or avoid some punishment? This is at our very core and how we process the world. So what does this mean for effort? This is my attempt to kind of close things up here and maybe move us into a discussion period instead of me up here talking. So we're continually fighting, or I should say succumbing to this basic biological drive to identify meaningful change in our environment. And it's really easy for us to focus on these immediate changes. So the time scales that are happening next, not thinking about the time scales that are happening tomorrow or the time scale of happening a month from now. And so it takes a lot of effort. This is why we have our whole cognitive control system. It takes a lot of effort in order to focus on farther out into the future. And -- just as a reference to some of what David was just talking about -- one way to circumvent this is just to get so exhausted, we can't possibly put that effort forth anymore. You can't use that energy anymore.
  • And so we can collapse into this state of naturalness. And also alluding to some of the work from yesterday and discussion from yesterday is that meditation often involves focusing on something that doesn't change. We are constantly trying to identify change, but if we focus on something that doesn't change, this is really hard. It goes against everything that our brains are supposed to be doing, supposedly. So what do the scale invariant representations mean for these self emergent experiences? And so what specifically here is what happens when this exogenous structure -- so you go into a dark retreat so the visual structure that we're constantly bombarded with goes away. Or the extrinsic rewards for something are removed? Well, so these associations that we've formed out of the structure of our experience within these scale invariant representations, they allow us to reconstruct spatiotemporal context. So this is actually a model my grad student did this simulation this week of how from some self emergent activation you can start to reconstruct some past state. And so this is a very simple environment where we were just giving it a list of words, but our experiences are far more complicated. And so when we reconstruct those
  • states, they could go in all kinds of different directions. And so this self emergence is exactly that. We're drawing on this "indwelling gnosis" to construct experience. So just to summarize here, so we can move on to a discussion, so we as living beings in this world, we are trying to extract structure from the experiences that we have in order to make predictions over these wide range of spatiotemporal scales. And the scale invariant temporal history model that we've been developing, it provides us computational tractable working memory. And also -- you could call this the context or the content of our experience that is lasting beyond the moment that information comes in -- is potentially at the core of these computational processes that give rise to cognition. And so, I suggest that maybe layers and layers of Laplace and inverse Laplace transforms in the brain are at play for many forms of neural processing. And so let's please discuss this. And also, to bring my colleagues into the room as well, I'd like to thank my lab, but then also my close friends and colleagues, Marc Howard, Karthik Shankar, and Zoran Tiganj. Thanks!
  • Anne Klein
    So this is the first time I've heard about the whole Laplace thing, and I'm just wondering, since it seems to record things that happen, so -- and I think you were alluding to this just at the end -- so if it's true that in certain kinds of meditative states, less is happening and I think nothing is happening ever quite met. So is that your way to get at that look at the signature of these kinds of practices? And if so, there are different contexts in which less is happening, and would signatures be able to differentiate, for example, the nothing from a lack of effort, or from expansiveness, or lack of boundaries? These are slightly different, but there's sort of similar in that less is happening.
  • Per Sederberg
    Well, it's certainly the case that the less that is happening, that should be represented in the content of experience as it unfolds through time. If it is also the case that our brains are tracking the content of experience in this way, and hence have this lasting representation of some experience -- so this would mean that anything that comes in, it's sticking around in neural activation patterns for minutes. So that there's evidence of at least going up to 60 Minutes, that someone just saying a single word can last for a very long time. So that might provide some insight into why you can't -- unless you are highly skilled and have the ability. I also would say that we probably have the ability to actively empty this content, either with more information coming in or maybe we can develop the skill to empty this context of experience. But why it might be the case that it requires a long time in, say, a dark retreat before self emergent visions start to occur. It's because you have to wait for these lasting representations to go away.
  • Anne Klein
    So it's explaining why you have to wait, as well as having a signature that can identify what's happening in the moment.
  • Peter Sederberg
    Sure. So, there are non-invasive techniques that are less temporally accurate. There are less invasive techniques, as talked about this morning, that are it's more difficult to track content, but you can get at it with, say, gamma oscillations. And so you would imagine that there should be some sort of time scale emerging post, and you could track that to some extent, maybe not the specific content, but you could track it.
