Tagmeditation

Contemplative Computing: Lessons From Monks About Designing The Technologies Of The Future

monk-with-phone
Photo by Beth Kanter

I wrote about Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s new book The Distraction Addiction for TechCrunch:

“The purpose of technology is not to confuse the brain but to serve the body,” William S. Burroughs once said in a Nike commercial, of all places. But things haven’t worked out that way, at least not for most of us. Our technologies are designed to maximize shareholder profit, and if that means distracting, confusing or aggregating the end-user, then so be it.

But another path is possible, argues Alex Soojung-Kim Pang in his new book The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul.

He calls the idea “contemplative computing.”

Contemplative computing, Pang writes, is something you do, not something you buy or download. He does mention a few useful-sounding applications, such as Freedom, which will block your Internet connection for a set period of time, and full-screen text editors like WriteRoom and OmmWriter (my personal favorite is FocusWriter).

These tools, along with applications like RescueTime and SelfControl, are great — but they’re meant to treat the symptoms of a digital environment designed to distract you. Pang points out that OmmWriter was, ironically, designed by an online ad agency to help keep its copywriters from being distracted.

Full Story: TechCrunch: Lessons From Monks About Designing The Technologies Of The Future

Also: Watch for Pang on the next Mindful Cyborgs podcast!

Mindful Cyborgs Episode 6: Emotional Amputation Through Quantification

chris-keynote

This week on Mindful Cyborgs, instead of bring on a guest, Chris Dancy and I discussed news stories such as Wired’s story on meditation in Silicon Valley and The Verge’s Union 2.0 story.

The highlight of the show may have been our discussion of the way that quantified self and augmented reality could unite to emotionally handicap us — much the same way GPS can damage our sense of direction. This after Chris explained that he gave a speech during which he was displaying vital stats like skin temperature and heart rate to the audience (something we actually talked about in our first episode):

Chris: One day they came up to me and said, “You know, at the end of your keynote I could tell you’re a little emotional and what really moved me was seeing how your body was reacting because I could hear it in your voice, but seeing it really made me think twice about how much that meant to you at that moment.” And it just stuck with me that literally there could have been tears and that’s not what she remembered. She remembered seeing the numbers. I mean, are we to the point where people need to see it to believe it?

Klint: I don’t know. Yes, that’s a really interesting reaction, or not reaction but I guess it’s an interesting thing for her to remember to impart. If that is the way we’re going to start seeing each other as streams of data instead of as the actual emotional cues that our bodies send off in a non-machine readable way. That’s some pretty profound implications for how we view each other and how we interact with each other.

You can download the episode on Soundcloud, from iTunes or download the MP3 directly.

Show notes and full transcript inside.

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For Silicon Valley, Meditation Is About Getting Ahead, Not Inner Peace

This touches all my cynical buttons:

But in today’s Silicon Valley, there’s little patience for what many are happy to dismiss as “hippie bullshit.” Meditation here isn’t an opportunity to reflect upon the impermanence of existence but a tool to better oneself and improve productivity. That’s how Bill Duane, a pompadoured onetime engineer with a tattoo of a bikini-clad woman on his forearm, frames Neural Self-Hacking, an introductory meditation class he designed for Google. “Out in the world, a lot of this stuff is pitched to people in yoga pants,” he says. “But I wanted to speak to my people. I wanted to speak to me. I wanted to speak to the grumpy engineer who may be an atheist, who may be a rationalist.” […]

It also raises the uncomfortable possibility that these ancient teachings are being used to reinforce some of modern society’s uglier inequalities. Becoming successful, powerful, and influential can be as much about what you do outside the office as what you do at work. There was a time when that might have meant joining a country club or a Waspy church. Today it might mean showing up at TED. Looking around Wisdom 2.0, meditation starts to seem a lot like another secret handshake to join the club. “There is some legitimate interest among businesspeople in contemplative practice,” Kenneth Folk says. “But Wisdom 2.0? That’s a networking opportunity with a light dressing of Buddhism.” […]

Steve Jobs spent lots of time in a lotus position; he still paid slave wages to his contract laborers, berated subordinates, and parked his car in handicapped stalls.

