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

#21
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.
I guess you could take that position, but Schwartz's data crushes this idea... if I remember correctly the difference between the control group was pretty substantial.

BTW you could say the same about Radin's experiment... correlation doesn't mean causation... but that's where statistics come into play.
 
#22
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.
Dimensions are mental constructs just like the universe :)

And what do the 4th, 5th, 6th... "dimensions" signify?
I tried to hypothesize an answer to the question about the significance of the 5th dimension here: http://www.skeptiko-forum.com/threads/could-the-5th-dimension-be-called-meaning.2006

but they are just stories about the way things are....the story we're telling ourselves isn't quite right: some other story, yet to be formulated, approximates better to reality.
I agree... words are symbols that we build our symbolic knowledge models with and when the resonate with reality we find them fun and useful. When they don't we refine them. The process of refining our models is also fun and useful. :)
 
#23
Hurmanetar said:
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.
Placebo effect is possibly a better argument.
However the vast majority of the placebo effect has been shown to be reporting bias, and there's no strong evidence that it produces a strong or long lasting effects. Which, imo, is good news for alternative therapies :D

Some of the most apparently extraordinary manifestations of placebo such as placebo-surgery are in fact just evidence that the surgical operation itself has no therapeutic value :( Such as arthroscopic knee surgery.

The problem with the current state of the placebo studies is that there're aren't many. By this I mean studies on the placebo itself, not drug trials against placebo.
See this article:
http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/placebo-are-you-there/

It is kind of ironic that "science based medicine" website publishes an article that shows how small the placebo effect is, and at the same time attacks all complementary therapies as pure placebo :D :D

Now they will probably change their refrain saying that it is not placebo, people using CAM just got lucky, and the day they went to their homeopath / acupuncturist etc... their health issue "decided" to go away on its own :D

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.
Exactly. Especially in light of the fact that neuro-plasticity happens all the times in the brain, it is just how the brain works.
The self-direction is no more surprising than any other act of volition that affects the body, such as self-directed hygiene :D I decide that it's time to take a shower and put on some fresh new clothes.

This is not meant to be sarcastic but just to underline the fact that the mystery lies in being conscious and intentional not in the fact that the brain rewires itself.

The rewiring requires experience and to experience is to be conscious. Coma patients are minimally conscious and their rewiring is similarly reduced to almost nothing. I just mentioned in another post the other day that a coma patient came back online after 19 years of vegetative state. Doctors compared various brain scans of the patients and noted how the brain had veeery slowly reconnected a few "circuits" that probably helped him "wake up".

cheers
 
#24
So have others. again, I don't understand the counter-argument... pls explain.
Here is an explicit - if rather gruesome - counter argument.

Since some brain operations are performed with the patient awake, it would be possible in theory for a neurosurgeon to use mirrors etc and operate on his own brain - change its structure in some way.

Likewise people sometimes do this in a cruder way by shooting themselves in the head!

Computers may do this by shutting down a piece of hardware because it is malfunctioning.

I don't see that you can draw a clean line between those kinds of scenarios and neuroplasticity.

However, I do think neuroplasticity is telling us something important because it clearly hints that 'we' control the operation of our brains rather than the other way round - which seems to me to be more compatible with the filter hypothesis - which implies that there is a conscious entity separate from the brain trying to get it back under control.

I am sure you know by now that I don't support the materialistic view of the brain, but I think weak arguments tend to undermine our argument, not enhance it.

David
 
#25
Alex's question at the end of the interview:
Does meditation defy science as we know it?
Yes or No.

If you wanted to convince the mainstream with science,there is enough complexity in the topic to spin a web and convince others (of either persuasion) that their view is valid. This forum is not mainstream, therefore is unlikely to reflect my view as given.
(This first paragraph he's been heavily edited as I did a rubbish job the first time round, I probably won't do much better second time! )

Dan says that there may be some religious rebound to his mainly secular book, that may be, but I think that the effect of Dan's book will be much more positive, if people meditated worldwide then it would have profound effects. It's great that he can sell such a book in large numbers, and it required someone in his position to bring it to 'anti' spiritual people.

