An Invitation to Measure Meditation

Up­date: Thank you all for the sug­ges­tions, and all of the links to re­sources!

Here is my plan, which I hope will bal­ance mea­sur­ing use­ful things with be­ing easy enough that I’ll ac­tu­ally stick with it:

  • Every Mon­day, I will com­plete a med­i­ta­tion test on Quan­tified Mind. On al­ter­nat­ing Mon­days, I will al­ter­nate whether I do the test im­me­di­ately af­ter med­i­tat­ing or not. Th­ese don’t look like a gold stan­dard for at­ten­tion tests, but they’re bet­ter than what I would code by hand and they’re more of a stan­dard.

  • Every Mon­day, I will play a game(s?) of Dual 2-back and record my score. (I’ll switch to a higher N if 2-back ever gets easy.)

  • I will use TagTime to ran­domly ping me for an ex­pe­rience sam­ple as a set of free-form tags, about twice per day, ev­ery day.

I’ll re­port back in a cou­ple months with some plots and com­men­tary.

When I wrote this post, my mind­set was em­bar­rass­ingly close to “I’m a Bayesian sci­en­tist med­i­tat­ing! It’s go­ing to be like Harry and Hermione in HPMOR!”. Ex­cept of course, if there re­ally were magic, a ton of peo­ple would already have been study­ing it, and the best way to start would be by ask­ing about it. Thanks for all the ad­vice.

An In­vi­ta­tion to Mea­sure Meditation

I’ve be­gun to med­i­tate reg­u­larly, so it seems like a good op­por­tu­nity to ex­per­i­ment and search for mea­surable effects of med­i­ta­tion. This is an open in­vi­ta­tion to pro­pose easy mea­sure­ments for me to in­ter­mit­tently perform. I don’t have any brilli­ant ideas for what to mea­sure (be­yond look­ing at Wikipe­dia’s list of re­search on med­i­ta­tion), but it seems silly to waste the op­por­tu­nity.

How am I med­i­tat­ing?

For the past ~20 days, I’ve been med­i­tat­ing while walk­ing for an hour or two, though I in­tend to switch to pri­mar­ily breath-fol­low­ing med­i­ta­tion. At least five days a week, one hour a day. I ex­pect to keep this up for a cou­ple months, but it’s a big com­mit­ment so no promises.

I am fol­low­ing a ~500 page text­book on med­i­ta­tion called The Mind
Illu­mi­nated
, by John Yates (a.k.a., Cu­ladasa) and oth­ers. It is, to quote the cover, “A com­plete med­i­ta­tion guide”, which “in­te­grat[es] Bud­dhist wis­dom and brain sci­ence for greater mind­ful­ness”. Most of it is or­ga­nized into in­struc­tions and tech­niques for how to med­i­tate in 10 stages (cor­re­spond­ing roughly to the 9 stages de­scribed by Asanga, which I can’t find a refer­ence for), but there are also five “in­ter­ludes” that de­scribe five in­creas­ingly com­plete mod­els of the mind.

The book is full of gears. If they’re ac­cu­rate, this is fan­tas­tic, but if they’re not I’m likely to find out the hard way. For­tu­nately, there are some good signs: it has already given me a cou­ple pieces of use­ful ad­vice, and its mod­els seem to be con­sis­tent with Bernard Barrs’ global workspace the­ory, the lead­ing sci­en­tific the­ory of con­scious­ness. Though take that with a grain of salt, as it’s a pretty new field. (While I haven’t done a de­tailed com­par­i­son, I have read Bernard Baars’ book In the Theater of Con­scious­ness, and the mod­els at least gen­er­ally agree.)

What will I Mea­sure?

Any­ways, to quote the book, the two main ob­jec­tives of this kind of med­i­ta­tion are:

  • Devel­op­ing sta­ble at­ten­tion.

  • Cul­ti­vat­ing pow­er­ful mind­ful­ness that op­ti­mizes the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween at­ten­tion and aware­ness.

For con­text, “at­ten­tion” is when you fo­cus on one thing in par­tic­u­lar. It tends to iso­late that thing, be an­a­lyt­i­cal, and be more “self” cen­tered. On the other hand, “periph­eral aware­ness”, or “aware­ness” for short, tends to take in a whole sen­sory field at once (e.g. ev­ery­thing you’re see­ing), is more con­tex­tual and in­volves less anal­y­sis, and is less per­sonal and more ob­jec­tive.

So I would like to find tasks that will plau­si­bly mea­sure some­thing re­lated to at­ten­tion or aware­ness. I am will­ing to spend up to one hour each week do­ing these tasks. Some pos­si­ble tasks are:

You’ll no­tice that there’s no con­trol, so how can the re­sults be in­ter­preted? Well, if I im­prove a lot on some task, then hope­fully that will in­ter­est some­one else to be a con­trol by do­ing the task over the same time-frame with­out med­i­tat­ing.

Ques­tions for You:

  • Is this worth­while, or am I un­likely to find any­thing sig­nifi­cant with a sam­ple size of 1?

  • If it is worth­while, what should I mea­sure?

  • How in­ter­ested would peo­ple be to see a post on the mind model given in The Mind Illu­mi­nated, and com­pared/​con­trasted with global workspace the­ory?