Full Story: Wired: Meditation Isn't Just About Inner Peace—in the Valley It's About Getting Ahead

See also:

Technoccult Interview: Open Source Buddhism with Al Jigong Billings

Mindful Cyborgs: Sensor Hacking For Mindfulness with Nancy Dougherty on the new Mindful Cyborgs

Interview: Sensor Hacking For Mindfulness with Nancy Dougherty on the new Mindful Cyborgs

nancy

This week on Mindful Cyborgs Chris Dancy and I discussed the relationship between mindfulness and quantified self with biosensor engineer Nancy Dougherty. Nancy talks about how she came to the practice of mindfulness through some of her “happy pills experiment,” her light-based mood tracking system and why a portable fMRI might be a little over kill for self-tracking.

You can download the episode from Soundcloud, iTunes or directly.

You can follow Mindful Cyborgs on Twitter, Google+ or Facebook.

You can also read more notes and the full transcript inside.

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Buddhism and Post-Structuralism

Christopher Vitale has been writing essays comparing Buddhism and, for want of a better term, post-structuralism. I don’t feel like I know enough about either subject to know how well he does.

Here’s a bit from the first in the series:

Meditation, then, is practice in separation from narratives and images which we have felt determine some aspect of who or what aspects of ourselves and/or our world are. As each thing comes by in our mind, we separate from it. I’m thinking that thought, but I am not that, it doesn’t bind me, I’m free from it, I can separate from it. I feel that emotion, and yet, it doesn’t control me, it is a part of me, I acknowledge it, I see it as caused by its contexts, but I am free to choose to dive into it and explore it, or let it fade, because I’m not that. I’m rather, a principle of infinite negativity, to use a Hegelian term, a site of infinite creativity. I am only limited by my relation to my contexts, and I can alter this through action, by making the world a better place, a freer place.

And this desire to free the world doesn’t mean doing what we think is best for it, to control it. Rather, it means to try to help the world free itself from its own chains, its own illusion of the necessity of the narratives and images, the essences, which imprison it. It is to want the world to self-actualize, on its own terms. A good therapist wants this both for themselves and their clients. This is what a Buddhist means by compassion.

Full Story: Networkologies: Wrestling with the World in Virtual Reality: A Deleuzian, Anti-Essentialist, Relational Reading of Classical Buddhism as the Radical Practice of Freedom and Desire

See also: Defending Post-Modern Theory (As Always) by Adam Rothstein.

Buddhism and DMT

Someone recently asked on Reddit: Reddit: Has a monk ever taken DMT and the results been recorded?

I like this response:

Fascinating mental states can be attained through meditation, but Buddhists don’t really go for an attitude of exploring trippy phenomena. The purpose is to get over the endless craving for pleasurable mind states. So adding more uncontrollable stimulation is basically just adding more confusion. Of course, you can turn any situation into a practice, so if you find yourself dosed with DMT, don’t panic – just actualize great prajna wisdom and stay grounded in the hara!

The Dangers Of Meditation

Ganesh by Mat Maitland

Scott Carney wrote a long piece for Details about “India Syndrome” — one of may place specific menal disorders (see Wired’s coverage of Jerusalem Syndrome, which mentions that the majority of people dealing with these syndromes have pre-existing psychiatric issues).

