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The popular concept and practice of science as an exclusively objective exercise ignores the study of rich and unavoidable subjective phenomena relating to mind. This article proposes that as a process of generating knowledge from perceptual experiences, science-skill is innate to man, which demands precision and effective management of bias, and relies on faith for communication. It manifests in man along two dimensions, one of precision and the other of need and interest. Two more dimensions influence its practice and communicability. This dimensionality accommodates scientific study of diverse human experiences, including religion and spirituality. Evolution of scientific study of mind requires complementing the existing objective techniques with development of techniques for investigating subjective and intuitive experiences. It would also benefit by borrowing concepts and methodologies from ancient Indian philosophies and spiritual practices. Swami Vivekananda's observations are presented in this connection.
Popular concept of science is modelled upon physical sciences, which rely exclusively on objective data. Recent interest in studying anomalous phenomena, mind, consciousness and the like, has facilitated the emergence of investigative techniques to study diverse subjective data.
It was over this background that, in the mid-1970s, I had an opportunity to demonstrate to sceptical psychiatry residents that practice of psychotherapy follows hypothetico-deductive model of science, just as does the rest of clinical medicine. During those decades, psychotherapy out-come studies were highlighting the importance of such subjective phenomena as confidence, motivation, faith etc., suggesting that science cannot afford to ignore these predominantly subjective entities. Here, and in subsequent text, the word ‘faith’ is used only in the sense of complete trust or confidence on the basis of authority or assumed correctness. At that time, I realised the dimensional quality inherent in science in relation to the objective-subjective nature of phenomenal data. For example, the physical sciences deal exclusively with data generated from objective, physical events. Psychology and psychotherapy deal with both objective and subjective or experiential events. At the other extreme is the study of those phenomena like telepathy, consciousness, whose data are predominantly subjective experiences.
Over the years, my understanding of science evolved into a set of simple principles and concepts that could integrate both objectivity and subjectivity, faith, and spirituality into the fold of scientific enquiry within its standard hypothetico-deductive frame-work. This article is a brief description of these principles and concepts divested of complicated and controversial issues, with a view to stimulate further debate on these issues, without attempting to answer all the questions. They are arranged in the following order:
Relevant statements of a renowned Indian saint-cum-scholar, Swami Vivekananda of the 19th century, are quoted as and when appropriate as representative of paradigms from Indian philosophy#.
Philosophy of science reveals the following three characteristics of the skilful practice of science:
There is also a quantitative dimension to the number of variables that influence a phenomenal event in a given discipline. For example, the number of variables influencing a social event are more, and virtually impossible to control by experimental designs. In such instances, a large amount of precisely recorded descriptive data, both cross-sectional and temporal, are essential.
Recent findings in developmental psychology, in humans and animals alike, demonstrate the natural emergence of science-skill in infants and children, a few examples of which are recorded below:
These findings suggest that man is hard-wired for a scientific manner of acquiring knowledge irrespective of what he chooses to study. The mental process that happens in the mind between intentional perception and the consequent knowledge involves scientific process.
In other words, man has innate science-skill.
An obvious question is how to explain the wide variability in its manifestation in man. In this section, I propose a few concepts to account for and explain this variability based on common observation. In man, the innate science-skill manifests along two wide continua, the dimension of precision, and dimension of need and interest. In addition, the practice of science is influenced by a dimension of objective-subjective nature of phenomena. Besides, people vary widely on yet another dimension -- ability to make sense of what is observed and communicated. Each of these dimensions follows Gaussian distribution, just like all natural phenomena or any other human ability.
Two events in my life narrated below exemplify this problem of understandability of subjective experiences. The first was on a morning in 1951 when my mother narrated to me her dream the previous night in which there were two large trees, and one of them fell down. She was apprehensive about the life of my cousin brother in the village, 40 km away. We two cousins were the only surviving boys among the male descendants of our grand-father. The same evening, a relative from the village brought the news of my cousin's unexpected death the previous night. The second event occurred one night in October, 1963, when I was sound asleep in an Air Force barrack near Allahabad. I got up suddenly before midnight with a sense of vague dread, but could not recollect any dream. This dread continued the whole night. Next morning, around 10 o’clock, I received a telegram that my father had died early the previous night at my native town 1500 km away.
