A modern contemplation of death

Unless the person is depressed, contemplation of death is considered a good—even essential—practice for Buddhists.

“Analysis of death is not for the sake of becoming fearful but to appreciate this precious lifetime.” —Dalai Lama

I had an experience with this contemplation recently.

A bad sign made me decide to see a doctor. She said, “Full disclosure, this could be serious.”

I was calm because I already knew that. The clinic took blood and did some other tests.

I went home and thought about what might happen. My ensuing contemplation of death had not been planned but it did “concentrate the mind wonderfully.”

In doing so, it relieved me of all of my usual worries and fears. For days I was able to float above my life and look upon (almost) every moment as unique and valuable.

I loved this state. Everything I don’t like about myself went away.

Then my symptoms disappeared and I realized I was not going to die soon, at least not from what I had thought.

And almost immediately my concentration changed and the stuff I don’t like about myself (almost all) came back.

The worst thing you can do

The worst thing you can do is trick someone into using their good conscience to wrongly cause harm.

This not only causes said harm but also undermines the person’s moral sense, their trust in their own moral feelings. To say nothing of their trust in others.

This sort of mental jujitsu attacks the victim in the most important part of their mind, the part that guides them forward in a good direction.

Our ability to tell the difference between wholesome and unwholesome mental states is one power we never want to lose and never want to harm or undermine in others.

Examine closely all appeals to your conscience. Each one must be analyzed for hypocrisy, mendacity, who really benefits, and what the long-term consequences would be.

The science of psychedelics and religion

Very pleased to read about a study on psychedelics and religion: Religious leaders get high on magic mushrooms ingredient – for science.

I am not at all surprised that of the lucky people chosen for this study, “So far everyone incredibly values their experience. No one has been confused or upset or regrets doing it.”

I call them lucky because where else can you medical-grade psilocybin?

If anyone hears of another study like this one, please let me know! I want to join.

More on Buddhism and psychedelics can be found here: Are We Misunderstanding the Fifth Precept?

Edit: 3:30 PM: Research Shows Magic Mushrooms Can Offer Real Benefits in Depression Therapy. Quote:

A review of the research on combining therapy with the psychoactive component from magic mushrooms has concluded it’s not only a safe and effective way to treat conditions related to anxiety, depression, and addiction, it could be better than many existing forms of treatment.

How the brain processes new information

A new paper provides fascinating insight into how our brains amass information and organize and assess it in real-time.

The paper—Cliques of Neurons Bound into Cavities Provide a Missing Link between Structure and Function—proposes that “the brain processes stimuli by forming increasingly complex functional cliques and cavities.”

The full intro to the paper:

The lack of a formal link between neural network structure and its emergent function has hampered our understanding of how the brain processes information. We have now come closer to describing such a link by taking the direction of synaptic transmission into account, constructing graphs of a network that reflect the direction of information flow, and analyzing these directed graphs using algebraic topology. Applying this approach to a local network of neurons in the neocortex revealed a remarkably intricate and previously unseen topology of synaptic connectivity. The synaptic network contains an abundance of cliques of neurons bound into cavities that guide the emergence of correlated activity. In response to stimuli, correlated activity binds synaptically connected neurons into functional cliques and cavities that evolve in a stereotypical sequence toward peak complexity. We propose that the brain processes stimuli by forming increasingly complex functional cliques and cavities.

The cliques of neurons that grow and connect in real-time make up the transient “architecture” of awareness as it changes and responds to stimuli.

You can observe a process that seems to fit this description by simply turning your head and looking around. As your eye settles on something to consider in more detail, neuronic cliques will grow in your brain based on that stimulus.

Depending on the significance to you of what you are looking at, further associations drawn from memory and emotion will aggregate around it.

Interestingly, the concept of transient neuronal cliques that grow into larger structures fits very well with the Buddha’s Five Skandhas explanation of the path between perception and consciousness.

This paper also seems to explain why FIML practice works. FIML interrupts the (re)formation of habitual neuronal cliques in real-time, thus preventing the (re)association of established mental states with new perceptions.

By consciously interfering with habitual neuronal cliques, FIML eliminates the false and unwanted psychological structures that give rise to them.

FIML works because large psychological brain structures rely on reconsolidation through the continual processing of “new” information that falsely reconfirms them.

As such, human psychology to a large extent is an ongoing self-fulfilling prophesy.

Here is an article about the paper: Brain Architecture: Scientists Discover 11 Dimensional Structures That Could Help Us Understand How the Brain Works.

Free will: its locus is the mind

Action in the physical world is a smaller set of options than action within the mind.

Thus, the locus of free will is the mind not the body or its actions.

We always have many options in the mind. Many choices are available for what we choose to think or how we choose to frame something.

A related idea that is not necessarily part of the above is if God or Dharma Protectors or some other being in a higher realm wanted to influence us, they would be most likely to do so by influencing our minds.

This influence could be a subtle guiding of our thoughts, actual channeling of their thoughts, or even a vision when we are alone.

