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All problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone (2014) (theguardian.com)
826 points by chesterfield 28 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 446 comments

This quote comes from Blaise Pascal's Pensées, accessible here.

"That is why we like noise and activity so much. That is why imprisonment is such a horrific punishment. That is why the pleasure of being alone is incomprehensible. That is, in fact, the main joy of the condition of kingship, because people are constantly trying to amuse kings and provide them with all sorts of distraction.—The king is surrounded by people whose only thought is to entertain him and prevent him from thinking about himself. King though he may be, he is unhappy if he thinks about it"


That has a lot of resonance for me. In this modern age, we are all kings, and there are vast industries to save us from ever being alone from our thoughts.

For December, I quit sugar, social media, and video games. It's been really interesting to notice what state I'm in when I go to reach for those things. Sometimes it's just habit, but often it's because I'm uncomfortable or in distress and want to avoid those feelings. But indulging in those things often just kicks the problem down the road.

Indeed, breaking my social media habits reminds me of Oscar Wilde talking about cigarettes: "A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?" The same for me is definitely true with Twitter and Facebook. An infinite feed of shiny, entertaining, funny, and outraging things, but almost nothing that's ever satisfying.

If you are commenting here, you haven't really quit "social media".

How helpful to have a person who knows nothing about my situation police my behaviors because of a vague congruence and an apparent desire to score internet points.

No, for the purposes of what I'm doing, HN was not included in that. From my perspective, HN isn't really designed for addiction in the same way. No personalized, UAM-optimized algorithmic feed, no infinite river of small content bites, no rich mechanisms for interaction. And, very importantly, it has the noprocrast feature, which I long ago set to low usage levels.

And as others point out, it's not like I took some sort of vow of internet chastity to a god who will now smite me because I looked at HN. The point was to partially undo some bad habits that had built up during the election cycle. I'll often make some 1-month change at the beginning of the month. For me it's valuable mainly as self-experiment and a way of getting back to some baseline.

"From my perspective, HN isn't really designed for addiction in the same way."

I mean, it's fine that you feel this way, and you are probably correct - it wasn't designed for it. But I suspect for a lot of us , me included, it serves that exact purpose. I post so that strangers on the internet read it and give me likes. I compulsively check my comments section on my account to see how many upvotes my comments have. Every time I see my total Upvote count go up, I get excited and I rush to see who has agreed with me again. If it goes down I immediately get angry and defensive that someone is downvoting what I said. And surely, you participate in the same process, even if you don't feel as strongly about it - otherwise, why are you replying to strangers that you are unlikely to ever meet or speak to again?

It might not have been designed this way but it's exactly what it is. And clearly upvote/downvote system didn't happen by an accident, it's there for a reason.

>And clearly upvote/downvote system didn't happen by an accident, it's there for a reason.

This system has been corrupted on websites like reddit to become a "like" system, but outside of very divisive political topics it still works mostly as intended on HN: they moderate bad contributions, not stuff people disagree with.

You can actually observe this in this very thread so far: while people express opposite viewpoints at this moment none of the comment are in the negative. I'm sure that on Reddit the hivemind would've decided what the Right Opinion(tm) would be and people disagreeing would be sitting at -200 comment score.

Maybe the system could be pushed further and hide the scores even for your own comments though, removing all gamification. I don't know if it would improve things but I'd be curious to see how it would impact the quality of the discourse.

>otherwise, why are you replying to strangers that you are unlikely to ever meet or speak to again?

I mean even on forums/mailing lists/newsgroups/BBSs/imageboards without scoring system (or even publicly identifiable accounts) people would do the same thing, so I think that you overestimate the influence of the scoring system. I guess the closest equivalent on these other forums in general is getting "replies", i.e. engagement with your content, which I suppose is what we really crave in the end. We want people to listen to us.

Beyond that HN does have a few huge quality advantages over other social media. A big one is that the focus is still on textual content, not images and videos which means that you have to take some time to digest every story instead of mindlessly scrolling through the main page one gif at a time.

>This system has been corrupted on websites like reddit to become a "like" system, but outside of very divisive political topics it still works mostly as intended on HN: they moderate bad contributions, not stuff people disagree with. //

Disagree, a lot.

I've railed against it, but pg (the site owner) noted that voting as a proxy for like/dislike was not improper use on HN, much to my chagrin. In the early days (of my use, back on my first HN account) voting seemed mostly to be done to move a comment to it's "proper place".

Nowadays very good comments get greyed to non-readability. I find myself so often vouching for things I disagree with because comments that add well structured, logical, or interesting thoughts get voted out of view because they go against the group norms.

> This system has been corrupted on websites like reddit to become a "like" system, but outside of very divisive political topics it still works mostly as intended on HN: they moderate bad contributions, not stuff people disagree with.

A lot of people seemed to have liked (do like?) the system that Slashdot came up with: choose a random group of people every day and give them moderator posts to police the discussions. However, if you post in that day you lose your moderator points.

They seem to have gone with a wisdom-of-the-subset-of-the-crowds instead of a wisdom-of-the-entire-crowd/mob.

Newsgroups had scoring.

> Newsgroups had scoring.

News readers had scoring. Neither the NNTP protocol, nor NNTP servers, had a scoring mechanism, and certainly not one that was distributed over the world-wide Usenet infrastructure.

If you think otherwise, can you point to (e.g.) an RFC where it is documented?

I didn’t use newsgroups a huge amount, but certainly some, and none of the clients I used ever had scoring. So to me, newsgroups were completely devoid of ranking.

As mentioned earlier, engagement seemed to be the goal. And the newsgroups I frequented were usually about getting help with a tech problem, or helping someone else out, which has largely been replaced by Stack Overflow.

> And surely, you participate in the same process, even if you don't feel as strongly about it - otherwise, why are you replying to strangers that you are unlikely to ever meet or speak to again?

Why not? Do you not value discussion, hearing new ideas, learning new concepts, having a soundboard for your thoughts? I also like sharing knowledge and participation in the process of humanity developing its collective memeplex (or at least fooling myself that I'm doing that). The fact that I'm not going to meet the people I discuss with has no bearing at all.

While what you describe in your comment is a factor, I cannot agree the rush is the dominant factor for commenting for me.

>>Why not? Do you not value discussion, hearing new ideas, learning new concepts, having a soundboard for your thoughts

I do, but ultimately, I post because I want someone else to read what I said and comment on it(good or bad). It triggers the same release of oxitocin in my brain that seeing likes on a post does.

Sure. I agree it has addiction potential, which is why I have the noprocrast feature turned on, and have for years. And clearly a lot of people get there "someone is wrong in the internet" fix here. But it wasn't a problem for me in the months of the election, so I didn't have the same need to quit it. Ergo I didn't.

As to the design question, I think the biggest things it's missing for me versus modern social networks in terms of addiction potential: 1) river-of-content setup; 2) algorithmic feed with personalized engagement; 3) images; 4) video; 5) wide topic variety; 6) follow graph; 7) real-world social connections in the platform; 8) on-platform notifications; 9) on-phone notifications.

> why are you replying to strangers that you are unlikely to ever meet

For me this platform is as close as I have to discussing things with my profession. So both with my professional Twitter account and this account, I see it as an opportunity to influence my field a bit and support younger colleagues where I can. Were it not for that, I'd just consume it in a read-only way, as over the years I've come to see on-line argumentation as unhealthy for me.

> clearly upvote/downvote system didn't happen by an accident, it's there for a reason

It encourages and prominently displays good quality comments, and discourages and buries poor quality comments. It's not a perfect system as a lot of people vote based on whether they happen to agree rather than based on a comment's quality, but it's much better than nothing.

> It encourages and prominently displays good quality comments, and discourages and buries poor quality comments. It's not a perfect system as a lot of people vote based on whether they happen to agree rather than based on a comment's quality, but it's much better than nothing.

Mostly. There is an unconscious hive mind on HN too, and it downvotes when you disagree with it. It just happens that most commenters belong to it, at least most of the time.

The same effect would be achieved without showing the numbers though. That's where the addiction comes in.

I don't see the numbers on HN? Which is why it is less addictive to me than Reddit. I also lurked for nearly 2 years, as I was concerned about diluting conversations with low quality, unnecessary posts, which are far less frequent on HN than Reddit.

edit: Now I see the numbers. The quality of posts is still far better than Reddit and the interactions less addictive, at least in my experience.

There's still value in knowing the scores though. When it works, it encourages better conversation, and this effect might be weakened if you couldn't see your comments' scores.

Slashdot's approach is to have different kinds of upvote (Insightful, Funny, etc) and different kinds of downvote (Off-topic, Flamebait, etc), and scores are clamped, iirc the lowest value is -1 and the highest is +5.


> otherwise, why are you replying to strangers that you are unlikely to ever meet or speak to again?

The act of writing out your thoughts gives them added clarity. This holds for long(er)-form comment-based sites such as HN and Reddit, not so much for FB and Twitter.

I also left every social media stuff behind. But I consider being on HN and reading some comments here and there as practicing basic human behavior. Its the same in real life, I cant just leave all human interaction behind. I must be able to deal with people. I think I can practice this a little.

I realized the aforementioned, checking my points and who responded what to my thoughts. I actually made an adblock rule to block out my points. So I dont get that rush, because I realized that too, that everytime I arrive at HN, I just checked my points, and if it were more than before, I felt the rush. And I just knew it was bad, and that is not indeed what I come for to this site.

Didn't know HN could lead to this type of addiction.

I use it only as a news delivery system, and in there there's already pathological signs - for instance I rarely skip reading anything that pushbullet displays. And if by accident I "brush it aside" (literally), then I open the app and recover the link.

Kudos for your self-awareness. Have a squirt of dopamine^W^W^W upvote. ;)

I have noticed the same reactions myself, and dislike them. I am slowly and gradually learning to be able to deflect that angry defensive reply impulse. Simple awareness seems to be the first step. I don't know yet what to do about the upvote thrill.