The events reported above may not make any sense to those who have not had similar experiences. But, for those who have, they are comparable to objective data. There are abundant research reports on such phenomena in journals of Society for Psychical Research (www.spr.ac.uk/) and American Society for Psychical Research (www.aspr.com/). Bem (2011) has recently reported proof of such phenomena.
A curious fact of human life is the inseparableness of mind and subjective experiences, which cannot be observed by others as objective events. Here, replicability of subjective experiences in different people at different times accords them the same degree of credibility as objective observation does in physical sciences. Therefore, the science of mind must necessarily include subjective experiential events as data within the framework of its scope and develop suitable technology to study and analyse them. In this respect, the characteristic of repeatability/replicability constitutes an important component of science of mind. The role of this replicative credibility as a component of scientific corroboration is described by Singh and Singh (2003).
This repeatability/replicability contributes to the scientific basis of spirituality, as well as to faith in science, by the credibility that ‘given the same conditions, the same events will repeat.’ This is the basis of faith that is hidden in science (Knight, 2005). This faith is the basis of common man's faith in science. Moreover, scientific communication is impossible without the scientist's faith in it. Thus, science and faith are inter-dependent in the field of scientific knowledge.
This repeatability/replicability is also the basis of the science of Rajayoga in the sense that whosoever practices Rajayoga according to its teachings will be able to perceive and experience states similar to those reported in the past by others who succeeded in doing so.
Another facet of the objectivity-subjectivity issue is reflected in an old adage, “objectivity is commonly agreed upon subjectivity”. In this context, it is interesting to note that the standard concept of ‘objectivity’ in science is what has been commonly agreed upon by consensus among a large body of eminent philosophers of science and scientists as an essential requirement in scientific practice. Hopefully, a similar body of experts in future may also accord equal status to subjective data.
Currently, the study of mind is being practiced in two independent directions, as if the two bodies of knowledge are incompatible. The first concerns studies in conventional psychology whose research trend is heavily weighted towards brain and behaviour. The second concerns studies of such anomalous phenomena as ESP, telepathy, reincarnation-type cases, mind-matter interaction etc., and their investigators are busy refining their investigative techniques.
Both these streams have kept their distance from yet another stream, the science of mind, perfected over millennia in India by practitioners of Rajayoga, as quoted earlier by Vivekananda (1992d). He also said:
All our knowledge is based upon experience. What we call inferential knowledge … has experience as its basis…. (truths taught in all religions) are the results of the (direct) experiences of particular persons… The teachers all saw God; they all saw their own souls; they saw their future, they saw their eternity, and what they saw they preached …What right has a man to say he has a soul if he does not feel it, or that there is God if he does not see Him? (parenthesis added; Vivekananda, 1992e)
What is required now is to integrate all the facts, concepts, and techniques of investigation available in the three streams of knowledge mentioned above by cross-fertilisation. Moreover, concepts from Raja Yoga and related philosophy are capable of explaining the phenomena in the other two streams of psychology.
A few examples are provided below in respect of mind-body relationship, energy like nature of mind, and the scientific nature of Rajayoga as a form of spiritual practice.
With the exception of the (immaterial) Soul, the rest is all material, but the mind is much finer matter (than the rest). The material of which the mind is composed goes also to form the subtle matter called ‘Tanmatras,’ which become gross and make the external matter. Thus, between the intellect (inside) and the gross matter outside there is a difference in degree. (Vivekananda, 1992f)
For example, sage Vasishta (Mitra, 1891) says “…body is the creation of the mind …” The concept of grossness-subtleness in Indian philosophy can be analogously understood as: ice being grossest and water-vapour being subtlest. That is, the mind and physical body are on a continuum of degree of subtleness, explaining psychosomatic relationships.
