Toward the First Revolution in Mind Sciences P6

Daniel Vinograd



Final point here is I suggest that toward a first revolution in the mind sciences; I would suggest that we haven’t had one because there’s been too much dogma suppressing the empirical study of mental phenomena themselves, as opposed to the physical correlates. But now there’s a possibility, as we have access to Buddhism and Hinduism, the Sufi tradition, psychology, neuroscience – we no longer are isolated. Here at Google, you know this maybe better than anybody else. You are on the globe. Your physical plant happens to be in Mountain View, but it could be in the Amazon. Right? We are now living in a globe where we can integrate like never before.


Integrate these rigorous first-person and third-person methodologies, from the contemplative, the psychological, the neuroscientist, in collaboration between cognitive scientists – the whole broad range – and contemplatives who have exceptional mental skills and insights resulting from rigorous sustained mental training in observing and experimental with states of consciousness. So there would be a challenge, to break down the barriers, to throw out dogma and uncorroborated assumptions, and open up a new renaissance of empiricism in the scientific study of the mind that would be profoundly contemplative and experiential and yet rigorously scientific.


That could revolutionize the contemplative traditions; it could revolutionize science; and it could bring this unfortunate rift between religion and science, creationism and the school district that makes most of us gag, and so forth, breaking down those barriers, and see about integrating East and West, ancient and modern, and cast a fresh light on the nature of the mind and on human identity. It’s a possibility. That’s my hope.


If anybody has questions or observations or debates, anything is welcome. Yes?


SPEAKER: [Inaudible 00:55:19] ask a similar question [inaudible 00:55:22] came back to [inaudible 00:55:26] instead of looking so much at Buddhism, looked at the split within the Greek thought as one of the original ways to be able to look at resolving this. Then there’s also, of course, Ken Wilber, who [inaudible 00:55:39] a particular place, look at all the traditions. Can you just comment on why Buddhism [inaudible 00:55:47] just one way, or…


WALLACE: It’s just one way. I was using that in a short presentation. I was saying, “here’s a good sampling.” This was not promoting Buddhism versus Hinduism or the Muslim tradition or the Daoist tradition. Not at all. I was saying, this is a good example, from the very rich, well-developed, intellectually very sophisticated contemplative tradition.


But the Santa Barbara Institute, which I founded, is not a Buddhist institution. It is an inter-contemplative tradition, drawing from the wealth of East and West contemplative traditions from all over the world, interfacing these with the best of science. So it’s not plugging any one tradition, and it’s certainly not trying to validate Buddhism or any particular school. Very much to the contrary. These great contemplative traditions have been after universal truths, and not just trying to corroborate Buddhist ideas, and I’m not interested in that at all.


So I think, going back to Greek thought, back to Plato, back to Pythagoras, themselves, to the notion of noetos, which is a type of mental perception by means of which we can directly observe non-sensual mental phenomena – that’s a Greek notion, but we’ve forgotten it. So I don’t want to leave anybody out. That is, indigenous people, East and West, bring it all together, because the stakes are high now. We’re dealing with something that is central to everybody’s existence, and that is consciousness.


So let’s throw out dogma of all sorts, sectarianism, biases of all sorts, and not leave anybody out. Not leave out the contemplatives, not leave out the neuroscientists, for heaven’s sakes. Not leave out anybody. And really start fusing and taking advantage of the technology, including transportation, that we have now, so that we can really draw from this wealth of wisdom and insights and multiple methodologies. This epistemic pluralism I think is absolutely the key.


Two more questions. Here’s one.


SPEAKER: If you want to approach consciousness in a scientific way, which I assume you –


WALLACE: Absolutely.


SPEAKER: – are for, you need some idea of what it means to prove or disprove something. How do you do that in the absence of physical observation?


