Mod+ 268. DAN HARRIS, DOES MEDITATION DEFY SCIENCE?

Discussion in 'Skeptiko Shows' started by Alex, Mar 10, 2015.

  1. Alex

    Alex New

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2013
    Messages:
    2,608
    WHY MEDIATION AND SCIENCE ARE ON A COLLISION COURSE
    268. Meditation works… so say science.
    [​IMG]
    POSTED ON MAR 10 IN CONSCIOUSNESS SCIENCE |

    Dan Harris is a star at ABC News, but his investigation of meditation and science turned into more than a news story.

    Alex Tsakiris of Skeptiko interviews Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier about his experiences with meditation, and the larger question of whether meditation defies science’s understanding of consciousness and the relationship between mind and body.

    Click here to listen on YouTube
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 13, 2015
    Trancestate likes this.
  2. Bucky

    Bucky Member

    Joined:
    Oct 31, 2013
    Messages:
    1,681
    @Alex
    I haven't finished listening to the whole episode, but there's something I want to mention about the neuroplasticity argument that you often bring up. I am sure I am not the first to point this out.

    Frankly, I don't think the argument of self-directed neuroplasticity is really that paradigm-busting.

    The brain is neuroplastic by design, and it will respond to every experience with changes of the physical structures, reinforcing certain networks or modifying others etc... Even when we sleep the brain does its "own things".

    Take something mundane like learning how to drive a car... the coordination required to steer the wheel, operate the pedals and keeping an eye on the road will cause all sorts of changes in the brain. You could call this self-directed neuroplasticity as well, where self direction is our intention to learn driving.

    But then the mystery is really not the plasticity of the brain (which is fascinating), but the intention part... which we still struggle to define in strictly materialistic terms.

    The fact that we can trigger changes via thought alone is no more different than inducing physiological changes by thinking of a beautiful scenario and imagining all of the pleasurable feelings associated with it.

    I can't see what neuroplasticity adds to that phenomenon, for example, which we have known for ages.

    Cheers.
     
    JKMac, malf, lhl and 2 others like this.
  3. Hurmanetar

    Hurmanetar New

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2015
    Messages:
    2,377
    Home Page:
    I have had the same thought many times while listening... neuroplasticity seems like a very weak argument to bust the materialist paradigm. I can imagine robots following a deterministic path that eventually leads to them reprogramming themselves and still being essentially unconscious. I think Dean Radin's experiments where meditators altered the outcome of the double-slit experiment to be far more compelling. In this case mind is reaching outside the body and changing something in a way that violates the classical materialist paradigm.

    Haven't listened to the show yet though! About to and looking forward to it! :)
     
    JKMac and Bucky like this.
  4. Alex

    Alex New

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2013
    Messages:
    2,608
    the guy who's published the most on this is Jeffrey Schwartz: http://www.amazon.com/The-Mind-Brain-Neuroplasticity-Mental/dp/0060988479

    Our friend Steve Volk wrote an excellent single on the topic: http://www.amazon.com/OBSESSED-Comp...6027897&sr=1-1&keywords=volk+jeffrey+schwartz

    This shift in position from "thoughts can do no work" to self-directed neuroplasticity is a complete game-changer that gets glossed over with a "yeah, we already knew that" casualness -- BULL!

    Here's another way to look at it -- explain mind=brain given what we know about self-directed neuroplasticity. You can't... so, when did the shift happen.
     
    Vault313 likes this.
  5. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

    Joined:
    Oct 30, 2013
    Messages:
    2,123
    Alex's question at the end of the interview:

    Does meditation defy science as we know it?
     
  6. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

    Joined:
    Oct 31, 2013
    Messages:
    4,455
    I agree with that - because clearly thoughts do work whenever we hit the keyboard (or physically do anything)!

    I have never felt comfortable with that argument.

    David
     
  7. Reece

    Reece Member

    Joined:
    Oct 31, 2013
    Messages:
    1,261
    Home Page:
    I disagree. I don't think it really makes any sense from a materialistic standpoint that we can simply think about moving our legs and that they actually respond.
     
  8. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

    Joined:
    Oct 30, 2013
    Messages:
    2,123
    No. Not as I know it, anyway. You know, the version where science seeks out the Truth but knows it'll never get there.

    But if you're asking the question does it defy scientism, which relies on opinion and authority, then yes, it does. Authoritative opinion was dead set against neuroplasticity till it wasn't, revealing the fact that real science wasn't the issue: hidebound ideology was.

    Folk like Dan Harris are on a road: they reject formalised religion, not without cause, and have recently set out on a new journey. They are, as you say, like a guy with one foot on the quay and the other on the boat, and that's fair enough, I'd say. As for me, I have one foot on the boat and the other in the air, and as for others, they're sitting in the boat and leaving the quay, or out in the middle of the ocean, and some claim they've rowed to some wonderful destinations. I think they probably have, but I'll believe it for myself as and when, because in the end all we can rely on is personal experience, however convinced we are by the evidence.

