• Joshs
    911
    How do such normative affectivities as 'unconditionally intrinsic goodness', 'spontaneous compassion', 'luminosity', 'blissfulness', ' a calm and peaceful life guided by the fundamental value of nonviolence' emerge as ultimate outcomes of a mindfulness philosophy of groundlessness? Aren't they motivated by a sort of 'will to goodness', a preferencing of one affective dimension over others? It would seem that groundlessness for Evan Thompson doesn't apply to the thinking of affect and desire. Despite Francisco Varela and Evan Thompsons's claim (In The Embodied Mind) that nihilism cannot be overcome by assimilating groundlessness to a notion of the will, they appear not to recognize that the positive affectivities they associate with meditative practice are, as dispositions of feeling opposed to other dispositions, themselves forms of willing.

    In The Embodied Mind, Francisco Varela and Evan Thompson assert that Husserl, Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger's phenomenologies produce ‘after the fact' theoretical reflections that miss the richness of immediate concrete pre-reflective experience as present in the here-and-now. But Varela and Thompson's separating of being and becoming in their empirical approach leads them to misread these phenomenologists, and as a result to mistakenly give preference to mindfulness approaches which fall short of the radicality of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. Varela and Thompson follow Husserl's method of reduction up to a point, stripping away acquired concepts associated with a naive belief in the independence of subject and object. They don't complete the reduction though, allowing subject and object to occupy separate moments.

    Varela and Thompson succeed in reducing materialist physicalism to fundamental co-dependency, but still find it necessary to ground intentional processes in a foundation of temporary self-inhering objectivities (the “arising and subsiding, emergence and decay” of transitional forms which inhere in themselves for a moment before relating to an outside). Varela and Thompson found the affectively, valuatively felt contingency of particular acts of other-relatedness in what they presume to be a primordial neutral point of pre-reflective conscious auto-affective awareness.

    But the phenomenologists show that attention, as a species of intention, is sense-making, which means it is sense-changing. Attention is affectively, valuatively and meaningfully implicated in what it attends to as co-participant in the synthesis, creation, constitution of objects of regard. As auto-affection turns reflexively back toward itself, what it finds is not the normative sameness and constancy of a neutral positivity( blissful, self-less compassion and benevolence toward all phenomena) but a newly sensing being. Mindful self-reflexivity, expecting to find only what it put there, instead is confronted with the self-displacement of its being exposed to and affected by an other. The basis of our awareness of a world isn't simply compassionate, empathic relational co-determinacy, but the motivated experience of disturbing CHANGE in relational co-determinacy.
  • frank
    6.1k
    Is mindfulness the same as "being present"?
  • Jack Cummins
    917

    I would love to discuss mindfulness but your post is so theoretical. Are you opposing mindfulness, because it is extremely hard to make sense of what you are writing partly due to the way you write. I think the point you are missing is that mindfulness is about engagement with the senses and experience itself. We are not just beings of the head, engaging in theoretical constructs and the whole point of mindfulness is to bring us back to our senses, for our own wellbeing.

    I would say that mindfulness does involve thoughts as well. It can involve the awareness of the thoughts as they arise in our heads. We can watch them arise, like aspects in the natural world rather than become passive victims. In particular, in states of depression people can almost experience negative thoughts as a concrete reality. Mindfulness enables people to see the limits of thought. Mindfulness is a technique for helping people to cope in life and I don't see how a phenomenological theory could help here.
  • Joshs
    911
    Mindfulness is a technique for helping people to cope in life and I don't see how a phenomenological theory could help here.Jack Cummins

    Could you give me a sense of your understanding of phenomenological theory?

    The main point of the OP is that Varela and Thompson claim that ‘unconditionally intrinsic goodness', 'spontaneous compassion', 'blissfulness', ' are values that ensue from mindful disengagement from intentional activity in the world. In other words, that these values precede all other values , and guide us fundamentally when we recognize the groundlessness of the concept of self and the interconnected of all things.
    I agree with Nietzsche that no value can institute itself as some pure, original ground of all other value, whether that value be unconditionally intrinsic goodness or benevolence or spontaneous compassion.