WALLACE: Very good. The question is, if this is going to be scientific – and of course, science gained its laurels by studying objective things, that you can look at it from a third-person perspective; quantifiable, but measurable out there, right? So if one lab does it, another one can corroborate it and it’s pretty clear. Mental phenomena are subjective. There we are. They’re, as John Searle says, “irreducibly, ontologically first-person.”


But I think a good analogy for this – the question deserves not a two-minute answer; it deserves conferences and really detailed investigations, so we don’t come up with cheap answers. Cheap answers are easy. But if we take as an example mathematics. Mathematics is not scribbling things on a board. That’s the outer display of it, but anybody who doesn’t know mathematics can memorize the equations and write with the best of them, with no understanding at all.


When I studied higher mathematics in my training in physics, it’s subjective. It’s working through a proof, it’s thinking, and you may do something out here on the board, you may not, but the real juice of mathematics is something that’s taking place internally. How can mathematicians ever speak with each other? How can they know who is great? Well, they get a similar training. They go through an undergraduate, they go through the graduate, they go through post-doc.


After awhile, they know who gets the Fields Medal. It’s not just that he wrote things on the board; it’s through dialogue. You say, “We speak a similar language here. Everybody else can’t understand what we’re talking about, but you and I have gone through eight years of training and mathematics, and we know the elegant proofs. We know shoddy mathematics. We know the sharp stuff.” So even though it’s largely internal, they develop a language, a common training, so they can communicate amongst themselves in ways that outsiders cannot fathom.


Let’s imagine – this is hypothetical in a way that is also historical in another – and that is, I spent a lot of time with Tibetans, living in Tibetan culture. We have contemplatives there who will go for 10,000, 20,000 hours of training, with a common basis of ideas and training, contemplative technology, and so forth, and they develop a refined professional language. That they can speak amongst themselves, and they know what they’re talking about, because like the mathematicians, they share training and developing, they share a vocabulary.


And we know this is true: in the Tibetan tradition, all the great contemplatives, the great scholars, they know who the cream are. It was Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, it was Ling Rinpoche, it was Kalu Rinpoche. These people, the peers know. To an outsider, it looked like a really sweet monk, really nice guy. Good charisma. But the professionals know it’s more than that. This guy really has the skivvy. This man really knows what’s going on. I would not ask you to accept that because I’m saying it, but I am saying this issue has been grappled with.


If we take a more prosaic example, wine connoisseurs. That is, when I drank, I got my pallet ruined when I was 18 because I got drunk on Red Mountain wine, whiskey, and beer in the same time, and that totaled my tongue for life. I can’t tell any good vintage from another. But I’ve hung out with people who have had that training. It’s three years formal training, and then years of getting experience. So two wine connoisseurs will come together and say, “Was it a 1948 or ’49, and what part of France was this raised in?”


The taste of wine is very subjective. You can’t pick up the taste of wine with some external technology that will tell you this is a $500 bottle as opposed to a $5 bottle. No technology will tell you that. But they train, and then they use things like bouquet and so forth, words I don’t even know what they’re talking about; but they have a specialized vocabulary, and they know who the brilliant wine connoisseurs are and who are just mediocre. It’s a specialized vocabulary that they know what they’re talking about, and outsiders like me, I don’t have a clue.


Wine testing, that’s very empirical; the mathematical is very internal. If we try to draw inspiration from those only by analogy, then perhaps we can get some idea. But again, the danger – there’s all kinds of potholes here, a minefield, and that is they’re all being brainwashed in the same way. That was how introspection fell to its knees and died, is that different labs were simply corroborating their own assumptions, and the trainees, the observers, their observations were so laden with the theories and assumptions of their mentors that they weren’t getting this inter-lab corroboration. So it fell apart.


But they gave up too soon, and they didn’t go through a 10,000 or 20,000 hours’ training. Not Wilhelm Wundt, not Titchener at Cornell, not James at Harvard. This requires training. If it’s going to be professional, don’t give them five hours of training or a week of training; how about three years of training, ten years of training? Train in the mind ten hours a day.

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