Recent QRI Highlights – December 2018

Three major pieces of content this month, two of them meditation-related-

Andrés lays out a detailed theory of phenomenological time in The Pseudo-Time Arrow: Explaining Phenomenal Time With Implicit Causal Structures In Networks Of Local Binding:

What is time? When people ask this question it is often hard to tell what they are talking about. … Is one talking about the experience of time? Or is one talking about the physical nature of time? What sort of answer would satisfy the listener? … Time distortion experiences deepen the mystery; the existence of exotic ways of experiencing time challenges the view that we perceive the passage of physical time directly. …

Modern physics has made enormous strides in pinning down what physical time is. As we will see, one can reduce time to causality networks, and causality to patterns of conditional statistical independence. Yet in the realm of experience the issue of time remains much more elusive.

In this article we provide a simple explanatory framework that accounts for both the experience of time and its relation to physical time. We then sketch out how this framework can be used to account for exotic experiences of time. We end with some thoughts pertaining the connection between the experience of time and valence (the pleasure-pain axis), which may explain why exotic experiences of the passage of time are frequently intensely emotional in nature.

Andrés’s core theme is that the same mathematical concept that physics has used to explain the passage of physical time, statistical conditional independence (a way to determine the ‘flow’ of causality by looking at which events influence which other events), can also be used to explain the experience of the passage of time. In support of this idea, the possible permutations of how networks could be arranged in this way map intuitively to various ‘exotic’ experiences of time (e.g., flow states & time dilation, time loops, ‘moments of eternity,’ etc). I believe this is a substantial contribution to the field of psychophysics.

I attended a seven-day vipassana meditation retreat last month, which provided the seed for The Neuroscience of Meditation: Four Models. An excerpt:

Neural annealing: Annealing involves heating a metal above its recrystallization temperature, keeping it there for long enough for the microstructure of the metal to reach equilibrium, then slowly cooling it down, letting new patterns crystallize. This releases the internal stresses of the material, and is often used to restore ductility (plasticity and toughness) on metals that have been ‘cold-worked’ and have become very hard and brittle— in a sense, annealing is a ‘reset switch’ which allows metals to go back to a more pristine, natural state after being bent or stressed. I suspect this is a useful metaphor for brains, in that they can become hard and brittle over time with a build-up of internal stresses, and these stresses can be released by periodically entering high-energy states where a more natural neural microstructure can reemerge. … successfully entering meditative flow may be one of the most reliable ways to reach these high-energy brain states.

There’s much more there, including a formal definition of love.

Romeo describes “a few things I wish I had encountered or known to ask about early on” about meditation in Orientation on the Contemplative Path:

4. Will meditation solve my problem with X? One of the major problems in the spiritual community is unsupported claims that this or that practice is a panacea. Most people understand that claims that breath work will solve cancer are bogus, but claims about solving depression, anxiety, OCD, etc have at least a modicum of believable anecdotes surrounding them. But meditation should be thought of in terms similar to CBT, it will give you some extra tools and perceptual clarity around negative patterns. It won’t magically eliminate the work you have to do to tinker with those patterns and implement better patterns. It does have a tendency to make that work feel less aversive. After a while you’ll notice a pattern where it’s the younger teachers claiming their system solves everything. Old teachers have been around long enough to see that it doesn’t. My guess for where this tendency towards exaggeration comes from is the neuroticism decrease. From the inside, a large enough decrease in neuroticism feels like it solves a lot of problems because there is a realization that your problems were made up of two parts: the actual problem, and your reaction to the problem. The bigger that latter part was in terms of sucking up your emotional energy and resources, the bigger a relief when it is alleviated.