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Unread postPosted: 27th January, 2012, 6:02 pm 
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I've been mulling over some thoughts that were largely prompted by a recent re-reading of Sam Harris' book, The End of Faith. In the latter half of his book, Harris makes the claim that there is "nothing irrational about seeking the states of mind that lie at the core of many religions". He writes that "compassion, awe, devotion and feelings of oneness are surely among the most valuable experiences a person can have."

He suggests that paying close attention to the moment-to-moment conscious experience makes it possible to eradicate our sense of "self" and thereby uncover a new state of personal well-being. Moreover, Harris argues that such states of mind should be subjected to formal scientific investigation, without incorporating the myth and superstition that often accompanies meditation in the religious context.

What is most confounding about this segment of Harris' book is the extremely vague rhetoric, especially coming from a man who specialized in Philosophy at one of the top universities in the United States and went on to study graduate Neuroscience. This is why I'm coming to you, ID. What do you think Harris is truly getting at here? Do you think his claims hold any weight? Is there something about the spiritual experience that we should defend, preserve, and emphasize, so that it might enrich our experience as humans?

  
 
Unread postPosted: 27th January, 2012, 6:25 pm 
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( Warning, I could be way off here in this post, and have no experience of Sam Harris's work, so hold back the torches and pitchforks!)

I personally find paying close attention to the 'moment-to-moment conscious experience' brings me allot closer to myself and gives me allot more clarity rather than eradicating it, a sense of clarity a value VERY highly and often try to reach. Unless this feeling of clarity is actually what he meant by a 'new state of well-being' and I'm just mistaking it as being closer to myself. either way, I think its a big mistake for people to leave these emotions and experiences to the wind, they are some of the most impotent to appreciate and utilize in a humans conscious experience I believe.

I do think these states are very valuable to us as humans, as long as we can find ways of accessing them without resorting to the irrational faith he spoke of. there is nothing wrong with trying to reach these emotions, but I feel like it is much better for personal growth to do this though the introspection of yourself and rooting yourself in current experiences, rather than clinging to religion or superstition. I feel these are the emotions that allow us to be much more true to ourselves, and prevent us being completely swept away by the conforming and restricting forces of society and the mindset it places us in far too offten.

I would like to see it be subjected to further studying without the idea of superstition and religion surrounding it too.

I may be completely off the track of what you and Harris are trying to get at. but it provoked these thoughts in me, so I though i have nothing to lose in sharing them.

  
 
Unread postPosted: 27th January, 2012, 7:55 pm 
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Last edited by The Hierophant on 11th August, 2012, 9:04 am, edited 1 time in total.
  
 
Unread postPosted: 27th January, 2012, 8:03 pm 
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The Hierophant wrote:
"eradicate your sense of self"


That wasn't a direct quote of Harris, just so you know. It is my interpretation. He kept referring to being freed of one's "self", and I'm not entirely sure what he meant.

  
 
Unread postPosted: 27th January, 2012, 10:14 pm 
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I'm actually a fan of his work so I think I can answer having read all his books thus far. Harris didn't just study philosophy at Stanford and neuroscience at UCLA but actually took time off between these two disciplines to study with Eastern contemplative teachers.

What he's going on about with reference to the "self" is actually the Buddhist concept of anatman (literally: no self). The locus of consciousness we feel resting behind the eyes and between our ears is actually a cognitive illusion—one that is now virtually universally accepted by higher-cognitive mind science. The idea is that not only is this an empirical reality that can be corroborated through science but a reality that can be arrived at subjectively through introspection. The whole point of breaking the illusion of the ego is to free oneself of false ideas about oneself that cause personal suffering from things like attachment and feelings of permanence. One need not suspend reason nor believe things on insufficient evidence to find value in simple meditative practices that can not only help you realize this illusion but eventually help break it.

You might profit from seeing these short videos:




  
 
Unread postPosted: 30th January, 2012, 1:22 am 
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poolerboy0077 wrote:
The locus of consciousness we feel resting behind the eyes and between our ears is actually a cognitive illusion—one that is now virtually universally accepted by higher-cognitive mind science.

If you could name or direct me to scientific papers/articles/books on this subject I'd be eternally* appreciative.

*The Blakean definition of eternity, i.e., an eternity of the duration of one hour.

  
 
Unread postPosted: 30th January, 2012, 3:04 am 
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Iago wrote:
poolerboy0077 wrote:
The locus of consciousness we feel resting behind the eyes and between our ears is actually a cognitive illusion—one that is now virtually universally accepted by higher-cognitive mind science.

If you could name or direct me to scientific papers/articles/books on this subject I'd be eternally* appreciative.

*The Blakean definition of eternity, i.e., an eternity of the duration of one hour.

Well one area of interest for many researchers has been split-brain patients.