    Varela and Thompson claim phenomenology needs mindfulness because Husserl, Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger’s accounts produce ‘after the fact’ theoretical reflections that miss the richness of immediate concrete pre-reflective experience as present in the here-and-now.

    “Husserl's turn toward experience and "the things themselves" was entirely theoretical, or, to make the point the other way around, it completely lacked any pragmatic dimension.” “Indeed, this criticism would hold even for Heidegger's existential phenomenology, as well as for Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of lived experience. Both stressed the pragmatic, embodied context of human experience, but in a purely theoretical way.” (Embodied Mind)

    Varela and Thompson's claim that Buddhist-originating practices of mindful awareness reorientate experiencing from a phenomenological ‘after the fact' theoretical stance to the immediate here and now centers on its techniques of attentive meditation.

    I’ m arguing that they misunderstand phenomenology.


    Varela and Thompson's dissatisfaction with the phenomenologies of Husserl, Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger stems from their belief that phenomenology begins from intentional and reflective acts as derived and secondary constructions built on top of the immediate neutral pre-objectifying awareness performed by the act of mindful attention. Phenomenological approaches can only indirectly point to this immediacy ‘from the outside' via theoretical reflective and intentive modes. Intentionality is the formation of conditioned habit, and attention is the mind's immediate access to the field of experience prior to the construction of causal relations. Varela and Thompson's belief that the neutral observational awareness of groundlessness afforded by mindfulness techniques gives immediate access to the here and now makes mindfulness an observation rather than a creation mechanism. That is to say, meditative attention gives neutral access to the immediate richness of changeable experience without itself comprising a constitutive, sense-making activity. It is instead a sense-observing process.


    I’m not trying to discredit mindfulness , only to refute
    Varela and Thompson’ s claim that the mindfulness tradition has the resources to go further
    than phenomenology in accessing the immediacy of the here and now. I agree with phenomenology that there is no such thing as an immediate present.

    My disagreement centers on the assumption that there is such a thing as neutral attention. Phenomenology sees attention as creation and transformational, so mindfulness doesn’t traffic in pure non-intentional awareness , but is already invested, motivated and desiring.
  • Joshs
    911
    I’m defining it as Contemplative attending , which is a neutral observational gaze occurring prior to and separate from intendings of specific objects, but which provides the primordial condition of possibility for all intentional acts, habits, objectivities.

    “...meditation is thought to support a “bare attention”, or “passive observational stance”, unobtrusive enough to avoid disturbing target experiences or coloring their description with theoretical preconceptions” (Thompson, Lutz and Cosmelli, 2005, pp. 69-75). Mindful meditations is “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn 1994, p. 4). ” Mindfulness registers experiences, but it does not compare them. It does not label them or categorize them. It just observes everything as if it was occurring for the first time. It is not analysis which is based on reflection and memory. It is, rather, the direct and immediate experiencing of whatever is happening, without the medium of thought. It comes before thought in the perceptual process (Gunaratana, 2002, p. 168). (Davis and Thompson)

    “...with the full achievement of Samatha, one disengages the attention from the previous meditative object, and the entire continuum of one's attention is focused single-pointedly, non-conceptually, and internally in the very nature of consciousness.... Only the aspects of sheer awareness, clarity, and joy of the mind appear, without the intrusion of any sensory objects (Wallace, 1999, p. 182). (Thompson, Empathy and Consciousness, 2001)
  • frank
    6.1k
    non-judgmentallyJoshs

    If it's nonjudgmental, I wouldn't expect any sort of goodness to come from it.
  • Jack Cummins
    917

    I just think you are being too theoretical. You need to back up what you are saying with reference to the experiences of life in order for the argument to have any convincing merit.
  • Joshs
    911
    You need to back up what you are saying with reference to the experiences of life in order for the argument to have any convincing merit.Jack Cummins

    Do me a favor and simply correct your
    your sentence to read “You need to back up what you are saying with reference to the experiences of life so that I can understand it “

    Your wording smacks of anti-intellectualism.


