View of Mind: Trash Theory #6

Trash Theory: Preliminary Materials for a Non-Buddhist Image of Practice #6*

X-Postulate 9: Everyone knows that meditation/mindfulness engenders unadorned insight into “things as they are,” beginning with our “subjective experience.” We can lucidly describe this experience. [The x-buddhist practice thus produces auto-hallucination.]

Non-Postulate 14: Meditation/mindfulness “experience” is wholly structured by our social-symbolic systems (language, concepts, categories, subject relations, etc.) and saturated by our World. “Description” is nothing but an ideologically-inflected reconstruction. [The non-buddhist practice thus produces self-awareness.]

For this installment, I’d like to refer you to two posts at the new blog parlêtre: “Critique of Pragmatic Dharma #1 and #2” (link below). As the name indicates, the blog has a psychoanalytic, Lacanian, inflection. The writer appears to be a practicing psychoanalyst. Below are some excerpts. Please read further at the blog. The author hopes to generate discussion. So, let’s join him/her at parlêtre.

From “Critique of Pragmatic Dharma #1: I begin with two questions about Pragmatic Dharma (henceforth, PD) as presented in Ingram’s book: (1) what is its underlying theory of mind and (2) what is its theory of transformation? The practice presented by PD, derived from Mahasi-style meditation, involves directing attention to ‘sensate experience’ as it emerges form the ‘six sense doors’ (sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing, and consciousness) in ‘moment-to-moment experience.’ The emphasis on moment-to-moment experience, which can be traced to the notion of ‘momentary consciousness’ elaborated in the Abhidharma literature, seems to suggest that experience emerges through the six sense doors in each moment, vanishes completely, and then re-emerges in the next moment.

My argument is that while this is certainly an interesting, even at times fruitful way of engaging with experience, it is a profoundly impoverished view of the mind. (I am certainly aware that there is extensive philosophical engagement with the concerns I am raising throughout the vast collection of Buddhist literature. It’s simply beyond my expertise to mobilize that literature in this critique.) This impoverishment stems from the fact that this model of the mind privileges conscious experience while failing to acknowledge that the mind also has a latent (or depth, or unconscious) aspect. Memory, a faculty of the mind, would seem to require that something persists between mind moments, though that something persists as a latent structure of the mind. Similarly, one of the primary functions of the mind is to make meaning of experience.

From “Critique of Pragmatic Dharma #2:” Under the umbrella term subjectivist, Cavell (1991) unpacks two assumptions about the nature of the mind that are deeply embedded in our common sense thinking. The first of these is that consciousness is a constitutive feature of the mental, which implies that first-person, subjective introspection is the only way to uncover mental contents. With the importance he places on a second-person interpreter in uncovering unconscious thought processes and the centrality of transference and countertransference in psychoanalytic practice, Freud clearly rejects this first subjectivist assumption about the nature of mind. More recently, cognitive science, among other disciplines, has clearly shown us that outside observers can learn things about our minds not available to us via introspection.

The second subjectivist assumption is internalism, that is, the idea that my thoughts must be in principle describable by things happening inside me alone…I would argue that it is a mistaken assumption.

An externalist, anti-subjectivist view holds an individual’s mental states mean what they do only in relation to a vast network of other thoughts and to certain relations between that individual and the external world. Wittgenstein (1953), for example, suggests that the meaning of a word requires knowing how to use it in activities with others. Certainly the externalist, anti-subjectivist acknowledges that there is a sense in which the mental is subjective and private, for we have access to some of our thoughts in a way that is unique to us. Yet the externalist also argues that the mind is constituted by the relations between an individual and her environment, which includes other persons.

UPDATE: parlêtre has added #3. Several provocative intelligent comments have appeared, including a 33-page single-space one by Daniel Ingram. Join the fun!

Continue readings at parlêtre 

For a full explanation of the concept of trash theory, go here (scroll down).

One response to “View of Mind: Trash Theory #6”

  1. Akilesh Ayyar Avatar

    Fascinating thoughts as always, Glenn! I posted this on the Parletre site as a comment:

    Interesting posts! I’m not a PD-ist and don’t know much about its specific meditative recommendations, but I guess the question is: why do either of the paradigms have to be viewed as exclusive? And more to the point, don’t these activities simply have different — but potentially complementary — goals?

    Why can’t you put one hat on while meditating, focusing on the meditative goal, and another hat on when in therapy, focusing on the therapeutic goal? And the two can help each other, in fact. Therapy can help open up self-understanding of the unconscious, quieting the mind for meditation; meditation can put one in touch with the peace underlying thoughts, quieting the mind for therapy.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: