Friday, August 29, 2014

Recontextualizing meditative states of consciousness

This paper may be of interest in terms of recontextualizing the 4 states: “Meditation and the neuroscience of consciousness.” It was discussed on p. 7 and following in the IPS thread “an integral postmetaphysical definition of states.” In the article they are here discussing a baseline state.

"A central goal of the practice of meditation is to transform the baseline state of experience and to obliterate the distinction between the meditative state and the postmeditative state. The practice of Open Presence, for instance, cultivates increased awareness of a more subtle baseline (i.e., ipseity) during which the sense of an autobiographical or narrative self is deemphasized. Long-term training in Compassion meditation is said to weaken egocentric traits and change the emotional baseline. Mindfulness/ Awareness meditation aims to experience the present nowness, and it affects the 'attentional baseline' by lessening distractions or daydream like thoughts.... From an empirical standpoint, one way to conceptualize these various meditative traits is to view them as developmental changes in physiological baselines in the organism. Finding ways of systematically characterizing these baselines before, during and after mental training is thus crucial for the empirical examination of the long-term impact of meditation" (70).

Another interesting discussion is on ipseity. On 45 it is described as "bare awareness" without an object. On 64 it is described as "the minimal subjective sense of ‘I-ness’ in experience, and as such, it is constitutive of a ‘minimal’ or ‘core self.’" It is also "a form of self-consciousness that is primitive inasmuch as: 1) it does not require any subsequent act of reflection or introspection, but occurs simultaneously with awareness of the object; 2) does not consist in forming a belief or making a judgment, and 3) is ‘passive’ in the sense of being spontaneous and involuntary." This is distinguished from our narrative self.

A couple of points for now. This bare awareness or ipseity is directly related to a sense of I-ness, ipseity itself referring to this autonomous individuality. So while it might be before the narrative self with its sense of egoic history, it is a self-awareness nonetheless, unique to its apperceiver and I-centric. It is even associated with "bodily processes of life regulation" (65), generally the most primitive brain. So in itself it is not enlightened consciousness but lizard survival awareness, and only through training is this self-regulatory attentional baseline modified and refined.

In section 2.3.1 it seems to indicate that the practice in general is through the core self, not the narrative self. They in fact use Damasio as a source for these parts of the self. Section 2.3.2 says that consciousness is the result of integration of various brain areas and is not relegated to any particular area, except the proto-self, according to Damasio. Section 2.3.3 notes that at least some forms of meditation are geared to the core self (ipseity) under the narrative self. Hence it gets close to our autonomous functions of life regulation and stabilize them in a more homeostatic balance, including emotional equanimity. This of course provides a more stable and healthy base for the narrative self, so that it is less twisted with neurosis etc. 

Thompson is heavily involved in this work and does not consider it to be 'scientific reductionism.' He also takes into account the cultural traditions and explanations for such states, but also finds we must recontexualize them in light of the scientific research. More can be found on this topic in the IPS Thompson thread, where he said: 

"But whereas the Advaitin takes this minimal selfhood to be a transcendental witness consciousness, I think itʼs open to us to maintain that it is my embodied self or bodily subjectivity, or what phenomenologists would call my pre-personal lived body. In this way, I think we can remove the Advaita conception of dreamless sleep from its native metaphysical framework and graft it onto a naturalist conception of the embodied mind."

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