Timing the mind

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cjmacie
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Timing the mind

Postby cjmacie » Wed Nov 23, 2016 3:30 pm

This analysis was originally formulated to address questions (in another forum http://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5893757#_19_message_5901706) about speed of "noting" in Mahasi Sayadaw type practice. The topic mental speed also was touched upon in the recent thread here ("Difference between jhana and magga phala" http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=44&t=28268#p404182). It's posted here as a stand-alone topic, as it's developed to an extent that might distract those other discussions.

1) The Buddha is famously quoted:
“I don’t envision a single thing that is as quick to reverse itself as the mind—so much so that there’s no satisfactory simile for how quick to reverse itself it is.” — AN 1:48 (trans Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

2) At an extreme, assertions are made, on the basis of Abhidhamma notions, that millions, billions of mental events can occur each second (citations could be provided, from Bhikku Bodhi, PaAuk Sayadaw and texts).

3) In practice,

3a) Mahasi-style begins with vipassana "noting", developed towards an acuity of being able to discern mental events down to the level of the barest 4-elemental (mahadhatu) characteristics which "perception" groups together (kalapas) to form fabricated "objects"; this discernment demonstrates the anatta quality of sensate experience. Teachers of this (and derived methods) emphasize increasing the speed of insight discernment to be able to exhaustively, completely understand what's going on as it happens.

3b) Pa Auk-style begins with development of jhana concentration mastery, towards the mastery of being able to enter/exit absorption many times per second, with the purpose to then apply this mental acuity in discerning the elemental composition (kalapas) of experienced phenomena. (PaAuk method is famous for "hard" jhana training, but those who know it well report that that's just a tool for mahadhatu practice – exactly like Mahasi practice when one progresses beyond the introductory "noting" methodology that Mahasi is more famous for.)

4) A general feature of meditation practice / mental development could be characterized as training the mind to observe, deeply understanding it's own operation, phenomenal experiencing, down to the finest granularity possible, in order to:
4a) fully understand – penetrative knowledge – the mechanisms at work, and
4b) to be able to re-engineer those mechanisms, shape mental function into skillful behavior fully "awake".

5) Abhidhamma analysis investigated the practices taught by the Buddha into systematic principles of the structural components of mind (Dhammasangani) and dynamic transformations in its behavior (Patthana). At the barest level, the "cognitive series" or "cognitive process" was formulated to depict the minutest discernible "mind-moments" which function together as the quantum events of mental experience. Such a series consists of some 11 to 17 micro-moments per phenomenal event: generally speaking, first a bare encounter with 5-sense door stimulus which notices, turns to, takes in, associates, recognizes, and reacts to; and immediately followed by a second series which is a mind-door (the 6th sense) stimulus which "knows" what it just sensed in the first series. (Recognizing this double event is explicit, for instance, in Mahasi style training.) The momentariness of this can be developed to a rate of, variously estimated by practitioners, of 10 or 15, even up to 30 or 40 "vibrations", or "pulsations" per second – a working rate of vipassana-khanika-samadhi insight cycles (Mahasi), or also arguably of the application of appana-samadhi insight cycles (PaAuk). A skeptical view is that abhidhamma analysis was more an abstract, "scholastic" game of abstract conceptualization; another view is that it was rooted in the practice of following the Buddha's trainings, attempting to devise aids to optimize understanding and teaching their practice. That is, to develop full realization, awakening to the nature of lived experience.

6) Contemporary neuro-science estimates that the granular time-frame of nerve behavior (synaptic communication) is on the order of a couple to a bunch of milliseconds (ms), say 2 or 3 through to closer to 6-8 ms. That's, for instance, the granularity of MRI analysis: measuring the presence of oxygen accumulation in nerve tissue as it's stimulated; the onset happens in a couple of ms, and intensifies for up to 8 or so ms before abating. (MRI is more exact at determining location; other techniques, e.g. PET, if I recall, can be less acute at positioning, but more precise in the timing dimension.)

