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Doubts About fMRI Studies

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Doubts About fMRI Studies
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6/26/20 7:01 AM
If you're like me you've been harboring a secret (or not so secret) hope that fMRI studies of meditators will reveal a lot about how meditation manifests in the physical anatomy of the human brain. It's got to, right? Well, maybe. But here's a neuroscientist at Duke University, an fMRI adherent, who is throwing cold water on the assumptions behind how effective e fMRI scanning actually is at measuring activity in the brain:

https://www.fastcompany.com/90520750/duke-university-researchers-say-every-brain-activity-study-youve-ever-read-is-wrong 

The trouble is that when the same person is asked to do the same tasks weeks or months apart, the results vary wildly. This is likely because fMRIs don’t actually measure brain activity directly: They measure blood flow to regions of the brain, which is used as a proxy for brain activity because neurons in those regions are presumably more active. Blood flow levels, apparently, change. “The correlation between one scan and a second is not even fair, it’s poor,” says lead author Ahmad Hariri, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Duke University.

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
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6/26/20 7:22 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
So the scientists have a lot of equity built into the fMRI models at this point. What happens if they're all just wrong? Does it matter?

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
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6/26/20 10:11 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
I was just reading about test-retest reliability in another article. It's expressed with a variable r (I think it's the same as ICC in the linked paper) that can range from 0 - 1. The standard r value for accepting a test is 0.8. Part of the research included a meta-analysis reporting a mean value of r=.397 which they describe as "poor", but I defer to others with actual training in statistics.

Hats off to the true scientists that are interested in truth rather than varifying their own pre-conceived biases. This is heartening:
This is a mouthful of dirt for hundreds of researchers—and Hariri is one of them. He has carried out fMRI research for 15 years, and is currently running a long-term fMRI study of 1,300 Duke students to discern why some come away from traumatic events with PTSD while others do not. “I’m going to throw myself under the bus,” he says “This whole subbranch of fMRI could go extinct if we don’t address this critical limitation.”

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
Answer
6/26/20 3:22 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
So the scientists have a lot of equity built into the fMRI models at this point. What happens if they're all just wrong? Does it matter?

It doesn't matter, IMHO. It's a fools errand. Are meditation or Buddhism going to save the world, if only we could convince scientific materialists? I'm with B. Alan Wallace on the idea that studies that merely correlate brain activity are hopelessly flawed and that consciousness itself does not originate in the brain at all:

What are some key ways that Buddhism is not consonant with modern science? 

Despite their commonalities, the methods of Buddhist and scientific inquiry are very different. Buddhist inquiry fundamentally focuses on gaining first-person experiential insight into the reality of suffering, the way that suffering causes imbalances and toxins of the mind, the possibility of freedom from suffering, and the path to such freedom. Buddhism is not concerned with the nature of reality as it exists independently of human experience, but rather with the reality of human experience.


Buddhists have never sought a God’s-eye perspective on reality. The religion is essentially oriented toward the realization of genuine happiness, akin to what the ancient Greeks, starting with Socrates, called eudaimonia. This is a quality of well-being not dependent upon sensory or intellectual stimulation; it stems from leading an ethical, which is to say nonviolent, way of life. Such a path to freedom yields a sense of well-being that emerges from what we bring to the world, not from what we get out of it. The realization of freedom from suffering and its inner causes depends upon the close examination of one’s own experience from a first-person perspective, refined through rigorous meditative training in mindfulness and introspection.


Modern science, on the other hand, tracing back to Galileo, is primarily focused on fathoming the nature of the objective, physical, quantifiable universe from a third-person perspective. The original motivation of science—as expressed by Galileo and other pioneers of the Scientific Revolution—was to understand the mind of the creator by way of his creation. This pursuit of a God’s-eye perspective sought to understand reality as it exists independently of human experience. Rather than refining the mental faculties of mindfulness and introspection, scientists have refined technology to try to fathom the nature of objective, physical reality in the language of mathematics.


