Update on Patent Submission (14/351561) for the Prediction of Placebo Responders.

The utility patent application, “BODILY SELF-IMAGE AND METHODS FOR PREDICTING PLACEBO RESPONSE OR RESPONSE SHIFT” (USPTO application # 14/351561) has been reviewed by an Examiner and found useful, non-obvious, and novel but of ineligible subject matter (i.e., an “abstract idea”). Abstract ideas cannot be patented because, among other reasons, they are broad in scope and might preclude too many other inventions.

I disagree with the Examiner’s finding that the patent application relates to an abstract idea. His correlations of my method to other patent applications that were found to be abstract ideas, the method Examiner’s use to define abstract ideas, seem tangential and at too broad a level of generalization to be applicable. My method seeks only to use an aspect of a virtual reality scenario related to how fast and how fully a person embodies the experience. Then it seeks only to use these speed and extent measures to predict for placebo responders and response shifters only within a limited sphere of use (i.e., clinical research). Importantly, because the definition and designation of “abstract idea” has been problematic for the corps of examiner’s, new USPTO guidance (effective 7 Jan 2019) has been released to clarify the definition and the process of review as relates to abstract idea. I view this new guidance as supportive of my claims.

As such, I have prepared and submitted an appeal of the decision to the “Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences”. I have asked to defend the patent application in person at the panel’s hearing. The timing of the date of the appeal hearing is unknown. Likely it will be during the summer of 2019.

Both Views of Each Patient Must be Captured During Drug Development.

The mission of the US Food and Drug Administration is to protect the public health, in part, “…by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices…”1It ensures real effects, ones directly attributable to the drug, product or device, are measured and reported. For example, placebo effects are controlled in clinical trials. Findings from behavioral economics research may now help control another flaw—over-reliance on virtual reality.

According to how questions are framed, answers from patients about drug effects differ. Because of this, adverse drug effects reported from within clinical trials are categorized as “spontaneous,” volunteered without prompting the patient, or “solicited” by asking the patient about specific effects. The point of this article is to suggest that regulatory agencies also consider another difference, each of our “two points of view,” when evaluating the safety and efficacy of products and devices. Differences between these views may be greater than the differences observed between spontaneous and solicited reports.

The behavioral economics literature suggests that each of us judges value, like severity of pain or happiness, from two different points of view. For one of these views, terms like “rational-cognitive,” “remembering,” or “conceptual” have been used because it relies on cognitive processes that use concepts and memory. For the other, terms like “experiential,” “experiencing,” and “sensory-perceptual” have been used because it relies only on immediate sensory perceptual experience to make assessments. Broadly, they appear to arise from the mental processing of either: a. Concepts, or b. Percepts2,3, likely done by the left and right-brain hemispheres, respectively. The importance of our perceptual view, information obtained directly by the processing sensory-perceptual experience and then reported on without the use of concepts, has been under appreciated and gone unnoticed. It has been co-opted by our reliance on language. Because percepts are non-conceptual, no one can convey them through words. It rose to fame when Daniel Kahneman won the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics by relying on it to make sense of predictable, but seemingly irrational, human decision-making.

It is important to realize that we fundamentally interact with a perceptual world. When asked, most people mistakenly believe they can express the color red. They do so by offering comparisons (e.g., to fire trucks, stop signs) but not saying what it is. But, no one can do so. The best test for this is that no one can say (i.e., conceptualize) what red is to someone who has never seen. Further, concepts can only describe the world down to the level of a category; my desk lamp desk is a unique object that defies being described by words. Percepts, however, know uniqueness. What’s truer, that it’s a “desk lamp” (i.e., a member of a category) or that one can perceive its uniqueness but cannot communicate that fact through words?

At first blush, use of language to answer questions about health appears to require the transformation of percepts into concepts and then reliance on the concept as an adequate substitute for the experience. But is the concept an adequate substitute? Likely not. Here’s an example of research done about happiness. College students rated their vacation on a daily basis6. At its end, they also evaluated its entirety and whether they wanted to repeat it. Results showed that students based their intention to repeat it mainly on their rating at the time of the last assessment, “even if the final evaluation did not accurately represent the quality of the experience that was described in the diaries.”2The findings suggest that the conceptually-oriented ratings are not equivalent to the experientially-oriented, daily ratings.

Types of questions that force someone to answer from a conceptual view often include use of memory, like “How was your pain during the past month?” or forced choices, like ratings on a 5 point scale. Behavioral economics research points the way to obtaining responses from our perceptual view. Use of questions having a present moment orientation like, “How is your pain now?” seem to do so. A response format where the respondent makes a mark across a 10 cm line indicating level of pain intensity may also help minimize categorization. Other methods for tapping into the experiential view are available. The experience sampling method4and the day reconstruction method5are two among them. Even if questions about health status are designed specifically to capture either one view or the other, no method is fool proof or controllable. Yet, the effort appears worthwhile.

If research participants inadvertently shift between views their reported health may change. It has been proposed that shifting between views may be one possible cause of the placebo effect3. Placebo responders may be those who initially report from the memory/conceptual view and then shift to the experiential/ perceptual view. By dropping the conceptual component they may report feeling better.

Inclusion of each patients two views (the perceptual as well as the experiential) during the assessment of drug effects is important and should not remain trivialized. Though conceptual, thought-based, reports of drug effects dominate patient questionnaires, these answers reflect a virtual reality. Reality is not what we think it is. What we think is virtual, an idea, an abstraction. What we experience is real.

Dictionary.com shows the philosophically-oriented definition of the word “reality” as “something that exists independently of ideas concerning it.” It also shows the definition of “perceive” as “ to become aware of, know, or identify by means of the senses.” This suggests that reports from a patient about his or her pain are real only when they originate from sensory-perceptual experience.

By contrast, the definition of “virtual” is “being something in essence though not in name.” The definition of “concept” is “a general notion or an idea,” while the related word “conceive” means “to form a notion, opinion, purpose, etc.” As applied to patient reports about the efficacy and safety of drugs, when a patient uses concepts to report the severity of his or her pain those answers do not represent reality. Because they represent virtual reality, they should not carry as much weight in the regulatory decision-making process about a drug’s safety and efficacy as answers that do reflect reality.

Earlier this year, JAMA published Guidelines for Inclusion of Patient-Reported Outcomes in Clinical Trial Protocols7, which addressed conditions for the appropriate use of subjective patient-reported outcome (PRO assessments during clinical research studies. Though the guidelines advanced many points, like the need to specify, “…concepts/ domains used to evaluate the symptom,” “…a schedule of PRO assessments,” etc., they do not consider our two points of view or suggest their inclusion as an important variable. Such discussion would have been beneficial. It’s my belief the guidance missed an excellent opportunity to move the field forward. It’s my wish that when FDA updates its guidance on the use of patient-reported outcomes measures, full consideration will be given to inclusion of our two views. I further hope that when subjective patient reports are required, researchers and clinicians will consider inclusion of both views and conduct analyses of the different results produced by each. Health economic appraisals related to the cost-effectiveness of drugs may especially benefit by incorporation of our two views within those analyses.

Cite as – Pashko, S. (2018). Patient-Centered Drug Effects: Their Reality is Perceived Not Conceived. Comment on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Notice: Patient-Focused DrugDevelopment: Developing and Submitting Proposed Draft Guidance Relating to Patient Experience Data; Public Workshop.

References

  1. Food and Drug Administration. Mission. https://www.fda.gov/aboutfda/whatwedo/default.htm. Accessed March 9, 2018.
  2. Kahneman, D. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 2012.
  3. Pashko, S. Conceptual versus perceptual information processing: Implications for subjective reporting. Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics.2014;7:219–226.
  4. Hektner, J, Schmidt, J, Csikszentmihalyi, M Experience Sampling Method: Measuring the Quality of Everyday Life.Thousand Oaks: CA, Sage Pubs; 2007.
  5. Kahneman, D, Krueger, A, Schkade, D, Schwarz, N. Stone, AA Survey Method for Characterizing Daily Life Experience: The Day Reconstruction Method. 2004:306(5702):1776-1780. doi: 10.1126/science.1103572
  6. Wirtz, D, Kruger, J, Scollon, C N, Diener, E. (2003). What to do on spring break? The role of predicted, on-line, and remembered experience in future choice. Psychological Science. 2003;14:520–524.
  7. Calvert, M, Kyte, D, Mercieca-Bebber, R, et al. Guidelines for Inclusion of patient-Reported Outcomes in Clinical Trial Protocols: The SPIRIT-PRO Extenstion. JAMA. 2018;319(5):483-494. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.21903

Mindfulness Rebalances Human Information Processing

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To paraphrase most dictionaries, reality is what appears to our senses not our thoughts. Knowing this difference is important since many people mistakenly live their lives in the virtual reality of their thoughts, missing out on the lived experience of their humanity. Because all concepts, which include all words and thoughts, are used to signal differences (“man” vs. “woman”), life lived in a virtual reality is characterized by separation, distortion, and alienation. Distortion occurs from the fact that words only convey categories, not particulars, despite the fact that everything in the world is specific. And because distortion and alienation beget fear, the best survival tools become anger and greed. However, these negative emotions all produce behaviors that harm others. In this way, life within the virtual world is distorted, confusing and stressful for everyone.

The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to return to live in the real world. All meditations are methods to return to reality from whatever thought-based, virtual reality one has mistakenly created. Methods, like mentally repeating or verbally chanting a nonsense word or continuously attending to the experiential nature of the muscles that make each breath rise and fall, all work to keep the mind attentive to direct experience and restrained from producing non-voluntary, conceptual thought. Conditioned to the apparent helpfulness of language, the strong tendency to engage in non-voluntary thinking usually overwhelms everyone’s ability to stay focused on direct experience. Practicing any form of attentiveness, like hearing sound without interpreting it, improves this capability. No one can pay attention and create thoughts at the same time. The main effect of mindfulness results from correcting the imbalance about how we use information and make assessments based on it. All benefits, including pain, anxiety and stress reduction as well as the mental clarity required for optimal decision-making and superior reality testing, arise from this.

Neuroscience, psychology and behavioral economics research studies all suggest humans have two ways of processing information: 1. One requires concepts, words and thoughts, like “lamp,” “arithmetic,” and “friendly,” and 2. One uses percepts, like sound (e.g., middle C on a piano), color (e.g., the redness of a painted door), temperature (e.g., coldness when asleep at night), etc.

Humans use the formal rules of logic and concepts for purposeful thinking. Concepts and logic have been helpful to humankind, for example helping with the design and construction of a new bridge. But words have significant limitations because they transform reality from its original condition. Words are unable to describe any sensory-perceptual experience, which is primarily how we know the world. For example, no one can tell someone who has been blind from birth anything about redness. Further, words also fail to express anything specific, like a “lamp,” or “justice,” “gender,” or even “self-identity” (i.e., who we are). It only works with categories. The particular lamp on my desk is a specific item in the category of lamps yet there is no way to say exactly what it is—a name or location cannot be used since they are not inherent to the lamp. As for broad concepts like “justice,” “gender,” and “self-identity,” words have always failed to deliver precise definitions. That’s why modifiers and operational definitions, like “unequal justice,” “psychological gender,” and “soccer mom,” were invented. But they do not get us closer to the truth. Concepts deliver imperfect information about our experience and particular aspects about the world around us. It’s a grave mistake, though, to take them as truths—as those who live in virtual reality must do.

But, humans need not “think” using words in the mind to cope with most daily challenges. Perceptual processing works well. Because percepts have not been transformed into concepts we cannot understand them by using logic. This is limitation of conceptual processing. Even though they are hidden to our thinking, we know percepts are useful bits of information because we can see the results of their use. We don’t think when we apply brakes at the right force, assess the worth of a painting, pull the covers over us at night when we’re too cold, or compare hundreds of shades of redness and successfully match a sample to the original.

Because of language, people tend to favor logical, conceptual explanations for the basis of their actions. For example, all points of philosophy and law are argued and decided based on concepts. In doing so, however, the failings of language must be either overlooked or trivialized. But, most of philosophy and the law, like ethics and rights, are focused on the person, though no one is exactly sure just who a person is. The term self-identity remains a conceptual puzzle. Can the stance of being a soccer mom, the holding of a national passport, or having a physical human body meet the requirements of a personal self-identity? No, they cannot. None meet the test for unchanging continuity. All conceptualized self-identities fail this test.

Insight into this question of self-identity may be gained from the view of perceptual information processing. To begin with, however, one must remember that concepts do not exist within this view. So, like every word, the term “self-identity” also has no meaning or relevance within the view from perceptual experience. What can be said about it then if concepts do not apply? Well nothing really. Except that from the view of perceptual experience, when it’s uncontaminated by any concepts, there can only be authenticity, continuity, intelligence, and not a hint of alienation or distortion. “You” might try it on—by being mindful as much as possible.

