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Science and Meditation

the quanta of sensation and perception

Meditators often experience tingling/pins and needles type of sensations which constitutes piti (I would say).

Pinpoints implies a discrete quantum of sensation.

What would constitute one quantum of inner sensation, in terms of physiology ?

RE: the quanta of sensation and perception
Answer
1/4/19 1:26 PM as a reply to Stickman2.
That would depend on how high resolution (one aspect of sensory clarity) one has, wouldn’t it? Or what do you mean?

RE: the quanta of sensation and perception
Answer
1/5/19 7:51 AM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Well, let's say you're focussing on the tingling in the body - which is how I got started meditating. Inner sensations also are sometimes described as grainy.
It's a feeling of millions of specks going on and off. Assuming that it's a physiological thing then what exactly is one tingle speck, or grain ?

But now I think about it I can clarify a question which has been on the edge of my mind about all this, which is whether people perceive these things as analogue fields, or as digital masses of on and off points. My own experience is that it's somewhat both at once, but I wonder if following the analogy of pins and needles has affected how I see it ?

So maybe I should ask people - do they perceive, say, piti, as a continuous field or as grainy and made of small discrete specks of feeling ?

And does resolution change ?

RE: the quanta of sensation and perception
Answer
1/5/19 10:07 AM as a reply to Stickman2.
My answer --

If I'm not paying close attention then every perception appears as continuous, or analog. If I'm paying close attention then every perception appears as discrete quanta-like pieces, or I suppose you could call it digital.

RE: the quanta of sensation and perception
Answer
1/5/19 5:33 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
My answer --

If I'm not paying close attention then every perception appears as continuous, or analog. If I'm paying close attention then every perception appears as discrete quanta-like pieces, or I suppose you could call it digital.
I suppose whether reality is digital or analogue has been debated since at least the Greek atomists - and currently we have a reality model that says it's both, depending on various doodads.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/sensorium/201812/experiments-suggest-humans-can-directly-observe-the-quantum

RE: the quanta of sensation and perception
Answer
1/5/19 6:09 PM as a reply to Stickman2.
That was a very interesting article. Thank you!

RE: the quanta of sensation and perception
Answer
1/10/19 10:00 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Y' welcome

RE: the quanta of sensation and perception
Answer
1/11/19 10:52 AM as a reply to Stickman2.
This is an area of great interest to me, as I have some experiences that I want to understand, and the answers on Reddit were not satisfactory to me. I am a bit of an audio and synth nerd, so I'm going to use a lot of concepts from sound waves...

In certain states of meditation, sensations such as the breath begin to feel "buzzy". This is similar to percieving a sound at the edge of "audio rate" frequencies. Above audio rate, it appears to be a smooth experience (one might describe it as "analog", but all these waves are analog). Below this rate, and you begin to percieve the individual pulses of the wave. I would describe "buzzy" sensataions as a frequency of about 20-40hz.

It seems as if I can change how I experience sensations, such that the precieved pulses can either speed up or slow down. I don't know what this is, whether it corresponds to jhanas, or some kind of vippasana technique...

The next level, the pulses drop to about 10hz. It is kind of like watching a video at a low frame rate. It attention is broad, I experience many rapid pulses of sensation all over my body (this is what my first A&P experience was like, which happened the 5th time I got high on weed). It also seems possible to "grab" the different sensations and start to put all the waves into sync. This results in all of my sensory experience pulsing at this frequency.

Then I can lower it down to about 2-3hz. Then very low, maybe .1 to .5hz. I've tried to "stop all the waves", but it didn't do anything particularily interesting.

Going the other direction, speeding up as much as I can, gets me into intense piti, which is a state of either access concentration or 1st jhana. There also seem to be emotional "flavors" when piti is at "smooth" frequencies; these might also relate to jhanas 1-4, but I'm not sure.

Next we get into the Nyquist frequency... In digital devices, if a sound wave is sampled at below 2x the frequency, you cannot accurately recreate the original sound. This results in "aliasing". Consider a sine wave. If you sample it at exactly 2x frequency, then you can capture the peaks and bottoms of the wave. Replaying it results in a square wave, which can be filtered to recreate the sine wave. However, imagine that we didn't sample the peaks, but instead sampled the points where the wave crosses the zero point. When you recreate the wave you get... nothing. If you sample below 2x, then aliasing results in perceiving a low frequency pulsing of the wave.

This may be what is happening, when we percieve a wave as being slow and "digital". Also, sampling different portions of the wave may relate to some of Daniel Ingram's descriptions of the dukkha nanas, in which we are percieving only the "passing away" phase of sensations.

