Mind Course 2016 – Summary

What do high unemployment rates in North America, global warming, fundamentalism in northern Africa and illiteracy in Asia have in common? What connects economic crises, epidemics, nuclear weapons and poverty? Looking beyond the basic fact that they are all major global problems that require urgent action, we see that what ties them all together is their inherent interconnectedness. No one of them can be seen isolated from the others, and solving any requires tackling all of them. At a more fundamental level, they are all our creations. Over years, in some cases, centuries, we have learnt, thought, taken decisions, acted on them, reacted to situations, adopted policies, using the highest developed human instrument, the mind.

But apparently, this instrument of remarkable capabilities has not succeeded in solving all our problems, or correctly anticipating all the consequences of any course of action. It is partly due to the inherent limitations of the mind, partly due to our incomplete understanding of its characteristics.

The World Academy of Art and Science undertook the challenging task of comprehending the incredible  human mind. Bringing together natural and social scientists, fellows of WAAS and its partnering institutions, in a transdisciplinary post graduate certificate course ‘Mind, Thinking and Creativity’, it aimed to arrive at an understanding of the inherent limits to rationality and mental ways of knowing, as well as the extraordinary creative and intuitive processes by which mind transcends those limitations and tends toward genius.

It explored the characteristics of mental knowledge and thought processes, types of thinking, the character of rational thought, the mental and social construction of knowledge, deep thinking, creativity and genius. Rather than focus on abstract philosophical concepts, it applied this knowledge to understand both the sources of humanity’s prolific mental creativity, the characteristic problems it confronts due to irresolvable conflicts and contradictions between mental perspectives, and their resolution in different fields of natural and social science, public policy, collective and individual behavior.

Some of the leading edge questions raised in the course of the discussions were:

  • Are the problems confronting humanity related to the way we think and exercise the powers of mind?• What are the different types of thinking?
  • All mental knowledge  describes the world by means of social & psychological constructs. What are the conceptual systems on which prevailing scientific knowledge is founded?
  • What is the secret of creative thinking?
  • How can linear faculties of thinking and verbal expression capture the multi-dimensional complexity and intricate integration of living systems and conscious human communities?
  • By what faculty does mind reconcile, integrate and unify apparent contradictions? Ground-breaking innovation comes out of deep thinking and creating a totally new framework. How does mind shift from one paradigm to another?
  • Why is science education preoccupied with teaching the scientific methodology for validating discoveries, rather than the actual process of discovery itself?
  • Testimony of great scientists confirms that the greatest discoveries of science are the result of intuitive rather than rational mental processes. Can Intuition be learned?
  • Do geniuses think differently than the rest of us? Can genius be taught?
  • Is reason our highest instrument of knowledge?
  • Are there limits to rationality?
  • Are we capable of developing other ways of knowing?

The lectures that were also made available live online, were held at Inter-University Centre, Dubrovnik, Croatia, from April 12-14, 2016. It was conducted by WAAS, in cooperation with its partnering institutions World University Consortium, USA; Inter-University Centre, Croatia; Dag Hammarskjöld University College, Croatia; Person-Centered Approach Institute, Italy and The Mother’s Service Society, India.

 Transcript of the Presentations

Power of knowledge

N. Stehr, T. Tóth, A. Zucconi, C. Blanco, M. Hytten

Knowledge is a generalized capacity to act. It is a model for reality, rather than of reality. It enables one to set something positive in motion, or to prevent something from occurring such as the onset of an illness or a financial crisis. Knowledge creates, sustains and changes existential conditions.

Knowledge derives its power from its ability to transform reality. For example, a social statistic such as the unemployment rate is not merely a mirror of social reality, but becomes an impetus to action. It suggests and represents capacities for action, providing solutions to the very problems it describes.

The value of knowledge should be seen as a capacity to illuminate and transform reality. It is necessary to distinguish between the possession of knowledge as a capacity to act, and the ability to implement knowledge. Knowledge is not immediately performative or persuasive, it represents potential power. In order to alter reality by applying knowledge, we need the ability to control the situation within which knowledge is supposed to be utilized. To illustrate, if we have an idea of how to make fire, we need certain resources and circumstances to implement the idea. The mere knowledge of how to make fire does enable one to make fire. The power of knowledge is dependent on the ability to control conditions of actions and utilize one’s capacity to act. With its capacity for limitless growth, knowledge represents a positive sum game.

Varieties of Thinking

G. Jacobs,  M. Hytten, R. Fiorini, M. Chandrasekaran

Many of the global challenges that we face – financial stability, unemployment, poverty, environment, climate change, health, security –  have several common attributes. They are all global and inter-related in nature. So none of them can be effectively addressed individually or at the national level alone. We not only lack the institutions and policies to deal with them. There is something more fundamental about the way we think about these problems, that is part of the problem. We do not know how to think, not just what to think, about them.

The human mind has tremendous capacities, and we need to examine how we currently use them, and how we can develop them. We generally associate mental capacity with our capacity to know, which is but one of its powers. Mind has a capacity to act, that we call decision or will. It relates things with one another, and it is this process that results in great ideas and products. Our particular concern is with making the mind more creative and effective in solving problems and tapping opportunities.