The symbiotic development of science and technology over the past four centuries has greatly contributed to humanity’s “hedonic happiness,” which is a kind of well-being that arises from sensory and intellectual stimulation—one that is not contingent on ethics, mental balance, or wisdom. Hedonic pleasures are those we get from the world around us, and unsurprisingly, science has focused on the causes of suffering that stem from the physical world.


Both eudaimonia and hedonic well-being are important, as are the first-person and third-person approaches to understanding reality. For Buddhism, the mind is central to both human existence and the world of experience, while material concerns are secondary. For science, the nature of matter and its emergent properties are central, while the mind and subjective experience are secondary. So there is a fundamental complementarity, and at the same time a certain tension, between these two approaches to understanding the world and the good life.


To my mind, the principal obstacle to a deep integration of Buddhist insight and scientific discovery is the uncritical acceptance among many scientists—and increasingly the general public—of the metaphysical principles of scientific materialism. The fundamental belief of this scientific materialism is that the whole of reality consists only of space-time and matter-energy, and their emergent properties. This implies that the only true causation is physical causation, that there are no nonphysical influences in the universe. When applied to human existence, this worldview implies that subjective experience is either physical—despite all evidence to the contrary—or doesn’t exist at all, which is simply insulting to our intelligence. As the philosopher John R. Searle states in his book The Rediscovery of the Mind, “Earlier materialists argued that there aren’t any such things as separate mental phenomena, because mental phenomena are identical with brain states. More recent materialists argue that there aren’t any such things as separate mental phenomena because they are not identical with brain states. I find this pattern very revealing, and what it reveals is an urge to get rid of mental phenomena at any cost.”


It is commonplace nowadays to equate the mind with the brain, or to insist that the mind is nothing more than a function of the brain. But this is merely a metaphysical belief that has never been validated through scientific research. While the mind and brain are clearly correlated in precise ways that have been revealed through advances in cognitive neuroscience, the exact nature of those correlations remains a mystery. This mystery, however, is veiled by the illusion of knowledge that the mind-body problem has already been solved. But, while all other branches of modern science have focused on the direct observation of the natural phenomena they seek to understand, the cognitive sciences have insisted on avoiding such direct observation of mental phenomena. The simple reason for this choice is that subjectively experienced mental processes and states of consciousness do not fit within the materialist paradigm that has dominated science since the beginning of the 20th century.

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https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/six-questions-b-alan-wallace/

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
Answer
6/26/20 3:26 PM as a reply to Stirling Campbell.
Stirling !

My friend !

Thank you !!!!

Ha, funnily enough I read your posts from 2016 tens of minutes ago, and thought - hey, this guy's experience really resonates here.

And there you are, making me feel like there is hope in this world. emoticon

ps : Although, it does matter, IMHO. Because massive amounts of time and effort and money are being diverted into those meaningless endeavours, which could be spent on something actually beneficial.

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
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6/26/20 6:43 PM as a reply to Olivier.
Olivier:

ps : Although, it does matter, IMHO. Because massive amounts of time and effort and money are being diverted into those meaningless endeavours, which could be spent on something actually beneficial.

Hello Olivier!

Insight into non-duality always happens now. What is happening now is always just the reality of this moment and could never really be different, regardless of our opinions about how it should be. emoticon 

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
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6/27/20 5:54 AM as a reply to Stirling Campbell.
Ok, but if your friend falls and starts bleeding, doesn't it matter what you do help him ?

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
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6/27/20 6:54 AM as a reply to Stirling Campbell.
Stirling Campbell:
It's a fools errand. Are meditation or Buddhism going to save the world, if only we could convince scientific materialists?

Reminds me of Arthur Janov trying to use rectal thermometers [1] to convince the world that his therapy was superior to all others. Of course, it didn't work. A physiological correlate doesn't convince anyone of anything.