Authenticity: Embracing the Percept.

Please, Stop Being a Concept!

 

Authenticity is the sense of truly being what you are. There is a genuine ease and feeling of well being about being authentic and knowing this for yourself. There may also be no greater casualty than losing your authenticity, a sure descent into an empty, miserable existence.

Grasping is what shuts off access to authenticity. The best way to define grasping is over-reliance on mental concepts. It’s a strategy to secure one’s understanding of and place in changing world. It’s likely due to an overly strong desire for certainty and constancy, a reaction to being frightened. It can be so strong that it’s willing to accept plausibility, such as “my boss hates me” instead of truth (I need much more assurance and praise than others do). This need, mostly in the form of fixed psychological stances, like one race is inferior, most others are better than me, or the need to be right, causes untold suffering. Left unfulfilled, relief sought through reliance on fast food, fits based on chronic anger, an alcohol or drug high, or an anxious need for popularity makes the problem worse and the authenticity harder to feel.

A cure for being a fake does exist. The punch line to the old joke “How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb” does show the way. The answer is that it only takes one, but “the change must come from within.” As I will argue, we need to be delivered from an original sin, our belief that words constitute bona fide truths. I am not saying that words are outright lies, which are deliberate falsehoods. However, through the distortion built-in to all words they just do not convey what most people believe they are meant to.

All languages have one big problem, for which philosophers may point to the “explanatory gap.” There’s a gap in our understanding between the inputs of our raw sensory-perceptual experience, the arising of consciousness, and our faltering efforts to put it all into words. How can we articulate what experiencing the color blue seems like to us? We see blue, but we don’t know two things about what we see: how blueness arises in our consciousness and, secondly, why we cannot explain blueness to a blind person.

Oddly, perversely, words cannot convey what we directly experience. If they’re aware of it, most people dismiss this egregious failing of words as irrelevant. Sadly, most go on to speak as if they knew exactly what they’re talking about. But authenticity ends when words are accepted as truth. This goes for our own personal authenticity, too.

Here’s something to reflect on. Think about your last experience of awe, when you were made speechless. Maybe it was when your child was born, or during a visit to the Grand Canyon, or first seeing Hubble’s photographs of a distant galaxy? Yet our precious sense of speechlessness lasts only until thoughts arise and suck the life from what was marvelous about the experience. Putting thoughts into words changes what was truly awesome into a joyless fact, like a date of birth (or a mile deep or a hundred thousand light years wide).

Our authentic humanity reveals itself in the aliveness of an experience when we are speechless and fully enmeshed in the sensory-perceptual moment. When thought enters the mind the feeling of awe loses much of its joy. Exclaiming, “It’s really big” doesn’t do justice to our true experience at the Grand Canyon, either. Authenticity means knowing the source of lived experience directly, without something coming in between. What comes between authenticity and us? Concepts do, because of that gap. Though they innocuously arrive in the form of flashes of thoughts and beliefs the problem lies in the grasping at them as if they are true.

Alfred Korzybski, a renowned scholar of language, once said unforgettably that, “The map is not the territory.” In short, a word (the map) is not the thing itself (the territory). Further, both the map and the word distort the truth. As for maps, look at the most common type used in grade schools, the Mercator projection of the Earth. It’s flat even though the Earth is a sphere. It also warps the territory, elongating the areas nearest the poles and squeezing those near the equator.

As for the distortions of words, the felt experience of what’s called awe is only a name that tries to point back to an authentic phenomenon. The awe-filled experiences of the Grand Canyon, pictures from Hubble and the birth of our child are uniquely different. The word awe is used because we have to communicate with each other but it does not fit the distinctive qualities inherent to each experience. The fathomless qualities of those distinct experiences get lost during their transformation into the puny word “awe.”

When people substitute the idea (map) of an experience for its actual aliveness (territory) , and most unwittingly do so again and again, they lose authenticity; they become zombies. Experiences aren’t ideas. Experiences are flush with gusto! When connoisseurs suggest, “This wine reminds me of apricots,” they have lost the experience of tasting the wine. They’ve become wine zombies, juggling dry ideas. “Wineness” taste happens to us only before words jump to mind and obscure it. The return to authenticity simply involves favoring the indescribable juiciness of experience over the barrenness of deficient words. All it takes is either resolve against the creation of a thought about the experience or restraint from accepting a thought as a truthful substitute. Practicing to remain thoughtless and speechless for a few more moments lets authenticity linger.

Though easy to write about, refraining from thought creation and the categorization of our experience may be one of the most difficult things we will ever do. Oblivious of the problems arising from the gap, speedy acquisition and unrestricted use of language are encouraged from the moment we are born. It’s our most important form of communication. Our skills are tested and we can fail at life tasks if it’s not well developed. However, to understand what language can and cannot do is imperative. It can only create and juggle symbols. If language is used inappropriately it will obscure our authenticity and distort what’s true. What it cannot do is help us find our way back.

What then is authenticity? I’m suggesting that it’s our concept-free beingness (territory), that unique combination of us as our ever-changing sense-perceptions, which are beyond words (maps). As mentioned above, authenticity is obscured at the first occurrence of a thought. In contrast to a thought or word, which are concepts, our sensory-perceptual experiences are percepts. That percepts cannot be named does not make them mysterious, sacred, or special, just consistent with the fact that experiences cannot be named. Because all we know comes to us through our sensory-perceptual experience, the only reality we initially encounter is perceptually based.

In this way, the percept, not the concept, is fundamental to authenticity. It dims when concepts dominate experience (for instance, Muslims are un-American) and is re-gained as concepts are displaced in favor of what we actually experience (for instance, I know someone who is a fine fellow, regularly visits a mosque and is a U.S. citizen).

Our own authenticity is like this—experiential, before words—that singular, inexpressible percept that’s been with us since childhood. It is always available, though easily obscured by a lifetime’s haze of bound concepts. We are not concepts such as, “Fortune 100 executive,” “dumb,” “too average-looking,” or any other “thing” that can be named. Those are merely alignments we may have unwittingly sidled up to. Grasping at one or another such stances in order to affix ourselves to something namable never satisfies. Those eventually, and surely, diminish us. At our most basic, our nature is perceptual. Ask yourself, “What has remained perfectly constant about myself over the years?” Something has been. Likely, it’s the percept of yourself. You can’t say what it is, though you experience it and it follows you like your shadow.

The experience of authenticity provides the stability most mistakenly seek through fixed thoughts and concepts, or food, money, power, and fame. Thoughts come and go without grasping; we perceive just what’s there and not fanciful complexities, like my car doesn’t work because the mechanic has it out for me, that aren’t. Re-acquaintance with it simply (or maybe not so simply) demands not grasping at concepts.

Though we might believe we understand the world only through thoughts, concepts and words like dog, twit, stop, greed, etc., this is not true at all. It’s only one way we understand it. Our equally competent, other intelligence system processes perceptual information. Because we logically understand only by employing concepts, no one can understand how perceptual data informs us. It’s beyond the reach of the part of our mind that requires concepts to function. Nevertheless, perceptual processing does a great job in relieving us from the burden of thoughts and providing us with intuitions and insights. Its power and influence is not to be taken lightly. Though you may not realize it or understand it, you already rely on it.

No better proof of the power of perceptual processing comes from the late Yankee sage, Yogi Berra. When his manager pressed him to think about the bad pitches he was swinging at, young Yogi lamented, “How can a guy hit and think at the same time?” Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller Blink also described the processing of perceptual information, or as his subtitle put it, “The power of thinking without thinking.” In Gladwell’s book, the power of non-thought-based intelligence is described in examples of art experts who uncover forgeries in the blink of an eye and marital therapists who know in a moment if a couple will divorce. Even Albert Einstein was reported to have discovered his theory of relativity through a flash of intuition while he was walking the Alps with a friend. Observations from our everyday lives also attest to the wisdom of perceptual processing. Asleep on a cold night, we don’t engage our logical mind to conclude, “I’m too cold now.” We just pull up more covers. We “know” to do this. We don’t think have to our way through it.

A more scientific example of perceptual processing comes to us from a 1988 psychology research study done by Lewicki and others. These researchers asked subjects to press one of four electronic buttons to predict in which quadrant of a computer screen the letter “X” would next appear. Results showed that their performance steadily improved as they intuitively absorbed a complex system of rules for the location of its next appearance. Even though it defies our efforts to understand it logically, our knowing without thinking exists as a powerful source of intelligent functioning. This research supports the behavioral economist’s argument that we see the world in two ways, by using memory and words or by experience.

Despite the fact that it works without naming, words, or the logical juggling of concepts, perceptual information processing is intelligent, demands little effort, supports most of our daily informational requirements, and provides the way to know, but not understand ourself.

It’s easy to spot inauthentic people, zombies, because they define themselves by concepts and act as if those concepts are true. Fixations, like yearning to be healthy, tall, smart, handsome, rich, famous, or powerful, etc., mask authenticity. The lack of personal authenticity with its common fixations (for instance, the fixation that people should not be of a different race or religion from me) has caused enormous harm throughout human history. Zombie people cling to thoughts about how they should be, perhaps smarter, more attractive, more capable, and then always try to relate to the world from that bogus stance. It’s the “always” that gives them away. There’s no “always” in genuine authenticity. Authenticity is flexible, without a despotic fixed position. Unfortunately, people tend to grasp at one fixed thought or another (racist, need for fame, unworthiness, etc.) and in so doing can’t see other truer alternatives as they arise.

The solution is clear for each of us. Simply relax the grasping tendency: 1. Withdraw your attention away from thoughts that linger too long by placing your attention elsewhere, like paying attention to your breathing, your chewing of food, or your walking stride; 2. Stay with the cleared awareness of what’s there without concepts; and 3. Repeat the cycle as sticky thoughts try to remain. Further, trust the perceptual information processing system–relax into it and let it do its work.

To be authentic, one must have the interest and energy to examine every fixed stance that appears to the conceptual mind. Life circumstances change continually. To keep pace, a flexible view helps. No stances or views are true for very long so. Frequent reappraisal helps keep us flexible and in accord with life circumstances. The process begins by detaching from the grip of thought. Clear consciousness exists when attention is withdrawn, like from the thought “my skin color is the only good one.” When consciousness is freed of thought, at least for a short while, one can more easily look around for other views (like whether other skin colors are acceptable, too). With less influence from past thoughts, it may be easier to determine whether any others are better. If they are better they are kept (e.g., honesty is the best policy, yup, seems like a keeper). If not, they can be discarded for another that’s best taken on temporarily. An additional alternative also exists. Perceptual processing can also supply helpful answers, providing you don’t muddle it up with thought. They are called insights.

Test yourself. What stances do you hold too strongly to? Just as good a test, reflect on views you can’t accept. Could you accept being of another racial or gender orientation, losing your home and much of your wealth, or receiving a terminal diagnosis, all without a high degree of stress? Consider asking friends to help you identify harmful stances. Fix what’s holding you back.

With the description of authenticity I’m proposing here, it’s not hard to see how its lack on a personal level may damage the quality of our overall civilization. All of us parts sum up to that whole. The failure to be authentic has been shown have catastrophic consequences, like mistrust of others, wars, various types of discrimination, environmental damage, wealth disparity, etc. Reflect on how it applies to some of the most meaningful personal qualities that support civilization, like abundance or scarcity; satisfaction or suffering; well-being or illness; understanding life or coping with death; and, ultimately, aligning with reality or rationalizing falsehoods. Consider how a return to your own authenticity might be personally, professionally, and societally helpful.

Disclaimer: This is a personal view and should not be considered as a replacement for mental health care.

Thinking About Thoughts.

Engaging Both Information Systems to Optimize Well-Being and Decision-Making.

 

Note: Be sure to read the definitions of the terms thinking and thought/ thoughting as well as concept and percept that appear at the end of this article.

Have you thought much about your thoughts? There is a difference between their content, like a difficult family problem, and the process of their appearance/ disappearance (bothering you all day long). Let’s take a moment to consider their processes and how you manage them.

Regardless of what they are about, all thoughts have distinct qualities, which include:

1. Duration (how long each thought lingers),

2. Frequency (the number that arise every minute),

3. Repetitiveness (the number of times the same one returns), and

4. Intensity (the degree to which they capture your attention).

In relation to the combination of these traits the term “thought energy” (TE) can be used. A higher TE involves long duration thoughts having high frequency, repetitiveness and intensity. A lower TE involves short duration thoughts having low frequency, repetitiveness and intensity.

Do your own assessment. Got a lot going on up there? People pay therapists, travel, hike in nature, attend concerts, etc., just to clear their heads of thought. No one can play a sport, make their best decision, read, or concentrate on a card game with high TE. Often, that’s WHY people do these things—to get out of their heads (of too much TE). Some even resort to the thought-numbing effects of drugs and alcohol. Yet, thought can be so intrusive, chronic, intense and negative that people will risk their life to be rid of them. A clear-headed approach seems best for well-being and optimal decision-making. Agree?

