The other day Scott Alexander wrote a piece focusing on a few of the various jhana states of meditation. This falls pretty firmly into the category of “stuff I don’t know much about”, but he linked to an explainer of the general states here: As you reach each jhanic level, your mind will be tempted to remain at the previous jhanic state. Simply keep a balanced mind with no clinging to the pleasant or unpleasant and you will progress to the higher levels. The nine levels of jhana are:
> > “If you have learned to eat salt and follow internet instructions and buy compression socks and squeeze your thighs before you stand up to not faint…and you would faint without those things, go into that appointment and tell them you faint.” Translation: You know your body best. And if twisting the facts (like saying you faint when you don’t) will get you what you want (a diagnosis, meds), then go for it
Generally liked this post, but that quote always felt weird to me. Normal healthy people do not require adding extra salt to their diet and wearing compression socks and squeezing their thighs before they can stand up without fainting. If you need to start doing all of those things in order to avoid fainting when you stand up, then it's accurate to say that you faint, and I don't get how it's twisting the facts to tell your doctor that.
Somewhat related: that thing where somebody you don't know that well enthusiastically tells you "you should watch movie XYZ" or "you should read this book". I guess the correct polite response is "oh, maybe I will", but that's typically dishonest. There's no polite, short-form way to say "while I appreciate your recommendation, I have a long list of things I 'should' read and watch, and there's no chance that your rec changes my plans". So I'm stuck either pissing the person off (made that mistake once with someone who I thought would have a sense of humor about it---they didn't), or lying, or very quickly changing the topic. In practice I settle for "I'll put it on my list", which is also a lie (because the list is long and doesn't need low-quality additions), but somehow feels like a sufficiently small one.
Same flavor of "how do I politely express disbelief while being proselytized to".
Whatever mental effects you can get from meditation, they are happening in your physical body, in the physical world. This means that there ought to be something we can physically measure when all of this is going on. EEGs, MRI machines, blood chemistry, _something_. The extremely fascinating book by Stanislas Dehaene *Reading in the Brain* outlines how much more we know now than we ever did about how memories are stored in the brain. Watching the brains of people who are learning to read while they are learning is also quite instructive. (Note, if on the basis of this you go out and buy the book, and the book you have has only black and white plates, make sure you print out the colour plates from here: https://readinginthebrain.pagesperso-orange.fr/figures.htm because you won't be able to make sense of the black and white only ones.) I think there is a middle ground between 'this sounds so crazy it must be false' and 'this sounds so crazy that nobody would lie about it, so it must be true'.
I'd also be interested in a search of the historical record. People have been meditating since forever, have monks also been writing about this since forever?
Hmm. I'm not a spoonie, and since I think part of their issue is psychological (which wouldn't make it less real), I try to steer away from too much information about them. But I do think most of them are experiencing a real thing, not overtly lying that they are. And, more to the point, I don't think the example you cite of how to talk to a doctor is actually lying. There's not a lot of daylight between "I faint if I don't take a lot of steps ordinary people don't have to take to avoid fainting" and "I faint." I sympathize with the position that the latter framing is easier for doctors to act on. (I don't think it's different from telling a doctor that your ankle hurts when you jump, even if this never happens because you've given up jumping because of your ankle.)
Re: jhanas, I don't know, obviously. But there are a lot of things people can definitely accomplish if they spent 30-60 minutes a day working on those things for years, and that people would like, but that most of us don't bother with. I mean I'd love to speak Spanish, or bench press 100 lbs, or learn a martial art, and those things are definitely achievable, but I haven't chosen to. I'd even love to just read an extra 30-60 minutes a day. And, heck, I even have way more access to (regular, non-metaphorical) orgasms than I actually take advantage of.
I sit somewhere in the middle ground as well as to whether jhanas exist. All those accounts online don't change my opinion on the matter much; I give them the same weight as an account of catching mew on route 1.
However, I'm now more inclined to believe them because people Scott Alexander trusts have reported the experience. I trust Scott to try to be a Bayesian, and to not lie about shit like this. But obviously my priors haven't been updated too much since I have no understanding of these people personally.
I think the reason we don't see millions of people dedicating themselves to reach jhanas is partly because people are notorious for not acting in their best interests. But, we definitely do still see millions of people meditating, with varying degrees of dedication. If people were completely rational, everyone who wasn't completely certain jhanas were spiritual snake oil would meditate consistently for years even for the 5% chance that they could commit spiritual indecencies whenever they shopped at Target.
Also, do you believe people like Sam Harris who say, through meditation, they reach levels of ecstasy and satisfaction comparable to heroin?
>>The neurologist who discovered the “beans” thread, Dr. Caroline Olvera at Rush University Medical Center, declined to speak with me—because of “the negativity that can come from the TikTok community,” according to a university spokesperson.
