Panpsychism, pansignaling, and Buddhism

Panpsychism means “all mind” or mind in all things, with an emphasis on cognition being a fundamental aspect or part of nature.

Pansignaling means “all signaling” or signaling in all things, with an emphasis on signaling being a fundamental aspect or part of nature.

I like the term pansignaling because it gets us to look at the signals, without which there is nothing.

Another word that is close to these two is panexperientialism, which connotes that “the fundamental elements of the universe are ‘occasions of experience’ which can together create something as complex as a human being.”

These ideas or similar can be found in the Huayan and Tiantai schools of Buddhism.

Highly recommend giving these ideas some thought and reading the links provided above.

I  tend to favor thinking of this stuff from the signaling point of view. A signal can be found, defined, analyzed, and so on. A signal is a fairly objective thing. When we consider signals and consciousness, it is very natural to consider that signals are parts of networks and that networks can be parts of bigger networks.

As I understand it, panexperientialism holds the view that atoms have experience, and that molecules have experience as do the atoms that make them up… and so on till we get to cells, organs, brains, human consciousness. Human consciousness, which is fundamentally experiential, is what humans mainly think of as experience. At all levels, the “parts” of human consciousness also are conscious or cognizant and thus capable of experience. Thus, there is no mind-body problem. Cognition or awareness is part of nature from the very bottom up. For example, a single bacterium can know to move toward something or away from it.

Life is “anti-entropic signaling networks” that organize, self-organize, combine, cooperate, compete, eat, and change constantly. From this, we can see where impermanence and delusion as described in Buddhism come from.

The signal may be wrong and it cannot but change, as must you.

A very small irrational thought

A very small thought can show how irrational thinking operates.

Recently, I have been putting more salt in food I make. I have some good reasons for this and one bad one.

The bad one wrongly believes that my partner does not at the table salt food I make enough, so I have to use more to counter this.

This thought comprised about 10% of my reason for using more salt when I cooked. This thought was subliminal, meaning it almost never rose to consciousness. And when it did its appearance was fleeting and went unquestioned.

It is a selfish thought or at least not fully considerate. As soon as I examined it I realized it is a dumb thought and discarded it completely.

This thought was wrong and irrational for obvious reasons. But it still had a small effect on my conscious behavior.

I noticed it while washing dishes and watching my mind at the same time.

This thought has an element of reason in how it is constructed: i.e. “because my partner does not do this, I will do this.”

But not much else about it is reasonable. I have no idea how or when this thought formed. Did it form subconsciously or in a dream? I don’t know.

I believe it stayed in my mind as a weak but partially operative “reason” because it is selfish (and thus less likely to be examined) and because it has a reasonable construction when put in words.

Misjudgement and misinterpretation are the fabric of human “reality”

Besides misjudging other people’s intentions (People suck at judging others), we also misinterpret our presents and pasts.

  • For example, for many decades few people in the West understood how severe mass murder was under communist regimes. Indeed, the first mass murderers of modern Europe were communists. That many of them were also Jewish is usually also scrubbed from the story. Here is a meme illustrating that simple point.
  • An article published just yesterday—Why Readers Shouldn’t Trust Staff Reporters—does an excellent job describing how and why US MSM is so bad. The writer focuses on newsprint, but TV is the same.
  • Interpersonally, we make mistakes about each other constantly. FIML is the answer to this problem for small groups of adults, but how many will make the effort?

I think that what is described above is a big piece of the modern version of what the Buddha meant by delusion. In Buddhism, delusion is the core reason for human suffering. End delusion and you end suffering.

Many people have the idea that Buddhist practice is all about being minimalist, feeling good, and letting stuff go. This ignores the fact that the Buddha was mainly described as an “analyst” and that diligence and perseverance are central to the analytical path of Buddhism.

It is through analysis that we free ourselves from suffering. If your sincere analysis shows you that MSM is lying to you, that the history you learned in school is distorted, and that most if not all of your interpersonal relationships are fraught with misunderstandings or alienating simplifications, you are probably seeing a big part of what the Buddha meant by delusion.