An article in the journal Science entitled “A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind,” by Killingsworth & Glibert (2010) offers some useful information. They used a smart phone app to get real-time reports about: 1. How often people’s minds wandered (when passively arising thought captured their attention), 2. What they wandered to, and 3. How those thoughts affected their happiness. Astonishingly, mind-wandering occurred at least 46% of the time. It also “…revealed that people were less happy when their mind’s were wandering….” Their research found that mind-wandering caused unhappy thoughts and was not the result of it.

Apart from mental clouding and unhappiness there are other downsides of a high TE. One is “preconception bias”—over-reliance on a too general opinion, like racial preference or optimism, before new facts are considered. It’s a death knell for any good, informed decision, like those for hiring a new person, lending or borrowing money, choosing a lover, or developing a new business proposition.

Attentive mindfulness clears the mind like a broom. Hitting a golf ball, reading, exercising, as well as many other activities all sweep the mind clear of thoughts. They do so because they require our attention. Attention sweeps thoughts away because they are incompatible with one another. To this point, Yogi Berra told the baseball coach who scolded him about swinging at bad pitches, said, “How can a guy hit and think at the same time?” My answers are: 1. You can’t, and 2. You shouldn’t. Our other information processing system does that kind of work. How do we do anything when thoughts are either gone or not used? We return control back over to our information processing system that uses percepts, not concepts. It’s really our main operating system but it’s hidden because we need concepts for thinking. Our other system relies on percepts for knowing.

Percepts are bits of information that comes to us through our senses that are in a more original form because they have not been changed into concepts (thought-words) and given “meaning”. Through this system we perceive danger, strength needed for braking a car, appreciate beauty, the truthfulness of a conversation with another, etc. It works continuously, efficiently and effortlessly without the use of any thought or thinking. Those who are consumed by a high TE may not believe even they use this system for the tasks above, but it’s true. To analyze conceptually, like “How much is 23 times 11?” thoughts and thinking must interrupt the workings of this system to come to that kind of answer.

Someone with established mindful attention, usually from the steadfast practice of mindfulness or meditation, lowers his or her TE score. The duration of each thought has shortened. None need to linger for more than a very brief moment. Even Einstein’s insight about relativity occurred in a flash of thought. The frequency of thoughts has decreased from lack of interest in the little of what repeated ones offer. Intensity, the most onerous of all thought qualities, also has weakened since the truth of their importance has become better understood by a more clarified mind.

Though it’s impossible to calculate, those well-practiced in mindful attention likely go for long periods without attending to or engaging any thoughts that passively arise. Yet, they can stop to think when that’s needed. Though the term “mental clarity” can be used to describe this mental state but it misses the quality of its depth and duration. The words “calm abiding” may be better, however. They may better convey the persistent attentiveness in combination with the mental clarity that comes from being undistracted by thought.

A good deal of valuable information is wasted when we use only one of our two information processing systems (either the conceptual or the perceptual). Directly accessed and untainted by the distortions caused by the alteration into concepts, the use of perceptual information has many benefits. For example, it cannot not suffer from preconception bias, like genderism. Gender is a concept and no concept is involved in this process. To the clarified mind, the processing of perceptual information offers insights, those unbidden but complete solutions that occur (e.g., that a animal-themed crossword puzzle clue “Bear” is actually not about the noun but about the verb). Every decision gets evaluated, as it should, only by the relevant information.

Before Seymour Epstein described this system in the 1970’s, which he called he “experiential,” not the “perceptual” information processing system as I do, it was unknown to academic circles. However, the meditation communities appear to have appreciated it for centuries. It became critical for resolving findings from behavioral economics research that were consistent but incomprehensible. Because of its importance for understanding how and why people make decisions about worth, understanding the powerfulness of this system helped Daniel Kahneman win the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics. Search for and look through the behavioral economics research articles published over the past 20 years. See for yourself. The work is fascinating.

It’s important to understand that everyone, including yourself, uses perceptual information to make sound decisions. Further, no one becomes stupid because thought has dropped away and mental clarity has returned. Perhaps this will encourage some of you to lower your thought energy through the practice of some sort of mindful attention. No harm will come and you won’t lose IQ points. Mental clarity, well-being and peace of mind await.

Terms:

1. As used in this article, the terms thinking and thought/ thoughting have different definitions. An active, intentional use of thoughts (concepts) within a rules-based system, like those using logic or time, constitutes thinking. Synthesis of information, arithmetic/ mathematics and planning, like for trips and buildings, all use thinking. Thought/ thoughting is the passive, non-volitional occurrence of the mental appearance of concepts. Daydreaming, insights, thought streams, and ruminations are all examples of thought/ thoughting.

2. Concepts are abstract or generic ideas generalized from specific instances. Words are all concepts, including those of “person,” “cup,” “finances,” and “law.” They only describe objects down to the level of a category. They do not and cannot identify anything unique or specific. On the other hand, percepts are the information we receive from our senses that characterize particular instances. As opposed to the concept “car,” which describes a class of objects, the percept of a specific car includes all of its the shapes, colors, sounds, smells, etc. You know when something is a percept when you cannot express it verbally. Though some incorrectly assume otherwise, colors, smells, and tastes are all percepts (often called sense-perceptions). They can be transformed into concepts, like red, for example. But, to people who could never see, specific instances of red, the redness of red, cannot be described. Percepts are non-conceptual and so cannot be expressed by words. They are literally indescribable.

You Understand Reality and Virtual Reality Backwards.

Reality is based on percepts/ perception.

Virtual reality is based on concepts/ conception.

 

Each of lives in and must manage two worlds. Contrary to what one might expect, a mind clear of thought (mental clarity) informed only by direct sensory-perceptual experience (touches, sights, sounds, smells, tastes) interacts with and manages the real world. The mental juggling of ideas, thoughts and concepts, on the other hand, creates virtual realities (worlds), like “My shoulder should not ache” or “Having money is all important.” Of course, logic-based thinking, structured for mental arithmetic or planning a vacation, is useful. But, for how many moments of our lives do we need or use formal logic? Even an extensive trip only needs a few thought-seconds worth of reflection before the plans are complete. Our two worlds are separated only by the difference between a mind clear of thought and one engaging with it.

Four definitions are required to understand the truth of the above paragraph: Concept, Percept, Virtual and Reality. Using Dictionary.com, these are:

· Concept – a general notion or an idea (like a thought). Conceive means to form a notion, opinion, purpose, etc.;

· Percept – the mental result or product of perceiving. Perceive means to become aware of, know, or identify by means of the senses;

· Virtual – being something in essence though not in name;

· Reality – (philosophy) something that exists independently of ideas conceiving it.

Psychology’s two selves theory, which also forms some of the basis for the field of behavioral economics, relies on the difference on how our brain’s two hemispheres process information. The right brain processes sense-perceptions in its direct contact with reality that’s, as defined by the dictionary, “…independent of any ideas.” It does not interpret (make meaning about) what it encounters. The left brain, in contrast, transforms sensory-perceptual experience into concepts and interprets them (i.e., ideas and notions) to create a plausible, but virtual, reality – one only “…in essence.” If you have any doubts about these functions, please read Gazzaniga’s excellent article about research that used patients who had their brain hemispheres surgically separated to minimize intense seizures. Through our sense-perceptions as well as our thoughts, we develop two separate and distinct views about the world, including about ourselves; “who we experience ourselves to be” in contrast with “who we thinkwe are.”

When we define ourselves by our sense-perceptions we are what we experience. So-called virtual reality experiences made by using images shown, for example, by a head-mounted display (HMD), like appearing to be standing alone in a snow-covered field or peering off the top ledge of a tall building, are real experiences (as defined by the dictionary). To accept the reality of these images, a person must ignore their thoughts and recent memories of being in a room full of fancy computer equipment and accept only what his or her sense-perceptions provide. Even if we might think or remember otherwise, the dictionary definition assures us that we remain in reality when our experience is accepted as valid—even if that tell us that we are looking down from a great height.

The greatest benefit to aligning with sense-perceptions and away from conceptual understanding is openness to the experience of the full range of living. Gender, for example, is often boxed in to two conceptual categories. Those two boxes do not to allow for the entire range of observed gender characteristics, some according to preference, some to anatomy, biochemistry, psychology, etc. An “open” world trivializes the rigidity of the categorical boxes that originate from language itself, including those that also support egoism, racism, genderism, nationalism, etc. A creative and flexible view, one in more accord with the full expression of life, becomes more available with this type of openness. Empathy—experiencing others for who they uniquely are—may increase. Insights, those unbidden flashes of wisdom that arise, may also appear more often when mental ruminations are not blocking its path.

Language, the currency of the left brain’s conceptual processing, so pervades our life that we believe it describes reality. By definition, of course, language constructs a virtual reality. Virtual realities, including those nasty, over-arching ones of skepticism of what’s truthful, self-centeredness, phobias, etc., all originate here. Another harm from language is that it fails to specify anything as unique—like each of us individuals for example, or even any common object, like the lamp on my desk. The word “lamp” describes a large, general category of objects that produce light. Saying “It’s a lamp,” does not identify a specific one on my desk. The problem with lies in the fact that everything in the world is specific and unique. By accepting ourselves as a category (“soccer mom,” “hard worker”) we also lose our uniqueness our personal authenticity. Further, the individuality and uniqueness of others is similarly denigrated (like “young,” “multiracial,” “smart”). Come to think of it, everything loses its individuality because words cannot account for uniqueness.

Those who “buy in” to language take on lives lived as if they themselves are a category—like “depressed,” “important,” “football fan,” or “internet star.” This bargain involves losing one’s authentic self in exchange for becoming an artificial persona aligned to a category that seems beneficial. This deal with the devil requires the persona to dedicate himself or herself to the demands of the category and deny the openness that all lived-experience can offer. The rules of the category become paramount. Unfortunately, with the loss of one’s authentic humanity the persona’s their full capacity for empathy also diminishes. Rules come to matter more than people.

The practice of mindfulness is the process of paying attention to sensory-perceptual experience. It’s the only way I know of to return to reality. Initially, some find the practice of mindfulness difficult since virtual reality is so engrossing and actual reality so impossible to define by words. Many even allow thoughts to ruminate for hours in the hopes of understanding something new and important. But, research suggests that mind wandering causes more harm than good. Eventually, those who practice mindful attention can and do return to reality, accepting sensory-perceptual experience for the truth, and the oddities, it offers.

Though many think otherwise, the exit from virtual reality makes us happier and more content. Phobias lessen when fearful thoughts diminish and sense-perceptions dominate awareness. The pain that’s been in our shoulder will still exist but unnecessary worry will not. The felt sense remains with no bother at all. By making the shift from thoughts to experience, people get better. My own sense is this is how placebos work—by encouraging the release of thoughts and the return of one’s attention to their sense-perceptions. Granted, not everyone can make this mental shift but then again placebos only work in about one third of the people who take them.

There seems to be good reason to improve your relationship with reality—with your sense-perceptions: enhancing mental flexibility, increasing insightfulness, appreciating uniqueness, improving authenticity and empathy. There also seems to be good reason to decrease your reliance on the virtual world of thought-based reality—by minimizing the stereotypical thinking that maintains ego-centric greed, authoritarianism, antisocial behaviors, and the wide variety of forms of discrimination (racism, genderism). Becoming mindfully attentive takes a bit of practice. But there is little downside to losing virtual reality and a significant upside to increasing contact with reality.

Mindfulness, Attention, Perception Vs. Conception

The First Three Work Together.

The Fourth Creates a Virtual Reality.

 

There are a number of definitions of mindfulness in use today that can be clarified for the uninformed or the novice to intermediate practitioner. One relates to “paying attention it in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment nonjudgmentally (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). Another defines it as “a state of active, open attention on the present” (Psychology Today, 2016). Still another indicates that it’s “…a technique in which distracting thoughts and feelings are not ignored but are rather acknowledged and observed nonjudgmentally” (The Free Dictionary, 2016).

These definitions more than often raise a few questions. Aren’t we already paying attention? Aren’t we always in the present moment—how couldn’t we be? Isn’t paying attention just paying attention? What’s “a particular way” mean, why don’t they ever say what this particular way is? Do these definitions needlessly obscure the positive benefits of mindfulness and only relate to some decrease in that ill-defined notion we call stress?

Among the many definitions of mindfulness, I like the definition provided by Gunaratana much better than most. He wrote, ”…there can be no precise answer, at least not in words. Words are devised by the symbolic levels of the mind, and they describe those realities with which symbolic thinking deals. Mindfulness is pre-symbolic. It is not shackled to symbols.” He goes on, “Mindfulness is a subtle process that you are using at this very moment. The fact that this process lies above and beyond words does not make it unreal-quite the reverse. Mindfulness is the reality that gives rise to words—the words that follow are simply pale shadows of reality.” (Gunaratana, 2002, p. 137).

