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Notes from Second Class - Feb 23, 2016
Joichi Ito
Joscha Bach
Both Joi and Tenzin present. Tenzin has a moustache. Peter visits to introduce us to Qi Gong.


We will have breakout sessions, with a setup that we decide upon next week. Participants are encouraged to write about their insights, successes and failures, as they progress. The PubPub journal is meant to be shared beyond the class, so you may want to keep it less intimate. You can also use a more private way of keeping a diary, and email a link to the class organizers.
PubPub supports versioning, and you can append to the existing journal. You may for instance collate your notes into weekly journal pages, or add everything to a single PubPub page.
The Slack channel (spring-2016-awareness) is private, so you may use it freely. The awareness channel started in last class is open to everybody interested at the Media Lab.
Take note of one thing every day, something you did not note before; it can be an observation on the street, an interaction with a person you have not talked before. You may also integrate media in your posts, such as a daily photograph.

On the goal of the class

This is a class in which you may read a lot, but it is eventually a class about reading yourself. We are all wired differently, and instead of trying to be all the same person, we have to find out who we specifically are. This is sometimes creating discomfort and confusion. There is a difference between brilliant insight and talking brilliantly; the former should take priority.
When interacting with others, please do not judge, and do not give prescriptive advice (“do this, abstain from that”) unless someone directly asks for it. Instead, relate your own experiences with respect to an issue.

Peter on Qi Gong and Tai Chi

As an older man, I suffered through many things in my life, most of which never happened.
Qi Gong is not just a practice to create more awareness of the body. It is a way to study the mind, its phenomenology, getting access to consciousness, and even a way to collect data. Qi Gong is a practice that integrates spiritual experience, but can be a tool for healthcare, for improving our knowledge about medical conditions, for scientific exploration; perhaps the Media Lab could be a place to conduct studies in this direction.
The Osher Center combines various approaches in the field of mind-body therapies, with the perspective of bridging between Eastern (systemic, emergentist) and Western (reductionist) views of body and mind.
Example of new paradigms: elderly people suffer from falls, often with dramatic consequences, and from cognitive decline. At the moment, balance issues and cognitive problems are treated independently. Properties of gait are a good predictor of mortality. Movement/gait and cognitive ability are usually related, so integrated therapy, especially mind-body therapy, is very useful.
Various studies document the utility of Tai Chi for treatment (reducing the fear of falling, improve security of movement, increase strength and coordination of limbs), and its influence of cognitive ability, and cognitive performance in conjunction with movement.
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Joscha Bach 2/24/2016
Private. Collaborators only.

Smaller breakout groups?

After the class, Rebecca and me briefly discussed our thoughts for the breakout groups. We found that we see great value in direct interactions, with the goal of exchanging personal experiences, challenges and topics in the context of awareness and self-debugging. Reflective feedback by thoughtful, perceptive people with similar stations in life could be very helpful in learning about oneself. Perhaps the groups should be even smaller (four people may work well). For instance, we could sub-split the A and B groups further for part of the time.

Relationship between Western science and Eastern tradition

Marko and me talked about the significance of the scientific studies on the efficacy of Qi Gong and Tai Chi. We reflected whether they produce genuine insight, rather than falling short of capturing the effects that are obvious to practitioners.
There is certainly value in using studies like the one described by Peter for influencing public policy, health care and public opinion. But what is there to learn for those interested in the practices themselves? From a cognitive science perspective, it seems clear that a daily practice of directing attention into motion and physiology will improve the coupling between physiological states and the proprioceptive representations that our brain uses to coordinate our movements. A more fluid gait, less anxiety, more ergonomic movement, fewer injuries, reduced cognitive load during movement, and training effects are all to be expected. This led to the observation that Eastern and Western frameworks seem to have cultural incompatibilities, which are reflected in a Western reception that is sometimes overly naive, or that cuts out significant parts of the concepts to remove “esoteric baggage”, until all that is left is gymnastic exercise.
I wonder if there is a third way, i.e. to capture the domain of the mind with a clean epistemology, without using metaphor instead of explanation, without magical thinking, but at the same time without losing structure, depth and subtlety in the translation. The distinction between “Western reductionism” on one hand, and a conceptual cluster of “non-linearity”, “emergence”, “systemic dependencies” and “spiritual experience” offers powerful cultural allusions that are useful for staking out a community identity, but in my view do not sufficiently capture actual insight or practice.