When you first open hacker news, where are your eyes? Are they in the upper right, checking your comment score?

HN is addictive for me, similar to Instagram and TikTok for others.

business only policy, during 9-5. no news/socialmedia, cannot discuss irrelevant issues with my cofounder. Otherwise, I can go into rabbit holes for hours to research certain topic if my brain thinks that it is interesting.

HN is for me in a sense the "front page" of the internet. I'll call it the thinking persons social media. Social? Check. We are here interacting. Media? Check. It's HN's raison d'être. Additive? Check. I check my up-vote score several times a day.

I gave you 1 internet point for this.

Feels familiar, but I'm still in control. Much like with alcohol.

I'm not trying to be judgmental, but I believe it might be worth it for you to re-evaluate some activities to assess what they really are at their core if you're pursuing mindfulness in time spending. Not acknowledging things for what they are can hold you back.

Just because HN doesn't have formal attributes of addictive social media like tailored feeds, shiny pictures, endless scrolling, etc., it doesn't mean that it's very different. I'm saying that, because I managed to get rid of almost all addictive sites, but HN sticks, and I still spend far more time here than I'd like to admit. If you look at it closer: this is an _endless_ list of _news_ with _a lot_ of _comments_ from your _peers_ that you _engage_ with. If you take words in italic it's obvious that this is exactly what makes other social media addictive. "News" and "peers" are the most important words here of course.

In a way, I believe sites like HN are even worse than others because they are somewhat disguised. I shrug FB, twitter and instagram easily (never actually even got into them), Reddit was harder but their stupid redesign made it much easier, HN sill stands for me.

So let me get this straight, you 1. Come in bragging about how self-disciplined you are for not using social media on a social media platform and then 2. Get very defensive when someone points it out to you and 3. Assume the only possible reason anyone could disagree with you is that they’re trying to get internet points?

I think you may need to add a few more months to this social media cleanse...

> an apparent desire to score Internet points.

Like in a social media you mean?.. :)

I’m not sure there are « good » and « bad » platforms. It’s not about the platform, it’s about our usage.

This otherwise insightful response would have been more persuasive and effective without the first paragraph.

HN to me at least is an place I actively go towards when I have the time and I want to. I don't believe in dogmatism, if you want to reduce the impact social media has on you, just reduce your usage. You don't have to become a recluse and you won't become a heretic for going to social media once in a while, if you make it a conscious choice.

Just like that if you want to eat less meat because of the environment, just eat less meat. If you eat selected meat once in a while on selected occasions this won't make you a heretic, because you are still reaching your goal of reducing your impact on the environment etc.

The people who say "if you want to reduce X you are a heretic if you don't abstain 100% from using X" are projecting their own lack of dicipline onto others — they feel they wouldn't have the discipline to do it, but also realise it would be good for them to have it. So they have to invent an excuse why this is a goal that cannot be reached, not worth reaching etc.

Being a free thinking and acting person fundamentally means also to notice when you are manipulating yourself by making your thinking fit the image you already have of the world. I for example often fall into the trap of "if I can't do it perfectly it might not be worth doing at all", and because I know that, I try to work against it.

So what your comment does here is undermining another people's effort to be in control of their social media environment. Why you deem such an act necessary should be something you should know yourself.

People have tried to define what social media is. Rather than responding immediately I tried to think about what makes places like Facebook and Twitter so toxic.

For some context I don't consider things like forums to be social media. As an early internet denizen I had lots of thoughtful discourse with folks that reminds me of what I experience at HN. I continue to use IRC, which I also don't consider to be social media.

So what makes them different? I think it's the underlying technology. The graph, our ability to search it and correlate immediate (mostly irrelevant) commonality is what makes things dangerous.

Humans are full of dumb or awful thoughts. They'll combat these ideas or thoughts with alternatives regularly which end up referring to as cognitive dissonance. The result is that these lesser ideas widdle away or drop off completely. On social media, the graph doesn't forget and continues to tie you to people, ideas, and thoughts that are increasingly useless. While this sells ads and generates interest in new products it doesn't align well to the way humans have discourse, socialize, or just relate in general.

That to say, HN isn't social media to me.

While I agree, I personally give HN a pass due to the fact that conversation is typically better here and the fact that it's technically focused.

HN is also in a strange category for me.

The articles and the conversations are better quality than on any other social media with the added bonus that what I read is relevant for my daily job and career.

At the same time, it's still distracting, I almost never finish an article and go straight to the comments, thinking "entertain me, comment section". I feel productive, but in reality, it's superficial knowledge, and spending time here is time I don't spend on actually working on my goals.

In the end, it's all about balancing the pros and cons. For Facebook, Instagram, it's easy, I don't use them. For Twitter, I focus exclusively on tech so that I don't end up in a pointless yet vicious fight. For HN, it's spending 10 minutes on the top articles, keeping up with important industry news every second day.

I feel the same way.

I've spent countless hours in the last ~5 years on reading seemingly useful articles, and comment sections.

I cannot pinpoint even one instance where anything helped me IRL.

Something might've helped indirectly, but the connection is not clear.

Does it need to be a "direct" benefit? I think sometimes the things we do out of our own volition shape ourselves not only directly but also indirectly.

As a personal example, I have noticed how my way of discussing heated topics has changed based on discourse I have seen here.

And this would not have happened if I didn't invest time similar to yourself.

Yes in your case you identified a specific way to improve your communication skills by immersing yourself in the HN environment.

This is a hit or miss though, because you either identify specific ways to improve or not, and you may or may not actually improve those identified skills by reading trough the comments (and not taking action).

If improvement is the goal, then there are more efficient ways to eg. learn better ways to discuss heated topics (like reading a specific book on the topic, or attending a "Nonviolent Communication" workshop).

The more I think about this the more HN only seems like a place to get a specific flavour of entertainment (which I personally like), but nothing more.

It’s still a random search for new information, distraction, entertainment.

Yes, but random search for information is not always a bad thing. There's a time for exploration.

I agree. HN is net positive for me over the many years I’ve been around. But if you want to cut social media, you probably should include HN ;)

At some point I decided that abandoning social media as a whole would be a tremendous task because of years of being 'trained' by tech... Now I separate useful and useless social media. Shaping my perspective this way helps regulate my Internet use a lot.

I think if you're disciplined in your HN use - like, check the front page twice a day, not a few times an hour - then it's basically a community-curated newspaper. And while newspapers may not be particularly healthy, they're probably better than most social media.

HN content tends to be longer-form which I feel is quite different from the typical infinite scrolling for quick dopamine hits on sites like Reddit or Twitter or Facebook.

Isn't reading a book the same, by this definition? You could say that when picking up a book you do control the topic (while in social media it is others), but this is an illusion if you do not read that book for the second time.

HN has no user/private profile bubble which is the distinctive feature of social networks in my opinion.

Less so now but the whole site used to be a filter bubble of people in tech/science or with tech/science interests. It was actually a fairly positive filter though since it resulted in some very interesting content being surfaced. It still stands head and shoulders above the rest but there has certainly been some decline in recent years. In its early days, Reddit was much the same but suffered a massive decline after becoming the "front page of the internet". All "free as in beer" communities seem to follow a similar progression, those with stronger gatekeeping tend to last longer but no site can survive an overwhelming influx of new users without a proportionate increase in the ability to educate those users in the norms of the group they are joining.

But you can get the same addiction to likes (upvote count) as you'd get on a "real" social platform.

HN has never sent me a notification.

Neither has Facebook, reddit or any other social media I use. That doesn't seem like a meaningful distinction.

Their whole model is built around getting people's attention by making them addicted to notifications.

If you disable the notifications, that's good for you. But you're a small exceptional minority.

HN afaik has no such feature at all.

How did you know that XorNot replied to your previous comment?

Notifications, addictive design and gamification are really bad practices that we should try to avoid - but the underlying drug of social media is that someone noticed and reacted to your content, and HN provides that just like Facebook or Twitter.

Most people on here and Reddit are lurkers. They still keep coming back even though the see no tasty upvotes.

I think all three of you are actually hitting the nail on the head. Large headed nail I suppose ;) Take ne as an example. I could've had a really low user number on Slashdot if I had registered right away. I never actually did but I read Slashdot for many many many years.

I turn off notifications on my phone for almost any app. It's just way too annoying. I'll get to it when I get to it! I guess I'm part of that minority mentioned above but as you say I do keep coming back too. It's not black and white but we can stay on the healthy side.

If I try to find an analogy, it's the difference between sitting by the fire in the evening and chatting with other people vs. spending the entire day running around listening to and actively spreading rumors.

You check the Threads link in the HN header.

You are a dunce if you think anonymous comments on a page is social media in the same way Facebook or Twitter are.

Who made you the judge?

I don’t consider HN to be social media anymore than a discussion forum on gardening is social media.

HN is not a SV startup selling ads spying on you manipulating your behaviour to sell crap or breaking democracy or depressing teenagers into suicide, it’s just not comparable and these false equivalences are just so tiring. Stop trying to bring other people down.

> In this modern age, we are all kings, and there are vast industries to save us from ever being alone from our thoughts.

Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit religious order, set up a daily ritual to help keep himself (and those in the order) centred:

> To help me remember the five steps, I like to use a 5-Rs mnemonic:

> Relish the moments that went well and all of the gifts I have today.

> Request the Spirit to lead me through my review of the day.

> Review the day.

> Repent of any mistakes or failures.

> Resolve, in concrete ways, to live tomorrow well.

* https://www.loyolapress.com/catholic-resources/ignatian-spir...

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_Exercises_of_Ignatiu...

If you go online you can probably find a Jesuit retreat centre not too far from you where you can spend (say) eight days in total silence and seclusion; you can optionally (though recommended) talk with a spiritual director once a day to help you sort through anything that bubbles up during your stay.

