Friday, May 11, 2007

Reincarnation & Cognitive Science

The idea of reincarnation for me at the moment is more based on faith, rather than being a belief based on logic - but with the advances of Cognitive Science, that could change. The door began to open after listening to an amazing talk by Lama Zopa Rinpoche (LZR) where the walls seem to flutter and everything melt around me. This talk was on emptiness, but touched on reincarnation.

He described the Buddhist logic that, according to the law of cause and effect (which says the result must be of the same nature of the cause - an oak tree will not grow from the seed of a cedar tree for example) our consciousness can not arise from matter, as consciousness is not in the nature of matter. Consciousness is formless, it is immaterial. It is defined as that which is clear (formless) and knowing. Therefore the first moment of consciousness in our life needed a previous moment to come into existence. It would be impossble for it to arise from matter, or from nothing, in the same way it would be impossible to get ice by boiling water or have $10 appear in my hand from no where. There has to be a cause, and if the cause is not in the same nature as the result, that result can not be got!

So our body is material, sperm/egg is material - how can it then be the basis of a moment of consciousness, which is immaterial? That the consciousness combines with matter, is interdependent with matter, is not the issue. Matter can not be the cause of non-matter.

It was convincing from a logical point of view - IF YOU ACCEPT that consciousness is not matter.

In Cognitive Science these days, what is Human Consciousness is the big question, and they are gradually but surely facing down the Materialists who insist its basis is purely the brain organ. There is a crack in this edifice of materialism, in much the same way that Descartes' idea of objective certainty was finally questioned by Hiesenburg's Uncertainly Principle, and so, with Einsten's help, tearing apart Newton's vision of the world by ushering in the mysterious world of quantum physics, and in the process putting into place a firm, scientific basis for Buddha's description of reality as being a relationship between form and emptiness - i.e. emptiness is form, form is emptiness - neither eternalism or nilhism, but a delicate balance that has elements of both, but is in fact neither.

In much the same way today - if Scientists do finally conclude that consciousness is other than matter, then LZR's logic becomes impeccable from a leading edge Scientific perspective.

Voila reincarnation!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The 5 Ever-Present Factors of Mind

As an Alexander teacher, I am always dealing with a person's mental conception. This sits at the core of all movements. I think it is misleading to think of AT as "bodywork". If we must use terms like that, then it would be better to call it "mindwork" where the practitioner also touches your body to support the new conception of movement that you are being guided towards.

So I am always interested in finding new information about the mind. However, the 5 ever-present factors of mind is not new information. This was first formulated by a Buddhist philosopher known as Asunga, and it constitutes an aspect of the Buddhist epistimology of how our mind aquires knowledge.

There are 54 mental factors (or is it 51?) and the factors that must be present for any mind to function are:

1. Intention: what are you wanting to do right now?
2. Contact: what is the object you are contacting?
3. Attention: not passing by quickly, but maintaining attention on the object (which can be an idea)
4. Discernment: being able to recognise the object as distinct from "other" objects.
5. Feeling: In the sense of 'knowing' that you are in this process.

They do not necessarily run in this order, as they all exist simultaneously. However, it is easier to apprendend their functionality by considering them in succession. Here's an example of how you might use this model...

At my training school, I successfully apply this model to assist my trainees to develop their faculty of observing the movements of their own students. Intention is where most inexperienced observers first misdirect - a person thinks something like "I really hope I can see what is happening this time." This is a totally misguided intention, almost assuring them that they WILL NOT see anything substantive. Following on from that comes 2. Contact - they are mostly in contact with the idea that "observation is hard/I can't do this/I am not seeing anything now!' therefore 3. Attention - is not consistently maintained towords their object (which is not clear to begin with), but instead they are fluttering all about in a chaotic maelstrom of conflicting intentions, objects and attentions. All of which makes it next to impossible for any meaningful 4. Discernment - no real understanding of the process can arise and hence their 5. Feeling - moves towards a sense of uselessness, powerlessness, helplessness in the face of their perceived inability.

Teaching successfully, in the aspect of observing your student, means deciding clearly upon 1, your intention - to observe the movments of my student, so that 2. the contact is clear - of simply receiving the information of the student's movements and so that my 3. attention - is continuing to watch so that from 4. discernment results in the analysis of the movement (from the thoroughly received information) so that your 5. feeling - results in a sense of knowing about the whole process.

Something like that. Try it out next time you teach.

Jeremy, Kyoto, May 2007.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Cognitive Science

Just finished Golden Week Residential with Rachel Zahn as the visitor. She has an amazing message for the Alexander community. What's happening in Cognitive Science is totally Alexander.

What is Congnitive Science? It's a generic description that cobbles together of a number of different disciplines which all seem to be converging towards the same interests and questions: robotics, artificial intellingence, psychology, philosophy, linguistics and neuroscience. They don't know about us, but the description of what they are looking for matches Tibeten Buddhist mind training (which they DO know about, and are are starting to explore) and Alexander. Which they don't know about - but hey, how do you think they will react when they find that the some of the seminal scientific thinkers who have recently re-gained popularity as laying the foundations of modern Cognitive Science ALL had connections with Alexander: Sir Charles Sherrington (the father of neuroscience who wrote favourable about Alexander in one of his books), William James (who FM wrote was going to come for lessons until he became ill and died), John Dewey (who has just - LAST YEAR - had three of his books translated and published for the first time in French) and Karl Popper - who had AT lessons (Walter Carrington said).

I could go on - but go read Rachel's piece in the Oxford 2004 Congress Papers if you haven't already. Convince your local Alexander Society to invite her to offer an overview of Cognitive Science and Alexander. She told me that one of the biggest names these days, who commands respect from other world class neuroscientists - Alain Berthoz - walks up on stage at a Conference and the first he says is that his entire movement of walking up on stage was guided by his head and neck. And this guy knows next to nothing about Alexander's discoveries!

Very exciting times. The technology and understanding has finally arrived to catapult Alexander's discoveries to the front line of neuroscience. Rachel's message? We need to get ready. It's no longer a question of us looking for them, THEY will soon be coming looking for us.