Notes for ‘An Emergent I’ – Introduction, Notes #1: Hakuin Ekaku, Rinzai Zen, & Introspective/Embodied Meditation, & Notes #2: The Japanese Art and Way of Hara & Somatic Attention, rough notes v0.1 [pdf’s posted]

Note: “At the core is the view that the control of the somatic location of attention within the self could be a critical part of health and cognition.” This is the overarching theme of these notes, and should be testable with both animal and human experiments.

Here are all 3 parts as a single pdf:

Here are the first three pdfs as separate files, as well as the intro below:

Some quotations…..

‘Of the essentials of preserving life, nourishing the breath has no peer. When the breath is exhausted, the body dies, when the people are downtrodden, the nation collapses.’
Zen Master Hakuin Ekaku, Letter to a Sick Monk, 18th century Japan, Yampolsky translation.

‘This elixir field, located in the sea of vital energy, the lower back, the legs, the soles of the feet –  it is all my true and original face. How can that original face have nose holes?’
First line of the Naikan Koan, Zen Master Hakuin, Yasen Kanna (Appendix to Wild Ivy, Waddell Translation), 18th century Japan

‘Breathing to the heels: The true person of ancient times slept without dreaming and woke without care. Their food was plain. Their breathing was deep. The true person breathed to their heels. Most people breathe to their throats. Bent and tight, they quarrel and vomit words. Their desires are old and deep, but they are shallow when it comes to knowing the opportunities of heaven.’
Zhuangzei, one of the two founding books of Chinese Taoism along the Tao Te Ching, 4th century BC
(Translation in Story 44, ‘The wisdom of the Tao’, Deng Ming-Dao)

“As you breathe in, experience the whole body,
As you breathe out, experience the whole body.”

The Satipatthana Sutta’s meditation guidance, attributed to the Buddha in India.
Translation from ‘Breathing through the whole body’ by Will Johnson

“I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.”
Aldous Huxley

“Hence, you should stop searching for phrases and chasing after words. Take the backward step and turn the light inward. Your body-mind of itself will drop off and your original face will appear.”
Dogen, 13th Century Zen Master and Founder of the Soto school of Zen,  Recommending Zazen to all people

‘….. wanting good government in their states, they first established order in their own families; wanting order in the home, they first disciplined themselves.’
Confucius, born 551 BC, The Great Digest

Background to these notes

These research notes concern circle around some speculative ideas regarding the physiology of parts of how the brain and body are controlled, and a research project I have been undertaking on myself about things we might be missing in our current understanding of this, that led to me learning to see in 3D. Its mainly a collection of mostly forgotten historical observations from history, anthropology, zen, ethology, neuroscience etc. I thought it would be good to share some of this so others who might be interested can pick up threads, and also consolidate my thoughts. I mostly gathered these notes together from old notebooks during my easter break whilst pondering some questions, so they are not at all polished, and won’t make full sense until the rest is written. 

For the past 5 years I have become interested in some questions around different views of health, zen buddhism & eastern medicine, breathing, the brain:body connection, and their links to my neuroscience work. I hinted at this in the prologue to my book in 2018, a ‘Semi-Monocular I’ – “[My operation], and two other experiences around then, fundamentally changed my sense of self, my thoughts as a scientist, and ultimately this book….  We shall come to this question of embodiment and the mind:body link.” One of those experiences was seeing in 3D for the first time.

The narrative of my book (An Emergent I) in part concerns how I taught myself to see in 3 dimensions (having been born with a cataract) and largely cured an illness I had, that was thought to be genetic but never showed up in whole genome sequencing (prologue of book here). 

However, I figured it will be some time until I can write this up fully as I am currently preoccupied, so I thought I would post some of my notes in rough form now.

These are just a loosely organised set of notes (a small subset) that I intend to use to finish writing that book. This is not intended as a fully polished version or a clear narrative with lots of explanation and links to neuroscience – that will come later as much of it is strewn across various old notebooks, as will some of the specific experiments I think this hints at. Some of the most interesting parts (to me) of this journey relate to why the notes below (as well as others) held the secret to learning to see in 3D, and how I found this path, but that is for the book itself! I also need to learn to draw well to illustrate this properly, which I am trying to do……

(For any eager minded readers who have read the prologue to my memoir, think why the mental habit I described on page 9/10 of the pdf version of ‘A semi-monocular I’, of consciously correcting the displacement between my two eyes, would lead to sickness if the bulk of the thoughts in the notes below are true, and why learning to see in 3D would correct this sickness.)

This is the first of at least 10 sets of notes in this area, which I will then combine, along with neuroscience & AI notes, with my own story of learning to see in 3D, and experimental predictions, in my book. They are one narrative.

At the core is the view that the control of the somatic location of attention within the self could be a critical part of health and cognition.

A couple comments, in part to try to assuage concerns I have gone completely mental in posting this…..

  1. First, these are just notes and not intended to be compelling/scientific yet. One must venture to the edges to see where the center might need to go to find explanations for experiences that current paradigms don’t explain well.
  1. Second, we explore things which appear at face value to make little sense in terms of modern science, but are conserved across several traditions. Its worth noting that practices like fasting are conserved across many traditions from millenia ago, but until recently were ridiculed or at least dismissed by western science. Now fasting’s effects for health are being unravelled. Likewise with meditation (currently largely) for mental health. I think the same may be true of some of the historical practices/methods in this series of notes – they offer experiences potentially hinting at as-yet unknown mechanisms in Physiology – per Da Vinci: ‘Although nature commences with reason and ends in experience it is necessary for us to do the opposite, that is to commence with experience and from this to proceed to investigate the reason.” We have largely forgotten the notion of consilience in science, that multiple independent sources converging on similar conclusions is itself evidence absent any single piece being ‘scientific’. I’ll post notes on later on causal inference, especially in the context of the COVID19 pandemic.

As you cannot see the value of controlling the breath without practicing meditating for some time, so too I think with these practices. Some may be false paths, but some might lead to something interesting. I don’t claim any of it is true yet, experiments are needed! But just because something does not fit in our current scientific paradigm does not mean it is not true. This also hits on different epistemological approaches in east and west:  ‘What is meant by eastern wisdom is never a mere condensation of theoretical knowledge but the fruit of ripe experience, confirmed and proved by faithful, patient practice.’ (pg. 9, Durckheim). I intend to make as much of it scientific as truth allows, but this will take time, and other endeavours exist also…..

These notes are disorganised, incomplete, partly redundant – some parts could equally well go in other sections/other note collections for instance. This is for use in writing a book, legible enough for me to read whenever I can immerse myself in said pursuit… throughout the text, sections in photos highlighted with pencil are usually the parts to be read. This text is not meant to be well written – no attempt to have a strong narrative, control tension etc I made.

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