Now, hypothesizing that this neurological quantum approximates the abhidhamma micro-moment citta in the cognitive series – call it 4 ms, for simplicity sake – then a 5-door sensate process takes about 68 ms (4 x 17), and a mind-door even about 44 ms (4 x 11). The rate of processing for full cognitive series is then in the range of 15-22 Hz ("Hertz", or cycles per second). That is to say, the neurological correlate to mental activity cycles, "pulses", or "vibrates" at 15-22 times per second. A full Mahasi "noting" double cycle (sensation then "knowing" it) would take about 112 ms, or at about 8hz (8 per second). Now, maybe it's faster or slower given varying physiological conditions; maybe nerve activity has some temporal, flexibility; maybe the bhavanga (life-continuum) micro-moments that begin and end a cognitive process can be elided one to the next (so the cycle count per event is 10 or 16),… This is all playing with numbers to explore ball-park, feasibility of hypothesis – like engineers doing rough calculations on the back of an envelope while chatting over a cup of coffee, a process known to be remarkably accurate.

Note: Another term for Hz, cycles-per-second would be "sampling-rate".

Other bits of neurological and experiential evidence:

i) The rate at which movies or TV ("moving picture") must sequence the component "still" frames in order to evoke the perceptual illusion of continuity is in the range 20-30 Hz – at the low end or slower it "flickers", or one catches the individual frames. Above that, the mind is "fooled" into perceiving continuous flow.

ii) Some people can notice "flickering" from florescent lighting, which pulses at the rate of "alternating" electrical current (60Hz in the USA; 50Hz in Europe). This is more subtle, and is in a range (16-20Hz) where smaller than full double cycle cognitive processes, where the mind can't quite fully process it.

iii) In acoustics, e.g. organ pipes: the largest pipes produce the deepest tones (longest wave lengths) and play with, so to speak, the threshold at which the human ear discerns musical tone. A 16-foot pipe creates vibration at 32Hz, perceived as a very deep bass tone; a 32-foot pipe at 16Hz, not "heard", but felt as a sort of shuddering vibration.

7) So, perhaps the human mind can cognitively operate, at the level of focal consciousness in the range 8-20 events per second, or at a more subtle (subliminal) level (bare nerve-ending activation) of maybe 100-150hz. "Focal" being the single object focus of consciousness (both the abhidhamma and neuro-science define consciousness as "of a single object") How does that jive with Pa Auk Sayadaw or Bhikku Bodhi speaking (in abhidhamma terms) of millions or billions of mind events per second?

7a) Neurology recognizes that the human brain carries out multiple, hundreds or more relatively high-order processes simultaneously, at various degrees of proximity to the focal point of conscious awareness. For instance, it's known that the brain overall can be even more "active" during sleep than during waking – thought to be "unconsciously" processing, working-out, all sorts of past or future scenarios. – The well-documented phenomena of waking in the middle of the night with a sudden realization, solution to some problem; or being able to think, study much better in the morning.

And also it's conceivable that the abhidhamma analysts/authors were able to detect some sense of that going on. (Various scientific studies have confirmed that "yogis" and other adept types are capable of achieving mental and physiological perception and control of areas of the "autonomic nervous system", i.e. neurological processes thought, perhaps naively to the modern "scientific" mind, to be totally "unconscious".)

Taking numbers as above – i.e. micro cycles in a few ms, series in 10s of ms, etc. – and multiplying by hundreds of parallel "subconscious" events in the same time frames, it's possible to postulate that the human mind (in its "association" with the neurological events) is capable of at least 100,000s of events per second.

7b) It's not often noted that it was common practice, in ancient texts (here Pali, and I know also in Chinese urtexts) to use mythically large numbers as a way of expressing simply large quantities, as in "inconceivably" big – not to be taken, as the modern scientific (and historically naïve) mind might, literally. Consider that in earlier times people were generally not exposed to relatively "real", "astronomically" huge quantities like we are today – we "know of" (conceptually, not perceptually) billions of galaxies, trillions of cells in the body, billions of people; we are conversant with kilo-, mega-, tera-, etc.; milli-, micro-, nano-, pico-, etc. ranges of quantities. Our mathematics, even at the layman level, routinely deals with such numbers. Compare our "Arabic" number system and the mathematical tools we have with, say the Roman numeral system, the Chinese pictographic number system – imagine doing multiplication or long division in those systems. Accounting for the vast difference between our modern, technologically sophisticated facility with numbers and what the ancients (eg. 2000-2500 year-ago Buddhist analysts) had to work with, the gap between mythically metaphorical "millions, billions" of mind events / second and many hundreds of thousands of relatively high-level neurological processes may not be as large as it seems.