    When you guys were talking about people who are expert meditators, which is an interesting term, that they could have a different relationship with pain. And I figure that must be an ability to change the way that their brain is actually processing something. So couldn't this be a similar thing? I mean, I figure if they can do that, why couldn't they ignore the time lapse? I figure that sort of opens up a major possibility for all of these things to be different.
  • Peter Sederberg
    Well, there's two pieces there. One of them is: phenomenologically, just because you feel pain doesn't mean you don't feel anything. And so there's still some representation. And so people who don't feel pain still feel the sensation itself, but just the association of that with pain is gone or diminished to the point where it's effectively gone. And that would be an associative change there. And it is also potentially the case that you could train yourself to more effectively empty the contents of this evolving spatiotemporal context representation.
  • James Gentry
    Just to comment on that is often in the contemporary tradition, the practice of allowing emergent visions to unfold is preceded precisely by some stability. I mean, not always, but, you know, attaining some stability in that capacity to just sort of empty out or create some sort of space.
    I have one kind of methodological question and then a question that's more directly about the content. So the metrological question is: you talk about Laplace transforms in the brain. And I'm wondering whether you mean that there are neurobiological processes occurring that are best modeled by or well modeled by Laplace transforms, or are you claiming that the brain is actually doing Laplace transforms itself? If that distinction is clear...
  • Peter Sederberg
    Sure. At some point, if the Laplace transform is mimicking what the brain does with a high enough accuracy, what's the difference?
    The difference is that the Laplace transform is an abstract mathematical entity, and the neurobiological processes of the brain are probably much messier than that.
  • Peter Sederberg
    Absolutely. And so, I completely agree that the brain is very likely doing what seems to be an approximation of a Laplace transform of experience. Whether or not that's the exact functional form, I don't know. But it is useful for us to think about it in those terms. And that has guided a good bit of neuroscientific research that has validated that every time we look, we find neuronal properties in many parts of the brain that are following these specific predictions.
    So the reason I ask that is I'm kind of also interested in the variability, both individual differences and cultural differences and phenomenal differences. So there's been some work on, I think, neuroscientific work on time perception, where time under certain conditions seems longer and shorter. But then there's also evidence of significant cultural differences in time perception. And then, finally, probably individual differences in time perception. I'm just wondering how that that model sort of works. In other words, in some ways, how do our priors, so to speak, how are they relevant to this time tracking?
  • Peter Sederberg
    So I would I would say that the priors govern what we attend to and what are what enters into the content of experience, that obviously there's a lot going on around us and we can attend to different dimensions of that experience. And if -- depending on cultural differences, individual differences -- that changes, what we are tracking and what that then means is what we are detecting as changes in our experience. And I don't per se believe that time exists. I only believe that change exists. And so, when people talk about time speeding up or slowing down, what they're really talking about is how many changes in the features that I've been experiencing in some general frame, some window, I don't know of time maybe -- this is why that whole notion of saying, "I don't believe time exists falls apart almost immediately" -- but that it's the amount of change that you've experienced is how we estimate the passage of time. And you can manipulate that and in laboratory experiments quite strongly, actually, can have people sit there doing nothing versus thinking about some rich experience that completely changes the amount of time that they think has elapsed.
    Question about the fading Laplacian transforms. Side note: I know I wish Susan was here because this intersects so interestingly with the neuroaesthetics piece. So if if this this memory event diffuses or fades into the background, and we don't add in new novel stimuli, we keep a stimuli dampened environment -- say a dark retreat or something like this changes the way the reward structure works. You talked about this sort of gnosis and the reconstruction of reality. What are the implications of that scenario for mechanisms of neuroplasticity? And then, how we reconstruct reality or real worlds in new ways, in sensory dampened environments and the way the brain restructures itself to reconstruct these environments and or to encounter reintroduced stimuli in new environments?
