Culture is the context of the languages we speak

Stated more clearly: Culture is nothing more than the context of the languages we speak.

In this sense culture defines our words and phrases; and in this sense, our psychologies.

This means that if you think or feel something, you probably can find a way to speak about it unless you are trapped within the context of your language.

For example, just think of anything you are afraid or embarrassed to talk about.

For some of those topics, you may have a friend (or stranger) with whom you are able to speak. Very traumatic experiences can be exceptionally difficult to speak about because they tend to be unique or uniquely horrific; so normal language in almost all contexts won’t get you there. You will feel inhibited, tongue-tied, embarrassed, afraid, timid, mute, isolated.

Traumatic experiences are an extreme example of how culture/context is not able to overlay all of our experiences. This is a core reason we turn to professional listeners—therapists, clergy, etc—to deal with trauma, though often we are even afraid of them.

Artists also provide us with unique experiences set in unique contexts. If well-done, or more importantly well-publicized, art may change the culture/context for many speakers. In this area, goodness lives alongside propaganda and hype. Many speakers feed the frenzy and feed on it.

In Buddhism, speech is a vessel of delusion as well as enlightenment. Buddhism provides an excellent context for speech because it fully recognizes the meta-contexts of impermanence, emptiness, ignorance, delusion, and suffering.

If you have experienced trauma, as we all have (it’s relative), you are in a good place to understand that traumas can be very small yet agonizing. And they can repeat often, causing constant suffering, sleeplessness, helplessness.

If we can see that traumas, both small and large, are outliers from whatever culture we are in, then we can also see that the way forward is to make our culture into something that can speak about them.

When culture is as small as one person—you alone—you can be free in many ways but also will get stuck on your traumas. With no way to speak about them with others, they will distort your thinking, carry weight they should not have. Disturb everything you do.

When culture is as large as two people, great freedom is possible. Two people just need to realize this. If they do, it’s a small step to realize that profound cooperation solves their  cultural “prisoners’ dilemma” better any other solution.

I cannot escape my trauma if I lie to you because my context will instantly become inauthentic, stultified fully as badly as my trauma always has been. So, I won’t do that. And you, my partner, are as smart as me so you won’t either.

Cultures are contexts for languages because cultures have rules. A two-person culture also needs rules. Best to figure most of them out for yourselves but also best to start with some very important basics. And these are: meta-cognitive rules that allow for accurate meta-communication.

Here is a set of rules that can start you off on a new way to communicate: How to do FIML.

Intrinsic motivation is important for sustained creative activity

A recent study shows that An insight-related neural reward signal exists and is more active in some people than in others.

This study also confirms the idea that “intrinsic motivation is important for sustained creative activity.”

Some other findings that may be of interest:

…our findings suggest that individuals who are high in reward sensitivity experience the sudden emergence of a solution into awareness as strongly rewarding whereas individuals who are low in reward sensitivity may still experience insight as sudden and attentionally salient but lacking in hedonic content.

As lifelong autodidact, I wonder if others with this marvelous “addiction” can relate to feeling almost not alive unless there is something to wonder about or figure out. I recently read a biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein. One standout was his strong tendency to seek out simple or humble environments that stimulated his mind.

…Individuals high in reward sensitivity are more likely to take drugs, develop substance-abuse disorders or eating disorders, and engage in risky behaviors such as gambling. The fact that some people find insight experiences to be highly pleasurable reinforces the notion that insight can be an intrinsic reward for problem solving and comprehension that makes use of the same reward circuitry in the brain that processes rewards from addictive drugs, sugary foods, or love.

Getting lost in the woods or on a motorcycle ride, for me, is a highly enjoyable feeling. There have to be slight tremors of fear and agitation followed by finding my way again. I suppose others may experience similar feelings in social settings or as live performers.

…These findings shed light on people’s motivations for engaging in challenging, often time-consuming, activities that potentially yield insights, such as solving puzzles or mysteries, creating inventions, or doing research. It also reinforces the notion that intrinsic motivation is important for sustained creative activity. The expectation of intrinsic rewards from comprehending and creating, rather than from an extrinsic source such as payment, is thought to be the most effective type of workplace motivation…

A society with universal basic income in which no one has to work unless they want to might bring about the greatest flourishing of human talent ever. Then again, maybe not. Inspiration does need a stick on the back sometimes and “joy has no children,” meaning happiness produces few inventions.

Here’s an article about the study: Aha! + Aaaah: Creative Insight Triggers a Neural Reward Signal.

Religious freedom, the federal govt, China and Chinese propaganda

The interviews below are better than most, providing in-depth insight into how and why the US government is acting as it is.