I might add that mindfulness is “a process of continuing disinterest in concepts while continuing interest in the sense-perceptions (experience).” Awareness to consciousness that’s “…prior to the formation of concepts but after the activation of the sense receptors….” (Pashko, 2016).

The perceptual world exists even before we put words to it; for example, before a cup is named a “cup” it is something perceived by the visual and tactile senses. The words we add transform the world from what it is to what we think it is. Every thing we call a “cup” just bears some relationship to a mental reference standard we’ve created. That’s the “cup.” The physical object before us cannot be named. Kant’s (1724-1804) Critique of Pure Reasondelves into this well. Yet we mistakenly believe and act as if the concept is the thing itself. Here’s where Gunaratana’s definition of Mindfulness becomes so helpful. It points us back to perceptual experience before “what is” becomes distorted by concepts.

We transform the world through conceptualizing in order to think. And that’s the rub, isn’t it? What many think is true about the world isn’t necessarily so. Because we think using concepts we logically juggle an already distorted view of “what it is.” My new article characterizes these inaccurate transformations as responsible for poor decision-making, the mental rigidity that leads to a lack of creativity, the bias at the root of discrimination, and stress. This is how mindfulness performs its fundamental work; the distortions generated by conceptualizing are seen in relation to direct perceptual experience and then re-aligned. If you don’t believe concepts influence how you reflect upon and act in this world, here’s a link about the inappropriate grasping at concepts. It’s here at:

Video: Overly strong grasping at concepts

Before moving forward, the terms concept and percept must be clarified because many have mixed up their meanings. Let’s return them to their proper use and see what happens. The most maligned word is “perceive” and the words mistakenly substituted with it are “conceive” and “believe.” As an example, I have heard people say, “I perceive you’re unhappy.” Uggh. The speaker can believe that person is unhappy or form a concept (conceive) that the person is unhappy but he cannot perceive unhappiness. Perceiving is a near kin to sensing but a distant cousin to conceiving, the process of forming a concept. Perceptions cannot be put into language because they occur prior to concept formation…and all words are concepts. For example, no one can say his or her subjective experience of the color blue. Blueness is a percept that perceived. Lastly, believing, of course, simply means accepting something as true, whether it is or isn’t. There is no link between the use and meaning of the words believe and perceive.

Mindfulness isn’t particularly special. It involves paying attention to sensory perceptual experience but not to the concepts/ thoughts in the mind. That’s what people fear about it, too. Out of ignorance, not many trust a mind without thoughts. Yet, when you ask, most will agree that it’s the thoughts in their mind that cause them stress. Certain hobbies such as yoga, crochet, jogging, etc., are inherently stress reducing because they help us get out of our heads full of thought. Though it isn’t special, it’s difficult to be mindful most of the time because we assume that thoughts are the source of our intelligence. But, this isn’t true. Words and thoughts arise from the clear background of awareness. It’s that clear background that’s intelligent, not the words or thoughts. When you speak, you do not know the third word next to come out of your mouth. Yet out it comes, guided by the clear background of intellectual processing. Recognize this as the origin of creativity and clear decision-making. Recognize this as the origin of unbiased truth and the “location” of where stress is relieved.

Yet, holding fast to our mistaken belief that conceptual processing rules our intelligence, we’re reluctant to give up our thoughts and hold tight to their use. This is the clinging that seems to make mindfulness so difficult, keeps creativity at bay, and stress levels at their highest. Actually practicing mindfulness is the only way to achieve relief from the burden of ruminative thoughts, compelling as those may be. One cannot just understand that mindfulness helps return us to creativity, optimal decision-making, and a more stress free existence, to achieve these optimal conditions. These are only achieved by breaking the clinging through the practicing of mindfulness so an open mind can be re-established. The muscle of attention needs to be built up from having become flabby from luxuriating within a constant stream of distorted and unhelpful thoughts. Once the attentional muscle is strong enough, you can point it wherever you like, at a problem, at a lover, or at a grand scene in nature without restrictive thoughts obscuring the view…and wouldn’t it be great to live like that?

Lamenting his inability to understand a full half of himself, the Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman complained, “Odd as it may seem, I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me” (Kahneman, 2012, p. 390). His (and our own) remembering self is the one tied up in concepts. Here we are children/ adults, teachers/ business people, weak/ strong, etc. These concepts are distorted through implications of changelessness. But change does certainly occur so they cannot be who we are, our identity. However, you can look in the mirror to “see” that thing that has always looked back since you were a child; the thing that has continuously been “with” you. This is your perceptual identity that does your living. It seems a stranger because it cannot be named. Although this never-changing part of ourselves, the percept of who we are, cannot be expressed by words and concepts, comprehension of it becomes perfectly clear through mindfulness practice. Then, we not only know ourselves fully, we live through this fundamental, authentic identity and live more harmoniously in the world we can better relate to. Feel free to join in.

Gunaratana, B. H. (2002). Mindfulness in Plain English. Boston, MA:Wisdom.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. New York: Hyperion Books.

Kahneman, D. (2012). Thinking, fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Mindfulness (n.d.) Psychology Today. retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/mindfulness on 20 June 2016

Mindfulness Meditation (n.d.) The Free Dictionary. retrieved from http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/mindfulness+meditation on 20 June 2016

Pashko, S. (2016). Implication of the differences between our perceptual and conceptual views. Psychology & Neuroscience, 9(2), 267-281. Link to paper.

Can’t Put a Word to “What Is.”

To the picture above: Don’t tell me it’s category or try to define it by using many categories, just tell me what it is. (This applies to your identity, too.)Hint: Oddly, it can’t be done.

 

Aren’t You Unique – Not Just a Category?

The article “Implications of the differences between our perceptual and conceptual views” in the June 2016 issue of the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology & Neuroscience explores the two major ways people process information and make decisions. Though this might sound like a dry topic, research into these yielded Daniel Kahneman the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics –“for having integrated insights from psychological research into economic science, especially concerning human judgment….” As a result, though, we better understand human decision-making and the so-called “cognitive biases”– the mind-boggling ways in which our thinking doesn’t align with our actions. We also now know that one of these ways relates to the attentive, diligent, clear-knowing equanimity, that describes the type of information processing that occurs through “mindfulness” (Purser & Millio, 2014).

The research into cognitive biases tells us we take action based on our sensory perceptual experience as much as by our thoughts. For example, college students rated their vacation on a daily basis (Wirtz, et al., 2003). When it ended, they were asked to evaluate its entirety and whether they would want to repeat it. The results showed students based their intention to repeat the vacation mainly on their rating at the time of the last assessment, “even if the final evaluation did not accurately represent the quality of the experience that was described in the diaries” (Kahneman, 2012, p. 389). This points to a difference between how we think about the world and how we perceive it experientially. Neither is exclusively the correct way. How we decide and take action depends on which of our two information processing systems, the rational-cognitive or the experiential, dominates. Because most people have virtually no understanding of experiential information processing, fully half of how we understand, learning about and effectively using this system is important for effective navigation through life’s complex passages.

Here’s an excellent TED talk on this subject by Dr. Kahneman:

The Riddle of Experience vs Memory

As for the rational-cognitive system, it’s how we think when using an internalized form of words and concepts. Everyone’s familiar with this. What makes our understanding of experiential processing so different, and it is surprisingly different, is that although it does not use concepts it’s equally as powerful. Not having the use of conceptual language, however, it’s been unappreciated for eons because it can’t speak up for itself. So, the rational-cognitive system has mistakenly gotten all the credit for being smart. The downside, however, is that overuse of the rational-cognitive system produces a counterproductive backlash of maladies. These tend to come in various forms of stereotypy, though there are numerous others that I’ll describe in future posts.

How bad is it? Bad. Here’s a link that shows our struggles…

Bias and who we think we are.

Let’s consider the analogy of the blackboard and words written in chalk upon it to our mind and thoughts, respectively. On the blackboard everything can be written, from simple concepts and elaborate equations to the subtlest poetry and the most artistic of drawings. Everyone has a sense of the “words” of their thoughts but how many see the clear background of their mind, the “place” into which thoughts arise, linger and fall? It’s important to note that while the blackboard and the clear background of the mind are unlimited in their intellectual processing abilities, once words and thoughts appear, their full capabilities become constrained, no longer fully open. Many believe thoughts are the only way we “think.” Holding this erroneous opinion leads to a mind full of stressful thoughts in an attempt to conceptualize what simply cannot be categorized, which is … well everything! Seeing the error of this view, perhaps by reading this blog and reviewing the published scientific research, leads not only to stress relief but also to clear knowing and open-mindedness. Consider a bamboo tree. What defines it. Where does it end? Within the soil, the “cane” doesn’t actually end. It continuously connects with its rhizomes. So what has just happened to your concept of the word “tree?” Now ask yourself, “What’s truer?” That the concept of “tree” fits the word “bamboo” or that it is what you perceive it to be, just what it is?

During these posts, I will explore what can be called our perceptual view, our mindful, intelligent processing of the world without over-reliance on words or thoughts. I expect you will find this view strangely familiar, although confusing to a world exclusively reliant on thought. It’s my hope that you will come to understand just how mindfulness works and perhaps even consider the activity for yourself and your friends. Among the topics address in this series of blog posts will be: the origins of the placebo response, “response shift” and improvement from psychotherapy; a cause of confused thinking and decision-making; overcoming bias; the development of insightfulness and creativity; an origin of and cure for anxiety/stress; dualism/monism; embodying the perceptual view through mindfulness; and considerations for wellness/ quality of life. Listed in this way, these may seem to be topics too highfalutin to be of any practical value. But this is not true. The more deeply we understand these topics the more clearly we will see the world. Seeing the world more clearly then making better decisions benefits not only us but others as well.

Kahneman, D. (2012). Thinking, fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Pashko, S. (2016). Implications of the difference between our perceptual and conceptual views. Psychology & Neuroscience, 9(2), 267-281. Link to paper.

Purser, R. & Millio, J. (2014). Mindfulness revisited: A Buddhist-based conceptualization,Journal of Management Inquiry, 1-22.

Wirtz, D., Kruger, J. Scolion, C. N., & Diener, E. (2003). What to do on spring break?Psychological Science, 14, 520–524.

Reality: The Origin of the Therapeutic Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Everything

“Living categorically” might well be one of the most pervasive and under diagnosed psychological disorders in existence. Like all psychoses, this disorder is assigned to those who have “lost contact with reality” (see psychosis). It’s when people mistake a category for something unique and then act as if their view is true. For example, the categorical term “orange” replaces the luscious, mouth-watering aspects of smelling a citrus scent, tasting a tangy sweetness, the puckering of one’s cheeks, etc. Loss of lived experience—missing out on the fullness of living—is the most common, tragic result. On an intermediate level of harm, a unique individual will get lumped into categories of gender, age, intelligence, wealth, etc. It prevents a balanced evaluation of his or her unique abilities, personality, skills, motivations, etc. At its harmful extreme, it may even produce Josef Stalin’s view of murder in which he stated, “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.”

To understand the degree to which someone (not you, of course) might suffer from this delusion, please answer “True” or “False” to each of the following questions.

  1. Races of humans exist.
  2. The picture (below) is a pipe.
  3. The word “cup” defines a specific object.
  4. You can say what pain feels like.

MagrittePipe

Answer key: The more questions that are answered “True” the worse the affliction.

For those who answered “True” to any of these questions, there is hope. The treatment is called mindfulness. At the beginning, you might not like it, believing it too difficult, too boring, or that it will make you stupid. But, it’s the tried and true cure for this affliction. The treatment regimen is simple. Mindfulness is just staying attentive to your direct experience, the seeing, smelling, tasting, etc. of what comes to you through your senses (sensory-perceptual experience) at all times. Alternatively, you can just stop entertaining any ruminative thoughts—those that reoccur time and again. Most allow it to keep going mistakenly believing it’s a helpful way to handle problems. Only after a bit of mindfulness practice do people see they were wrong.

Mindfulness reintroduces us to immediate experience, which is nonconceptual—without concepts and thoughts. It’s how we know the world before we think about it. As for practicing mindfulness, most people initially hate the part about not entertaining any ruminative thought. However, repeating the same thought, causes anxiety, distracts from attentiveness, doesn’t add to your understanding, and likely blocks creative thoughts from breaking through into consciousness. Should a continuing business tax problem be solved using the same technique used last time? Might a fresh, creative approach be useful? Can you have a good, informative conversation with someone when your attention is diverted to the running commentary in your head?

