Empirically validating Phowa

A forum for those wishing to discuss Buddhist history and teachings in the Western academic manner, referencing appropriate sources.
Dharmaswede
Posts: 251
Joined: Sat Apr 24, 2010 11:22 pm

Empirically validating Phowa

Post by Dharmaswede » Sun Dec 25, 2016 6:08 pm

What design and method/s would be best for empirically validating the successful accomplishment of Phowa training (in life, not in death), i.e. from a third person epistemological point of view?

User avatar
Grigoris
Former staff member
Posts: 20209
Joined: Fri May 14, 2010 9:27 pm
Location: Greece

Re: Empirically validating Phowa

Post by Grigoris » Sun Dec 25, 2016 6:09 pm

Dharmaswede wrote:What design and method/s would be best for empirically validating the successful accomplishment of Phowa training (in life, not in death), i.e. from a third person epistemological point of view?
You mean the signs of accomplishment?
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde

Dharmaswede
Posts: 251
Joined: Sat Apr 24, 2010 11:22 pm

Re: Empirically validating Phowa

Post by Dharmaswede » Sun Dec 25, 2016 6:15 pm

The holy grail would be to validate Phowa itself, but since the central channel etc. is not detectable by any widely accepted third person method, then the question relates to empirically identifying something that is in accordance with it (pointing towards it). For instance, a hole in the cranium.

User avatar
Grigoris
Former staff member
Posts: 20209
Joined: Fri May 14, 2010 9:27 pm
Location: Greece

Re: Empirically validating Phowa

Post by Grigoris » Sun Dec 25, 2016 6:28 pm

If you know the answer then why are you asking a question?
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde

User avatar
dzogchungpa
Posts: 6333
Joined: Sat May 28, 2011 10:50 pm

Re: Empirically validating Phowa

Post by dzogchungpa » Sun Dec 25, 2016 6:51 pm

Apparently there has been some scientific study of the phowa process as performed by Ayang Rinpoche, see:
http://amitabhafoundationvancouver.weeb ... phowa.html
There is not only nothingness because there is always, and always can manifest. - Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

Dharmaswede
Posts: 251
Joined: Sat Apr 24, 2010 11:22 pm

Re: Empirically validating Phowa

Post by Dharmaswede » Sun Dec 25, 2016 8:47 pm

Grigoris wrote:If you know the answer then why are you asking a question?
Well, I would not ask if I knew the answer. There is no THE answer.

This could be investigated in many ways, using a variety of methods and protocols – which Dzogchungpa's link (thank you, it is very interesting!) is an excellent example of. And identifying a hole in the cranium is just a very rough idea, far from a realistic and well designed research protocol.

(My interest in the question is quite serious.)

User avatar
ClearblueSky
Posts: 465
Joined: Wed Apr 25, 2012 1:27 am

Re: Empirically validating Phowa

Post by ClearblueSky » Mon Dec 26, 2016 10:37 am

Dharmaswede wrote: And identifying a hole in the cranium is just a very rough idea, far from a realistic and well designed research protocol.

(My interest in the question is quite serious.)
It depends on what you mean specifically by a "realistic and well designed research protocol". Could you have empirical evidence, in the sense that someone could have a sign that matches what teachings propose? Sure. But empirical proof, from a scientific standpoint? Absolutely no way whatsoever.

User avatar
Grigoris
Former staff member
Posts: 20209
Joined: Fri May 14, 2010 9:27 pm
Location: Greece

Re: Empirically validating Phowa

Post by Grigoris » Mon Dec 26, 2016 10:47 am

Dharmaswede wrote:...far from a realistic and well designed research protocol.
The practice is not designed to satisfy "realistic and well designed research protocol" it is designed to assist consciousness' continued functioning, within a pure realm, in order to facilitate enlightenment.

Given the non-material nature of the elements of the practice, you would be VERY hard pressed to find a material means in order to empirically validate it.

I would go as far as to say that you are wasting your time even trying.
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde

User avatar
Tsongkhapafan
Posts: 1233
Joined: Sat Jan 01, 2011 9:36 am

Re: Empirically validating Phowa

Post by Tsongkhapafan » Mon Dec 26, 2016 11:16 am

Buddhism is inner science and your mind is your laboratory, so validate it for yourself! :smile:

Dharmaswede
Posts: 251
Joined: Sat Apr 24, 2010 11:22 pm

Re: Empirically validating Phowa

Post by Dharmaswede » Mon Dec 26, 2016 11:50 am

Grigoris wrote:
Dharmaswede wrote:...far from a realistic and well designed research protocol.
The practice is not designed to satisfy "realistic and well designed research protocol" it is designed to assist consciousness' continued functioning, within a pure realm, in order to facilitate enlightenment.
Of course. I am aware of the purpose of the practice, and some of the basics of the the epistemological tradition in which it was developed.
Grigoris wrote: Given the non-material nature of the elements of the practice, you would be VERY hard pressed to find a material means in order to empirically validate it.