That's about all to be said on this topic, at the moment. Thanks for listening (if anyone's still there). :zzz:

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Re: Timing the mind

Postby cjmacie » Wed Nov 23, 2016 10:53 pm

Further data points and interpretive twists:

1) Complex neurological processing may well be considerably faster:

Functional MRI (fMRI) has relatively poor temporal resolution because it measures nerve (synapse?) activation only indirectly – the physiological-chemical-electical activation attracts increased blood-flow (nutriments); the increased presence of oxygen (in "red" blood) is what apparently "magnetically resonates", i.e. is detected and shown in pretty colors in the imaging. That could mean that the rush of synaptic activity actually takes place in only a millisecond or two, and the blood-flow follows, as it can. Similar to, say, muscular activity, which does what it needs to do as fast as possible, even anaerobically (burning without oxygen) if necessary, and the blood-flow, again, follows when it can; hence muscle cramps, etc. from "oxygen-debt".

So all that computation (in the OP) might be adjustable such that the minimum quantum nervous reaction time is more like just 1 or 2 ms – i.e. 2-4 times faster than I initially hypothesized. Meaning brain-mind activity can have 2-4 times the temporal bandwidth – full cognitive-series function in ca. 5 ms, double-cycle sense+"know" modules in ca. 10 ms, for an effective maximum bandwidth of 200Hz or 100Hz, respectively. And then several 100's of thousands of simultaneous levels of processing (focal-awareness and ump-tine subliminal layers) would potentially approach the "millions" (but probably not the "billions") that the Abhidhammikers imagined.

(Being quite aware that all use of latest-and-greatest "science" is an iffy matter – recalling the kinds of models for brain activity as simply binary in the 1970s, or as logic gates a decade or so later – all now seen as rather naïve.)

2) Another physiological-neurological speed correlation:

2A) The human eye, it has been said, slightly "twitches" automatically about 10 times/second, even when, say, "staring" steadily at something. Because, presumably, if it doesn't it can't detect motion – like snakes or other wildlife. So, every 100 ms or so the eyeball is jerked slightly to force optical reprocessing and comparative pattern analysis, and better detect change.

(So it was thought at least back in the early 1970's. I happened to have coded back then the "first" computer software system to do "alpha-wave" bio-feedback (working for Drs. Joe Kamiya and Bob Ornstein in their lab at UCSF). Brain-waves from electrodes were digitized, FFT-ed into frequency analysis – having found a great FFT ("fast-Fourier-transform") algorithm in PDP-7 machine code; when alpha-frequencies (8-12Hz) were found to pre-dominate, a digital output was produced, converted to analog via the x-y outputs on a Tektronix oscilloscope (the whole system was something of a "hack"), amplified and aurally "fed-back" to the human subject as a kind of soft hum. It worked! The relevant aspect is that the brain-waves picked-up at the electrodes were in the micro-amp range, but the twitching of the eyes sent relatively huge (milli-amp) electrical signals , from muscular activity, across the whole head, drowning-out the brain-waves; hence the experiment had to be always done with closed-eyes, which attenuated the 10Hz twitching. btw: The modicum of hands-on experience I had myself playing with the feedback system, finding ways of inducing and holding alpha-wave activity, may have contributed to my ability, many decades later, to pick-up on jhana practice.)

2B) Then, is there a link between all the abhidhamma vipassana-samadhi cognitive-processing stuff above and the alpha-wave thing? I haven't kept-up on all the research, but back in the 1960's-70's there was data, at least in the popular science press, that "meditaters", "yogis" excelled at inducing alpha-wave brain activity.

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Re: Timing the mind

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Nov 24, 2016 6:39 pm

Hi cjmacie,

Interesting topic. I would say though:
cjmacie wrote:5) Abhidhamma analysis investigated the practices taught by the Buddha into systematic principles of the structural components of mind (Dhammasangani) and dynamic transformations in its behavior (Patthana). At the barest level, the "cognitive series" or "cognitive process" was formulated to depict the minutest discernible "mind-moments" which function together as the quantum events of mental experience. Such a series consists of some 11 to 17 micro-moments per phenomenal event: generally speaking, first a bare encounter with 5-sense door stimulus which notices, turns to, takes in, associates, recognizes, and reacts to; and immediately followed by a second series which is a mind-door (the 6th sense) stimulus which "knows" what it just sensed in the first series.