The BBC had a short doc where a bunch of random men and women went through the exercise (episodes are available online if you search):

* https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2117584/

Perhaps worthwhile, even if that is not your particular worldview.

(This is separate than what monks do, which is seclusion from the world.)

Most faiths in the world have spiritual traditions where silence and reflection are done. Probably possible to find similar retreat centres following their traditions. It seems that it is only the modern secular worldview that hasn't adopted something (yet?). I think this is something most modern philosophical worldviews (especially in the materialist bend) overlook: human 'spiritually' (for lack of a better word).

Thank you. I have had friends, none Buddhist, attend Vipassana retreats that are similar. No phone, computer, media, or conversation for a week or a weekend, just a focus on silent meditation. And an absence of religious trappings, so suitable for both devout Christians and atheists. They all told me it is very challenging and a good look at themselves and their cravings for interaction. I don't doubt it.

Fun to see the spiritual exercises on hn. I did a 4-day version at one point. It was wonderful.

> That has a lot of resonance for me. In this modern age, we are all kings, and there are vast industries to save us from ever being alone from our thoughts.

very valuable quote

> The same for me is definitely true with Twitter and Facebook. An infinite feed of shiny, entertaining, funny, and outraging things, but almost nothing that's ever satisfying.

Facebook has been making it pretty easy for me to quit - it's mostly been an unending stream of boring advertisements with maybe one or two meaningful posts from friends.

Have you noticed any changes?

Definitely, but they're commingled with the other change I made: minimum 10k steps per day. My mood and energy levels have been much better. I also find myself getting more done, because instead of turning to some disposable distraction, I'll get usefully bored. E.g., things around me are cleaner, I've read more long-form stuff, and I've called more friends on the phone than I otherwise have lately.

Those are the "empty(/bad) calories for the mind".

It's akin to eating processed snacks when you're hungry, instead of nutrient whole foods

I want to pay $20/month for something like highscalability.com It hits 80% of the stories I cared about during the week and I get them in 30-40 minutes on a Friday. I don't think this type of service exists because it would have to intentionally limit the growth of the company. When someone asked for a daily update / hourly update / or news feed you would have to say no. And a competitor may emerge that makes more money and eventually tries to buy you.

Just a bit more on why Pascal thought even a king is unhappy when he thinks about himself:

Whatever condition we picture to ourselves, if we muster all the good things which it is possible to possess, royalty is the finest position in the world. Yet, when we imagine a king attended with every pleasure he can feel, if he be without diversion, and be left to consider and reflect on what he is, this feeble happiness will not sustain him; he will necessarily fall into forebodings of dangers, of revolutions which may happen, and, finally, of death and inevitable disease; so that if he be without what is called diversion, he is unhappy, and more unhappy than the least of his subjects who plays and diverts himself.

Hence it comes that play and the society of women, war, and high posts, are so sought after. Not that there is in fact any happiness in them, or that men imagine true bliss to consist in money won at play, or in the hare which they hunt; we would not take these as a gift. We do not seek that easy and peaceful lot which permits us to think of our unhappy condition, nor the dangers of war, nor the labour of office, but the bustle which averts these thoughts of ours, and amuses us.

Reasons why we like the chase better than the quarry.

Hence it comes that men so much love noise and stir; hence it comes that the prison is so horrible a punishment; hence it comes that the pleasure of solitude is a thing incomprehensible. And it is in fact the greatest source of happiness in the condition of kings, that men try incessantly to divert them, and to procure for them all kinds of pleasures.

The king is surrounded by persons whose only thought is to divert the king, and to prevent his thinking of self. For he is unhappy, king though he be, if he think of himself.

This is all that men have been able to discover to make themselves happy. And those who philosophise on the matter, and who think men unreasonable for spending a whole day in chasing a hare which they would not have bought, scarce know our nature. The hare in itself would not screen us from the sight of death and calamities; but the chase which turns away our attention from these, does screen us.

As a Muslim, I pray five times a day, and of late I have begun to perform it "better", as in unshackling myself from worldly thoughts and other mental distractions. I attach zero importance to them and I remind myself that this صلاة (prayer) that I am doing alone deserves any importance, to the exclusion of all others. Thoughts used to come to me to try and induce panic in me, but overtime they have become so feeble that I am no longer aware of them.

And talking about the kings, one of the pious said : “If the kings and the children of the kings knew what [felicity] we are in, they would fight us over it with their swords.”

I don't think what Pascal is trying to get through is that we should numb ourself to inner thoughts. On the contrary, to acknowldege them and if anything, spend more time contemplating. That is when we can learn about ourself, others, and the universe, if I may say.

Working from home this entire year, I have tried to practice taking at least 15 minutes everyday, couple of times a day, laying down and just listening to my thoughts, understanding my anxieties. Trying to understand why I feel the way I do, instead of running away from them by distracting myself by various means.

This new habit of mine truly has been a life saver in this year.

Pascal is throwing light and expounding upon a weakness found in (most) people, that of depending on distractions to prevent themselves from dwelling on thoughts which remind them of their mortal nature.

I didn't read his works enough, none apart from the above quote in fact, to comment on whether or not he recommends acknowledging our inner thoughts and contemplating on them.

As for me, I feel real and lasting relief from worshipping Allaah. It's something very tangible and enlightening. It might seem counterintuitive, but it does boost my productivity a lot, even though I ignore thinking about work during prayer.

Now, having belief in Allaah has its manifest benefits. I am happy as I write this. I am able to keep afloat a bit in trying times. I was able to come out of depression (and quite a few other mental illnesses). None of it I could achieve except by Allaah's help.

When I used to go to hospital for psychiatric treatment, the doctor used to advise me that whenever I feel anxious, I lie down on a bed, relax and think of some beautiful place, in order to ward off the bad feelings. So, even the best advice the doctor could give me was this.

And what better place to think of than Paradise?

What Pascal was explicit in saying is that there is no inherent happiness in material possessions. But if you know that there is a life after death, that there is a Paradise and a Hell, that there is a Merciful God who, if you believe in Him and obey Him, will reward you for you good deeds and forgive your bad deeds, you will be humble, you will be hopeful, and you will be happy.

I feel I’m already in paradise, and I didn’t have die to get here.

You have to die one day in your paradise, and the Paradise I am talking about, you don't die after entering it.

I think it’s okay to die. As Stevenson once put it:

Under the wide and starry sky,

    Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,

    And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:

    Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,

    And the hunter home from the hill.

- Robert Louis Stevenson

But there’s Judgment Day after it.

How do you know?

“it came to me”

From your parents or upbringing? People have an unfortunate tendency to stick to the most illogical things they learn as children.

"the Paradise I am talking about, you don't die after entering it"

Not every religion considers eternal life desirable. In some forms of Buddhism and Hinduism, for example, the ultimate goal is to leave the cycle of death and rebirth.. not in to paradise, but in to nothingness.

Such religions will also never be able to tell you what they are actually about. :)

The truly vast amount of literature on both Buddhism and Hinduism argue to the contrary.

Also, the ultimate reality in Buddhism, Hinduism, and (incidentally) mystic forms of Islam, is often described as being beyond words and even beyond conception, so there is a limited amount that could be said about it in ordinary language -- though that hasn't stopped people from trying.

In Buddhism one often hears the teachings described as the finger pointing towards the moon. Language may be inadequate to describe ultimate reality, but it can point to it.

As a Muslim, I can assure you there’s no such thing as mystic Islam. Islam is foremost about clarity, simplicity and straightforwardness in its message of pure monotheism. It does not seek to lure people by mesmerising them with incomprehensible riddles. It hides nothing.

The so called mystic Islam also known as Sufism, is a deviant sect, and is fundamentally a gateway to polytheism, as it borrows many practices from polytheistic religions. In fact, many of the famous ancient sufis have roots in India, where paganism and idol worshipping was and is still prevalent. Hence sufis are adored by Hindus.

I hope i could be clear to you

Who decides what orthodox Islam and what is heresy?

You'll find Sunnis who think Shiites are heretics, and Shiites who think Sunnis are heretics, and both are major branches of Islam.

Of course you'll find both Sunnis and Shiites who think Sufis are heretics, and Sufis who think Sunnis and Shiites are heretics (or at least don't understand the true or secret meaning of the Koran or of Islam).

And does the Koran have a secret meaning, or only a surface meaning? This important question itself is also a matter of opinion and will differ based on who you ask.

There have also been mystics in Islam apart from the Sufis: Avicenna, the Ismailis, and Alawites spring to mind.

As a non-Muslim, when I see the members of these sects disagree with one another as to who is a "true Muslim" or what is or isn't Islam, what reason do I have for believing any one of them over the others?

Their appeals to scripture, lineage, famous commentators and the like are not very convincing both because as a non-Muslim I have no reason to believe in any of them and because you can easily find other people who claim to be Muslims making pretty much the same appeals in support of completely different conclusions.

At this point in my life, anyone who considers the Koran their central scripture is a Muslim in my eyes.

If you have a better definition that doesn't rely on appeals to scripture, to lineage, nor to the authority of some person, I'd love to hear it.

You are correct in assuming that whoever takes the Qur-aan as the central scripture is a Muslim. That’s really all that is to it. I will just add a bit of a historical background. You can read the Prophet’s history to best judge what Islam he brought.

I will start from the basics:

The fundamental word of Islam, the one word which differentiates between who is a Muslim and who is not is the well known Kalima (كلمة) of Islam, La ilaha illallaah. Which translates to there is none worthy of worship except Allaah. This statement encapsulates the entire monotheistic creed of Islam in it. It is the pivot of any Muslim’s religion. A Muslim strives to preserve this statement in his heart while believing in it. He does this by trying to ensure harmony in his speech and his deeds.

One who lacks firm belief in his heart in this word, is a weaker believer than one who has firm belief, even though both might utter the word in the same manner.