  • Peter Sederberg
    So one key notion to bring up is whether or not you are an active participant in this remapping, these these new associations that you may or may not be forming. The more active participant you are -- what I mean by that is, are you predicting what's going to happen? Because if you are making concrete predictions about the ongoing experience, and many would say that almost all of perception itself involves constructing -- and we alluded to that earlier today, too -- involves constructing the perception itself. But that shapes what we learn. So the predictions that we make and whether or not they align with what actually ends up happening, is what determines the magnitude of what we learn from those experiences. So that's one key aspect here. I don't know if that fully addresses what you're saying. And so maybe if it's all self emergent, I think that this is all coming from drawing on your past experiences and the associations that you have formed. I don't know if someone stayed in some form of sensory deprivation for such a long time that now what you are learning were basically feeding back onto itself, and you are now learning about your own interpretation of your prior experiences that are manifesting in some odd way. I feel like it's going off into weird places here that I should stop answering that question.
    I mean, what's under it are what are behavioral interventions and situational interventions that allow us to reduce the hold of these priors? And allow them to fade in the background such that we have novel ways of reconstructing reality on the time order of hours and days.
  • Peter Sederberg
    I think maybe David's going to talk about that, because as much as you can immerse someone in some context that you can manipulate and it be as real as possible, that's one way to set someone up, put them into a context in which there can be as large amount of of plastic changes, plasticity as possible.
  • Michael Sheehy
    Well -- if I may, just on that very point -- have these models, computational models, been applied to dreaming? Because if we're looking at sensory deprivation, which, you know, we can segway into that in dark retreat, when you're asleep, your sense stimuli are cut off. Not entirely, you know, you're woken up by your alarm clock, and if somebody touches you there's tactile and so forth. So you can be startled through senses. But, largely, every night we close off our sensory stimuli and go into a dream world. So we are pretty much every night, most of us, entering into a domain in which the priors play out in a certain way. Right? Environmental stimuli are no longer primary factors, et cetera, et cetera. So, we have these opportune times very frequently. I'm curious if these models have been applied and thought through in conversation with the dream research, particularly lucid dreaming, of course.
  • Peter Sederberg
    So not the models that we've been currently working on per se, but there are scenarios in which people have built these large scale, deep learning neural networks, especially ones that are designed to extract structure from vision. So, decoding images. And you can put those into dream states and have them morph from one image to another. And it's using the associations that it's formed between the layers of these neural networks to guide where it will go next. You just have to give it a push of inhibition and then it can push it out of where it is and it'll land into some other spot. That's basically, by the way, what these generative models for text for one, but also generative models for images. So you've seen A.I. generated images. That's basically what they're doing. They've learned tons of associations between little pieces, spatial relationships between pieces of content, that make sense. And you can cue it and it will create something from that.
  • Michael Sheehy
    [inaudible] We should transit there to keep on time.
  • Peter Sederberg
    Yeah. Thank you.
  • Anne Klein
    Greetings, everyone. So we are continuing. And with thanks to everyone who is here, I'll start right in. We are, as you know, in this panel, our theme is efforting and the lack of effort. And what does freedom from effort due to our experience and our identity as living beings? I think this is a question for us practitioners, for the scientists and for the philosophers as well. A word about the big picture in Dzogchen, which considers it to be an all inclusive, great completeness. It is a wholeness. A wholeness is something that is not uniform, but whose diversity is never outside itself. And much like mirror images in a mirror, we see them in their precision and multiplicity. But they are all somehow the nature of the mirror [inaudible] says that because there are many, there is one. So the plurality of wholeness is a kind of subtopic here, as as we will see. Within this big picture, I'd like to focus on a few key Dzogchen terms that make wholeness, effortlessness possible under the right circumstances, and that are interesting orientations to meditation in and of themselves.
  • And then I'll go into a little more detail. Those three have to do with being unbound, unthinged not tinkering and being easefully delighted as this awakened figure is. This wholeness of Dzogchen is really at once the most expansive and also the most intimate thing about our experience, which means already we have a conundrum, or we have the invitation to dissolve a conundrum because these are not disparate: the expansive and intimate turn out to be one in the same thing ultimately. Within this big picture, I will focus on these three terms to start with and then go into a little more detail on one of them, especially with some examples from Jigme Lingpa pith practices. Look at how a certain practice, very simple practice, orients one toward particular kinds of effortlessness and the different types of ease and relaxation. There are actually a very rich vocabulary around that state.
