[6] Information Buddhism

One central idea of Buddhism, as far as I understand it, is that the nature of the (untrained) human mind is bound to create suffering in our life. We make our happiness dependent on certain fixed things or situations, but since the world is a dynamic process, things and situations are impermanent, and so the conditions for our happiness are destroyed over and over again. As a result, we are seeking for new sources of happiness all the time, never reaching a long-lasting mental state of satisfaction.
Recently Meryn Stol pointed to an interesting article that seems to provide a neuroscientific basis for that never ending seeking behavior: http://friendfeed.com/meryn/92799654/powerful-and-mysterious-brain-circuitry-that . It is clear that browsing the Web, hopping from one topic to another, is a perfect example for that tendency.
As Meryn points out, in our seeking mode we repeatedly overestimate the gain of getting what we are craving for:
I think the brain can very easily deceive you in assessing the relative “utility” of certain activities. When I’m engaged in an activity, I’m pretty much always convinced it’s very important, very valuable. When you look at it from a distance, it’s actually unfeasible to determine the actual marginal utility of spending time on one activity or another. I think given this fundamental uncertainty/ambiguity, we should at the minimum ensure that we have a good mix of activities, just like you would spread your investment risk by investing in multiple funds.
With respect to our desire for information gathering he therefore recommends:
I do think we have a big “seeking” bias, so if anything I’d always try to “steer back” from information gathering. What I mean by that is, you probably should read less, and do more, relative to your natural/current base point. The same applies for me !
Buddhists have developed (life-long) training methods to increasingly control our seeking and craving behavior. It might be worthwhile to reconsider those methods in the context of information hygiene.

3 Responses to “[6] Information Buddhism”

  1. 1 Nathaniel Thurston September 9, 2009 at 13:37

    I’ve consistently found that I enjoy the process of seeking for things I think I want, but actually getting there is a bummer. I’ve heard it said that “enlightenment is a journey, not a destination”; perhaps there’s some truth in this.

  2. 2 Claus Metzner September 9, 2009 at 13:39

    Nathaniel, I had the same experience repeatedly. For instance, each time when I think about a new physics model and start to implement it numerically, I am wonderfully excited during the development of the computer program. However, once it starts to yield results similar to what I hoped for, I get bored quickly. In the past, this has prevented me from bringing my research to a fruitful ending (publication) very often. But since I started to post such preliminary results in my science blog, I feel a little relieved: Now my work leaves at least some traces behind.

  3. 3 Claus Metzner September 9, 2009 at 13:39

    Nathaniel, it is illuminating that you say “I enjoy the process of seeking for things”. You are right, seeking definitely IS enjoyable and we have to acknowledge this fact before moving on. Sometimes I wonder if not the idea of long-lasting satisfaction is the true problem. Actually, what is so bad with an endless cycle of seeking and disappointment if one remains aware of the mechanism ?

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