This book is just another tool that adds to the many that imperceptibly ratchet up the consciousness a little bit, maybe Rick was right ? :)

I really enjoyed this interview. I like Dan's honesty and his easy to follow language, and both his and Alex's humour, thanks to both of them. ;;/?
 
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#26
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!
The most hardcore materialist will say that thoughts are brain processes. Since brain processes are at the core of neuroplasticity, which is uncontroversial, then there is no need to invoke a paradigm busting news. It's like a software reconfiguring itself, it's not out of this world.

Of course I agree that thoughts = brain processes is an unwarranted assumption based on promissory notes. Even more untenable is the idea that brain processes create experience and the "illusion of being conscious". If that was true then, equally, brain processes could create the illusion that "consciousness is an illusion". It's a self-defeating proposition :D

But my question is: what does self-directed neuroplasticity add to what we already knew about phenomena such as self-directed brain chemistry changes or hypnosis?
Is it because it leaves physical traces of such interactions?

If the answer is yes, wouldn't it be the same of changing one's thoughts and finding changes in the chemistry of the brain?
To use the position you have cited, we have known that "thought could do work" even before neuroplasticity. Eg: suggestion, hypnosis, autogenic training etc...

In my opinion the only difference is that only in recent times we have been able to measure the physical consequences with our scientific tools.

Cheers.
 
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#28
The most hardcore materialist will say that thoughts are brain processes. Since brain processes are at the core of neuroplasticity, which is uncontroversial, then there is no need to invoke a paradigm busting news. It's like a software reconfiguring itself, it's not out of this world.

Of course I agree that thoughts = brain processes is an unwarranted assumption based on promissory notes. Even more untenable is the idea the brain processes create experience and the "illusion of being conscious". If that was true then, equally, brain processes could create the illusion that "consciousness is an illusion". It's a self-defeating proposition :D

But my question is: what does self-directed neuroplasticity adds to what we already knew about phenomena such as self-directed brain chemistry changes or hypnosis?
Is it because it leaves physical traces of such interactions?

If the answer is yes, wouldn't it be the same of changing one's thoughts and finding changes in the chemistry of the brain?
To use the position you have cited, we have known that "thought could do work" even before neuroplasticity. Eg: suggestion, hypnosis, autogenic training etc...

In my opinion the only difference is that only in recent times we have been able to measure the physical consequences with our scientific tools.

Cheers.
Nice post Bucky.... Yes. I think physicalism actually needs neuroplasticity to make any sense at all!
 
#29
Daniel Dennett may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but at least he had a logically consistent position -- "consciousness is an illusion."
Actually I've always wondered if "consciousness is an illusion" is a logically consistent position since I don't get how you can define illusion without presupposing consciousness. By "illusion" don't we mean to experience reality to be in a certain way that isn't true? But to experience reality there must be consciousness, I should think. So to say that consciousness is an illusion, to my mind, comes down to saying: "You're not thinking. You're just thinking that you're thinking". That surely isn't logically consistent.
 
#31
Actually I've always wondered if "consciousness is an illusion" is a logically consistent position since I don't get how you can define illusion without presupposing consciousness. By "illusion" don't we mean to experience reality to be in a certain way that isn't true? But to experience reality there must be consciousness, I should think. So to say that consciousness is an illusion, to my mind, comes down to saying: "You're not thinking. You're just thinking that you're thinking". That surely isn't logically consistent.
Agreed - I think lots of people have said that. It tells you a lot about how weak the materialist position is, that DD ever came up with the idea!

David
 
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#32
Nice post Bucky.... Yes. I think physicalism actually needs neuroplasticity to make any sense at all!
Well it probably 'needs' it in the sense that physicalism isn't really complete.