    I sit here and non-judgementally detach my awareness
    from being invested in intentional attachment to objects. I maintain my awareness in pure self-reflexivity. It brings a sense of peace and bliss, But what happens as I continue to maintain this state of mind? I suggest that my felt awareness will shift constantly and with it my valuations. So mindfulness is a form of concentrated intentionality , not an overview that is neutral.
  • Jack Cummins
    917

    I find that the opposite happens to me. If I try to meditate, I start off with many distractions, ranging from worries to distractions from noise or being too cold or too hot, or many others. I have to switch off the thoughts gradually and, only then, can I reach a peaceful, or blissful state.

    I think the way we all experience these states differently is one of the problems with all the techniques and underlying philosophies. What works for one person is different for every individual and at different times in life. I was even told by one professional, but do not know whether it is really true, that if someone in an extremely anxious state tries too hard to switch off through relaxation techniques it can trigger psychotic experiences.
  • frank
    6.1k
    So mindfulness is a form of concentrated intentionality , not an overview that is neutral.Joshs

    So which is it? Non-neutral it nonjudgmental? Can't be both.
  • Joshs
    911
    That’s right , it can’t be both. I say it is non-neutral, despite its claims to be.
  • frank
    6.1k
    That’s right , it can’t be both. I say it is non-neutral, despite its claims to be.Joshs

    If that's true, then you start out unbalanced. You're pushing the things you hate behind you and reaching to grasp the things you love. You're in motion on your way to defeating nihilism, right?
  • Joshs
    911
    I have to switch off the thoughts gradually and, only then, can I reach aJack Cummins

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that when you mediate
    you don’t ‘switch off’ thinking, you shift your focus to a particular kind of abstractive thinking that doesn’t let itself
    dwell on particular objects. And I’m saying the bliss and peacefulness comes from the contrast with the state you just left behind you. Getting drunk can achieve
    that. also.But once you have made the transition from everyday concerns to meditative focus, the meditative
    state becomes its own source of comparison , and you will notice textures and shifts in mood within the experience.
  • Jack Cummins
    917

    I agree with what you are saying and it makes more sense than the theoretical beginning of your thread. I think you could probably blend theory and reflections more in your writing.
  • Joshs
    911
    I think you could probably blend theory and reflections more in your writing.Jack Cummins

    And you could probably deepen your knowledge
    of philosophical jargon. Not trying to be snarky, just reminding you that it works both ways. I agree that on this forum it would be a good idea for me to avoid allowing the language to become too theoretical, at least for most readers . But in the right academic venues the writing that appeared to you to lack convincing merit would be perfectly understandable. I just want to make sure you’re not saying that ALL densely theoretical arguments are faulty or lacking in some way. Becuase that would apply to most of the philosophical authors that are most valuable to me.
  • Joshs
    911
    You're pushing the things you hate behind you and reaching to grasp the things you love. You're in motion on your way to defeating nihilism, right?frank

    You’re saying that by claiming mindfulness is non-neutral I’m doing the above? No, I’m not giving preference to love over hate. I’m saying that all manner of valuations are implied in a mindful attitude . And I don’t think that amounts to nihilism.
  • frank
    6.1k
    So you allow nihilism when it shows up. That's pretty neutral.
  • Joshs
    911
    [reply="frank;487349"
    Not sure I understand. We may have to turn this into a real conversation. It seems more like a cross between a tweet and a haiku. I’m going to call it a twaiku.
  • frank
    6.1k
    I do like haiku, but I'm not on twitter.

