Past attempts to know and change the mind
The desire to know oneself and alter one’s feelings and thoughts based on that knowing, was born after the human mind got wings of unrelenting abstraction based verbal thinking and corresponding imagination. This desire got reinforced and became stronger once man started knowing and altering the increasingly complex outside world, which also included the feelings and thoughts of other human beings. We are aware of the historical progress and failures of this human desire in the minds and lives of common people, philosophers, mystics, poets, and also scientists.
As our philosophical and scientific understanding has grown over the past century, we have reduced the concept and experience of ‘ourselves’, more precisely ‘Self’, to the working of what we call the ‘mind’, as a function of the brain. Today, we can reframe that age old conundrum of knowing and changing ourselves as a question: Can the human mind ‘know’ and ‘change’ itself? Since our recognition of ‘mind’ as the vessel for our thoughts and feelings, this question has been explored and debated both in modern philosophical inquiry and more recently in scientific investigations, however, the search for its answer is far from over. To this day the domain of this question is largely an uncharted territory. It is also, in a manner of speaking, a realm where ‘angels’ of the scientific and philosophical community ‘fear to tread’. Hesitating or avoiding to give serious attention to this issue has many reasons, most obvious of which is the inability of the best of laboratory tools and empirical methods to tangibly observe the mind and its various processes and states. Another important reason is the philosophical paradigm that questions the possibility of a ‘subject’ ever knowing itself as an ‘object’. The trajectory of questions, answers and thinking about knowing and changing the mind, has largely been circumscribed and determined in this context. Due to the recent incremental progress in the various biological and Neurological Sciences, two major components of the ‘Self’-body and brain, have acquired the status of external objects, which can be sufficiently known and changed. However, the ‘mind’, unlike these processes, is still largely seen as internal and unknowable beyond a certain point. Due to this the possibility of changing it more deeply and fundamentally is seen as an unrealistic pursuit. We find this limiting assumption existing, both overtly and covertly, in one form or another, in all mystical, religious, philosophical and even scientific thinking.
Today, the mainstream scientific trends insist on reducing the unobserved subjective mind to the observable objective brain. This enables scientists to intervene in it either through behavior changing methods and tactics such as force, experience or contemplation, or through biochemical manipulation of brain, genes and other body processes, which have their own limitations. This points to the covert operation of the above-mentioned assumption in the general scientific quest to know and change the mind. Similarly, the mystical and religious frameworks assume that the actual nature or reality of the individual self cannot be conceived or understood beyond a certain point so their methods are also circumscribed by this assumption. And since philosophy rides primarily on the shoulders of the given knowledge fund (scientific and otherwise) at any time therefore any philosophical thinking about knowing and changing the mind is also logically influenced and circumscribed by this assumption.
It is true that the mind of the earliest life forms did not emerge to ‘know’ itself. In the words of Philosopher, Daniel Dennett, “In most of the species that have ever lived, “mental” causation has no need for, and hence does not evolve, any elaborate capacity for self-monitoring. …”. But that is because the primary purpose and use of the mind has been to know the outside world, of course from the standpoint of the biological body and its need based subjective agenda. This remained its core and only character up to the stage of primitive man. It is only when the Homo Sapien became capable of carrying out elaborate language based mental processing and generate an unstoppable gushing stream of ideas, feelings, desires, motivations, beliefs, imagination, etc., alongside a complex social process, that ‘knowing’ and ‘changing’ the mind got incorporated as a new need and function within an individual’s mind. So a contemporary individual’s capability to become aware of, monitor and modify his own and other people’s mental functions is a relatively recent product of his post-civilization evolutionary journey. But now that this capability to know and modify mental functions is already an integral and functional part of the modern human mind, we can make a fresh attempt to apply it to seriously changing ourselves in all our dimensions. Equipped with sufficient experience and growing new scientific knowledge we can move towards a more mature and systematic awareness about the mind and its applications to individual and social lives. Regarding pre-existing knowledge, post-civilization history of human beings is littered with all kinds of attempts to ‘know’ and ‘alter’ the human mind made by mystics, religious thinkers, poets, artists, early and modern philosophers and scientists (Cognitive scientists, Psychologists, Neuroscientists, etc.) and the standpoints, methods and objectives of those attempts have also been manifold. The results of these attempts exist in the form of piece meal and dispersed knowledge (both first person and third person) and its applications to mental processes and human personality.