RE: the quanta of sensation and perception
Answer
1/11/19 11:27 AM as a reply to Steven E Barnes.
This was interesting. Thanks for sharing your reflections!

RE: the quanta of sensation and perception
Answer
1/11/19 12:54 PM as a reply to Steven E Barnes.
Steven E Barnes:
This is an area of great interest to me, as I have some experiences that I want to understand, and the answers on Reddit were not satisfactory to me. I am a bit of an audio and synth nerd, so I'm going to use a lot of concepts from sound waves...

In certain states of meditation, sensations such as the breath begin to feel "buzzy". This is similar to percieving a sound at the edge of "audio rate" frequencies. Above audio rate, it appears to be a smooth experience (one might describe it as "analog", but all these waves are analog). Below this rate, and you begin to percieve the individual pulses of the wave. I would describe "buzzy" sensataions as a frequency of about 20-40hz.

It seems as if I can change how I experience sensations, such that the precieved pulses can either speed up or slow down. I don't know what this is, whether it corresponds to jhanas, or some kind of vippasana technique...

The next level, the pulses drop to about 10hz. It is kind of like watching a video at a low frame rate. It attention is broad, I experience many rapid pulses of sensation all over my body (this is what my first A&P experience was like, which happened the 5th time I got high on weed). It also seems possible to "grab" the different sensations and start to put all the waves into sync. This results in all of my sensory experience pulsing at this frequency.

Then I can lower it down to about 2-3hz. Then very low, maybe .1 to .5hz. I've tried to "stop all the waves", but it didn't do anything particularily interesting.

Going the other direction, speeding up as much as I can, gets me into intense piti, which is a state of either access concentration or 1st jhana. There also seem to be emotional "flavors" when piti is at "smooth" frequencies; these might also relate to jhanas 1-4, but I'm not sure.

Next we get into the Nyquist frequency... In digital devices, if a sound wave is sampled at below 2x the frequency, you cannot accurately recreate the original sound. This results in "aliasing". Consider a sine wave. If you sample it at exactly 2x frequency, then you can capture the peaks and bottoms of the wave. Replaying it results in a square wave, which can be filtered to recreate the sine wave. However, imagine that we didn't sample the peaks, but instead sampled the points where the wave crosses the zero point. When you recreate the wave you get... nothing. If you sample below 2x, then aliasing results in perceiving a low frequency pulsing of the wave.

This may be what is happening, when we percieve a wave as being slow and "digital". Also, sampling different portions of the wave may relate to some of Daniel Ingram's descriptions of the dukkha nanas, in which we are percieving only the "passing away" phase of sensations.

Steven, I'm really interested in a lot of this as well.

Can you link to your reddit posts?
Can you clarify for me the situation with hearing frequencies at the low threshold of hearing?

Somewhere around 10 Hz it goes from hearing a lot of little pulses to a low tone - but I can't quite tell if the little pulses become a low tone, or if the low tone comes in in addition to all the little pulses.

In other words, is hearing a tone a reinterpretation of rapid pulses, or is it something else on top of the pulses?

RE: the quanta of sensation and perception
Answer
1/11/19 2:06 PM as a reply to J C.
J C:
Can you clarify for me the situation with hearing frequencies at the low threshold of hearing?

Somewhere around 10 Hz it goes from hearing a lot of little pulses to a low tone - but I can't quite tell if the little pulses become a low tone, or if the low tone comes in in addition to all the little pulses.

In other words, is hearing a tone a reinterpretation of rapid pulses, or is it something else on top of the pulses?
I don't think people can hear 10hz tones (wikipedia says 20-20000hz, which is the range of the CD format). The low note on an electric bass is 40hz (that is the fundamental, we probably hear more of the higher harmonics; 80hz, 120hz, etc). My bass cabinets are only rated as reproducing 45hz (at -3db).

What I notice as I drop the frequency on a synth, the sound becomes "farty" and you can distinquish pulses; going lower, it is more felt than heard.

A concept I didn't go into is difference frequencies, which is another possible explanation for experiencing phenomena as "pulsing"...

When tuning by ear, we compare the sound of 2 notes. At first, they sound like different notes that are out of tune. As the notes get closer in freqency, they stop being perceived as distinct tones. Instead you hear one tone with a low frequency wavering (like tremelo). This wavering is the difference between the two frequencies. As the notes get closer, the tremelo frequency slows, and eventually becomes imperceptable.