Our mental way of knowing is always indirect. The one thing that anyone can know directly is that they exist, that they are. Anything else that is known is learnt only by the physical senses, or by a thought, which is an association of memories, facts, ideas. The mind creates symbols to understand reality. Working with indirect knowledge gained from intermediaries, and sometimes mistaking the symbol for reality, we find that our knowledge is not effective. Added to this is the fact that whereas reality is multi dimensional, complex and inter-related, our thinking and functioning are in a linear sequence. So an in depth analysis of how we think and comprehend is fundamental if we are to overcome our current challenges and create opportunities.

Our way of thinking can be categorized into three types: Analytic, synthetic  and integral. Analytic thinking is the use of the faculty of the mind to divide and subdivide reality up into smaller parts. Mind understands by division. We take the whole, and divide it into smaller and smaller parts, and concentrate on the part. Such division has been the tremendous power for the advance of civilization. It has helped us understand the composition of matter, the varieties and differences of species, physiological processes of living things, computer programming and so forth. It has been the dominant power of the past few centuries. All the advances of science and technology have been a result of it. At the same time, all the limitations and unanswered questions are also because we have been using one faculty very intensely to the exclusion of the other capabilities of the mind. Analytic thinking reduces the complexity of knowledge into basic constituents, it fragments knowledge.

There have been attempts made to compensate the limitations of analytic thinking, by using the capacity of mind for aggregating. We try to put together all that has been divided, show their inter dependencies, and try to imagine the whole. This too has been a tremendous fruitful effort of mind. Synthetic or systems thinking is leading edge in science and development today. Whereas analytic thinking made transdisciplinary thinking difficult, systems thinking makes it possible. But even this has limitations, most of what goes by the name of systems thinking tends to compress and regard the whole reality as if it belonged to one plane, that is in the physical. It tends to look at reality in a mechanistic way. It reduces complexity to rules, but it leaves out some critical dimensions, such as the whole subjective dimension, and it ignores the role of the individual.
We live in a world where one person can still change the world, for better or worse. We need to find a way to reintegrate individuality and the subjective dimension into our way of thinking. Such a higher level of thinking is integral thinking. It integrates the subjective and objective dimensions.

500 years ago, if one could read and write, one was considered a genius. In 1860, there was only one Phd awarded in the US. By 1980, the number of doctorates awarded became 55,000 in a year. So if we have made this much progress in one and a half centuries, there is no reason to believe that we will stop here. The mind has many more capacities so far not fully understood, such as intuition and insight, that can be studied, developed and utilized.

Social & Psychological Construction of Knowledge

A. Zucconi, W. Nagan, M. Hytten, M. Neškovic

People make self fulfilling prophesies. They react not only to the situations they are in, but also, and often primarily, to the way they perceive the situations and to the meaning they assign to these perceptions. In other words, our construction of reality makes our perceptions real. Once people convince themselves that a situation really has a certain meaning, regardless of whether it actually does or not, they will take very real actions in consequence. So, in truth, we do not live in reality but in the social and individual constructions of what we call reality.

“Reality” is often different among different  communities or cultures, and it continuously changes over time. The individual construction of reality is not only influenced by the social reality but different individuals construe their experiences differently, at different times. Socio-cultural and personal constructs are the ways communities and individuals construe their experiences at emotional and cognitive levels. All the construction of experience interacts all the time reciprocally, impacting the social and individual dimensions.Even science is a social construction. It is a method of knowing, a methodology for hypothesizing, testing, researching and verifying, but we are far from knowing the truth. All the different approaches or paradigms in many professions are based on a different vision of human nature, from which descend their own different view of problem and solution. For example, the very approach in the helping professions is based on a specific vision of human nature, which in turn is based on values. Those values determine the politics of the helping relationship and influence the outcomes. The way the doctor treats a patient, not the disease, can determine the outcome of the treatment. Person centered mental health practitioners think that it is important to relate with the individual with profound respect and empathic understanding.

In the age of hyper connection, paradoxically, individuals are becoming increasingly disconnected. To meet the challenges of our present and future, new and effective ways to facilitate the capacity of awareness & integration of our ways of knowing are required. We need to foster a new socio-psychological literacy for billions of people; a socio-psychological compass, a holistic/systemic way of being in relationship with ourselves, others and the planet.

Governments, decision makers and experts still seem to take little notice in their planning and governance of the way individuals and communities, societies and cultures construct reality. Focussing on the objective facts while ignoring the subjective experience can lead to unintended consequences. Drawing national borders with a ruler might look neat in a map of post-colonial nations but create chaos and immense suffering for generations. Mountain, land and river cannot be divided based on the latitude and longitude without taking into account the communities that populate the place. Economic growth even when a society is bent on effectively destroying its human and natural capital negatively impacts present and future generations.

The sociology and psychology of knowledge, of power and of governance need to be employed along with the history and philosophy of science for a better understanding of how we relate to ourselves, others and the world. We need to challenge common assumptions and open up possibilities or new forms of understanding and action. We need to become aware of how we construe our experiences of what we call reality: the relationship with ourselves, the others, the world, and come up with new and effective ways of coping with our rapidly changing realities.

We need to  foster  at every level of society awareness of the social construction of reality, of our powers and responsibilities for the present and the future of humankind & the whole planet. We need to co-construe People-Centered & Person-Centered sustainable narratives with explicit values and power differentials.

