Vol.19 Methods and Research Directions of Meditation

Dear Bodhisattvas, greetings.

The cover image of this issue was generated by Midjourney, with the prompt being "Minimalism, Infinite reflection, Prismatic, fractalgami, kaleidoscope, Event Horizon, Symmetric, zen - inspired colors, cloudcore, metallic".

This issue introduces meditation methods and three research directions of psychology on meditation: cognitive perspective, behavioral perspective, and psychological experience perspective. It also explores the different roles and values of religion and science, as well as the concept of critical thinking. Finally, it introduces the Buzzing website and the role of LLMs in knowledge management.

The following is the main text of this issue, with a reading time of about 12 minutes.

I. Methods of Meditation#

When discussing meditation with friends, I realized that there is a certain cognitive bias towards meditation among friends (and possibly many people).

First of all, when starting meditation, it is possible to quickly enter a state through music, but it should not be relied upon. After becoming proficient in meditation, it is best to go straight to the point and directly observe the mind without relying on external stimuli. Because the ultimate goal of meditation is to help us observe our inner selves, not to rely on external stimulation.

Secondly, if you are more proficient, you can meditate while walking, standing, sitting, or lying down. It is not necessary to close your eyes, and it is not necessary to be in a quiet state. This way, you can quickly find the obsessions in your mind and eliminate them.

From the perspective of Buddhist meditation, there is a method called the "Ear-root Penetration Method" of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, which is worth trying. For example, in a park, whether you are walking or running, first pay attention to the feeling of the soles of your feet, which part of the soles of your feet touches the ground first, and which part leaves the ground first. Then pay attention to the changes in leg muscles and breathing when lifting and landing each foot. After about 10-15 minutes, you will enter a state, that is, you will generate mindfulness.

At this time, shift your attention to your ears and try to listen to various sounds in the park, without focusing on the sounds produced by your own actions.

When listening to the sounds, you will find that some sounds that were previously ignored can now be heard, and that feeling can be very exciting. At this time, instead of immersing yourself in that excitement, combine the external sounds with your own sounds, and pay attention to the changes that different sounds have on yourself.

The "Ear-root Penetration Method" of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is very effective in cultivating one's mind and making oneself aware of the emotions and changes in the body when faced with various external stimuli. After becoming proficient in this method, you will gradually be able to capture the subtle emotions in your mind and know what emotions you are experiencing at the moment, whether it is calm or restless, happy or angry...

At this time, you can enter the next stage, because when negative emotions such as restlessness, anger, and depression arise, which are considered negative emotions by us, instead of trying to solve them, just observe them and prevent them from affecting you. Let the emotions exist at this moment, without letting them develop or trying to solve them.

This state is the state of "samadhi" shared by yoga, meditation, and Zen meditation.

II. Meditation from the Perspective of Psychology#

Since the 1960s, after the rise of humanistic psychology, the field of psychology has begun to study meditation and has gained a deeper understanding of meditation through scientific research in disciplines such as neuroscience, brain science, and cognitive science.

In the 21st century, with the rapid development of the Internet and digital information technology, meditation, as a commercial concept, has entered the consumer market through the Internet and has become well-known to the public. It has also been highly sought after by the capital market and the consumer market worldwide due to its application in yoga, meditation, and various disciplines including psychology and neuroscience.

In fact, there is no unified standard in the field of psychology for what meditation is. It is basically divided into three research directions: cognitive perspective, behavioral perspective, and psychological experience perspective.

Some researchers start from the cognitive perspective and believe that "meditation is a series of exercises that affect individuals' psychological processes through self-regulation of body and mind and establish a special attention mechanism." These researchers point out that "meditation includes a series of complex emotional and attention regulation training, which can improve individuals' sense of well-being and emotional balance."

Research papers from the cognitive perspective can be found in:

  • Cahn, B. R., & Polich, J. (2006). Meditation States and Traits: EEG, ERP, and Neuroimaging Studies. Psychological Bulletin, 132(2), 180–211.
  • Lutz, A., Slagter, H. A., Dunne, J. D., & Davidson, R. J. (2008). Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(4), 163–169.

Other researchers study meditation from the behavioral perspective and point out that it is "a comprehensive process that includes physical relaxation, breathing regulation, and focused attention." The core essence is to "purposefully focus attention on a certain experience within oneself."

Research papers from the behavioral perspective can be found in:

  • Shapiro, S. L., Carlson, L. E., Astin, J. A., & Freedman, B. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62 (3), 373–386.

Researchers from the psychological experience perspective emphasize that meditation can "help individuals achieve tranquility, clarity, and focus through self-regulation exercises, and generate a sense of psychological well-being as a whole."

Research papers from the psychological experience perspective can be found in:

  • Walsh, R., & Shapiro, S. L. (2006). The meeting of meditative disciplines and Western psychology: A mutually enriching dialogue. American Psychologist, 61, 227–239.

III. Religion and Science#

Religion is a culture of belief, and science is a culture of skepticism. We need both religious beliefs and scientific literacy, and neither can be lacking. Here, when I say religion, I mean it in a broad sense.

Religion and science have their unique values and roles. Religion provides belief support and spiritual sustenance, while science insists on rational skepticism and seeking truth. Both play irreplaceable roles in the realm of human spirit.