I would go as far as to say that you are wasting your time even trying.
1. Not all aspects of Phowa are non-material, and some are quite easily observable (such as being able to put a grass straw in the opening, and possibly generating a hole in the cranium). But that is not the same as validating them.
2. Many phenomena that are very obscure have been validated through third person science.

It does not make sense to me to dismiss studying Phowa so easily and quickly. The history of science is brimming with research that took long time, failed many times, took wrong turns etc. before making a breakthrough in successfully studying/measuring/identifying a phenomenon.

I would argue that there are very good possibilities of studying Phowa, but most of them are not realistic because of lack of resources and knowledge. X-ray might be one candidate, even better would be MRI- and CAT-scans. Perhaps simple, but continuous, observation by a MD. Again, the link provided by Dzogchungpa is suggesting other options and indicative results.

Dalai Lama himself has encouraged the study of chakras etc., which is not to say that it is possible with the methods that are generally used today.

@Tsongkhapafan: Buddhism could well be said to be the science of the mind. But certainly, aspects and claims of Buddhism can be – and have been studied. And much of that science has been very valuable. Take the booming research on mindfulness for instance. Or the Mind and Life conferences. Really, there is a whole lot happening in this field!

If you guys don't think it is possible, or even worthwhile, to do this type of investigation – no problem.

My question was not raised to argue those points.

User avatar
Grigoris
Former staff member
Posts: 20209
Joined: Fri May 14, 2010 9:27 pm
Location: Greece

Re: Empirically validating Phowa

Post by Grigoris » Mon Dec 26, 2016 1:35 pm

Dharmaswede wrote:It does not make sense to me to dismiss studying Phowa so easily and quickly. The history of science is brimming with research that took long time, failed many times, took wrong turns etc. before making a breakthrough in successfully studying/measuring/identifying a phenomenon.
Why would Phowa need validation via scientific method? If it is not validated via scientific method does that mean it is not valid?
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde

Dharmaswede
Posts: 251
Joined: Sat Apr 24, 2010 11:22 pm

Re: Empirically validating Phowa

Post by Dharmaswede » Mon Dec 26, 2016 4:47 pm

Grigoris wrote:Why would Phowa need validation via scientific method? If it is not validated via scientific method does that mean it is not valid?
I did not mean that Phowa needs validation via scientific method, only that it could be potentially valuable to do so.

First person, contemplative tradition and third person science are different modes of inquiry, producing partly different bodies of knowledge and understanding. I am not pitting one against the other. They both have their pros and cons, and are qualitatively different – which is why I think they are complementary. When I write "validate" I mean it in the sense it is sometimes used in the scientific discourse, i.e. "confirmed" or "established", within that epistemology. Thus, I certainly do not mean that Phowa is non-valid for practitioners, operating within the contemplative, emic perspective. That is something very different.

Somehow, I get the sense that we are not on the same page, but I am not sure how to clarify that. But I apologise if my writing is unclear.

User avatar
Grigoris
Former staff member
Posts: 20209
Joined: Fri May 14, 2010 9:27 pm
Location: Greece

Re: Empirically validating Phowa

Post by Grigoris » Mon Dec 26, 2016 7:02 pm

Dharmaswede wrote:I did not mean that Phowa needs validation via scientific method, only that it could be potentially valuable to do so...
... When I write "validate" I mean it in the sense it is sometimes used in the scientific discourse, i.e. "confirmed" or "established", within that epistemology.
Fair enough, I am just asking: Why do you feel it may be necessary?
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde

User avatar
ClearblueSky
Posts: 465
Joined: Wed Apr 25, 2012 1:27 am

Re: Empirically validating Phowa

Post by ClearblueSky » Mon Dec 26, 2016 7:53 pm

Dharmaswede wrote: 1. Not all aspects of Phowa are non-material, and some are quite easily observable (such as being able to put a grass straw in the opening, and possibly generating a hole in the cranium).
Dharmaswede wrote: I would argue that there are very good possibilities of studying Phowa, but most of them are not realistic because of lack of resources and knowledge. X-ray might be one candidate, even better would be MRI- and CAT-scans. Perhaps simple, but continuous, observation by a MD.
Let's say you had infinite resources: So, they see a big ol' hole in someone's head. In fact, let's even say they saw clearly that something invisible to the human eye shot through a hole in someone's head, moving in the upward direction:
How would they prove this was associated with phowa? How would they follow someone's consciousness? How would they prove that it is caused by phowa and not just a correlation? How would they prove there is a "consciousness"? How could you get a large enough sample size, at the time of death, that it would constitute empirical proof? How would any of this possibly be shown by MRI, CAT scan, or the naked eye?
I don't think there's anything wrong with entertaining these ideas, and they can be fun thought experiments. And it's fine, even good to have faith in things where there's no empirical evidence. What I do think is important is that we don't confuse what the meaning of "empirical evidence" and "science".

Dharmaswede
Posts: 251
Joined: Sat Apr 24, 2010 11:22 pm

Re: Empirically validating Phowa

Post by Dharmaswede » Mon Dec 26, 2016 9:05 pm

ClearblueSky wrote:

Let's say you had infinite resources: So, they see a big ol' hole in someone's head. In fact, let's even say they saw clearly that something invisible to the human eye shot through a hole in someone's head, moving in the upward direction:
How would they prove this was associated with phowa?
A pilot study would not need to prove that it is associated with Phowa, and that would not be the point. All you would need to do would be to say: "Now watch me, I am not only going to create an opening in the skin on the top of my head, I am also going to create a hole in my cranium, and I am going to be using no other method than my mind." That would constitute a first case pointing towards a possible, profound paradigm shift (cf. Thomas Kuhn) in science. If that then could be replicated in other studies, it would radically and seriously question a lot of cornerstone assumptions/axioms in mainstream science, in particular with regards to mind-body relationship which today is poorly understood by science. I think it would generate hard questions about the very onthology of mainstream science.

My research hypothesis would not be "Using method X I am going to prove that Phowa, exactly as it is described in the tradition of contemplatives, is real."
ClearblueSky wrote: How would they follow someone's consciousness?
They would not, because the presence of consciousness itself can not be measured/observed directly as of today.
ClearblueSky wrote:How would they prove that it is caused by phowa and not just a correlation?
Very little research fulfils all the criteria for actually proving causality. The usual outcome is an indication, that is then replicated and further explored in other studies. In that process the principle of Occam's razor is typically applied in terms of sifting through candidates for strongest working hypothesis.
ClearblueSky wrote:How would they prove there is a "consciousness"?
To my mind, that would not be the point – and that would not be achieved.
ClearblueSky wrote:How could you get a large enough sample size, at the time of death, that it would constitute empirical proof?
In this discussion, I have not been concerned with Phowa at the time of death. That aside, you are not concerned with sample size when you are looking for black swans/anomalies. You only need to find one, and that one black swan would then constitute a paradigm shift – i.e. a loop hole in the current understanding.
ClearblueSky wrote:How would any of this possibly be shown by MRI, CAT scan, or the naked eye?
It is very, very unlikely that you would see consciousness shooting out of the fontanell, using MRI, CAT scan or the naked eye – because again consciousness cannot be identified by mainstream science. But as I have said previously, there are changes in the gross matter ("wound", blood etc.) that would be seen. It would be very interesting to see what that process would look like with MRI and CAT scan . I would be surprised if you would see nothing, simply because these technologies measurs biochemical processes and it would be odd if an opening in the skin and the skull appears without any biochemical markers at all. In fact, that would be an even more extraordinary find.
ClearblueSky wrote:I don't think there's anything wrong with entertaining these ideas, and they can be fun thought experiments.
Well then, we have rather different views on the potentiality of science.
ClearblueSky wrote:And it's fine, even good to have faith in things where there's no empirical evidence. What I do think is important is that we don't confuse what the meaning of "empirical evidence" and "science".
Good point.

Dharmaswede
Posts: 251
Joined: Sat Apr 24, 2010 11:22 pm

Re: Empirically validating Phowa

Post by Dharmaswede » Mon Dec 26, 2016 9:09 pm

Grigoris wrote:
Dharmaswede wrote:I did not mean that Phowa needs validation via scientific method, only that it could be potentially valuable to do so...
... When I write "validate" I mean it in the sense it is sometimes used in the scientific discourse, i.e. "confirmed" or "established", within that epistemology.
Fair enough, I am just asking: Why do you feel it may be necessary?
Because it could constitute/generate an anomaly, which could initiate a paradigm shift.