Though we can’t see what the heart contains and hence we can’t normally judge a person’s level of faith, his outward actions, to an extent, do communicate his level of belief. So much about this word.

The one who brought this word to the people was a man called Muhammad (upon him be peace) over 14 centuries ago. The people who he first invited to his religion were the people of of his birthplace, the city of Makkah. His people were originally on the religion of Abraham, worshipping the One God of all that exists, Allaah. But in due course of time, they forgot the truth and started worshiping idols.

So Muhammad (upon him be peace) was sent to them as Messenger by Allaah, just as Messengers from among men were sent by Allaah to earlier people, in order to warn them about the consequences of idol worship and to call them to the worship of the true God, Allaah. Some Messengers which were sent before him were Noah, Lot, Moses, Jonah, Jesus, all mentioned in the Bible and Qur-aan.

Muhammad (upon him be peace), warned the people of eternal hell if they did not believe in his Message and desist from idol worship. And he promised Paradise for whoever believed in him and acted upon what he commanded.

His Prophetic Mission lasted 23 years, of which the first 13 were spent in Makkah and the last 10 were in Madinah. He was made a Messenger at the age of 40, and he dies at the age of 63.

Throughout his mission, Allaah sent the Verses of His Book, Al -Qur-aan to guide him and his followers, gradually teaching them the rituals of prayer, charity, pilgrimage. As the Messenger (upon him be peace) and his followers were the subject of great deal of ridicule and torture, Allaah, in these Verses, also supported them and encouraged them. Allaah also taught His Messenger how to present his Message to people in the elegant way.

That’s all I could muster. Wish you best.

>The so called mystic Islam also known as Sufism, is a deviant sect, and is fundamentally a gateway to polytheism, as it borrows many practices from polytheistic religions.

This illustrates that you have a fundamentalist streak in you: you've described a form of Islam you don't like as being "deviant". You're gatekeeping Islam.

I kept reading your comments above till reach here. Your knowledge about Autism is pretty narrow and region-centric. No one considers taking drugs and shaking as Sufiism. It's opposite of that. Sufism is all about self discovery and connecting to God with Dikr. The Dikr as described as in Quran as satisfaction of heart.

Try to read the biography of the Prophet (upon him be peace) to know what his message was.

Sufism is a later invention.

LOL. I loved it when ppl assume others are ignorant. Why and how did you assume I haven't? I have read multiple, in Urdu And english. You didn't read what I said. Your knowledge of Suffism is narrow and wrong. No point arguing with you unless you get to know what Taswwuf is.

Sounds a lot like mindfulness mediation.

I think that the Buddhist principle of dukkha, the first noble truth, explains this most succinctly: "to exist is to be dissatisfied / suffer".

It is worthy of mention that the Buddha was a prince, destined to be come king, yet his father tried to lock him up in his golden palace with nothing but entertainment.

Eventually the prince does come into contact with suffering, and leads to him trying to find an end to suffering.

It is useful to add that even distraction and entertainment are suffering and unfulfilling in that they are impermanent, illusory and essentially devoid of meaning. All things have "equal taste", good or bad all comes to us through the senses which only produce a reflection of the world in our mind. Even our perception of our own inner world is an appearance of the same sort in consciousness. This shouldn't excuse inaction or wrongdoing or lead one to apathy, however, our actions in the world are still important and have consequences but we should be mindful that this is a condition we are all subject to, a reason for greater empathy and care and a motivation to improve the lives of others as much as we seek to improve our own.

"It is useful to add that even distraction and entertainment are suffering and unfulfilling in that they are impermanent, illusory and essentially devoid of meaning."

This doesn't fully make sense to me.

Sure, at some point your pleasure will end, but do you have to judge something by its end? Why not judge it by its beginning or middle instead?

It's like saying "don't enjoy your meal, because at some point later you're going to get hungry".

That makes no sense to me.

Also, regarding the lack of meaning of distraction and entertainment, it's not like "nothingness" (which Buddhism tries to put in its place) has any meaning either. So I'm not sure why one should seek to put one meaningless thing in the place of another.

Would you enjoy your favourite meal if it were the only thing you could eat for the rest of your life? If not, is it the food you enjoy or the variety, novelty and choice? After a strenuous workout would you prefer to sit down to a heavy meal or have a glass of water? The pleasure you derive from something is not an intrinsic property of that thing, the sense of pleasure comes from within your own mind. That is why pleasure is illusory, it is a state that exists only within your mind. The idea behind a practice like Buddhism is not to nullify everything, it is to draw the attention to the fact that all we know of the world is an illusion produced by our senses, we can never truly know the world outside of our consciousness since no matter how closely we examine it we are really just examining its representation within our own mind. It is meaningless in that all of these sense perceptions are essentially the same, the meaning we assign to them is once again something that originates from within us. This doesn't negate the external world, it is just a different way of viewing it and a useful one because it puts into perspective many of the frivolities and aimless paths we trace through it. You don't have to be an ascetic but you don't have to let the world subsume you completely either.

A meal is tasty and enjoyable, but you will soon need another one.

Suffering can be temporarily staved off, but not completely removed.

"Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional" - attributed to various buddhist leaders / other thinkers.

the day you can sit for hours without doing anything, you've attained the state of self-realization – self-love free from all conditions. The conditioned mind is no longer there, the thoughts no longer bombard you, the emotions no longer disturb you. You enjoy the deep peace, contentment and bliss of your infinite self. Then you can truly contemplate deeply on anything you feel important, then the deep mysteries of existence shall open up to you. Then, you see the truth, of life, existence and the universe.

> Then, you see the truth, of life, existence and the universe.

Pretty words, but do they mean anything? For example, if I reach this state, will it be revealed to me why there is something rather than nothing? I think not, otherwise someone would have reported back with the answer already.

I'm interested in meditation to learn more about my own body and mind, maybe improve my life somehow. But IMHO the discussions around it could do with less of this type of mystic woo.

Would you believe someone who reports back?

FWIW I have a friend who is deep into spirituality, still works at a FAANG but definitely feels like he can attain higher states of awareness in his meditations. I don’t see him active on social media, he leads a reasonably ascetic life and so on.

This person doesn’t have much success in making others believe. At best, he gets ‘hey, I am happy that you’re happy’ from folks like me, most feedback is around ‘mystic woo’. I have another friend deep in this world, but she balances it with real world and doesn’t really proselytize.

I think it is very much a catch 22. You won’t believe it unless you’re doing it. So if belief is required for you to give it a shot, that’s a non-starter.

I would say try it out and make up your own mind! What do you got to lose anyway - stay away from holy men who make you uncomfortable, start with books or YouTube!

Just a comment regarding belief in the context of learning: a lot (in fact almost all) of learning is through our innately held beliefs. Without having beliefs we would be no different than an ML model, which just keeps adjusting weights according to the data it receives. Each of us has some beliefs, which "seems right" to us and this is what shapes our understanding of what we see around us, no matter what the "data" says.

If the belief is weak (or false), it might lead to confusion and distrust, which will make it impossible to learn anything.

Also, experiencing heightened states of awareness is not necessarily beneficial, people on drugs experience it routinely.

Are you sure that our beliefs aren't "just" (the appropriate equivalent) of a stimulus or data point that has really high weight, e.g. because it was created during childhood and constantly reinforced?

Take the biases that we've heard about in image recognition where these ML models misclassify black people. If a person had done that you would accuse them of racist beliefs.

Why is the computer model so different? Because you don't want to believe that computers can reach consciousness? (I don't either at this point but time will tell. We don't really know enough - or I don't - about what consciousness is and how it works.)

Well, what about Gebru's findings? Data in and of itself is not beneficial, we do have certain underlying beliefs about appropriateness and goodness. There is an element of innate belief at play.

Otherwise, chatbots are very good at learning abusive and racist language. It's due to our belief that it's not right and decent that we train them using a bias. And it's only due to beliefs that we rein in the rogue AI which misclassifies black people.

Edit: If you still want to think of belief as an input node whose link has weight, then set the weight to infinite

Aka every human has the innate ability to distinguish good from evil. This idea is older than dinosaurs.

> I think not, otherwise someone would have reported back with the answer already.

Well, they have, but nobody believes them :)

In any case, I understand your attitude to the mystic woo. It used to put me off a lot when I started meditating.

Now I take it as simply something that's there. They are statements that someone makes. If they're talking about states that someone could reach and they also give instructions, I might consider trying them to see what happens.

In any case as a programmer and scientifically minded meditator, I encourage you to pursue your interest in meditation. Try different techniques until you find something that works. Take it easy, take it slow, cultivate play and joy in your practice. If you manage to do that, you'll reap the fruit of your practice.

I wish you good luck!

> Pretty words, but do they mean anything?


> For example, if I reach this state, will it be revealed to me why there is something rather than nothing?

More-or-less. You do get the punchline, and the joke is quite good.

> I think not, otherwise someone would have reported back with the answer already.

They have, over and over and over again. However, it's not something that fits in words. You have to stop wording in your mind, and know. Literally the first line in the Tao Te Ching: "The Tao that can be spoken of is not the true Tao."

Meditation sans "mystic woo" is like using your car only to drive from your garage to your mailbox at the end of the driveway to get your mail and back. You might learn a little more about your own car, and maybe improve your mail-retrieval somehow, but you're not really going anywhere, eh?

Here's an opinion from a deeply cynical person who's also 15 years deep into this mysticism rabbit hole.

My takeaway is that there's something in this meditation thing. At the very least, concentrating on a static imaginary shape activates some kind of drainage system in the brain: for a few minutes you feel what a clogged pipe would feel when it's being cleaned by a powerful water stream. That effect alone seems valuable.

Regarding the meaning of meditation, my conclusion is that it's a whistle. Just like you'd produce a certain whistle to summon an animal or a bird, you'd sharply imagine a certain shape or symbol to summon ideas or certain effects. The former is how you get inspiration. "Mysticism" begins when you are able to produce this whistle the right way and when you know which thoughts or symbols to target.