Mindfulness cures the psychosis of “living categorically” because, in Gunaratana’s view, “Words are devised by the symbolic levels of the mind, and they describe those realities with which symbolic thinking deals. Mindfulness is pre-symbolic. It is not shackled to symbols.” He goes on, “The fact that this process lies above and beyond words does not make it unreal—quite the reverse. Mindfulness is the reality that gives rise to words—the words that follow are simply pale shadows of reality.” (Gunaratana, B. (2002). Mindfulness in Plain English. p. 137.)

The world in which we live first comes to us through our senses. We intelligently process this information, without needing to resort to thinking. We all process perceptual (experiential) information for most of what we do, like stopping our car at a light, pulling covers over ourselves when the sleeping gets too cold, deciding just where a picture looks best on the wall, and realizing an insight that pops fully formed into consciousness. Such information is not altered by transformation into concepts/ thoughts. It’s prior to thought—experiential, non-conceptual. This is the world of mindfulness that Gunaratana writes about.

In contrast, when experience is transformed into concepts and those concepts are taken as truthful, chronically useful representations of reality, the psychosis of “living categorically” re-arises. In such a state, word categories, though they are transformations of directly informative experience, are mistakenly believed as true. Consider what’s truer. That spiders are harmful or deadly so one should be fearful of them all or that they are benign, 8-legged bugs that sometimes appear in the house. How have you stereotyped certain situations, like heights or flying, or foods? How have others stereotyped you? Don’t phobias arise when thoughts don’t match reality? Isn’t the same mechanism at play for many of the other anxieties, like flying and public speaking? How do thoughts relate to low self-esteem or the need to compensate by achieving wealth? Isn’t your identity more the felt experience that’s always been with you than your job or your race or your gender? Is creativity enhanced or impaired when the mind is clear of thought?

To begin to reintroduce you to a more truthful reality, I’ll answer a question posed above. Let’s take the one about the cup. A cup is a category, not a specific object. This cup on my desk, for instance, is a specific entity within the general category of cups. It has a specific colorings, shapes, dimensions, etc. It’s not exactly like any other cup. No one can identify this unique cup through words, even by adding many descriptive modifiers. Further, like all specific things, it cannot be named. No one can say a word about the smell of coffee, the color blue or the feeling of painfulness to someone who never had the sense of smell, vision or pain. Forgetting or ignorance of this fact is likely the origin of the psychosis under discussion here.

As for the questions above, the one about the pipe should have been easy to get correct since the painter, Magritte, wrote in French “This is not a pipe” right at the top. He reminds us that a picture of a pipe is not a pipe. It’s a representation or symbol of a pipe. Further, this picture does not represent the word “pipe” as it’s used in the sense of a category, either. The word, too, only represents a category of objects not a unique one. Any and every unique pipe, of course, cannot be verbally expressed.

The question about race highlights the depth of the injuriousness of the diagnosis. Uniqueness and creativity become unappreciated and trivialized when the psychosis of “living categorically” becomes full blown. Boundaries to skin color and geographic origins of ethnicity really don’t exist. Those with this psychosis use the word “race” only to artificially categorize people who each are, in fact, completely unique—not a group.

At their core, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), and mindfulness-based everything (MBE) all treat this psychosis because they return us to reality. It’s the one untransformed into words. The one in which everything and everyone is rightly, and inexpressibly unique. How does MBE reduce stress? Mindfulness provides a re-introduction back to a more truthful reality. Stress and anxiety may be caused by the difference between the categories in which you see the world and how it really and uniquely exists. If so, the mental process of all cognitive psychological psychotherapies, which challenge one’s thoughts about the world, may basically work through a similar mechanism.

Happiness, success, and creativity may all increase when one lives closer to the truth of what we experience directly. This way of living, in closer contact with reality, may be helpful for minimizing all of the numerous, harmful biases caused by the psychosis of living categorically. Wouldn’t it be nice to be rid of them?

 

About Steven Pashko, Ph.D.

Steven Pashko is a research clinician who studies treatment effectiveness and the value of health and healthcare. With a background in psychology (license), CNS pharmacology (doctorate), and meditation (completed more than 52 intensive, week-long retreats) he conducts research and speaks about well-being.

Disclaimer: This article neither describes a formally recognized psychological diagnosis nor is it a substitute for a psychological diagnosis or treatment. If you are in need of either, please contact a local licensed psychologist.

Update on Patent Submission (14/351,561).

My patent application for a cognitive phenomenological method to identify placebo responders and response shifters before they enroll into a clinical trial is again moving forward. It was rejected by the USPTO based in great part on the mistaken opinion that the method related to susceptibility to hypnosis – which would have made it an obvious method and so not eligible for patenting – though it has nothing at all to do with hypnotic susceptibility, suggestibility or, for that matter, expectation of certain symptoms or behaviors. It’s just trying to predict for research participants who will respond to placebos during clinical research.

A Request for Continued Examination of the patent application was submitted on July 24, 2017 so the application is back in the hands of the USPTO.

Those interested in supporting the continuing development are welcomed to contact me for details.

Improving Patient-Centricity By Correcting a Weighty Semantic Error and Revising Current Research Methods

 

Because only patient’s can express the reality of their health status, the real benefit of patient-centricity in health and pharmaceutical research may well be learning about the depth of what patient’s experience. Hard to disagree with the obviousness this statement, isn’t it? So why do health researchers continue to accept surrogate answers from patient’s rather than their actual experience? Confused? Believe patients are already accurately reporting the true experience of their health? Read on.

Enabling a deeper meaning of patient-centricity begins with resolving a dreadful semantic error. The words concept and percept are words similar enough to be easily mistaken as synonyms for one another – though they are not. Our error involves mistakenly exchange the “thing itself,” the sense-perception (percept) that’s the origin of the distress, for the concept (i.e., the word pain”) that attempts to quantify it for the sake of analysis and communication.

Pain itself is not a concept and we researchers need to stop treating it as if it is. Sure, the word “pain” word is a concept. However, the word is meant to express a felt but completely unutterable sensory-perceptual experience. Moreover, the more global term “quality of life” is not a concept either. True, it can be conceptualized through a variety of ad-hoc criteria but, again, they are just trying to express the totality of one’s (unutterable) sensory-perceptual experience(s).

Health researchers may argue that conceptualizations, likely in the form of operational definitions, are required for the purposes of quantification and analysis. However, this is not fully true. For example, the extensive behavioral economics research literature has made many of its points distinguishing between what research participants conceive and perceive. The results have been surprising enough to impress the 2002 Nobel Prize committee.

The solution for obtaining less biased and variable experiences of patients simply involves not asking them to go to thought or memory for answers but, in Malcolm Gladwell’s words (author of the NY Times best seller “Blink”), by “thinking without thinking.” Many informal questionnaires already use this tactic. The “experience sampling” (ESM) and day-reconstruction” (DRM) methods have been specifically designed to for this task. The goal here is to ask for conceptual responses when we want them but to ensure we ask for percepts when we want percepts. We already have the tools. ESM and DRM can be easily implemented through smart phones, tablets and similar devices. Researchers just need to understand there are important, significant differences in the responses obtained from when patients offer either their perceptual or conceptual view. As I have previously suggested, keys to unlocking the mysteries of “response shift” and the effect of placebos may be hidden within.

#PRO, #percept, #concept, #health, # outcomes, #behavioral economics, #patient-centric, #placebo, #response shift

 

Website: StevenPashko.com

Copyright – Steven Pashko, PhD (2017).

Correcting Traditional Psychology’s Error Within Health Value Assessments & PROs.

Self-Identity as a Percept, Not as a Profusion of Concepts.

When working to understand health and well-being, as well as the value treatments offer, it’s important to get the point of view of the patient—the so called patient-centric approach. This contrasts with the approach of an assessment of our health done by a caregiver. After all, who knows us better than ourselves, right?

Turns out we don’t know ourselves very well. Scholarly and lay publications in the field of behavioral economics, the Nobel Prize winning science behind how and why we make decisions—the predictably irrational as well as the good ones—acknowledges that both sides of our brain evaluate the world differently. According to Gazzinaga’s (1989) research with patients who have had the two sides of their brain surgically separated, the right side of our brain accepts experience and reports on it more realistically—the facts, just as they are. The left side of the brain functions to interpret events, accepting a conceptual gist and filling in any gaps with plausible fabrications. In my own writing, I’ve suggested a slight change in the behavioral economic terms (Kahneman, 2011) used to describe these two ways we process information (i.e., the right-side’s experiential processing or the “experiencing self” & the left side’s rational-cognitive processing or the “remembering self”) to the “perceptual self” and “conceptual self,” respectively, in keeping with Epstein’s two selves theory that underlies behavioral economics. Notably, all humans are (literally) of two minds that never come to agreement. Neither is right. Until switched out, one may predominate for a while, as the other carries on as a persistent annoyance.

People are unique, not categorizable, yet words are used to describe us. Few seem to realize that words/ concepts cannot get below the level of a category to specify any unique thing, including us. It’s an inherent problem with language. When the word “cup” is used to describe the specific cup in front of us, we’re only stating its category. Even a modifier like “blue” only narrows the category but does not describe the unique thing itself. There are many blue cups in the world. To this point, I’d like to argue that that specific cup is indescribable because it’s a unique perception—what comes to us through our sense perceptions before it’s transformed into a (categorical) concept through the transformation by language. Just because it cannot be conceptualized does not mean it does not exist or demean it in any way. The problem originates within language, not within the cup.

Because everything is unique, including us humans, at our root we’re all percepts—existing before words try to put us into categories. We first know the entire world exclusively through our sense perceptions. The sight of blueness, the sound of a trumpet, the smell of a rose, the touch of a feather on the skin, the quality of a thought (not the thought itself) in the mind, and the taste of an apple all cannot be conceptualized. Words correlated to them can be uttered but no word can say what each is. Because of this, it’s intolerable to me to be described not as a unique individual, but as a category. I am most happy being a percept, inexpressible and unique. Though I have taken on the concept of “writer” for the moment, I’ll drop it and go back to being a percept when this task finishes up.

Through the distortive transform of language, humans mistakenly accept themselves as concepts (e.g., teachers, egos, cancer survivors) and answer questions, say, about their perceived health status (e.g., pain is a percept often accompanied by a worry-filled conceptual component) from those viewpoints using conceptual terms. Depending only on the concepts aligned to or not, patients may report consistent levels of perceptual pain as being greater or lesser. If health researchers want a bit more truth and far less variability in the answers they receive from respondents, use of “experience sampling” or “day reconstruction” methods, which tap into present moment perceptions, appear to provide very acceptable solutions. To better understand the value of a drug or other treatment this method can be used in real-world evidence (RWE) databases, such as medical records or surveys, as much as it can within the context of a clinical trial using smart phones and IoT devices. Those who rely on value dossiers to buy drugs and other health care treatments will notice the difference and so benefit.

I’m a percept and you are, too. As a challenge, reflect on behavioral economics theory and try on this alignment and see if it fits. Determine for yourself how much less your authenticity and your health outlook vary when you hold to this unwavering center. Further, if you’re a health researcher, ask yourself whether or not whether access to the patient’s perceptual view also needs your attention. My sense is that it does.

Copyright Steven Pashko, Ph.D. (2017)

Changes to Clinical Trials, Health Outcomes Assessments and Value Propositions: Impact of the Two Selves Theory of Behavioral Economics.

In case you’ve not been keeping up with your psychology, there’s been a change in who we are. Behavioral economics research findings have revealed an equal partner to Freud’s egoic self, the concept of who we take ourselves to be. Our partner “me” is the percept of ourself—that which has remained unchanging and ever-present during our lifetime (Epstein, 2014; Kahneman, 2012; Pashko, 2014). Being a percept, it cannot be conceptualized though demonstrations of its savvy decision-making skills fill the behavioral economic research literature. Have a look at Lewicki (1988) if you have any reservations. Arguably, our perceptual, experiential self represents our more authentic existence because it exists prior to when we transform ourself into a concept.

Given that our perceptual self does not make decisions or view the world through the use of concepts the answers it provides to questions about its health status significantly differ from its partner’s view. Pain ratings from the rational-cognitive self include the percept of pain as well as concepts of what the pain “means” to the respondent. It reports a double negative if you will. But, with the experiential self only reporting the perceptual experience, the reported pain level is typically lower. Importantly, the two selves are not only implicated as a mechanism for the cause for placebo response and response shift but also touted as a reason for variations in the assessed value of the health outcomes produced by drugs and other therapies.

There’s quite a bit to reflect on for how two selves theory will change how clinical trials, outcomes research and drug value propositions are constructed and evaluated. Pharma companies will need to use additional assessment techniques to capture both of our views so clinical results, health outcomes and drug value estimates can be ascertained with more validity. Fortunately, there is now also hope that the confounding effects of the placebo response and response shift can be understood, controlled and countered.

Epstein, S. (2014). Cognitive-experiential theory. New York, NY: Oxford.