This interview with AG Bill Barr covers many fundamental legal and practical matters at home and also vis-a-vis China. Well-worth viewing.

EDIT: Part 2 added. In this section Barr makes it clear that U.S. Attorney John Durham is pursuing criminal charges against DOJ and FBI officials who abused the FISA process and whose actions “at least had the effect of sabotaging the presidency.” Barr calls those abuses “the greatest travesty in American history.”

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro discusses China, COVID-19, and the US response to both.

 

Large meta-study shows alcohol does far more harm than good

Key takeaways:

  • Alcohol is worse for you than many previously thought thought
  • It is linked to health outcomes such as heart disease, diabetes, tuberculosis, breast cancer (in women), and lip and oral cavity cancer (in men)
  • Despite some previous studies suggesting that moderate alcohol consumption has health benefits, the study found that the risks outweighed any benefits
  • The optimal amount of alcohol consumption is zero; that is, to minimize your health risk, the optimum amount of drinking is none (Alcohol’s Heavy Toll: The Largest Analysis Ever of How Alcohol Impacts Health)

The study is here: Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016

Making Sense of the Mental Universe

Try reading the following paper while keeping the Mind Only Buddhist interpretation of our world in mind.

In 2005, an essay was published in Nature asserting that the universe is mental and that we must abandon our tendency to conceptualize observations as things. Since then, experiments have confi rmed that — as predicted by quantum mechanics — reality is contextual, which contradicts at least intuitive formulations of realism and corroborates the hypothesis of a mental universe. Yet, to give this hypothesis a coherent rendering, one must explain how a mental universe can — at least in principle — accommodate (a) our experience of ourselves as distinct individual minds sharing a world beyond the control of our volition; and (b) the empirical fact that this world is contextual despite being seemingly shared. By combining a modern formulation of the ontology of idealism with the relational interpretation of quantum mechanics, the present paper attempts to provide a viable explanatory framework for both points. In the process of doing so, the paper also addresses key philosophical qualms of the relational interpretation. (Making Sense of the Mental Universe)

Edit: The explanation offered in the linked paper, without saying as much, provides a very reasonable way to see Buddhist rebirth occurring without there being any soul or pudgala being reborn. Nothing need fly out of the body or transmigrate anywhere.

Instead, the classic Buddhist description of karma alone giving rise to a new life works perfectly. Rather than conceive of ourselves as fundamentally material beings, we can conceive of our personal individuality as being (a part of a “mental universe”) enclosed within a Markov blanket.

If there is still karma, a new Markov blanket or bodily form will be “reborn” or rearise after the extinction of its prior existence. In Kastrup’s way of putting it, our physical bodies are themselves Markov blankets causing or allowing us to arise as forms separate from the wholeness of the mental universe.

I suppose we might venture to say that enlightenment occurs when the karma, or reason for our separation in a Markov blanket, is gone and “we” remain the whole (of the mental universe) without being reborn (in a body).

Is the thought “I should have seen that” where we draw the line between higher and lower awareness?

As humans, we cannot but think sometimes: “I should have seen that. I had all the information but had not put it together.”

I am pointing this out because this ineluctable thought is an aspect of our consciousness itself and not of our culture or language, whatever those may be.

Do conscious beings who have no language think thoughts like this non-verbally? Do they have a sensation like we do that accompanies a similar realization in them?

Maybe they do and maybe they don’t. Non-verbal beings on earth obviously correct their behaviors, but how far does that travel in their awareness? Do dogs laugh at themselves? Do they have a feeling of self-recrimination as we sometimes do when we realize I should have seen that?

Is at least some of the feeling of shame grounded in this thought? Dogs clearly manifest shame.

Would a computer that can pass many tests of consciousness have the thought I should have seen that?

It seems to me that beings higher than us—angels, Bodhisattvas, Dharma protectors, prophets, and more—would very probably have this thought sometimes.

The full enlightenment of a Buddha as understood in the Mahayana tradition seems to indicate a state of awareness where the thought I should have seen that no longer arises.

In his life as we know of it, the Buddha did make new rules for monastics as conditions dictated. At such times, did he have this thought or not?

In your view, is the highest consciousness possible unbounded? Such that it must also think this thought?

Would you be happier if you never had the thought I should have seen that or not?

Is consciousness inert, like water, yet permeates everything? Inert but does not permeate everything?

I should have seen that is interesting because this thought seems to inhere in consciousness itself and not arise from language, culture, training, or other conditions. It seems to be accompanied by a sensation, at least in us.

