Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Extraordinary Gift of the Mind:Part-4

Continued from Part-3

13.    Learning

The Mind can form new structures and new programs via interactions with its environment. Learning is a result of action and perception engraving new structures in the Mind. Learning results in new knowledge, and also affects subsequent actions and perceptions. Learning happens all the time, conscious/deliberate or unconscious/automatic. Better learning takes place if a particular experience is repeated frequently, because repetition strengthens the mental structures. Impermanence ensures that less frequent exposures erase the impressions and knowledge formed, if any (aka Forgetting).

All experiences result in some kind of learning, however, novel experiences cause more learning, obviously. When there are no structures, everything will tend to form a structure, and that becomes the base. When a baby is born, all his experiences are novel and an immense amount of learning happens, most of which is automatic. So now we can appreciate why it is necessary to learn things at an young age that cause positive outcomes. The experiences gained in childhood form a foundation, and that can result in anything from a sage to a criminal [1]. 

The auto-learning fades with time, everything gets old and eventually learning almost halts in old age. We have discussed learning before on the topic of programs. The kind of learning we are going to discuss here will be deliberate learning, and that’s what I mean by this term henceforth.

Auto-learning is not fool-proof, it sometimes causes false/partial knowledge and forms beliefs. At some point one must step in and intervene in the process, make it more conscious and more aligned to one’s path. When we learn deliberately, we can ensure that the knowledge we gain will be of some use, and will result in happiness and freedom rather than suffering. There is a choice in what one can deliberately learn. This is important because you do not want to waste your time in learning useless things. Learning takes resources and time, so it must be optimized. We will leave aside the question of learning skills that are related to mere survival, so choose anything that you are interested in and that which facilitates your journey, not hinder it. So what is there to learn? Simply speaking, learn that which you lack. For example, if you suffer from a short attention span, it’s the thing you lack and there is your opportunity to learn it, improve it. Learning starts with attention, as we have already seen. So that needs to be sharpened before one can start learning something non-trivial.

I recommend making a list of your shortcomings that are causing hindrances on your path and tackle them one or many at a time, whatever works. Prioritizing helps to weed out things that are less important. For example learning to dance or to play an instrument (can take years) should be of a lower priority than learning to control your anger or fear. The former will only amuse you while the latter will liberate you from suffering. Similarly, learning a dead foreign language is less useful for your survival than learning a programming language.

Learning depends on interest and if you are not interested in something (even if you know you lack it), then you will not pay attention to it and learning will not happen. Secondly, learning involves repetition, it takes time, and it is necessary to devote time. Not having time for self-improvement means that there will be no improvement. A teacher or books are very helpful, however the information gained from them needs to be converted into experience in order for the learning to take place, else you merely become a storage medium for information. Intellectual storage of information does not change one's behaviours or abilities.

Journey towards the Self is mostly a process of unlearning rather than learning. It is a deductive process. Knowledge acquisition causes dimming of the light of the Self, unlearning or destroying knowledge results in unveiling of the Self. So why learn? What happens is - learning provides tools to complete the partial knowledge and to weed out beliefs and unwanted programming, which helps in the unveiling. The whole mega-structure of the knowledge is then pushed aside and the Self shines brightly, un-occluded by the Mind. There is no going back from here. Now you can freely switch from the Self or the Mind or the body into each other without losing your marbles. This is freedom, this is Liberation.

You could simply destroy all knowledge (if it is at all possible), but then you’d simply become pure Presence again. The Experiencing never stops, so the Fundamental Process kicks in again, knowledge builds up quickly, and you are back to the square one. Moreover now you have destroyed the valuable knowledge and skills gained so far, which could have easily unveiled the Self and settled you into equanimity. In effect, you have totally ruined the process of self-discovery [2]. Not fun. The overcoming of the knowledge must be done using knowledge, this is the trick [3].