Computers only reconfigure themselves to a very limited extent. The problem is, of course, that you need more hardware to actually perform the reconfiguration. Take the Mars rovers, for example, they do reconfigure themselves in various ways, but it is intelligence on earth that decides what to do. If you wanted to put that 'intelligence' into the actual software on board, it would be vastly harder because it would have to assess a whole range of complicated fault situations.

Not only would it be more complicated, but would the rover be any better off when you consider that the reconfiguration hardware/software could itself fail and reconfigure stuff that was working correctly. Beyond a certain point, making things 'plastic' can do more harm than good.

But if you have a real intelligence sitting on earth figuring out what has gone wrong and devising a fix - that is totally different!

Now imagine that in the brain - a structure that is supposed to be evolved, not designed!

Looked at like that, the existence of this neuroplasticity in the brain makes the case for a totally physical brain much weaker (IMHO), but it isn't just a knock-down argument.

David
 
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#33
Is the problem that you're building your whole argument on this premise and it may not be the case?
The point is that the hard core materialist position is that talk of mental processes is really just a convenient shorthand for talking about chemical and electrical processes! So everything is done at the physical level, even if that is obscured by the language used!

You should be careful - if this were really true, 'you' wouldn't really exist, there would just be a shell cleverly designed (or evolved) to give the impression that you were sentient!

David
 
#34
interesting discussion.

consider 4 experiments mentioned:
- Radin/Schrodinger double slit
- Schwartz OCD/neuroplasticity
- color blind hypnosis (Harvard... I think... referenced by Beauregard)
- placebo (many examples)

They are all saying the same. They are ALL NON-LOCAL in that immaterial thoughts (and we have accept that at some early point in the process thoughts/attention are/is immaterial) are non-local cause they're, at their origin not in the brain.... but again this is shorthand because at this level everything is fuzzy in terms of language and QM helps a little but not really that much. point is this -- you either gotta buy into "thoughts/consciousness is an illusion" or you have something that starts from someplace we don't normally associate with the material world... you can't bootstrap the thought process with the brain alone.

So, I don't get how one can favor one of these experiments over the other... unless we're talking favorite flavor of ice cream kinda thing.

Also, keep in mind that Schrodinger nailed the double slit experiment in 1920s... there was no reason to deny consciousness from this point on, but many did. same goes for meditation... it's a game changer. we shouldn't be thrown off by the fact that folks deny the obvious... that's the norm.
 
#35
They are all saying the same. They are ALL NON-LOCAL in that immaterial thoughts (and we have accept that at some early point in the process thoughts/attention are/is immaterial) are non-local cause they're, at their origin not in the brain.... but again this is shorthand because at this level everything is fuzzy in terms of language and QM helps a little but not really that much. point is this -- you either gotta buy into "thoughts/consciousness is an illusion" or you have something that starts from someplace we don't normally associate with the material world... you can't bootstrap the thought process with the brain alone.
A physicalist suspects that thoughts, perception, etc (mental processes generally) are physical. The "illusion" Dennett refers to is that "you", "ego' and "consciousness" are more than a sum of those processes.

I strongly suspect that neuroplasticity holds the key to understanding what we understand as consciousness. The person we become is massively influenced by the inputs we recieve when the brain is most plastic ( the early years). Anyone who is a parent knows this instinctively, but there is tons of science to back that up.

If we really want to understand consciousness we should concentrate more on the start of life (when consciousness really does appear to "emerge") rather than the (difficult to study and emotionally charged) end of life.

IMO, obviously.
 
#36
Wow... thx for digging into the quantum theory stuff... great.

