Maybe emotions are better viewed not by how they make us "feel", but what they make us want to do — I feel like the point of emotions is to make us want to do various things.
Maybe what we think of as consciousness or experience is memory formation.


I was angry today, and it got me thinking about anger during my meditation.

First, why I was angry: I saw a doctor to flush wax from my ears, and they failed, and I asked if I could try the water syringe myself, and they said no, and I asked if I could get my own syringe, and they said it would require a prescription, but he wouldn't write me one. Turns out they don't require a prescription, so ha!, but I didn't know that till later.

Second, my thoughts: anger generally makes me want to hurt people, but it's pretty easy to channel into arguing with them about how they should be less evil. But if I fail, what then? My thought in the past was "forgive them". But then I realized that when I'm angry with someone, I'm usually angry at myself for how I handled the situation, e.g., angry that I didn't think of a more clever argument for convincing them to agree with my point of view. So I should forgive myself. But my current thought is: I'm angry at myself, sure, forgive myself, sure, but I'm still angry at them, and I'm not sure how to forgive them if they persist in not recognizing their evilness.. But the anger hurts me, and makes me keep thinking about how to beat them.. So I think maybe the thing to do is recognize that anger makes me want to do that, and stop thinking about the situation.. Because it makes me angry.. Like how I don't read the news, because it makes me angry. That is to say, I think maybe there isn't a cure for anger except getting the person to apologize, or essentially ignoring it until it subsides, and then not thinking about the situation which would bring back the anger.
I was hearing a tune in my head and thought "maybe this is my auditory imagination pattern matching the same way my vision system does with random splotches beneath my eyelids", and I listened, and noticed there did indeed seem to be a sound I was ignoring, but my pattern recognizer wasn't, that resembled the tune that kept playing in my head.

It also occurs to me that my sense of where my body is, and having a body for that matter, is probably also pattern matching and model building based on tactile senses along with proprioception and whatnot.. Which is maybe why my body can feel differently positioned in a dream, since my limbs are likely numb, and the signals coming to the brain about them are probably easy to interpret any which way..
Maybe there's no real difference between the brain hearing an airplane sound and building a mental model of there existing an airplane flying over my house, and my brain seeing some random splotches under my eyelids that vaguely resemble an elephant and building a mental model of there being an elephant in front of me. Maybe they're both just pattern matching, where one pattern matches better than the other.
Maybe the reason the brain seems to tense some muscle while focusing is as a natural timer, so the brain doesn't get "stuck" focused on something, because eventually the muscle will get tired and stop tensing.


meditation thoughts

While meditating, I had a moment of feeling like I was seeing myself as an outsider, thinking, "who is this guy lying here trying to contemplate the mysteries of the universe?"

Shortly after, I had a moment of seeing a bunch of eyes around me, my own mind, looking at me..

I also got distracted with a few thoughts:

1) I thought about some design considerations for the mobile voting app I've wanted to create, like how to link phones together. Seems like passing around a random number would be good, but it needs to be big enough to prevent collisions, and also prevent people "snooping" by typing in a random number hoping to enter someone else's voting room. I had the thought that maybe this would be a good place for an xkcd style password phrase, like "frame typhoon football", rather than a number like "109072480903", which is about how big the number would need to be to have as many options as three random words chosen from a dictionary of 5000 words. Probably just two words would be enough, especially if voting rooms disappeared after everyone left.

2) I thought about a problem I've thought about before — how can you have a peer-to-peer game of poker? You have two clients, and no server.. how do they shuffle the cards such that player A can only see some of them, and player B can only see some others of them? I simplified this to shuffling a deck of 3 cards (2 cards doesn't work, because once you know one card, you know the other). I had some thoughts about how to solve this, but failed. I think the problem has a solution, because I recall someone I was talking to about this saying they had a solution published in a paper that I haven't read. But I like chewing on the problem.

3) I thought that I'd like to start putting illustrations back into my blog, but I don't have my bamboo tablet these days (and I'm not sure I'd use it if I did, because it's a bit of a hassle to setup and a bit awkward to draw). I like drawing on paper, and I had the thought: I could draw on paper and hold the image up to the camera and use JavaScript to process the image — similar to the mac's "signature thing" (shown here) — and give a url to the image so I could load it into blogger.


It turns out that the last episode Netflix has of Breaking Bad isn't the last episode of Breaking Bad.


I installed an update to Mavericks, and now my keychain password doesn't work. In fact, the keychain dialog is still the top-most window on my screen, I just moved it to the side.