  • So first, just a bit of an overview. A spontaneous emergence occurs through the interplay of several key principles, including these. Spontaneous emergence also occurs in everyday life. And I think that's important to mention, that we don't overly exotify these states, which admittedly are available only to persons with tremendous dedication and karmic and many prior, deeply prior propensities. Nonetheless, they do occur in everyday life. And I think that's important -- that there is a connection between what happens in practice, the potential that is awakened in practice and the potential that we also enjoy in daily life. I remember when I was learning to read at first I had tremendous admiration. I thought reading was just miraculous. I couldn't imagine how, you know, someone like me could learn it. And so I also remember being, I don't know, five or six, something like that, and sitting down for the first time with a little book by myself. I was so
  • excited I could read one sentence! And then I just couldn't read anymore. And I put it aside. And the next day I picked it up and I could read another sentence. And that went on for another two or three days. And each time, and even then I wondered what exactly happened. I didn't ask anybody. I didn't go to my mother or father, "Daddy, how can I?" You know, it just emerged. And finally, I could allow myself to get through a whole paragraph. And I thought about that, you know, for a few decades. And I think that what really was going on was that I was not ready to accept this exalted identity of a reader. You know, I just got too excited and too nervous. It wasn't cognitive knowledge that I needed. It was some kind of reorientation of my agency, identity. So I think the practice is very similar, and we are told that we are Buddhist and that we can be very easily. And that's hard to believe. And I think in a similar way, scaled up quite a bit, of course.
  • So with that in mind, we can say that, for Dzogchen, the real problem isn't that you can't read, so to speak, or awaken. It's that you're just -- we, I -- am just not quite ready to face maybe the grand horizon of my actual being. It makes one nervous, as we've heard. So then in these three terms that I want to mention briefly, I have been determined that I would talk about these three because they are appearing a lot in a set of fairly recently revealed ter Dzogchen sadhana actually that themselves are echoing words of Longchenpa, who himself is echoing and in fact quoting words from early Buddhist Dzogchen tantras, so that in these words, especially as they appear in actual practice text, one does hear the echoing through the kind of history that Jake has introduced us to, the texts going way, way back -- the 12th, 14th, certainly 18th century. And and these are meant as instructions. They are embedded in poetic lines. So one has the kind of ease of that one has perhaps listening to music touched by poetry, makes one perhaps more receptive. But here I'm just
  • giving you these words. They appear in many, many contexts. Tamay: unbounded, limitless. So we have talked about looking at the sky. We talked about holding one's gaze completely open and still. So this is a state or an approximation, at least, of a state of a boundlessness. One, nonetheless, as we've noticed, one has a location, but it's really kind of different situation. And the state of boundlessness is a state, of course, of maximum flexibility, porousness, the kinds of things we've been hearing about. And also it's a state of objectlessness or a thinglessness. You're not being bound and you're not being thinged because there's no particular thing that you are guiding your interest toward. These things go together. Like many of the most famous words in Dzogchen, they have a kind of porous relationship with each other and they overlap and they emerge and they separate. And then in order to maintain that state to any degree at all, you need to be, as you know, invited to be un-contrived, stop tinkering, don't fuss and fiddle, don't try to manage things, give up judgment. It's a very simple state, but the array of things that we have to let go is quite considerable. And those are the very things that comprise our sense of identity. So how ready are we to take them off? Now, these three
  • states, then, obviously reinforce each other. I wonder if brain signatures could identify, you know, which of these is in the ascension. Because in one sense, when you have one, I think it's fair enough to say you have another. There are many other important Dzogchen terms that are nestled within these three. And I will allude to some of them going forward. So this is a beautiful, very famous picture. This is what Longchenpa himself looked out at as he did some of his practice and writing. This is a poetic description of unbounded unthinged state, un-contrived as well: "Just-there expanse, ground for all it is/ Empty essence, nature unceasing./ Nothing's there, yet everything comes forth." So much of Dzogchen
  • understanding is right here in these simple lines, essence empty. But yes, there's unceasing something. There's nothing really there -- the creativity that we heard about this morning from Andrew -- comes from here, and here is here. This is what one is one's own most intimate aspect. And why are we so into it? Why is this business of being effortless, so important? Why is this business of being untethered to an object so important in Dzogchen context? Well, it's what allows the state of completeness that is most natural to us, according to the great Dzogchen philosophers and teachers. What's the problem here? Where does suffering come from anyway? We've heard allusions to this already. Well, "You're mistaken mind sees other as separate from yourself." Suffering begins right there with self and other. When there's no longer an unbounded wholeness, one is inevitably in contestation of some sort with whoever or whatever is in front. Not only that: "Mistaken mind wants meditation and effort." It wants an an object, as John often says. "Within mistake's true nature," however, there's "a natural state of evenness/ Primordially free of wavering." That's our natural state. Not to be dis-tracted, but to be tractlessly tracked. "Primordially free of wavering, a
  • naturally pure field-expanse/ No activity or effort, no repose or non-repose." Duality itself dissolves, Longchenpa says. There really are no dualities in the ying, in the dharmadhatu, in our real nature. Well, how can that be? And how would one come to understand this experientially? So here is a lovely little prayer. It's just a one line practice. I call it a pith practice. It appears actually in Jigme Lingpa's commentary, Tarpa Tegye, his commentary on Longchenpa's seven mind trainings. And here it is: "Let all thoughts of past, present, and future be without support." OK, that's already a pretty significant instruction: how will they grow without support? What do we do to support thinking and fussing and managing? What do you mean? I just get distracted! What do you mean, what do I do? This is what happens all the time.