Conceptual Systems, Explicit & Implicit Values & Assumptions

W. Nagan, G. Jacobs, C. Blanco, T. Tóth

The mind seeks security and certainty. We have an inbuilt, even irrational urge for security. This urge is not driven by logic, and it subconsciously influences what type of knowledge we seek, how we interpret what we find, and how we avoid areas of ambiguity. Our need for certainty is our emotional driver, and therefore the mind creates stable conceptual systems to represent reality.

Mathematician and author William Byers defines a conceptual system as an integrated family of concepts that create a unified universe of meaning and experience. So Mathematics or Euclidean geometry are conceptual systems. We think these are truths, and for 1600 years after Euclid, we thought there was only one type of geometry, which was Euclidean, until the principles of non-Euclidean geometry were developed. Now we know the Euclidean way was only one way of looking at reality, in a limited sphere. In a similar way, the Big Bang, the Black Hole, biological evolution, health, democracy, human rights, market economy, science, marriage, personality are all conceptual systems.

When we start to mark out all the premises, all the implicit values behind a system, we see reality in a different context. We see the boundaries and limitations of a system, and are better able to use its strengths and not be curtailed by its limitations.

All conceptual system are rule based, logical & systematic. But these characteristics are valid only within a set of premises. There is a territory where it works. But when we don’t know these assumptions, reality begins to look distorted. For example, Newton did not know that he was working within a conceptual system where space and time are absolutes. He thought he was seeing reality.Einstein made us realize that we were within a framework. All conceptual systems are incomplete. They contain questions they are unable to answer within the system. We have always moved from one conceptual system to another. We moved from using numbers for counting to using them as measure, then we forayed into decimals and fractions. But we have never been taught that we are actually moving from one conceptual system to another. We have not learnt that our earlier conception was limited, and when we move to the new, we are widening our framework. So throughout our lives, we believe that when we have arrived at a conceptual system, we have arrived at certainty, and we cling to the security of the certainty and feel everything must be consistent with it.

The truth or validity of any statement depends on the conceptual system within which it is viewed. Most of our rational thoughts and decisions have very little rationality in them. We experience reality through the window of a conceptual system which defines what is real to us. So when we hear someone from another conceptual system, they seem either stupid, or troublesome, they don’t seem to see reality. We are not conscious of the boundaries from which we each look out. This is the basis for inter personal, national and cultural conflicts. Instead, if we start out with a clear understanding of our assumptions and where we are coming from, a lot of these conflicts can be solved or avoided.

Any conceptual system is founded on conscious and subconscious values, premises and perspectives. For example, the heart of democracy is a set of values, the democratic institutions come only later. The real origins of modern democracy is the culture of liberalism. But they are so subconscious that when we want to spread democracy to other countries, we spread the institutions, not realizing our implicit assumptions that if another country has the set of institutions that a democratic country has, it will behave the way the democratic country behaves, whereas actually it behaves in very different ways because the underlying values are different.
All conceptual systems are self-referential. There is no such thing as knowledge divorced of the person who knows, divorced from their assumptions, perspectives, values and beliefs. There is always the role of the subjective. There are the linguistic contribution, social construction and the concepts which they take for granted, that they bring with them.

We need to look at how much facts or information we should be teaching, and how much values, premises, boundaries, limitations we should be making the student conscious of, so that each individual is free to choose. In order to get out of a conceptual framework or out of the box, we first need to become conscious that we are within a conceptual framework.

Creativity and Scientific Discovery

F. Brassard, N. Stehr, R. Fiorini

What is the source of creativity? Is there some internal mechanism of subjective validation in the human mind that gives confidence to scientists and researchers to go against the stream and generate new ideas? The main ingredients in the process of creation are the acquisition of a virtue, the emergence of a new idea, and a commitment to that idea.

The process of scientific discovery is very similar to the process of spiritual subjective transformation. A study of Ruđer Josip Bošković (1711-1787), a Jesuit priest and a scientist from the former Republic of Dubrovnik shows that there is a close connection between scientific discovery and the process of moral development. One of Bošković’s principle characteristics was his relentless thinking sustained by disciplined mental efforts. Such an effort is required for a mental transformation.

Bošković also mentioned Reflexio as a method that guided him into the exploration of reality. Reflexio can be understood as active thinking on the correct process of reasoning, the ability to realize the limits of knowledge from our physical senses. It requires rejecting anything at its face value, and questioning everything. This prepares the ground for the emergence of a new vision or conceptual system. It adds another organ of perception by which the world is to be seen and investigated. It brings about a shift from objective knowledge to subjective knowledge. The anticipatory power of a scientist or thinker is not only be based on conscious choices that present themselves in the development of knowledge, but also on an experience that establishes a specific relationship between a subjective knower and the objective knowledge he or she believes to be true. It is this specific relationship that is at the basis of the mechanism of intrinsic validation of knowledge.

When we move from one paradigm to another, the reality of the first paradigm does not disappear. It is looked at differently. As Michael Polanyi said, we experience the world by integrating our subsidiary awareness into a focal awareness. Bošković explained that if there are two explanations that seem to contradict each other, there must be a third explanation that goes beyond the two and integrates both.