The most comprehensive explanation of meditation that's available in English is probably lamrim, volume 4 (500 or so pages, described by its author as a brief summary of key concepts from canonical sources that an interested reader should read himself).

That's basically how they con you into it. Using pretty words which appear to have "deeper" and "transcendental" meanings. They entice you with words like mystery, truth, existence, universe, but the TLDG (Too long didn't go) of this rabbit hole called meditation is (wading in) occult practices.

You first need to get yourself free of the opium of Islam. The unoriginal religion made up by stealing lots and lots of ideas from Judaism and Christianity, themselves sources of much suffering for humankind. The hell and heaven are not of any next worlds but are what you create for yourself and live inside, here on this very Earth. And look at the hellish and backward state of most Muslim counties and their people: People trapped in ignorance, prejudice, poverty in a never ending hellish cycle. If your ideas and beliefs have made this world a living hell for you, how do you expect to die and then wake again in a heaven? The guys that told you so, were really swindlers.

You need to first rid your society from the actual opium and its derivatives. It’s very convenient to throw the opium of the masses on Muslims, when the masses in your society have puncture marks.

And yes Marxism has died. Communism is dead. It’s just a name for brutality and dictatorship.

"the TLDG (Too long didn't go) of this rabbit hole called meditation is (wading in) occult practices"

What do the words "occult practices" mean to you? Do you consider them bad? If so, why?

Occult practices for me means devil worship and associated rituals. I consider them bad because I consider the devil bad.

That's wrong, though. Occultism didn't have the evil meaning until very recently. That's similar to how nazis have changed the public image of swastika: before them it was an Egyptian symbol of light or something of that sort. "Occult" merely means hidden from plain sight. Coincidentally, the most occult thing out there is hiding in plain sight: it's electricity.

It’s got to do with the semantics, and for that you need to keep track of the context in which it was used by me.

> if I reach this state, will it be revealed to me why there is something rather than nothing?

Contemplation of dependent origination is a meditative practice.

Get Mind Illuminated by John Yates Phd. He breaks down the process into ten steps, woo free.

Thanks for the recommendation. I've read the the free kindle sample now, which is already a couple hours of reading. I found the introduction and and overview very difficult to get through, even to the point of falling asleep. But the "first interlude" and "stage one" captured my attention better.

Although a bit verbose and repetitive at times, I liked the exploration of the concepts of attention and peripheral awareness. I may give the "stage one" instructions a try, and buy the rest of the book if it goes well.

This book may have value to learn something about meditation, but it also has exactly the kind of "mystic woo" I was talking about.

In the first few sentences it talks about the "soul" wanting to return back to it's source, the "supreme consciousness". Then a couple pages further, a statement about reincarnation:

"If you don’t believe in rebirth then this book will be of little use to you. As I said earlier, meditation to me is the most powerful tool to harness and channelize the restive and other tendencies of the mind we’ve been carrying with us over lifetimes."

Or Waking Up by Sam Harris, also woo free.

Thanks, I've read the start and found that Harris does a good job of explaining from the outset why a non-religous, mysticism-averse person would still want to explore this type of spirituality. That part wasn't very clear to me in the introduction of "Mind Illuminated".

There is no legitimate platform for such a person to report back to. There have been many holy books over the years insofar as religions are centred around them.

> there is something rather than nothing

Is there?

I like to rephrase questions and suppositions like this using E-Prime. For me it helps reveal the underlying dynamic.


Yes, because if there was nothing, I couldn't be asking the question.

Not if you are hungry. Deep mysteries are fine and all but doing so in -1 deg celcius on an empty stomach lays out the reality of existence with exacting clarity. We are merely animals. Nothing more. Nothing less.

> -1 deg celcius on an empty stomach

Sounds like a walk in the park for an ascetic. We forget how comfortable we’ve become, 250 years ago this would have been your average Tuesday.

Show us an ascetic who would find this a walk in the park.

"Published in science journal PLOS ONE in March 2013, the study documented reliable core body temperature increases for the first time in Tibetan nuns practising g-tummo meditation...

"The researchers collected data during the unique ceremony in Tibet, where nuns were able to raise their core body temperature and dry up wet sheets wrapped around their bodies in the cold Himalayan weather (-25 degree Celsius) while meditating. Using electroencephalography (EEG) recordings and temperature measures, the team observed increases in core body temperature up to 38.3 degree Celsius..."


So is it scientific or a mystery?

If it’s scientific then it must be well understood in terms of cause and effect. In which case, it is like any other physical phenomenon, nothing special.

And if it’s not scientific, rather if it’s a mystery, then scientists will have to take a call on what is.

Science is not as black and white as it's made out to be. In this particular case, the observation seems to have been made with scientific rigor, so this part is definitely scientific. As for the parts of the causal chain that are not fully understood, these will be subject to further inquiry. It would be fair to call those parts "a mystery", but that doesn't imply them having any "mystical" properties. "Mystical" to me would mean "fundamentally outside the realm of scientific inquiry", not just "we have not gotten around to it yet".

Yeah, that’s basically what I said. Let scientific inquiry conclude on this and then it can be shared as evidence. Otherwise it’s just anecdotal.

Everyone born before 1600? Or maybe anyone who has done winter survival training. Hunger and cold have been with us since the beginning. The spiritual and meditative practices we’re talking about here were developed when these things were just daily facts of life and like other animals we’re adapted to deal with them as a matter of course. Modern humans live lives of luxury unknown to even the wealthiest and most fortunate people in the past. If you want a concrete modern example I’d offer Wim Hof.

This was the original statement "Not if you are hungry. Deep mysteries are fine and all but doing so in -1 deg celcius on an empty stomach lays out the reality of existence with exacting clarity".

It was more about questioning the relevance (and authenticity) of "deep mysteries" and "existence" etc. It was not about whether or not human beings can train themselves to endure such difficulties. Which they can, apparently.

When you said "it would be a cake walk for an ascetic" I thought that by ascetic you meant one who is into meditation and all such "deep realities". Not Wim Hof.

Nevertherless, I personally don't see any virtue in being hungry in -1 degree celsius, if I have food and a warm home. Except in case someone is making money out of it, like Wim.

You might be interested in learning about Maslow's hierarchy of needs:


The fact that we are even discussing such issues shows that we are indeed more than animals. And yes, many such seemingly alluring but deceptive mysteries fall apart much before the onset of difficulties like the one you mentioned

Does this apply to Ants and Amoebas? They don't seem to enjoy sitting quite either.

This is an insightful question and likely points towards several fruitful modes of analysis.

Why are ants and amoebas always moving? Their biological drives continue to give them orders and so they are never satiated.

Perhaps thats is because ants and amoebas have to find food in a bid to continue thier existence. Its safe to asume that for them to be satiated (not just resting) is to die.

Yes! So one wonders if aboriginal foraging humans have a concept of enlightenment.

Indeed. I read a book called The Songlines which was about Australian aboriginals and nomadism in general. It qouted Pascal and proposed that the solution is to walk and to wander. That's what we are made for. The solution to the problem of sitting in a room is not to sit in a room!

> The solution to the problem of sitting in a room is not to sit in a room!

Wouldn't that itself be a form of distraction. Your subconscious will be activated but your conscious mind be distracted.

It is a misconception that all nomadic or foraging humans had to spend 100% of their time trying to stay alive.

I'm fact, if you look at African tribes and their original lifestyle you will realize how little time they had to spend on getting food and how much time they were able to spend just being happy, playing, drinking hallucinogenic substances to get into an enlightening trance etc.

There's a German standup comedian (Volker Pispers) who did a bit about this. It goes a bit like this: People always think that nature is so efficient. But nature doesn't optimize. Nature is lazy and does as little work as possible. You'll never see a lion hunt down a zebra and then go like "Okay, that took me 30 minutes, so I could do 10 more zebras today before dusk". He'll eat part of the zebra, leave the rest for the hyenas, and then spend the rest of the day basking in the sun.

> It is a misconception that all nomadic or foraging humans had to spend 100% of their time trying to stay alive.


> I'm fact, if you look at African tribes and their original lifestyle you will realize how little time they had to spend on getting food and how much time they were able to spend just being happy, playing, drinking hallucinogenic substances to get into an enlightening trance etc.

Generalizations about foraging populations are fraught with problems because there was a lot of diversity among them and its not possible to study them in a "pure" (untouched by agricultural peoples) setting.

Nevermind humans working for a paycheck.

"before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. after enlightenment: chop wood, carry water"

>Why are ants and amoebas always moving?

Maybe because ant society expects it and can only function with ants constant in motion.

>The king is surrounded by people whose only thought is to entertain him and prevent him from thinking about himself.

This is really interesting from a modern perspective. I'm an audiophile - I've spent countless hours just sitting in a chair in front of a stereo system I've spent a couple thousand on. If I ever lapse into non-attention to the music, I try and get back to the music. It's like mindfulness meditation, but unlike the monk, my mind is focusing on a sense, not emptying itself.

On the other hand, I can't lie in bed for more than two minutes without deep introspection - my morality, arguments for and against all positions, what projects I want to work on, the papers I've read, etc.

But before writing some comments on this website and elsewhere, I'll have a deep think about what I'm arguing, and why. Other times I'll just jump at it for the engagement, the thrill of refreshing in the morning to check the Hacker News Engagement Number, whatever else. I've tried to make an effort to not read outrage-bait on Reddit, I've deleted my Twitter account years ago, I've done countless things. This i my third HN account.

The best part of my day, after work and my energy is exhausted? Gaming. I only play one game - online and multi-player, with an Icelandic man I've never met. It's all a distraction. Why continue learning piano, Japanese, philosophy, literature, introspection, when I have this pleasure right here? Where will I be in 30 years? 20 years? Even writing this comment sadness comes over me.