‘Knowing’ and ‘altering’ the ‘self’ and its ‘thoughts’ and ‘feelings’ in early philosophical, mystical and religious traditions
Before the recent systematized scientific inquiry into the human mind and consciousness, and intervention in their functioning, mystics, prophets, poets and early philosophers had begun forays into this area on the basis of stray ideas (including those derived from contemplation and reasoning) and corresponding feelings, intuitions, and experiences. The core character of these attempts was unintelligent as they did not arise out of knowledge generated from a systematic inquiry into the origins, formation, evolution, and the structural and functional mechanics of the human mind, but dispersed ‘ideas’, emanating essentially from the motivation of reforming man and society. These thinkers speculating in the centers of early civilizations came up with all kinds of ‘ideas’ about knowing and transforming human beings and their lives based on their observations, understanding and experiences of the individual and social human condition and its problems. To convert these ideas into reality they came up with further ‘ideas’ embodied in methodologies like mindfulness, prayers, meditation, yoga (in all its different forms), devotional hardship, penance, etc. Broadly speaking, the basic purpose of this ‘idea’ based doing was control and modification of man’s emotional and physical behavior patterns, thoughts, intentions, ideas, beliefs, Will etc., so that he could become aware of and realize his own higher, real or spiritual self as a part of macro reality, and experience a unity or union with it. And thereby achieve liberation, enlightenment, wisdom, peace and harmony in his personal and social existence.
Of course one finds many variations upon this basic purpose and even additions to it based on differences in observations, understanding and spiritual experiences, but essentially this has remained the core motivation and purpose of all forms of mystical, religious and early philosophical thinking and practice. The earliest traditions of such practices can be found in ancient Egypt, China, India and Greece. The hieroglyphic texts reveal instructions on ‘Sema’ Yoga of meditation given by ancient Egyptian sages. Renowned scholars of mystical religious traditions like Muata Ashby suggest the ancient Egyptian Temple system and its practices can be termed as a Yoga system in which the goal is the ‘idea’ of uniting individual consciousness with cosmic consciousness. The ideas of meditation and other such practices in the Mystical-Religious tradition of ancient Egypt can be viewed as one of the first formal meditation systems in the history of civilization.
In ancient China we find Taoist ideas of “meditative stillness,” “inner cultivation,” “effortless action,” “concentrating, controlling and regulating internal energy,” and so on. These are used for concretizing the core ‘idea’ of cultivating one’s mental faculties and spirit, and health of the physical body, so as to align with the cosmic forces or the process of reality and also achieve immortality.
The ancient Indian Vedic tradition (and its modern forms) with its numerous and elaborate idea based techniques of Yoga and meditation was again about executing the ideas of ‘self-perfection’, ‘liberation’, ‘enlightenment’, ‘transformation of human nature into divine nature’, and ‘connecting with the omnipotent wisdom or divine power,’. Parallel to this were the ideas of highly disciplined and intense mental and physical practices in Buddhism starting from Buddha’s noble eight-fold path. The modern forms/versions (with some variations) of these Buddhist and Vedantic idea based practices can be seen in Sri Aurobindo’s ‘Integral Yoga’, J. Krishnamurti’s new ideas about meditation, Dalai Lama’s teachings and more recently the practices proposed by Osho (Guru Rajneesh) and Deepak Chopra. The very latest of these is a new upcoming venture of Deepak Chopra, VR (Virtual Reality) Meditation, which is a simulation/app, to be experienced by today's techno generation to understand themselves a little better, to improve focus, lower their stress levels, and find inner peace. According to him this app mixes "insights, contemplation and entertainment".