I think it's important to note that these details of mind moments is a later development than that canonical abhidhamma (which seems to be hardly ever read or discussed).
cjmacie wrote: (Recognizing this double event is explicit, for instance, in Mahasi style training.) The momentariness of this can be developed to a rate of, variously estimated by practitioners, of 10 or 15, even up to 30 or 40 "vibrations", or "pulsations" per second – a working rate of vipassana-khanika-samadhi insight cycles (Mahasi), or also arguably of the application of appana-samadhi insight cycles (PaAuk). A skeptical view is that abhidhamma analysis was more an abstract, "scholastic" game of abstract conceptualization; another view is that it was rooted in the practice of following the Buddha's trainings, attempting to devise aids to optimize understanding and teaching their practice. That is, to develop full realization, awakening to the nature of lived experience.

I am inclined to take the view that the commentaries are rooted in experience (as well as analysis, obviously). As you say, there are modern teachers who discuss observing these detailed abhidamma-commentary sequences. Though that seems rather difficult, to attain, it doesn't seem uncommon for meditators to find experience breaking up into chunks in the sort of timescales discussed in your post.

However, the interesting question is whether the abhidamma-commentary numbers regarding the speed of mind moments (billions per second?) should be taken seriously, or whether it is simply a way of expressing "really fast". If it is to be taken seriously then the speed of the processes you discuss are irrelevantly slow, and drawing any connection would be a mistake.

:anjali:
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Re: Timing the mind

Postby cjmacie » Fri Nov 25, 2016 4:14 am

mikenz66 wrote:I think it's important to note that [1] these details of mind moments is a later development than that canonical abhidhamma (which seems to be [2] hardly ever read or discussed).

[1] The writing-down of the details was a later development. Mental & linguistic "technology" seems to evolve through history, i.e. the ability to express details of experience. A later viewpoint interprets more explicitly what it sees as implicit in earlier expressions of view. The Buddha's "words" (sutta passages, more or less) are linguistic formulations (in the conventions of the time) of "vision", "knowledge" experience, so to speak. Subsequent generations read and "recreate" the experiences so represented, and reformulate them using their current linguistic/mental capabilities. This could be a way of looking at the whole process of sutta – commentary – sub-commentary – successive generations of further commentary (including the moderns). As Ven. U. Jagara once put it, that something was formulated (interpreted) historically later doesn't, per se, say anything conclusive as to whether it's "true" or not.

An example of evolving linguistic / mental "technology" (or "ars" – Latin for Greek "techne" which meant, well, "art", i.e. skill at doing things):
The Homeric Greek mind depicted body parts as as related, comparatively roughly, to experiences, specifically emotions. For instance, Achilles, hiding away in his tent while the Greeks were being creamed by the Trojans, brooded over perceived offense in his "phrenos", or some vague area of the upper abdomen – lower chest. Later developed more detailed "anatomy" engendered debate as to whether that really meant the liver, or the diaphragm, or the lungs, or the pleura, etc. i.e. in a more detailed vocabulary which the Homerics lacked. As in the often voiced modern notion that the Greeks thought the center of consciousness was in the "liver", vs the Chinese and Indic thought that it resides in the "heart".

[2] Good point – who ever discusses (hereabouts) the actual texts of the Abhidhamma? (Granted that recently robertK has reported a familiarity with (at least an English translation of) the Atthasalini, Buddhaghosa's (at least translated or formulated by him) commentary on the Dhammasangani (1st book of Abhidhamma). His comments that I read didn't indicate whether he has read that text in parallel with the Dhammsangani itself not.) Perhaps just my ignorance, not having (as yet) read all DW abdhidhamma discussions.

mikenz66 wrote:However, the interesting question is whether the abhidamma-commentary numbers regarding the speed of mind moments (billions per second?) should be taken seriously, or whether it is simply a way of expressing "really fast". If it is to be taken seriously then the speed of the processes you discuss are irrelevantly slow, and drawing any connection would be a mistake.


The more I ponder this (and continue to analyze it), the stronger the suspicion (hypothesis) that the huge gap in interpreting the mythically huge numbers ("billions per second") vs "reality" is actually not to be taken so seriously; is an artifact of historical bias and lack of appreciation for what neuro-science is indicating. (Note: hypothesis, view, suggestion of something to investigate, not assertion of proven fact.)

