In which our hero speaks quite slowly about some of our other heroes.
Podcast: Buddhism and cognitivism
This is a 19 minute audio monologue about the intellectual history of some interactions between Buddhism and cognitive science, prompted by a blog discussion of doubts about modern meditation systems.
It’s a podcast, sort of? It’s an experiment… I deliver pedantic rambles like this practically every day, hours in a row sometimes. Rin’dzinrecently started recording some and encouraging me to make them public. I’m reluctant because I want to be careful, and when I’m ranting off-the-cuff I say things that are false and/or offensive. On the other hand, I often cover material that’s unusual and could be useful or interesting for someone, and which I’m never going to have time to write up properly.
You can listen to the audio file here or download it. I haven’t uploaded it to any of the podcast clouds yet because who knows how that works. If it’s a problem for you that it’s here, not there, please let me know!
- Evan Thompson
- Tom Wooldridge’s posts expressing doubts about contemporary Theravada-derived meditation: 1, 2, 3. These are the ones Thompson responded to. I have expressed similar doubts before, and I think investigating them is important, particularly considering how many people are adopting such practices.
- Thompson’s blog comments that prompted this podcast: 1, 2. I agree with the points he makes here. Most of the monologue is not about this though; it was prompted by the question “who is Evan Thompson,” for which the answer is “I don’t really know, but here is some of his intellectual lineage.” I did get to the meditation issues near the end.
- Daniel Ingram’s reply to Wooldridge
- The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience by Varela, Thompson, and Rosch. Originally published 1991; revised 2016. Since the recording, I’ve read Thompson’s new introduction to the revised edition; it addresses and clarifies many of the points discussed both in the Wooldridge/Ingram dialog and in my audio piece. It also suggests that my speculations about a student/teacher relationship between Thompson and Rosch were completely mistaken; he was a student of Varela, not hers. Also also Thompson seems to be much more in the Continental, phenomenological philosophical tradition than the analytic one; I had misremembered that.
- Eleanor Rosch
- Prototype theory, Rosch’s main intellectual contribution
- Francisco Varela. I mischaracterized him as a “hardcore cyberneticist.” He was actually a neurophysiologist primarily; a student of Torsten Wiesel, who with David Hubel founded modern neuroscience.
- Humberto Maturana
- Maturana and Varela, The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding. Originally published in 1984 (I misremembered late 1970s); revised in 1992.
- Phil Agre
- “Abstract Reasoning as Emergent from Concrete Activity” by Phil and me. Probably our work most relevant to the topic of the monologue; 1986
- Computation and Human Experience, Phil’s main book; 1996 although a revised version of his 1989 PhD thesis.
- Shambhala Training, a system of secular Vajrayana meditation founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. I forgot to mention in the monologue that Shambhala Training was explicitly modeled in form (although mostly not in content) on Werner Erhard’s est.
- Ngakma Zér-mé Dri’mèd
- Gregory Bateson. I said he was influenced by Buddhism, but a quick web search suggests that’s wrong. Many American Buddhists were influenced by him, though!
- Fernando Flores
- Salvador Allende. The role of the CIA in the coup against him seems to be more complicated and historically contested than I remembered.
- Stafford Beer
- Project Cybersyn, Flores and Beer’s economic automation system
- Terry Winograd
- Winograd and Flores, Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design
- Hubert Dreyfus
- Dreyfus’ influence on Phil and me
- Dreyfus, What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason
- Dreyfus, Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger’s Being and Time, Division I
- Martin Heidegger
- Buddhist and Taoist influences on Heidegger. I learned after recording that this was the subject of Thompson’s undergraduate thesis, which led to his working with Varela.
- Werner Erhard
- The Landmark Forum
- Rin’dzin’s blog series on Culadasa’s The Mind Illuminated. Rin’dzin has been practicing this modern Theravada-derived meditation system in order to compare it with Vajrayana, and writing about the experience. This project is motivated partly by the same concerns expressed by Wooldridge and Thompson. As of the date of posting this monologue, that is only foreshadowed, but eventually the series expects to address them squarely.
- Robert Sharf
- Sharf, “Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience.” This 1995 paper was a major inspiration for my writing on Buddhist modernism. Evan Thompson cites it in the blog comment that somewhat tangentially sparked this podcast.
- “Theravada reinvents meditation,” my history of modern meditation systems, the topic Wooldridge, Thompson, and Ingram discuss. 2011
- Abhidhamma. “Ten valleys of dry bones.”
- Thomas McEvilley, The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies. “The history is certainly shaky if not outright crackpot.” It’s fascinating, though, and I find some parts of it convincing.