Is consciousness continuous or discrete?

Is consciousness a continuous flow of awareness without intervals or is it something that emerges continually at discrete points in a cascade of microbits?

The Buddhist answer has always been the latter.

The Buddha’s five skandha explanation of perception and consciousness says that there are four discrete steps that are the basis of consciousness.

The five skandhas are form, sensation, perception, activity, consciousness. A form can arise in the mind or outside of the mind. This form gives rise to a sensation, which gives rise to perception, followed by activity (mental or physical), and lastly consciousness. In the Buddha’s explanation, the five skandhas occur one after the other, very rapidly. They are not a continuous stream but rather a series of discrete or discernible moments. A form arises or appears, then there is a sensation, then perception, then activity, then consciousness. (The five skandhas and modern science)

The first four skandhas are normally unconscious. Buddhist mindfulness and meditation training are importantly designed to help us become conscious of each of the five skandhas as they actually function in real-time.

A study from 2014—Amygdala Responsivity to High-Level Social Information from Unseen Faces—supports the five skandha explanation. From that study:

The findings demonstrate that the amygdala can be influenced by even high-level facial information before that information is consciously perceived, suggesting that the amygdala’s processing of social cues in the absence of awareness may be more extensive than previously described. (emphasis added)

A few days ago, a new model of how consciousness arises was proposed. This model is being called a “two-stage” model, but it is based on research and conclusions derived from that research that support the Buddha’s five skandha explanation of consciousness.

The study abstract:

We experience the world as a seamless stream of percepts. However, intriguing illusions and recent experiments suggest that the world is not continuously translated into conscious perception. Instead, perception seems to operate in a discrete manner, just like movies appear continuous although they consist of discrete images. To explain how the temporal resolution of human vision can be fast compared to sluggish conscious perception, we propose a novel conceptual framework in which features of objects, such as their color, are quasi-continuously and unconsciously analyzed with high temporal resolution. Like other features, temporal features, such as duration, are coded as quantitative labels. When unconscious processing is “completed,” all features are simultaneously rendered conscious at discrete moments in time, sometimes even hundreds of milliseconds after stimuli were presented. (Time Slices: What Is the Duration of a Percept?) (emphasis added)

I, of course, completely support science going where the evidence leads and am not trying to shoehorn these findings into a Buddhist package. Nonetheless, that does sound a lot like a slimmed-down version of the five skandhas. Considering these and other recent findings in a Buddhist light may help science resolve more clearly what is actually happening in the brain/mind.

As for form-sensation-perception-activity-consciousness, you might suddenly think of your mother, or the history of China, or the spider that just climbed onto your shoulder.

In Buddhist terms, initially, each of those items is a form which leads to a sensation which leads to perception which leads to activity which leads to consciousness.

Obviously, the form of a spider on your shoulder differs from the form of the history of China. Yet both forms can be understood to produce positive, negative, or neutral sensations, after which we begin to perceive the form and then react to it with activity (either mental or physical or both) before becoming fully conscious of it.

In the case of the spider, the first four skandhas may happen so quickly, we will have reacted (activity) to it (the spider) before being conscious of what we are doing. The skandha of activity is deeply physical in this case, though once consciousness of the event arises our sense of what the first four skandhas were and are will change.

If we slapped the spider and think we killed it, our eyes will monitor it for movement. If it moves and we are sensitive in that way, we might shudder again and relive the minor panic that just occurred.

If we are sorry that we reacted without thinking and notice the spider is moving, we might feel relief that it is alive or sadness that it has been wounded.

In all cases, our consciousness of the original event, will constellate around the spider through monitoring it, our own reactions, and whatever else arises. Maybe our sudden movements brought someone else into the room.

The constellation of skandhas and angles of awareness can become very complex, but the skandhas will still operate in unique and/or feedback loops that can often be analyzed.

The word skandha means “aggregate” or “heap” indicating that the linear first-fifth explanation of how they operate is greatly simplified.

The above explanation of the spider can also be applied to the form skandhas of the history of China or your mother when they suddenly arise in your mind, or anything else.

We can also perceive the skandhas when our minds bring in new information from memory or wander. As we read, for example, it is normal for other forms to enter our minds from our memories. Some of these forms will enhance our reading and some of them will cause our minds to wander.