RE: the quanta of sensation and perception
Answer
1/11/19 4:24 PM as a reply to Steven E Barnes.
I tried to keep my messages at a reasonable length, and may have glossed over some important distinctions. My discussions of sound waves were intended as an analogy for all types of "wave-like phenomena" we experience in meditation.

In TMI terms, consciousness has a "bandwidth" of about 40 events per second, called percieving mind moments. If I am experiencing a sound as 10 pulses per second, this does not mean the sound is 10hz. Each pulse contains sound information, some fraction of a second in duration, made up of many frequencies.

In fact, the concept of tone requires an element of time. If you could take an instaneous measurement of sound in your eardrum, it would be a pressure value. To percieve audio tones, or visual motion, our brains have to collect sensory data over some time period, and then analyze it (edit: the ear is complex, with "hairs" that are related to hearing different frequencies, so I guess the ears are generating a lot more than simple pressure values)

I am ignorant of neuroscience, but I assume that our sensory organs sample sensory data at some frequency, then the brain converts it back into waves. Then these streams of sensory data are mixed into consciousness along with other mental events. In computer terms, this is "packet switching"; the communication channel can contain only one thing at a time.

So the question of whether our experience of reality is analog or digital is complex. We experience reality as discrete chunks of information in consciousness, but those chunks are presumably packets of analog information.

RE: the quanta of sensation and perception
Answer
1/14/19 1:26 PM as a reply to Steven E Barnes.
Steven E Barnes:
If I am experiencing a sound as 10 pulses per second, this does not mean the sound is 10hz. Each pulse contains sound information, some fraction of a second in duration, made up of many frequencies.

To clarify, this is not what I'm talking about. Yes, I know you could theoretically hear a 100Hz tone played staccato so you heard 5 little blips in a second - just tap a piano key quickly or something. But I'm asking about, say, a pure sine wave 5 Hz tone, which sounds like a metronome ticking 300 beats a minute as opposed to a constant tone.

RE: the quanta of sensation and perception
Answer
1/14/19 1:23 PM as a reply to Steven E Barnes.
Steven E Barnes:
J C:
Can you clarify for me the situation with hearing frequencies at the low threshold of hearing?

Somewhere around 10 Hz it goes from hearing a lot of little pulses to a low tone - but I can't quite tell if the little pulses become a low tone, or if the low tone comes in in addition to all the little pulses.

In other words, is hearing a tone a reinterpretation of rapid pulses, or is it something else on top of the pulses?
I don't think people can hear 10hz tones (wikipedia says 20-20000hz, which is the range of the CD format). The low note on an electric bass is 40hz (that is the fundamental, we probably hear more of the higher harmonics; 80hz, 120hz, etc). My bass cabinets are only rated as reproducing 45hz (at -3db).

What I notice as I drop the frequency on a synth, the sound becomes "farty" and you can distinquish pulses; going lower, it is more felt than heard.

A concept I didn't go into is difference frequencies, which is another possible explanation for experiencing phenomena as "pulsing"...

When tuning by ear, we compare the sound of 2 notes. At first, they sound like different notes that are out of tune. As the notes get closer in freqency, they stop being perceived as distinct tones. Instead you hear one tone with a low frequency wavering (like tremelo). This wavering is the difference between the two frequencies. As the notes get closer, the tremelo frequency slows, and eventually becomes imperceptable.

I'm talking about hearing one note at a constant frequency - say, a pure sine wave.

The lowest tone people can hear varies a lot from person to person - some people have a limit of 20 Hz and some can hear lower.

But that's not really the point - my question had to do with the switch between hearing individual pulses and hearing a tone. At, say, 5 Hz, you'll just hear 5 little blips in a second. I'm wondering how the switch works, whether it's at 10 Hz or 30 Hz - is the tone in addition to the blips, or do the blips turn into a tone? Do you understand what I mean?

Can you link me to your reddit post?

RE: the quanta of sensation and perception
Answer
2/28/19 1:56 PM as a reply to Steven E Barnes.
Nice exposition, yeah you put your finger on some of the ways we switch between analogue and digital perception. Our experience is full of these sort of changes from perception of a smoothness to perception of discrete packets or objects etc.

We could ask whether some of the permanent transitions contemplatives undergo result in a permanent shift to a super fundamental analogue state - indivisible consciousness/emptiness/unity etc.

When people say that the ultimate reality is One, it seems like they have come off the fence and come down permanently on the side of analogue. In a way.... emoticon

Or maybe that the two categories are insufficient as fundamental properties of reality.