Delusion makes us suffer because it is wrong and because it leads us to make more and worse mistakes. We extract ourselves from deluded “reality” by using “truth,” insofar as we are able, and the Dharma as tools. Once a bit of delusion is seen for what it is, it is usually fairly easy to eliminate it from the mind. If you have never identified with it, this will be very easy.

If you have identified with it, this could be very hard to do. Why is that? The reason is identifying psychologically with something is a form of what the Buddha called “clinging” or “attachment.” Suffering is the First Noble Truth. Clinging (to the delusions that cause suffering) is the Second.

People suck at judging others

A new study indicates that “it is incredibly easy to be mistaken” about another human being’s intentions.

Dr Warren Mansell, lead author of the study, said:

We think we know what someone is doing just by observing them… But our study shows that it is incredibly easy to be mistaken… In psychological research, for example, this study suggests that some behaviour studied may be no more than a side effect of participants’ true intentions. (Source)

Dr Mansell says that if you want to know people’s true intentions, you need to ask them. His study is designed to help psychologists and others be better at changing people’s unwanted behaviors, but it really applies to all of us because none of us is good at inferring the true intentions of others without asking them.

The study is here: Control blindness: Why people can make incorrect inferences about the intentions of others.

The abstract:

There is limited evidence regarding the accuracy of inferences about intention. The research described in this article shows how perceptual control theory (PCT) can provide a “ground truth” for these judgments. In a series of 3 studies, participants were asked to identify a person’s intention in a tracking task where the person’s true intention was to control the position of a knot connecting a pair of rubber bands. Most participants failed to correctly infer the person’s intention, instead inferring complex but nonexistent goals (such as “tracing out two kangaroos boxing”) based on the actions taken to keep the knot under control. Therefore, most of our participants experienced what we call “control blindness.” The effect persisted with many participants even when their awareness was successfully directed at the knot whose position was under control. Beyond exploring the control blindness phenomenon in the context of our studies, we discuss its implications for psychological research and public policy.

I would maintain that all people very often “fail to correctly infer” the intentions of people interacting with them and that this effect snowballs, thus causing either confusion or retreat to easily shared social norms (which may themselves also be misunderstood).

FIML practice is designed to overcome this problem for all forms of communication that occur between FIML partners.

Using truthful statements to lie

A recent paper explored the effects of using truthful statements to deceive others.

The authors of the paper call this behavior paltering and define it as “the active use of truthful statements to convey a misleading impression.”

The paper, Artful Paltering: The Risks and Rewards of Using Truthful Statements to Mislead Others, says:

…we identify paltering as a distinct form of deception. Paltering differs from lying by omission (the passive omission of relevant information) and lying by commission (the active use of false statements). Our findings reveal that paltering is common in negotiations and that many negotiators prefer to palter than to lie by commission.

The paper tests the effects of paltering during business negotiations, but paltering can happen in many other contexts. Examples of paltering by public figures can be found in the news every day.

The concept of paltering is also interesting psychologically. I am going to speculate that individuals often palter to themselves concerning their own internalized autobiographies and reasons for doing many actions.

If we use our inner voices to palter to ourselves—that is use the best “truthful” description of our actions that also just happens to place those actions in their best light—then we are not living with full integrity even in the privacy of our own thoughts.

At the same time, we have to be careful about how we assess our own paltering. We might be right to use the best version of events because that really is the correct version.

The problem is there is no good standard for an individual alone to decide what is objectively right or wrong.

For example, if someone smokes pot in a state where it is illegal are they paltering by telling themselves the law is stupid so why follow  it?

FIML partners will want to avoid paltering at all times but especially in the midst of a FIML query. Properly done, FIML can help with internalized paltering because this sort of subject matter lends itself well to FIML discussions.