Greek mysticism, having both shamanic and philosophical components, also used ideas of meditation and other rituals “designed to facilitate the experience of revelation and union with the Divine”. Interestingly, many Greek Philosophers, including Pythagoras and Plato, are also believed to be associated with ideas of mystical cults and practices alongside their reason based philosophical and scientific (including mathematical) thinking and conclusions. Bertrand Russell very aptly expresses this while discussing Pythagoras and Plato’s connection with mysticism, “The Orphics were an ascetic sect;… The intoxication that they sought was that of "enthusiasm," of union with the god. They believed themselves, in this way, to acquire mystic knowledge not obtainable by ordinary means. This mystical element entered into Greek philosophy with Pythagoras, who was a reformer of Orphism, as Orpheus was a reformer of the religion of Bacchus. From Pythagoras Orphic elements entered into the philosophy of Plato, and from Plato into most later philosophy that was in any degree religious.” So idea based practices of altering mental states in order to connect with (and understand) transcendental reality are found both in the mystical and early philosophical traditions of the Greeks. Then we find ‘ideas’ of meditative practices and techniques within and ensuing from the three monotheistic religions; the Jewish Meditative Kabbalah, Christian mystical practices involving elated visions of union with God and intensive prayer based examination of Holy Scriptures, and Muslim Sufism’s ideas of spiritual discipline, stages of spiritual development, emotional integration, and self-knowledge. All these being means for connecting and merging with the ‘One’ larger reality or ‘God’, as referred to in these religions. Apart from these developed and more organized religious and mystical methodologies of suppressing, manipulating, controlling, and changing the mind we also find lesser forms like magic and then bona fide Palmistry and Astrology with their idea-based suggestions and exercises. The individuals practicing these forms developed altered mental states or acquired certain mental capabilities which they used for many different purposes—seeing the past, predicting the future, invoking spirits, controlling natural forces, manipulating and controlling other people’s minds, and so on. Their modified and developed mental powers and capabilities were used either to help or to harm individuals and groups.
The methodologies and practices in all the above mentioned traditions have been a farm of ideas generated by numerous individuals who perceived, experienced and realized the reality of existing self/mind. These ideas address the yearning and journey of cultivating mind and seeking unity with the ultimate reality. And these have then been communicated (through action and aphorisms, etc.) to and used by people at large to reform their inner and outer lives; their interactions with other human beings and other living species in Nature.
Gaps in early philosophical, religious and mystical ‘doing’ in relation to the mind and how to bridge them.We identify with the essential spirit of mystics/sages, prophets and philosophers of reforming man and society and view our work as a contemporary step in that direction, however, our approach is fundamentally different. We are going beyond professing behavioral reform of man through some life changing contemplation, spiritual realization or experience. Our approach is suggesting a serious redesigning and engineering of an individual’s mind and thereby his further evolution as a species. Before moving ahead, there is an important equation in the minds of early philosophers, mystics and religious practitioners that needs to be identified, challenged and dislodged. They view the achievements and results of their numerous idea based knowing, practices and techniques as the only relevant and real ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’. Whereas a closer observation will reveal that they are in fact only an accumulation (from ancient to modern times) of significant, insightful but immature, ad-hoc and sporadic ideas about the human mind and self, and their modification or transformation.
In contrast, what we are proposing is a properly inquired into and developed, positive (largely verified) and holistic (micro and macro) knowledge fund about the human mind and self, ensuring a systematic process of their intelligent redesigning, engineering and evolution. Of course this knowledge fund considers the ideas generated and practiced by early philosophers, mystics, poets and prophets as valuable input but only in terms of what they really are, with their insufficiencies and gaps, and not for what they are not. We cannot ignore the indispensable role of ideas in the making of any knowledge about any phenomenon or process but then knowledge, as it must be, is a consolidation and systematization of ideas applicable for making objective changes in a phenomenon or process. Mere idea based doing is essentially ad-hoc, mostly personal, piecemeal, lopsided, limited, repetitive, largely short-term and therefore cannot produce holistic, and fundamental (design level) changes in any process or phenomenon, with long term consequences and implications.
Today the idea based knowing and doing that the mystics, prophets and early philosophers were able to achieve has to be replaced by a knowledge based and systematized doing. Where knowledge based doing is a difficult and dynamic journey in which, given the redundancy of earlier methods, new capabilities need to be developed on a continuous basis. In our view, the new capabilities cannot be acquired through meditative techniques like “conforming to a pattern, imitating, suppressing…,”. In fact, such techniques will actually obstruct the process of going into the unknown and coming up with new ‘knowing’ and ‘engineering’ that we are proposing. The techniques will keep us entangled in looking for some form of personal formula or short-cut to attain a superficial mental state of knowing, peace, enlightenment and bliss, which will only prevent us from carrying out any serious fundamental engineering of our mental processes. Here we need to mention though that avoiding knowledge based doing was not a choice or deliberate act on the part of ancient thinkers. The truth is that mystical, religious and early philosophical ideas and practices did not have the facility of a comprehensive and positive knowledge fund about the mind and were also not in a position to develop such a fund. For example, it was not possible for them to trace the origins of the mind to the genes or understand the mechanics of its formation from the brain and genes. Nor could they objectively see and understand the specific evolutionary journey of the mind from living things to man in the period of civilization. Any serious speculations about the energy constituents of the mind were also not possible. Some aspects and functions/processes of the mind were observed and identified in these traditions. For instance, Upanishads, the ancient Indian philosophical treatises, classify the mind in terms of certain functions; a compound of cognition, memory, understanding and an underlying mental material, the intellect, resolution and the discursive mind which controls the five senses. Similarly, in Muslim Sufi thought we find stages and levels of spiritual development in terms of corresponding mental states/conditions. Then we also find some stray ideas in Indian Vedantic thought about mental phenomena being made of ‘subtle elements’ including ether.