[1] Janov, A. "The Origins of Anxiety, Panic, and Rage Attacks." Activitas Nervosa Superior, vol. 55 (2013), pp. 51-66. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2FBF03379596.pdf

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
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6/27/20 11:12 AM as a reply to Olivier.
Olivier:
Ok, but if your friend falls and starts bleeding, doesn't it matter what you do help him ?

Lets say a friend falls into a raging river and you are holding an oar. The next action is what wants to happen based on those conditions, which include your presence, and personal feelings for your friend. However, what if you are watching a live feed of a earthquake thousands of miles away... what is your available action then? In relative reality causes and conditions cover the moment you are in and dictate what happens.

In absolute reality there is no self to decide what to do, or agency to do anything. There are no objects (including people) with an intrinsic reality. There is just "this" happening now. 

Both of these exist simultaneously, the first including and superceding the second.

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
Answer
6/27/20 11:15 AM as a reply to Derek2.
Derek2:
Stirling Campbell:
It's a fools errand. Are meditation or Buddhism going to save the world, if only we could convince scientific materialists?

Reminds me of Arthur Janov trying to use rectal thermometers [1] to convince the world that his therapy was superior to all others. Of course, it didn't work. A physiological correlate doesn't convince anyone of anything.

[1] Janov, A. "The Origins of Anxiety, Panic, and Rage Attacks." Activitas Nervosa Superior, vol. 55 (2013), pp. 51-66. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2FBF03379596.pdf

Correlation is not causation! emoticon WAY too much science is based on such things... and the reporting of such science is often hilarious. I laugh out loud every time there is article saying that we have discovered planets that could support human life light years away, or that we definitively understand where dark matter is, or have proof of the Higgs-Boson. 

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
Answer
6/27/20 11:19 AM as a reply to Stirling Campbell.
In absolute reality there is no self to decide what to do, or agency to do anything. There are no objects (including people) with an intrinsic reality. There is just "this" happening now. 

Hmmm.... two distinct realities is... a duality.

Anyway, I think science matters. It's got plenty of possibilities within its scope to help us be better and do better. Yes, it gets misused and yes, it wastes some resources. Still, on balance, it's worth something. So even though the fMRI "religion" may have wasted some $$$, there are folks in the field willing to call it out for what it is. thus potentially ending the waste. Or maybe redirecting the effort toward more helpful, fruitful pursuits.

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
Answer
6/27/20 11:27 AM as a reply to Stirling Campbell.
Stirling Campbell:
Olivier:
Ok, but if your friend falls and starts bleeding, doesn't it matter what you do help him ?

Lets say a friend falls into a raging river and you are holding an oar. The next action is what wants to happen based on those conditions, which include your presence, and personal feelings for your friend. However, what if you are watching a live feed of a earthquake thousands of miles away... what is your available action then? In relative reality causes and conditions cover the moment you are in and dictate what happens.

In absolute reality there is no self to decide what to do, or agency to do anything. There are no objects (including people) with an intrinsic reality. There is just "this" happening now. 

Both of these exist simultaneously, the first including and superceding the second.
Sure, and this in no way undermines the fact that in the relative world i want science to stop allowing people with no ethics to be ever better at destroying things for their own profit, and i can try to do something about it, whether this action has an agent behind it or not emoticon

The notion of "mattering" does not apply in the absolute. Its domain of validity is the relative.

Though this separation indeed seems dualistic to me.

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
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6/27/20 11:35 AM as a reply to Stirling Campbell.
Stirling Campbell:
Derek2:
Stirling Campbell:
It's a fools errand. Are meditation or Buddhism going to save the world, if only we could convince scientific materialists?

Reminds me of Arthur Janov trying to use rectal thermometers [1] to convince the world that his therapy was superior to all others. Of course, it didn't work. A physiological correlate doesn't convince anyone of anything.