But particularly interesting is a bit about the potential negative sides of meditation (something that we’ve discussed here before):

Less discussed are the disorienting and damaging side effects of meditation. Neophytes have reported seeing walls move or rooms change color. The introspective state that is one of the goals of meditation can induce feelings of paranoia and terror. According to Willoughby Britton, a neuroscientist at Brown University who studies the effects of meditation on the brain, practitioners can perceive small sounds as cacophonies and lose the sense that they are in control of their own actions. Britton has claimed that this experience, which some refer to as the “dark night,” has caused numerous people to wind up on psych wards under suicide watch. Guided visualizations… are “designed to completely psychologically rearrange you,” says Paul Hackett, a lecturer in classical Tibetan at Columbia University. In a foreign setting, that kind of experience can be even more traumatizing, especially when you take into account the way some Westerners in India tend to snack at the country’s spiritual smorgasbord—a little Ashtanga yoga here, some Vipassana meditation there. “People are mixing and matching religious systems like Legos,” Hackett says. “It is no surprise that people go insane.”

Details: Death on the Path to Enlightenment: Inside the Rise of India Syndrome

There was also a Buddhist Geeks interview with Britton.

(both links via Contemplative Computing)

Previously: The Risks and Rewards of Yoga

Technoccult Interview: Open Source Buddhism with Al Jigong Billings

Al Billings

Many Technoccult readers have probably seen Hermetic.com. Maybe you even got your first taste of Aleister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare or Hakim Bey there. What you might not know is that the site’s founder, Al Jigong Billings has given up the site to focus on what he calls “Open Source Buddhism.” I recently talked with Al about what Open Source Buddhism is, how it differs from other contemporary the Pragmatic Dharma movement and the secular mindfulness movement, and how he gravitated from Neopaganism to Buddhism.

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Finding the Right Type of Meditation for You Might be Key to Meditation Success

Did you give meditation a chance and decide it’s not your cup of tea? New research suggests you could be missing out on all the health benefits of meditation by simply starting out with a technique not well matched to your personal tastes. […]

Burke and colleagues recently conducted a study of college students new to meditation and their preferences among four meditation techniques — mantra, mindfulness, zen, and qigong visualization. […]

Published on July 7 in the journal Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, the findings reveal that by finding a form of meditation that works for you, you are less likely to quit. The result of sticking with it? Research-backed benefits of reduced stress, lower blood pressure, and help with addiction problems.

Full Story: NY Daily News: The right kind of meditation for you; Mantra, mindfulness, zen, and qigong visualization are different ways to relax

The paper is here, behind a paywall.

The Neuroscience of Depression – And What to Do About It

Meditation

Math for Primates co-host Nick Horton wrote a personal post on how he manages his depression. Here’s a bit on the neuroscience of depression:

The Prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that deals with (among other things) the regulation of mood states. If it is atrophied, then your ability to deal with these tasks gets downgraded. This becomes particularly problematic given that without the prefrontal cortex running at full speed, you can’t dampen the negative emotions generated by the Amygdala. The amygdala is that part of your brain that deals with Fight or Flight responses. It is your brains Fear Factory. To add fuel to the fire, in depressed people the amygdala tends to be overactive.

Think of the Amygdala and the prefrontal cortex as the brains Yin and Yang. You need both to be strong and healthy to have a strong healthy brain that is in balance. Depressed folk ain’t in balance. Generally, the prefrontal cortex is responsible for saying, “Hey, Amygdala, I got your message. We’re cool here. No need to freak out, dude!” But, when your brain is broke (like mine), you can be flooded with negative emotional responses that can result in despair and overwhelming helplessness.

The Iron Samurai: Managing Depression With Weightlifting? Or, How You Feel Is A Lie

I found this part interesting as well:

Depression is so debilitating precisely because of the trick your mind plays on you. It tricks you into believing that how you feel is valid. This sparks a downward spiral of sadness that makes life impossible. The more you play into its tricks, the harder it gets to drag yourself out of it.

It gave me an idea. People of above average intelligent are known to be prone to depression, right? Could it be because smart people are better at finding reasons to be depressed, locking themselves into this downward spiral? Could people of average or less intelligence be better at talking themselves out of being depressed? I’m not sure how to test this hypothesis.

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