The real scare was the first time I booted after the install when the only thing I saw was the keychain dialog. I thought this was it — a real test of my "backup" plan for if my machine died. But when I rebooted, my mac graciously loaded the desktop in addition to the unanswerable keychain dialog.

And apparently I'm not the only person this has happened to. I found a claimed fix here, which I'm going to try:
1. Go to Finder
2. Look for library in favourites.
3. If not there hold down option key and click on GO in the top menu
4. Scroll down to Library and click on it
5. Look for Keychain folder and click on it.
6. Inside KEychain folder is a single folder we random numbers and letters.
7. Drag this folder onto your decktop.
8. Re-boot and you should be good to go.
9. If Ok drag the folder off your decktop  into trash !!
..a couple notes: first, I really did need to hold down the option key while clicking the GO menu item in order to see the "Library"; and second, it worked! holy crap. I'm surprised that wasn't the first thing I thought of..

Maybe the point of sadness is to accept the thing we feel sad about.

Maybe the point of anger is to discourage other people from breaking social norms, back before evolution invented police.


My face, as interpreted by my Mac's signature thing. A friend did this with his face a while back, but I didn't know what the "signature thing" was. I discovered it today while I was filling out a pdf form using annotations in Preview, under Tools/Annotate/Signature.

The signature thing uses the camera. You're meant to hold up a signature to it, and it automatically clears away the texture of the paper and makes it transparent except for the black. The algorithm is generally pretty good about not interpreting faces as signatures, but I managed to trick it by standing in front of a white wall, turning my head sideways, and making sure my body was out of view — I then "signed" a document, took a screenshot, and rotated it to be upright.


..the decomposition meditation stuff on the other hand seems super useful. I've considered myself an introspective person in the past, but now I feel like I haven't been looking as deeply as I could, and I feel like there's real potential to see how I work at an even deeper level and fix things about myself that I don't like.

also, I am still trying to lucid dream, and that also seems worth doing, if only because, for some reason, whenever I have a lucid dream I wake up super refreshed, like I've had a really restful night's sleep. But I also want to talk to my subconscious, somehow..

incidentally, my current thought on jhanas is: cool, but useless.. except to the extent to which seeing cool new things is useful, which maybe it is.. is it "useful" to see a magic-eye? It's inspiring.. it's useful to be inspired I suppose.. and jhanas are quite a bit stranger and more interesting than seeing a magic-eye, especially if one has never experienced an altered state of consciousness, I suppose..

..but I don't think anyone walks around all day in a jhana — they're pleasant, but tiring in their own way, and I don't feel "smarter" in a jhana, though I think my thinking is subtly altered.. not sure..

I'm not even sure that being in jhanas is strengthening any mental muscles, aside from those used to enter jhana states. But I'm not even sure they help me focus.. which is ironic since they are states of intense focus..

..maybe I should try entering a jhana state focussing on a particular problem.. though it seems like only the first two would even keep my attention on that problem, and even then they'd just be looking at it, I'm not sure I'd be thinking it through. I suppose it's worth a try.

what the hell are these states? why are they there?

update: I recall now my teacher friend saying that jhana states are pleasurable, and I think they can be very pleasurable, though for some reason my mind doesn't care about that aspect so much, but I have had a pleasurable body-encompassing tingle in a jhana state — I think the fourth.

jhana update:
  • I think I've been to all 13 mentioned by my teacher friend
  • I thought I couldn't move after the first one, but I can.. my body is just very relaxed in some of them
  • They all seem to be in a line going backwards — even though the sensations may seem orthogonal, getting from one to the next always involves sort of "taking a step back" or "seeing things from a higher level"
  • It's always possible to think rationally and even talk, apparently, because I've seen my teacher friend talk
  • The sensations in each are impressionistic, rather than absolute. There's no magic. It's not like losing all sense of reality in some mystical realm, but they do feel "trance like"
  • My teacher friend says that 5 through 8 are really part of 4, and that seems accurate to me. If I'm in 4 with my eyes open, and I "take a step back", I get to 9. If I want to get to 5, I need to close my eyes in 4 and sort of think of the description of it — "infinite space" — so I think of space expanding.. so I'm not sure these one's are in a line, and they may just be what it's like to think about certain subjects while in 4.
Here are my current descriptions:

