Chapter 7. Influencing Visual Qualia
As I’ve said before, The Dao De Jing is open to interpretation, and has been throughout its written history (at least from the 4th century BCE). Following this long tradition, I’m going to break with P.J. Laska in interpreting DDJ 2, second stanza:
“The myriad beings are active but do not undertake [to act], produce but do not take possession, function but do not depend [on design and control]. Gains are accomplished but not laid claim too. Because there is no laying claim, [gains] are not lost.”
Laska interprets the myriad beings in this stanza as being enlightened individuals (i.e., the Wise, from Goddard’s 1919 translation), which is in contradiction to his interpretation elsewhere, where they are all of the matter and people in the universe. I don’t like inconsistencies. Fortunately, applying the DDJ at the level of mental-physical integration doesn’t require a contradiction, at least not as applied in the TOSCA model.
The definition of the myriad beings/things as qualia is well described by this passage. It is entirely possible that the authors of the DDJ imagined qualia when writing this verse, in addition to applying it to the larger scales (e.g., personal, village). Visual qualia are temporary perceptions that are active and produce perceptions, and thus function to support consciousness. They clearly are not dependent on design and control, although that is a goal of the model. They are ephemeral phenomena that appear and disappear without conscious control.
How do we influence something as ghostlike as visual qualia? In Chapter 5, I defined five parameters to describe visual qualia: 1) KIND (e.g., geometric shapes, people, things); 2) ORIGIN (e.g., location in the visual field, the way they appear, intentionality); 3) DURATION (estimated in seconds); 4) COMPLETENESS (e.g., entire objects, pieces of objects); 5) STABILITY (e.g., the degree to which they change in appearance).
Just as with identifying visual qualia, influencing them is necessarily subjective. For example, someone with excellent mental image creation skills, influencing qualia may be innate whereas for someone who has never perceived even one, it could be extremely difficult. Since my experience falls somewhere between these two extremes, I will give examples from my experiments.
Rather than systematically attempting to influence each parameter separately, my initial work is trying to have some influence. After all, I don’t consciously create them and can’t turn them on and off at will.
First, we need to standardize the experimental conditions. After some preliminary tests, I’ve chosen to complete the tests laying on my back on a bed with a pillow, arms away from my body to avoid contact between my hands and body. The eyes are lightly closed. By the way, this won’t work if you’re are the least bit sleepy. The point is to remain completely awake and alert at all times.
The next step is far more difficult than lying still. Clearing all thoughts from the mind is critical. However, a little drifting doesn’t ruin the experiment but only causes the qualia to sometimes stop being perceived or, at worst, some progress may be lost and have to be repeated. This is extremely hard for me to maintain because the mental images remind me of memories or events, plans, etc, and I drift into thinking about these unrelated, undifferentiated qualia. Remember, the conscious mind is bombarded by data packets (e.g., thoughts, touch, hearing) and creating qualia from them. We’re focusing on visual qualia for now.
The third step is easier than it sounds. Keeping spurious thoughts out of mind, I speak (mentally) about what I’d like to control: for example, I might say, “Slow down,” or “I’d like to see faces only.” Don’t get anxious during these attempts. The qualia aren’t a video game and they don’t do your bidding.
The fourth step turns out to be rather easy once you see some progress. Be patient. I have discovered that several test sessions lasted 45 minutes with no sense of time passing. (No, I didn’t fall asleep.) When busy, your mind loses track of time. I usually end a session when I’m not seeing any more progress. Staring at blackness, or wildly cavorting images for that matter, can be very frustrating.
When I first tried introspection, it took as long as ten minutes for visual qualia to appear. Sometimes, it still takes that long but, more often than not, they begin within minutes or seconds. (We’ll talk about intentional visual qualia in the next chapter.)
I have been conducting experiments of 30-45 minutes duration every day for about a month (no daily log available).
At first, I used simple mental commands like, “Slow down,” to stop the dizzying dance of qualia I first reported. Such motion is rare now with no conscious effort. Sometimes, I can get a specific image to sit still, (e.g., saying “Stop moving.”) but I can’t keep it from morphing into something else. I think that image STABILITY is improving, but image DURATION is still very short. I can’t say much about COMPLETENESS because there were always “complete” heads at times although they were rare.
The parameter ORIGIN needs to be redefined to include position and orientation. I have discovered that I can move images sometimes within the visual field, as well as rotate them about 90 degrees. Not consistently, however. Also, the KIND of images seems to be changing. Whereas I initially perceived a crazy jumble of twirling and spinning objects, there are now fewer images in the visual field at once (sometimes only one) and they aren’t so unstable.
The next chapter will discuss specific experiments in creating visual qualia of just two kinds: balls and faces.
The Original Wisdom of the Dao De Jing, Translated by P.J. Laska, ECCS Books, Green Valley Arizona, 2012.
Tao Te Ching. The Book of the Way, Translated by D. Goddard, 1919, Edited and revised by S. Torode, Ancient Renewal, 2020.