Robert Wright Interview with Kenneth Folk

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4 years 7 months ago #103831 by Chris Marti
All you Kenneth Folk fans should watch this:

meaningoflife.tv/videos/35626
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4 years 7 months ago #103832 by Shargrol
Saw it... I'm a little bummed that the best of Kenneth (and Daniel) never seem to quite come out during these interviews. Oh well.

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4 years 7 months ago #103833 by Chris Marti
I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "the best of...."

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4 years 7 months ago - 4 years 7 months ago #103834 by Shargrol
Hmm... they come off less knowledgeable, oddly abstract, sort of undisciplined in teaching/explaination... that sort of thing. Maybe because they submit to the "being interviewed" trope. It seems like Shinzen handles interviews better by directing the conversation more (?)
Last edit: 4 years 7 months ago by Shargrol.

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4 years 7 months ago #103835 by Chris Marti
I think there's an art to being interviewed, and mastering that art takes a lot of practice. Being interviewed puts the pressure on the interviewee in a way that normal conversation doesn't. That said, I thought Kenneth did a very creditable job. He had the typical Kenneth Folk "oddness" in his demeanor that I've come to know so well over the years, but he also presented an honest and understandable set of responses.

I also laughed a lot at Wright's questions - they seemed to come from a very traditionally western Buddhist place. Awakening might exist on a spectrum? Pshaw!
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4 years 7 months ago #103837 by Shargrol
I did enjoy seeing Kenneth be himself, for sure. It had me smiling at many points and the hour did go quickly.

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4 years 7 months ago #103870 by Kenneth Folk
Ask me anything.

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4 years 7 months ago #103871 by Shargrol
Hi Kenneth!!

What were your impressions of the interview? In a hypothetical re-do, anything you would change or try to get across differently/more clearly?

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4 years 7 months ago #103872 by Chris Marti
How did Robert Wright do the interview, i.e.; did he send you questions in advance or not? How did he decide to interview Kenneth Folk?

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4 years 7 months ago - 4 years 7 months ago #103874 by Kenneth Folk

shargrol wrote: Hi Kenneth!!

What were your impressions of the interview? In a hypothetical re-do, anything you would change or try to get across differently/more clearly?


I love that interview for a handful of intellectuals (Bob Wright's natural audience), and a handful of advanced meditators (my natural audience). For those people, I think the discussion will keep on giving through multiple listens. The downside of a dog whistle, though, is that most people won't hear it. In this case, since I didn't scaffold many of the more subtle points, it won't be useful for a mainstream or non-intellectual audience.

Luckily, there is a re-do of sorts in the offing as I'm scheduled to go on Dan Harris' 10% Happier podcast show in August. Dan's audience is much more mainstream than Bob's, so my hope is to keep it simple and to convey a few basic ideas, e.g., that almost everyone can benefit from meditation and that it can be thought of as similar to physical fitness in that the more you do it, the more you get out of it.
Last edit: 4 years 7 months ago by Kenneth Folk. Reason: for clarity
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4 years 7 months ago #103875 by Laurel Carrington
My question has to do with comments you made in the Wright interview about periods of no mental chatter or thoughts going through your mind, just stillness (I'm paraphrasing). Are you now more in agreement with Gary Weber than you were a few years ago? (Not a "gotcha" question; people change their minds over time and that's more than okay.)

Thanks!

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4 years 7 months ago - 4 years 7 months ago #103876 by Kenneth Folk

Chris Marti wrote: How did Robert Wright do the interview, i.e.; did he send you questions in advance or not?


He didn't send questions and we didn't talk at all in advance. It was completely fresh for me, although Bob had obviously done his homework and had some questions and themes prepared for the interview. As we met for the first time on Skype two minutes before the interview began, Bob asked me if there was anything in particular I wanted to talk about. I said, "No, I'm just interested to see what happens." I'm a Robert Wright fan, having read his remarkable book The Moral Animal several years ago, so I was looking forward to hanging out with him, and as it happened I very much enjoyed the interview.

Chris Marti wrote: How did he decide to interview Kenneth Folk?