  • Right. OK, sit down and see what you do. You do something. So that's already an exploration, one his time with his practice as all simple practice is nourished over time and look to see what you do when you are, maybe, sitting at ease, maybe in meditation; and then suddenly something else happens. It can be very interesting if it's possible to try to go back to what happened just before that happened. And you might realize, oh, a memory shot up, and even before the memory, maybe there was a little tension somewhere on my shoulder and it just kind of, you know, it sent a ripple flowing so that I was no longer just in some some analog of undilutedly present ripples, and I didn't just allow the ripple to rise and dissolve, I, you know, I went after it, I chased the next one.
  • So so this is an inquiry into itself. Let them be without support. Something in your body, speech, energy, your mind, is supporting that thought. We we just read that mind wants to do something! It's jumping off its particular platform, which is some part of you, your experience. OK, let's say you've got that. Because to identify that is to help you identify what exactly needs to be relaxed. We say relaxation; you say be easy, but what's getting relaxed? It kind of depends on what's tense. It's kind of like if you don't examine and look at it, it won't have a target. So I've noticed I get a little tight here or something like that. And then ease into an unbridled openness -- that should be on the wall everywhere -- ease into unbridled openness. So there's a rich vocabulary of relaxation. Ease, lu. It just sounds like, you know, just lu. And then there's this great word, kayan, which it turns out doesn't occur that much, I think comes up twice or something like that Choying Dzod, but Jigme Lingpa uses it here. It also sounds like Kayan, unbridled openness, meaning you're not tethered to any thought. You know how it is when
  • sometimes even in the middle of a conversation, let alone meditation, you're having a conversation with someone and suddenly you just have to talk about something else because, you know, the horse rode by and you went galloping on with it. So this is or in the Tibetan they say, "Like a horse with an empty mouth." In other words, there's no harness. You're just kayan, unbridled openness. OK, so you've if you've done that, then place your mindfulness right on motion and stillness. Well, emotion and stillness pretty much covers everything that will arise in your experience. Mipham Rinpoche has a very famous text, Nigu Rigsum, where realizing these three things about the movement, stillness and awareness of your own mind will actually take you the whole way, which is actually right here. So this is a very, very interesting practice in light of our whole business with effortlessness. You are observing
  • mindfulness and stillness, and you might find that eventually motion and stillness somehow -- like images in a mirror of different colors and different types -- somehow they can both be present because this playground of your mindfulness is somehow opening without you doing anything. I mean, it is a kind of delicately emergent experiences and, you know, it rises and it ebbs and so on. Your mindfulness itself is shifting. In Dzogchen they talk about stringent mindfulness, kind of jortren tight mindfulness, which of course we all have to gear up to every now and then. But there's also chonyi dranpa mindfulness, which is actually rising from knowing part of reality. And somehow this practice seems very much oriented and could potentially go in that direction. So it itself is not actually trekcho, but it could it could end up being that.