Vivekananda said in the 1890s,
The whole of this universe is composed of matter and force; … everything that we call matter, solid and liquid (and even gas), is the outcome of one primal matter which Sanskrit philosophers call ‘Akasha’ or ether; and the primordial force, of which all the forces that we see in nature are manifestations, they call ‘Prana.’ It is this Prana acting upon Akasha, which creates the universe. It is this Prana by which we breathe and by which the circulation of the blood goes on; it is this energy in the nerves and in the muscles, and the thought in the brain. All forces are different manifestations of this same Prana, as all matter is a different manifestation of the same Akasha (Vivekananda, 1992g).
This description is analogous to currently debated Big-Bang theory of Cosmology, with its empty space containing fields of energy, eventually evolving into observable material universe etc. This concept of Pranic energy in mind can explain many phenomena ranging from ‘will-power’ to mind-matter interaction, even ‘placebo-effect,’ and the mind's field-like properties, evidence for which has begun to accumulate. For example, a review by Jahn et al., 2007, demonstrates the effect of intent on random binary sequences. Concept of ‘will’ is used by Lohne and Severinsson (2006) reporting about patients with spinal cord injury. I have earlier (Shamasundar, 1999) described the field-like qualities of the human psyche.
Rajayoga is a popular method of spiritual practice for achieving self-realisation by direct experience, through control of the mind. It is described in a simple and lucid manner by Vivekananda (1992h). I find that the pattern of essential facts and concepts that emerge from the above description has similar counterparts in the well-recorded biographical accounts of saints like Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Paramahansa Yogananda, and Lord Buddha. This pattern also fits in well with the hypothetico-deductive model of science as formulated below, offering a paradigm for future consideration:
For the purpose of developing the science of mind in an integrative manner as explained earlier, consideration of the following factors is essential:
Further development of science of mind requires development of techniques of recording and analysing subjective experiential data. Core features of ancient Indian spiritual practices like Rajayoga do fit into the standard hypothetico-deductive model of science. Its theoretical concepts and investigative techniques can be useful as new paradigms for scientific study.
Graduate of Mysore Medical College, served in the India Air Force. Post-graduation in psychiatry in the UK. Faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at NIMHANS, Bengaluru, from 1976 to 1995. Currently, a parttime consultant psychiatrist at Maiya Multi Specialty Hospital, Jayanagar, Bengaluru. Research: (i) Coordinator in ICMR multi-centre research project of training primary physicians in psychiatry; (ii) Member of a coordinating team in WHO sponsored multi-centre ICD-10 field trials; (iii) One-year research sabbatical to study ancient Indian concepts relating to mental health. Research interest: psychotherapy, philosophy, philosophy of science and spirituality. Publications: (i) about 36 communications in national and 6 in international periodicals; (ii) 9 chapters in 8 books, of which 4 are published abroad; and (iii) a bi-lingual book on proverbs relating to health
I am grateful to Prof. H. Sharat Chandra, Emeritus Professor at Indian Institute of Science, and Director of Centre for Human Genetics, Bengaluru; and Prof. B.V. Subbarayappa, Project Coordinator and Secretary of National Commission for History of Science in India, New Delhi, for kindly reviewing earlier draft of the this paper and offering valuable suggestions. I am thankful to the reviewers for making valuable suggestions, many of which I have incorporated, though some I could not.
Conflict of interest: None declared
This is my original unpublished work, not under consideration for publication elsewhere.
CITATION: Shamasundar C. Science of the Mind. Mens Sana Monogr 2012; 10: 109-121.
# In response to the advice by a reviewer to critically evaluate Swami Vivekananda's observations, may I explain my reasons for not attempting to do so. It is on two counts: (a) Firstly, I am not fit to evaluate them, critically or otherwise. I am using his statements: (i) in the same sense as we quote the opinions of any reputed expert/researcher, that we may consider as a paradigm to think about; (ii) just like that of any renowned scientist in the discipline of spirituality; and (iii) as I believe them to be true. Whoever has done the spiritual practices that Swami Vivekananda did, will have the authority to critically evaluate his statements. For example, consider Kurt Godel's ‘Incompleteness Theorem.’ Anyone who knows and is familiar with the mathematics used by him will be competent to critically evaluate his conclusions. Rest of us are free to accept or reject his theorem. (b) Secondly, of course, one does not have to believe Vivekananda. And, there is always scope for any reader to publish his dissent about this, and any other, published material