Science of Meditation Week 5 - Thoughts Without a Thinker

My notes from a Coursera course on meditation, Buddhism, and modern psychology - Week 5.

How does meditation relate to this modular model of the mind:

  • Default Mode Network can be thought of as a bunch of modules that are competing for your attention. And quieting of Default Mode Network happens with meditation.
  • With meditation you learn to view your feeling more objectively with less attachment. And feelings is what activates Default Mode Network. So being mindful to the feelings that trigger modules, you get to influence which feelings and modules win and which loose.
  • "When you're being mindful you're influencing whether an entire frame of mind (e.g module) sets in, which influences thoughts and perceptions in really subtle ways for a really long time"
  • Mindful meditation and carrying a mindful attitude into the world is what allows you to choose which mental frame is installed, by being aware of and choosing feelings.

How does self control happen if there is no self?

  • Example of eating some chocolate vs. refraining from it - the way to view that is two modules 'fight it out' and the one with more reason on its side wins. (the short term desire and long term health modules). So it's not that "I decided not to eat that chocolate", it's more like "two modules fought it out and the long term health module won so no chocolate got eaten".
  • People have a need to come up with reasons for their actions. In a sense, this is the PR part being ready with a reason/story in case others ask or question 'why did you do xyz?'. Good analogy - two VPs in a company going to the PR department head to give their reasons for some course of action. PR department head is not going to make the decision for them but would evaluate the reasons as 'well that reason is not going to fly' or 'that reason sounds good and will make us look good out there'
  • Modules seem to gain more power with victory. So the module that's advocating short term pleasure (chocolate, drinking, etc.) gets more powerful / more likely to win again when it has been winning. (strong connection to habits here and the one day rule of skipping, because otherwise not doing the habit becomes the new habit. Experientially learning on this with my waking up before 6am habit)
  • Addiction and meditation how does that work? one of the psychologist described an approach which involves looking at the craving to smoke differently. So instead of trying to push it away or succumb to it, you sit with it, you investigate it, you get curious about how it feels in the body, and you write these things down and this weakens the craving (and you don't feed the craving of course).
  • New word/concept Valence:

Valence, or hedonic tone, is the affective quality referring to the intrinsic attractiveness/"good"-ness (positive valence) or averseness/"bad"-ness (negative valence) of an event, object, or situation. The term also characterizes and categorizes specific emotions. For example, emotions popularly referred to as "negative", such as anger and fear, have negative valence. Joy has positive valence.

Hearing from people who have experienced Not-Self:

  • Noetic - a sense that knowledge has been imparted and some deep insight has been apprehended.
  • Ineffible - it's hard to express what exactly the experience was like.
  • Not-Self experience described as:
    • transcending the subject object duality
    • infinity, stillness
    • universal awareness
    • thoughts without a thinker
    • thoughts bubbling up to consciousness
  • Meditation experiment to imagine that a thought is coming from a person sitting next you.
  • Thoughts are there but identifying with the thought is something we're adding and that is a habit that we've been doing most of our lives so it takes practice to break the habit of identifying with thoughts.
  • How is all this helpful? Once we learn to notice the bubbling up, we can choose to identify only with thoughts that are helpful to us? (This implies that we know or have decided what is helpful to us).
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