14.    Logic and reasoning

Being essentially algorithmic, the Mind naturally has the ability to perform logical operations and can process inputs in a rational manner. Performing logical tasks involve clearly defining meanings, rules and assumptions, premises and propositions, hypotheses and theories, defining the relations between entities, and drawing valid, verifiable, falsifiable and consistent conclusions [4]. It is debatable if everyone has perfect logical ability built in, but everyone generally can “see” the logic when explained. This shouldn’t be a surprise because understanding (as discussed before) is based on logic and reasoning. The Mind has a natural tendency to understand, given its primary task is creation of knowledge and understanding.

“Contrariwise,' continued Tweedledee, 'if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Rational thinking is one of the greatest achievements of human mind. All mathematics and sciences are a result of it. Sound logic is the foundation of mathematics and sciences. There should be no doubt that logic is of utmost importance in the study of the Self too. Without logic and reasoning, we are destined to be lost in the never-never land of the Self and the Mind. Logic is like a bright torch that shows us the way. Adopt logic and discard the illogical. That said, logic and reasoning has some limitations (because the Mind is limited), and mere logic cannot provide you any knowledge. As we have seen before, and I’m not tired of repeating it again and again, knowledge only comes from experience. What logical ability can do is, it helps us to organize the knowledge and provide clear and consistent understanding of the matter under scrutiny, that’s all it does. But that’s of immense importance, because without understanding, there is really no value of knowledge.

Once there is an experience, it is organized into structures called knowledge by the Fundamental Process, which being evolutionary in nature, produces algorithmic structures. So logic is embedded into the fabric of the Mind. Its no surprise that electronic logic circuits can perform the same logical tasks that we can, they are essentially the same. The physical world is also a product of the Fundamental Process, and is very well organized with clear rules. We study these rules under Physics, and again, not surprisingly, the physical rules are logical and algorithmic (mathematical) in nature, just like the Mind (especially the rules of macro world, a statistical result of probabilistic micro world). So that answers the age old questions like – Why human minds are capable of logical reasoning? And why does physical world conform so nicely with mathematical models? Well, they are essentially the same !

Fractals : Purely mathematical structures that look like physical ones.

The Mind does a good job of creating understanding using its built in logic, but when the knowledge is partial, it tends to make errors and forms beliefs instead, that totally fail the test of validity and consistency. Sometimes the survival related programs get hold of it all and produce a totally illogical result, however, it is only apparently so. Mind never makes a mistake, it does perfectly the thing that must be done. So if it thinks that it is more important to preserve itself (or the body), it produces perfectly logical results that are consistent with the survival issue it is facing. For example, buying a lottery ticket is an irrational act, borderline stupidity, given the odds of winning. So why do people buy the tickets? Mind, being logical like a computer, should instantly spit out the result that the odds are negligible, and should abort that act, but it doesn’t do that, if left to itself. What the Mind is doing here is answering the question – “Do you want money or not, a million of it?”, instead of answering the question – “What are the odds of winning here and should I go and work hard to earn instead?”. The logical answer to the question (first one) is of course yes, and so the act follows. The person thinks that what he is doing is optimal, when in fact, his mind is in grip of a survival program, of which he is totally unaware of.

Another example that is more social than mathematical is as follows. Many people (usually young ones) prefer to marry a beautiful person instead of a compatible person. Sounds like an illogical decision. Yes, it is, but that is not because the Mind is not working logically, it is because the Mind is processing a survival instinct (aka program), and it is doing it logically, it can’t do it in any other way. What happens is that, physical beauty, being an indicator of good genetic makeup free from diseases and flaws, an indicator of perfect health, is being perceived as a good chance of reproduction and eventual survival of the offspring. This program, as you can guess, is deeply buried in the Mind. It is a result of millions of years of experience with what works best. Beauty is a reflection of perfection in our minds. Therefore it is perfectly logical for the Mind to go for it. Of course, it may not result in a happy married life, because that was not the concern of the Mind, it gave a 100% weightage to survival.