Revising my numbers (and finding abundant documentation), neural quantum cycling runs at about 1 ms, 1000 times/second. (Yes, very slow, compared with, for instance, the current speeds of (linear) digital processing, i.e. pico-seconds and beyond, aka "tera-flops" (billions of floating-point operations per second) of compute power.) But, the neural system (the entire nerve plexus in the human body, not just the brain) is MASSIVELY PARALLEL – it carries-out trillions (literally) of operations simultaneously, i.e. billions of complex operations, and millions at a level of relatively high-order complexity. That means, in the space of 10's of ms, it performs really huge numbers of operations, including at levels that can be associated with "consciousness".

For instance, sensory receptors: in the retina of the eye (seven million cones and a hundred million rods), in the cilia of the inner ear (3,500 inner hair cells and 12,000 outer hair cells at birth), smell (between 10 and 20 million), tactile (in just one hand, 1300 per sq. in.), which get triggered, yes, on the scale of milliseconds, but all at once; then in another couple of ms, these massive arrays of data get post-processed by deeper levels of (e.g. optic or aural) networks into "patterns"; another couple of ms and these patterns get associated with memory systems / algorithms and resolved to perceptions, and invoke emotional response (i.e. vedana-type feeling tone, bare positive or negative reaction – not complex mental-fabrication "emotions"); further ms and they get associated with linguistic concepts, words; further moments then "thinking", etc. So raw quantum "speed" at any isolated location is less consequential than the overall power of massively parallel processing.

So, it remains to be seen whether correlation (connection with abhidhamma notions) is mistaken or not. That's my current view.

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Re: Timing the mind

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Nov 25, 2016 9:30 am

Hi cjmacie,

I do agree that terminology would have changed. We're dealing with commentaries translated into Pali and organised around 1000 years after the Buddha, so it's like a modern scholar assembling commentary on Beowulf.

However, I have not found anything remotely resembling the discussion of the various sequences of mind moments discussed in later works, let alone the billions per second in the Abhidhamma. I'd be very interested to be pointed to where it is implied.

It is interesting that you mention parallel processing. The Theravada commentaries seem very definitely of the opinion that there is one mind object at a time (I believe the Abhidharmas of some other schools don't agree with this).

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Re: Timing the mind

Postby cjmacie » Fri Nov 25, 2016 1:02 pm

mikenz66 wrote:...I have not found anything remotely resembling the discussion of the various sequences of mind moments discussed in later works, let alone the billions per second in the Abhidhamma. I'd be very interested to be pointed to where it is implied.

Isn't the topic of the cognitive series/process detailed somewhere in the Abhidhammmattha-Sangahe (ca. 12th-Century, B.Bodhi trans as "A Comprehensive Manual...")? Those tables are included in appendices to the (older) printed (and digitized) versions of the Visuddhimagga, and Steve Armstrong appends his versions of the tables to the recent Manual of Insight. Details emerge occasionally in the Visuddhimagga, but no thorough discussion there that I recall.

As to the "millions, billions", such a quotation came-up here recently in a quotation from B. Bodhi (http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=44&t=28268#p404182). It's mentioned often by the Pa Auk Tawya Sayadaw, and probably in his "The Workings of Kamma", which is heavily foot-noted with source citations; I'll try to track it down. One problem is that both (BB and PATS) use language like "millions, billions", i.e. our modern numerical concepts, where most likely canonical mention would be in terms of series and compounds mythical Indic terms for time-spans, e.g. as translated as "eons".

mikenz66 wrote:It is interesting that you mention parallel processing. The Theravada commentaries seem very definitely of the opinion that there is one mind object at a time (I believe the Abhidharmas of some other schools don't agree with this).

Yes, that's a striking similarity between abhidhamma and neuro-science -- both clear that consciousness is always defined as "of an object". (In fact, one could note this insistence is s/t problematic for the abhidhammakers, as they then have to define the "unconditioned", nibbana, as an "object".)

Clearly, the ancient thought had no notions as we do of, say, multi-tasking, or subliminal layers of consciousness. One could cite that to refute my hypothesis. Counter-argument might be we use our more refined modern notions to elucidate things only implicit back then. For instance, the notion of "bhavanga", or of the unexplained ways that kamma some-how sticks around, persists -- it is a thing? a substance? Our modern understanding of, say "evo-devo" (evolutionary as well as developmental, aka environmental, causality), i.e. about equal shares of genetic and socializational/educational conditioning in human behavior, as well as the psychological "discoveries" of multiple levels of the conscious, subconscious, unconscious, etc. operate here as quasi commentarial glosses.