User avatar
ClearblueSky
Posts: 465
Joined: Wed Apr 25, 2012 1:27 am

Re: Empirically validating Phowa

Post by ClearblueSky » Mon Dec 26, 2016 10:34 pm

So it sounds like we agree then, that essentially anything close to "consciousness" would be impossible to show. Yes, it would blow everyone's mind if someone was able to magically make a hole in their head, on the spot. But it still wouldn't in any prove it had to do with phowa, it would just prove someone can make a hole in their head on command. Just because someone says that's the cause of it, doesn't mean it is. In your hypothesis, the word "real" is a bit too vague of a value, if you really want to be scientific about it. But yeah, if it defied our understanding of the human body and physics, that'd be quite something, I don't disagree. Plus you could potentially get $1,000,000 in the James Randi test and donate it to Dharma activities, so that's a plus.

Dharmaswede
Posts: 251
Joined: Sat Apr 24, 2010 11:22 pm

Re: Empirically validating Phowa

Post by Dharmaswede » Mon Dec 26, 2016 11:39 pm

ClearblueSky wrote:So it sounds like we agree then, that essentially anything close to "consciousness" would be impossible to show. Yes, it would blow everyone's mind if someone was able to magically make a hole in their head, on the spot. But it still wouldn't in any prove it had to do with phowa, it would just prove someone can make a hole in their head on command. Just because someone says that's the cause of it, doesn't mean it is.
Indeed. Proving Phowa as such seems impossible at this point, using methods from the natural sciences.
ClearblueSky wrote:In your hypothesis, the word "real" is a bit too vague of a value, if you really want to be scientific about it.
Agreed.
ClearblueSky wrote:But yeah, if it defied our understanding of the human body and physics, that'd be quite something, I don't disagree. Plus you could potentially get $1,000,000 in the James Randi test and donate it to Dharma activities, so that's a plus.
Hadn't thought about the James Randi test... :smile:

Thank you Greg and ClearblueSky, this has helped clarifying my thinking and what I am actually looking for/trying to do.

Now, do you both have the impression that an actual hole is created in the cranium, as an effect of the accomplishment of Phowa training while in life?

User avatar
Grigoris
Former staff member
Posts: 20209
Joined: Fri May 14, 2010 9:27 pm
Location: Greece

Re: Empirically validating Phowa

Post by Grigoris » Tue Dec 27, 2016 8:27 am

ClearblueSky wrote:Yes, it would blow everyone's mind if someone was able to magically make a hole in their head, on the spot. But it still wouldn't in any prove it had to do with phowa, it would just prove someone can make a hole in their head on command.
^^This^^
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
Jetsun Milarepa 1052-1135 CE

"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde

Dharmaswede
Posts: 251
Joined: Sat Apr 24, 2010 11:22 pm

Re: Empirically validating Phowa

Post by Dharmaswede » Tue Dec 27, 2016 10:17 am

Grigoris wrote:
ClearblueSky wrote:Yes, it would blow everyone's mind if someone was able to magically make a hole in their head, on the spot. But it still wouldn't in any prove it had to do with phowa, it would just prove someone can make a hole in their head on command.
^^This^^
This is the problem with the overwhelming majority of research being done in social sciences, including psychology. It is very, very difficult to create true experimental conditions in which you control all possible confounding factors – such as placebo. This is a major challenge in for instance research on psychotherapy. So there is a tension between the ideals of science, and the practice of science. Of course. But Occam's razor still applies, and meaningful research is still being done in these fields - despite shortcomings in relation to the principles of proper research.

In this particular case, I would argue that if someone says "I will now create a hole in my head using Phowa" and then creates a hole in the head, then that would support the hypothesis that Phowa had *something* (correlates) with the creation of the hole. Theoretically, we can't rule out other possible causes and/or confounding factors (unkown illnesses, aliens or what have you). But since it is rather unusual for people to be able to predict the appearance of holes in their heads without any obvious cause, Phowa would be a good primary candidateu . In the results section of such a study, you would not be able to conclusively confirm the correlation if you were strict (although I think many would write that the hypothesis was confirmed any way), but in the discussion section you would probably say that the outcome strongly supports a correlation. On the basis of that, a likely recommendation would be for future studies to replicate the results and to further explore the possible relationship between Phowa and the hole in the head.

This is typical of how new frontiers in science are initiated, explored, and established.

Locked

Return to “Academic Discussion”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 17 guests