Kahneman, D. (2012). Thinking, fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Lewicki, P., Hill, T., & Bizot, E. (1988). Acquisition of procedural knowledge about a pattern of stimuli that cannot be articulated. Cognitive Psychology, 20, 24 –37.

Pashko, S. (2014). Conceptual versus perceptual information processing: Implications for subjective reporting. Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics, 7, 219–226.

 

Website: Steven Pashko.com

Copyright Steven Pashko, PhD (2017).

How to Understand the View of the “Experiencing Self” of Behavioral Economics: Three Important Points.

Daniel Kahneman (Nobel prize – 2002) used Seymour Epstein’s “dual information processing systems” (aka two selves) theory to make sense of the human decision-making he saw in his many research projects. These two systems/selves are called the rational-cognitive (or remembering) and the experiential (or experiencing) selves. The former uses concepts/ words, make causal inference through logic, and relies on memory. This is straightforward, easy-to-understand stuff. Prior to behavioral economics research, most believed we only ‘think’ this way. The experiential system, however, is more difficult to comprehend. It’s not directly understandable to our other system (i.e., the rational-cognitive) but through the decisions we make and the actions we take. It deals only in the present moment, unable to draw on memory. It uses images, not language or symbols. It makes associations, but not cause-and-effect connections. Further, it takes a holistic view not one of distinction. Epstein’s “Cognitive-Experiential Theory” (2014) does a great job of describing the differences between the two systems (see Table 1.1 in Chapter One).

The difficulty many people have in comprehending the experiencing self arises, as I see it, through the following reasons:

  1. It processes sensory-perceptual experience directly, before experience becomes transformed into concepts;
  2. Humans only understand through concepts—the existence of experiential/ perceptual processing has been obscured because of our reliance on language. Quite overlooked, humans possess a ‘knowing’ that appears to come directly from the processing of percepts.
  3. The ease with which humans mistakenly accept the (seeming) equivalence of sensory-perceptual experience with their conceptual transforms has largely been unchallenged. Most forget that percepts, like the sight of the Grand Canyon, the smell of coffee, the sound of middle “C,” the feeling of pain, anxiety, etc. cannot be described in and of themselves. For example, saying a certain coffee smells earthy is only correlating one unnamable to another, not saying something about coffee smell per se.

Not immune to these problems, health researchers have also been co-opted into this mistaken acceptance. Perhaps by our desire to quantify and analyze research problems has blinded us to the cost of the inappropriate substitution of a concept for a percept. Fortunately, behavioral economics research has reminded us of this distinction and shown us ways to evaluate the contribution of the experiential information processing system. Using methods like experience sampling, we can also evaluate safety, efficacy and value from the point of view experiencing self. This can be carried through to health utility assessments and the calculation of “moment” (experienced) utilities, which can then be entered in to sensitivity analyses for value demonstration activities.

Additionally, the experiential information processing system/ self may be key to understanding and controlling for response shift, including placebo response. By shifting out of the rational-cognitive system’s conceptualizations, which often dwell on the negative, to only direct sensory-perceptual experience (say of pain), suffering should ease up … for no apparent outward reason. And isn’t this the hallmark of response shift and placebo response? With this new understanding, wish me luck in the US patent office’s upcoming decision about a method I’ve proposed to predict for research participants prone to these effects. A decision will come along soon. If you’d like to know more and/or support the development of my patent, please let me know.

Insightful Decision-Making: The Roles of Mindfulness & Behavioral Economics

“Predictably Irrational” (2008) was not only the title of Dan Ariely’s book on the topic of behavioral economics (Kahneman, 2003; 2012) but it’s also an accurate description of the workings of the human mind, especially the part that seems to produce irrational behavior. Prior to his, my own book “Free Your Mind,” (2005) pointed to our least understood form of information processing, that of the perceptual, as an unknown and over looked source of intelligence. Though we all are well trained in the use of concepts, rational-cognitive understanding, and logic to come to some conclusion, most are unaware that we more frequently use perceptual processing to make judgments and take actions.

Both of the books described above either directly or indirectly describe the influence perceptual processing has on our judgments and decision-making. These can be as wide-ranging as those about our physical health (e.g., status, exercise, choice of treatments), mental well-being (e.g., anxiety, selfishness), work activities (e.g., hiring, balance sheets, acquisitions), finances (e.g., budgets, retirement planning), and social and community relationships (e.g., preferred role, activism level). Reliance on prior strategies, opinions based on outdated information, and rigid views are among the worst aspects of our go-to processing system, the rational-cognitive. Helpfully, perceptual processing counteracts these by allowing new information into the mix. It does so exactly because it does not use concepts, those fixed constructions attempting to mold ever-changing situations. This is the promise behavioral economics offers through its use of dual information processing theory, that percepts are processed as information in addition to the concepts we all hold so dearly. Describing the hidden powerfulness of perceptual processing, I recently wrote (Pashko, 2016),

“In an example of complex knowing without thinking, researchers had human participants press one of four electronic buttons (Lewicki, Hill, & Bizot, 1988). In doing so, they were to predict in which quadrant of a computer screen the letter “X” would next appear. The results showed that their performance steadily improved as they non-consciously absorbed the complex, computerized rules underlying where the “X” would appear.”

We only newly know of the existence of perceptual processing. Epstein suggests (2014, p. 12) that whereas the rational-cognitive information processing system utilizes concepts, cause-and-effect relationships, memory, language and symbols, and an analytic view, the markedly different features of the experiential (perceptual) processing system are:

  • Quickness,
  • Use of percepts and imagery,
  • The making of associative, but not causal, connections, and
  • Holism.

Our use of perceptual processing is only newly known because in order to understand something it needs to be in the form of a concept, such as word. We cannot understand what we cannot put into words. Yet, percepts are sources of information that exist prior to words. In the example above, a research subject did not have the time to construct and complete a mathematical equation about where the “X” would next appear. They looked, perceived and chose. Percepts cannot be “understood” in the way we normally use this term. For example, you cannot say anything about the scent of a rose, except to give its label (i.e., rose scent). Rose scent can be “known,” and so compared to other smells, but it cannot be understood. The sense perceptions of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing (and often thought itself), are the origins the intelligence contained within perceptual (i.e., experiential) processing. Getting out of our heads full of thought by returning to these basic underpinnings of perceptual processing is the challenge taken on voluntarily by those who practice mindfulness.

At first introduction to mindfulness practice, a few techniques are presented. Sometimes people are asked to chew a raisin. At other times they are asked to scan the muscles of their body to notice any warmth, tightness, etc. or to “follow the breath” by paying attention to the up and down movement of the chest, the air moving through the nostrils, the felt sense of full or empty lungs, etc. All these practices require just one thing, our attention’s extraction from concepts (thoughts in the mind) and its intentional placement on perception. We perceive warmth, chest movement, and the need to breathe back in. Perceiving de-activates thinking (conceptualizing). Done correctly for some period of time, practitioners learn to more easily shift out of their heads full of thought to perceive exactly what’s going on before them. Access to information previously held at bay is regained and made available for decision-making. Further, flexibility to incorporate this new information into our decision-making is reclaimed.

Oh, and as a side note, mindfulness reduces stress, worry and, likely pain, (Pashko, 2014) for two reasons that may or may not be obvious from the above. First, it gets us out of our head that’s full of stress and worry-filled thoughts by requiring our attentional focus on perceptual experience. This ability increases with the persistent practice of mindfulness (i.e., re-engagement with the perceptual (non-mental) world). Without practicing in this way, thoughts cling to the mind. Secondly, thought constructions can only be stale and rigid reflections of what fluidly exists. I have argued (Pashko, 2016) that the origin of stress is caused by the difference between the thought construction (conceptualization) and the perception of the situation that exists before us. Presumably it’s our ignorance of the existence and capabilities of perceptual processing that keep us using a misrepresentation of reality as a foundation for our substandard decision-making.

As I have published (Pashko, 2016), insights and creativity, the basis for excellence in decision-making, appear to come from the realm of the perceptual. Here’s where engagement in mindfulness practice is so helpful because it’s the gateway into this type of intelligence. With concepts being more fixed structures than percepts, which flex every moment, they naturally resist change. Alternatively, percepts are fully informative, novel and ever-changing. Though we cannot know how perceptual processing works, because it does not involve concepts, we can benefit from it’s output—insights—useful information that comes to us surprisingly because we didn’t use concepts to “think” it. To encourage creative and insightful decision-making and resulting actions, the undertaking of mindfulness practice may be the best way to achieve these desired aims. The side benefits of mindfulness, the reduction of stress through increased disinterest in ruminative thought and the clear-seeing of perceptual reality, should facilitate our undertaking of this effort.

 

Ariely, D. (2008). Predictably Irrational. NY: Harper Collins.

Epstein, S. (2014). Cognitive-experiential theory. New York, NY: Oxford.

Kahneman, D. (2003). Maps of bounded rationality: Psychology for behavioral economics. The American Economic Review, 93, 1449–1475.

Kahneman, D. (2012). Thinking, fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Lewicki, P., Hill, T., & Bizot, E. (1988). Acquisition of procedural knowledge about a pattern of stimuli that cannot be articulated. Cognitive Psychology, 20, 24 –37.

Pashko, S. (2005) Free Your Mind. North Wales, PA: Fluidity.

Pashko, S. (2014). Conceptual versus perceptual information processing: Implications for subjective reporting. Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics, 7(4), 219–226.

Pashko, S. (2016). Implication of the differences between our perceptual and conceptual views. Psychology & Neuroscience, 9(2), 267-281.

 

Steven Pashko is a research clinician who studies treatment effectiveness and the value of health and healthcare. With a background in psychology and pharmacology, he conducts behavioral, clinical and economic research and, further, speaks about well-being. Notably, using behavioral economics theory, he submitted for a patent for way to identify people who respond to placebos.

Copyright Steven Pashko, PhD (2016).

Why Two Selves Theory Rectifies Patient-Reported Outcomes (PROs) Assessments.

“How are you?” It’s a simple enough question. When asked by your physician, it deserves a good answer. The trouble is we really don’t know how to construct one.

Utilizing the underpinnings of behavioral economics theory (Epstein, 1973; Epstein, 2014; Kahneman, 2003), I’ve suggested (Pashko, 2016) our two basic choices involve using either percepts (experiential informational processing system) or concepts (rational-cognitive informational processing system). Using the perceptual approach, we would best answer by either describing our immediate sense-perceptions (somehow) and/or by indicating the limits of our physical abilities at that very moment. With the other approach, we would transform our sense-perceptions (somehow) into concepts and use them to make comparisons to how we think we should be, our theoretical optimum health state, or in relation to our health status at some time in the past. I put the parentheses around the word “somehow,” above, because one can never actually conceptualize any percept. For example, answer this question: “What is your subjective experience of the sound of middle ‘C’ on a piano or your feeling at the touch of a cleaning sponge?” I’ve used the word “somehow” to provide a sense of my own incredulity that anyone believes percepts could realistically and truthfully be represented by concepts. Do you remember how impossible it was for James (actor William Hurt), the teacher, to describe the sound of some music playing to Sarah (actor Marlee Matlin), a student who is deaf, in the 1986 film “Children of a Lesser God”? Though he moved well and pointed skyward along with the high notes, I still didn’t perceive music. Yet, many live with this mistaken belief and live their lives accordingly. Research from the behavioral economics literature strongly suggests answers about our health status significantly differ according depending on whether a predominately perceptual or a conceptual view is used.

Yet, even with this simple doctor’s question another problem arises, one seemingly more intractable than the first. It’s with the definition of “you,” the “me” who answers the doctor’s question. Which viewpoint do we choose for ourself, the conceptual or the perceptual me?

What? What do you mean, two of me?

The basics of behavioral economics demand and require a radical shift in our philosophy and psychology. Yes, the world exists simultaneously in two ways…and this includes us, our self-identity (Kahneman & Riis, 2005). This is the repair that psychology badly needs to make. It needs to accept and encourage these two competing yet complementary views of the realities of who we are. Because there has not been stronger support for these two views, many personal (e.g., anger, anxiety, stress, health) and societal problems (e.g., selfishness/ greed, corruption) continue on longer than they should (Epstein, 2014).

Though much of the focus on Freud’s work has been about id, ego and super ego, he acknowledged the ego’s counterpart in “Civilization and its Discontents,” but never named it. He describes a “more sharply demarcated feeling of ego-maturity,” which I take to relate to the rational-cognitive self of behavioral economics and “…a counterpart to it,” which his friend Romain Rolland continuously felt as “…a sensation of “eternity,” a feeling as of something limitless, unbounded- as if it were, ‘oceanic.’” It’s useful to note that Joseph Campbell has defined eternity as the breaking of the concept of time as opposed to it being an exceedingly long time period. And, of course, non-conceptual experiencing well describes the experiencing self of behavioral economics.