    I just meant that if there are ”all manner" of valuations, there would be some nihilism. It's a manner of valuation, right?
  • Jack Cummins
    917

    I am in no position to criticise you or certainly not the published authors which inspired you. What I would say is that I think the use of jargon if not written with great care can alienate a lot of readers.

    Personally, I could use and improve my reading of certain terminology,but for what purpose and benefits? Even in my own academic studies, I was encouraged to go beyond that.

    In the past, many philosophers and other thinkers were accustomed to writing in jargon, in closed circles of their own fields,but I think that the future of philosophy will not be able to go in that direction if it is going to survive as a discipline of creditablility, rather than be thrown into the recycling bin as a lost relic. Of course, the past texts are important but, surely, we need to go beyond them, rather than replicate them, in order to face the perils and the challenges of the Twentieth First century.
  • Janus
    9.7k
    The nature of meditative states cannot be definitively understood intellectually, They are affective, and exemplary of "that whereof we cannot speak". I know this from 20 odd years of experience. Phenomenology remains merely an intellectual activity; however interesting and insightful it might be. Varela and Thompson are right; meditation gives access to what cannot be accessed by discursive thought. The same may be said of the arts, music and poetry. Phenomenology, and philosophy in general, has its limitations.
  • Joshs
    911
    The nature of meditative states cannot be definitively understood intellectually, They are affective, and exemplary of "that whereof we cannot speak".Janus

    Since when are affective experiences those of which we cannot speak? We speak them in our attitudes, expressions, gestures. Since when is an affective experience non-intellectual? Affective sense IS the basis of all intellectual meaning. We could
    speak and understand nothing if speech were not affectively attuned. It is Varela and Thompsonwho do not understand affectivity to the extent that they split it off from intention.

    Keep in mind, Varela and Thompson are making a
    very specific intellectual claim, that one valuative stance ( neutrality, peace, benevolence) can be fundamentally
    associated in a privileged way with mindful attention, in opposition to other affective valuative stances.
  • Joshs
    911
    But Nietzsche believed there were all manner of valuations and he saw his task as the overcoming of nihilism,precisely through that realization.( transvaluation of values)
  • frank
    6.1k

    But Nietzsche believed
    there were all manner of valuations
    and he saw his task
    as the overcoming
    of nihilism,

    precisely through that realization.
    Joshs

    How does that work? Defeating nihilism by realizing there are all manner of valuations?
  • Wayfarer
    10.9k
    Some references:

    Sattipatthana Sutta - 'the way of mindfulness' - source text from Pali Buddhist canon.

    Mindfulness in Plain English, Henepola Gunaratana, 1991 - the book that introduced mindfulness meditation to the English-speaking world.
  • Joshs
    911
    Nihilism is the belief that
    cultural values are meaningless. The rejection of metaphysical Christian values in the West led to nihilistic movements. Nietzsche tries to show that the will to power is the ground of the necessity of value-positing and of the origin of the possibility of value judgment. The principle of value-positing comes out of the ground of Being as Will to Power. Will to power is a kind of life
    force, whose aim is to always overcome itself. Life is a postive force of self-overcoming, not meaningless but always formative of new values. This is only nihilistic of your notion of meaningfulness depends on a universal metaphysical grounding of value.
  • Janus
    9.7k
    Since when are affective experiences those of which we cannot speak? We speak them in our attitudes, expressions, gestures.Joshs

    You're conflating discursive explication and explanation with the kinds of evocation to be found in poetry. You're making my argument for me.

    Keep in mind, Varela and Thompson are making a
    very specific intellectual claim, that one valuative stance ( neutrality, peace, benevolence) can be fundamentally
    associated in a privileged way with mindful attention, in opposition to other affective valuative stances.
    Joshs

    Their claim makes perfect sense if it is recognized that partiality, conflict and malevolence are made possible by the divisiveness that comes from the notion of separation that is inherent in discursive thought.
  • frank
    6.1k
    Nihilism is the belief that
    cultural values are meaningless.
    Joshs

    Could be. That would be cultural-values-nihilism, as opposed to moral nihilism, or this kind of nihilism, which is what I think Nietzsche was talking about most of the time:

    "“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
    “Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

    3 What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun?
    4 Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
    5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
    6 The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
    round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
    7 All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
    To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
    8 All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
    The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
    9 What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
    10 Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
    It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
    11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
    will not be remembered
    by those who follow them."