Given the scarcity of knowledge, the ancient thinkers could not practically produce any systematic approach which could lead to any serious mental engineering. They only served to enable some modifications of a few mental patterns through the use of Will power. And this is the case even in contemporary times. Individuals who talk of or practice rehashed versions of these ancient mystical and religious practices are still aiming for this Will power based knowing and mental modification.
We acknowledge and understand the use of tools like Will power, intuition, and contemplation (which employs the intellect) and the changes they were able to bring about in human thinking and doing. For instance, we can understand what happens on the mental plane during meditative practices like mantra recitation in all mystical and religious traditions. When the sages and mystics recited words like ‘Om’ (ultimate reality) or ‘Allah-O-Akbar’ (God is great), etc., they were actually engaging in a process of connecting their Will with their developed sensitivities through focused repetition, where ‘focused’ means they had an objective, i.e. a position they had taken. And this position had both a positive and negative aspect. The negative aspect involved the first step, which was rejecting the world they were coming from and living in that expressed within them in the form of their various mental and physical patterns or habits. In the second step that entailed the positive aspect, they wanted to connect with ‘Om’ or ‘God’ or the all-powerful larger reality. It is for this two-fold focused position that the Will power was used repetitively. To supplement this process of focused repetition, meditators would then self-inflict physical pain and try to tolerate it, harnessing a tangible use of Will power. In this method, the pain came in direct repetitive conflict with the mental patterns and so a tangible physical conflict in a crude form was created to strengthen and reinforce the Will power and make some headway in it. If this physical imposition (repetition done by force) was survived by the mystic, then it managed to exhaust and eventually erode the pre-existing mental patterns and enabled him to make new emotional and mental patterns often contributing to greater physical and mental endurance, and even healing powers. This is how the individual selves and personalities of the mystics, and sages were transformed or modified. The Will power based method is also explained by Neurologist, Antonio Damasio. According to him“…For millennia wise leaders have turned to a comparable solution when they asked followers to observe disciplined rituals whose side effect must have been a gradual imposition of consciously willed decisions on nonconscious action processes. Not surprisingly, those rituals often involved the creation of heightened emotions, even pain, an empirically discovered means of etching the desired mechanism in the human mind.”
The above mentioned practice points towards the potential of the mind and its use by the sages and mystics to rise above their normal given state. The problem is that this was one route of knowing and changing the mind which could not become a replicable process. Most importantly it was unable to address the issue of human misery on the social scale which, as we suggest, requires mental evolution of the human species. And, given the current complexity of human mind, this cannot be achieved by mere repetitive use of Will power by individuals. The present human condition and its growing crises require new mental tools of understanding and doing arising out of systematized and holistic knowledge of the evolutionary processes and mechanics of the mind. The new mental tools can modify the fundamental design and character of the mind, and construct its new structure and identity; new interconnections, hierarchy and interactions among the various mental processes.
This new mind will not just be a new level or state of consciousness with a focused position of achieving personal liberation but an entire complex of new specialized mental processes and functions, which will constitute a new autonomous identity. It will ensure fundamental, dynamic and long lasting modifications within the mental processes of individual specimens leading to serious and stable changes in social culture, interactions, structures, and institutions. Its core motivation will be to evolve and move holistically as a species towards the dialectic of harmony (and away from the dialectic of contradiction) which is the next stage of Nature’s own evolutionary process. We can today objectively understand, and therefore replace the supernatural component of religious and mystical thought with a more real (less abstract), stronger, operationally meaningful and collectively workable connection with macro reality or the process of Nature. The mind with all its layers (structural, functional and evolutionary) can now intelligently connect to the larger process of Nature and its logic on the basis of objective knowledge about the mechanics, processes and evolution of both mind and Nature., It can make use of an integrated and holistic approach instead of mere intuition, altered experience and sporadic contemplation.