    I rather liked Dan and his open-mindedness. That makes him a true scientist in my eyes: someone who isn't yet committed one way or the other, based on his personal experience; he's limiting himself to what he actually knows in that way. Maybe he's not read the many accounts by serious researchers like Ian Stevenson, which I do hope you will point him towards: but in the end, he can only be like myself, at best merely convinced, until he experiences what others claim to have experienced.

    There's a world of difference between belief and knowledge, and knowledge only comes through experience--or at least a certain level of knowledge--that we've been discussing elsewhere, which is a symbolic representation of Truth somewhat closer to reality than we currently possess.
     
    Steve, Vault313 and Reece like this.
  9. Hurmanetar

    Hurmanetar New

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2015
    Messages:
    2,377
    Home Page:
    Finished the episode and enjoyed the dialogue! :)

    I agree that the studies showing the broad capabilities of self-directed neuroplasticity are hugely important in that they give us a tool to improve our lives, but I still don't see how this busts the materialist paradigm. Discovering self-directed neuroplasticity is like discovering the cruise control on your vehicle. It is essentially a feedback loop: paying attention to your attention. By setting up this feedback loop, the output can be modified and smoothed out. Feedback loops are common in mechanistic systems. The fact we have certain experiences associated with the operation of this feedback loop could still be argued to be epiphenomenal. As I said previously I can envision a robot acquiring a feedback loop that enabled it to reprogram or rewire itself to adjust output and all of this could take place within a deterministic local causal framework.

    IMO, to bust the materialist paradigm, we have to establish that what we experience or call "mind" can have effects that violate the assumptions of classical materialism: locality (3D), causality (4D), and determinism (5D?). Self-directed neuroplasticity doesn't violate locality because the effect is located where the cause appears to be located: the brain. It doesn't violate causality because the feedback loop moves forward in time. And as to whether or not it violates determinism is indeterminate... it is based on your presuppositions about free-will. I don't think it proves free-will exists anymore than raising your arm on command proves it exists. Most materialists grant that we have "free-will" in the sense that we can raise our arms when we want to do so.

    The experiment where meditators altered the double slit experiment violates locality and determinism because their bodies were not in the same room as the experiment and a random outcome was altered through intention alone. The experiments on presentiment where emotional pictures are shown and the brain begins to register a response prior to the image even being selected violates causality because the arrow of time moves backwards. The experiments with RNGs violate determinism and locality because what should be a purely random process becomes non-random without any kind of local physical interaction.

    There are a host of other experiments that you have covered on your show that could also bust the paradigms. I think there are many strong arguments out there that could bust open the paradigm, but self-directed neuroplasticity is a very weak one, IMO.
     
    Rambutan, lhl and Bucky like this.
  10. Hurmanetar

    Hurmanetar New

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2015
    Messages:
    2,377
    Home Page:
    I would say no. But I do think that the practice of meditation may expand a person's ability to move their point of consciousness beyond the first 4 dimensions which in turn strengthens their ability to exhibit phenomena that defy the prevailing scientific materialist reductionist paradigm.
     
    Steve likes this.
  11. Dmitch

    Dmitch New

    Joined:
    Nov 28, 2013
    Messages:
    152
    There is an underlying shift in western psychology taking place. Meditation works. This interview is a harbinger of an effective and inexpensive way to reduce modern stress or mental illness which may be endemic in our society. Current medical interventions are woefully inadequate (counseling, psychoanalysis) and even harmful ( anti-anxiety/psychotic drugs) to address such terribly debilitating disorders, depression, anxiety disorder, psychosis, paranoia, etc.

    Dan Harris brings no deep spiritual message, except that he meditates as a form of self improvement. It relieves stress, reduces anxiety, imbues an inner calmness which imparts approx. 10% more happiness. The simple practice of meditation is to effect the thinking mind to acquiesce its attention to simple awareness of everything perceivable without reaction to it.
    How is it this causes such a dramatic mental change to the individual? Ironic as it sounds, this is a subtle revolutionary concept to the Western mind. It can cause mental dysfunctions such as panic disorder to slowly dissolve away.
    Why is it that in the absence of everything that arises in thought, joy and spontaneity appears.
    Without a spiritual incentive, merging into natural stillness brings with it a deep sense of connectedness.
    In this the basic notions about consciousness starts to transform.
     
    Steve and Hurmanetar like this.
  12. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

    Joined:
    Oct 30, 2013
    Messages:
    2,123
    Not yet. But it's a start, and he is more open minded as a result.
     