  • 1. focus on point
  • 2. focus on small area, body relaxed
  • 3. focus on whole visual field, as a whole, nothing in particular, body relaxed
  • 4. focus on all sensual input, including body, body relaxed
    • 5. "infinite space" — feels like I'm nowhere, eyes closed for 5 through 8
    • 6. "infinite consciousness" — feels like a lot of white noise of sensation, eyes feel like they want to shut hard
    • 7. "no-thing-ness" — feels more empty, relaxed, content
    • 8. "perception and non-perception" — not sure about this one.. feels like focus is happening, but I'm not sure what on, maybe.. maybe I haven't been here..
  • 9. sort of like seeing world with fresh eyes, body can move, I've walked around, very slowly though, and my vision tends to linger wherever it goes
  • 10. seems easier to imagine moving than actually moving — I had a quite vivid imaginary walk downstairs to get a glass of grapefruit juice, with my eyes open
  • 11. feels content to stay where I am
  • 12. feels content to just be
  • 13. feels like I see the world from the tippy top of my head
I've tried to "take a step back" from 13, and it feels like something is happening, but I haven't landed anywhere, and my brain is already pretty.. pretty something that it might not be able to be more of.. and my focus feels pretty far back already. I'll need to try again when my mind is fresh.. being in these states takes some energy.


I told my meditation teacher about the "clearing my mind" meditation I was trying, and he seemed against it — he seems worried that it has a higher chance of causing mental damage, and doesn't want me to "villainize" thoughts. So.. I'm not doing it. I'll need to think about it more. I feel like there's some use to calming my mind.. but I don't want my brain to think that thinking is bad..


meditation for programming

Fortuitously, a friend who is a meditation instructor wanted to learn to program, and is happy to exchange knowledge for knowledge. He is the person who originally framed meditation as mental exercise, and suggested "focus" and "decomposition" exercises. However, I misinterpreted both of them, it turns out.


I originally interpreted focus as.. well.. paying attention to an object. However, there are many types of focus:
  • sortof rubbing my mental hands around the object
  • thinking "yep, there's that object there.. still"
  • searching on the object for properties, like "oh, there's a bump I didn't see before!"
  • sortof imagining being the object
And all of these are not what he meant.

He wanted me to literally focus my eyes on a single spot on the surface of an object — the object didn't matter at all, what mattered was getting my eyes to stay still, not moving around, and not refocusing. The object was just there as a thing for my eyes to focus on, since it's harder to get eyes to remain fixed at a point in the air.

I expressed concern that if I did this, the object would sortof fade in and out of view, since my cones would get saturated. And he said this was fine, and desirable — it's a good sign that the eyes are stationary when the object fades from view. (note: he said blinking is ok.)

So.. why? Well, he said my brain would enter a strange, interesting and pleasurable state if I did, which he called "jhana" (pronounced jon-ah). And.. it did.

The state is comparable to looking at a magic-eye, where you focus your eyes a certain way, and suddenly an image appears, except no image will appear. But two things are similar to a magic-eye:
  • Although it is difficult at first to coax the eyes into focussing correctly to see the magic eye, once they do, it's easy to keep them there; in fact, it requires a little effort to stop them. Similarly, once the eyes enter jhana, they are willing to stay there, and the tedium of trying to keep putting them there stops.
  • In addition to presenting an image, magic-eyes are also strangely pleasurable to see, at least for me. In fact, I'll sometimes do the magic-eye thing on my keyboard, refocussing so my keys exactly overlap each other, which doesn't present an image — except my keys at a different depth — but it's still nice. Similarly, the state of "jhana" is nice.
In fact, it turns out there are multiple jhana states; my friend identified 13. I've been in the first 4. In general, getting to each jhana requires being in the previous one and jumping up somehow:
  1. focussing on a point — my eyes remain fixed, and the surrounding object fades in and out and swims around, presumably since my cones are getting saturated and confused.
  2. focussing on an object as a whole — my eyes see the whole object, strangely clearly. Also, I can't seem to move while maintaining this state. (I can move while retaining the first jhana.)
  3. taking in my whole visual field — my eyes aren't focussed on anything. Still can't move.
  4. taking in my whole sensory array — I can feel my body and hear stuff (which I generally don't do in the first three, since I'm focussed on vision). Still can't move.
  5. I'm not sure I've been here, but he says getting here requires being in state 4, and contemplating "infinite space". Also, he suggests that it doesn't involve sensory input at all, so I suspect that it's good to close the eyes too.
  6. I'm pretty sure I haven't been here, but he says it requires being in state 5 and contemplating "infinite consciousness".
  7. Getting here requires being in state 6, and contemplating "no-thing-ness".. whatever that means..
  8. Getting here requires being in state 7, and contemplating "neither perception nor non-perception"....
  9. Whereas the previous four jhanas don't involve sensory input, this one does again.. I'm pretty sure I haven't been here, and he suggests that I probably can't — he hasn't known anyone who's entered this state who hasn't done a certain amount of a different sort of meditation (decomposition, discussed below).
  10. I don't know anything about this
  11. or this
  12. or this
  13. or this
Also, it's worth nothing that it seems possible to enter the first four jhanas even if the eyes are closed, though the eyes are (I presume) still focussing the same way as if they were open. Also, he says he can now access all the jhanas directly, without first being in the previous jhana, so that's possible with practice, apparently.


