Does Actual Freedom Involve the Dissolution of the Default Mode Network?

Hello everyone,

Back at it again with another speculative theory about actualism and neuroscience!

I was watching a video about ADHD and it mentioned something called the task-positive network. I had previously heard of the default mode network, and had my theories about its role in the numbing effects of mindless routine, but had never heard of this opposite network.

My basic thesis is that given the role of the Task-Positive Network has everything to do with attention & direct sensory perception, and the Default Mode Network has everything to do with emotions, rumination, the past & the future, & the self, that with the removal of the DMN the TPN (aka DAN) is what’s left. Additionally, in the PCE what is happening is the DMN is temporarily stunned, allowing the TPN unfettered operation.

The Default Mode Network, From Wikipedia:

It is best known for being active when a person is not focused on the outside world and the brain is at wakeful rest, such as during daydreaming and mind-wandering. It can also be active during detailed thoughts related to external task performance.[3] Other times that the DMN is active include when the individual is thinking about others, thinking about themselves, remembering the past, and planning for the future.

The default mode network is thought to be involved in several different functions:

It is potentially the neurological basis for the self:[[20]] (Default mode network - Wikipedia) ( :bangbang:)

  • Autobiographical information: Memories of collection of events and facts about one’s self
  • Self-reference: Referring to traits and descriptions of one’s self
  • Emotion of one’s self: Reflecting about one’s own emotional state

Thinking about others:[20]

  • Theory of mind: Thinking about the thoughts of others and what they might or might not know
  • Emotions of other: Understanding the emotions of other people and empathizing with their feelings
  • Moral reasoning: Determining a just and an unjust result of an action
  • Social evaluations: Good-bad attitude judgments about social concepts
  • Social categories: Reflecting on important social characteristics and status of a group
  • Social isolation: A perceived lack of social interaction.[25]

Remembering the past and thinking about the future:[20]

  • Remembering the past: Recalling events that happened in the past
  • Imagining the future: Envisioning events that might happen in the future
  • Episodic memory: Detailed memory related to specific events in time
  • Story comprehension: Understanding and remembering a narrative
  • Replay: Consolidating recently acquired memory traces[26]

The default mode network is active during passive rest and mind-wandering[4] which usually involves thinking about others, thinking about one’s self, remembering the past, and envisioning the future rather than the task being performed.

Familiar much? It’s like a who’s who of ‘shit the self does’

Interestingly, both Richard and Vineeto point out differences in the operation of memory, with Richard even experiencing the complete loss of the imaginative faculty.

Vineeto: “For instance I noted that sentences were now coming out of me as if from nowhere – there was no causal sequence of thoughts preceding a conclusion (such as because A there is B and therefore C) but my thoughts/words were rather emerging from a surprising overall all-encompassing awareness that then voiced results out of a reservoir of my accumulated knowledge and experience on a particular topic.

Richard: "The entire imaginative/ intuitive faculty has vanished. I literally cannot visualise, form images, envision, ‘see in my mind’s eye’, envisage, picture, intuit, feel, fall into a reverie, daydream or in any way, shape or form imaginatively access anything other than directly apprehending what is happening just here right now. I could not form a mental picture of something ‘other’ if my life depended upon it. I literally cannot make images … "

Contrast with the opposing Task Positive Network, which amusingly has a far shorter wikipedia page:

The DAN (Dorsal Area Network, aka Task Positive Network ) is most prominently involved in goal-directed, voluntary control of visuospatial attention… the network is involved in general top-down selection of stimuli and responses, including other modalities (e.g. auditory, tactile).

Additionally:

The TPN is active during ‘attention-demanding’ tasks and includes our conscious attention towards the external environment. This happens through our various senses, towards our internal condition, and to the intentional execution of physical and mental action.

And:

This is the network of the brain that is activated when we are actively paying attention, focusing on the task at hand, using short-term memory, and in the present moment. It’s associated with a form of “flow state” and much of the time, we’re happier when we are using this network.

Sound familiar???

Richard somewhere describes the difference between the flow state and the PCE as being one of broadness vs. narrowness, where the flow-state is typically directed toward one end and the PCE has that ‘unfocused’ & broad character. A flow state might be directed toward one task, but the PCE can be anything at all, and with actual freedom that obviously goes even further.

More of Richard on flow:

‘There is no fine line – let alone a somewhat arbitrary one – between a work of art (masterwork/masterpiece) and a work of craft (no matter how excellent the craftsmanship may be) … there is, to deliberately use your phrasing for effect, a striking discontinuity between the one and the other.

To explain: I was not only a trained art teacher, in the fine arts, but a practicing artist for a period in my working life and honed my skills to a high level of craft (so much so that I was eventually able to discontinue teaching and support both myself and my then wife plus four children all the while paying off a mortgage and a car on hire purchase) yet it was only when ‘self’ was absent during the process of putting paint on canvas (or moving a pencil on paper or shaping clay on a pottery-wheel or whatever) that the product became art – as distinct from craft (and ‘I’ was a good craftsman) – inasmuch the expression ‘the painting painted itself’ was how I would respond, with no false modesty whatsoever, when complimented/praised/admired for my supposed genius.

I have written about this before (where I explain how my wanting to have my life live itself, in the same way that the painting painted itself, is what started me on this whole business) but I happen to have to hand a transcribed interview with Mr. John Lennon, where he is talking about ‘Across The Universe’, which says much the same as above.