  13. Alex

    Alex New

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2013
    Messages:
    2,608
    I'd love to engage with you guys on this point, but I think you gotta bring a little bit more to the table. I have given you the Jeffrey Schwartz stuff (ep #250)... this guy almost lost his job at UCLA because he dared to make this obvious connection.

    Mario Beauregard says the same (ep #195).

    So have others. again, I don't understand the counter-argument... pls explain.

    BTW I love the beauty and simplicity of Radin's experiment, but it's not like this two experiments are competing against each other.
     
  14. Alex

    Alex New

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2013
    Messages:
    2,608
    pls see my last post
     
  15. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

    Joined:
    Oct 30, 2013
    Messages:
    2,123
    Well, yes, I suppose you're right. Neuroplasticity doesn't disprove materialism. But it could sit near to the boundary between that which is apparently material and that which isn't. It could be part of the "interface" between the "two" so to speak. It's evidence that consciousness does something in the "material" world. Nor does consciousness, probably, get generated in microtubules so much as get transduced there.

    You yourself are talking in terms of "dimensions" as if they were actually more than just representations in human minds, aren't you? That's not a put down by the way, just a description of your apparent position unless I haven't understood it. Three dimensions are sufficient to describe an object spatially in the only space most people can conceive of, but are there three actual dimensions out there, or is that just a way of symbolising the world? And what do the 4th, 5th, 6th... "dimensions" signify?

    Note all the quotes. I have to use them because all our words are predicated on current understandings. I struggle to speak in any other way. We define all these things like "dimensions" and "objects" and then think of them in that way: but they are just stories about the way things are. I have no idea what "things" actually are, what the experience of "time" actually signifies. The only thing is that such "things" appear to follow certain rules in some circumstances, usually the "macroscopic". But now and then, it's perfectly lawful for the "macroscopic" to be affected by the "microscopic", when the arbitrary distinction of "scale" is deemed to apply. At some point the "boundary" seems to become fuzzy and we start thinking in terms of "probability" and "statistics". But reality is just there, doing whatever it does, and maths/physics is just one way of trying to make sense of it: a very useful way, but still just a story about how the world is.

    Not sure I've put that across as I'd like to, but it's the best I can do for now. I suppose I'm saying that QM appears as weird as it does because the story we're telling ourselves isn't quite right: some other story, yet to be formulated, approximates better to reality.
     
  16. Hurmanetar

    Hurmanetar New

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2015
    Messages:
    2,377
    Home Page:
    I'll listen to those episodes again and then try to refine my counter argument in light of the points made therein. :)
     
  17. Yes.

    When you meditate you have a particular type of conscious experience involving intention and awareness that correlates with changes in the brain. But how do you know those conscious experiences cause the changes?

    Schwartz et al refer to quantum mechanics here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1569494/?tool=pubmed

    They explain that to understand the activity of neurons you have to use quantum mechanics, and if you do that you can't avoid the observer effects whereby conscious observation influences the system.

    Quantum physics in neuroscience and psychology: a neurophysical model of mind–brain interaction
    Jeffrey M Schwartz, Henry P Stapp, and Mario Beauregard​

    Neuropsychological research on the neural basis of behaviour generally posits that brain mechanisms will ultimately suffice to explain all psychologically described phenomena. This assumption stems from the idea that the brain is made up entirely of material particles and fields, and that all causal mechanisms relevant to neuroscience can therefore be formulated solely in terms of properties of these elements. Thus, terms having intrinsic mentalistic and/or experiential content (e.g. ‘feeling’, ‘knowing’ and ‘effort’) are not included as primary causal factors. This theoretical restriction is motivated primarily by ideas about the natural world that have been known to be fundamentally incorrect for more than three-quarters of a century. Contemporary basic physical theory differs profoundly from classic physics on the important matter of how the consciousness of human agents enters into the structure of empirical phenomena. The new principles contradict the older idea that local mechanical processes alone can account for the structure of all observed empirical data. Contemporary physical theory brings directly and irreducibly into the overall causal structure certain psychologically described choices made by human agents about how they will act. This key development in basic physical theory is applicable to neuroscience, and it provides neuroscientists and psychologists with an alternative conceptual framework for describing neural processes. Indeed, owing to certain structural features of ion channels critical to synaptic function, contemporary physical theory must in principle be used when analysing human brain dynamics. The new framework, unlike its classic-physics-based predecessor, is erected directly upon, and is compatible with, the prevailing principles of physics. It is able to represent more adequately than classic concepts the neuroplastic mechanisms relevant to the growing number of empirical studies of the capacity of directed attention and mental effort to systematically alter brain function.

    They are saying that quantum mechanics provides a better framework than classical physics to understand neural processes ("ion channels critical to synaptic function") and studies of "directed attention and mental effort".