He originally described decomposition with the example of looking at a stop sign, and seeing it's parts. I interpreted this to mean structural parts, like it has a metal bar holding it up, and paint on it, and an octagonal shape.. and when I would do "decomposition" meditations, I would go on to think of looking at the stop sign from different perspectives, like where it was in history, and perhaps the history of stop signs in general, and the design of the letters, and the thinking behind making it red, and so forth.

Wrong again.

He meant, I should decompose how I see the stop sign. Usually when I look at a stop sign, I think I see a stop sign, but in fact, "stop sign" is a pretty high level concept that my brain has formed — what I actually see are splotches and lines of various colors. If someone had never seen a stop sign before, or even any sort of street sign, or any sort of sign, or any English, or any words, or any geometric shapes.. perhaps a cave person who speaks english (but doesn't read it, of course).. what would they see?

And I think it's also part of the decomposition to note the higher level concepts invoked when seeing a stop sign, and to decompose them as well. In general, the idea seems to be trying to see all the things going on in the brain as it goes about the business of doing what brains do. So my meditation practice involves trying to decompose everything; what I see, what I hear, all sensations, and even how I think — decomposing thoughts into the thoughts that made them up, and so forth.

And if I force my brain to do this enough, he says eventually it will be able to do it automatically..

However, he did warn me that there will be a brief period (perhaps days, weeks or months) where I will see building blocks of stuff — splotches of color, low-level bodily sensations and such — but not actual stuff, like stop signs, which will make me somewhat non-functional during that time. But he says not to worry, I'll be normal again thereafter. I asked if I'd be able to find my house, and he seemed to think I would.. so that's nice at least. He also noted that I should be ok so long as I do some non-meditation things to ground me, like talking to people.


I stared at a bowl for 2 hours.. Um.. I poke fun at myself, but I do think there's a purpose to this.. Apparently.. Otherwise I'm not sure I could keep starting at a bowl for 2 hours.. Though I am concerned that I may be doing it wrong.. That would suck, right?
I tried focusing on a bowl for an hour.. In the first maybe 20 minutes I discovered some features of the bowl I did not know about.. And at one point I started trying to identify with the bowl, just to keep my focus there.. Oh my God.. I hope learning to focus on boring-as-hell crap, like this bowl, is going to really help me, because..


..as I quiet my mind, I think, what can I consciously do? I can move a muscle.. I can say words in my mind.. I can draw a square in my mind.. I can recall something from memory.. I think, what happens if I sort of "pull" on this lever over here? Often, whatever lever it is turns out to be a muscle on my face..
Meditating before sleep, while tired, I notice a new class of issues.. mainly drifting toward sleep, and having weird dreamlike thoughts like "I need to pick which key goes here", but really no key picking needs to happen, I'm just meditating trying to clear my mind..
..I feel more and more that many of the thoughts I have are triggered more or less directly from things in my environment
So I feel I did fairly well at stopping thoughts, and I noticed a lot of raw sensory input coming from my body and eyelids.. Not sure what, if anything, I can do to not have that input.. Though I'm not sure if I'm meant to pay attention to it.. Probably not..
I walked and tried to clear my mind as I walked, and sometimes I'd see everything in clearer focus, and I'd think "yes, this meditation is having an effect!", and then I'd realize that I was walking under a street lamp, and everything was literally brighter.

A similar thing happens when I meditate with my eyes closed.. Some thought will take shape that seems like an alerting of my mental state, but turns out to literally take the shape of some light pattern on my eyelids, or some tension in my muscles (to the extent that those have a "shape").

meditation notes

I had been trying several forms of meditation, including "focusing on my breathing", "decomposing an object", "relaxing", etc.. but today I went back to just "trying to clear my mind"

I think "trying to clear my mind" is key, somehow, and it is by far the hardest type of meditation I've tried (where hard means worthwhile? ;) — and it also kindof combines "focusing" and "relaxing", though it doesn't involve active thoughts like "decomposing an object", so it kills quite a few birds with one stone, but not all, but I think it kills the right birds..

