Would you be willing to neuro-hack your way to enlightenment?

Originally published at: Would you be willing to neuro-hack your way to enlightenment? | Boing Boing


Tried that, and I need to trepanate again like i need another hole in my head!


Why would it not be ethical? If no one is harmed, then it seems innocuous to me.

(I haven’t watched the video yet, btw…)


First I need to find the Save Game feature.


Ah, shrooms are pretty cheap and noninvasive into your pudding bucket, and the next day you can laugh about it.


But you’d be violating the “meditation is a wonderful activity with a unique set of resonating benefits that can’t be duplicated” mantra of the crystal sect, and ALSO violating the “nothing can – or should – be gained without hard work!” mantra of the Protestant Work Ethic folks.


Sounds dope.


Dunno about other schools of meditation, but the pursuit of a particular outcome (in this case, a brain state) is antithetical to e.g. Zen Buddhist meditation. The act of meditating in Zen is extricable from the whole notion of meditation. Skipping it to get to the “reward” seems to miss the point entirely, regardless of the bona-fides of these particular practitioners.


I find it weird that the article and the video start by talking about the ethical implications, but they don’t dive into that at all in the video. I believe that the researchers DO feel that there’s ethical implications, but I just can’t find any really good description of it.

The closest they get is 'if you can give someone good feelings, does it change their mood, etc? What are good decisions?" but that’s…pretty well-trodden ground by all sorts of other mind-altering substances. It would only be unethical if you can somehow induce a specific and targetable outcome to an unwilling subject…and then the ethical dilemma is all tied up in the unwilling subject part and has nothing to do with the system being used.

It is unethical to forcibly administer marijuana to someone with depression or anxiety or muscle pain to treat their symptoms against their will, but there’s no inherent ethics issue with marijuana use (or at least it’s a much different discussion).


It reminds me of the project of a man I knew who was peaceful and mild and slow to the point of seeming mildly mentally retarded, who one day in the coffeeshop gave me the gift of a battery powered electric fan with a speed control on it, that he’d taped long black cardboard blades on. “Here’s what to do,” he said. “Look up at the bright sun with with your eyes closed, hold this up in the way, and speed it up and slow it down until…” I said, “Until what.” He said, “/You’ll/ see.”


i’ve been meditating and practicing buddhism for decades, and the headline made me scoff. i’m almost 100% certain the historical Buddha had a discourse addressing the reason not to take shortcuts in your meditation practice – essentially, it’s the journey, to put it pithily. all that being said, after watching the video i find the technology intriguing, and i think it was smart to lead with the bit with the Dalai Llama saying “hey, if it works, get me in line first.” i mean, if anyone should have a problem with it, it would be the person who’s the reincarnation of the Buddha, right? but i also think the danger of such a technology being misconstrued or misused is HUUUUUGE, just as huge as its potential for good.


Back when I was in college I built a set of “Alpha Meditation Goggles” that promised the same kind of experience, using a circuit found in the 1991 Electronic Experimenter’s Handbook. It was trippy, to be sure. Terrence McKenna would have approved. But enlightenment? Nah.




I’m not a huge fan of work requirements for a good outcome in my ethical system, so I really don’t see a problem. I engaged in a ludicrous number of meditative techniques when I was younger to find ones that suited me best and if I could just flick a switch to enlightenment I’d be all in.


One could really argue a-la Zen Buddhism that the “reward” isn’t…

Various sects of Zen have weighed in on the pharmaceutical approach, and from what I’ve been in contact with, vary from the “drugs can be useful tools, but are only that” to “Wow, potentially dangerous to your development as it artificially induces certain states without understanding etc…”.

I don’t see a machine being any different than drugs. It’s an externally induced state rather than an internal developed state (yeah, and don’t get on my ass about “there is no external vs internal”… I’m trying to do this with words after all!)


Is it ethical to take a medical shortcut that alters one’s consciousness

This somehow implies there isn’t an entire pharmaceutical industry that produces medications that do exactly that. Not to mention all of the “illegal” varieties of drugs that can also alter one’s mind (either temporarily or permanently).


Like others I’m a little baffled by the “ethical” issues. Unless this is an episode of the 1990s Outer Limits or something.

I also don’t think you can conflate being in a state with practicing the skill of entering that state. I recall reading about people who could, through meditation, heat up certain parts of their body (like make their hands hot, for instance). If I pointed out that I can make my hands hot by holding them over the toaster, you might see how that’s not the same thing.

Similarly, being able to attain a specific mental stat through meditation vs. through a machine are different things. Learning to do it yourself means you don’t just experience the state, but also develop a skill.

I’m not appealing to any kind of mysticism or magic here. Just that practicing doing something until you can do it is different than the thing happening.

My main worry with a device like this is that while I’ve never heard of anyone developing a meditation problem, if you could just press a button to clear your mind of distracting thoughts, I can easily imagine some people developing a dependence on that, allowing it to harm their relationships, etc. Learning how to mediate necessarily means learning how to use meditation in your life. The fact that it’s not super easy may function as a bit of a child proof lid for the contents.


A possibly useful discussion from Zen teacher Brad Warner about using drugs to achieve “enlightenment”:


Something out there in the wild vs. something lab-created. The one that can be monetized is the one that will be made legal.