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TOPIC: What is the point of life-and-death?

What is the point of life-and-death? 25 Mar 2012 18:10 #6122

What we see, or more appropriately what we can see, is sometimes dependent on "where" we are. Most people cannot see the fact that the excuse comes later and is irrelevant any more than they can see that all the mental chatter and narrative comes later and is irrelevant. I don't think this means that we shouldn't point these things out once is a while, especially to folks who have said openly, "I want to wake up" and participate in a place like this.
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What is the point of life-and-death? 25 Mar 2012 18:11 #6123

Gotcha.
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What is the point of life-and-death? 26 Mar 2012 11:29 #6124

Along the lines of justifications, yet another NYT article about scientists studying decision making and how we decide first (unconsciously) and then come up with reasons. The context is a book about people's political decisions, but there are some interesting general tidbits, such as:

"When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their
brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they
reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what
they’ve decided."

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/the-righteous-mind-by-jonathan-haidt.html?_r=1
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What is the point of life-and-death? 26 Mar 2012 12:30 #6125

Nietzsche and the existentialists had a term for this: "mauvais foi", which can be translated as "bad faith" or "self-deception." Essentially, the use of reason to justify unconscious forces, a.k.a. rationalization. Individuals who discount their emotions in favor of reason (i.e. rationalists) are probably most susceptible to this. Countries and cultures also demonstrate this phenomenon: think the Crusades or colonialism, wherein grabs for resources and power were justified in the name of God and the spread of "civilization."
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What is the point of life-and-death? 26 Mar 2012 12:38 #6126

Here, though, we're talking about the individual human being's processing of experiential data and the resulting "making of decisions" and the timing between the two processes. This is not rationalization. It's the way we're wired, put together, evolved. We have no choice in the matter.
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What is the point of life-and-death? 26 Mar 2012 12:58 #6127

Gary Weber had a post on free will that's related (I can't pull up the link at work, maybe someone else can if they're interested). He cites an experiment from the 70s or 80s that has been duplicated, wherein brain scans indicated motor activity prior to a person deciding to lift his/her finger and then the finger actually being lifed. So the sequence is such:



brain activity indicating finger will be lifted: 500ms prior to finger lifted

conscious decision to lift finger: 200ms prior

finger lifted



Weber sees this as indication that free will is an illusion. It is certainly interesting.
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What is the point of life-and-death? 26 Mar 2012 14:05 #6128

So the question isn't academic -- it's about our individual experience. It took me quite some time to come to terms with the sequencing reality. How about you guys?
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What is the point of life-and-death? 26 Mar 2012 14:10 #6129

I think what can be useful when discussing this stuff is to look at what that means to how we view ourselves.

This mechanism (decisions being made unconsciously before the action takes place and before the justification/verbalization of the decision occurs) either functions that way or not.

So all this time, all my life, I've either been functioning that way and not aware of it, or I haven't been (if it's not true) and I'm not aware of it. Either way things are getting done, right? I make lunch, I go to work, I call my friends. So in a sense it doesn't matter in that regard.

But what does matter, I think, and is useful to practice, is how does it make me feel to think that thoughts, impulses and decisions happen spontaneously or without "my" directly causing them in the way I thought I did? Does it make me nervous? happy? why?

Am I attached to the idea of having a lot of micro-control over my life? What does it feel like to think about not having as much control as I thought I did? Or, who am I if I'm not this little "CEO in the brain" running the details of my life?

It seems to me those are useful things to reflect on.
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What is the point of life-and-death? 26 Mar 2012 14:17 #6130

I think this dramatic re-orientation is really critical to the changes that occur over the course of a deeply effective meditation practice. The sense of agency is related very closely to the sense that we are a solid, permanent "thing" that has an essence and that is separate from everything else. Realizing we don't control our experience like we drive an automobile is like, and closely tied to, the not-self realization.
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What is the point of life-and-death? 26 Mar 2012 14:33 #6131

Yes, it is really critical.

I think I tend to recommend, based on my experience, something like this:

Start meditation practice with whatever focusing technique necessary to establish a regular daily practice (count to ten, watch the breath, use a repeated word to return to focus if distracted, use a timer with bells, whatever works to keep you sitting down and focused on the present moment. If necessary start by sitting five minutes, then work up to ten minutes, etc.) This is just the very basic "establish a practice" level.