[1] Janov, A. "The Origins of Anxiety, Panic, and Rage Attacks." Activitas Nervosa Superior, vol. 55 (2013), pp. 51-66. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2FBF03379596.pdf

Correlation is not causation! emoticon WAY too much science is based on such things... and the reporting of such science is often hilarious. I laugh out loud every time there is article saying that we have discovered planets that could support human life light years away, or that we definitively understand where dark matter is, or have proof of the Higgs-Boson. 

Yes, it is quite funny for me too emoticon 

There is just a fundamental and unseen blindpoint at the root of scientific endeavor...

But it's also tragic.

Scientists are so clueless, but they are the ones who have least critical thinking towards what they think they have a clue about, and that is what makes them so dangerous imo.

Because we collectively assign the ultimate epistemological value to science, we defer decisiin making to experts, without realizing that in order to become scientific experts, they have had to lose touch with the dimensions of their being which would allow them to make good decisions (which is not objective knowledge. To objective knowledge, building a high voltage line above a protected swamp area, say, poses no problem).

Hence contemporary barbarism and monstrosity, which is life destroying itself on an unprecedented scale ever.

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
Answer
6/27/20 11:47 AM as a reply to Olivier.
Because we collectively assign the ultimate epistemological value to science, we defer decisiin making to experts, without realizing that in order to become scientific experts, they have had to lose touch with the dimensions of their being which would allow them to make good decisions (which is not objective knowledge.

There's a fine line to walk here, Olivier. We should never reify science. It's not, nor should it be a religion. At the same time, by denying science completely or making devils out of all scientists, we open ourselves up to the kind of nasty and honestly brutal shit we have going on in the US now, with absolute nonsense being offered up as "just as valid" as fact and established by scientific inquiry. I think we need to be careful and precise when we decide what's worth keeping and what needs to be tossed out.

In other words, let's not take anti-science as a religion, either.



RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
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6/27/20 11:58 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
I agree, of course.

When I criticize science, i'm talking about galilean science, not rationality !

We should be careful not to confuse those. What i am saying is that, considering that only galilean sciences have the ultimate epistemological say, is an extremely dangerous stance which leads to denying subjectivity and, taken to its logical extreme (which is happening today), considers that humans can't know what's right for them, since after all, they only have subjective experiences, and they should defer that to the sciences. That's something else than denying that observation and reflexion have pragmatic value.

In fact, It's the notion that consciousness is an epiphenomenon emanating from material structures. That is the bread and butter of neoliberalism. 

No one is suggesting that people should be irrational, which is what you're describing happening in the states emoticon and i'm sorry about that honestly.

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
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6/27/20 12:07 PM as a reply to Olivier.
The scientists I most admire believe that science has limits. Our lives and our loves contain much that science can't speak to. To believe otherwise is to reify science. I know there are people out there who will keep trying, however, so... vigilance. Vigilance in both directions.

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
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6/27/20 3:05 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:

In other words, let's not take anti-science as a religion, either.



Hurray for the middle-way! emoticon

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
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6/27/20 3:15 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:

Hmmm.... two distinct realities is... a duality.

Oh... definitely agreed, which is why I said:

Both of these exist simultaneously, the first including and superceding the second.

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
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6/27/20 9:09 PM as a reply to Stirling Campbell.
I don't agree with the premise of science being ecilpsed by individual first person experience.

Consider the case of a person who has had damage to their brain. In one such case, they are completely blind. Totaly unaware of having any sight. Yet, when walking down a hallway where something was placed in their path, they walked up to it and moved around the object as if they saw it, but they were completely unware of both the object and having moved to avoid the object.

They had no awareness of this feat, yet they moved to avoid the object. It is called blindsight.

What this says to me is that awareness, or consciousness, is a very limited process and can not account for all the activity of the brain.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blindsight

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwGmWqX0MnM

I do find Chris' questioning of fMRI interesting though. It makes sense there would be limitations to inferences on brain activity by such a crude measurement of blood flow.

