Book review: The Finders, by Jeffery A Martin.
This book is about the states of mind that Martin labels Fundamental Wellbeing.
These seem to be what people seek through meditation, but Martin carefully avoids focusing on Buddhism, and says that other spiritual approaches produce similar states of mind.
Martin approaches the subject as if he were an anthropologist. I expect that’s about as rigorous as we should hope for on many of the phenomena that he studies.
The most important change associated with Fundamental Wellbeing involves the weakening or disappearance of the Narrative-Self (i.e. the voice that seems to be the center of attention in most human minds).
I’ve experienced a weak version of that. Through a combination of meditation and CFAR ideas (and maybe The Mating Mind, which helped me think of the Narrative-Self as more of a press secretary than as a leader), I’ve substantially reduced the importance that my brain attaches to my Narrative-Self, and that has significantly reduced how much I’m bothered by negative stimuli.
Some more “advanced” versions of Fundamental Wellbeing also involve a loss of “self” – something along the lines of being one with the universe, or having no central locus or vantage point from which to observe the world. I don’t understand this very well. Martin suggests an analogy which describes this feeling as “zoomed-out”, i.e. the opposite extreme from Hyperfocus or a state of Flow. I guess that gives me enough hints to say that I haven’t experienced anything that’s very close to it.
I’m tempted to rephrase this as turning off what Dennett calls the Cartesian Theater. Many of the people that Martin studied seem to have discarded this illusion.
Alas, the book says little about how to achieve Fundamental Wellbeing. The people who he studied tend to have achieved it via some spiritual path, but it sounds like there was typically a good deal of luck involved. Martin has developed an allegedly more reliable path, available at FindersCourse.com, but that requires a rather inflexible commitment to a time-consuming schedule, and a fair amount of money.
Should I want to experience Fundamental Wellbeing?
Most people who experience it show a clear preference for remaining in that state. That’s a clear medium strength reason to suspect that I should want it, and it’s hard to see any counter to that argument.
The weak version of Fundamental Wellbeing that I’ve experienced tends to confirm that conclusion, although I see signs that some aspects require continuing attention to maintain, and the time required to do so sometimes seems large compared to the benefits.
Martin briefly discusses people who experienced Fundamental Wellbeing, and then rejected it. It reminds me of my reaction to an SSRI – it felt like I got a nice vacation, but vacation wasn’t what I wanted, since it conflicted with some of my goals for achieving life satisfaction. Those who reject Fundamental Wellbeing disliked the lack of agency and emotion (I think this refers only to some of the harder-to-achieve versions of Fundamental Wellbeing). That sounds like it overlaps a fair amount with what I experienced on the SSRI.
Martin reports that some of the people he studied have unusual reactions to pain, feeling bliss under circumstances that appear to involve lots of pain. I can sort of see how this is a plausible extreme of the effects that I understand, but it still sounds pretty odd.
Will the world be better if more people achieve Fundamental Wellbeing?
The world would probably be somewhat better. Some people become more willing and able to help others when they reduce their own suffering. But that’s partly offset by people with Fundamental Wellbeing feeling less need to improve themselves, and feeling less bothered by the suffering of others. So the net effect is likely just a minor benefit.
I expect that even in the absence of people treating each other better, the reduced suffering that’s associated with Fundamental Wellbeing would mean that the world is a better place.
However, it’s tricky to determine how important that is. Martin mentions a clear case of a person who said he felt no stress, but exhibited many physical signs of being highly stressed. Is that better or worse than being conscious of stress? I think my answer is very context-dependent.
If it’s so great, why doesn’t everyone learn how to do it?
- Achieving Fundamental Wellbeing often causes people to have diminished interest in interacting with other people. Only a modest fraction of people who experience it attempt to get others to do so.
- I presume it has been somewhat hard to understand how to achieve Fundamental Wellbeing, and why we should think it’s valuable.
- The benefits are somewhat difficult to observe, and there are sometimes visible drawbacks. E.g. one anecdote of a manager who became more generous with his company’s resources – that was likely good for some people, but likely at some cost to the company and/or his career.
The ideas in this book deserve to be more widely known.
I’m unsure whether that means lots of people should read this book. Maybe it’s more important just to repeat simple summaries of the book, and to practice more meditation.
[Note: I read a pre-publication copy that was distributed at the Transformative Technology conference.]