Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Damasio and Thompson revisited

Continuing my latest obsession, here's a link to Thomson et al's article Meditation and the neuroscience of consciousness. I discussed it in this post and following. He uses Damasio's work to contextualize his empirical results. This post gives a brief summary of that work and is further discussed thereafter. A couple relevant excerpts from the referenced posts follow.

Another interesting discussion in the meditation/neuroscience paper 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.

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.

A few points on Damasio above related to the previous meditation article on ipseity and awareness. Note that consciousness is not the same as basic mind awareness. The former requires a 'self' and the latter is bereft of one. Core consciousness pre-dates the narrative self and is focused in the present only. It seems this is the 'bare awareness' from the meditation article, which requires ipseity (self), and is not the same as the unconscious 'mind' process (awake awareness) that Damasio distinguishes.This is congruent with my earlier speculations that it requires an 'ego' to meditate, which goes down into the 'mind.' I didn't have Damasio's more refined definitions then, so the ego to which I referred might be more like the core consciousness than the narrative self?

I've also made the connection that the Witness of meditation fame is indeed the ego. Granted I have to re-frame the ego with more specificity in light of Damasio. In this regard the following is from p. 18 of Self Comes to Mind:

"Countless creatures for millions of years have had active minds happening in their brains, but only after those brains developed a protagonist capable of bearing witness did consciousness begin, in the strict sense, and only after those brains developed language did it become widely known that minds did exist. The witness is something extra that reveals the presence of implicit brain events we call mental."

Also of note is that the proto-self is housed in the brainstem and is literally the body-mind, which communicates via image (schemas?) and primordial feelings connected to "sheer existence" (20-2).
In section 2.3.1 of the meditation paper 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.

This post references an article that puts the two types of meditation (focus and open) in this neurological context. I remarked:

Also of interest from the last article is how in the beginning it compares what I've excerpted above with Descartes' dualism, the mind being an immaterial 'ghost in the machine.' At the end he comes full circle, noting this same dualism is inherent to not only Husserl's transcendent consciousness but also to traditional Buddhist notions of transcendent awareness.

This has been of course one of my own criticisms with various brands of shentong above and in other threads. I explained it as as aspect of the rational ego, the autobiographical  self or formal operations in MHC-speak. That's where the Cartesean split occurs, so that when we unwind in meditation to the core self, that first reflective 'I,' we misinterpret it as some form of world-transcendent, metaphysical entity.
Hence the next step beyond the autobiographical self, the centaur, takes us into postmetaphysics, once again grounding these natural states with neuroscience, validating the states but refuting the transcendent interpretations. And as I've said above and elsewhere, we can get more complex in our 'operations,' but until we re-embody and anchor those in our core and proto-selves via meditation or some similar methodology it's all just more complex, yet less integrated, psycho-babble still caught in Cartesian dualism. The real/false reason thread is a good place for review.

That is, the postmodern, postformal operatives got the interpretation right* but lacked the proto- and core self integration. While the traditional meditators integrated the prior selves, yet were still stuck in formal interpretations.

* Except for the researchers into stages like the MHC. As I argued in real/false reason, there is a big difference between those that manifest postformality and those that study it. The latter seem to me to be stuck in the dualism, even the model itself, and the thread provides ample evidence to that effect.

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