What gave Bošković his confidence and creativity was his mental structure, his way of looking at reality as if it were a living organism, not separated and isolated from the rest. Bošković studied the basic elements of reality not as separate objects, but rather as relations. This gave him a comprehensive view of the whole, which is essential for creativity and original thought.

Analogy, Metaphor & Symbol

M. Hytten, F. Brassard, J. Ramanathan

As we record and classify history into different periods, we see each period stands out for a particular theme, or, is a manifestation of one aspect or power of the human mind. Humans first learnt to communicate, then imitate nature, and then gradually gain mastery over it. But the broad focus of each period is limited to one idea, which was considered the ultimate answer to all our questions. All the ages, from the Iron Age through the Reformation, Renaissance, industrial revolution and globalization have each in turn largely focussed on one theme. It may have been ethics, religion, law, trade or science.

What we as individuals do in our daily activities is to simulate at a micro level the same way of functioning. We tend to think in a linear way, within a paradigm, narrowly focussing on one theme, to the exclusion of all else. Our academic institutions have divided and subdivided disciplines, and our research labs have delved deep into each compartment. But given the complexity of the issues we handle today, and the challenges we face, we clearly need something more, and different. Not our earlier methods of thinking and functioning, we need something that transcends the compartments. The symbol, metaphor and analogy are devices that help one transcend the limits of a narrow approach.

There are many ways of knowing that transcend the limits of mathematical or philosophical statements or verified facts. Symbolism, such as the symbolism of poetry, is one of the higher ways of knowing. Poetry can explain in a few words sublime ideas. It is not often that poetry is associated with knowledge, information, science or data. But the symbolism of poetry is a powerful way to communicate. In our education and training, we’re so focussed on facts, statistics, logic. Symbolism enables us to think wholistically and keep in mind the integrality of life.

The mind thinks and understands reality through forms. But often, the study of the forms becomes more important, and reality gets left behind. Forms are but shadows of reality, they do have their value, but they cannot provide us with all the answers. Plato talks about this in his analogy of the cave. He describes men chained in a cave, facing the wall. All that they get to see are the shadows of objects that are behind them, on the wall they face. Not having ever seen the real objects, they live believing that the shadows are reality. Plato used this analogy to show the importance of the subjective experience over empirical evidence.  Apart from describing our tendency to mistake the shadow on the wall for reality, Plato’s story also shows how an analogy can be used to describe a situation, phenomenon or a complex idea succinctly. Similarly, three words ’emperor’s new clothes’ describe a variety of people and situations, in a way that explains, entertains and makes a deep impression.

The analogy, metaphor and symbol are not quantitative, linear, logical. They are ambiguous. We try to cut out from our education and statistics all ambiguity. William Byers, the mathematician says that even mathematics is ambiguous, and that all creativity comes from ambiguity. We need to enhance the capacity of the mind to understand not only certainty, but also ambiguity. Tradition tells us that there is a higher knowledge, which we call wisdom. Symbols, analogies and metaphors can assist us in gaining wisdom.

Objectivity and Subjectivity

R. Fiorini. C. Blanco, M. Chandrasekaran, G. Jacobs

In 1933 Franklin D Roosevelt, FDR, became the President of the United States. He became President in the midst of the most severe banking crisis, the country had ever faced. After the Great Crash in 1929, more than 6000 American banks had failed and closed. Every day millions of Americans were lining up at the remaining banks, to withdraw their savings before their banks also became bankrupt.

During the previous three years, every economic policy initiative, thought to be relevant had been applied, but failed to stem collapse of the system. FDR had studied the principles of economics at Harvard. He knew that those principles of economics were inadequate to stem the crisis. He understood that the collapse of the system was the result of subjective factors,that could not be addressed at the institutional or policy level.

So, FDR addressed the people, the American people, on radio. He explained to them that all the objective factors, that had made America prosperous, were still present. The objective factors such as, the rich natural resources, hardworking people, huge industrial infrastructure and continental market were all still present. FDR told them that the real problem was not with any objective factor. The problem was with the subjective factor. It was their own loss of self-confidence and faith in America. He appealed to their courage and national pride.During that week legislation was passed instituting insurance on bank deposits and other safeguards. FDR asked the people to return to their banks on the following Monday, and redeposit their money. Once again, long lines grew in front of the banks. But this time, most of the people had come to, redeposit their money. The problem was solved. America was not saved by the objective factors. The subjective factors saved the country. The reality of the subjective dimension in economics, can clearly be seen in this case.

We are living in a world full of conceptual systems created by mind. Different types of economic systems, political organizations, religions, philosophies, and scientific theories are all examples of conceptual systems, or paradigms created by mind. A paradigm or a conceptual framework or a conceptual system is a distinct set of mental concepts or thought patterns, including theories, research methods, principles, and standards for what constitutes legitimate contributions to a field. We think in the form of thoughts, ideas, concepts, and facts. Organization of the facts and coordination of them generate thoughts.  Organization of the thoughts and coordination of them generate ideas. Organization of the ideas and coordination of them generate a Conceptual System.

A Conceptual System contains both subjective and objective elements. It is founded not only on external, objective facts, but also on subjective factors such as conscious and subconscious values, perspectives, and rules that process the external facts. In FDR’s example, rich natural resources, hardworking people and man-made industrial infrastructure are the objective factors in the Economic system. Faith, trust, confidence and courage are the subjective factors in the Economic system. Both are needed for a successful system. However, in many conceptual systems, only the objective factors are taken into account, as the policy makers did before FDR was elected.