Either way, our consciousness is always slightly jumpy because it emerges continually at discrete points in a cascade of microbits, be they called skandhas or something else.

Edit 11/23/20: The above explanation of consciousness is a good way to understand how and why FIML practice works so well. Ideally, the intention to make a FIML query will begin to arise at the sensation skandha or soon thereafter. A FIML query is based on wondering if the consciousness that has arisen from the form is correct or not.

This also shows why FIML does not presuppose theories on personality, mental illness, or psychotherapy. In this sense, FIML has no content; it is “just” a method, a way to rationally engage and analyze our minds as they function in real-time in the real-world. How you analyze the data you acquire is up to you and your partner.

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See also: How the brain produces consciousness in ‘time slices’

first posted APRIL 16, 2016

Perfect communication is not possible (but greatly improved communication is)

Human beings cannot possibly expect to communicate with each other perfectly. Perfect communication would require complete transfers of information with no ambiguity.

This point is fundamental to understanding why we need a method to frequently correct or adjust interpersonal communication in real-time.

If we do not have a method to do that, mistakes will inevitably cause problems, some of which will inevitably snowball.

TBH, I don’t understand why no one before me has figured the method out. Many have seen the problem in one way or another, but none has provided a way to fix it as far as I know.

To simplify the problem a bit, let’s just stick with language.

Language is ambiguous in and of itself. And when it is used for interpersonal communication it is fraught with ongoing and very significant ambiguities.

These ambiguities are so serious, I believe I can safely maintain that they account for a major component of our personalities. They may even be the major component.

Why does this seem so obvious to me but not to many others I speak with? I really do not know. Why didn’t Plato or Buddha or Laozi or Kant or Dostoevsky deal with this? I don’t know.

It’s possible the Buddha did privately or that’s what the Pythagorean’s secret was. Buddhist monks traveled in pairs and may have had a method to deal with interpersonal ambiguity.

If they did, I doubt it would be very different from my method, which you can find fully explained, free of charge here: FIML.

Please consider the problem of ambiguity before you undertake FIML.

Give ambiguity some real thought. Contemplate how it has affected your life in many ways you already know about. Then consider how many more ways you do not know about.

How many mistakes in communication—just due to ambiguity and consequent misunderstandings alone—have affected your life?

Watch for it and you will see ambiguity happening very often. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes insignificant, sometimes it’s tragic. The more there is, the worse it is.

When just two humans clear up almost all ambiguity between them (a process that must be constant like any other maintenance chore), amazing things begin to happen to their psychologies.

For each pair, what happens will be different because FIML is only a method. It has no content itself. What could be better than that?

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fitst posted

Psychological disorders shift throughout life, defying easy categorization

It has long been known that the more severe a mental disorder is, the greater the variety of symptoms it will manifest.  A news study based on longitudinal data shows that virtually all psychological disorders shift throughout life, rarely maintaining the same diagnosis.

“Better than any particular diagnosis, three parameters described each person’s mental health over their life: (a) age of onset, (b) duration of symptom history, and (c) number of different kinds of comorbid disorder symptoms. People with younger onset of symptoms, more years with symptoms, and more different kinds of symptoms tended to be the same people. These people also had more indicators of poor brain health at age 3, steeper child-to-adult cognitive decline, and older brain-age on structural MRI at midlife,” Caspi explained.

“This finding cautions against over-reliance on etiological theories, research hypotheses, and clinical protocols that are specific to one diagnosis. Studying disorders one at a time does not accurately represent most patients’ lived experience of shifting across disorder families.”

“Studying one disorder may mislead about specificity and hide transdiagnostic discoveries from view. There is a need for measurement instruments that capture shared liability to shifting disorders across the life course in order to make discoveries more efficiently. There is also a need to develop transdiagnostic treatments that can prevent many different conditions,” Caspi said. (New psychology study finds people typically experience shifting mental disorders over their lifespan)

IMO, if we base our understanding of human psychology—including disordered psychology—on signals, the problem of wavering diagnoses becomes clearer.

A complex signal system once disordered cannot be expected to a maintain homeostasis of “disorderedness.”

Micro-aggression or micro-aguessin’?