Once one is sitting regularly one starts to develop absorption and finds that one is indeed following the breath, doesn't wander off in thoughts constantly, etc. Meditation tends to become interesting and engaging, curiosity is aroused, it doesn't feel like such a chore (if it did before).

And then one can start to notice how sensations, thoughts and perceptions arise spontaneously. Like by noticing the beginning and ending of the breath or of thoughts, by noticing how physical sensations (itching, etc.) come and go by themselves.

At some point that tends to lead to a bit of a breakthrough where one actually starts to see the arising and passing of phenomena as a kind of flux of vibrations or waves, like a kind of current. One might start to notice the breakdown of sensations and mental activity - like feeling a sensation, then seeing the mind go "oh, an itch on the leg" and then go "damn I hate that". It feels a bit like time slows down.

And at that point one can start to investigate who is watching all these strange spontaneous things going on.

Which leads eventually to noticing that things like attention also follow the same pattern of spontaneity. As does the sense of being someone watching things. And so forth.

That would be my very broad generic summary of "how to apply this stuff in practice."
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What is the point of life-and-death? 26 Mar 2012 14:35 #6132

My point being, with such a suggested outline, that there is pretty much zero need in it for any theory, books, teachings, etc. The simple practice of sitting and paying attention will demonstrate what's going on.
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What is the point of life-and-death? 26 Mar 2012 16:10 #6133


Weber sees this as indication that free will is an illusion. It is certainly interesting.

-sunyata

I have to admit this "free will is an illusion" thing has been bugging me lately. I think part of me is adverse to really getting not/no-self. That rejection/anxiety of really seeing it.

But I also have this feeling like something is missing when people say free will is an illusion.

???

Does the delayed awareness of decision making mean there wasn't a decision?

???

(I'm just peeved apparently, because I have nothing more to say.)
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What is the point of life-and-death? 26 Mar 2012 16:19 #6134

There is definitey a decision, Shargrol. The question is more about how it's made and just "who" makes it. The significance is that it's not usually a product of the narrative, conceptual mind. That mind typically comes along after the decision is made and an action is thereby taken, and then creates a nice self-inflating story about what happened, a story that usually involves an agent (you) that runs experience, makes every decision and is somehow in the driver's seat of your life.

It's as if there is a funny loop in experience that is not seen without a lot of effort (meditation - or a like endeavor). But one can see that loop and when we do it's usually unnerving and disconcerting, and something we would prefer to ignore. So practice needs to overcome that urge to "go back" to the usual way of perceiving experience.
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What is the point of life-and-death? 26 Mar 2012 16:36 #6135

That's rather nicely said, Chris. It's such an odd thing to consider, but that makes it seem quite simple.
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What is the point of life-and-death? 26 Mar 2012 16:46 #6136

Just describing what I see.
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What is the point of life-and-death? 26 Mar 2012 21:25 #6137

Ah, I think I know my (uninformed) objection: somehow I think intent is still important, regardless of the mechanism of how a decision occurs. Even if it is simply magickal-style intent, indend and forget. No need for over-controlling, but intent does seem important. That's what my hang up is... along with fear of the free-fall :)
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What is the point of life-and-death? 26 Mar 2012 21:37 #6138

So let's ponder this -- how does intent matter? I think there are several ways but I'll defer to you, shargrol.
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What is the point of life-and-death? 26 Mar 2012 21:41 #6139

Intent is important. But I don't think the seeing of the mechanism of the mind undermines that.

This is like what Chris said about divination being (for some people, sometimes) a way of "escaping responsibility" by thinking "Oh, why bother, the cards said it will never happen."

Just because you see the mechanism of the mind, doesn't mean you stop eating lunch, going to work, calling your friends, sending your mom a birthday card, or having intention.

Just because those things aren't really being made to happen by the little imaginary boss-man who lives between your eyes, doesn't mean one lays on the couch all day - after all, that too would be just another expression of the same mechanism...

See what I mean?

I still do magick, btw, and I still state intention in prayer and ritual. Seeing through the illusion doesn't mean being unable to function in the world.
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What is the point of life-and-death? 27 Mar 2012 01:42 #6140

Well, intent might be the only thing in my mind that seems to affect the future. Maybe it's my last ditch effort for a "who" that might be in control in someway. Because I agree that most cognition is backward, explaining or justifying what already happened.

But more mundanely, the "escaping responsibiltiy" thing is essentially it. No need to try to cultivate the more difficult "swimming upstream" type habits --- learning, exercise, meditation --- because it will simply happen if it was meant to happen..........not.
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