Every conceptual system has the laudable aim, admirable aspiration to construct a system that would put man in touch with the perfect reality. But, being a product of mind, the system is limited by its own elements, characteristics, faculties and properties.

What happens when the elements of a Conceptual System, are taken for granted as true? For example, Newton said that absolute time and space are independent aspects of objective reality. His concepts of absolute time and space provided a theoretical foundation for Newtonian mechanics. Later his idea was challenged by other scientists.

In many cases, mind mistakes the system or just an aspect or an effect of the system for reality itself. For example, stock market bull run in 1929, was mistaken for a booming economy. The decision to withdraw deposits from banks, was mistaken by American people, for wise financial decision, which was actually leading the country towards disaster.

Economic growth means prosperity, is a good example of a limited truth, mistaken for reality. Today we have growth, combined with increasing inequality and environmental problems. They undermine the current living standards, and future potential standards of,millions, or may be billions, of people. Growth resulting from speculation, may be a formula for future disaster, as in 1929 and 2008.The modern world is influenced by modern science. The initial concentration of modern science on physical nature, was justified as a logical choice and practical necessity. The study of physical nature, is the study of inanimate objects, and subconscious life forms. They can only be observed, objectively in the external environment, since we have no access to their subjective intentions or self-experience.

The scientist positioned himself as an objective witness standing outside of nature, rather than as an involved participant, in the world he observes. Gradually the notion of objectivity, as the study of external objects, merged with the different notion of objectivity, as the absence of distorting personal preferences. The two different notions of objectivity, came to be regarded as one and the same thing. This led eventually to the philosophical premise that, reality consists solely of objects that can be studied objectively, and by extension that all subjective phenomena are secondary results of external causes.The word subjectivity also has two meanings, which have gradually become conjoined. Subjectivity is the psychological field of conscious human experience, that is not directly accessible to external observation. Only its behavioral expressions can be observed by others. This is the first meaning. Subjectivity is also used, to mean subjective factors contributed by the observer, such as preconceived notions, traditional beliefs, and superstitions prevalent at the time.In its quest for impartial knowledge of physical objects in the world around, the modern science naturally sought to eliminate this distorting influence. So the idea of subjectivity, as the psychological experience of a conscious individual, came to be regarded as an unscientific, and unacceptable form of evidence.
The modern science seeks to discover the truth, by the exclusive study of physical factors, that can be observed by physical senses and measured by material instruments. In the process the entire subjective dimension of reality, the dimension which distinguishes human beings from all other species, was subordinated to the objective dimension observable by the senses. Eventually it resulted in philosophical, scientific, social and economic efforts to reduce all non-physical phenomena solely to physical causes.The hesitation to accept the subjective factors along with the objective factors is a limitation to any system.  The failure of the policy makers before FDR can be attributed to their rejection of subjective elements. The old saying that ‘I will believe it when I see it’ acquired the status of scientific dogma, even when applied to aspects of reality beyond the reach of the senses. History is full of examples of great heroes that ‘believed it even when they did not see it.’ What Roosevelt did in 1933 may suffice to illustrate it.

Integration of Knowledge

C. Blanco, M. Neškovic, M. Chandrasekaran, G. Jacobs

Knowledge is the greatest asset of humanity, the greatest revolution in history. Every piece of knowledge, every truth discovered itself is a revolution. Given the vastness of knowledge we have, it is important from a philosophical point of view that we have an integrating idea that can help us unite and reconcile different perspectives and find unity, which is always one of the goals of human intellect.

In 2012, more data was produced than in the previous 5000 years of written history. And in the next three years, 10 times as much was produced. The exponential growth of knowledge demands an interdisciplinary reflection on how to integrate the different branches of the natural sciences and the humanities into a coherent picture of world, life, and mind.

Since the time of the ancient Greek civilization, the deepest truth has been ‘know thyself’. But today many wonder what philosophy can do in this world of exponential knowledge, it seems to have lost its place. The task of philosophy and epistemology is to find the connection between the different pieces of knowledge in order to draw this unitary picture.

Humanity has developed great theoretical pillars whose immense explanatory power is destined to contribute to the unification of knowledge, a goal sought by so many visionary minds throughout the centuries: fundamental physics, evolutionary biology and neuroscience.

The 20th century has therefore seen a formidable extension of the unifying power of the human mind. Major advances in the domain of the physical sciences have stemmed from the epistemological questioning of their basic concepts. Physics has accomplished the feat of condensing the structure of the universe in succinct equations. Biology’s theory of evolution unifies ecological, morphological, and genetic knowledge about living beings. Neuroscience is on its way to developing a unifying instrument of immense power and amplitude: the scientific understanding of mind. In addition to these tools, science is also in possession of the most rigorous and universal language that the human mind has developed: mathematics.

We have managed to expand the limits of our imagination. The borders of thought have been wonderfully extended, helping us discover unexplored territories of both the real and the possible. The evolution of the human mind and greater knowledge of how the mind works will help us make our logical categories flexible. Any advance towards the improvement of our logical categories and the unveiling of their possibilities, their elasticity and foundation, will provide the human intellect with new and more acute tools for apprehending realms of reality which until now have remained beyond the scope of our knowledge.

The world will surely never cease to amaze us with unforeseen wonders, and blessings for our intellect. But the richness and inexhaustibility of the world does not prevent us from identifying the fundamental principles behind its vast and astonishing nature. Our mind, our logic, our intuition…, must be in a constant state of improvement through their interaction with reality, so that the deciphering of the basic axes of the universe will also unveil the true possibilities of human intelligence, of its logic and its language.

Mind & Its Faculties

S. Brunnhuber, C. Blanco, A. Zucconi, G. Jacobs

A thorough knowledge of the anatomy, or mechanism of the mind is most essential to understand and utilize it optimally. It is very easy to get lost in scientific details or philosophical speculation, the study of the mind is a work in progress. All eminent scholars have one thing in common – they all have made statements that the parts and properties of the mind are evolving. This refers to cognition, emotions, behaviour, social intelligence, values, religion. This evolution is not random or linear. It follows steps.
There are two aspects of the mind, the inner and the outer. The outer refers to behavior, and the inner, to affection. As we develop both the inner and outer worlds, they increase in complexity as well as in consciousness. Depending on the level of consciousness, one perceives the inner and outer worlds differently.

A synthetic view of the Western psychology of the past century shows that it is a psychology of development. It has identified the early steps in life, and psychopathology. The contribution of the East is the identification of the later steps in life.

When we talk about thinking and reasoning, we are talking about something rational, analytical, inductive or deductive. The mind starts dividing, separating, comparing, contrasting, specializing as a semantic structure. The mind is perspective. It is always bound to the ego, to the individual. There is a lot of empirical evidence, especially coming from the East, that the ego state is not the last state in development of the human mind. It is only half way through. We are currently in the ego state, a very valid state that we are all using. Though it is very important, it is also very fragile, because the ego itself is so, it is unstable and transitory. There are mental consciousness states beyond the ego, that mystics have described. There are different states of the gravity of consciousness through which the human being can evolve all the way through, far beyond the ego.

Another property that characterizes the mechanism of the mind can be called the tragedy of the higher executive function. A unique capacity of the human mind is the capacity to envision, the power of planning, inner probing, anticipating the good and bad. We can think of something unthinkable, we can think of a utopia. We can think and execute an act, technology or lifestyle that is positive or negative. The downside of this is, we can create something that is also destructive. We can make up stories in our mind that create illusions of grandiosity, control and security, which do not actually exist.

We are able to produce a lot of psychopathology. Every mental perception that we have is not entirely based on reality, it is permanently biased by our psychopathology. Just thinking that something is rational is not proof that it is true. Our thinking is framed by priming effects.

The human mind operates through two systems. One is unconscious reasoning, which is implicit and automatic. The other is more conscious , explicit and controlling. Whenever we see another acting or experiencing, the same thing happens in one’s own mind as well. We are permanently mimicking others, whether we want it or not. We cannot stop that.

The mechanism of the mind also holds the key to happiness. If we want to be happy and content, we must harbor pro-social emotions, like empathy, forgiveness, thankfulness. If we want to stay in a satisfied, happy mode, it is better to give than to receive. The more one gives to others, the more one is likely to be happy. If we want to maximize happiness, and try to achieve that through tangible objects like assets, money, car, or house, there is a ceiling to such happiness. Joy without a limit is reserved for things intangible.
A right understanding of the mechanism of the mind is essential to work more effectively with the Anthropocene.

Deep Learning – Implications for Education

G. Jacobs, S. Brunnhuber, R. Fiorini, J. Ramanathan

In the Sherlock Holmes stories, whereas Scotland Yard looks at the apparent evidence that stands out and tries to make sense of it, Holmes looks beyond that, and his success is largely because he sees the totality of the whole. He moves from one paradigm, of seeing a part and trying to make sense of it, to another paradigm of seeing the entirety.

If knowledge grows by moving from one paradigm to another, what does it tell us about the way we learn or teach? Is there anything we can do to enable the thinking mind to move beyond the paradigm, to do consciously what Holmes seems to do intuitively?

Deep thinking is a creative process of changing conceptual systems. It is to have the insight to go beyond what exists and see something that is not there. Our logical mind is trained to see forms, we are trained to see what is there. Holmes sees what is there as well as what is not there or what is logically supposed to be there but is missing. So instead of focussing on what is, if we could think about all that could be, we go from a finite form to infinity. The element that gives sense to our speech, or beauty to music is the silence in between words or notes. If we spoke nonstop, or played key after key at a uniform pace, it would simply be noise. It is sound encased in silence that becomes speech or music. But our minds are tuned to hear the sound, and ignore the silence. When we move from hearing the sound to understanding the silence in between, we move from the finite to the infinite.

Deep thinking is the capacity to move from one conceptual system to another. This is a key in the evolution of knowledge, characteristic of great discoveries and works of intellectual genius. It is stimulated by incompatible and contradictory elements that do not fit within the existing framework. It leads to development of new conceptual systems which reconcile contradictions as complementary aspects of a wider truth. The willingness to embrace apparent contradictions and hold them in view seems to be a catalyst for the new formulation.