Ah, so where is the trouble then? The trouble is that one is not engaging his logical ability consciously, and the programs in the Mind get a free reign. Again, we see the importance of being conscious and aware. Mere logical ability is of not much use, it has to be aligned with your goals, your path. A perfectly logical decision is not a guarantee of perfect happiness or freedom. Once you define your goals clearly, and impress them on the Mind, the Mind, like a good servant provides you with a consistent and logical answer. Garbage in = garbage out, even if your Mind is a perfect computer.

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.”
― Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Man is a rational animal, is an old saying, but we hardly see the rationality in the world around us. We see the world is in a mess that makes no sense. Even those who apply logic very strictly, such as military organizations, or corporations, end up causing great harm. The reason is – logic here is in the service of ignorance. The same logical processes when applied for positive goals would make the world a wonderful place to live in. This provides an answer to the age old dilemma – whether science (a product of logic) is a boon or a curse. So we need a meta-logic over the plain logic to decide what is good. It is the logic of the Self, if you will, which is greater happiness and freedom. When initialized with these parameters, the Mind produces right answers.

"Nothing is more dangerous than strict logic—which is not quite sure of its premises."
~Woods Hutchinson, A.M., M.D. (1862–1930),
Civilization and Health, "Chapter I: The Diseases of Civilization," 1914

What happens if one does not use logic in his path towards knowledge? The results are often fatal, one regresses in his path instead of progressing. Yes, the goal is now perfectly logical, but may be you are using no logic to reach there. For example, some people, while they correctly set the goal for greater knowledge, fall into the trap of rituals, believing that the rituals or magic sounds etc are going to bring them knowledge. It is a case of failure to apply logic. One must understand, first and foremost, what knowledge is needed exactly. Then what ways are possible to get it, what experiences will provide it, and what reasonable experiments can be arranged to get that experience. The results, when analysed and seen logically should be consistent and verifiable, else your process does not work. It may feel good for a while, but soon you will lapse into suffering. People do not do it, simply because it is too much work. It is a hard task to learn to think logically and clearly, to learn the skill of Critical Thinking and to apply it in one’s practice. It is easy to believe in a ritual and perform it mindlessly [5].

It is a must that one sharpens the skill of logical and rational thinking, seeing clearly its benefits and its limitations. Build up a meta-logic to govern the goal-less process of pure logic, and give it a direction that is aligned with your path. Question everything and put everything under the strict regime of logic. Draw your conclusions and test them, then test them again. Find errors and correct them, till you reach a solid place. Stand on the solidity, and reach out to the unknown again from there, rinse and repeat, and you are then assured of reaching your goal. There is no other way, there is no magic, there is just hard work, experiment-conclude-learn-repeat. This is a hard science. If you are serious about it, learn the basics of knowledge acquisition, that is, deliberate, conscious, logical organization of experiences [6]. I can assure you that your progress will be superfast.

Once the premise is set, new statements can be derived from it via logical operations. For example, one can say if a certain statement is true or false, or in other words, if it is logically consistent. No matter how you look at it, or arrive at it, it will hold (or will not hold, if false). This is the logical Truth. It is undeniable given the premise. There is no other truth that I know of. Isn’t it "true" if it is my experience? No, it is just an experience, a premise, if you state something based on that, then you can evaluate that statement in terms of true or false. It is absurd to call an experience as true or false, it just is, it forms the basis from which true or false statements can be derived.

“Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.”
― Voltaire

The funny thing is that one can set any premise – e.g. one based on experience, or imaginary, or impossible, and then can built up any number of true and false statements about it. For example, when a number system is defined, and the operations on it are defined, then one can derive the entire arithmetic from it. You can define an imaginary system, and can still derive totally meaningful true statements. These need not correspond to any of human experiences. The whole mathematics is nothing but such statements, some based in experience and most not. For example, a 5 dimensional space can be defined and perfectly true statements can be made about it, but such as space is not in one’s experience.

