Neima Jahromi on floatation tanks:
Powers calls the Walden experiment a withdrawal “within the world,” but he overlooks the utopian aspirations of Thoreau’s experiment. There’s nothing transcendent about making yourself comfortable within the world’s limits.
Many floaters more readily align with Powers’s mistaken description of Thoreau. Rather than use the tanks to escape from society, they isolate themselves to escape toward society. Floaters are happy to have the anxious aspects of themselves reprogrammed into a sociable tranquility, especially those afflicted by serious mental wounds, like military veterans who hope sensory deprivation will help treat their PTSD. (One Float On employee told me she believes that if prisoners were given the opportunity to float, they would become much more “manageable” and prison violence would likely decrease.) When the solution serves too well, some floaters pragmatically impose limits on the relief they seek. Andrew, the “human firewall” consultant, told me he used to book sessions in the morning before work but had to stop. “I found myself being much more understanding and sympathetic and I let a lot more things slide,” he explained. “It was then that I realized I needed to stop floating in the morning or I’d start allowing people’s excuses—and projects would get delayed and pretty soon none of us would have a job.”
One wonders if, in a hundred years, the tacit philosophy of the floaters who accept the world as it is and change themselves instead could improve society. Robert and Edward Skidelsky, the father-and-son economic historians who wrote the book How Much Is Enough? (2012), believe that there is something worth reprogramming in us: not the parts of our brains shaped by digital technology, but the drive to work too much. If only more schools, against our avaricious natures, taught us to be leisurely, those who labor pointlessly for more and more capital would relax instead of working overtime, and more wealth would become available to those who need it. The income gap would shrink.
Full Story: The Nation: In the Tank
See also the conclusion of my article on “contemplative computing”:
Pang’s notion of mindful, or contemplative, computing is useful, but ultimately it’s just a way of coping with a world of applications designed without our best interests at heart. Just as meditation, prayer and weekend retreats can help us cope with the harsh realities of the modern world, so too can it help us cope with flame wars, feral inboxes and the non-stop rush of social media. But just as citizens can demand safer cities, more humane governments and even economic reform, we can demand a new class of technologies.
In the latest Mindful Cyborgs Chris Dancy comes out of the Buddhist closet, we talk about the Dark Night of the Soul, the Abyss, and more. Here’s a taste:
CD: Yes, outcome attachment is probably my number one suffering point. The scariest things that I found at the conference was that over the 3, almost 4, years that I’ve been practicing awareness or contemplative practices or being in a beginners mind or meditation, impermanence, love and kindness. All these things, I’ve had periods where I’ve just felt really disconnected from the people around me and these are highly intelligent people or very, very tense people, much like myself. You kind of hang around people you are. So much so that at times I’ve felt profoundly sad, just profoundly depressed.
It comes during after periods of great meditation or just prolonged periods of awareness and I found that there’s something called dark night of the soul, which is a state and there’s actual terminology for this, which is a meditative psychosis. But it’s where people actually become unhinged or removed from the world that they perceive because they get so in touch with being aware that they physically feel disconnected to actually have a soul collapsing experience. Which I thought I was really along but when you get in a roomful of Buddhists and they start talking about their journey you’re just like, wow, I just thought it was me and I never would have admitted so loudly and now it’s actually pretty common.
KF: Yes, I had a similar experience when I was much younger, around 20, and I didn’t know what was going on with me for about a couple of years. I ended up hearing about a similar concept called the abyss. It’s part of cabalistic and part of western occult, a tradition as of western esotericism. But it’s a very similar idea of just becoming- I think they describe it as knowledge without understanding.
The situation where you start to understand and kind of go back to sort of Buddhist terminology, like you start to not to understand but to be aware of impermanence and to be aware of the malleability of certain aspects of reality but you haven’t really come to terms with it yet. You haven’t truly grasped the wisdom of that yet and it leaves you fairly unhinged. At least that’s my understanding of it and there’s probably a lot of people out there that would tell me that I’m completely wrong or that I’m equating things from two very different religious or spiritual practices and everything, but I don’t know. I see them as related, very similar and related aspects.
Show notes and transcript are here.
The second part of the Mindful Cyborgs interview with Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul is up.
Here’s a taste:
CD: One more question on this concept: you speak of a digital Sabbath which I don’t know if you listen to the show of Nathan Jurgenson. Today, August 9th Nathan Jurgenson’s basically on Twitter having a minor meltdown listening to people struggle with what he calls digital dualism, so this pathologizing of an online versus offline reality. I don’t know because I’ve never asked Nathan how he feels about a digital Sabbath but I would think he would say is probably the most dualistic thing you could do.
To that point I personally tweeted out recently celebrating your ability to unplug is the fastest way to declare a pathological relationship between yourself and your data. Are you pro-digital Sabbath because your mind just needs a break or I mean, do you literally think that we need it because this is so unhealthy we need to detach from it and make it something separate?
ASP: First of, I think Nathan’s meltdown is a perfect example of why you shouldn’t go to academic conferences because there’s this sociological association like now. It’s a toxic environment so stay away.
There has in the last few months been this kind of fetishization of digital detoxes. That’s an idea that the cool kids are putting their things down and they are going off to the woods and playing Shuffleboard.
CD: It helps when you’re making $300,000 or $400,000 a year that you can put your phone away a lot easier by the way.
ASP: Exactly. Yes. And the fact that there are a couple of Caribbean islands and some resorts in Tahiti and Thailand who are starting to advertise themselves as digital detox centers only adds to this, but this is to say that any beneficial activity can be turned into a status symbol. We’ve seen this with yoga, with organic food or sending your kid to a progressive school anything like this can be turned into a status symbol and I think that shouldn’t detract from recognizing a couple of things and one of them is that it’s totally reasonable to want to take a break from things that you love.
I love my kids but they’re at camp right now and when I get up in the morning I was thank God, they’re at camp. I’ll have them be on 50 weeks of the year. It’s cool to have a little break.
Oh, and see also my article on Pang’s book.
This week Chris Dancy and I interview Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul. We talked about contemplative computing, the history of meditation and more. Here’s a taste:
KF: One other thing I wanted to ask you about, Alex, it was one of the more surprising things in the book to me was that you pointed out that contemplative practices seem to have started somewhere between 800 and 200 BC as a response to colonialism, global trade and urbanization. That actually does kind of bring us back to that idea of the technologies that causes this sort of problem aren’t hammers and bows and arrows but they’re network technologies like social media comes back to that comparison of urbanization and economics and so forth. I would have thought those practices would still have developed much, much earlier in history so I was wondering if you’d talk a little bit about the research you did in that area of the history of contemplation.
ASP: There’s not a huge literature on this yet, I mean people definitely are working on it but I think that what’s distinctive about that period which historians of religion refer to as the Axial Age is that it’s the first time that contemplative practices stopped being a secret. They stopped doing things that are for initiates that are part of … It’s the first time that we begin to see people like Buddha arguing that these are and should be accessible to everyone. That they’re open, they’re public sort of in a sense that they go from or they continue to the network metaphor they go from being proprietary to being open source. Anyone can do them. Anyone can improve upon and add to them.
Oh, and see also my article on Pang’s book.
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.
Also: Watch for Pang on the next Mindful Cyborgs podcast!
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.
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.
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.
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.
See also: Defending Post-Modern Theory (As Always) by Adam Rothstein.
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!