    --Ecclesiastes 1

    The rejection of metaphysical Christian values in the West led to nihilistic movements.Joshs

    I don't think so. After the Enlightenment, the stories in the Bible seemed like fairy tales to many people. There were a lot of responses to that, but there's never really been much of a nihilistic movement. Instead there's been a lot of attempts deal with nihilism, either by inventing new mythology, mythologizing something like the psyche, or burying nihilism with entertainment and mountain climbing.

    I don't think Nietzsche was talking about rejecting nihilism, but about facing it. I don't believe he thought many people are capable of it.
  • Joshs
    911


    don't think Nietzsche was talking about rejecting nihilism, but about facing it. I don't believe he thought many people are capable of it.frank


    From Heidegger: “Nietzsche's thinking sees itself as be­longing under the heading "nihilism." That is the name for a historical movement, recognized by Nietzsche, already ruling throughout preceding centuries, and now determining this cen­tury. Nietzsche sums up his interpretation of it in the brief statement: "God is dead."

    In a note from the year 1887 Nietzsche poses the question, "What does nihilism mean?" (Will to Power, Aph. 2). He an­swers: "That the highest values are devaluing themselves."

    This answer is underlined and is furnished with the explana­tory amplification: "The aim is lacking; 'Why?' finds no answer."
    According to this note Nietzsche understands nihilism as an ongoing historical event. He interprets that event as the devaluing of the highest values up to now.

    Nietzsche understands by nihilism the devaluing of the highest values up to now. But at the same time he takes an affirmative stand toward nihilism in the sense of a "revaluing of all previous values." Hence the name "nihilism" remains ambiguous, and seen in terms of its two extremes, always has first of all a double meaning, inasmuch as, on the one hand, it designates the mere devaluing of the highest values up to now, but on the other hand it also means at the same time the un­conditional countermovement to devaluing.

    the empty place demands to be occupied anew and to have the god now vanished from it replaced by some­thing else. New ideals are set up. That happens, according to Nietzsche's conception (Will to Power, Aph. 1021, 1887), through doctrines regarding world happiness, through socialism, and equally through Wagnerian music, i.e., everywhere where "dog­
    matic Christendom" has "become bankrupt." Thus does "incom­plete nihilism" come to prevail. Nietzsche says about the latter :
    "Incomplete nihilism : its forms: we live in the midst of it. Attempts to escape nihilism without revaluing our values so far : they produce the opposite, make the problem more acute" (Will to Power, Aph. 28, 18)

    “Nietzsche understands the metaphysics of the will to
    power specifically as the overcoming of nihilism. And in fact, so long as nihilism is understood only as the devaluing of the highest values, and the will to power, as the principle of the revaluing of all values, is thought from out of a re-positing of the highest values, the metaphysics of the will to power is indeed an over­coming of nihilism.”
  • Joshs
    911
    Their claim makes perfect sense if it is recognized that partiality, conflict and malevolence are made possible by the divisiveness that comes from the notion of separation that is inherent in discursive thought.Janus

    Their claim is based on a model of attention as separate from intention. If one shows this separation to be untenable, as the phenomenologists have, then Varela amd Thompson’s notions of attention as neutral and thus ‘peaceful, breaks down along with it.

    Contrary to Varela and Thomson's assertions concerning the primacy of neutral attention, Husserl's and Merleau-Ponty's discussions of the philosophical history of the concept of attention would appear to place Varela and Thompson's theory of attention within the context of empiricist and idealist orientations put into question by phenomenology.