Imma let you finish, but it's an interesting question of which social media platform's destruction would bring the most blessing to mankind.
It's a little ironic that you used "if you perform this ridiculous series of arbitrary steps, you can catch Mew" as an example of people on the internet making things up, because you actually CAN catch Mew by performing a ridiculous series of arbitrary steps, and they're even more ridiculous and arbitrary than the ones you heard as a kid (another comment already mentioned this). Any common-sense "this is absurd, that person is obviously lying" heuristic would reach the wrong conclusion about the Mew glitch... or the handful of *other* glitches which also let you catch a Mew (https://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Mew_glitch)... or the glitch that lets you walk through walls (https://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Walking_through_walls)... or the glitch that lets you get 255 Master Balls (https://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Item_duplication_glitch)... or, well, alright, you get the idea. I, uh, used to be really into glitch-hunting in these games.
I'm not just saying this to nitpick your analogy, though. The person on Angelfire might have been lying to you, but somewhere hidden among all those trolls were a couple of legitimate Mew-finding methods, and you wouldn't have been able to pick them out from the crowd by how plausible they seemed like they SHOULD be. As with Mew, so too with Jhanas. I don't know if they're real or not - I've never had one - but I'm uneasy with saying they shouldn't be taken seriously just because they sound woo-ish. As you say, brains do weird stuff.
Reading this, particularly Scott A.'s bit, I found myself thinking "Just wait till you have kids that are old enough to lie." Kids lie about their internal states for attention quite frequently, often in amusing ways. My youngest knows mommy is better for attention over random boo boos, and will sit there crying and sobbing "Mommy! Mommy!", then when I ask her what's wrong immediately she sobers up and flatly replies "Nothing. I am talking to Mommy" before going back to the water works.
Are the kids hungry? Their answer depends on whether they want to do something other than eat right now.
Do you have to use the potty before we go? It is possible no child has ever answered this truthfully.
That's just little kids. I would think almost everyone knows someone who habitually lied about their internal state in high school. Lying for attention and social status is practically the standard hobby.
Now, maybe jhanna folks aren't lying. Maybe jhanna works, but only for people with very specific brain chemistry, and that is why most people don't find meditation worth the time. Hard to prove one way or the other. But really... we should assume they are telling the truth because why would they lie? Seems like a failure of experience and imagination on Scott's part to me.
For all the skeptics: have you tried it yet? I doubt you'll reach Jhana soon, but I'd be surprised if you didn't pretty quickly find yourself in a new mindset and think: oh.... maybe there is something to this!
What separates this from many of the examples in the article is that you can verify it for yourself. Again, you won't reach Jhana right away, but you can find evidence pointing in that direction with very little effort.
I may be missing the joke, but are you mixing up Scott/Douglas Adams? Scott is the cartoonist, Douglas is the author of Hitchhiker and Dirk Gently.
I think the idea that believing people's reports of subjective experiences commits us to believing anything results from collapsing several different claims into one. "I had a jhana experience" (or astral projecting, for that matter) is really a range of possible positions:
1. I had an unusual subjective experience.
2. I had an unusual subjective experience and it is a type of subjective experience that many humans have also had.
3. I had an unusual subjective experience and that this experience is reliably available to most people through some particular means.
4. I had an unusual subjective experience and this experience has some bearing on what objective reality is like (e.g., that Buddhist metaphysics is correct, or that the astral plane is real, or that Jesus is lord, etc. etc.).
One of the issues here is that one of the psychological side-effects of having a "mystical" experience is usually to start believing you have metaphysical insight; people who have genuinely had experiences that lead them to claim (1) will also tend to claim (2)-(4). But that doesn't have any bearing on the rest of us.
The norm that we believe other people's reports most of the time only commits us to believing claims of (1). It does not commit us to believing (4), a particular narrative about the cause of that experience. I can believe that somebody had a vision of a goddess without believing in the same goddess myself.
Nor does it commit us to believing that the experiences are available to me, as in (3). I can believe that some people get incredible results from meditation without necessarily being inclined to start doing hours of daily practice. (Indeed, a common report from meditators is that they go through phases of different kind of experiences, and so while I believe the people tweeting about jhanas about their past experiences, I am skeptical that they will continue to reliably have those experiences for the rest of their lives.)
Nor does it even commit us to believing that the experience is at all generalizable, as in (2). I can believe the young woman on TikTok who developed the "beans" tic is experiencing a genuinely involuntary tic without feeling the need to add a new diagnostic entry to the DSM just yet.
The existence of jhanas seems plausible to me, but at least partly because it reads to me like it's referring to a mental state and method of access to it that could be translated as "prayer, of a sort that monks and nuns were historically known to do, and so far as I'm aware still do".