Is it subject to Buddhist “dependent origination” and thus a feature of ordinary consciousness but not of ultimate consciousness?

Are the conditions it depends on its own conditions? Or other conditions? This might be a very big question.

A materialist would say consciousness is an epiphenomenon of matter dependent on matter. A true physicalist would not speak so fast because conscious may very well be a primary aspect of all things, even the driver of physical laws.

Is the thought I should have seen that where we draw the line between higher and lower awareness? Do single cells, which can change their minds, have a sensation that expresses this thought? Does God never have this thought? Do Buddhas?

Notice that a great deal of humor depends on bringing to our awareness something maybe not that we should have seen but that we could have seen. Humor like that gives us no new information outside of our ourselves, though it does fit together information we already have in a new way,

So, I should have seen that can be occasion for delight and laughter. Fundamental to feelings of relief or peace of mind; it’s a feature of consciousness that arises in consciousness and that we react to consciously, almost always with some sort of sensation.

“Our Constitution doesn’t exist to protect us from religion; it exists to protect religion from government” Betsy DeVos

Too many misinterpret a separation of church and state as an invitation for government to separate people from their faith.

In reality, our Constitution doesn’t exist to protect us from religion; it exists to protect religion from government. The First Amendment affirms our free exercise of religion, and we don’t forfeit that first freedom to anyone or in any place, especially in public schools.

~Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos

Announcement of the Guidance on Constitutional Prayer in Public Schools

A universal feature of human consciousness is the capacity to sometimes say, “I should have seen that.”

By this I mean, you had all the information but had not fit the pieces together.

I can avoid waking my partner with the coffee timer (stove timer) by simply setting the timer for one minute more than I want and shutting it off early.

That knowledge was all there and I had used it for others timer chores, but not for coffee (French press) until yesterday morning. The reason probably is early morning haze, but that is not the deep point.

The deep point is the doing of that or the not doing of that could have been better and I can now wonder why I didn’t see it before. 

This small thing is compounded by my partner having already informed me that the timer sound does not and has never bothered her at all. And that looks like grounds for yet another I-should-have-seen-that moment somewhere down the road.

For why am I concerned if she is not and also I completely believe her? Is that a bug in my head or a seed of something more important?

Another example is for years I was not drinking enough water. The information was there, I had it all, but did not put it together for a long time.

Seeing this as a universal feature of human consciousness highlights in retrospect that a fundamental aspect of consciousness is its capacity to arrange or rearrange bits of information to affect intent.

When we rearrange even minor bits of known information, we can sometimes feel I should have seen that before. (If our rearrangement is based on new extrinsic information, we more often will feel aha, now I’ve got it or that will do it.)

Philosophically, I wonder if God also has this feature. That is, does this feature of human consciousness extend to the highest level of consciousness possible in our universe?

For hard atheists, the same question would be does an invented God have this feature?

How do angels or beings much higher than us but less than God see us?

Surely they will sometimes be perplexed by this same feature of consciousness. I expect that would make them sympathetic to us. Maybe they feel even worse than us.

Does this help explain to you why our world is so messy and sometimes just awful? And sometimes so beautiful?

Master Huiyuan

Huiyuan (Chinese: 慧遠; Wade–Giles: Hui-yüan; 334–416 AD) was a Chinese Buddhist teacher who founded Donglin Temple on Mount Lushan in Jiangxi province and wrote the text On Why Monks Do Not Bow Down Before Kings in 404 AD. He was born in Shanxi province but after a long life of Buddhist teaching he wound up in Jiangxi province, where he died in 416. Although he was born in the north, he moved south to live within the bounds of the Eastern Jin Dynasty.

Huiyuan was posthumously named First Patriarch of the Pure Land School of Buddhism. His disciples included Huiguan (慧觀), Sengji (僧濟), and Faan (法安). (link)

Pastor Wang Yi sentenced for ‘inciting subversion’

Wang Yi, a founding pastor of China’s Early Rain Covenant Church, has been sentenced to nine years in jail by a Chinese court for inciting subversion of state power and other crimes.

Wang was detained in December 2018 along with other senior figures in the prominent unsanctioned church during overnight raids across various districts of Chengdu, the southwestern city where the church was founded. (link)

Pastor Wang Yi from the sermon The Gospel and Church-State Relations on May 27, 2018 at Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China.

Two excellent articles on the LeBaron killings in Mexico

From a few days ago: The LeBaron Massacre Seems to Have No Tie to Nxivm – More Likely Drugs or Water Fight

The LeBaron massacre – where three mothers and six children were killed – looks less like an accidental killing – of women and children caught in a crossfire of rival drug gangs – and more like targeted murder.