Due to a growing fund of positive knowledge about man and Nature as a whole, which is available and accessible today, we can objectively redefine spirit, soul and higher consciousness and intelligently understand, and cultivate them without resorting to the lopsided Will power based methods and techniques. We can see all layers (undeveloped to developed) of the mind as being connected to the brain, and body at one level and also existing separate from them. Being able to see them as a separate phenomenon from the brain enables us to work intelligently with them and on them just as we have been doing with external things and phenomena. While the importance of seeing mind’s integral interconnections and interactions with the brain, body and genes is that it can help us to practically. It can enable us to more effectively and deeply intervene in its fundamental layers and mechanics. So today we can intelligently integrate our micro and macro, mystical, philosophical and scientific, past and present understanding of the human mind, self and consciousness and apply that understanding to come up with more effective and efficient doing both at the individual and social levels.
The approaches and methods of ‘knowing’ and ‘changing’ the mind in contemporary Philosophy and Science
The past few decades have witnessed very systematized and tireless work by the scientific community and its technological counterparts to provide us with valuable micro data about the structure and function of the brain and indirectly the mind along with social, cultural and economic implications. Today, there are numerous theoretical frameworks, studies and corresponding applications, which enable us to better understand the bits and pieces of our brains and minds and to tinker with them so as to change and improve their functioning. Currently we are witnessing a highly interdisciplinary inquiry into understanding and then manipulating and mending the brain/mind composite with overlapping techniques, methods, assumptions and theoretical frameworks. Some of the main disciplines engaged in this range from Philosophy, especially its recent branch, ‘Philosophy of mind’ to Cognitive Science, Psychology, Neuroscience, Neurology, and Consciousness Studies. Contemporary Philosophy seems to be going hand in hand with theoretical and laboratory sciences in trying to understand the nature of the mind and its various processes (especially consciousness, perception, cognition, memory, etc.) and their connection with the brain and genes.
The result of this is the modern philosophical and scientific approach towards ‘knowing’ and ‘changing’ the mind, which can be aptly described by the following quote, “Given a hammer, everything seems more or less like a nail”. The inroads made by post-technology empirical science into the structure and working of the brain and thereby into the mental processes, using increasingly sophisticated tools and methodologies, has been largely shaping the nature of contemporary questions and answers about the mind and how to change it. Equipped with the hammer of a highly advanced variety of scans and elaborate corresponding simulation methods, the mind is only seen as a product of and a nail in the brain. A nail which can be controlled and fixed by the scientific and technological hammer made primarily for the brain. The underlying assumption is that the mind is nothing more than the brain and can only be understood in terms of the brain processes and their micro details, which are becoming more and more tangible with every passing day. There is no real need to know anything further beyond the fact that different mental functions are correlates of various geographical regions of the brain. The reason for this way of thinking is the success achieved in using this knowledge to intervene in specific brain processes connected with those mental functions/processes that require fixing. For example, one can, through direct or indirect stimulation of certain brain areas or chemical intervention, influence and modify certain mental functions like, cognition, memory, emotional behavior, feelings, our sense of consciousness and self, etc.
However, in the present scientific culture, any ideas which explore the mind as a distinct substance and process (albeit arising out of the brain and very much interactive with and connected to it), which cannot be reduced to just the brain processes, are largely debunked and ostracized. The main objection being their necessary subscription to a dualistic explanatory framework, which is viewed as having been defeated and left behind by the reigning verifiable reductive materialistic framework of understanding, manipulating and modifying the mind. However, despite this mainstream position we do find, on the fringes, some recent work on ideas exploring mind as a separate process a physical reality with material and mental aspects. This work, which is venturing beyond the materialist reductive Mind/Brain identity theory framework, is gradually making its place in the scientific community. The main rationale and impetus for this work seems to be the fact that unlike the brain, mental processes and subjective experience cannot yet be observed or grasped by existing laboratory tools and methodologies. The issue is that despite our existing massive technological acumen, the ‘third’ person, or in other words, empirically verifiable ‘objective’ data about mental processes cannot fully or adequately explain some of the states and processes of the mind. These include subjective experience and abstract conceptual mental content like ideas, which constitute a large part of our mental life and its internal and external doing. Additionally, this knowledge has and is clearly proving insufficient for seriously intervening in the complex state and functioning of current human subjectivity and personality. Hence ‘first’ person or subjective data acquired through various methods is now an accepted and integral part of this inquiry. ‘Introspection’ (in all its forms) is one of the oldest and most important methods used in Philosophy, and Experimental Psychology for perceiving and observing the functioning of one’s own mind (thoughts, ideas, emotions, feelings, motivations, self/I, etc.). There is a history of conflicting ideas and disagreements on what it is, how it should be practiced and what knowledge about the mind is acquired from its practice. And we also find lack of a clear and wide consensus on the usefulness and success of this method. The pendulum keeps swinging between seeing introspective reports as indispensable in any scientific investigation of mental functions and being unreliable for having access to only to a limited number of mental states and functions. The issue of whether the subject can in fact split himself into two and observe his conscious mental states or not is another critical problem which affects the practice of this method.