Bob Wright and I have some friends in common, and some of them have asked him to interview me. Two people in particular, one in Boston and one in New York, seem to have been instrumental in pestering Bob to have me on the show.
Last edit: 4 years 7 months ago by Kenneth Folk. Reason: formatting
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4 years 7 months ago #103877 by Kenneth Folk

Laurel Carrington wrote: My question has to do with comments you made in the Wright interview about periods of no mental chatter or thoughts going through your mind, just stillness (I'm paraphrasing). Are you now more in agreement with Gary Weber than you were a few years ago? (Not a "gotcha" question; people change their minds over time and that's more than okay.)


Always happy to change my mind as new information comes in, but my view on this question has remained stable for some time. The disagreement with Gary was not over the value of a quiet mind; he and I are in agreement that a quiet mind is wonderful and should be cultivated. Where I took issue with Gary was his claim that 1) the elimination of thought is the goal of spiritual practice, and that 2) there is a "right" way to be enlightened.

1) I find that both language and not-language modes have tremendous value and should both be cultivated as part of awakening. For me, fluency across multiple mind states is a core value. This is easier to understand if we can see awakening/enlightenment as part of a larger process of ego development that begins in childhood (think Piaget) and continues throughout a lifetime. Suzanne Cook-Greuter's model illustrates this well.

2) I don't believe there is One Right Way to be enlightened any more than I believe there is one way to be a high level athlete. Like all forms of human learning, there are as many outcomes as there are learners. And even at the highest levels of mastery, there is infinite room for individual expression (and disagreement!).
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4 years 7 months ago - 4 years 7 months ago #103878 by Chris Marti

I don't believe there is One Right Way to be enlightened any more than I believe there is one way to be a high level athlete. Like all forms of human learning, there are as many outcomes as there are learners.


I am an unabashed fan of this.

Kenneth, was there anything that Robert wright asked you that was a surprise? My take on his questions is that some were a bit naive, but that's not unexpected. He did provide you with a nice platform for communicating your unique spin on things. I suspect that will present you and your ideas to a wider audience than you usually have access to. That, I think, is all to the good.
Last edit: 4 years 7 months ago by Chris Marti.

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4 years 7 months ago #103879 by Laurel Carrington
I agree. There are people who see enlightenment as a binary process, with no development afterward. I just saw one such view expressed in response to your interview, but I of course disagree with any such notion of an on-off switch.

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4 years 7 months ago - 4 years 7 months ago #103880 by Kenneth Folk

Chris Marti wrote: Kenneth, was there anything that Robert wright asked you that was a surprise?


I was surprised Bob dug in so much on the nihilist label. Based on my answer to one of his questions, he declared me a nihilist. I didn't try very hard to refute this because I found it odd; I thought he might be kidding and about to use the straw man to make another point. But he stayed with the nihilist idea and seemed to relax a bit, as though he was relieved to be able to place me within a familiar frame. It's something I would like to unpack with him in our next discussion. I don't think of myself as a nihilist any more than I think of myself as an atheist; just as I wouldn't define myself as being in opposition to something I never took seriously in the first place, I wouldn't seriously make a judgement about meaning while simultaneously asserting that there is no meaning and therefore no basis for judgement.

In addition, from the point of view of a not-language lens, the issue of nihilism or not-nihilism doesn't arise. Saying so might be seen as a category mistake, but there is value in pointing it out, because reflecting on it from the point of view of language shows that nihilism and not-nihilism have something in common that makes them essentially the same thing: they both depend on a meaning making structure that is based in language and requires high levels of abstraction. A highly abstract meaning making structure so severely limits the possible experience that it might be fair to say that any idea you come up with is the same as any other. Granted that's the world humans live in most of the time, and it's fine, but when we forget how narrow this lens is, we get hopelessly confused.
Last edit: 4 years 7 months ago by Kenneth Folk. Reason: typo
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4 years 7 months ago #103882 by Kenneth Folk

Laurel Carrington wrote: I agree. There are people who see enlightenment as a binary process, with no development afterward. I just saw one such view expressed in response to your interview, but I of course disagree with any such notion of an on-off switch.


