How MIT Meets the Monastery
When I first wrote this, I had intended to share this experiment with a few friends in the US, but there seems to be interest in other quarters as well. Please read on for details about the program as well as pricing.
Drivers of change
The 21st century is the most complex century yet in the history of the human species. To quote just one statistic, we have generated more data in the last decade than in all of human history before 2000 C.E. Machines are getting better and better at being human. Even white collar professions such as doctors and lawyers aren’t immune to automation. Scientific and technological progress is the biggest driver of change now, so any understanding of the future will have to start with the scientific and technological nature of the human condition.
Wisdom and Science.
Buddha meets Socrates
To really understand, adapt and perhaps thrive under the changes that are afoot, we need to go back twenty five hundred years to the axial age when the previous “total disruption” of the human condition was underway . Twenty five hundred years ago, human beings came together in cities, invented logic and reason, meditated on the nature of impermanence and invented the precursors of science and technology. When conditions are similar, the solutions are similar as well. It is no surprise that both the Buddha and Socrates arose at that time, for the new human condition needed its archetypes.
Interestingly, in ancient times these two archetypes didn’t interact much — communication was hard and cultural barriers prevented easy absorption of insights. We can change that now. Our twenty first century human condition also demands a new archetype. We face an unprecedented new challenge as well as opportunity:
Can the Buddha and Socrates come together in a new archetype that also integrates science into its being?
Equally importantly, we live in a democratic era. Our archetypes should be collective and peer driven; collective wisdom combined with collective science. This is what I call MIT meets the Monastery, a year long exploration of the 21st century human condition. The presentation below gives you a short overview of the project.
A Short Presentation
MIT meets the Monastery
What is it about?
The year of transformation starts with a deceptively simple question:
How do we respond to the challenges of our times?
Surely, we can learn from the previous era of total disruption. Then, as now, things arose, subsisted and passed away. Deep insights into our 21st century human condition can only come from first absorbing the lessons taught by the Buddha and Socrates. However, too much adherence to the past isn’t the answer, for our 21st century condition is different. While the essentials are arguably the same as 5th Century B.C.E India or Greece, the main drivers of impermanence and change are different in scale, if not in quality: scientific and technological progress, the complete human domination of the earth and unbridled consumption. An exploration of the human condition will be incomplete if it doesn’t take these new developments into consideration. Our challenge is to adapt the Buddha’s vision of anatta, no-self, and Socrates’ examination of human life to our times. We need to take the middle path between rejecting these ancient insights as relics of the past and a fundamentalist insistence upon their literal and complete truth.
A Mental Toolkit.
The 21st century human condition also demands the addition of a third element to these two classical strains: an understanding of scientific ways of knowing. I say scientific ways of knowing, not science. We don’t need the technical details that excite the expert, but the core methods that everyone can adopt fruitfully. Just as sitting meditation can help the novices negotiate stress in their lives while opening up entirely new vistas to the advanced practitioner, the essence of scientific inquiry can help people at all stages as well. Exposure to contemplative, rational and the scientific practices can and should become part of a universal mental toolkit. I call this toolkit “MIT meets the Monastery,” a triangle connecting the ancient east, the ancient west and modern scientific and technical knowledge.
Why this and Why now?
I have been grappling with these issues for more than a decade. In 2001 and 2002, I participated in two Kira summer schools on science and other ways of knowing. These summer schools led to a year long investigation of life as a laboratory, the Yamaneko project. It also began my engagement with contemplative practice across traditions and my increasing confidence in philosophical inquiry — both East and West- as a genuine contemplative practice. Simultaneously, I became a scientific researcher investigating the mind using tools from mathematics and cognitive science. Over the last three years, I began synthesizing these two streams, starting with the laboratory of life in 2010 and more recently with my involvement with the mind and life institute, culminating in a presentation to the Dalai Lama earlier this year. It is now time to take the next step, by expanding the synthesis into a collective inquiry.
The Fine Print
See pricing information below as well.
This is the triangle I want to explore systematically with fellow travelers from September 1st, 2013 to April 30th 2014. It has three phases. Each phase lasts about eight weeks; an online course that lasts four weeks and then four weeks of collective practice. A brief outline of each phase is given below:
Dialog and inquiry: A combination of Dharma dialog, Socratic inquiry and scientific hypothesizing. Goal: Get a macro picture of the 21st century human condition. Tools and techniques: dialog, reading, collective discussion. We will also split up into smaller groups — dyads and triads — for intensive dialog.
Experimentation: Traditional meditative practices combined with simple “life experiments.” Goal: Getting used to meditation as data collection and data collection as meditation. Tools and techniques: sitting and walking meditation combined with lab reports. First person experiments such as subject-object reversal. I will also create an online space for first person “lab reports” for sharing subjective experience.
Collaboration: Once we get used to the idea of using first person lab reports for sharing experiences, we will move to the next stage, of collaborating with each other on integrating and analyzing the data. Goals: facility with collective analyses of subjective experience. Integration of analyses into personal and collective well being. Tools and techniques: dharma infused hypothesis testing, discussion. Online spaces for sharing and modifying reports will also be created.
Throughout this process, we will be breaking up into smaller groups — two or three at a time with the intent of bringing the small group learning back into the larger pool. I will also be circulating extensive notes — a book in the making — every week as a template for collective inquiry. Of course, templates are not iron-clad rules, and they often fail to stand the test of empirical testing, so the notes are only to be used as pointers.
How can you participate?
I hope many of you will join me on this journey. Some of you might want to participate for the whole year, some of you might want to join for part of it. It is absolutely OK to sign up for only one or two of the three phases. The three are reasonably modular.
How much does it cost?
All three phases have a variable fee structure, between $100 to $300 per phase depending on your situation.
Note: The dollar prices assume that you live in the US or another western country. If you are somewhere else use the following rule of thumb: the price of each module should cost you the price of a daily meal times 30, so if you are in India and you pay Rs. 40 for a meal, then you pay 1200 rupees for each phase.
These are suggested figures to pay for the cost of organizing the MMM experience. If you can’t meet any of the above criteria, and you are keen to join the group, you can join at no cost.
That pretty much summarizes MIT’s encounter with the Monastery. If you interested, please fill out the form below:
Fill out this Form
Email Address *
Phase Selector *
The year will be divided into three phases. Which of the three (or more than one) are you interested in participating?
Why are you interested? *
Do say a few words about why you are interested in the MIT meets Monastery project and what you would like to get out of participating in it.
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Thank you! I will get back to you soon.