Some Philosophers and Psychologists have been viewing it as ‘passive inner perception’ of one’s current or immediately past mental life while others see it as ‘active observation’, ‘reflection’ and even ‘examination’ of one’s own conscious mental states. The stated purpose being to generate some “knowledge, judgments, or beliefs” or “thoughts, representations and awareness” about our inner lives which can then be used to mend or modify some of our mental functions and personalities. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, there are two classes of mental states which are commonly seen as the target of introspection. One, ‘attitudes’ like beliefs, desires, intentions and evaluations. Two, ‘conscious experiences’ like emotions, images, and the various forms of sensory experiences. Another important ‘first-person’ method, which also yields raw data for Science of the Mind, is ‘Metacognition’. Essentially this method is about cognizing and knowing the cognitive process itself and to monitor, control and regulate its functioning and performance, and correct any identified biases in it. The ambit of this method also includes mental processes like memory, emotions, reasoning, experiences, learning, intelligence, decision-making, etc., mostly connected with the process of cognition. There are both conceptual and non-conceptual forms of metacognition. The former includes language based meta-reasoning, meta-memory, etc., while the latter includes metacognitive feelings of knowing, uncertainty, which are also referred to as ‘fringe consciousness’. Since cognition is considered as the substrate upon which subsequent mental processes, especially of thinking and learning, operate hence awareness about this process and its regulation is the main goal of this method.
Metacognitive strategies and activities are used extensively by individual learners and social groups so as to make their thinking and learning processes more efficient, and also correct any cognitive disorders like biases, errors, etc., which affect social functioning and interactions. This method has many sub-components like ‘Metamemory’ in which memory is monitored and regulated, and processes like ‘Metastrategic knowledge’, which entails knowledge about higher order thinking strategies. Then we have ‘Metacognitive Experiences’, which are made up of feelings, ideas, judgments, and other metacognitive knowledge arising during the process of problem solving. This method and process is being studied in Cognitive Neuroscience (where its actual physiological functioning in the prefrontal cortex is viewed and explained) and Artificial Intelligence and Modelling. Experimental Psychology and Educational Psychologists also study and in fact use this method for achieving their respective goals of explaining and correcting mental disorders and influencing normal mental functioning and improving student learning, etc. Metacognition, along with Introspection are now integral tools in the on-going scientific investigation of the mind. Through the designed use of these methods scientists and philosophers are generating the required knowledge for mending and manipulating the various mental processes and functions.
Supplementing these methods is the work on higher order ‘inner sense’ mechanisms for scanning, detecting and representing our own mental states and processes, which has been bleeding into the work on Higher Order Theories like Higher Order Thought (HOT), Higher Order Perception (HOP) and then Higher Order Global States (HOGS), etc. Apart from the distinctions, differences and points of emphasis between the ideas of these theoretical frameworks, they all propose the existence of higher order representations (non-conceptual and conceptual) of first-order perceptual and thought (beliefs, desires, etc.) data, which make us aware or conscious of these mental states and thereby guide our deliberate actions. The nature of these higher order representations and their connection with the first order perceptual or thought states and the mechanics of how they produce the non-conceptual ‘subjective’ feel and other conceptual outputs are still being debated and discussed in these various theoretical frameworks. In contrast to the above methods, which are deliberate efforts to become more conscious about mind and Self, we find phenomenological approaches which propound the existence of a ‘pre-reflective’ self-consciousness or awareness, which is implicit and primary and in fact makes reflective consciousness possible. This self-consciousness is essentially connected to and is about subjective experience and it’s first person character. So here we find no real issue or need of deliberate human self-consciousness because the state of self-consciousness is already assumed to be present, and even in some non-human animals. Hence there is no need for any ‘higher-order’ monitoring through some separate higher-order states during any conscious experience. In fact, they reject the view that “a mental state becomes conscious by being taken as an object by a higher-order state” or “a mental state becomes conscious by taking itself as an object.”