Yes. A binary view of enlightenment would be hard to support without magical thinking. Magical thinking is one of many ways to make meaning of the world, and is fine as far as it goes, but I think it's important to say it aloud.
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4 years 7 months ago #103883 by Deklan
Do you have instructions for your Dog Mode? Does it seem that your development in this direction is going somewhere?

It seems to me that subconscious processing involves language. Do you believe that language could be operating below your awareness in Dog Mode?

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4 years 7 months ago - 4 years 7 months ago #103884 by Kenneth Folk

Deklan wrote: Do you have instructions for your Dog Mode? Does it seem that your development in this direction is going somewhere?


Dog mode is a state in which language isn't operating. I sometimes call it not-language mode. We all probably fall into it spontaneously many times a day, but overlook it because once we're back in language mode, we can't see it anymore and it doesn't seem important. Not-language mode usually only lasts for a moment, and attention moves instantly and seamlessly between language mode and not-language mode. It's not possible to consciously direct the mind while in the not-language state, and you don't know you're in it while you're in it. There is still alertness and sensory input, but you don't know yourself as separate from anything else. Like a dog, you don't know your own name or what your problem was supposed to be. You can't place yourself on a timeline or narrative arc. It is radical immediacy, complete immersion in the experience. Dogs probably live here all the time, which may be why we like them so much.

Here is a scaffolded approach to accessing the language-free mode, starting with the most direct but trickiest to pull off, and moving down through less direct but less difficult exercises.

The most direct way to access dog mode is to just notice that it happens anyway. This is easier said than done, though, so it's often useful to scaffold the state by downshifting to exercises that allow you to get more traction.

Next best is to feel the body all over, all at once, in a very diffuse way, then let in sights and sounds, and all the rest. You are still directing attention, but just enough to let down all your filters and let in all sensory input at once. This uses up all the brain's processing bandwidth, so there is none left for language. From this state, you might fall into dog mode for a moment. When you come out a moment later, you feel the body all at once, etc, and do it again.

You can get even more traction by directing the mind toward a medium size object like the sensations of the breath, or the pulse, or a body part, or a visual that you can let your visual attention sink into.

Downshifting all the way, you can focus the attention on a small object. This is more accessible because you can apply a bit of brute force. Once the attention is reined in this way, you can move up through the steps described above to more and more diffuse attention, finally falling into a state where attention is not consciously directed and language is not operating.

Notice that these four modes of attention roughly correspond to the four jhanas in reverse order, with dog mode/not-language mode lining up with fourth jhana. This is a helpful way to think of the scaffolding process. First jhana is easiest to access, which allows you to access second, which enables third, etc. By the time you're established in third, the only thing left is to stop directing attention, and this happens on its own.

Deklan wrote: Does it seem that your development in this direction is going somewhere?


It's just developing toward more access to the state. Think of it as palliative care for beleaguered humans who have gotten the cosmic joke. Meaning-making becomes ever more complex as part of the ego development process, but never resolves. Dog mode allows us unlimited instant momentary vacations from the agitation that is inherent in language and meaning-making.

A common trap here would be to reason that since not-language mode is so restful, we should make an enemy of language mode. A better approach is to value language for what it does and value not-language for what it is. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and render unto the Lord what is the Lord's, as they say.

Deklan wrote: It seems to me that subconscious processing involves language. Do you believe that language could be operating below your awareness in Dog Mode?


Don't know. For our purposes, it's enough to suspend the conscious experience of language.
Last edit: 4 years 7 months ago by Kenneth Folk. Reason: typo
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4 years 7 months ago #103889 by Jay
Great interview Kenneth.

I was curious to ask you about the following:

In several of your interviews it sounds (at least to my ear) that you are downplaying the benefits or the experience of enlightenment. Meaning when you are asked (by at least Robert as well as the Buddha at the Gas Pump guy if memory serves) what it is like to be enlightened, your answer makes it sound like it is nothing special.

I'm wondering if:
1. You are trying to downplay it, even a little.
2. If you are doing so, what would be the reason. The only things I could think of is to either counteract the endless fhetishizing of enlightment, trying to swing the pendulum backwards as part of making it a realistic goal regular folks can aspire to... or you just don't like making big promises :)

Perhaps you do think it is nothing special. I guess what throws me off is that your description doesn't make it sounds all that great or even all that different but then you go ahead and say that is vastly better/preferable (if I remember correctly).