To think that in the 19th century, there were men being compared to Hegel and Feuerbach at age 21. What the hell am I doing?

I wouldn't take comparison to Hegel as a great compliment. That said, the magnitude of knowledge and knowledgeable people in the 21st century (and onwards) will far outnumber the 19th century. So that what made one appear as a genius then would make them look ordinary now. I'm not asking us to see people of bygone eras differently than they're written about—I'm asking that we revere them, but with a healthy dose of skepticism which prevents us from seeing ourselves and times as failed in comparison.

>To think that in the 19th century, there were men being compared to Hegel and Feuerbach at age 21

Like 3-5 men (i.e. the Young Hegelians) among a billion people?

It's not like it was some common accomplishment...

I just read Ecclesiastes, it’s amazing what universal perspective can do for the spirit.

I recommend the book “the wisdom of insecurity” by Alan Watts.

What game is it? I've been looking for something to play in the last few days. I've got my mind just racing with ideas for projects and things and I'm always feeling bad about not getting into it and then I'm not able to truly relax.

Not who you replied to, but in my experience, if you play Factorio, your mind will be racing with ideas for projects and things you can do in Factorio.

Haha, I've been there. And I don't want to go back!

I have also a similar feeling to what you described, and the one game that seems to work for me right now is Dead Cells.

You should instead quote about him chasing the rabbit. It is even far more relevant.

Someone can paste it here after googling.

“Men spend their time in following a ball or a hare; it is the pleasure even of kings.“

"Modern humans spend virtually no time on "inward-directed thought", and not solely because we're too busy: in one US survey, 95% of adults said they'd found time for a leisure activity in the previous 24 hours, but 83% said they'd spent zero time just thinking."

I think Pascal was correct because at least those people I know well enough to discuss such matters with tell me they don't spend much time thinking or contemplating about much at all. This is a bit strange to me as I've always thought about things—mind you, not necessarily things of great importance but about things in general. It's dead easy for me to daydream time away (unfortunately). (When I was at school one of the punishments was to be sent to stand in a corner and stare at the wall. It used to send some kids almost crazy but never bothered me much—all I had to do was to go into daydream mode to pass time away!)

Since reading this article it's occurred to me that those people who've really struggled with the isolation of COVID-19 lockdowns and who continually seek the company of other people are perhaps those who suffer this 'inability to sit quietly in a room alone'. I mention this because during earlier posts on the topic of large numbers of people who were not coping with the enforced isolation, I said that for me, if anything, the enforced lockdown was a blessing as I wasn't continually having to deal with people I'd rather not deal with. Similarly, I find noise and activity distracting, even annoying at times.

No doubt when COVID-19 is over and the postmortems begin in earnest, this connection will be researched.

Another afterthought, perhaps those best suited to interplanetary traveling will be those who do have a good ability to quietly contemplate things (after all, it's likely they'll be forced to do lots of it).

I find it disturbing the way a trait that seems to be very common among humans is being framed as a problem.

External stimulus means you’re with other humans that you can cooperate with. That you’re sharing stories and learning. That you’re hunting for food. That you’re building a shelter. All these things are necessary for survival. It seems possible that being sociable and industrious might well have been bread into us at some point. And it’s probably the reason we aren’t like big cats in Africa, just hunting and then resting to conserve energy.

We should not be suggesting to people that their instincts are a moral failure to be cured.

It's a problem. That's why doing it (mediation, mindfulness, prayer, sitting zazen, ...) helps!

Watch animals: they meditate instinctively. Dogs, cats, birds, they all do it.

Just like animals all stretch instinctively. (We had some chickens for awhile this year and they stretch too. It's funny: they stretch the wing and leg on one side together, then the other side.)

What I'm saying is, "yoga" and "meditation" are necessary for survival. You gotta remember civilization is only 12K years old, that's nothing in the biological scheme of things. We should be spending a lot more time napping and "zoning out".

Postulating that basic instincts are problematic is too cynical. It doesn't have to be one way or the other. You certainly need somekind of external stimulus to react to the surroundings (e.g fight or flight response). Inward introspection is great but it's just another tool at the end of the day.

Em... 12,000 years old? Where does this number come from?


The first city is generally considered to be Ur, which "dates from the Ubaid period circa 3800 BC" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ur

However, there's the Potbelly Hill "dating back to the 10th–8th millennium BCE" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6bekli_Tepe

I've heard of stone cities in Southern Africa that are believed to be older than 100K years, but that's not part of the known archeological record.

Some would argue, and I'm inclined to agree, that civilization could be considered to date to the beginning of the Stone Age, which "lasted for roughly 3.4 million years" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone_Age

Stone knives aren't primitive, they're sophisticated ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithic_reduction ), arguably the product of a human (as contrasted with animal) mind.

The 100K years timeframe is more believable than a random cutoff 12K years B.C. Humans are way too advanced species to progress from monkeys to what we are now in just a few thousand years. I'd say it's taken close to 18 millions years since humans were advanced monkeys, but even then the difference between a "regular monkey" and an "advanced monkey that can make tools for hunting" is massive and needs an extended period of prehistory.

Of course the need for external stimuli is a universal and important human need. The question is merely whether 100% of one's waking moments must serve this need, or whether one has the ability to spend a percent or so of one's time not satisfying this need:

> …that people detest being made to spend six to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think – even to the extent of being willing to give themselves mild electric shocks instead.

Simply pointing out the importance of external stimuli is like responding to an observation that many people cannot hold their breath for 30 seconds (say) by pointing out the importance of breathing.

The problem is that we live in a society where one is constantly being bombarded with stimuli all the time. Because people cannot be in silence, you have to endure constant noise.

I began a new job recently and was shocked to find out they have a speaker system that plays music everywhere in the building including office areas. On my first day, they were playing gangsta rap all day long...

So now, in order for me to focus and do what I'm being paid to do, I have to separate myself from the environment by either working from home (in silence) or using ANC headphones all day, which is not pleasant.

The problem, in my opinion, is that/when those things are done compulsively. If you're hungry it's fine to have a compulsion to get food, but as a human you should also be comfortable doing nothing, otherwise you're essentially seeding misery.

Not everyone frames it in a judgemental fashion. Some people simply decide to see what happens when they decide to go outside their comfort zone. The tendency to not explore these spaces seems to be one of the reasons why they are occulted.

I always find this percentages puzzling. I reckon people busy thinking are too busy, or simply never get requested to fill in surveys about how they spend their idle CPU brain time.

Thinking is the last remaining freedom, as long as you don't say all the things you think of out loud. :)

"Thinking is the last remaining freedom, as long as you don't say all the things you think of out loud."

Absolutely, right on both accounts. (Occasionally swearing under my breath sometimes gives the game away.)

That's one of the unmentioned beauties of being a programmer... you can swear all you want, and people just think your code won't compile :-)

Hey, it's not only programming, how many other triggers would you like me to mention? ;-)

My mom really liked this song. She grew up in East Germany until the fled.


Also check out the author and what other things he wrote.

The modern world is also set up in such a way* to preclude such activity because we are surrounded by stimuli and activity that distracts people and gives them things to do and think about. I noticed this when I became more interested in quiet contemplation. Its not easy for everyone to allocate uninterrupted time for such activity.

* the modern world emergently selects for these interruptions, I'm not suggesting an anti-mindfulness conspiracy. Its why Buddha is sometimes depicted with lions and tigers. The legend is that when a meditating practitioner is near to enlightenment, he or she will hallucinate ferocious beasts and those are illusions that come about as he nears enlightenment in order to distract him or her.

"...to preclude such activity because we are surrounded by stimuli and activity that distracts people and gives them things to do and think about."

You're right. In my opinion, one of the best examples of this is to be seen in our films, videos and multimedia presentations, etc. With very few exceptions, extremely tight editing is now the norm, scenes are cut to within an inch of incomprehension and there's rapid switching from one scene to another and back again. We now have the ridiculous situation where scene switching is so rapid that the set designer's work is in vain as the viewer has hardly sufficient time to comprehend the foreground material let alone the background scenery. (You can easily test this by recording some typical video then playing it back and asking typical viewers to explain what they've seen. It's devastatingly informative in the negative sense in that they miss almost everything!)

From my observation, this fast, ever-changing stimuli is harmful from the perspective that people now have a shallower grasp on reality/everyday things around them than they once did when times weren't quite so fast. What's more troubling is that there seems to be no attempt to make people aware of the fact.

This is some helpful insight. Anyone who plans to edit video in the future should contemplate it. We need more longer, slower shots. Rapid cuts - like high notes for a singer - should to my mind be used more sparingly for greater impact.

>When I was at school one of the punishments was to be sent to stand in a corner and stare at the wall. It used to send some kids almost crazy but never bothered me much—all I had to do was to go into daydream mode to pass time away

Me as well. I wonder if it is the upside to having near-crippling ADHD.

I suppose defaulting to daydream mode is moderately useful for the large portion of the prison population with ADHD.

Always been afraid of my terrible impulse control sending me to prison for one reason or another but never considered that I could just daydream the time away. Good to know.

To add another anecdatapoint, I had exactly the same thought. It kind of makes sense; I think of ADHD as being a matter of intrinsically-driven attention rather than motivated attention.

Great username. Fellow physicist?

Fellow physicist? No, more engineering but the username was inspired from distant memories of having to get my head around the mathematics of David H's famous space! And I've always been a fan of Douglas Adams and the similarly-inspired Red Dwarf (right, that's a category and now I'm classified). ;-)

What helps me is to walk, instead of sitting in a room. When I walk, my fidgety body is kept busy, and leaves my brain in peace, not even costing any brain-cpu cycles.

Then, it is a lot harder to reach to your cellphone when you walk. So it helps me get rid of 2 major distractions, body and phone, with very little effort. Now I can think.

This. Unfortunately it's much harder in winter due to short days where I live (currently 7 hour days) but in summer it's great.