All the above methods and theories in Philosophy and the various Sciences focused on knowing and fixing the mental processes and human personality reveal to us the work and progress that has been made in this area and also the questions and issues that remain unanswered, which require and stimulate us to continue our scientific and philosophical investigations.
Some issues and limitations of the scientific and philosophical inquiry into ‘knowing’ and ‘changing’ the mind In present times the core motivation and approach towards knowing and changing the mind is a critical limitation which channelizes and determines both the scope and results of any philosophical or scientific inquiry in this area. If our purpose is to acquire specialized theoretical (academic) knowledge of how the mind functions in all its details so as to quench our age-old inherited curiosity about it then we have been and can continue to understand many layers and interconnections of our mental states, functions and processes. The elaborate details and debates on ‘inner sense mechanisms’ focused on detecting, monitoring and becoming conscious of mental states and functions are a clear example of this motivation. The detailed descriptions of the micro mechanics and steps of the operation of these inner mechanisms are a commendable example of the new valuable knowledge generated in this area. If our aim is to apply this growing knowledge to fixing the dysfunctions of some of our mental processes and personalities or to enhance and develop some of our normal cognitive and other mental functions like memory, behavior, emotional and thought patterns, etc., then again we have and will continue to achieve this as our knowing and intervention capabilities keep on increasing. But if the issue we confront is of further evolution of the mind and self, we are in another territory. The evolutionary change that we are proposing is neither through random trial and error as in the process of natural selection nor merely in terms of biological and mental behavior planes. It is in fact, an intelligent intervention, which uses a growing holistic awareness of the mind’s origins, evolution, functioning and its integral connection with Nature’s evolutionary process, to dismantle and modify existing and create new mental capabilities and processes. Today if we ever confront the issue of the emergence of a new species of mind, with a new design and functions, to replace (its driving seat role) the old species of mind within us then the existing tools, methods and approaches cannot be of much help. Even the cutting edge laboratory tool-“real-time FMRI”, which will be available to contemporary brain and mind scientists and philosophers in the near future, cannot enable us to build these new processes of awareness, knowing and changing of the mind that we are proposing. Because here, the issue is not of event based manipulating and controlling of our mental processes but their evolution. This means developing a deeper, growing and accumulating understanding of the existing mental design and architecture and then replacing it with a new mental design, which is appropriate and seriously beneficial for contemporary man and his social existence.
The primary focus of contemporary Philosophy and Science has been to get a sufficient grip on the phenomenon of ‘consciousness’, which is believed to be the gateway to the rest of the mental functions and processes. Hence also the excessive focus on its physical substrate, the brain, and the elaborate work on the correlations between conscious (and unconscious) mental functions and specific brain anatomy. The role of genes in mental functioning is also a connected area which has been explored but not so intensively and extensively. Consequently, the work on mental functions and states is largely with reference to and within the basic inquiry framework of studying ‘consciousness’. As opposed to this our focus is on the ‘Mental Complex’ of contemporary man and observing and understanding the evolutionary origins, stages, structural constituents and the various aspects and characteristics of mental processes, their interconnections and interactive functioning, including their connection with the process of Nature, from which it gets the direction of its future evolution. Instead of empirical or laboratory tools we are focusing on generating mental tools of ideas, feelings, awareness and Will which can initiate an on-going internal process of engaging with the neuronal and genetic processes and then carrying out specific restructuring and engineering of mental processes. So as to give birth to the new post-biological Nature centric mind and personality, as an autonomous entity, which can take over the reins from the existing old biology based individual centric mind and personality. The latter will not get eliminated but the best of it will get incorporated in the new through intelligent pruning and selection. So this is the nature of our involvement with knowing and changing the human mind that is required today and this is why it parts company with the current philosophical and scientific approaches in this arena.