Vis.: [Mr. John Lennon]: They [the words] were purely inspirational and were given to me as boom! I don’t own it, you know; it came through like that. I don’t know where it came from, what meter it’s in, and I’ve sat down and looked at it and said, ‘can I write another one with this meter?’ It’s so interesting: ‘words are flying out like [sings] endless rain into a paper cup, they slither while they pass, they slip across the universe’. Such an extraordinary meter and I can never repeat it! *It’s not a matter of craftsmanship; it wrote itself *. It drove me out of bed. I didn’t want to write it, I was just slightly irritable and I went downstairs and I couldn’t get to sleep until I put it on paper, and then I went to sleep’. [emphasis added/italics in original]. And (where he is talking about ‘John Sinclair’): [Mr. John Lennon]: ‘They wanted a song about ‘John Sinclair’. So I wrote it. That’s the craftsman part of me. If somebody asks me for something, I can do it. I can write anything musically. You name it. If you want a style and if you want something for Julie Harris or Julie London, I could write it. But I don’t enjoy doing that kind of work. I like to do the inspirational work. I’d never write a song like that now’.

I find this connection quite compelling and may open new avenues for investigation of self if accurate. I’m interested to hear if any of you have any critiques or additional connections.

Removing my DMN - Henry

2 Likes

how interesting!! i’d never heard of the DAN before. i’ve long thought of the experience of complete “enlightenment” (“actual truth”, whatever you prefer - full reality) as being the full deactivation of the DMN due to the studies they’ve done with meditators and psychedelics, but I never thought it might entail a greater activation of another part of the brain in balance.

although you mentioned that richard distinguished between broad and narrow focus and i do wonder if this would be a narrow-focus network. like - i could very easily get into flow states when i was on adderall, but something would still feel pretty “closed” about my conscious experience, even as i was fully absorbed in a task. i wonder if the DAN is more active in people on adderall?

There’s another part of the brain, the ‘salience network’ which is tasked with prioritizing & filtering tasks, which could be the difference between that ‘narrow focus’ and ‘soft focus.’ I think I’ve also heard of people that are actually free switching between those modes depending on if they are ‘actively doing something’ or not.

I think - again, very speculatively - that the DAN / DMN balance has to do with if we’re in or out of ‘self,’ and the ‘narrow/wide focus’ is a different determinant, maybe dependent on the salience network.

Another interesting aspect is that for that ‘soft focus’ to continue, we have to be free of everything, whereas the ‘narrow focus’ flow state can be a bit more stable in a feeling being because while we’re focused on our task, we’re less likely to come across a trigger. When we’re wide open, we’re only ever a couple of thoughts away from some trigger or other.

edit:

Perhaps enlightenment is still a partial deactivation, where Actual Freedom is a complete deactivation?

DMN is a fascinating topic, but I think it’s far too early to form any solid conclusions about it. As I understand it the research into it is still in its infancy. I think there is a risk in getting carried away with trying to make simple 1:1 mappings between some functional architecture in the brain and how it may manifest in human experience like with meditation, psychedelics, self-hood - or even actual freedom and pce’s. But yeah, damn interesting to think and speculate about his stuff.

More on the dangers of neural narratives here: Dissolving Ego Dissolution - MIND Foundation

I doubt that something as global as DMN, something as integral to social processing and planning could simply be ‘shut down’, without leaving a person seriously incapacitated. That’s my hunch anyways. An actually free person is able to remember his/her previous biography as a ‘self’, make social evaluations, remember the past, plan for the future, understand other actually free persons and feeling beings, have a theory of mind and navigate intricate social landscapes – which would suggest that their DMN still functions. The changes I think would probably be more subtle, maybe something similar to changes in DAN/DMN balance like you suggested, but perhaps something radically different. I don’t know enough about this to do much more than speculate either.

1 Like

Yes, very good points & interesting article - thanks for linking! It seems more and more research is going into these things, which bodes well.

They refer to this in the article as well but something that’s difficult to control for is what exactly an individual is experiencing under psychedelics while in an fmri machine, or for that matter unreliable narrator issues with people claiming ego death experiences.

And of course neither of these necessarily tell us much about the PCE or actually free individuals, either.

Their last line -

“…in order to stay grounded in that science, it’s important to keep the full story unwritten.”

How could it ever be fully written? This calls back to the issue of maps from another thread.

I see myself as a bit of a caveman sketching bison on the wall… it’s not necessarily to the point of “bison anatomy, herding habits & psychology,” but I’m thinking that bison are important somehow.

Perhaps it’s time to drop the ‘caveman,’ though :joy:

To deepen the issue, consider that some substances that decrease DMN connectivity actually increase egoism, which is in direct opposition to the enhanced empathy reported under psychedelics: “Amphetamine can make people more egotistical, yet it decreases DMN connectivity,” Doss says. “Alcohol decreases DMN connectivity and can do the same thing. The idea of the DMN being strictly the self and decreases in DMN being involved with ego dissolution … I don’t know if that’s useful.”

Haha very polite way of them saying “… it seems like total bullshit”

I need to learn to talk like that at work. The “you are full of shit” takedown that smells of aftershave and libraries.

My best effort today was “I respect that, but I don’t have to be here”.

My DMN was already at home😂

1 Like

lol this is a skill indeed.