July 25, 2012

Meet My New Girlfriend: tDCS

For many years, I've been interested in the possibility of what I call “technoboosts.”

A technoboost is something based in the physical sciences that would reliably accelerate the attainment of stream entry. I got the term “boost” from general relativity. Boost is what acceleration looks like in 4-D space-time. Some people claim that such technoboosts are currently available but none of the current candidates meet my criteria—not even close!

Our current systematic ways of bringing people to stream entry could be described generically as two-component systems. We give people certain ideas (darshana), and we give people certain practices (sādhanā). I envisage the possibility that, in the future, there might be a third component added: science/technology-based boosters (modern upāya).

The three components could work together to reliably and quickly bring deep results with, hopefully, a minimum of problematic side effects (“Dark Night” problems, etc.). I have no idea the specific form such technoboosts would take, but one possible paradigm would be to induce a precise spatio-temporal pattern of activation and deactivation (our old friend of simultaneous expansion/contraction). The pattern of activation/deactivation would give the students a strong taste of a desired state (such as no-self). They could then be trained to reproduce that on their own.

So I'm always interested in technologies that create patterns of activation and deactivation in the human brain, such as: neurofeedback, TMS, transcranial ultrasonic neuromodulation, and so forth.

Recently, several people have called my attention to a very simple and quite old form of neuromodulation that is currently gathering a lot of research momentum—transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).

Here’s why I’m excited about tDCS.

Qualitative Significance:
The effects of tDCS seem to map directly to the core themes in mindfulness.
  • Enhanced ability to focus (this seems to relate to the concentration piece in my definition of mindfulness)
  • Enhanced ability to detect signals against a noisy background (this seems to relate to the sensory clarity piece)
  • Enhanced ability to deal with pain (this may be related to equanimity)
  • The turning off of mental talk (i.e., a samatha effect)

Practical Feasibility:
As a process, tDCS…
  • Seems to produce the above effects reliably.
  • Apparently can both increase and decrease the average level of excitability for targeted populations of neurons (so, for example, it may be possible to simultaneously activate concentration and clarity switches while deactivating ego switches).
  • Seems safe (at least relative to other brain stimulation modalities).
  • Has a mechanism that is at least partially understood (seems to be related to long-term potentiation and long-term depotentiation).
  • Is technologically simple (stimulation devices involve very simple electronics--in fact, anyone can make their own crude but effective tDCS units using a 9-volt battery, a single resistor, and a couple sponges!).

I think this is an area where the meditators/mindfulness practitioners of the world could help push the envelope of neuroscience by getting involved with responsible research on the effects of tDCS. If you run into anything interesting, please add it in a comment on this blogpost. Also check out these guys, who are creating an online community of “body hackers” interested in this stuff. (I’ll leave it to your discretion to decide whether body hacking counts as responsible research ;) .)

Here are some links (Thank you to Mike Michaels for many of these resources):

Popular Articles

 Technical Articles

You Tube Videos

UPDATE - 7/12/13 - 
Hi folks, I wanted to update this blog post: Recently there’s been some concern about the safety issues because so many people have been experimenting on their own. Check it out:

DIY Brain Stimulation Raises Concerns

July 24, 2012

We're Not There Yet!

Some people claim that we already have a scientific description of enlightenment or that technologies currently exist which dramatically accelerate it.  No way.

The depth of paradigm and the power of technology that I envisage would have stunning global consequences within a few generations of its creation.

Until that’s happening, we ain’t there. (Law of contraposition: (A→B) → (~B→~A) If A implies B, then not B implies not A.)

A true science and technology of enlightenment would dramatically and reliably transform the majority of its users. They in turn would almost certainly recruit other users, causing a rapid, viral spread over the planet. 

If a process is not deep enough and reliable enough to guarantee global, viral spread, then it’s not deep enough or reliable enough to be called a true science/technology of enlightenment. Until 106-9 people worldwide have experienced “stream entry” (a permanent state of no self/big self), we ain’t there.

Currently we’re at the Galileo stage of this program, not the Hubble stage. But being on the ground floor is fulfilling in its own way.

“…it is quite possible that in contact with western science, and inspired by the spirit of history, the original teaching of Gautama, revived and purified, may yet play a large part in the direction of human destiny.”

--H.G. Wells, 1920

“…it is reasonable that in contact with modern science, and inspired by the spirit of history, the original discoveries of Gautama, rigorized and extended, will play a large part in the direction of human destiny.”

--Shinzen Young, 2011      

July 17, 2012

ReWire is Here!

Dear fellow meditators,

One of my students, Mike Redmer, just came out with a really cool app that makes my "Just Note Gone" technique into a video game!  Check it out here: http://www.rewireapp.com/.  And if you feel like it, give him feedback as to what works and doesn't work about it.  Apropos of that technique, an article by me on "The Power of Gone" should be appearing in the upcoming August edition of Tricycle magazine.

And speaking of August, this year's Buddhist Geeks conference will be livestreamed for free!  Way to go geek team!

Take a look at what Mike had to say about ReWire: 
ReWire is Here!
Posted by mikeredmer on July 7, 2012
We are happy to announce that the newest, most innovative meditation app currently on the market is available for immediate download. It’s been a year in the making, and we are super excited for you to try it out.
What is ReWire you ask? Head over to our brand new website and check out all the cool features ReWire offers.
ReWire is still in Beta, and in the coming months we will be continually iterating to make ReWire the best it can be. Please take it out for a few test drives and let us know how it handles. We have big plans for this new interactive approach to mind training, so feel free to let us know what you love and what you would like to see change. This is just the beginning.
Download the app today and join us on this ReWire journey. We hope we have a created an a meditation tool that will encourage, support and improve your mind training practice.
And remember, if you like ReWire make sure to tell your friends and spread the word. Thank you for all of your support.

July 11, 2012

The God Particle

Cr34t0rJuly 4, 2012 11:52 AM wrote:
Dear Shinzen, humanity calls for your explanation about Higgs boson. can't wait to read it.

It's a Papist conspiracy!  They realized you can't have Mass without it!

So much for humor; let me try metaphor.

Higgs is a sort of viscosity field that confers materiality to particles that would otherwise just be pure radiation.  In some way, that seems analogous to how sensory viscosity causes the flow of experience to coagulate into the impression of somethingness.  Neuroscientists are beginning to look into that.  Richie Davidson and others refer to it as "stickiness".  Stickiness might be the reciprocal (opposite) of what I call equanimity.  

But comparing this with the Higgs field is just a fun simile.  Probably no more relevant to human spirituality than my corny attempt at humor.

Parallels like this can be fun, but we should resist the temptation to read too much into them.  Here are some of my favorite parallels and my caveat.

For more on this, check out Buddhism and Science.