Am I misreading what you're saying in those interviews?

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4 years 7 months ago #103890 by every3rdthought

Jay wrote: Perhaps you do think it is nothing special. I guess what throws me off is that your description doesn't make it sounds all that great or even all that different but then you go ahead and say that is vastly better/preferable (if I remember correctly).


Coincidentally I was thinking about this Bill Hamilton line the other day, as quoted by Kenneth in #101507, and reflecting on how true it was:

Bill Hamilton in response to question about what it's like to be enlightened:

"Highly recommended. Can't tell you why."

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4 years 7 months ago #103891 by Jay
I almost included this quote in my question ;)
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4 years 7 months ago - 4 years 7 months ago #103892 by Kenneth Folk

Jay wrote: In several of your interviews it sounds (at least to my ear) that you are downplaying the benefits or the experience of enlightenment. Meaning when you are asked (by at least Robert as well as the Buddha at the Gas Pump guy if memory serves) what it is like to be enlightened, your answer makes it sound like it is nothing special.

I'm wondering if:
1. You are trying to downplay it, even a little.
2. If you are doing so, what would be the reason. The only things I could think of is to either counteract the endless fetishizing of enlightenment, trying to swing the pendulum backwards as part of making it a realistic goal regular folks can aspire to... or you just don't like making big promises :)

Perhaps you do think it is nothing special. I guess what throws me off is that your description doesn't make it sounds all that great or even all that different but then you go ahead and say that is vastly better/preferable (if I remember correctly).


every3rdthought wrote:
Coincidentally I was thinking about this Bill Hamilton line the other day, as quoted by Kenneth in #101507, and reflecting on how true it was:

Bill Hamilton in response to question about what it's like to be enlightened:

"Highly recommended. Can't tell you why."


Between the two of you, you've already said it. Questions and comments like this make me think the pragmatic dharma movement is working.

Also, "Suffering less, noticing it more." -Bill Hamilton
Last edit: 4 years 7 months ago by Kenneth Folk. Reason: typo
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4 years 7 months ago #103896 by Deklan
Thanks for your responses. They're helpful. For every question you answer I think of at least two more questions. Take it as a selection if you like

Have you tested these instructions out on many students? Do the more experienced students find it easier?

If you heard someone speak during your No-Language Mode (NLM), would you come out of it?

Do you suppose that physical correlates could be found in the brain for NLM, given 2016-available-affordable scanning? Are you interested in finding out?

It's just developing toward more access to the state. Think of it as palliative care for beleaguered humans who have gotten the cosmic joke. Meaning-making becomes ever more complex as part of the ego development process, but never resolves. Dog mode allows us unlimited instant momentary vacations from the agitation that is inherent in language and meaning-making.

I'll use your physical fitness metaphor. If I deadlift every day, I get better at more than deadlifting. I'll lift heavier object off the floor better. I'll lift heavy objects better in other positions. My physique will change. My core strength in general will increase. My heart will get healthier. There's probably a nootropic effect. I'll get injured less. My new mass might fuck up my endurance for a triathlon. Etc. I'm getting at the fact that practices have quasi-permanent effects beyond improvement with the practice. Do you get that sense for NLM? For example, do you consider that cultivating NLM extensively might cause linguistic intelligence to atrophy some?

It seems to me that awakening involves continuous progress and discontinuous progress. Clearly everyone can notice getting a little better at jhanas or noting everyday/week. And, clearly, people (everyone?) have transformative moments with dramatic progress overnight. The former is continuous progress, the latter is discontinuous progress. Do you see any discontinuities in your NLM development?

A common trap here would be to reason that since not-language mode is so restful, we should make an enemy of language mode. A better approach is to value language for what it does and value not-language for what it is. Render onto Caesar what is Caesar's and render unto the Lord what is the Lord's, as they say.

I'm afraid I'm too stubborn for this advice, but thank you. I may have to end up a mute furry before I realize.

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4 years 7 months ago #103904 by Chris Marti
Hey Kenneth -- what 's the difference between No Language Mode and the state many folks call "bare awareness" or "bare attention?"
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