We need both the belief power provided by religion and the rational thinking taught by science. They complement each other and play important roles in human growth. Science teaches us to doubt and think rationally, while religion gives us meaning in life and spiritual support.

In contemporary society, both religious beliefs and scientific spirit are indispensable. We need to find a balance between the two, maintaining an open attitude towards scientific exploration while not losing the humanistic spirit of religious beliefs. Only by grasping the balance between the two can we develop in a healthier way.

IV. Critical Thinking#

There has been a discussion on "critical thinking" on Twitter these days, sparked by a misinterpretation by a certain influential figure. Perhaps he did not expect that it would cause such a stir.

To be honest, the translation of the term "critical thinking" is not very good, although "critical" does have the meaning of criticism, but in the Chinese context, it is inevitable that some people will misunderstand it.

I asked Claude 2 and Google Bard, and the two models gave similar origins for the word "critical":

The word "critical" comes from the Latin word "criticus," which means "able to judge, discerning." "Criticus" is derived from the Greek word "kritikos," which means "able to judge." This word is derived from "krinein," which means "to distinguish, judge."

In ancient Greece, "kritikos" referred to those who could discern and judge poetry, literature, music, etc. In the 16th century, this word entered English, meaning "crucial, decisive, picky." Around the mid-19th century, "critical" developed its modern meaning of "critical, judgmental."

Therefore, the core meaning of "critical" is "judgment" and "discernment," being able to deeply understand things and make judgments and criticisms. It originated from the Greek term for those who can distinguish and discern things.

The 7th edition of the "Modern Chinese Dictionary" provides two explanations for "criticism": one is a systematic analysis and negation of erroneous thoughts, speeches, or behaviors, and the other is the analysis, judgment, and evaluation of good and bad.

According to Wikipedia, "Critical thinking is the analysis of available facts, evidence, observations, and arguments in order to form a judgment by the application of rational, skeptical, and unbiased analyses and evaluation." This also corresponds to one of the definitions of "critical" in Webster's Dictionary, "exercising or involving careful judgment or judicious evaluation."

Obviously, whether from the etymology or the explanations from Wikipedia and Webster's Dictionary, the "critical" in "critical thinking" is more in line with the second definition of "criticism" in the "Modern Chinese Dictionary." However, after long-term indoctrination-style education, people tend to automatically associate "criticism" with the first definition.

In my personal opinion, the explanation of "critical thinking" in the 7th edition of the "Cihai" is more thorough: Critical thinking, also known as "dialectical thinking," usually refers to a purposeful and reflective thinking process or judgment. It determines what to believe or what action to take through careful and impartial examination of evidence, concepts, methods, situations, and standards. It includes cognitive skills and mental qualities. The core skills mainly include interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, explanation, and self-adjustment, while the mental qualities mainly refer to the pursuit of truth, open-mindedness, analytical ability, organization, trust in reasoning, curiosity, and wisdom.

V. Buzzing#

The author of immersive translation, Owen, has a web project called Buzzing, which aggregates hot articles from well-known foreign media and interesting discussions on social platforms, and presents them in Chinese.

When using Buzzing, I first quickly browse the Chinese titles and find the content that interests me. Then I use immersive translation to read the full text in bilingual.

As Owen puts it, "A clean Internet should be like Buzzing." The entire website is very clean and pure, with a minimalist style and no advertisements. It can also be switched to a text-only mode.

If you also enjoy reading foreign news, Buzzing is a great choice.

VI. LLMs and Knowledge Management#

In the past few days, there have been criticisms of the CODE method, claiming that with so many LLMs now, CODE is completely unnecessary. Whether it is note-taking or knowledge management, there is no need to capture and organize information painstakingly, let alone distill and express it. The arguments are strong and confident, and I was almost convinced by this line of thinking.

In the eyes of these people, as long as there is a form of note-taking, it is knowledge management. This confuses the cause-and-effect relationship and relevance of using LLMs, note-taking, and knowledge management.

LLMs can help us write better flashcards, assist in classification, tagging, and organization, and even assist in thinking and output. I do not deny these. Because they are related behaviors. However, they do not have a causal relationship.

Note-taking and knowledge management are most importantly about thinking. The four steps of CODE are simply a process of triggering thinking. LLMs are not yet powerful enough to replace human brains in thinking, let alone if LLMs replace human brains, what is the difference between humans and zombies?

CODE is a process of thinking and learning. Capture is the process of observing things and acquiring information. Organize is the process of organizing and classifying information. Distill is the process of analyzing and extracting information. Express is the process of outputting and sharing thinking results. This process requires deep thinking, understanding and absorption of information, and exploration and innovation of new knowledge.

LLMs can help us quickly search for information, automatically classify information, and generate reports. However, these are all operations based on existing information. LLMs have not yet acquired the ability to think deeply, understand information, and innovate. They cannot understand our personal background, our emotional needs, and certainly cannot replace us in understanding the world. LLMs are powerful tools, but they can only be tools. They cannot replace our thinking, our learning process.

Therefore, I do not think CODE is unnecessary. On the contrary, I believe it is an effective learning and thinking method, an effective knowledge management approach. It can help us better use LLMs, better understand and absorb information, and better engage in deep thinking and innovation.


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Best regards.

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