When we are alone because in those moments the influence will be primarily on our minds not our bodies. Our eyes may see and our ears hear, but if no one else is there the influence will ultimately occur in our minds and remain in our minds as memory.

When we are alone because if another person is present and they see or hear the same thing, the influence will impact the physical world to a much greater extent.

It will not be contained within one human mind. Two people will be astounded by it, talk about it, share it with others. This extends the influence well into physical reality causing it to have a much wider impact.

Visions influencing more than one person have happened, but these should not be the standard of proof that events of that type do happen.

Indeed, it makes sense to assume that interventions into human affairs from higher realms happen to individuals far more often than to pairs or groups of people.

This also makes sense from the point of view that the locus of free will is in the mind.

A higher being can influence the mind and the will in this way without causing major distortions in the physical world.

Error, ignorance, and disproportionality

Error, ignorance, and disproportionality are important factors in all forms of human communication.

They underlie and often dominate all individual psychology, all interpersonal communication, and all social arrangements, including economics, politics, science, media, societal norms, and so on.

We can see these three factors—error, ignorance, and disproportionality—in the recent revelation that the opioid addiction catastrophe was based on a single misconstrued sentence.

That single sentence was interpreted erroneously due to ignorance of its true context and then blown out of proportion.

Many thousands have lost their lives due to those mistakes.

Yes, science did eventually notice and will eventually correct this error, and that is good, but medical science also messed up prescriptions for dietary salt and fat based on even worse information.

For many years, and probably even still today, an obese person could go to a doctor’s office for a sore knee and be prescribed addictive opioids while also being advised to eat less fat and salt while increasing carbohydrate intake.

If even science can do this, how much more can it occur in politics, economics, and social norms?

When error, ignorance, or disproportionality happen outside of us, there is usually little we can do. Usually it is best to be stoical or Buddhist about it.

When error, ignorance, and disproportionality happen within interpersonal relations, there is much we can and should do. FIML can completely fix these problems when they arise between two people.

As mentioned, science eventually fixes its own problems. That is a foundational reason for the success of science and why humans admire it.

FIML is a kind of scientific inquiry into interpersonal psychology and functionality.

When people do not do science, they become even worse victims of error, ignorance, and disproportionality. When they don’t do FIML, the same bad things happen interpersonally and within individual psychology.

Error, ignorance, and disproportionality are often exploited for financial or emotional gain. If you know anything that someone else does not know, you will probably be able to exploit that knowledge to your advantage and their disadvantage.

And if you don’t do that (thank you for your goodness), you can be certain that many of the people around you will.

That is the world we live in. You have to be philosophical to accept that and to change that.

Thought alone tells us that removing error, ignorance, and disproportionality when we can is a good thing to do. Thought alone also tells us that in many cases we will pay a price for doing that as our good will will often be misinterpreted or used against us.

I see much of this as what the First Noble Truth is all about. A lotus grows out of mud much as our minds grow out of and beyond these kinds of delusions.

The power of a single sign

Signs are units of thought.

A single sign is central to the ongoing opioid addiction catastrophe in the USA.

The single sign is a 40-year-old misquoted sentence taken out of context from a letter written to the New England Journal of Medicine by a graduate student.

Here is the sentence:

We conclude that despite widespread use of narcotic drugs in hospitals, the development of addiction is rare in medical patients with no history of addiction. [emphasis added] (Source)

What was taken out of context is the letter was about patients who were being treated for pain while in hospitals.

On Wednesday, the journal published an editor’s note about the 1980 letter and an analysis from Canadian researchers of how often it has been cited — more than 600 times, often inaccurately. Most used it as evidence that addiction was rare, and most did not say it only concerned hospitalized patients, not outpatient or chronic pain situations such as bad backs and severe arthritis that opioids came to be used for. [emphasis added] (How a 1980 letter fueled the opioid epidemic)

The deep significance of this misinterpreted sentence shows the incredible power of signs and how even a single sign can influence an entire society for decades, even centuries.

That this massive mistake occurred within the medical community, which is science-based, shows that blind consensus can overrule reason even among the brightest and best trained among us.

Add similar mistaken consensuses within the medical community concerning dietary fats and salt and we have even more evidence of the human tendency to believe in and act on nonsense.

I mention this because it is interesting and also because it shows how irrational or non-rational we humans can be. All of us are susceptible to making mistakes of this type.

While most of us cannot do much about large-scale mistakes in medicine or politics, most of us can do a great deal about our own individual psychological mistakes that harm our ability to function. We can do this by practicing FIML.

Basic FIML practice corrects small mistakes (misinterpretations) in real-time. FIML focuses on how our minds are actually functioning in real-time.

If the entire medical community can make such a huge mistake based on so  little evidence it should be obvious that as individuals we are just as susceptible to error.

Consensus works only when it works. When it doesn’t it can be very dangerous.

I believe the lion’s share of “delusion” in Buddhism is stuff like the above—individuals or groups getting something terribly wrong and then acting on it with little or no self-reflection.