As with all moral questions, where we draw the line is not always easy. The more tools we have the better. Awareness of paltering and its effects on others is good tool to have.

Life lives on meaning

Biosemiotics is the study of signs and their interpretations by living organisms.

The interpretation of a sign is generally synonymous with its “meaning” for the entity that interprets it.

From Wikipedia:

Biosemiotics (from the Greek bios meaning “life” and semeion meaning “sign”) is a growing field of semiotics and biology that studies the production and interpretation of signs and codes in the biological realm. Biosemiotics attempts to integrate the findings of biology and semiotics and proposes a paradigmatic shift in the scientific view of life, demonstrating that semiosis (sign process, including meaning and interpretation) is one of its immanent and intrinsic feature. (Source)

Here is a short video on the subject: A Biosemiotic Perspective.

The importance of meaning (sign interpretation) in human life is so great, many humans will die, or want to, if they lose an overall sense of it.

Just because we crave meaning does not mean we have to have good meaning, valid meaning, right meaning. Almost all cultures almost all of the time are filled with bogus meaning. They thrive on it.

If you find something in a culture, you will find it in individuals. Almost all human psychology almost all the time is rife with bogus meaning.

Some of that comes from culture, some is the interpretation of the individual, all of it is mixed together.

This is why memes are so powerful. They are meaning-signs that for many different reasons are interpreted as being true. A meme can be picture or a few words. An example is “Diversity is Strength.”

That meme is probably not scientifically valid. There are many studies that show it is false.

Whatever the case, “Diversity is Strength” (or one of its derivatives “stronger together”) has become a significant public meaning, whose main interpretation is rarely questioned.

There are scores of memes (cultural signs or signals) circulating within American culture at all times.

Some cultural signs and signals are “organic” in the sense that they have grassroots origins, springing from the “ground” of culture itself.

Others are formed and manipulated by powerful forces who want to influence culture or change it. “Diversity is Strength” is an example of this.

America’s elite subculture has been pushing this meme for many years. The following video contains many examples of this meme being used by public figures as well as a refutation of it: Diversity DESTROYS Social Cohesion in the West.

Most people do not analyze signs, symbols, memes, or semiotics. They do not ask for the source of a cultural sign, its uses, or even if it is true.

Once a cultural sign is established, it will tend to remain unquestioned until some other force (money, media) or meme replaces it.

The best thing for individuals to do is replace crappy, manipulative memes with your own analysis and understanding. Replace them with Right Meaning, in the Buddhist sense.

The Buddha is often described as mainly “an analyst” who gave us many ways to free ourselves from delusion.

Small lies matter

A new study shows that even small lies can weaken our self control, causing us to tell bigger lies and more of them.

Lead author of the study, Neil Garrett, says of it:

“It is likely the brain’s blunted response to repeated acts of dishonesty reflects a reduced emotional response to these acts. This is in line with suggestions that our signals aversion to acts that we consider wrong or immoral. We only tested dishonesty in this experiment, but the same principle may also apply to escalations in other actions such as risk taking or violent behaviour.” [emphasis added] (How lying takes our brains down a ‘slippery slope’)

The study itself can be found here: The brain adapts to dishonesty.

Here is the abstract:

Dishonesty is an integral part of our social world, influencing domains ranging from finance and politics to personal relationships. Anecdotally, digressions from a moral code are often described as a series of small breaches that grow over time. Here we provide empirical evidence for a gradual escalation of self-serving dishonesty and reveal a neural mechanism supporting it. Behaviorally, we show that the extent to which participants engage in self-serving dishonesty increases with repetition. Using functional MRI, we show that signal reduction in the amygdala is sensitive to the history of dishonest behavior, consistent with adaptation. Critically, the extent of reduced amygdala sensitivity to dishonesty on a present decision relative to the previous one predicts the magnitude of escalation of self-serving dishonesty on the next decision. The findings uncover a biological mechanism that supports a ‘slippery slope’: what begins as small acts of dishonesty can escalate into larger transgressions. [emphasis added]

Though this is only one study based on results from only 80 people, I find it very credible.