Uddin, L. Q. (2011). Brain connectivity and the self: The case of cerebral disconnection. Consciousness and Cognition, 20(1), 94-98.
Quote:
Split-brain patients continue to challenge the notion of a unified self, as envisioned by Sherrington (1941), and suggest instead that different aspects of the multifaceted entity we call the self are subserved by distributed neural systems.


Uddin, L. Q., Rayman, J., & Zaidel, E. (2005). Split-brain reveals separate but equal self-recognition in the two cerebral hemispheres. Consciousness & Cognition, 14(3), 633-640.
Quote:
The right and left hemispheres of this patient independently and equally possessed the ability to self-recognize, but only the right hemisphere could successfully recognize familiar others. This supports a modular concept of self-recognition and other-recognition, separately present in each cerebral hemisphere.

We suggest that the representation of the self that allows for self-recognition is not restricted to a particular hemisphere, but is rather available to each cerebral hemisphere independently.


Lenggenhager, B., Tadi, T., Metzinger, T., & Blanke, O. (2007). Video ergo sum: manipulating bodily self-consciousness. Science, 317(5841), 1096-1099.
Quote:
Our results indicate that spatial unity and bodily self-consciousness can be studied experimentally and are based on multisensory and cognitive processing of bodily information.


As a Nature editor put it, "The study of split-brain patients reinforces the point, by showing that perception and action can be mediated independently by the two hemispheres; if for example two different visual stimuli are presented to the two hemispheres, the right hemisphere will direct an appropriate behavioral response to the stimulus it sees, while the left hemisphere, which controls language but has no access to the stimulus seen by the right hemisphere, will confabulate a plausible alternative explanation for the behavior, based on the unrelated stimulus to which it does have access. Clearly, the idea of a single locus of perception and decision-making is untenable."



If your more interested in philosophical reading on this, look up work by the German gay-sounding Thomas Metzinger.

  
 
Unread postPosted: 2nd February, 2012, 11:21 am 
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This is really interesting. I don't know anything on this topic, but if I'm understanding what you are saying, different parts of the brain are capable of self-recognition. What I'm failing to understand, is why this has any importance on what the self is.
One hemisphere of our brain doesn't operate without the other hemisphere and if you removed half a brain I would guess the other half would compensate for what was missing. So in this case although we might create an illusion of consciousness, the fact is our brain is still submitting to us something we can recognise as being the self.

  
 
Unread postPosted: 2nd February, 2012, 5:14 pm 
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Okay, first of all, incoming wall of text. I am going to start with a long overview that I feel is helpful in getting to answering your question. Skip to the second section if you want the more direct answer to Loop's post. However, some of it may be hard to understand without reading the overview. I learned most of this from my readings of Ken Wilber, who is regarded as one of the most influential American philosophers of our time.

--------------------------------------------

Western nations developed under the control and influence of mainly organized Judeo-Christian beliefs. They controlled not only the way governments worked, but also the direction and guidance that philosophy, science, art, and cultures grew. At this point, the human race (focusing mostly on Western civilization because I don't know as much about Eastern during this time period) had yet to separate different areas of thinking. Instead of saying that astronomy and religion were separate, we wanted to keep them together and force them to coincide perfectly. This led to issues like the Church calling out Galileo as a heretic for speaking out against the church's teachings. This obviously created problems.

Then (well during for the Galileo example) we had the Renaissance! The invention of the printing press allowed people to learn and spread ideas outside of their Churches. Those previously mentioned disciplines burst out into the open and away from the control and guidance of religion. Art flourished, the study of ethics and the idea of personal liberty exploded into being seen as inherently just, and all realms of study other than just religion were accepted as mainstream ways of making progress with the human race. This was a incredibly large transcendence, and that's why it happened over 3-4 centuries. These types of immense evolutions of human consciousness cannot happen overnight. At the same time, each new level of transcendence also brings about new challenges. To save time, inserting Wikipedia link about issues that arose during this time:

"On the other hand, many historians now point out that most of the negative social factors popularly associated with the medieval period – poverty, warfare, religious and political persecution, for example – seem to have worsened in this era which saw the rise of Machiavellian politics, the Wars of Religion, the corrupt Borgia Popes, and the intensified witch-hunts of the 16th century." Renaissance

This means that society and the human consciousness needed to (and naturally does)continue on its constant journey of evolving and working towards transcending the Renaissance period, incorporating what we learned in that period, and propelling ourselves into a new age. Enter, the modern rational/scientific world view. This worldview created almost unthinkable levels of scientific and technological advancement. Think about everything that has been invented and researched between say 1800-2000. It is rather insane. Society started to value what we call rational, scientific, objective, observable thinking. This is a very powerful way of thinking when focusing on the exterior observable world.