In 1781, Immanuel Kant described something similar to the two views of reality put forth by behavioral economists in his Critique of Pure Reason. His “noumenon” is a posited object or event that is known (if at all) without the use of ordinary sense-perception. By contrast, his “phenomenon” refers to anything that can be apprehended by, or is an object of the senses. Over the years this has been interpreted to mean there are two aspects of one world (i.e., appearances are aspects of the same objects that also exist in themselves.) Here’s a helpful link to “Plato,” the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy about Kant’s life and work.

Way back, as early as the year 868, the Diamond Sutra (Soeng, 2000), “… in the words of the British Library, “the earliest complete survival of a dated printed book.” (Wikipedia, 2016), also can be read as offering a two selves theory. As I understand it, the first relates to any and every concept of a self whereas the second describes a “beingness” that is completely devoid of any conceptualization, including the term “beingness” itself. Note that I have used quotations around the word “beingness” in the previous sentence to bring the reader’s attention to the problem of language about how “something” can “be” without it existing conceptually. I believe this non-conceptual beingness (perceptual?) to be the heart of the question around the use of the term “no-self” (anatta) as it’s used in Eastern philosophy.

Neither the behavioral economics two-selves theory nor the Kantian notion of “two aspects of one world,” nor Eastern psychology’s notion of two selves (i.e., conceptual and non-conceptual) theory have yet substantially taken root in modern Western psychology. I’m not sure why. Perhaps what seems tangible and expressible, though erroneous, is preferred over the untransformed reality of the abstract. In my own writing, I’m suggested though “The rules of language and communication require a substitution[. But] blame can be placed on those who forget the transformation has occurred and willingly, though mistakenly, accept and psychologically exchange the concept for the percept.” (Pashko, 2016, p. 269).

In the simplest example, using the physical object we call a cup, most believe a cup is a “cup.” Consider how we have been taught. Teachers, parents and myriad others have shown us such objects and told us these were cups. However, “cupness” exists only as a mental concept about a class of objects. We were all shown physical examples of what reasonably constitutes “cupness.” Then we constructed our own personal mental classification scheme about it. Lastly, we continue to affirm or deny an object’s categorization based on our idealized organizing principle (e.g., holds too much volume, too skinny). It’s called a cup because it fits within our mental category of “cupness,” but a specific object is not a cluster of aspects that fit into a categorization. It’s a thing unto itself. As Bateson (1972, pp. 454– 455) suggests, “Always, the process of representation will filter it [reality] out so that the mental world is only maps of maps, ad-infinitum.” Conceptualization obscures reality because it’s representational. And with little needed in the way of deduction, we know a representation, like a map, is not the thing itself.*

With the physical object we mistakenly call a cup simply being an exemplar of our mental concept of “cupness,” where does this leave us when even the simplest of objects cannot be known? As before, the solution is offered via the truthfulness of sensory-perceptual reality, when objects are known through our sense-perceptions (i.e., shape and color by sight; temperature and rigidity by touch).

More difficult to comprehend than the example of a cup is what this dual view means for our self-identity, the one who answers questions about his/her health. Conceptual labels of identity, such as given and family names, gender, social role, type of work performed, etc. all can be used as frames of reference (i.e., identity viewpoints) for health status reporting. These conceptual labels, however, don’t define us fully. Further, these all change. As such, their use generates highly variable answers to health questions, such as those posed in patient-reported outcomes assessments during clinical research trials.

Let’s look to the previous solution, the perceptual, for an answer. Can you perceive and, of course, not say a word (conceptualize) about, your felt sense of beingness, consciousness and continuity over time? Is there anything actually wrong about having a self-identity that’s a percept, and not a concept, apart from the fact that you can’t say anything about “yourself?” I don’t believe so. Further, consider the upsides to a perceptual self-identity:

  • Enhanced freedom, from the constraint of inappropriate or discriminatory labels,
  • Decreased fear of pain, through the dissolution of any previously believed conceptual equivalence between self-identity and body-identity,
  • Increased sense of authenticity, through a perceivable continuous linkage to same person you have always been,
  • Enhanced resiliency to stress, from improved disinterest in overactive, ruminative thoughts (concepts),
  • Improved consistency with language (i.e., when you say “my body” now the body becomes rightfully possessed through a pointer to a continuously existing, never changing self-identity),
  • Acceptance of insights as valid, since percepts are processed equally as well as concepts.

Rectifying clinical psychology’s fascination with a conceptual view of self-identity, including the terms “self-concept,” “ego,” “id,” “super ego,” “ideal self,” etc. can be addressed by acknowledging and accepting that which exists before words—and the inaccuracy arising from the labeling of “what is” (i.e., the perceptual). The origin of our surprise from the findings garnered from the behavioral economics research literature (Kahneman, 2012; Wirtz, et al., 2003) stem from having excluded perceptual reality from equal standing with that of a conceptualized reality. Full acknowledgement of perceptual beingness (self-identity?) also holds promise for a way to understand other confounding phenomena, such as courage in the face of grave bodily danger, acceptance in death and dying, as well as the origin of insights. It may even permit understanding and harnessing of the power of “response shift” and it’s allied phenomenon, placebo response (Pashko, 2014).

Changing the way we view ourselves has implications for how we interact within the world at large. To the point about improving patient-reported outcomes (PROs) assessments, personal and societal acceptance of a perceptual view of self-identity, as at least as valid as any conceptual view, has the capacity to re-shape our relationship to our health, how we appraise it and why we utilize health care resources.

References

Anatta (n.d). retrieved from Wikipedia, 5 August 2016.

Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an ecology of mind. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Diamond Sutra (868). retrieved from Wikipedia, 5 August 2016.

Epstein, S. (1973). The self-concept revisited. Or a theory of a theory. American Psychologist, 28, 404–416.

Epstein, S. (2014). Cognitive-experiential theory. New York, NY: Oxford.

Freud, S. (2010). In J. Strachey (Trans.), Civilization and its discontents. New York, NY: Norton. (Original work published 1929).

Kahneman, D. (2003). Maps of bounded rationality: Psychology for behavioral economics. The American Economic Review, 93, 1449–1475.

Kahneman, D. (2012). Thinking, fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Kahneman, D., & Riis, J. (2005). Living, and thinking about it: Two perspectives on life. In F. A. Huppert, N. Baylis, & B. Keverne (Eds.), The science of well-being (pp. 284 –304). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Kant, I. (1781) Critique of Pure Reason. Retrieved from Project Guttenberg 5 August 2016. Link to book.

Pashko, S. (2014). Conceptual versus perceptual in- formation processing: Implications for subjective reporting. Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics, 7, 219–226. Link to paper.

Pashko, S. (2016). Implication of the differences between our perceptual and conceptual views. Psychology & Neuroscience, 9(2), 267-281. Link to paper.

Soeng, Mu. (2000). Diamond Sutra: Transforming the Way We Perceive the World. Wisdom Publications. p. 58.

Wirtz, D., Kruger, J. Scolion, C. N., & Diener, E. (2003). What to do on spring break? Psychological Science, 14, 520–524.

 

*(Even if, like the comedian Steven Wright said, “I have a map of the United States… Actual size. It says, ‘Scale: 1 mile = 1 mile.’ I spent last summer folding it. I also have a full-size map of the world. I hardly ever unroll it,” the representation seems a good approximation.) Retrieved from Wright House.

 

Steven Pashko is a research clinician who studies treatment effectiveness and the value of health and healthcare. With a background in psychology and pharmacology, he conducts research and speaks about well-being. Notably, using behavioral economics theory, he submitted for a patent for way to identify people who respond to placebos.

Website: Steven Pashko.com

Copyright Steven Pashko, PhD (2016).

Mindfulness, Attention, Perception & Conception

There are a number of definitions of mindfulness in use today that can be clarified for the uninformed or the novice to intermediate practitioner. One relates to “paying attention it in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment nonjudgmentally (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). Another defines it as “a state of active, open attention on the present” (Psychology Today, 2016). Still another indicates that it’s “…a technique in which distracting thoughts and feelings are not ignored but are rather acknowledged and observed nonjudgmentally” (The Free Dictionary, 2016).

These definitions more than often raise a few questions. Aren’t we already paying attention? Aren’t we always in the present moment—how couldn’t we be? Isn’t paying attention just paying attention? What’s “a particular way” mean, why don’t they ever say what this particular way is? Do these definitions needlessly obscure the positive benefits of mindfulness and only relate to some decrease in that ill-defined notion we call stress?

Among the many definitions of mindfulness, I like the definition provided by Gunaratana much better than most. He wrote, ”…there can be no precise answer, at least not in words. Words are devised by the symbolic levels of the mind, and they describe those realities with which symbolic thinking deals. Mindfulness is pre-symbolic. It is not shackled to symbols.” He goes on, “Mindfulness is a subtle process that you are using at this very moment. The fact that this process lies above and beyond words does not make it unreal-quite the reverse. Mindfulness is the reality that gives rise to words—the words that follow are simply pale shadows of reality.” (Gunaratana, 2002, p. 137).

I might add that mindfulness is “a process of continuing disinterest in concepts while continuing interest in the sense-perceptions (experience).” Awareness to consciousness that’s “…prior to the formation of concepts but after the activation of the sense receptors….” (Pashko, 2016).

The perceptual world exists even before we put words to it; for example, before a cup is named a “cup” it is something perceived by the visual and tactile senses. The words we add transform the world from what it is to what we think it is. Every thing we call a “cup” just bears some relationship to a mental reference standard we’ve created. That’s the “cup.” The physical object before us cannot be named. Kant’s (1724-1804) Critique of Pure Reason delves into this well. Yet we mistakenly believe and act as if the concept is the thing itself. Here’s where Gunaratana’s definition of Mindfulness becomes so helpful. It points us back to perceptual experience before “what is” becomes distorted by concepts.

We transform the world through conceptualizing in order to think. And that’s the rub, isn’t it? What many think is true about the world isn’t necessarily so. Because we think using concepts we logically juggle an already distorted view of “what it is.” My new article characterizes these inaccurate transformations as responsible for poor decision-making, the mental rigidity that leads to a lack of creativity, the bias at the root of discrimination, and stress. This is how mindfulness performs its fundamental work; the distortions generated by conceptualizing are seen in relation to direct perceptual experience and then re-aligned. If you don’t believe concepts influence how you reflect upon and act in this world, here’s a link about the inappropriate grasping at concepts. It’s here at:

Video: Overly strong grasping at concepts

Before moving forward, the terms concept and percept must be clarified because many have mixed up their meanings. Let’s return them to their proper use and see what happens. The most maligned word is “perceive” and the words mistakenly substituted with it are “conceive” and “believe.” As an example, I have heard people say, “I perceive you’re unhappy.” Uggh. The speaker can believe that person is unhappy or form a concept (conceive) that the person is unhappy but he cannot perceive unhappiness. Perceiving is a near kin to sensing but a distant cousin to conceiving, the process of forming a concept. Perceptions cannot be put into language because they occur prior to concept formation…and all words are concepts. For example, no one can say his or her subjective experience of the color blue. Blueness is a percept that perceived. Lastly, believing, of course, simply means accepting something as true, whether it is or isn’t. There is no link between the use and meaning of the words believe and perceive.

Mindfulness isn’t particularly special. It involves paying attention to sensory perceptual experience but not to the concepts/ thoughts in the mind. That’s what people fear about it, too. Out of ignorance, not many trust a mind without thoughts. Yet, when you ask, most will agree that it’s the thoughts in their mind that cause them stress. Certain hobbies such as yoga, crochet, jogging, etc., are inherently stress reducing because they help us get out of our heads full of thought. Though it isn’t special, it’s difficult to be mindful most of the time because we assume that thoughts are the source of our intelligence. But, this isn’t true. Words and thoughts arise from the clear background of awareness. It’s that clear background that’s intelligent, not the words or thoughts. When you speak, you do not know the third word next to come out of your mouth. Yet out it comes, guided by the clear background of intellectual processing. Recognize this as the origin of creativity and clear decision-making. Recognize this as the origin of unbiased truth and the “location” of where stress is relieved.

Yet, holding fast to our mistaken belief that conceptual processing rules our intelligence, we’re reluctant to give up our thoughts and hold tight to their use. This is the clinging that seems to make mindfulness so difficult, keeps creativity at bay, and stress levels at their highest. Actually practicing mindfulness is the only way to achieve relief from the burden of ruminative thoughts, compelling as those may be. One cannot just understand that mindfulness helps return us to creativity, optimal decision-making, and a more stress free existence, to achieve these optimal conditions. These are only achieved by breaking the clinging through the practicing of mindfulness so an open mind can be re-established. The muscle of attention needs to be built up from having become flabby from luxuriating within a constant stream of distorted and unhelpful thoughts. Once the attentional muscle is strong enough, you can point it wherever you like, at a problem, at a lover, or at a grand scene in nature without restrictive thoughts obscuring the view…and wouldn’t it be great to live like that?

