Monday, February 29, 2016

Talk 23 - The Backwards Bicycle

The so-called "Backwards Bicycle" [youtube, 8 minutes] is a bicycle that has been made to steer in the opposite way that a normal bike steers.  So if you turn the handlebars left, the bike will turn right, and vice versa.

It's a fascinating story.  The intuition is that one should be able to quickly adapt, since you can easily understand the basic concept and you already know how to ride and balance on a bike.  But that intuition would be wrong.  Turns out that it is exceedingly hard to re-learn/un-learn the way you ride a bike.

The reason for posting this here is that it strikes me as a passable analogy for awakening.  We have all been indoctrinated into a certain kind of attentional style (attachment to thoughts and self identity) which has been practiced for hundreds of thousands of hours.  Awakening or enlightenment could be thought of as a substantially different style of attention.  It is possible to stumble a bit into this different attentional style, i.e. ride the backwards bike straight for a second here and there, but in order to actually master this different attentional style takes some serious practice.

People in various meditation communities preach relaxation and say that there is nothing to do.  Sure, I get that.  There is certainly room to relax if one is substantially grasping or resisting and one becomes aware of that (BTW, how does one become aware of that?).  And once one has thoroughly and completely learned to ride the backwards bike, sure, the message is going to be to just go with that, go with the flow and let that happen, nothing to do anymore, just relax and be.

But when one is starting out and can't really ride that new bike, effort, repeated effort, over and over again, is definitely required or else all that will ever be happening is falling down over and over again and the bike will never be ridden.

Learning a new skill requires effort at first, particularly if it goes against the grain of previous conditioning.  For example, I find it much more difficult to learn a person's name if I get their name wrong the first time.  In the case of awakening we are working against unbelievable amounts of conditioning that has been honed to the level of completely innate instinctual behavior.  It takes time and effort to undo that.  However, once learned/relearned/unlearned, then it can start to become effortless.

I advocate a balance between awareness of awareness and letting go.  This post is intended to highlight the fact that some kind of serious intent or effort to be mindful is necessary, a notion that is typically eschewed by the consensus meditation community.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Magic Mushrooms legal in New Mexico

Blowing my mind, but apparently psilocybin mushrooms are legal in New Mexico as long as you grow them yourself and don't dry them.  It was decided in a court case that growing the mushrooms was not considered drug manufacturing.

Psilocybin: decreased activity, increased connections

Study Finds That Psilocybin Creates A Hyperconnected Brain

In a past study, it was concluded that psilocybin decreased brain activity resulting in a sort of dreamlike state, but further research has found this to be only a partial explanation.

A more recent study, conducted at King's College London, has found that psilocybin does seem to disrupt normal communication networks in the brain, hence the decreased activity. However, fMRI scans showed that, while some of the brain decreased in activity, the psilocybin somehow connected "brain regions that don't normally talk together," said Paul Expert, study co-author and physicist at King's College London.

Meditation reduces inflammation

Currently in the news, mindfulness meditation was shown to reduce the IL-6 marker of inflammation, with suspiciously little training (a 3 day intensive program).  The study was unusual both due to the brevity as well as the use of a control group with a sham treatment in the form of relaxation training.  Few participants continued to practice, so it's a little bizarre that they got results 4 months later.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Skill Acquisition Through Neurostimulation - NOT

Now you can learn to fly a plane from expert-pilot brainwave patterns.  This points to some interesting possibilities, like a meditation retreat with tDCS based on the brain patterns of advanced meditators.

You can learn how to improve your novice pilot skills by having your brain zapped with recorded brain patterns of experienced pilots via transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), according to researchers at HRL Laboratories.

“We measured the brain activity patterns of six commercial and military pilots, and then transmitted these patterns into novice subjects as they learned to pilot an airplane in a realistic flight simulator,” says Matthew Phillips, PhD.

The study, published in an open-access paper in the February 2016 issue of the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found that novice pilots who received brain stimulation via electrode-embedded head caps improved their piloting abilities, with a 33 percent increase in skill consistency, compared to those who received sham stimulation.

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Science and Sacraments Documentary

Science and Sacraments Documentary (52 minutes, YouTube)

Meet Frances Vaughan, who in 1965 took part in a legal research study on psychedelics. Under carefully controlled conditions, she was given a large dose of LSD and had a profound mystical experience that changed her life. Meet James Fadiman, one of the researchers who sat with her on that journey, and who had experienced his own life-changing laboratory-induced mystical journey. These stories and others offer insights into the fascinating history of psychedelic research and its relationship to mystical experiences. This film explores the research done by early pioneers, such as Albert Hofmann, Stanislav Grof, and Timothy Leary; the subsequent shutdown by the government; and the current renaissance of research on the potential of psychedelics to enhance creativity, support cancer patients, and catalyze spiritual awakening.