I find audiobooks and podcasts are also great for walking. Popular science and good self help is interesting but the best ones for a quiet state of complementation are thoughtful interviews, biographies and story driven intellectual books (Yuval Noah Harari is particularly excellent). In some ways they are another distraction but I like to listen for a while then take off the headphones and think on a section while I walk another mile.

Sorry to nit, but aren’t the podcasts distractions? And tangentially: I listen the the ambient album Weightless by Marconi Union when I want to think but also drown out outside noise.

Wow a 10 hour version...

Thanks for the recommendation - Ill check it out.


Downloading it with Youtube-DL - Sadly, I forgot my headphones at home and am about to board a plane...

Only 10 hours? Bull of Heaven laughs.

You got me searching and I have found their 5.7 years long song: Like a Wall in Which an Insect Lives and Gnaws. Years! I am not sure it’s real but it was entertaining to think about long songs.

Walking helps me too. Long walks rather than short/brisk ones.

I think this has to be about the 'diffused mode' of the brain- they talked about in the course 'Learning How To Learn'- as opposed to the focused mode.

Absolutely agreed.

Though you mention that walking is what helps you keep distractions under control, I like to go walking while listening to history/science podcasts, since it helps me understand the content a lot better.

The act of walking is said to be greatly beneficial for thinking in its own right [0].

So when I get an idea, I usually drop everything I'm doing and go for walk. And my anecdata can only confirm that it's beneficial.

This is why I am so excited about the idea of working remotely using AR glasses. Just imagine going hiking through the mountains while checking your emails or being on a conference call – only taking breaks to type out some code on a portable keyboard.

Regardless of the cognitive performance boost this would give you, it would also mitigate a lot of the health issues we humans have started accumulating since we started sitting down all day.

Of course Einstein also famously claimed to have only moved to Princeton for the walks home with Gödel [1].

[0] I found this news item in a pinch, but I'm sure there are many studies to substantiate the claim: https://news.stanford.edu/2014/04/24/walking-vs-sitting-0424...

[1] I would have to do some digging to find the original phrasing (Einstein is often misattributted), so take it with a pinch of salt. But there is an entire book who's title alludes to this : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_Einstein_Walked_with_G%C3...

(the book is great btw)

I completely agree here. In "Think Fast and Slow" the author talks about how much more productive and clear his time was when he took his thinking time and walked for it.

I call it "moving meditation" -- Hiking, biking, walking, running and martial arts (for me).

I dont listen to music in headphones often at all - Especially when running or biking - I like the calm silence of just me and my thoughts.

That's the basis of peripateticism.

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

- Franz Kafka

Ecstasy. This dude knew how to meditate. A lot of people think meditation is just an exercise in patience and self discipline to stop the chatter of the mind, and that that is the end in itself. They are unaware of where meditation can lead.

When the central channel (referred to as sushumna in yoga) is open and energy flows freely, you can feel ecstatic sensations in the centre of the brain as the upper centres become energised. It's important to relax the body, including the eyes, head and brain itself.

I feel it like a sort of exhilaration, like the first time I went on a rollercoaster or cycled my bike fast down a hill etc. It's an electrically alive feeling.

I hear this is just the start: what starts as a trickle becomes a torrent, apparently.

Do you have suggested reading for how to learn about this effort? Most meditation and yoga related content I find is geared toward the woke soccer mom, not those looking for acutely reflective time

This is one of my study interests and hence i can offer some suggestions. Read up on "Kundalini". These models are explained in the school of Indian Philosophy called "Tantra" and its derivatives. They have been popularized under the practices of "Hatha/Laya Yoga". The entire subject is quite extensive and fascinating. However, there is a lot of Junk/BS/new age woo-woo out there which you need to avoid.

For authentic sources, start with the book The Serpent Power by Arthur Avalon (real name Sir John Woodroffe). He was a Britisher who was a High Court Judge in Colonial India who was so fascinated with the entire subject matter of "Tantra" that he studied Sanskrit under native Indian scholars and translated a lot of Tantric texts into English. For a nice picture book with rare photographs on the same subject matter, see Kundalini: The arousal of inner energy by Ajit Mookherjee.

The above will give you a solid foundation after which you can move on to other original texts.

I found The Serpent Power of fashioned and archaic. There are far better more recent introductions IMO, but an in depth knowledge isn't required. I'd recommend starting with something simple like the AYP lessons which are more experientially oriented and leave the details for another time. Too much knowledge, not to mention the discrepancies between authors, can be confusing.

Old fashioned and archaic? You realize this subject is centuries old and there is nothing new? It is important to study the original texts to get the real "kernel" of the subject before practice (lacking an accomplished Guru). It is the "modern" authors who are responsible for muddying the waters of this subject since most of them have half-baked knowledge and then market their "experience" (a lot of which is frankly fad/hyperbole/BS) to the gullible. Other than a few scholars like James Mallinson, David Gordon White, i wouldn't trust anybody else's translations/interpretations/websites.

PS: I took a look at the AYP website. It is junk and i wouldn't trust it. When the author is advertised as "Yogani, is an American spiritual scientist" and equates "Tantra == Sex" it is nothing but a marketing scam. Stay away and read the original texts and form your own interpretation.

Yes I realise that. But modern English is easier to read.

And of course, how could an American have anything valuable to say on the subject of yoga? /s

Ok champ you obviously know best. Good luck. Jeez...


My post was intended to point people to the authentic sources of Tantra/Hatha/Laya Yoga. If you have a different opinion, that is fine.

Leaving aside the fact that the language of The Serpent power is NOT difficult, two of the three people i have mentioned are Britishers while one is an American. Thus all of their writings are comprehensible to a westerner though the subject matter is complex and takes some time to comprehend.

The 2 best resources I've found are the free lessons and (not free) books on aypsite.org, and taking KAP level 1 on kundaliniawakeningprocess.com

Any idea what scientifically is actually happening?

This is only an alliteration, but I think it's like watching the debugger window attached to yourself. All the things you were previously unaware of (but still, happening inside your own system) become accessible and visible.

This suggests connecting neural network inputs to the middle of another (or the same) network - essentially exploring own architecture

IANAScientist, but FWIW, I think it might be (metaphorically or literally) like an "infinity shot" when you point a video camera at a live monitor of its own output.

No idea. Biology isn't my area. Some kind of resonance in the central nervous system perhaps, accompanied by a quietening of some parts of the brain?

More than likely something is going on from the changes to the active neural circuitry. Usually the "Default Mode Network" is active. When this is quieted down, which is similar to what happens when you're on LSD, it's possible that very unusual states of mind and body (the "currents" mentioned, which I've experienced as well) can arise.

Is this a good thing?

I know that meditation is lauded, and I practice it myself, but I do wonder if it is good for you.

My best definition of “good” in this context is “closer to your true self”, or possibly “happier and content”.

I fear that meditation will make me lose my drive (generated, in part by my ego).

That's a really good question and I worry about that myself. I think it might be incorrect to think that there is a "true self" inside you. More realistically I think there are many autonomous modules in your mind that run when needed or called. Your ego is one of these modules. This fear of losing our drive is probably the ego doing self-preservation (for itself).

Meditation helps you to see when these different modules are acting "illogically". Being run or called when unnecessary. A good example is the fear of public speaking. Whichever module is running is based on instincts learned millennia ago. Now it merely hinders us. I very strongly believe that meditation will make you (anyone) more happy and content. I haven't gone as far as I'd like to with it because of this same fear of losing my drive.

Minor nitpick: meditation is not about stopping the chatter but observing the chatter, not clinging to thoughts and then letting them go.

I was looking at this quote for a long time. I forgot who it was from, and only remembered it paraphrased. Thank you.

To also contribute to the discussion. I often joke that it takes effort to mess things up. You could instead lay on the beach enjoy the evening breeze than putting in that effort. So before you delve into that process, take a step back and think carefully what you want out of it.

I like long walks accompanied by music (ambient music). Walking can be a deeply meditative experience, just pick terrain that won't give you trouble (no high traffic streets, no steep hills etc) and just go. Walk until your body starts doing it mechanically, and don't focus on the destination nor in search of stimuli. Maybe because walking exerts energy, it can be more effective than just sitting or laying down - when you are really energetic and not tired. Maybe because the scenery changes and it acts as a context switch to our minds.

It has been both effective as a form of emotion regulation, coming up with novel solutions, and just feeling more in sync with myself.

Why is it, that sitting alone will have me ruminating, thinking negative thoughts whereas when I'm moving my legs thoughts seem to be more positive or productive?

If you let your car sit for a month, the battery may drain and the car might not start. They were designed in part around the assumption of regular use.

So too has evolution - through the happenstance and accidents of natural selection - ended up relying on the movement and use of the human body to regulate hormones, neurotransmitters, and who all knows what else. Exercise can help release endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin...

Unsuprisingly, when we muck with that, there are problems. Not needing to move to avoid danger or to collect nutrition for basic survival is an extremely recent thing on evolutionary timescales, so this wasn't a problem before.

It may be because walking may cause bilateral stimulation of the brain.


'Negative' thoughts are thoughts. Maybe consider it as cleansing that is taking place. https://highexistence.com/100-hours-meditation-10-days-vipas...

I actually fall asleep before that moment comes

Practice noticing when you’re falling asleep. That alone can be every bit as helpful.

The key word here being “practice”. I doubt anyone achieves these ecstatic states without it.

Just my interpretation (of the Pascal quote), beginning with the full quote.

> When I have occasionally set myself to consider the different distractions of men, the pains and perils to which they expose themselves at court or in war, whence arise so many quarrels, passions, bold and often bad ventures, etc., I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber. A man who has enough to live on, if he knew how to stay with pleasure at home, would not leave it to go to sea or to besiege a town. A commission in the army would not be bought so dearly, but that it is found insufferable not to budge from the town; and men only seek conversation and entering games, because they cannot remain with pleasure at home.[139][#201908302349]

This quote is often summarized roughly as: "all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone." (i.e. the title of this post). Taken out of context, this would seem to suggest (to me) a belief that if we could simply meditate and avoid external distractions (a commission in the army, conversation, games, Pascal suggests), we might find happiness.

