2009.09.01 - What Contains What?

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    Here is the text of a dialogue held by Piet Hut (in SL: Pema Pera) and Steven Tainer (in SL: Stim Morane), in Second Life on September 1, 2009.


    P: Let me try to recapitulate.
    P: Yesterday you said "wu-wei is by its very nature quite subtle"
       and you wondered to what extent wu-wei could be manifested in SL.
       I used that as a way to bring up our topic of "what contains what":
       is spirituality just a skillful way to make the best out of our
       life in the world, as described by science; or does spirituality
       has actually something useful to say about ontology, about what
       reality is really like? In other words, is the terrain of
       applicability of spirituality contained within the world described
       by science, or is it the other way around: does the ordinary realm
       we live in, described at least in part by science, form only a
       small part of a larger realm which is the topic for spirituality?
    P: We then touched upon a number of interesting points, related to the
       distinction between "quite different" and "not-yet-known" as you
       phrased it. Perhaps we can keep some of those points for later,
       and go back to the subtlety of wu-wei?
    S: yes, i recall
    S: Sure, do you want to talk about wu-wei?
    P: yes, as the starting point of our conversation yesterday; it may
       take quite a number of sessions to really unpack the connection
       between wu-wei and "what contains what"
    S: OK ... I remember thinking that you could make the wu-wei issue a
       centerpiece for PaB
    S: As a group practice focus
    P: yes, I agree -- and therefore two things are important:
    P: 1) how to do that
    P: 2) how to view that
    S: How to do it in PaB, yes
    P: After we had talked for a bit about 1), two days ago, I then
       brought up 2), yesterday.
    P: And just to clarify, let me take a far simpler example
    P: if someone feels embarrased, his or her cheeks may become red
    S: Like mine, yes
    P: and science can study the increased blood flow through the cheeks,
       and correllations with reported feelings of embarrasement
    S: Right, and evolutionary reasons for this mechanism, etc
    P: you mean, your cheeks are generally red?
    S: Yes
    P: :)
    S: :)
    P: yes, so one application of science to embarrassment is that
       evolutionary, etc, study of the mechanisms through which it is
    P: a rather different application of science would be to engage on a
       psychological investigation, a first-person exploration of what it is
       like to be embarrassed -- in contrast to the third-person description
       of blood flow, and reasons behind that.
    S: This is not currently a scientific approach, although it was in the past.
    P: how long ago?
    S: In the 1800's
    S: This approach was discarded
    P: was that called "psychology" then?
    S: Yes
    P: ah, you mean it was discarded as "introspection" which was no
       longer trusted?
    S: Yes
    S: Are you thinking of something else?
    P: hmmm, I'm not totally sure
    P: there are perhaps several distinctions; let me try to enumerate:
    P: 1) correlation of blood flow in cheeks and sense of embarrasment
    P: 2) evolutionary explanation for that correlation
    P: 3) study in psychology labs of how people react to embarrasment
          and why and when it occurs
    P: 4) embarrasment as felt by the subject him/her-self, first-person
    P: 5) a wider view, such as Buddhist psychology, in which
          embarrasment is part of a larger system
    S: yes
    P: so 1, 2, 3 are currently part of our academic studies
    P: 4 has been discredited, but may come back
    P: 5 is outside academia, except perhaps as part of comparative religion
    S: In the future, there will certainly be others ways for science to
       study embarrassment, much more ambitious in nature
    P: So my first question would be in how far you would expect science
       to have anything to say, in the near future, about (parts of) 4 and 5
    S: well, it's easy to imagine ways science can try to do simulations
       of a human being, or to track an actual human being on an extremely
       thorough basis, leading to the first (simulation) option.
    S: once you can simulate a human being, you can "study" embarrassment
       in new ways.
    S: From this, it's only another big step to "be in" the simulation,
       in various ways, that would also be part of science in some sense.
       This would involve actually being the phenomenon, while also studying
       it with rigor.
    S: people debate how long it would take science to simulate a whole
       human being, or whether it's really possible
    S: But i think it will happen
    P: But perhaps even before that, I could imagine some psychologists
       at least to try out and formulate a more first-person approach;
       perhaps taking their cue from various areas such as Husserlian
       phenomenology and Buddhism.
    S: the general trend is against this approach, but perhaps someone
       would try. The emphasis is more on brain scans, etc.
    P: My question then would be what part of 5), the Buddhist treatment
       of embarrasment, would likely fit in 4), the first-person psychology
       approach, and what part would be missed, you think?
    S: a Buddhist or Husserlian treatment would differ substantially from
       that of current science.
    S: they're asking different questions, seeking different kinds of
       connection with the rest of the theory they use.
    S: what part would be the same (as in science)?
    S: see, it's hard for me to reply because your hypothesized "4" is undefined.
    P: psychology, as a science, is very young, and there is nothing like
       the kind of consensus we have reached in fields like physics and
       chemistry, and more and more in biology