    In their depiction of an independence between the objects of awareness and the mind's attending to it via a neutral re-objectifying observational stance, Varela and Thompson share features with empiricist(sensualist) and idealist(intellectualist) philosophical approaches to the concept of attention.

    Merleau-Ponty states:

    “We must now show that its intellectualist [idealist] antithesis is on the same level as empiricism itself. Both take the objective world as the object of their analysis, when this comes first neither in time nor in virtue of its meaning; and both are incapable of expressing the peculiar way in which perceptual consciousness constitutes its object. Both keep their distance in relation to perception, instead of sticking closely to it. This may be shown by studying the history of the concept of attention.”

    “...in a consciousness which constitutes everything, or rather which eternally possesses the intelligible structure of all its objects, just as in empiricist consciousness which constitutes nothing at all, attention remains an abstract and ineffective power, because it has no work to perform. Consciousness is no less intimately linked with objects of which it is unheeding than with those which interest it, and the additional clearness brought by the act of attention does not herald any new relationship. It therefore becomes once more a light which does not change its character with the various objects which it shines upon, and once more empty acts of attention are brought in, in place of ‘the modes and specific directions of intention'.(Cassirir)

    Merleau-Ponty explains that to attend to any experience is not merely to shine a neutral light on it, but to articulate a new sense, the ‘active constitution of a new object'. It is to identify a new figure and in doing so, to transform the sense of the previous figure along with its background.

    “Attention, therefore, as a general and formal activity, does not exist.” Rather than there being a general capacity for neutral observation, a universal kind of attention necessary for any moment of consciousness, “it is literally a question of creation. “ “Attention is “a change of the structure of consciousness, the establishment of a new dimension of experience, the setting forth of an a priori... To pay attention is not merely further to elucidate pre-existing data, it is to bring about a new articulation of them by taking them as figures. “

    “The miracle of consciousness consists in its bringing to light, through attention, phenomena which re-establish the unity of the object in a new dimension at the very moment when they destroy it. Thus attention is neither an association of images, nor the return to itself of thought already in control of its objects, but the active constitution of a new object which makes explicit and articulate what was until then presented as no more than an indeterminate horizon.”

    Husserl, like Merleau-Ponty , sees attention as an intentive act of creation rather than “a light which does not change its character with the various objects which it shines upon.”

    “Attention is one of the chief themes of modern psychology. Nowhere does the predominantly sensualistic [empiricist] character of modern psychology show itself more strikingly than in the treatment of this theme, for not even the essential connection between attention and intentionality-- this fundamental fact: that attention of every sort is nothing else than a fundamental species of intentive modifications-- has ever, to my knowledge, been emphasized before.” “Dazed by the confusion between object and mental content, one forgets that the objects of which we are ‘conscious', are not simply in consciousness as in a box, so that they can merely be found in it and snatched at in it; but that they are first constituted as being what they are for us, and as what they count as for us, in varying forms of objective intention...One forgets that.... an intending, or reference is present, that aims at an object, a consciousness is present that is the consciousness of this object. The mere existence of a content in the psychic interplay is, however, not at all this being-meant or being-referred-to. This first arises when this content is ‘noticed', such notice being a look directed towards it, a presentation of it. To define the presentation of a content as the mere fact of its being experienced, and in consequence to give the name ‘presentations' to all experienced contents, is one of the worst conceptual distortions known to philosophy.”(Ideas I).
  • Joshs
    911
    You're conflating discursive explication and explanation with the kinds of evocation to be found in poetry. You're making my argument for me.Janus

    My argument would be that the kinds of evocation to be found in poetry and discursive explication are different ways of going about the same general task, which is to express a construal about some aspect of the world. There are more or less impressionistic or evocative forms of articulation, tighter or looser constructions of meaning, empirical, poetical, literary styles of expression, but they are different ways of going about the same general
    aim.

    Affectivity isn’t some ineffable quality before or outside of language. It IS language.
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