However, a reading of the full passage reveals that "on further consideration" he thinks the reason for this is that if we were to sit with our thoughts, the "natural poverty of our feeble and mortal condition" would drive us to despair.

He thinks that someone who truly understands the human condition would do everything they could to avoid sitting alone with their thoughts ("there is nothing they leave undone in seeking turmoil") . We seek diversion because if we didn't have any distraction, we would end up dwelling on the miserable human condition (selfish, pre-occupied with self-gratification, sensitive to the opinion of others, judgmental, etc. - basically, 'sinful').

In the end, he suggests that we should look for happiness externally, in God, which he then talks about a lot.

[#201908302349]: Blaise Pascal (1958): _Pascal's Pensées_, New York: E.P. Dutton.

Thanks. I was reading this thread thinking that sitting alone with your thoughts does not necessarily bring you peace. It can often do the opposite.

I take time and pray to God each morning. I find that this gives me peace. I feel better prepared to deal with the day when I pray.

My routine is focused around praying the Lord's Prayer, as in the prayer Jesus taught. Praying this prayer over years has enabled some truths to sink in. For example, the first part of the prayer is not about us, it is about God. I think it is good to start the day with the understanding we are not the centre of the universe. Secondly, I have been struck by how the Lord's prayer does not start at the place of forgiveness. Whether that be seeking forgiveness or asking for forgiveness. This gives me peace in the knowledge I don't need to have it all together before I engage with God in prayer.

This gave me a new perspective on what became routine words after many decades. Thank you!

A buddhist, occultist, or existentialist might suggest Pascal just didn't explore this space far enough. Those with the courage to question even the existence of God and meaning might find more rewarding insights or experiences.

With all the sociological data we have now, it’s almost certain that Pascal’s wager has never been more true for those looking to lead a meaningful life.

I like to think of the wager as an accidental heresy, laying bare the threat being made by the humans doing the teaching.

"Believe me or suffer for eternity!"

Which deity do you pick in that case? There are many of them.

If you strip away the dogma and cultural "decorations" of most religions the foundations are all mostly the same.

That doesn't have much to do with the wager itself as it is concerned with a potentially infinitely negative or positive outcome seen through the lens of belief in an afterlife of some sort.

If we are merely concerned with life in itself, then religious belief is redundant: you can indeed strip its useful aspects through careful study but leave the actual belief aside

Agreed. My only point is that your wager need not be limited to dogmatic adherence of existing religions. You can create your own God in a sense.

The one that is the most international if your meaningful life were to include travel.

I think you will find most theological traditions aka religions have a lot of common ground. So much so that you can actually abstract out lot of the ancient wisdom from the religion itself.

The book "Happiness Hypothesis" by Johnathon Haidt examines this in detail if you wish to purse it further.

My understanding was that Pascal's wager implies the prospect of eternal damnation or some infinitely negative consequence. Therefore the choice of religion is probably of great import if we enter the logic of the wager.

I would suggest paying attention to the ones that speak to you.

In my case, that would be Mammon

I used to have a close friend who was constantly getting into trouble (and calling me to bail her out, sometimes literally). Minor run ins with the police, car accidents, making shady deals or getting into debt to random lowlifes she just met. I always used to say that I wished she would just stay in her room and sit on the bed. Save both of us so much trouble!

This was in the days before social media, otherwise I'm sure she would have done plenty of damage from her room.

That's a good point.

Makes me wonder what the reality is with kids nowadays that are right there under their parents nose noodling around on their phone. Are they getting into less trouble, or more trouble?

Modern phones have done a tremendous job of taking the thrill out of various troublesome activities.

You could let someone else play a game, you could let someone else risk STDs, someone else do the risky heists and killing etc all while watching from the comfort of your couch, living your life as a voyeur.

IMO that definitely means folks are getting in lesser trouble: I think it draws a lot of poison out.

Now is that a good thing: I don’t know. I like the above benefits, who wouldn’t appreciate a docile community! I don’t like the fact that it is drawing away the youth from action. Yes it went wrong in oh so many places, but it is what brought us here. I hate stagnation. Anyway - just me rambling.

I really liked Konrad Lorenz's explanation of this. He said that every innate ability to learn has a corresponding innate "teaching mechanism".

For example, an animal like a duck won't necessarily reason "hmm, is this a safe spot? Maybe I should find an area with more protection from [predator]", instead it will have an innate anxiety that it feels when it is in an unsafe place, and that anxiety will drive it to find a different spot.

This was really an a-ha moment for me. Where I previously thought that anxiety and "depression" (not clinical depression) were mysterious unexplainable side-effects of evolution, now I see that they are probably innate mechanisms that spur us to go out, learn more, find opportunity, exercise, meet people etc. Our bodies know when we are stagnating before our minds do.

The fact that we can override those innate mechanisms and sit alone in a quiet, empty room at all is what is really impressive.

Indeed. Reasoning based on intelligence came much later into the evolutionary scene. Emotions form a part of the optimization process for animals, creating shorter feedback loops. We feel pain because we won't attend to the injury if we didn't. The evolutionary significance of most emotions can likewise be reasoned about. (I've found relatively less for explaining jealousy in what I've casually read).

Yes!! This is where our modern society has gotten off track in thinking emotions such as fear are “bad”. That’s like saying skin is bad. It’s simply there to protect you. Unlike skin, sometimes our emotions try a little too hard to protect us but we can practice noticing that and in doing so the mind begins to learn better what should and should not be feared.

This quote has fascinated me for a long time. It seems that this is a skill that can be sharpened with deliberate practice.

I went to a 10 day silent meditation retreat (Vipasana) abs felt I got much more comfortable sitting by myself just observing my thoughts. The practice part was difficult, probably one of the hardest things I have ever done. 10 days of no talking/reading/writing, sitting in a room, observing your sensations, for hours on end, punctuated by 5 minute breaks. I felt the world temporarily go from HD to 4K after a couple of days.

Anyways, this really made me reconsider my relationship with thoughts. I feel I can separate the sense of my being from my thoughts some times. This helps me with my anxiety.

I've done a variety of meditation techniques and certainly appreciate the benefits they may offer.

One thing I'd say is that it's not always the techniques that feel the hardest that actually offer the most benefits. I believe Buddha's term "middle way" referred to a way that was in the middle between extreme privation/altered consciousness and the ordinary world. I think those interested in meditation techniques should consider this.

And in terms of long term silent retreats, I had an old friend who's schizophrenic symptoms were intensified by retreats of that sort and meditation in general isn't a thing that's riskless - I recall the possibility of serious reactions to meditation and intensive meditation in particular has been documented in a number of articles.

Which relates to claims about "All problems"

This is the opinion of an amateur, but I think this is where "skillful effort" comes into play. A retreat like that will be less strenuous if you already have a daily meditation practice.

I wouldn't describe a weeklong meditation retreat as the "extreme" side of the Buddha's middle way. That would be more like starving yourself in asceticism. With the right practice/preparation (IE a few months of daily hour-long sits), I think a weeklong retreat would be beneficial and reasonable for most people.

Of course, getting to the point of a daily practice is pretty challenging itself, but not too much more than the average workout routine in my opinion.

Yeah, the point isn't that any given thing is hard but that throwing yourself into the practice that's really extreme for you might not be the best to start mindfulness.

In Qi Dao, our approach is based not on going beyond a person's comfort zone but extending their comfort zone.

Got it, yeah, I would definitely agree.

> IE a few months of daily hour-long sits

Maybe it’s a difference of perspective, but what you describe as practice already sounds pretty extreme to me.

Most people sit all day looking at a screen, then they spend a large part of their free time also sitting to watch TV series (generally ~40 minutes long) and films (~90 to 120 minutes long) so spending 1 hr sitting without a distraction hardly seems extreme in comparison, though I wouldn't call it particularly useful. Like physical exercise, you'll probably get more benefit from many, smaller but intense reps than large one off attempts.

I read that the 'middle way' was as opposed to practices mortifying the body, eg starvation, self flagellation etc, which were popular at the time the Buddha was around.

I also attended a 10-day silent meditation retreat (the Goenka one) three years ago. I'm an atheist. I learned a crucial life skill at the retreat: awareness of my mood and thoughts. It's like adding realtime metrics to my emotional core and consciousness core. My state became observable. Since then, I've built a habit of checking those metrics and taking actions to improve my wellbeing. My life has gotten a lot better.

This separation of "sense of being" from thought also has been expressed in the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti, Sri Ramana Maharishi and Nisargadatta Maharaj. The writings of Nisargadatta are especially helpful in shedding more light on this phenomenon.

A very very corny way I like to think about this is the separation of the init process (being) from other processes (thought, sensation etc.). I know this is a very superficial interpretation, but I find it helpful.

Another corny metaphor I use for my mind is: Most of my thoughts are runaway processes that are just burdening my system. You don't want your CPU going at 100% for extended periods of time, same for the mind.

This is why I think it is important to understand and practice meditation and prayer. Maybe most don't understand the psychology behind it but dedicating some time during your day to sit and think can be surprisingly beneficial.

The thing that’s been on my mind lately is that the definition of our human sentience is that a thought about a thought is itself a thought. We to some extent have solved the halting problem. Or rather it doesn’t apply to the way our programming works, if you will.

Don't think about the thoughts, just feel them. If you burn your hand, what comes first, the sensation of pain or thinking about it? Just be with the sensation, and don't drop into more thoughts about thoughts.

> I feel I can separate the sense of my being from my thoughts some times.

This is key. Too much importance to thinking and thoughts otherwise all around. See even during "meditation" we tend to talk about "watching thoughts" like they are something special worth that attention.

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