Do FIML practice successfully 25 times and you will understand how wrong the notion of micro-aggression is. Not only wrong but also destructive to self and other. Rather than have us probe own minds, micro-aggression asks us to assert a false interpretation of someone else’s mind. From a Buddhist point of view, micro-aggression turns us 180 degrees away from wisdom and enlightenment.

A crucial mistake in Jordan Peterson’s philosophy

A crucial mistake in Jordan Peterson’s philosophy is his oft repeated false dichotomy between identity politics and individualism. He never considers the third option of a polity of individuals wisely aware of the danger of identity politics and able to craft policies to guard against it.

From a Buddhist point of view, identity politics is akin to a deluded self drunk on greed, anger, pride, and ignorance. Wisdom always counsels against passionate egotism, whether of individuals or groups. This is not complicated. It’s not hard to see this.

Peterson has presented this false dichotomy many times. The video below is an excellent example. It might also be an example of high-flying rhetoric sometimes bearing more weight than it can support.

Peterson is a great speaker. I support him and wish him the best. I hope he fully recovers from his benzodiazepine illness and look forward to more of his work.

Scant physical evidence for Big Five personality traits

Collectively, these results indicate that if there are associations between the Big Five personality traits and brain structure, they are likely of very small effect size and will require very large samples for reliable detection. (Little evidence for associations between the Big Five personality traits and variability in brain gray or white matter)

I like Buddhist reasoning on the mind better. Are you thoughts wholesome? Are they conducive to enlightenment? Are your behaviors wise and kind? Are you trustworthy? Do you trust yourself?

Be mindful of how your mind works as much as you can. Personality is impermanent, subject to change. Do your best.

Fourth wave cognitive behavior therapy

The third wave of cognitive behavior therapy is a general term for a group of psychotherapies that arose in the 1980s, inspired by acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).

To me, third wave therapies seem more realistic than older therapies because they accept emotions as they are and pay close attention to how they function in the moment.

The link above is well-worth reading. The frames of these therapies are also well-worth considering.

FIML, which I am calling a “fourth wave cognitive behavior therapy,” differs from third wave therapies in that FIML does not use a professional therapist. Instead, partners become their own therapists.

Moreover, how FIML partners frame their psychologies or generalize their behaviors is entirely up to them. Similarly, their psychological goals and definitions are entirely in their own hands.

At its most basic, FIML “removes wrong interpretations of interpersonal signs and symbols from the brain’s semiotic networks.”

This process of removal, in turn, shows partners how their minds function in real-time real-world situations. And this in turn provides the tools and perspectives to reorganize their psychologies in whichever ways they like.

FIML is based on semiotics because semiotics are specific and with practice can be clearly identified and understood. They give partners “solid ground” to stand on. Words, tone of voice, gestures, and facial expressions are some of the major semiotics partners analyze.

Using real-world semiotics as an analytical basis frees FIML from predetermined frameworks about personality or what human psychology even is. With the FIML tool, partners are free to discover whatever they can about how their minds communicate interpersonally (and internally) and do whatever they like with that.

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first posted

The invented God argument

The invented God argument is similar to the simulation argument, but does not have to be earth-based or limited to historical sims.

Our universe is some 13.2 billion years old. Somewhere in that universe, maybe within our own galaxy, there likely is at least one civilization with technological capabilities that are many millions of years more advanced than ours.

A civilization of that type would be something like a Type V or beyond civilization. Their powers would be God-like. We may be part of their “world” or they might be us far in the future, able to reach back to us now.

In this sense, even a strong atheist is forced to admit that there may indeed be God, gods, higher realms, divine intervention, immortality, heavens, hells, reincarnation, karma, ghosts, visions, divine forgiveness, divine laughter, effective prayer, and so on.

The Buddhist tradition has six realms, billions of world-systems and Buddhas, Buddhas and bodhisattvas with “supernatural” powers, Dharma protectors, demons, rebirth, enlightenment, karma, and much more.

The usual way Buddhism is understood today by “educated” people is little if any of that stuff is true; it’s just the beliefs and superstitions of people of yore that have accreted to the tradition or that were used by the Buddha (who thought like us, of course) to make his points to “uneducated” audiences.