Reportedly, there were three SUV’s – where the woman and children were killed – one of them 10 miles distant from the others – which suggests this was no accident, not a case of mistaken identity.

The killing of women and children could be interpreted as the most ruthless message: ‘We will stop at nothing. Your entire clan will be exterminated.”

The LeBaron clan are not passive players in their north Mexican world. They are a white, polygamous Mormon group – some of them old-style Mormons right out of the days of Brigham Young. But they are not members, however, of the Utah Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints… (use link above for rest of story)

And earlier: The LeBaron Massacre and the LeBaron Connection to Nxivm and Keith Raniere

See the Frank Report for more stories on this topic and NXIVM.

Morality

Morality is a quality of consciousness.

It is the basis of enlightenment and the nexus of ultimate and relative realities.

The Buddha spoke of enlightenment only by saying what it is not.

Even when we consider moral acts with great care, we can never be entirely certain of our judgement because there is always more that we do not and cannot understand or know.

We can be cautiously certain only that we have tried or are trying to act morally.

Do we act as if in a role? Or do we act as if in a mind stream, a stream of karma?

God’s Will implies we have a role to play. What does a karmic mind stream imply? Are we attracted to the Tathāgata or not?

I think it’s best to consider all points of view.

Status as a fetish

Fetish can be defined as “a part standing for the whole” or “one thing being made bigger than it is by having become a psychological fixation.”

A good example of what I mean is pornography. Insofar as a mere image can stand for or replace instinctual sexual objectives, it is a fetish.

A sign (pornographic image) is as strong or stronger than the animal instinct. Or a sign can direct or redirect the animal instinct. That is a fetish.

Secondary sex characteristics do the same thing. You could call them nature’s fetishes but that would be stretching the concept. Human utilizations of makeup, clothing, and grooming could be said to stand “halfway” between the basic sexual instinct and the fetishized porno image.

Let’s apply that reasoning to status.

Two social psychologist I respect—Jordan Peterson and Kevin MacDonald—have both claimed many times that status is a fundamental human instinct and that it drives human behavior in many ways.

In posts on this site, I have disagreed with these ideas several times. I just don’t see it that way. Here are two of those posts: Status and hierarchy are as fundamental to human life as murder and Jordan Peterson on the gender pay gap, campus protests and the patriarchy.

In the second link just above, I said:

…I do not believe that social status is any more fundamental to human nature than murder is. Humans also possess reason and spiritual inclinations both of which can guide us away from status competition if we decide to do that and/or our conditions allow.

I still think that but over the past day or two a new understanding of the importance of status and human hierarchy has dawned on me. In essence, I think I have come to see that status really is a huge deal for many people; a much bigger deal than I had ever realized.

My explanation for that is people like me (and there are many of us) during childhood and adolescence see the “status game” as a choice. And we decide not to play it.

My SO made that choice. When we talked about this subject this morning, she said people like us are more open to art (in a broad sense) and less concerned with social hierarchies. I think that’s true. One good friend years ago used to call me a “now person,” meaning I am always living in the here and now and not doing a lot of planning for the future. I think she also meant or implied that I am not doing any thinking about my social status or the human hierarchies that surround me.

A Buddhist nun who is a close friend has often described mundane human behaviors as being motivated by jealousy. I have often disagreed with her, believing that her emphasis on jealousy was influenced too much by her culture (Chinese) or by the innocence of her monastic lifestyle.

Today, I think she was influenced by the status-conscious world she had grown up in and as a young adult renounced for Buddhism. But I also think she was able to see something I have been almost completely blind to. For me status has always been a very small cloud on the edge of the sky, not a major thunderstorm in human motivation. For her it is, or was, a storm in the human mind.

Status is a fetish. And fetishization does explain a lot about it. But if lots of people have that fetish or have that strong understanding of status, that’s how it is. As a social construct the status fetish can be even bigger and more imposing than the basic instinct it rests upon.

I hope this post helps people who see status as important understand people like me and my SO, and vice versa.

From a Buddhist point of view, I think it is important to fully understand the entire status spectrum—from instinct to fetishized sign—and to understand where you are on that spectrum and where the people you deal with are on that spectrum.

My guess is that most people reading this blog do not think of status as being very important. People like us need to appreciate that status is probably largely what motivates good people like Jordan Peterson as well as bad people like Bernie Madoff.

Might also be good if status-conscious people would understand that people like us are not all slackers or losers, nor are we seething with envy over your status. We simply do not even see the game you are playing. We do other stuff like become monastics or perform ordinary tasks cheerfully and without complaint.