Like other periods, this evolution created its own problems too. As we decided to value the exterior observable world as king, we disparaged the interior. Our consciousness, thoughts, and ways of thinking were seen as not important because they could not be looked at using our standard scientific model. We can look at a brain in a scan and easily study and see how it reacts and works to different stimuli. However, if we want to truly understand what someone is thinking, we have to talk to them and interpret what they say. Exterior things are observable. Interior things require communication and interpretation. That makes them much harder to understand and study. "Good" or correct answers to internal questions require not only the proper subject, but also the correct interpreter. There are better answers to non objective forms of research. For example, if you are analyzing what an art piece means, there are certain answers that are more correct.

This way of thinking is easily seen in our culture. We value engineering degrees a thousand times more than a humanities degree. I am not trying to say I disagree or don't understand why we do that. I am simply pointing out that it is true. So while the rational/scientific worldview has allowed for great progress, it has a flaw like all other periods of history. Its flaw is that we have chosen it at the complete expense of the interior.

I would say currently we are moving towards a view that is willing to incorporate more of the internal. It is clearly not widespread yet, but you can see it in certain areas. Businesses are seeing that creating work environments that lead to interior feelings of comfort and happiness increase productivity. Creating a community in your workplace, that has real non-hierarchical work induced relationships is seen as a necessity to recruit top talent (Look at Goggle, and almost any other rising tech company). So all we can do is see where it goes from here.

Bottom line is, in my opinion from reading these books, is that both the external and internal are incredibly important. They each have their strengths and weaknesses that they bring to the table. If you want to get a true concept of the world, it is imperative to include both ways of thinking as you approach the tough questions.

--------------------------------------------

Now, onto looking at the OP more directly. I feel like the reason a lot of people are nowadays hostile towards the idea of spirituality is specifically because it is an internal force. Today's generation has been taught that the external observable world is king. That is why we are hesitant to believe in " seeking the states of mind that lie at the core of many religions" as you stated in your post. Most people also have a hard time differentiating between religion (or what I would rather call organized corporate religion) and spirituality. I believe that you can definitely be spiritual without religion. And more importantly, that the prototypical organized Judeo-Christian religions may actually stop you from being what I would call spiritual.

As Pooler mentioned, there are plenty of others like Harris who speak about these very high levels of consciousness. It is more prevalent in Eastern studies, but it can be found in the West as well. At this point, it seems rather ignorant of us to assume that all of these people are simply crazy.

At our level, we can still observe some sense of "Self". When you are thinking, you are able to analyze your own thoughts and notice issues or problems. In order to do this, you are actually stepping back and looking AT your thoughts. As in your thoughts become the object that you are observing instead of the subject doing the observation. This is a very low level of what people like Harris or Wilber are talking about.

It may simply be that their level is not something that is conceivable until you can conceive of it. An example:
Let's go back in history to when everyone thought the world was flat. If you were in this time period, and someone tried to tell you otherwise, you would say they were crazy. That is because your worldview would not allow you to conceive of such a notion. Everything you had observed in the world had told you that the world was flat, therefore how could you possibly think it was round? However, as soon as you went on a boat, or studied the sky, and were able to see differently, your belief on the matter would instantly change.

I believe the same principle applies with these high levels of consciousness, spirituality and self. Until we go through the same exercises that these philosophers go through and experience the same things that they do, we are unable to see what they see. Remember, spirituality is on the internal spectrum. That means that it cannot simply be observed like something external (aka looking at a brain in a MRI), it must be interacted with and interpreted. That is why it is much harder to fathom and much harder to understand.

Therefore, I think his claims certainly hold weight. More importantly, I think we must investigate and be more open to this way of thinking if we want to move in the most beneficial direction possible for our world. Once again, I by no means think we should get rid of our current rational exterior way of looking at the world. Simply that we should also incorporate more interior ideas/thinking/studies.

--------------------------------------------

Yes, I know this is a wall of text. No, I am not making a tl;dr section. This is intellectual discussion, if you want to read it go for it, if not I don't care. I wrote this more as a way to force myself to write out my thoughts as a learning process. I hope I at least addressed your OP in some way Loop. Please respond if you wish and I will continue to as well.


Last edited by Xan on 5th February, 2012, 1:12 am, edited 1 time in total.
  
 
Unread postPosted: 3rd February, 2012, 1:48 am 
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^As stated I agree with much of what you wrote. A higher cognitive mind science is based on that relationship you talked about in your fifth paragraph: between first-person inner experience (ontological subjectivity) reporting it dispassionately to third parties who can then objectively study it further. There is, however, an important caveat that religious liberals and new age types should heed. People can get as esoteric as they want -- talking about self-transcedence, the ego being an illusion, asking what the relationship is between consciousness and the rest of the physical world is -- but the truth is that when we get to these fringe areas we are getting to some real scientific ignorance. The first thing we want to do is admit ignorance, not claim that by closing our eyes we can realize our identity with the entire cosmos or get before the Big Bang with one's unguarded intuitions. The important distinction, then, is to not conflate ontolotical subjectivity with epistemic subjectivity -- the latter of which can be biased, merely personal impressions.

  
 
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