Thanks for raising that issue. It needs to be addressed.

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Were the ancients aware of human capabilities such as this?

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Re: Timing the mind

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Nov 25, 2016 10:24 pm

cjmacie wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:...I have not found anything remotely resembling the discussion of the various sequences of mind moments discussed in later works, let alone the billions per second in the Abhidhamma. I'd be very interested to be pointed to where it is implied.

Isn't the topic of the cognitive series/process detailed somewhere in the Abhidhammmattha-Sangahe (ca. 12th-Century, B.Bodhi trans as "A Comprehensive Manual...")? Those tables are included in appendices to the (older) printed (and digitized) versions of the Visuddhimagga, and Steve Armstrong appends his versions of the tables to the recent Manual of Insight. Details emerge occasionally in the Visuddhimagga, but no thorough discussion there that I recall.

Hmm, I thought it predated the Visuddhimagga by some time. Unfortunately, most of the commentaries are not translated, which makes such detective work difficult without a good grasp of Pali.

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Re: Timing the mind

Postby cjmacie » Sat Nov 26, 2016 3:25 pm

mikenz66 wrote:...I have not found anything remotely resembling the discussion of the various sequences of mind moments discussed in later works, let alone the billions per second in the Abhidhamma. I'd be very interested to be pointed to where it is implied.

Found something, Mike:

In Pa Auk Tawya Sayadaw's "The Workings of Kamma", 2008 softcover hardcopy,
page 41 (this book has various editions, revisions and digital versions, all with differing page numberings)
Section titled "The workings of the mind"
"… the Buddha explains that when the mind is alert, then within a snap of the fingers, very many thousand million consciousnesses arise and perish: they arise as series, many thousand million mental processes (citta-vīthi).B"

Footnote B
"The Commentary to S.III.I.x.3 'Phena-Pind-Upama-Suttam' ('The Foam-Lump Simile Sutta') explains: 'In one snap of the fingers, the estimate is ten-million (koti) hundred-thousand (sata-sahassa), having arising, cease.' (10,000,000 x 100,000 = 1,000,000,000,000 = one billion consciousnesses (citta)). These consciousnesses do not all comprise five-door and mind-door mental processes: many are life-continuum [bhavanga – my insertion] consciousnesses arising between such mental processes. For details, see table '5b: The Five-Door Process', p.142, and table '5c: The Mind-Door Process', p.144."

These tables (pp. 142-145) are the most elaborate I've found, including a plethora of citations to (curiously including the English translations as well as the Pali texts):
VsM Visuddhimagga
PP Path of Purification (Nanomoli)
DhS Dhamma-Sangani
DhSA Dhamma-Sangani-Atthadatha (Commentary, presumably the Atthasalini)
E The Expositor
AbS Abhidhammmattha-Sangaha
CMA A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma
DSA (apparently a typo for DhSA)

This book is a gold-mine of precisely cited canonical references – has it been used in DW discussions on Abhidhamma or Commentaries? (It is listed in page 3 of the DW thread "Abhidhamma Resources", Postby randall » Sat Jan 03, 2015 7:31 am)
Similar to the Mahasi Sayadaw's Treatise on Vipassana aka Manual of Insight – ah those Burmese scholars…

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Re: Timing the mind

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Nov 26, 2016 7:10 pm

Material unsuitable under "Abdhidhamma" split off here: viewtopic.php?f=13&t=28310&p=404408#p404408

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Re: Timing the mind

Postby robertk » Sun Nov 27, 2016 4:10 am

You can look over this thread:
viewtopic.php?f=13&t=21848&hilit=billions

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Re: Timing the mind

Postby cjmacie » Thu Dec 01, 2016 12:52 pm

robertk wrote:You can look over this thread:
http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... t=billions

Having read through the thread "Mind-Moments" in the Suttas", a couple of issues become clearer. (Two treated here, more to follow…)

1. There are at least two instances, in the Commentary on the Samyutta-Nikaya, referring to a huge number of citta-s occurring in a "fingersnap":

1.A. The citation found (above via PaAuk Sayadaw) in the Commentary on the 'Phena-Pind-Upama-Suttam' ('The Foam-Lump Simile Sutta'); B.Bodhi trans p. 951 the water bubble simile; footnote 190 there:
"Spk[Commentary]: … As a bubble arises and ceases in a drop of water and does not last long, so too with feeling: 100,000 kotis of feelings arise and case in the time of a fingersnap (one koti = 10 million)…"