  • The second, let's see. Jigme Lingpa embeds these in and another meditation where you imagine yourself actually on death's door in a very dramatic situation. And then he says, just let go of all that, do this thing like, you know, let go of the past, present and future thoughts. So this is the second pith practice. "Be refreshed as consciousness just settles itself." Two terms here, very significant aspects of ease: rangbab, naturally settling, self settling. Nobody sits you down and stay put. It's not like that. It's just a natural settling. And then there's also this: ngalso. It's refreshing to rest. This is the ngalso that Longchenpa uses. And Ngalso Korsum the day Michael referred to earlier. There's a there's a rest that is an ease where you distinctly somehow are appreciating the lack of effort.
  • Of course, you would spend a good bit of time with all of these practices. I'm just going to give you one more. "Looking into the very face of whatever happiness or pain dawns, consciousness settles down in its natural state." We get another aspect here of rest, which we have heard before. I think it was today. I think it was Michael. This ngaldubeb -- maybe it was David. There's a settling into authenticity. Ultimately, that's what we settle in. And then, pertinent to our conversation just now, somehow it's possible to look into the very face of happiness and pain. And yet, they are just or at least a little more like reflections in a mirror. Not something that grabs us to the question that was asked earlier. So just a few things more about this.
  • Well then. So there's the vast expanse in which you are not doing anything. But things are happening. There's a dynamism always present. And one of many very delightful verses of Longchenpa: "How marvelous!" Wonder, which was mentioned yesterday. Longchenpa often exhibits a sense of wonder. I think if it was the personality of, you know, a great Dzogchenpa, I think having a strong sense of wonder, curiosity, receptivity, definitely -- just judging from my marvelous teachers -- they're very different, but they have that quality. "How marvelous, how truly marvelous and superb. The secret of all the perfect buddhas is that all things are born within what is unborn." Your happiness, your suffering is not born. It's not born because in the very act of their being born, there is no birth; there's nothing actually happening. Birth means leaving the body of the mother. Birth means separating from the source that gave rise to you, but that never happens in Dzogchen. So everything is unborn.
  • Ngawang Tenzin Dorje says because there is birth from the birthless, living beings are confused. That's why we are so convinced we are separate and that's why we are so prey to suffering. Separateness from one's nature is suffering. Gampopa said that's what an ordinary being is. He's soso gyepo because he's separate -- or she or us are we or they -- separate from our own natures. Separation is a source of suffering in all of these practices that we are talking about, starting from what we heard yesterday. Different as they are, they are all ways of becoming whole in different ways. So. Let me move quickly, but I do want to say one other thing. So, talking about how there is transference, as David was talking about, this is very important. The fact that we are emphasizing effortlessness should not cause us to forget that at the beginning of one's trajectory of practice, maybe one is headed towards Dzogchen, but there's a lot of effort. One is trained in effort in just the ways that were described yesterday. However, it's not that breath becomes more interesting [laughs] or that one wants to attack the faults of efforting as such. Rather, in this case, one wants to and allows being absorbed into wholeness. And this
  • prepares one for the kind of ultimate state of emergent practices which David is going to talk about later. One of my teachers Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche, wrote something down once. He didn't explain it, but I asked a student about it a couple of decades later... (Just want you to hear the rhythm.) It's a poetic line, right? So, "If you don't cut through" -- cut through what? Cut through the sense of solidity, of whatever you have reified, cut through that. That doesn't mean cutting through with an ax, but with the thoroughly penetrating gossamer-like wisdom that can't be stopped by anything: cut through it, get through it. Unless you do that you may not listen to the togyal teachings. So we see that this and thus the kinds of practices that I just mentioned from Jigme Lingpa, but we can understand then, as, you know, oriented toward trekcho as well as togyal. And through this, through
  • recognizing that everything that you see is -- another poem, then I'm going to stop. One of my favorite poems, again, from the Bon Dzogchen text, you may remember it Tenzin Kalden Rigpai Sema: "Nothing." This is reality talking. Reality often speaks in Dzogchen text. "Nothing, not even one thing does not arise from me. Nothing, not even one thing dwells not within me. Everything, just everything emanates from me. Thus I am only one. I'm whole. Knowing me is knowing all great bliss." There's a bliss in knowing the wholeness that one is, and what problems could be -- as been alluded to -- might be resolved if we neurologically understood more about this as a phenomena? I guess that's a question I would leave us all with. And yeah, I'll stop there. Thank you very much.