Experience form the foundation of true statements, they are not truth themselves. If you need to know how consistent an experience is (in other words, is it true or not), then the consistency must be evaluated from some other premise, not the experience itself. If you try to do that, you will end up with absurdity or infinitely self-referential statements that go nowhere, make no sense, and are beyond logic. For example the famous statement – Let S be a statement such that, S = “This statement is false”. Now it is impossible to conclude if S is really false, because if it is true then it is false and vice versa. It is referring to itself. What are some other things that refer to themselves? That will be a good question to ponder on if you need to kill some time.

No, no, you're not thinking; you're just being logical.  ~Niels Bohr
If you define something that never changes as the truth, then everything that changes becomes false, that is - not consistent with your definition. Some wise men define the Self as the only truth, because it is the only thing that doesn’t change, it is outside the Experiencing, the latter is just another name for the change. At some point the notion of truth loses its value, and things must be experienced as they are. The Presence does not care about truths, nor does the Self. Experiencing is not concerned with generating “true experiences”, there is no such condition there, it does whatever comes out of necessity, which is seen as the Fundamental Process by the Mind. The Mind is concerned with the truth, because it needs to organize knowledge consistently. An inconsistent structure, is no structure, it falls before it is formed. Whatever the Experiencing does outside the limited scope of the Mind, is the great unknowable, and no true or false statements can be made about that, no questions can be asked, because it never becomes an experience.

Reality is a term that is often used as a synonym for the truth. So the generally asked question is – What is real? What is the reality? It should be clear by now from above discussion. It is not a very useful question. Define something real and it becomes that, then go on adding things that you want to call real to your concept of reality. Does it make any sense? It means the number of realities can be equal to current human population. What does it do? Well, if it does do anything for you then go ahead, create your own reality, it seems that is in fashion these days. In my experience, all it does is form beliefs. Beliefs that are now wearing the mask of knowledge. I’ve learned not to ask such questions, and take the experiences as they are, if they are useful, use them. Arguing about the reality is a waste of time.

“Reality is frequently inaccurate.”
― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe



[1] Parents please take notice, babies are not there for fun. Bringing up a child is the most responsible thing that a parent is ever going to do in his life. Period. People do not know the immensity of it all. Fortunately it is not compulsory to reproduce and a sane person will not do so if he has chosen a superfast lane on the road to freedom. So the obvious question is – Will it stop you from achieving your goal if you choose to have a family and kids? Not necessarily, but perhaps it will delay it. Oops... I already got babies, now what? Don’t be so serious. If you are on the right path you will know what to do. (More on that later). Right now, I’m very thankful to all those who are taking great pains to keep the human species alive.

[2] This explains why suicide is not a shortcut to liberation. It cuts short the process and is like pressing a reset button. Ancient sages have labelled suicide as the greatest sin one can commit, greater than murdering other humans and animals (Does killing for food and self-defense make these actions not a sin? It is debatable, remember there are always consequences.) So I’m sorry to say there is no free lunch. Stay alive and continue with your practice.

[3] And this is the purpose of the Mind, and having a human experience in a physical body. If you insist on finding a purpose for it all, here is the answer. But I’m sure this answer does not satisfy, it brings up more questions. Perhaps there is something wrong in the question itself. Try not to think about everything as necessarily having a purpose. More on that later.

[4] Going into details of what logic is, is beyond my pay grade. So I recommend good books (they will be heavy). Internet is a good option for a quick glance, e.g.

[5] I’m not against rituals and this is only an example. Those who know what a ritual is, will understand its significance, because it can be very useful, but only if you know what it is, and are not merely performing it like a robot.

[6] The Scientific Method is one such possibility. . Note that there are no absolute truths in Science, only derived logical Truths, that are derived from theories or models. If someone tells you that a thing is true according to science, then probably he has no idea what science is. Can there be other methods of investigation? Can there be more refined and better methods?

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