Lamenting his inability to understand a full half of himself, the Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman complained, “Odd as it may seem, I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me” (Kahneman, 2012, p. 390). His (and our own) remembering self is the one tied up in concepts. Here we are children/ adults, teachers/ business people, weak/ strong, etc. These concepts are distorted through implications of changelessness. But change does certainly occur so they cannot be who we are, our identity. However, you can look in the mirror to “see” that thing that has always looked back since you were a child; the thing that has continuously been “with” you. This is your perceptual identity that does your living. It seems a stranger because it cannot be named. Although this never-changing part of ourselves, the percept of who we are, cannot be expressed by words and concepts, comprehension of it becomes perfectly clear through mindfulness practice. Then, we not only know ourselves fully, we live through this fundamental, authentic identity and live more harmoniously in the world we can better relate to. Feel free to join in.

Gunaratana, B. H. (2002). Mindfulness in Plain English. Boston, MA:Wisdom.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. New York: Hyperion Books.

Kahneman, D. (2012). Thinking, fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Mindfulness (n.d.) Psychology Today. retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/mindfulness on 20 June 2016

Mindfulness Meditation (n.d.) The Free Dictionary. retrieved from http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/mindfulness+meditation on 20 June 2016

Pashko, S. (2016). Implication of the differences between our perceptual and conceptual views. Psychology & Neuroscience, 9(2), 267-281. Link to paper.

 

Steven Pashko is a research clinician who studies treatment effectiveness and the value of health and healthcare. With a background in psychology and pharmacology, he conducts research and speaks about well-being. Notably, using behavioral economics theory, he submitted for a patent for way to identify people who respond to placebos.

Website: Steven Pashko.com

Copyright Steven Pashko, PhD (2016).

 

Placebo Response & Response Shift: How the Results of Fast Thinking Differ From Slow Thinking.

An earlier post, “What Is. Can’t Put a Word to It,” introduced you to my newest paper entitled “Implications of the differences between our perceptual and conceptual views.” It takes material from the psychology of behavioral economics, including Daniel Kahneman’s NY Times best seller, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and Seymour Epstein’s “Cognitive-Experiential Theory” about “two selves theory” examining the world through the view point of the fast thinking system. Here again is a short introductory video on this subject by Dr. Kahneman:

The Riddle of Experience vs Memory

Because we’re all used to thinking with concepts, logic and using memory with “words in the mind,” hallmarks of the slow thinking system, understanding the fast thinking system takes a bit of work because it does not utilize concepts. It processes sensory-perceptual experience directly. In my article, I suggest a rule of thumb … “slow thinking processes concepts; fast thinking processes percepts.” Percepts are the “what is” in the title of my previous post, what we cannot put words to. It’s our world before it’s been conceptualized, put into words. Try answering this question; “What is your subjective experience of the smell of a rose, the sight of blue, the sound of a trumpet, the taste of banana, the touch of a handshake, or the thought of the word ‘boulder’ in your mind?” Don’t tell me what these are similar to; tell me your direct experience of them. Though we can describe associations they have to other sense perceptions, like finding the color blue “refreshing,” sensory-perceptual experience is ungraspable to language. Sensory-perceptual experience, literally every contact we have in the world, is non-conceptual.

Yet, behavioral economics research has shown us that perceptual processing, probably by the right brain, yields informed, intelligent action. Interestingly, the actions and decisions made through perceptual processing differ remarkably from those made through conceptual processing. Many of the so-called “cognitive biases” originate from this difference but many other interesting phenomena also arise because of these two ways we process information. As promised, this post will discuss the placebo response and also touch on a way psychotherapy and meditation may provide relief of symptoms.

Generally speaking, a placebo response occurs when people appear to get better after receiving a treatment, like a pill, that actually had no active ingredient. So how does this relate to percepts, concepts and our two ways of understanding and interacting with the world? More straightforwardly than you may realize; the transform holds the key. Described in this way, the transformation occurs when “what is,” sensory-perceptual experience, is changed into concepts—gets put into words. From the paragraph above, you may remember there is no basis for this; it can’t be done. Yet, we constantly break this rule, and accept distorted information, probably because of our desire to communicate.

Initially, we access the world exclusively through our sense perceptions; our world is perceptual. Then, the world we experience directly also becomes transformed into a conceptual realm. At this point, each of us holds two views; one is transformed and processed by the left brain through the use of concepts, the other is processed by the right brain using percepts. Interestingly, we can only understand something when it’s been conceptualized. It took the efforts of behavioral economics researchers to determine that we also can “know” through sensory-perceptual experience—though we can’t conceptually understand how we know. It seems until recently, conceptual processing has wrongly gotten all the credit for our intelligence.

As for how the placebo response may appear, consider these two simultaneously held but different views; one being perceptual and the other having within it both the conceptual and the perceptual (since the origin of the concept is the percept). In the realm of pain, for example, the sense-perception may be an intense stimulation of the sense of touch. Both views have access to this. Added to this within the conceptual view may be concern or worry (a concept) of some sort. Examples may be “The pain is too great for me to bear!,” “I wonder if I’ll need to take time off from work and lose some pay?,” etc. From the conceptual point of view there are two aspects to this pain, the sensory-perceptual experience plus the conceptual worry. However, from the perceptual point of view there is only the sensory-perceptual experience. The view from the perceptual system always suffers less because it does not contain the additional concept (worry). If one could, and we can, shift from viewing the pain from the conceptual stance to that of the perceptual view, suffering from the pain would decrease. As I have previously written (Pashko, 2014), this shift can be the cause of the placebo response. With this as a theoretical basis, I have proposed a method for patenting to predict for people who will become placebo responders in clinical research trials (Pashko, 2011).

In addition to possibly causing the placebo response, perhaps the mechanism by which we switch from a conceptual view to a perceptual one is the way in which many of the cognitive psychotherapies and the various types of meditations also achieve their success. The cognitive psychotherapies and meditations, through suggestions that thoughts (concepts) often hold no valuable content and so can be disregarded, appear similar in their mechanism. Certain that more research is needed to understand the efficacy of this switch in relation to our physical health and mental well-being, one can only hope it receives a high priority.

 

Epstein, S. (2014). Cognitive-experiential theory. New York, NY: Oxford.

Kahneman, D. (2012). Thinking, fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Pashko, S. (2011). Bodily self-image and methods for predicting placebo response or response shift. USPTO application number: PCT/US2012/038014.

Pashko, S. (2014). Conceptual versus perceptual information processing: Implications for subjective reporting. Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics, 7, 219–226.

Pashko, S. (2016). Implications of the difference between our perceptual and conceptual views. Psychology & Neuroscience, 9(2), 267-281. Link to paper.

 

Steven Pashko is a research clinician who studies treatment effectiveness and the value of health and healthcare. With a background in psychology and pharmacology, he conducts research and speaks about well-being. Notably, using behavioral economics theory, he submitted for a patent for way to identify people who respond to placebos.

Website: Steven Pashko.com

Copyright Steven Pashko, PhD (2016).

What Is. Can’t Put a Word to It.

Through the next few installments of this blog I’ll be introducing my new paper. It’s in the June 2016 issue of the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology & Neuroscience and entitled “Implications of the differences between our perceptual and conceptual views.”

 

The article explores the two major ways people process information and make decisions. Though this might sound like a dry topic, research into these yielded Daniel Kahneman the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics –“for having integrated insights from psychological research into economic science, especially concerning human judgment….” As a result, we better understand human decision-making and the so-called “cognitive biases”– the mind-boggling ways in which our thinking doesn’t align with our actions. We also now know that one of these ways relates to the attentive, diligent, clear-knowing equanimity, that describes the type of information processing that occurs through “mindfulness” (Purser & Millio, 2014).

 

The research into cognitive biases tells us we take action based on our sensory perceptual experience as much as by our thoughts. For example, college students rated their vacation on a daily basis (Wirtz, et al., 2003). When it ended, they were asked to evaluate its entirety and whether they would want to repeat it. The results showed students based their intention to repeat the vacation mainly on their rating at the time of the last assessment, “even if the final evaluation did not accurately represent the quality of the experience that was described in the diaries” (Kahneman, 2012, p. 389). This points to a difference between how we think about the world and how we perceive it experientially. Neither is exclusively the correct way. How we decide and take action depends on which of our two information processing systems, the rational-cognitive or the experiential, dominates. Because most people have virtually no understanding of experiential information processing, fully half of how we understand, learning about and effectively using this system is important for effective navigation through life’s complex passages.

 

Here’s an excellent TED talk on this subject by Dr. Kahneman:

The Riddle of Experience vs Memory

 

As for the rational-cognitive system, it’s how we think when using an internalized form of words and concepts. Everyone’s familiar with this. What makes our understanding of experiential processing so different, and it is surprisingly different, is that although it does not use concepts it’s equally as powerful. Not having the use of conceptual language, however, it’s been unappreciated for eons because it can’t speak up for itself. So, the rational-cognitive system has mistakenly gotten all the credit for being smart. The downside, however, is that overuse of the rational-cognitive system produces a counterproductive backlash of maladies. These tend to come in various forms of stereotypy, though there are numerous others that I’ll describe in future posts.

 

Let’s consider the analogy of the blackboard and words written in chalk upon it to our mind and thoughts, respectively. On the blackboard everything can be written, from simple concepts and elaborate equations to the subtlest poetry and the most artistic of drawings. Everyone has a sense of the “words” of their thoughts but how many see the clear background of their mind, the “place” into which thoughts arise, linger and fall? It’s important to note that while the blackboard and the clear background of the mind are unlimited in their intellectual processing abilities, once words and thoughts appear, their full capabilities become constrained, no longer fully open. Many believe thoughts are the only way we “think.” Holding this erroneous opinion leads to a mind full of stressful thoughts in an attempt to conceptualize what simply cannot be categorized, which is … well everything! Seeing the error of this view, perhaps by reading this blog and reviewing the published scientific research, leads not only to stress relief but also to clear knowing and open-mindedness. Consider a bamboo tree. What defines it. Where does it end? Within the soil, the “cane” doesn’t actually end. It continuously connects with its rhizomes. So what has just happened to your concept of the word “tree?” Now ask yourself, “What’s truer?” That the concept of “tree” fits the word “bamboo” or that it is what you perceive it to be, just what it is?

 

During the course of this blog, I will explore what can be called our perceptual view, our mindful, intelligent processing of the world without over-reliance on words or thoughts. I expect you will find this view strangely familiar, although confusing to a world exclusively reliant on thought. It’s my hope that you will come to understand just how mindfulness works and perhaps even consider the activity for yourself and your friends. Among the topics address in this series of blog posts will be: the origins of the placebo response and improvement from psychotherapy, a cause of confused thinking and decision-making, overcoming bias, the development of insightfulness, an origin of and cure for anxiety/stress, dualism/monism, embodying the perceptual view through mindfulness, and considerations for wellness/ quality of life. Listed in this way, these may seem to be topics too highfalutin to be of any practical value. But this is not true. The more deeply we understand these topics the more clearly we will see the world. Seeing the world more clearly then making better decisions benefits not only us but others as well.

 

Kahneman, D. (2012). Thinking, fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Pashko, S. (2016). Implications of the difference between our perceptual and conceptual views. Psychology & Neuroscience, 9(2), 267-281. Link to paper.

Purser, R. & Millio, J. (2014). Mindfulness revisited: A Buddhist-based conceptualization, Journal of Management Inquiry, 1-22.

Wirtz, D., Kruger, J. Scolion, C. N., & Diener, E. (2003). What to do on spring break? Psychological Science, 14, 520–524.

 

Steven Pashko is a research clinician who studies treatment effectiveness and the value of health and healthcare. With a background in psychology and pharmacology, he conducts research and speaks about well-being. Notably, using behavioral economics theory, he submitted for a patent for way to identify people who respond to placebos.

Website: Steven Pashko.com

Copyright Steven Pashko, PhD (2016).

How Mindfulness/ Meditation Works

As opposed to psychotherapy, which often helps clients reformulate a consistent self (a conceptual, rational-cognitive self) that has gone somewhat astray, mindfulness/ meditation helps people return to their experiential self. The experiential self connects directly to the experience of what’s going on in the perceptual moment.

Many find mindfulness/ meditation practice difficult because they are used to conceptualizing (thinking) the world around them. This process is the realm of the rational-cognitive self. It’s the one that’s troubled and unhappy because no matter how it tries to conceptualize the world it just cannot be accurately done. It’s this error that causes problems.

During the process of mindfulness/ meditation, we are asked to return to direct experience when we find we’ve gone into the world of mental concepts and thought. It’s a return, time after time after time after time, to direct experience – the truth of reality. This truthfulness is what relieves our stress, anxiety and other suffering.