1.B. A citation in a footnote to SN on B.Bodhi's translation of page 595 ("Uninstructed" Sutta); footnote 157 (p. 770)
"Spk: … But one citta is not able to endure for a whole day or a whole night. Even in the time of a fingersnap many hundred thousand of kotis of cittas arise and cease (1 koti = 10 million)…"
As translated in the PaAuk book: "'In one snap of the fingers, the estimate is ten-million (koti) hundred-thousand (sata-sahassa), having arising, cease.' (10,000,000 x 100,000 = 1,000,000,000,000 = one billion consciousnesses (citta))."

So, both these occur in the Commentary attributed to Buddhaghosa (or his having translated some earlier form of the Commentary). In both cases, the "fingersnap" doesn't appear in the sutta itself – only in the Commentary. (According to the PTS Dictionary, the term for "fingersnap" is found in elsewhere in sutta-s and elsewhere in the Pali Canon – see the article of the word "Accharā" … "snapping, a quick sound")

2. On the other hand, consulting the PTS Dictionary also on these terms for the large numbers:
Koṭi … .—(c) of number: the "end" of the scale, i. e. extremely high, as numeral representing approximately the figure a hundred thousand (cp Kirfel, Kosmographie. p. 336). It follows on satasahassāni Nd2 664, and is often increased by sata˚ or sahassa˚, esp. in records of wealth (dhana)…
Sata … a hundred …
Sahassa … a thousand … satasahassaṁ a hundred thousand… Often in sense of "many" or "innumerable"

So, IMO it's seriously to be considered that the use of these terms is not meant to indicate exact numerical quantities, but rather indication of indefinitely large, beyond normal comprehension.

More analysis to follow...

N.B. the point of this thread is NOT to represent that the Buddha taught anything about millions, billions of mind-moments, NOR that this issue is essential to the Dhamma or practice. (To head-off these or other topics, nit-picking over which bogged-down the previous thread "Mind-Moments" in the Suttas".) This thread is examining parallels between Abhidhamma analyses and the plausibility of investigating the workings of the mind at the limits of its capabilities in terms of current neuro-scientific understanding; and that this comparison may shed light on the feasibility and limits of some practices that are concerned with seeing and understanding very rapid mental phenomena as part of a path of transforming the mind.

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robertk
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Re: Timing the mind

Postby robertk » Fri Dec 02, 2016 6:28 am

cjmacie wrote:So, IMO it's seriously to be considered that the use of these terms is not meant to indicate exact numerical quantities, but rather indication of indefinitely large, beyond normal comprehension.

More analysis to follow...

N.B. the point of this thread is NOT to represent that the Buddha taught anything about millions, billions of mind-moments, NOR that this issue is essential to the Dhamma or practice. (To head-off these or other topics, nit-picking over which bogged-down the previous thread "Mind-Moments" in the Suttas".) This thread is examining parallels between Abhidhamma analyses and the plausibility of investigating the workings of the mind at the limits of its capabilities in terms of current neuro-scientific understanding; and that this comparison may shed light on the feasibility and limits of some practices that are concerned with seeing and understanding very rapid mental phenomena as part of a path of transforming the mind.

Thanks for bringing this up.
I have spoken with a number of Buddhists who think that the 'practice' is about catching the various moments (they might not use the word 'catching' but the idea is there) . So they think if they can manage to concentrate intensely for long periods of time, that eventually they can follow the flow of the changing elements. But obviously no one could keep up with the real speed of the rise and fall.. These Buddhists either ignore the obvious problem or think the speed of rise and fall might be exaggerated..

The key is understanding anatta - and understanding that anatta is all about lack of mastery and uncontrollability. No one can slow the arising and ceasing at all. And also no one can choose to have awareness of elements that pass away instantly.

However panna (samma ditthi) arises at the same time as citta - and passes away at the same time. Panna can arise briefly and perform its function of understanding. And then it can arise again and again.

But panna is hindered when one tries to know - because that shows a subtle wrong view that there is someone controlling the knowing.

If one keeps up the practice of long, intensive concentration there is no doubt that they will get many experiences - pleasant or unpleasant- which they or their teacher may identify as progress.
However IMHO real progress comes with an increasing understanding of how uncontrollable the elements are..