Personally agnostic here, a little fuzzy due to it being the end of the day, and haven't exactly done in-depth research on varieties of meditation, so salt as appropriate. The similarities of "aim to remove any focus on your ego/etc" and "usually quiet contemplation" just stand out to me, is all.
While I have seen the self-diagnosis, everything-is-about-health types in action plenty of times, this is my first time hearing the term "Spoonies", and I had a pretty viscerally negative reaction to the article shared here. There is a distinct amount of credible research/literature showing a link between mental health issues and excessive social media use to my knowledge, so the idea of specifically identifying a community of young women that are excessively using social media and then saying they are lying about being ill with the only additional information being their personal reports of experiencing illness and their personal reports of various diagnoses they are guessing about feels like a big ol' case of denying the antecedent (and that's ignoring the illogical choice to specifically focus on women in the """community""" and ignoring the other members). From my experience with these folks, I find it very likely that they are in fact observing something is wrong/illness, and the only question is whether their various conclusions based on those observations are accurate.
In a similar vein, I didn't interpret the ACX posts to be accepting both the claims and conclusions regarding jhana. There wasn't mention of the various Theravada beliefs regarding gods and enlightenment, merely an acceptance of the antecedent: "these people have had an experience" and a light conclusion "it's unlikely these people all experienced spontaneous seizures causing their experience." We could say this implies that Alexander considers the specific chosen meditation structure as a more likely cause for the experiences people had, and that he considers the quality of life improvements worth investigating. I consider those conclusions reasonable given the antecedent, even more so if we really shave down the details to "thinking and feeling things more" as a possible cause for "thinking and feeling things more than ever before". (Meditation is almost stupidly recursive.)
If desired, we could also break down the clauses for each of the other examples: it's very likely that Wiccans that take psychedelics experience brief periods of warped perception, regardless of the fact that most of us reading this blog find the notion that their souls are travelling around utterly wild and ridiculous. Regarding auras, Epilepsy, migraines, and LSD can all cause people to experience optical effects surrounding figures, regardless of whether auras are in any way synesthetic (the literature seems to agree they are not) or religious (No.).
DID- or the various other names for multiple personalities- is much more complicated to break down into clauses since the various experiences reported are wildly different, let alone the things people claim caused their experience. Some of the antecedents are very simple such as "I had a dream in which I was someone else" or "I like talking in a different voice with friends than at work" which are pretty self-explanatory, while others are more complicated or weird: "I don't remember anything I did for the past day" or "I have diabetes sometimes but not always" (naturally that last one was itself already proven false, let alone whatever conclusions one would make based on this).
Finally, as an example I personally really like, despite my absolute garbage retelling: the late Aztecs observed that some mountains emerge from the ground entirely made of sediment where land meets land as it moves & a lot of large, weird monsters are buried in them, concluding that a crocodile the size of Everything had been created that had teeth in each of her joints which kept eating the other creations of the gods, eventually getting stretched to pieces by the gods. While I find the crocodile conclusion incredibly silly from my modern perspective, I am amazed more people aren't talking about Aztec-pangea and Aztec-plate tectonics. That's such an interesting field of science to have entire myths about!!!
...John Edwards is just a grifter through and through. Don't buy anything from his types, unless its for the cost of a movie theater ticket and will distinctly entertain you.
No, wait, even then you'd be propping up fraudulent business.
Copying the reply I left on the OP, which you led me to. Maybe of interest, idk. Anyway, I'm enjoying the 'stack!
Not hard to accept his internal reports if you've experienced hypomanic states. Surely I'm not the only one who's said this? On the "First Floor," I function abnormally well, just w more energy & ecstasy, and less need/desire for voluntary chemical mood enhancements. And sometimes that's as far as it goes. (Second Floor, I worry friends, annoy strangers, make suboptimal decisions, have weird arousals, but none of that bad enough to get fired or dumped. Third Floor... bad.)
But even where meds are the only reliable ceiling, there are ofc life practices to help stay off the rides altogether. Seems logical that *some* people, with an intense practice like meditation, could initiate, maintain, manage similar mental states. I'd only be dubious of a claim that most or even many ppl would have the same startling results from the same practice. Mood ranges are rather bespoke, I think? Which makes me curious to know if meditation as a way of life is mainly attractive to those with mildly hypomanic potential that could be activated in other ways.
Not a jhana guy and basically think it’s all crap, but fmri studies of monks have found some pretty interesting differences in brain activity during deep meditation: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4471247/
Until the jhana people can demonstrate these kinds of effects, they can enjoy their blankets without me.
"Most notably, you can notice that you don’t actually need to know why people lie to themselves or others (or both!) to note that they sometimes do."
Bayes strikes again!