The invented God argument could also be called the invented Buddha argument or anything else that pushes the limits of our imaginations. I take this argument seriously and find it well-worth contemplating as doing that forces us to shift off the narrow seat of materialist/physicalist complacency and the fake sense of certainty that goes with it.

I don’t think we need to buy everything in every religious tradition from the past, but we can with little effort today see that the real state of our universe and our knowledge is complex and that we do not know its limits. Why wouldn’t having a pure mind, a developed moral sense, openness to visionary insight and higher realms be valuable skills?

One of the best Buddhist sayings, which I heard from Master Hsing Yun some years ago, is simply “make your mind bigger.” This saying can be applied to any problem, including the problem of unnecessarily narrowing our understanding of where we are and what is going on here.

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first posted

The agony of speaking

My SO and I are doing some painting. Mostly it’s fun, but as we discuss colors and color combinations, it has become glaringly obvious that it can be extremely difficult to talk about what we want but easy to convey our ideas by showing an example of what we want.

I wanted to do something in brown. Words flew all over the room but got us no closer to mutual understanding, let alone agreement. We looked at color charts on the computer but couldn’t agree on what we meant by saturation, muted, lighter, or darker.

My SO, who is much better with color than I am, thought the meanings of those terms were obvious. “You’re overthinking this! You must know what lighter and darker mean!”

“Not when I consider luminescence or saturation, I don’t. I really don’t.”

Is a red-brown lighter or darker than a blue-brown? More or less saturated? I honestly was lost in the terminology and was driving my poor SO crazy.

After several days of this, at some point I noticed my wallet lying on the table. “This is what I mean,” I said. “I want a color like this.” The wallet was a well-worn, dark, leathery brown.

She immediately knew what I was talking about now. “What you want is a really dark brown… that’s almost a black.”

Excited, we went back to the color chart (which has 3,500 color variations) and looked into a different classification of browns. Low and behold, the darkest one available—Tarpley Brown—is exactly what I wanted.

So,  I had something in my mind’s eye but failed repeatedly to convey it to my SO through the use of language. She tried to figure out what I meant but kept searching for a more woody sort of brown while becoming increasingly confused by my groping attempts at description.

From this, we can see how difficult it is to understand other people or even ourselves. Many important aspects of being human simply do not have clear examples in the world around us and are much more difficult to put into words than a color.

To vent or not to vent?

Venting is a common concept in American English.

It is a metaphorical word connoting other metaphors with similar meanings: blowing off steam, getting something off your chest, getting something out, getting it out there, clearing the air, etc.

I think it would be much better if we greatly demoted these small metaphors and replaced them with plain speech, such as: I want to speak about something with you and hope you will listen to me and provide some feedback.

Speech is sacred. Speaking honestly to someone who listens honestly is always transformative. Our common metaphors for needing or wanting to speak with someone too often obscure the beauty and profound potential of these important speech acts.

Another distantly related point to this is all the deconstructing going on right now in American society.

What I want to say to you about this is simply: any technique used to deconstruct America can very easily be used against any society anywhere in the world during any period of time.

All groups can be deconstructed easily because all groups are fundamentally simple. They are lowest-common-denominator communication systems shared by their members.

A little deconstructing and intelligent analyzing can be good, but too much is destructive. It’s much easier to destroy something than build it. And building new or better things does not always mean destroying established things first; in fact that approach rarely works.

Plants filter out green light to protect photosynthesis from “noise”

Plants are able to make photosynthesis more efficient by filtering out spectra of solar light that change most rapidly in their environments.

Protecting themselves from such “noisy” input allows them to obtain “quiet” outputs of energy.

This provides “…a unified theoretical basis for the experimentally observed wavelength dependence of light absorption in green plants, purple bacteria, and green sulfur bacteria.”

That quote is from the study: Quieting a noisy antenna reproduces photosynthetic light harvesting spectra.

Nathaniel Gabor, one of the authors of the paper, said of it: “Our model is the first hypothesis-driven explanation for why plants are green, and we give a roadmap to test the model through more detailed experiments.” (emphasis added)

This general principle—turning noisy inputs into quiet outputs—can probably be applied to many other systems, including human psychology. In this respect, many human behaviors could be viewed attempts to achieve quiet, steady, or consistent outputs by reducing noise.

FIML is a super efficient noise reducer.