    They then go on to imply that the same type of causal influence a conscious observer has on a double slit experiment occurs during meditation when the activity of the brain is observed.

    We shall also explain how certain structural features of ion conductance channels critical to synaptic function entail that the classic approximation fails in principle to cover the dynamics of a human brain. Quantum dynamics must be used in principle. Furthermore, once the transition to the quantum description is made, the principles of quantum theory must, in order to maintain rational consistency and coherency, be used to link the quantum physical description of the subject's brain to their stream of conscious experiences. The conscious choices by human agents thereby become injected non-trivially into the causal interpretation of neuroscience and neuropsychology experiments. This caveat particularly applies to those experimental paradigms in which human subjects are required to perform decision-making or attention-focusing tasks that require conscious effort.

    2. Practical ramifications of the altered concept of the causal structure of self-directed neuroplasticity....​
     
  18. Alex

    Alex New

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2013
    Messages:
    2,608
    Wow... thx for digging into the quantum theory stuff... great.

    The simple version works too. Materialism requires that metal processes do no work. When we show that a meditator can mess with the double slit experiment (as Radin did) OR CHANGE THE PHYSICAL STRUCTURE OF A BRAIN (like Schwartz did) then materialism has a huge problem.

    Daniel Dennett may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but at least he had a logically consistent position -- "consciousness is an illusion." Everyone since has muddied the water with a lot of arm-waving about microtubules and emergence, but it still comes back to the question of whether consciousness is an illusion. if consciousness can do work it's not an illusion.

    Would be happy/grateful to be shown the error in my ways.
     
  19. Taking the materialist's point of view, that consciousness is an illusion, then during meditation something is going on but not what you think. The brain is doing something to itself but it produces the illusion that you have intention and awareness. In that case (yes it is absurd and ignores tons of contradictory evidence from parapsychology etc) consciousness is not causing the changes in the brain it is only correlated with changes in the brain.

    How do you prove the conscious experiences you have during meditation are causing changes in the brain and are not just an interesting correlation?

    What Schwartz et al are trying to do is to show that during meditation there is necessarily a causal relationship between conscious experience and neural activity because quantum mechanics tells us that a conscious observer necessarily influences any quantum systems that it observes.

    A meditator doesn't have to consciously know how to rewire neurons in the same way a double slit observer doesn't have to know the location on the detection screen he should put the wave he collapsed into a particle.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2015
    Hurmanetar and Steve like this.
  20. Hurmanetar

    Hurmanetar New

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2015
    Messages:
    2,377
    Home Page:
    I went back and listened to episode 250 with Schwartz and read episode 195 with Beauregard. Episode 250 did not really dig into the evidence directly. It was mostly discussing the disconnect between materialism and experience and didn't really talk much about neuroplasticity. In Episode 195, Beauregard gave the examples of placebo effect and hypnosis as evidence that mind doesn't conform to materialist presuppositions. IMO, the placebo effect is a much stronger evidence than self-directed neuroplasticity. As far as I am aware, the placebo effect occurs with practically all treatments meaning there cannot be one single mechanism framed by the materialists to account for the effect. With neuroplasticity, the actual mechanism by which the changes occur is less well understood. It seems very easy to imagine a mundane mechanism. A comparison could be made to lifting weights. Your mind commands your muscles to focus on a particular action and do work and so your muscles get torn up and rebuild themselves stronger. Similarly, in meditation, your mind commands your focus to move around and this neuronal exercise causes certain areas of the brain to rebuild themselves a little differently. Afterall, the brain rewires itself when engaged in all sorts of activities... not just meditation. Unless the mechanism of operation in self-directed neuroplasticity is uncovered, I think there will still be plenty of room for the materialists to insert a banal hypothesis. And when the mechanism is uncovered, I think neuroplasticity will only be one small subset of things the mind can be shown to affect.

    Can the mind do work on the body? I think so, but the scale on which that work occurs might determine how much of a dent the phenomenon will put in classical materialism. The restoration of a severed limb through intention/prayer/meditation alone would be an extreme example of the mind doing work on the body and it is no doubt paradigm busting because there is obviously no materialistic explanation. The placebo affect could be the mind acting at the cellular and molecular level partially through known mechanistic pathways, so it is also paradigm busting but much less obvious since comprehensible mechanisms are partially involved. Neuroplasticity has a mechanism operating at very small scales and could still be hypothesized to operate like the brain "lifting weights" or like a mechanistic feedback loop.

    To sum it up, if you could show how self-directed neuroplasticity specifically violates either locality, causality, or determinism, then I could be persuaded to agree that it is a powerful argument. But right now, I just don't see it.
     
    Bucky and lhl like this.

Share This Page