We do not dispute or undermine the importance of understanding and explaining phenomenal consciousness or subjective ‘feel’ or the functioning of our memory or cognitive processes or certain emotions like fear, anger, love, hatred, etc., or the disorders of some of our mental processes, but feel that there is a need, on a parallel level, to also delve into understanding the mind from an evolutionary perspective. The reason being that in addition to mere specialized knowledge and behavioral manipulation and correction of the micro mental processes there is a need for a new direction and a macro framework within which the micro feeling, thinking and doing of contemporary individuals can be anchored. So that they can be intelligently channelized and steered to produce ever increasing and new qualities of harmony and happiness in their lives and in all dimensions of their existence. This inquiry and its implementation cannot be postponed just because we do not yet have the external laboratory tools to undertake it. We have an obligation, as human beings, to carry out this inquiry with whatever knowledge that is available to us and through developing our internal mental resources and tools to generate new knowledge about the mind and its applications.We are aware of the ideas and concepts of ‘self-consciousness’ and ‘self-awareness’ existing on the periphery of contemporary philosophical and scientific investigations into the mind and its modification. They are largely viewed as highly intangible, and too abstract to be objects of any serious inquiry process. So any work on them is mostly bracketed into the area of religion and mysticism. Mainstream science and philosophy refrain from delving deeper into them. Recently there has been an interest in the rehashed versions of the ideas and methods of acquiring this level of consciousness and awareness. Practice of meditation and mindfulness is being suggested as a supplement to the existing means and methods (both philosophical and scientific) for the specific purpose of influencing and modifying some behavioral mental patterns, states and disorders. And modification of brain processes and circuitry through the use of mental force in these practices is also being scientifically explored. Conducting advanced scans of meditation and mindfulness practices and seeing how they interact with, change and control the brain and body processes is a recent progress in the study of these mental processes.
So far the mental reach of both these processes and the methods used to practice them have not provided man with the knowledge of seeing and modifying his core mental design and generating new mental processes and capabilities, through a deliberate interaction of his intellect and sensitivities with the mental software in genes and then the tubulin substrate in the neurons. This plane of knowledge and engineering is beyond the scope of these processes and their practice methods.
The best of the higher order theories or meta-states proposed for scanning and monitoring the mind and understanding the conceptual and non-conceptual mental representations and any accompanying subjective ‘experience’ are again not proposing any serious mental restructuring or engineering or a new evolutionary design and formation of the mind. At best they aim to detect, represent, reflect on and alter one’s cognitive processes, beliefs and some patterns of reasoning and doing in order to preempt and manipulate the thinking and behaviors of other individuals.
As the basic motivation/drive and scope of an inquiry determines what we look for and find so it is but logical that hitherto philosophical and scientific interventions into the brain and mind have only generated the knowledge (and its corresponding applications) that is available today and there is no aspiration for anything more fundamental and deeper.
i. The ultimate real knowing of the self comprises the realization and experience of individual self and universal self as one or a unity. (Hodgkinson, 2006). So the purpose of knowing the self is to reach this stage and subjective state. This approach therefore circumscribes the tools and methods of knowing the self.
ii. Dennett, 2003, pp. 246-247.
iii. Paranjape (Ed.), 1999.
iv. Carroll, 2016, (Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/aug/17/virtual-reality-meditation-deepak-chopra-wevr-app).
v. Shapero, (Retrieved from http://www.eocto.org/article/103)
vi. Russell, 1946, p. 37.
vii. Hameed (Ed.), 1993.
viii. Krishnamurti, 1996, p. 237
ix. Hodgkinson, 2006, pp. 147-150
x. In the Mathnawi of Rumi we find him making the distinction between the lower soul and intellect.
xi. Hodgkinson, 2006.
xii. Damasio, 2010, p. 212.
xiii. Rose, 2006
xiv. Schwitzgebel, Eric, 2016, (Retrieved from: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/introspection/)
xv. Schwitzgebel, Eric, 2016, (Retrieved from: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/introspection/)
xvi. Norman, 2016.
xvii. Zohar & David, 2008.
xviii. Chambres, Izaute & Marescaux, 2002, p. 20
xix. Stokes, Matthen & Biggs, 2015, pp. 277-296
xx. Gallagher & Zahavi, 2016. (Retrieved from:
xxi. Gallagher & Zahavi, 2016, p. 6. (Retrieved from:
xxii. Azarian, 2017, (Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170507-the-most-promising-route-to-mental-superpowers).
xxiii. This is true but the question is should we stop our further incursions into other mental processes and issues related to their origins, structure, functioning, development, evolution and future direction until we get positive certain knowledge of ‘consciousness’? For those of us who answer this question in the negative, it is an obligation to continue our inquiry and generate new knowledge in this area which can enable and provide a direction to contemporary individuals.