RE: the quanta of sensation and perception
Answer
1/6/19 2:30 AM as a reply to Stickman2.
Stickman2:
Chris Marti:
My answer --

If I'm not paying close attention then every perception appears as continuous, or analog. If I'm paying close attention then every perception appears as discrete quanta-like pieces, or I suppose you could call it digital.
I suppose whether reality is digital or analogue has been debated since at least the Greek atomists - and currently we have a reality model that says it's both, depending on various doodads.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/sensorium/201812/experiments-suggest-humans-can-directly-observe-the-quantum

Yes, I am with Chris (and physics!) on this one. The object of perception changes/is experienced differently according to whether it is being perceived via a mode of either direct focused attention or peripheral awareness. So it's both for me ... 

RE: the quanta of sensation and perception
Answer
1/6/19 3:02 AM as a reply to Anna L.
Hypothetically... in third vipassana jhana, where peripheri appears more clear than the center of one’s attention, would that make it more likely to experience the reality as waves?

RE: the quanta of sensation and perception
Answer
1/5/19 9:02 AM as a reply to Stickman2.
These are interesting questions.

Is piti something material or is it just a bunch of sensations that interact with our subjective self? I wouldn’t know, but my guess would be that it is a pattern of sensations that we can learn to manipulate (I’m using a duality language now even though I think it is much more complicated than that; we can’t even be sure that there is something beyond our sensations). It thus has consequences that can be measured, such as heightened levels of certain neurotransmittors and electrical activity in the synapses. I really have no idea how many such electrical charges need to be fired for someone to be able to sense them, but I’m fairly certain that kind of sensory clarity varies in different stages and can be trained. It even seems that it can be selectively trained. A fingertip touching exercise has caused two of my finger tips, and especially one of them, to be much more sensitive than the other ones, or maybe I’m just more familiar with the neural paths connected with them. Maybe they have actually developed new synaptic networks, I don’t know.

Sensory clarity may be developing more ”pixels” to our sensory experiences. I’m not sure how accurate this metaphor is. I’d be happy to hear from somebody more experienced. But if that’s the case, then it would be possible to experience more refined and subtle experiences. That would need power of concentration, though, to direct one’s attention. With poor concentration, lots of sensory input goes unnoticed. There are limitations to both our senses and to our attention, and somehow it seems to be possible to detect that, hence the experience of things being grainy. Unless the objects themselves are grainy, which is also a possibility, I guess. But for now I’m going with the idea that piti is a construction made up of different sensations. I don’t always orient to it that way, though. It is more easily induced when surrendered to as a power.

Now I’m getting confused. I get that even if we are depending on our senses, it is possible to detect their limitations. We have glasses and hearing aid devices, whatever they are called in English. It is possible for us to be attantive to those limitations. But how is it possible to be attentive to the limits of attention? Is that mere deduction from our sensory experiences? I guess it must be. Hm, yeah... We can notice that our attention is flickering between different areas and thus only gets input from a particular point in short impulses. Yet we know that we in daily life tend to construct this as a continuos experience from that point. In the same way, our mind often seems to extrapolate the information from every one single point to a larger area if they are similar enough. So for somebody who is not attentive enough to notice that, all these sensations that are arising and passing in different points as attention ”moves” around (or arises and passes in various locations) seems like one continous sensation of a somewhat larger area. There are probably layers to how refined the experience can be.

RE: the quanta of sensation and perception
Answer
1/5/19 5:35 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
I've come to think of piti as stimulant neurotransmitters, after reading Leigh Brasington, though I don't know which one, maybe noradrenaline.

If so, then the threshold of exactly how much of the chemical is detectable as sensation may have been studied and available in the literature about such things. Something like - how many molecules of norepinephrine does it take to register it's presence.

I don't know enough physiology to get an idea of how body scanning the inner feelings around the body leads to a rush of piti/noradrenaline, but my subjective experience is that it can.

I started meditiation simply observing the tingling in my extremities and deep breathing, and this led to full blown A&P ecstasy eventually.

At that point my sensation seemed like a general field in all things, yet it also definitely had a champagny/bubbly/grainy quality to it as well.

I'm sure that sensory clarity is trainable like you say, and the nerves connecting brain to fingers do indeed grow and develop.

RE: the quanta of sensation and perception
Answer
1/5/19 5:58 PM as a reply to Stickman2.
My guess would be that a number of neurotransmittors are involved, in various ways at different stages and variants of jhanas. Come to think of it, I have actually seen somebody propose a model for this in a thread somewhere on this forum. Can’t remember who and where.