My take away is that awareness is dependent upon consciousness, which is dependent upon brain activity. Even Buddhism breaks down consciousness into the 6 sense bases. A mistake begins when one doesn't breakdown sensory input while having experiences of any sort, however seemily momentous. A jump of assumptions moves many to dispense with the basic instruction. This enables one to forget that consciousness is a construct in favor of consciousness being all.

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
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6/27/20 10:06 PM as a reply to David S.
David S:
I don't agree with the premise of science being ecilpsed by individual first person experience.

I would merely suggest holding the proposition that either is "true" lightly.

My take away is that awareness is dependent upon consciousness, which is dependent upon brain activity. Even Buddhism breaks down consciousness into the 6 sense bases. A mistake begins when one doesn't breakdown sensory input while having experiences of any sort, however seemily momentous. A jump of assumptions moves many to dispense with the basic instruction. This enables one to forget that consciousness is a construct in favor of consciousness being all.

Meditation practice is fantastic way to look carefully at what awareness is. If you can rest in simple clean, clear empty awareness it's worth asking how that is different from what you think consciousness is, or brain activity is. Do either exist in empty awareness? How about "I"? How about the differences between the senses... are there really sense doors, or are those also empty of intrinsic existence? 

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
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6/28/20 9:36 AM as a reply to Stirling Campbell.
Both of these exist simultaneously, the first including and superceding the second.

How so?

If you can rest in simple clean, clear empty awareness it's worth asking how that is different from what you think consciousness is, or brain activity is.

So... what is consciousness as opposed to awareness?

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
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6/28/20 10:27 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:

How so?

The perspective of the absolute doesn't make relative phenomenal world go away... it is still there, but is always suffused with the quality of emptiness/anatta/rigpa. The emptiness/anatta/rigpa is always present underneath and becomes the dominant, pervasive quality of appearances.

So... what is consciousness as opposed to awareness?

Got me! emoticon That is what I was getting at - it is worth investigating if there "consciousness" when the mind is quiet, or just awareness... a simple resting in "don't know".

What do you think, Chris?

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
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6/28/20 3:28 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:

So... what is consciousness as opposed to awareness?

Chris (& Stirling),

You weren't addressing the question to me, but here's my take on your question.

One way to distinguish the term awareness from consciousness would be to use awareness for what is known (cognition), whereas consciousness would include, along with cognitive processes, those of which one is unaware, such as many precognitive and non-cognitive processes.

By using solely one's awareness it would be impossible to know precognitive and non-cognitive processes, which is why scientific study is very important in expanding the scope of knowledge. Who would have known through first person experience that blindsight was possible? Certainly not the person with blindsight.

"Blindsight challenges the common belief that perceptions must enter consciousness to affect our behavior; showing that our behavior can be guided by sensory information of which we have no conscious awareness." -Wikipedia

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
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6/28/20 5:09 PM as a reply to Stirling Campbell.
Stirling Campbell:

Meditation practice is fantastic way to look carefully at what awareness is. If you can rest in simple clean, clear empty awareness it's worth asking how that is different from what you think consciousness is, or brain activity is. Do either exist in empty awareness? How about "I"? How about the differences between the senses... are there really sense doors, or are those also empty of intrinsic existence? 

Hi Stirling.

It looks to me that meditation practice can induce all kinds of phenomenal changes in perception. Some may prove to hold new insights into perception and its arising. And I think, science may also add to the understanding of the complexity of perception. It may well be that meditation will cast new frameworks of understanding and science may point out more. But I will have to refrain from making any assumptions until I have such a shift in my understanding. Is that what you meant by holding views/truths lightly?

Emptiness can mean many different things. Although, without the sense door of mind I don't think there is much going on phenomenally. If there is no intrinsic existence then all is a construction, even that which appears to be supramundane. Emptiness to me points to the essential ephemeral nature of all phenomena, not any ontological status, which in essence depends upon one's intellectual view. A circlular reference pointing back onto one's concepts or inherent biases.

RE: Doubts About fMRI Studies
Answer
7/8/20 8:58 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.