Anyway, I'm meditating with the goal of achieving some sort of altered state of consciousness, which I'm guessing my mind will sortof "pop" into if I clear it enough.. who knows.. but the fact that I have that goal leads to many misleading thoughts of the form "oh, this is it, just increase this thought or sensation here and that will lead to a 'pop'!", but really it's just some ordinary thought, and not actually anything interesting.. so my brain is very misleading. I've noticed this in the past, when I've tried this form of meditation before, and it's a nice challenge to keep batting down and unmasking these thoughts, in addition to trying to stop thoughts from happening in general..

..anyway, so I tried for a while. Not sure how long. And have nothing special to report except that it seems good to try and be honest with myself about what my thoughts are, as opposed to being.. er.. hopeful that any particular thought is somehow transcendent..

..I feel like whatever state awaits me, assuming there is one, will be kindof like a lucid dream (if not exactly that), and will be blatantly obvious once I'm there..

incidentally, I had abandoned this type of meditation in the past because it seemed like trying to learn not to think, whereas what I really wanted was to try and think better, but somehow I've come back to it as a first step toward thinking better. My path is roughly: I've come to believe that one of the biggest impediments to thought for me is that when I focus, I tense my muscles, and this sortof waists mental energy, kindof like running current through copper waists energy by heating the copper, and I want a less resistant or super-conductive thinking material, and somehow learning to clear my mind seems on the path toward that..

consciousness and qualia

a thought about consciousness

Gödel showed that a mathematical system can have a statement which is true, but unprovable within the system.

We seem to be in a sort of system with physical laws of the universe.

I've generally been a believer in the grandiose sense of consciousness, asserting that my subjective experience contains a quality not explainable by physical interactions among neurons.

However, I think maybe consciousness is like a statement which is true, but unprovable within the system of our universe.

But, if that's so, then I probably don't actually have a good basis for thinking that it's so. If I had a good reason for thinking it was so, that would seem an awful lot like the beginnings of a proof for something that I'm claiming is probably unprovable.

a thought about qualia

Qualia is a word that tries to point at what-it's-like to experience something, like seeing red.

My thought is simply this: it occurs to me that our subconscious does quite a bit of stuff with raw sensory data before showing it to our conscious mind. If we could "see" the path all the way from redness down to the neuron that fired in response to a photon hitting it, we would probably stop experiencing redness and say instead that we experienced a photon hitting that neuron — and if we could see within the neuron to exactly how the photon caused the neuron to fire, we would probably not have any "experience" of a photon at all, but rather a view of some physical laws doing what they do.


A friend pointed out once that whereas we think of species as having an ancestor, like the first duck, there probably wasn't a first duck. It would be strange for there to be a group of birds, and for one to have a mutated child that was a duck, and for that single duck to.. I mean.. it needs a mate at least to do anything, a non-duck mate, and are it's children going to be incestuous?

update: another friend pointed out that there probably was a first duck, for any definition of duck.. or possibly multiple first ducks born simultaneously. What I meant to say is that there probably isn't an "eve duck" that is the great great great etc grandmother of all ducks.

So no first eve duck.. probably.

And ideas seem to evolve, and we think of tracing an idea to it's root, but that's probably impossible too.


I did an observation mediation focusing on sounds. It's late, and pretty quiet, so the only sounds were soft. I noted that the difference between real sounds and imagined sounds was small. For instance, there's a road nearby, and I know that cars drive on it periodically, and I would listen for them, and sometimes I'd think I heard one, but then I'd hear a real one, and it would be obvious that I was just imagining something before.. I feel like part of recognizing very faint sounds involves imaging them.
I was decomposing an object, as a form of mediation, which to me means thinking about the object in different ways and from different angles. The object this time was my thoughts, meta, I suppose. One way I try to think about things in different ways is to relate those objects to random things. So I tried to relate my thoughts to a chair. I noted that my conception of the chair is itself a thought, and my mental model of the chair probably says a lot about my other thoughts, and the way I think in general, if someone could analyze it well enough. Similarly, I suppose someone could reconstruct the universe if they had a bottle of beer, at a particular time and place, with it's cover picture, which would probably only make sense in a world that looks like ours.
I went to bed with the beginnings of a sore throat, slept for 15 hours, and woke up without a sore throat :)
daydream: I'm tutoring a kid in math, but they're distracted, and throw a paper airplane, and so I show them how to fold a better paper airplane, and then we try to make it go further.. and eventually some math is required to progress along the path of their interest

dream math

I had thought before that I couldn't think about stuff the same in lucid dreams — I speculated that I had no "mind's eye" since my entire world was already in my mind's eye.

But that's false, it seems. I had a lucid dream this morning, and I tried thinking about the problem "x + 2 = 5", and I was able to see the problem in my lucid dream's mind's eye, and subtract 2 from both sides to get 3.