In Buddhism we learn that even the smallest of thoughts can have enormous consequences.

An important aspect of Buddhist mindfulness is watching how our thoughts develop and how they affect us and others. FIML practice is based on sharing the fruits of real-time mindfulness with a partner.

Done correctly, FIML allows us to observe small transitions in our minds and correct them in real-time if they are wrong.

FIML does not deal all that much with lies per se because partners are expected to be beyond that and FIML won’t work if partners lie.

Nonetheless, FIML does deal with small misunderstandings that can lead to slippery slopes similar to what is described in the study.

For example, if you think your partner’s tone is dismissive and it isn’t and you don’t do a FIML query, the next time you hear that tone you will experience confirmation bias and be on your way down the slope. It’s very hard to trace that sort of thing back to its origin after a few occasions. Your misunderstanding of your partner’s tone could be construed as an unconscious lie that you are telling yourself.

This is why FIML is so important and why it is very helpful to start doing it early in your relationship when all is well and there are no misunderstandings.

FIML can be described as detailed, shared, real-time moral and existential awareness. It demands integrity and mindfulness from both partners and rewards them with greatly enhance shared integrity and mindfulness.

A major purpose of FIML is to prevent the sort of thing that happened in the study. To prevent partners from sliding down a slippery slope that sometimes cannot be regained.

Dalai Lama: Putin Is Right, U.S. Created ISIS

“I believe the crux of today’s Middle-East problem is laid in Obama administration policies and the Saudi interference in Syrian crisis. When Saudi clerics fallaciously claim they represent Islam and they side with cutthroats in Syria; thus they give the radical groups a plausible excuse for their heinous crimes against innocent civilians,” AFP quoted the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader as saying.

“…several times I importuned President Obama to end his catastrophic support for Saudis and their terrorist proxies in the Middle-East but my appeals fell on deaf ears,” said world’s most famous exile. (Source)

The seriousness of lying shows in alcoholism

About a year ago, I posted an essay suggesting that not lying may be the most important of the five precepts of Buddhism (guidelines for lay Buddhists).

In that essay, Buddhist morality and signaling, I said that the precepts can be understood as signals coming from the mind and that as such the morality of the signals themselves is of paramount importance.

If you don’t lie, you won’t kill, steal, do sexual misconduct or use alcohol irresponsibly because breaking any of the other five precepts will cause you to conceal what you have done or lie about it.

Yesterday, I saw a meme on alcoholism entitled part of being an alcoholic is making it seem like you are drunk less often than you really are. Here’s the meme:

It’s a long, bad, slippery slope from there on. I would hate myself if I did that.

When I mentioned this meme to my partner this morning, she said that she had read about an alcoholic who started lying to her family about her drinking.

The first time, the woman said, her lie made her feel a little distant from them. Before long, she felt so far away she couldn’t even remember where they were anymore.

This illustrates the power of the mind. If you are willing and able to accurately monitor your mind and report on it truthfully to your partner, you won’t even start down a bad road like the author of the meme or the woman who chose booze over her family.

Alcoholics are notorious liars because the condition all but forces them to lie to their most intimate companions. The booze itself causes the lying. The yeast that makes alcohol is like an off-site parasite that gets food from its “hosts” by forcing them to buy the waste products of its metabolism.

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Note: I put up a fair amount of stuff on alcoholism on this site because I have witnessed the devastation of this condition up close with several friends. I also post on this subject because I know that the condition is greatly worsened by its being very hard for most people to identify during its early stages.

Alcoholism often starts in the mid to late teens, sometimes earlier or later. Normally three stages are recognized. 1) the early stage during which the future addict is just drinking a lot but may not be addicted yet; 2) the middle stage where the addict is addicted and knows it and is probably lying about it; 3) the last stage, which is the stage everyone recognizes.