    P: and at least some psychologists seem to be interested in 4)
    S: if we could see an example of "4", it would be easier to reply re
       the rest of your question.
    P: so in order to think along with them, and perhaps in the future
       open a dialogue with the m, I would be interested in hearing your
       view of what is likely to be adapted from 5) into 4) and what not
    P: hmmm, any of Husserl's analyses could be an example, in principle
    P: even though, interestingly enough, he drew a sharp line between
       what he did and called philosophy, on the one hand, and psychology,
       on the other
    P: Perhaps there is no need to go into that question, interesting as
       that is in itself
    P: we could for now just take Husserlian phenomenology as 4)
    S: OK, go ahead ...
    P: so then I could imagine a good (group of) phenomenologist(s)
       analysing emotions and thoughts and coming up with a detailed
       system not unlike that of the Buddhist skandas, say
    P: yet there would be no embedding of the Buddhist views of no-self
       and nirvana, etc
    P: So my question is then: where and how do you see a demarcation
       line to what part of Buddhism is likely to be treatable by 4), very
       good phenomenologists, and what part will remain in 5), Buddhism?
    S: the Buddhist analysis is still a top-down thing, starting with
       nirvana or enlightenment, and then moving down through the things
       that must be seen more clearly so that nirvana etc is not blocked.
    S: there is no reason to talk about skandhas otherwise.
    P: So an interesting question is how far you could go in a bottom-up
       approach; presumably you could discover things like skandhas that way
    S: you could, yes
    P: and in fact, the more you discover, there you could begin to doubt all
       received notions of a "self" and perhaps come closer to a no-self view
    S: you could replicate the whole Buddhist territory yourself, in fact.
    S: this has always been accepted as not only possible, but as
       actually happening from time to time.
    S: i did much of that myself, in my own practice and inquiry
    P: by individuals or groups?
    P: in your case as an individual
    S: individuals
    P: it would be really interesting if you could write a kind of
       autobiography, covering at least the way in which you did that
       re-discovering, and enough of the context in which it happened
       to paint a more complete picture
    P: it would be highly inspiring for many people, I think
    S: maybe in my next lifetime
    S: :)
    S: why don't you do it?
    P: I can only do it for myself, not for you!
    S: sure, that's what I meant, sorry.
    P: though I could interview you, of course :)
    S: not to that extent, I think.
    S: I doubt that even a person who has taken a journey of that kind
       really can know much of what made it successful.
    P: not knowing, perhaps, but a phenomenological description would
       already be great.
    P: if nothing else, it would provide a kind of beacon
    P: a story, a message, showing that it can be done
    S: I have actually considered this, several times.
    S: My interest was in the encouragement it might provide to others.
    P: and providing enough detail to make it believable, acceptible
    P: yes, exactly
    S: But once I looked into it, and mentioned some of it to a few
       people, they actually said it would be discouraging ...
    S: :)
    P: and in addition to encouragement, also it may inspire others to
       write something similar, so as to compare notes and provide more of
       the breadth of the potential landscape
    P: why would it be discouraging???
    S: for a few, yes, it would be encouraging.
    S: for most, no.
    S: it's too long, too complicated, involves too much sacrifice re
       many aspects of life.
    P: but those are the ones you want to focus on, I think, those for
       whom it would be encouraging!
    P: both for those living now, and those reading it later
    P: perhaps a hundred years from now
    S: well, I'm not disagreeing with you, it's just not the emphasis of
       the present day.
    S: even for people who think they really want to do this stuff.
    S: anyway, getting back to our 4-type science ...?
    P: one more point re: emphasis -- once you have written a kind of
       autobiography along those lines, others can find inspiration and
       encouragement to precede on their own path
    S: they can be encouraged to start.
    P: like in my case, where I am not trying to duplicate the kind of
       many years of full-time training you did
    S: I can't begin to say how different that is from actually following through.
    S: anyway, it's nice to know you don't think i wasted my life, which
       would be the common consensus.
    P: even so, I do think that encouragement and inspiration is important,
       even for people like me spending only a few hours a day primarily
       focused on what we are now talking about
    P: while trying as much as possible to maintain it during the rest of the day
    S: that's great
    S: I really think the kind of involvement you're exemplifying will
       never be regretted, will be fulfilling.
    P: So your autobiography would not so much be for people spending
       some casual time, even regularly, on some kind of meditation, but
       rather for those who really have a burning desire to look deeper into
       reality, in whatever way to follow their own calling
    P: like, yes, what I'm trying to do
    P: Thank you, Steven, and sorry to have gone overtime so much!
    P: I'll try to be more strict next time
    S: oh that's ok. Today, at least, it's not a time conflict.
    S: tomorrow is a diff story.
    S: :)
    P: Okay, I'm glad we could lay out more of a landscape of what to talk about

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