There are inherent obstacles to moving from one mental construction to another. One is our inbuilt quest for certainty. Once we think we have reached certainty, we are extremely reluctant to consider alternatives. There is also an inbuilt bias in favor of facts and arguments that are consistent with our existing premises. We like to think that we are rational, but there is a tendency to look for the facts that confirm what we already believe, rather than those that are inconsistent. We ignore them or simply do not see them, we pick out that which is consistent with our framework. There is a centripetal force that keeps us where we are, we like the security and comfort that comes from what is already known and familiar. It is by consciously breaking free of this force that we are able to move out of the existing framework.

Changing conceptual systems is a method by which deep learning occurs. Deep learning is person-centered, not subject-centered. It is only possible by independent thinking, not by collecting more information. Studying great intellectual discoveries and the resistance to them reveals the process of creative thinking. Mental individuality is required even for independent thinking. Individuality can only develop in an atmosphere freedom, it is not possible to coerce anyone to think freely.

In order to apply the principles of deep thinking and learning, it is better to first understand the conceptual system that we are in, and what its parameters are. Then a look at the conflicts, contradictions and inconsistencies is needed. What is it that this system does not handle well, what exists outside this system? One must think beyond the boundaries of the existing system. Identify the underlying values and premises which are implicit and make them conscious. Try to escape the gravity or the centrifugal force and see if there is another center or vantage point. Embrace the tensions of uncertainty and ambiguity, rather than try to avoid them. Is there any new perspective from which these ambiguities may be resolved. What would be a new conceptual system, and what would be its values, assumptions and boundaries. Answers to these questions will enable us to move from our old conceptual system to a new one.

Limits to Rationality

S. Brunnhuber, A. Zucconi, C. Blanco, N. Stehr

Intelligence Quotient, genetics and the psycho-social construction of the mind apart, the internal property of the mind itself is limited. The way we think is bound, or limited in itself in a number of ways.

We always start thinking within frames. Whenever we think we have made a rational decision in our life, the truth is we have made a risk-averse decision. If one is promised $500 now, or a 50% chance of receiving $1000 a week later, one usually chooses the $500.

Forms of identification influence our thinking. There is an Indian story about a man who wants to catch a monkey. He fills a jar with a narrow opening with nuts. When the monkey sees it, it puts its hand inside and grabs the nuts. But it cannot take the hand out because the fist is filled with nuts and it will not let go of them. The mind functions in this way. It is always stuck or identified with something.

One’s outlook is determined by one’s level of consciousness. The ego state that we are all in is only a transitory fragile state. There are states before and states after that. The world can look coherent from inside the ego state, but that is only one of the many ways of seeing. When we change the level of gravity of consciousness, we change the way we look inside and outside.

The prevalence of mental disorder in Europe and US is 29-30%. With mental disorder in a third of the population, when we talk about limits of the mind and limits to thinking, we have to take into consideration potential psychopathology.

Counter transparence is the idea that when one starts thinking, responding, or reacting to others, a part of this response is affected by one’s own biography that one is not aware of. We transfer or project our biography on others.

How can we overcome these limits to our thought process? One way to break out of rigid mental frames is by creating an atmosphere that is conducive to brainstorming. If the group one is in is not judgemental, one can overcome the limitations and identifications, and recorrect one’s own mindset.Mindfulness is another way. The psychology and neurobiology behind meditation, yoga, mantra, the Catholic rosary, Shaolin and Sufi dancing are the same. The idea of repetition enables one to break free from one’s preconceived, rigid, mental framework and move to new conceptual systems.

Ways of Knowing

Z. Radman, R. Fiorini, S. Brunnhuber, F. Brassard

We are educated according to a binary schema. We hardly entertain a doubt about facts and formulas, or question the validity of logic and rationality. These are habitually associated with scientific reasoning. On the other hand, we also have emotionality, imagination, expressiveness – topics connected to artistic creativity. Our education and training teach us that these two sides have very little in common, and that in order to be scientific, there should be no intrusion of the softening impact of artistic creativity. It is time to break this stereotype. Mental processes are continuous, bi-directional, and involve both the objective and subjective aspects of our mind and thinking.

“The whole man counts”, said William James, and ‘Mind is more than consciousness” said John Dewey. The physical body has a significant role in the working of the mental faculties. Higher mental processes are acquired by the body. If a pianist starts to think about how his fingers move when he plays a piece, he will either be unable to play, or his performance will lack melody. Similarly for a surgeon, pilot or anyone who is involved in complex actions is not involved consciously in every minute mechanical aspect of his task, some of it is ingrained subconsciously and performed automatically.

Conversely, the human subjective element determines the information the physical senses obtain. Images that contain optical illusions can be interpreted in more than one way. There are images that can be seen either as a young lady’s profile, or an old woman’s face, staircases can be seen to be either descending or ascending. Our perception is not passive. The eyes do not automatically see and the brain does not impartially interpret. We are always actively involved with the content of our perception. There is no one way of seeing the world or anything in it. We see according to what we know, expect or feel. We fill in the details that we do not see with our senses. One who is not educated or trained in music hears a piece by Mozart or Wagner very differently from one who is knowledgeable in classical music. When footsteps are heard, one who is afraid may sense the approach of danger, while another hears only the sound. Our cultural interpreter is always with us, interpreting what we see and hear. With our mental and emotional faculties, there can be no approach to reality neutrally.