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cjmacie
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Re: Timing the mind

Postby cjmacie » Fri Dec 02, 2016 2:46 pm

I'm reluctant to appear argumentative here, but find some of what you offer doesn't fit with what I've been taught & know is possible. So trying to show how this perspective is challenged by your statements (which may refer to some other framework):

robertk wrote:So they think if they can manage to concentrate intensely for long periods of time, that eventually they can follow the flow of the changing elements. But obviously no one could keep up with the real speed of the rise and fall..
... No one can slow the arising and ceasing at all. And also no one can choose to have awareness of elements that pass away instantly.

In both the Mahasi and PaAuk trainings, given good concentration (from either jhana mastery with rapid entry/exit, or advanced "noting" (not naming, but "knowing") with vipassana khanika, the idea is to be able to see the individual minute perceptions (citta-s) of elements – i.e. hard/soft, heavy/light, motion, temperature, cohesiveness, etc. – prior to the associative perceptions (higher order) that put those together to "identify" what we call objects or named parts of process. For instance, in Mahasi training, this is indicated in "walking" meditation – breaking the motions into finer and finer pieces (training a skill), e.g. "lifting, moving, placing" a foot, then noting smaller pieces of each of these, until one can see how they are mentally "put together" (in "groups" - kalapa-s) to form perceptions of the larger notions. I don't believe it's necessary to get down to or keep-up with every smallest rise & pass to be able have this level of insight occur. Just doing it (hours & hours, days,… e.g. during retreat), people whose judgement I trust have reported that there can be sudden shifts, and then sustained awareness of sort of the impersonal mechanism of how "walking" perceptions are fabricated – "impersonal" in the sense that it is seen happening, but not doing it themselves, so to speak; the self awareness falls away past that insight threshold. Also it's less that they "choose" that, but with practice, it occurs – like one doesn't "choose" jhana absorption, at least in the earlier developmental phases (with later mastery, yes, one can enter at will); it just suddenly happens, but is crystal clear when it does, i.e. is "known" as well as "seen".

robertk wrote:However panna (samma ditthi) arises at the same time as citta - and passes away at the same time. Panna can arise briefly and perform its function of understanding.

The Mahasi teacher (Thuzana Sayadaw) teaches, in introductory instructions, and in other talks on advanced ideas, that every "bare" 5-sense-door perception (citta) is immediately followed by a second, a pure "mind-door" perception that "knows" the preceding sensation. This can seen in experience. The two (the "double-cycle" I've referred to earlier here) are successive, but then "both", so to speak, pass away. With less discernment, one might consider that they are simultaneous, but it's possible to discern the sequence. This may relate to your use of "panna", but I can't be sure.

robertk wrote:However IMHO real progress comes with an increasing understanding of how uncontrollable the elements are..

In the framework of "elements" as above, there's no question that the mind is controlling them – they're more like autonomous little mechanisms that just arise on their own. This I've observed also in or near jhana states – something comes out of nowhere and briefly breaks the absorption, but the degree of concentration is still strong, and can actually apply to that arising and take it apart, to one degree or another, see how it operates, like an algorithm or little machine. This is a fascinating experience, and I believe shows how concentration and insight can tightly work together. A further step, from teachings (e.g. by Thanissaro B.) but not quite experienced yet, is to begin to see the conditioning that's one step (and then further steps) prior to such arisings. Like training playing a musical instrument – repeating difficult patterns until they gradually become automatic and open a further level of awareness – I believe it's possible to eventually probe, bring into awareness, further, normally "unconscious" depths of conditions of arisings in the mind. To what degree of detail and depth – that's a matter of skill, I would think. A "Buddha mind" would maybe be able to see everything possible. Thanissaro B. also teaches this as a method of closing in on touching nibbana : when the conditioned nature of any, all arisings can be grasped, then the mind is in position to open to the "unconditioned" experience. Hard to explain, verify, certainly to convince anyone else, but my intuition is that he knows what he says about this.

All of this does relate to the OP here, in that I don't believe that it can be categorically stated that no one can experience conscious, mental, perceptual mechanisms down close to the actual neuro-physiological limits (which can be established). My own experience has amply demonstrated that many "impossible" tasks do become possible, with a combination of serious training (helped by skilled guidance) plus "luck", or "grace", or "paramis" or whatever – some unknown and unpredictably element that can't be forced, but "happens".


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