The simple version works too. Materialism requires that metal processes do no work.
And yet complex and predictive models come from reasoned thought and observation of the patterns of nature.
From the link to
Quantum physics in neuroscience and psychology: a neurophysical model of mind–brain interaction

It is, in fact, the basic thesis of self-directed neuroplasticity research that the way in which a person directs their attention (e.g. mindfully or unmindfully) will affect both the experiential state of the person and the state of his/her brain. The existence of this close connection between mental effort and brain activity flows naturally out of the dynamic principles of contemporary physics, but is, within the framework of classic physics, a difficult problem that philosophers of the mind have been intensively engaged with, particularly for the past 50 years. The core question is whether the solution to this problem lies wholly in the eventual development of a more sophisticated philosophy that is closely aligned with the classic known-to-be-fundamentally-false conception of nature, or whether the profound twentieth century development in physics, that assigns a subtle but essential causal role to human consciousness, can usefully inform our understanding of the effects of human consciousness in neuropsychological experiments that appear to exhibit the causally efficacious presence of such effects.
man, is that well-written....
 
#37
interesting discussion.

consider 4 experiments mentioned:
- Radin/Schrodinger double slit
- Schwartz OCD/neuroplasticity
- color blind hypnosis (Harvard... I think... referenced by Beauregard)
- placebo (many examples)

They are all saying the same. They are ALL NON-LOCAL in that immaterial thoughts (and we have accept that at some early point in the process thoughts/attention are/is immaterial) are non-local cause they're, at their origin not in the brain.... but again this is shorthand because at this level everything is fuzzy in terms of language and QM helps a little but not really that much. point is this -- you either gotta buy into "thoughts/consciousness is an illusion" or you have something that starts from someplace we don't normally associate with the material world... you can't bootstrap the thought process with the brain alone.

So, I don't get how one can favor one of these experiments over the other... unless we're talking favorite flavor of ice cream kinda thing.

Also, keep in mind that Schrodinger nailed the double slit experiment in 1920s... there was no reason to deny consciousness from this point on, but many did. same goes for meditation... it's a game changer. we shouldn't be thrown off by the fact that folks deny the obvious... that's the norm.
I don't think it is merely a flavor of ice cream issue... I think it is more like a 12 ounce T-bone vs peanuts issue. Of the four mentioned experiments, only the double-slit experiment occurs outside the body, so only that one can be shown beyond a doubt to be non-local. You are starting with the presupposition that consciousness is non-local and while that is supported by other experiments, it doesn't help bust the paradigm if we start with our conclusion. To bust the paradigm, we have to leave that presupposition out of it. Instead we have to start with the materialist presupposition that consciousness is epiphenomenal and then see if we can come up with a local, causal, deterministic hypothesis to explain the results of these experiments. With Radin's and Schwartz's double slit meditator experiments no reasonable hypothesis can be presented. With the other three, a hypothesis can be presented, but our understanding hasn't advanced to the point where we can falsify it. The promissory materialists feel confident that such hypothesis will be validated in time.

I think Schrodinger's double-slit experiment certainly put cracks in locality, causality, and determinism, but it still left plenty of questions about what an "observer" is. It opened the door to ideas about pure randomness but free-will was still debatable because our perception of free will could just be the perception of otherwise deterministic robots making decisions partially influenced by pure chance. I think Radin's version where no mechanical sensor or gate is used is even more powerful because it establishes the independent existence of intention and the capability of this intention to act upon the material world in a non-local manner. The universe is not just a partially random and partially deterministic timeline... it is partially random, partially deterministic, partially chaotic, and partially a construct of intention.
 
#39
Aren't determinism and chaos merely different aspects of randomness? If that's so, your model simplifies to only random and intentional.
I guess one could look at it that way... since any deterministic system including chaotic deterministic systems is based on initial conditions that must be rooted in either randomness or intention.
 
#40
I see an interesting similarity between Jeffery Martin's work and Jeffery Schwartz's work. As an intelligent species we should be able to do a better job of controlling our brains instead of letting them control us. Meditation could be a tool for accomplishing that. Both Martin and Schwartz are attempting to use scientific methods to find ways to use meditation to improve well being. I think there is a lot of good that can come from this research but there is a lot that needs to be done. Eventually it could have a profound impact on our civilization. I don't think the change is necessarily going to come from more enlightened beings, it will come from happier minds and heather thinking.
 
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