In this last stage, the alcoholic typically is unhealthy, sloppy, and no longer conceals their drinking (which is less than before because their livers are damaged).

I think that if I had known more about alcoholism and how it progresses, I would have been able to help several people who were becoming alcoholic. I would also have prevented at least some of the harm they did/do to others.

I honestly feel bad about not having recognized the symptoms of early and middle stage alcoholism. I mistook it for good times and sensitive, artistic natures just going a bit too far. What I was actually witnessing was good people gradually turning into abusive drunks.

Anxiety and fight, flight, or freeze

I suppose we all know what the fight, flight, or freeze response is.

In the wild, the freeze response is extremely valuable. You see a bear in the near distance and freeze. While you are frozen, you decide what to do. Quietly pull out the bear spray if you have any or just stay still in the hope the animal will leave.

The freeze response gets bad PR when we think of it as only the “deer in the headlights” response. That happens to deer because they do not understand that your car is moving at 60 MPH. If it were going at walking speed, the freeze response would protect the deer by giving it a few more seconds to consider more options.

It might be better to call the “freeze” response the “neither” response, or the “neutral” response or the “neither and keep thinking” response. Fight, flee, or do neither.

Rather than panic and run at or away from the bear, we do neither. Just stay still and consider our options. Time often dilates in such situations and most people probably have at least a few memories of making a very good decision during that brief time dilation.

In the human social realm—the realm of human signals—anxiety is often a sign of a stalled fight-flight response.

What I propose is that the next time you feel anxious about anything, consider the “freeze” or “neither and keep thinking” response rather than fight or flight. Call up and explore your freeze response. It is a very rich and useful response.

You can practice on a small anxiety-inducing incident, even manufacture one.

Do something that normally causes you to feel slightly anxious, but rather than feel anxious choose the “freeze” response instead. If the incident is small enough you will be able to engage in a cool, neutral brain state that greatly resembles beginner’s mind of the Zen tradition.

This technique moderates our instinctive response to a stressor by adding a layer of metacognition that guides it to what we want it to be.

It makes us mindful that we have more options than simply feeling anxious. Since we are social animals, human social stressors very often induce outsized responses that get stuck in a panic mode.

With just a small push from a metacognitive vantage, we can transform counterproductive anxiety into a more open and creative “freeze” response.

Dalai Lama says ‘too many’ refugees in Europe

BERLIN: The Dalai Lama said in an interview published Thursday that Europe has accepted “too many” refugees, and that they should eventually return to help rebuild their home countries.

“When we look into the face of every single refugee, especially the children and women, we can feel their suffering,” said the Tibetan spiritual leader, who has himself lived in exile for over half a century.

“A human being who is a bit more fortunate has the duty to help them. On the other hand, there are too many now,” he said. (Source)

This statement shows the beauty and wisdom of Buddhism. What the Dalai Lama said is obvious and true, so he said it. That is right speech. ABN

Edit 5:55 PM: Compare to the Pope’s comments on this subject a few weeks ago.

Belief in a self isn’t what gives force to judgement, it’s what blocks it

The West seems to  find it very difficult to understand how recognizing that the self has no true existence doesn’t stand in the way of determination, strength of mind and action in the slightest.  Instead it opens our eyes wide to the causes of happiness and suffering.  It’s a recognition that makes action very precise.  Belief in a self isn’t what gives force to judgement, it’s what blocks it.  If our actions aren’t always clear-sighted, courageous, lucid and effective, as you say, it’s because we are the plaything of our attachment to the self.  It’s said, ‘the viewpoint of the sage is higher than the sky, and his discernment in terms of cause and effect is finer than flour.’  You can’t rebel against what you’ve sown yourself, but you can build the future by knowing how to distinguish between what leads to misery and what liberates you from it.  That’s very different from fatalistically espousing an inevitable future.  ~ Jean-Francois Revel and Matthieu Ricard, from  “The Monk and the Philosopher”

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.

_________________

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