I recently went on a two-week meditation retreat. I’m on the grid again, slowly catching up with things (please be patient if you sent me messages – I will get to them eventually).
I had a great retreat. There is a lot that clicked into place, and in time I will share it in posts, articles, and videos. For now I just wanted to share an interesting insight I got. In brief, I found that there is a seamless way to blend the Buddhist “Seven Factors of Awakening” and QRI paradigms, in particular those of Wireheading Done Right and Neural Annealing:
Seven Factors of Awakening and Wireheading Done Right
The overall idea here is that in order to sustain a state of consciousness where meditation has benefits one needs to have a state of mind that has a lot of control over itself. In particular, there is a zone in the valence / arousal space that is ideal for meditation, namely, the region that is positive valence and middle-of-the-road arousal. In this light, when your mind is too excited and restless you should put emphasis on the tranquilizing factors (concentration, equanimity, and tranquility). When your mind is too sluggish or sleepy, you put extra emphasis on the exciting factors (investigation, energy, and joy). And the balancing factor (mindfulness) is what allows you to keep track of this process without getting distracted by the hindrances. This allows you to cybernetically stay in the zone most conducive to meditative development.
Importantly, I think that the factors themselves are best developed in that zone. So it may be futile to ask someone who is panicking to focus on tranquility IF they have not focused on tranquility before when they were in the optimal zone. So for a lot of people developing the seven factors is going to be a bootstrapping process. Pragmatically, I expect that e.g. people with chronic pain might benefit from actual painkillers in order to reduce the pain enough to then be close to the zone where they can actually practice and develop the seven factors effectively. When the painkillers wear off at least they will have gotten some practice time, and then applying equanimity to the pain will be easier (I think that it is both ineffective and cruel to ask someone in pain to “just have equanimity about it” if they haven’t already developed equanimity when they were in the zone).
In addition to valence and arousal, the seven factors also allow you to cybernetically stay in the zone for two additional key dimensions. Namely the dimension of “clinging vs. letting go” and the dimension of “noise vs. purity”. In this light, we have that energy increases fast euphoria (positive valence and positive arousal), joy increases valence, investigation identifies trends that take you out of the zone and maintains purity, concentration increases purity, equanimity increases valence a little and “letting go” a lot, tranquility induces slow euphoria (positive valence and negative arousal), and mindfulness oversees the whole process while also increasing “letting go”. Together they can help you stay in the optimal zone along these four dimensions! They are, in effect, a “natural way” to do Wireheading Done Right.
Seven Factors of Awakening and Neural Annealing
In addition to the lens of Wireheading Done Right, Neural Annealing also interfaces with the Seven Factors of Awakening quite well. Namely, you can think of them as “welding tools” for wholesome annealing!
In brief, you first need to use “flow” which “melts” the structures of your world-simulation and makes them flexible and amenable to modifications. Then you use the seven factors in order to direct the evolution of the flow into healing and harmonious dynamics. Doing this over and over will, over time, allow you to create a very wholesome and healing flow. More specifically, here are the seven factors as seen through the lens of Neural Annealing:
- Maintain flow in the foreground
- Focus on the texture rather than the content of flow
- Monitor for the arising of hindrances and inclining the mind away from them
- This is what happens when you “pluck” the flow. Naturally, this energizes the eigenmodes of the flow! It is like the light that gets trapped between two parallel mirrors. Energy illuminates the harmonics of the flow you are cultivating.
- The judicious selection of sets of eigenmodes that are consonant together
- Given joyous flow, deepening the joy entails energization, blending, and annealing of the consonant gestalt (cf. Focus on Positive)
- Examining the texture of flow. Testing it to determine the presence of hindrances.
- It is listening for the ring of the flow (with its objects) and diagnosing what is in it
- Cultivating tranquility entails developing highly-efficient cooling structures that channel flow and dissipate energy quickly (cf. Focus on Rest)
- Not interfering with energy transit and dissipation by letting it recruit as large of a piece of flow as possible for its diffusion
- At a high-enough concentration (in my experience), equanimity undergoes a phase change. It becomes very fluid which balances out the forces inside you. I can see how in large enough amounts this would significantly reduce the suffering associated with intense pain.
- It is hard to tell “what you do” to increase concentration. As far as I can tell it requires a lot of skillful rhythmicity that guides awareness in a way that prevents its falling away.
- A rough metric for concentration might be: amount of energy of flow that is in phase, in harmonic relationship, and synchronized. Thus, for any level of concentration there are many possible “solutions”. Only on the very high-levels of concentration do experiences become constrained to only a few types. The combinatorial space becomes smaller as concentration increases.
The holy grail here would be the creation of a high-entropy alloy that blends together all seven factors. It’s a bootstrapping process. As you start developing some of the factors, you can use them to weld the flow in such a way that developing the other factors becomes easier. Then you can start developing two or more factors simultaneously (e.g. “tranquil equanimity” or “joyous concentration”). In time, one climbs the gradient that fortifies the presence of the factors in the mind, making it a home for wholesome qualia computing.
Wishing you all a wonderful Sunday!
The Goal: To Anneal a Wholesome Annealing Toolkit
(the Holy High-Entropy Alloy of the Seven Factors of Awakening)
- Five Hindrances
- Shinzen Young on “Flow”
- Seven Factors of Awakening
- High Entropy Alloys of Experience
- The Neuroscience of Meditation: Four Models
- The Symmetry Theory of Valence: 2020 Presentation
- Neural Annealing: Toward a Neural Theory of Everything
- Standard and Advanced Focus On Rest ~ Shinzen Young
- Wireheading Done Right: Stay Positive Without Going Insane
- How “Focus on Positive” is a Mindfulness Practice ~ Shinzen Young
I’m curious how samadhi & jhana fits into the neural annealing and your other models for joy. Why does a simple repetitive process feel so good? Is it about harmony between sub agents? Does concentration somehow add neutral energy and promote annealing (what Buddhists call “purification of mind”)? Or is it something else?
Given that jhanas are (to some degree) bliss states, they seem highly relevant to any investigation of achievable joy for humans.