Thinking about Thinking

There was this wonderful talk by Dr. Subodh Shenoy from TCIS-TIFR Hyderabad at my institute last Friday. We had been informed that he was going to say something on “how the mind works!”; and this was totally out of the league as far as lectures to Physics students are concerned. But it was an informal talk before the actual Physics stuff he was going to present in the afternoon. Anyways, all of us being interested in human psychology (at some level of our consciousness), attended the half an hour talk with great enthusiasm.

The very first thing that made my jaw drop was the title he wrote on the blackboard: “Thinking about Thinking”. So wow, what was he going to talk about? He started with describing how a baby adapts to its new environment after being born, as we would if we are dropped at some other planet. He suggested this book by Dr. Alison Gopnik called The Scientist in the Crib, which says how a baby has a mind akin to that of a scientist, as he performs all his actions and interactions based on a certain logic that develops inherently, and that nobody has taught him. (If anybody can get a hold of a copy of this book please let me know.) But a baby is predominantly born with this certain type of mind whereby he can be in his own world of imaginations, where nothing tells him the impossible from the possible. Dr. Shenoy called this higher dimensional faculty M2, while the one that governs our day-to-day activities and logical steps as M1.

Prominent as it is, with the growth of a child M1 starts ruling over M2 in such a way that it is not easy to invoke the latter frequently. M1 tells us to join the race for success and monetary gain, and in the course of our lives, we very conveniently learn to do our part in academics, pass examinations and earn a secure livelihood. In fact, a person can live on happily with only M1 at work, and therefore is likely to miss out on the ecstasies M2 has to offer. A relevant point made in the discussion was that, till their masters, students can very well survive by using M1, but when they enroll for PhD, they are compelled to call upon M2, which refuses to show up easily.

In order to avoid misinterpretation, I would like to mention that M2 doesn’t imply frivolous Utopian daydreaming. It is something that allows you to float up the z-axis, and look down on your two-dimensional planar M1-dominated mind in a holistic way, such that you can identify the roadblocks that get you stuck in the x-y plane. All the major scientific breakthroughs and literary masterpieces are a result of the proper invoking of M2.

What is to be done is not letting our M2 fade away with time, as we don’t know when we would need it. If Einstein would have relied on Newtonian mechanics, relativity wouldn’t be born; he took this Levy flight to show that Newton’s laws are but a limitation of the higher truth that is special relativity. Of course we are not any Einstein, but just for the sake of making our existence worthwhile, even if we are not scientists or artists or writers, we should exercise this capability of undergoing a paradigm shift.

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