Experiments have shown that it is easier to solve mathematical problems when one is free to move one’s hands around and gesture, instead of when one’s hands are immobilized. It is also found that walking boosts creativity. So even the simply mechanical task of walking improves the mental faculty. Contemporary cognitive science recognizes and respects the connection between the physical and higher intellectual functions.
We are active beings,constantly changing our surroundings, building new tools, creating music and art, and changing the world. What sets humans apart from all others species is our capacity to deal with and conceive of what is not immediately present to the senses, by means of symbols. We speculate, make sense of fiction, imagine.

We are capacitated to do more than we can perform through logical propositional mental processes. Science and art can no longer be considered as rivals. They are two different types of symbolic languages. The creative scientist has much in common with the artist and the poet. Logical thinking and analytic ability are necessary attributes to a scientist, but they are far from sufficient for creative work. Those insights in science that have led to a breakthrough were not logically derived from preexisting knowledge. The creative process on which the progress of science is based operates on the level of the subconscious.

The “aesthetics of science” is not an oxymoron. Science does not become less objective when it takes on things other than proven objective facts, it only makes it more human.

Paradigm Change & Deep Thinking

I. Šlaus, W. Nagan, A. Zucconi, C. Blanco, T. Tóth

The UN General Assembly unanimously passed an agreement called Transforming our World in 2015. Transforming involves change. It means a change in status quo. A close look at change, what is to change and why, and how to change it, are essential.

Knowledge of physics tells us that even when we seem to be sitting still, we are actually moving very fast. We move along with the earth around the sun. We are moving even faster with respect to the center of our galaxy, and faster still with respect to what could be described as the center of our universe. So the entire concept of motion, and similarly of change is always in a relative sense. So even when we think there is no change, there could actually be quite a lot of change.

Change can be of three types, incremental, revolutionary or paradigm. What we need today is a comprehensive paradigm change. When the representatives of 193 states met at the UN General Assembly, they understood the importance of transforming the world. We have considerably destroyed our natural capital, and are continuing to do so further. Any ecological footprint, or measure of human impact on Earth’s ecosystems, above 1 represents a scenario where we use more resources than are being renewed. Our footprint is now at 1.4, and by 2030, will be over 1.5, a very serious situation. We are dangerously close to destruction of civilization. As Gandhi said, there is enough to satisfy human need, but not enough for human greed.

The UN resolution has listed 17 goals, such as eradication of poverty and hunger, universal education, full employment and elimination of nuclear weapons. These are the very themes that the World Academy of Art and Science has also been working on successfully for many years.

Change vs. Status quoHistorically, there has been an expectation that law is meant to provide for stability in human relations. Lawyers have attempted to achieve human stability through rules, because rules are unchanging, they stipulate the conditions and the consequences and this has shaped legal thinking for centuries. There has always been dissatisfaction with such a method because it is based on the idea that lawyers can change social relationships without actually admitting that social relationships are being changed. Such an admission is difficult because change has always seems dangerous.

From the earliest of times, whenever lawyers tried to change things, their liberty and lives were at risk. The great Roman lawyer Ulpian was murdered because he curtailed some privileges granted to the Praetorian Guard. Time and again, change makers have been subjected to danger. Even though law is not an endless repetition of the past, it is about doing something more, this has always difficult for lawyers to admit. The Oxford School formulated a legal ideology explicitly rooted in stability in rules. While they admit of some discretion in the changing of human dynamics, this is very grudgingly conceded. So we have a model of the law that is an eminent justification of the status quo.

But the practical problem of continuing along the lines of the status quo is that we may fall off a cliff. So something more responsible needs to be done. In the latter part of the 19th century, creative lawyers in the US considered the problem, ‘How do we understand the relationship between law and change?’ One of the ways in which they sought to tackle this problem was through seeing the law from  the point of view of the ‘bad man’. What that means is that we can have change without it being ‘contaminated’ by the subjectivity of morality and ethics. Essentially what the bad man was then, is today the model of neo-economic liberalism. The bad man isn’t interested in morality, ethics or public good. He is only interested in whether or not it is good for himself. This has been a pervasive feature of American capitalism and law. That has been one of the models of change that implies that law and economics can be based independently of the public interest. This has resulted in depletion of natural resources, even human labour becomes expendable in this context.

During the World War, it became apparent to Harold Lasswell, one of the founders of WAAS, that law had to be in a more responsible position in the social order. Law cannot be separated from public interest. In such a scenario, education of lawyers requires education in public interest, it had to engage in the discourse of values, morality and ethics. This ran into a major technical problem in terms of relations between science and morality. Hume, the Scottish philosopher said that you cannot have any meaningful statements that implicate the ‘ought’. So one of the challenges in law and other social sciences is to how to bring science and values together in a process that enhances science, values and public interest. Law grapples with the effort, however imperfectly, to generate consensus about common interest of mankind and value principles  such as universal human dignity.

All moral and legal systems come in pairs of complementarity, and it is this clash of complementarity that generates insights for the further development of law. When you start with a precedent, you go to a rule, then it ends up as a principle. From there, it becomes doctrine, standard, and morality.

The great challenge to sustainable development is the radical inequality generated by mere political economy. Inequality destroys freedom of opportunity, capabilities, human capital, and undermines development. Law is an expression of choice and policy. When we recognize that, we have a better chance of formulating and directing public interest.