Monday, January 14, 2013

Ipseity and bare awareness

See this paper, Meditation and the neuroscience of consciousness. Some excerpts and commentary follow.

"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.

Another point is that during meditative state training the narrative self is quieted to focus on, or allow, this primitive state to arise. But as this state gains stability it moves from a series of temporary states to more of a permanent trait of consciousness that permeates other states like the narrative self. Hence at some point the narrative self and discursive thought are no longer impediments but expressions of this stable self awareness.

But one thing I find interesting is that per some traditions the process requires this temporary suspension of the narrative self during extended meditative training. Whereas for other traditions the narrative itself is the vehicle to reach our primitive ipseity through story and ritual. Story is the language of this state and can take us there just as surely as any of these more inner focused meditative techniques. In other words, the narrative self is not an obstruction or impediment to our 'true' selves.

On the other hand, or more aptly on but one of Cthulhu's other tentacles, it is also accurate to say that it is our stories that hold us down in metaphysical interpretations of said experiences. Both the traditional meditative paths and some of the more ritualistic narrative paths might reach similar states of Oneness or whatever but both still see this as some kind of heaven. And what gets us to go postmetaphysical turns out to be on the more emergent embodied cognitive enactments than on some primitive, "ever-present" origin.

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