Cognition - The Legacy of Descartes
by Robert S. Vibert
A long time ago, in a land not so very far away, a guy named Rene dreamt up a phrase that has served us greatly and at the same time caused a major shift from which we have yet to recover. He said "I think, therefore I am", or "Cogito ergo sum" in Latin. Dubbed the "Founder of Modern Philosophy", Descartes certainly contributed a lot to modern thought.
However, we humans, once we get thinking, seem to have a strong tendency to over-simplify and take things to extremes. An example of this is the distortion of the text "All wrongdoing can be traced to an excessive attachment to material wealth." which is found in the writings of the Apostle Paul and is often shortened (incorrectly) to “Money is the root of all evil.” Why the key concept is left out of the common expression, that of excessive attachment, I'll leave to others to decipher. For now, this is an excellent example of how easy it is to lose sight of what is actually being said and how ideas can become very distorted and end up expressed in manners that are actually very different or even the opposite of what they were originally.
Another example of this is the common American expression "I could care less", which really means "I couldn't care less about the subject we are discussing" but has been abbreviated and has become the opposite expression. I've even heard it further abbreviated to "I could care", which is another meaning altogether. And, while I'm riding this hobby horse, ponder the meaning of the organization called the "High Tech Crime Unit". While the people who work there are actually law enforcement folks, it certainly sounds more like the title you'd give to an organization that conducts high tech crime, not one that fights it.
So, back to Descartes or more properly, his notion that if one thinks, one exists. Taken on its own, this notion is not so hard to swallow. The real problem has arisen in that westerners have taken this notion to extremes and this has gotten in the way of having healthier lives. We focus way too much on thoughts and our minds and not enough on the rest of our selves.
Much of modern psychoanalysis is based on discovering the why behind something we do or feel. It is a thinking exercise, for which one can spend many thousands of dollars and hundreds and hundreds of hours. Once one finds a "reason" for acting in a certain way or feeling "X", one can then devote more time to reframing it, understanding it, etc. etc.
If we consider for a moment that we humans are more than just our brains / minds, then we might discover that solving problems using only our minds and thoughts is a limited approach. Yes, there has been a lot of research of late showing the mind/body connection, but most of it focuses on how we can change our body by "harnessing" the power of our "subconscious" mind. Think weight loss, stopping smoking, breaking free of addictions, and similar applications of mind over matter.
Fortunately, some research has pointed out the opposite type of effect. Putting a smile on your face, even if you do not feel like smiling at the time, will usually effect a change in mood. Try it now. Wait, before you start to smile, write down on a piece of paper how good you are feeling on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest score. OK - now start. Hold it on your face, the smile, that is. Notice if you are feeling more like smiling or anything else. For most people, this simple physical act will effect a mood change of some sort, usually towards a more positive frame of mind. This shows the mind/ body connection which flows in the direction of body to mind.
Other research, based in part on the theories of the much-awarded biologist Dr. Lynn Margulis, indicates that the eukaryotic cell (basic human cell) is a symbiotic union of primitive prokaryotic cells - the cells in our body are the result of a cooperative marriage of a group of simpler cells way back in the primordial soup. These cells got together and formed a super-cell which incorporated all of them - and we can see this by looking at the specialized functions of the organelles inside the human cell. Each of the major bodily functions that we find in the human body is replicated in each and every cell - reproduction, taking in raw materials, building cell components, converting energy, and releasing by-products, etc. etc.
What's all this biology got to do with thinking and Descartes? Quite simply, if each of our cells is actually a modern version of a compilation of what used to be separate simpler cells and if each of these cells had some level of consciousness before it joined the primordial human cell group and got absorbed, then what is stopping us from having multiple awarenesses inside ourselves? Each of these originating cellular organisms could have maintained their awareness/ consciousness after they joined the human cell.
For example, have you ever noticed how "one part of you" wants to do something and "another part" doesn't? If your heart is breaking over a loss, is your mind able to think clearly? Do you ever listen to your "gut" instinct? These are all signs that you are more than just your mind.
Another example is when people study meditation, they are often told that "they" are not their thoughts. They are shown how to observe their thoughts. So "who" is observing their thoughts? Could it be one of the other awarenesses inside them?
This essay is about the problem of looking for cognition, so rather than go into more detail about this theory of multiple awarenesses inside us, I'll just point you at the book on Peak States of Consciousness by Grant McFetridge that explains the theory in more detail. You can also check out the research done by the folks at HeartMath, where they have been investigating the consciousness of the human Heart. And, in yogic traditions, they talk about the five koshas, or layers (Physical, Energy, Mental, Wisdom, Bliss), which also is suggestive of different consciousnesses.
The problem of focusing on cognition first
Even when we know what was the cause of a problem, we have not actually solved it. If we "know" that we are sad about today's situation because we never healed a wound we suffered when we were a child, this cognition/ understanding does not itself resolve the issue or heal the pain, and might be totally wrong anyway - it is just what we are able to think about the problem, at that moment in time. It is not uncommon for us to draw one conclusion about something one day, and another conclusion several weeks or months later.
If the real source of the problem was, say, the body's fear of dying, all our mind can do about it is think about it - it cannot feel it the way our body can. The same applies to the feelings in our heart - our mind can think about these feelings, but does not experience them. If you cut your finger, thinking about the bleeding and the physical act of covering it with a bandage are not the same thing.
There is a connection, but stopping the bleeding by using only our thoughts is something beyond most of us (and I suspect that those that can do this are not using their minds to do it anyway - they are not thinking about the healing needed - they are just connected to "whatever" will actually do the healing.)
So, using only our brains / minds to "understand" a wound does not effect change, in and of itself.
On the other hand, there is a great role for the cognitions that arise, after an emotional wound has been healed. Using regression-based, fully associated healing like the Whole Hearted Healing method, as explained in the Whole Hearted Healing Manual, one can regress back to the earliest incident of a "wound" (usually starting with an emotional issue), stay fully present with that wound until it heals, wait until one feels Calm, Peaceful, and Light and then, waiting for just a little while longer, receive a cognition about the "wound".
This cognition may take the form of a thought or a feeling. Whatever form the cognition takes, it will arise naturally, without mental effort and with less likelihood of the mind distortion that comes when we try to reason things that involve body sensations, images or emotions.
Thinking - the Booby Prize?
Our world has prized thinking for quite some time now. We are taught to seek out cognitions concerning our problems first and foremost, and then to try to fix what is wrong by somehow applying these cognitions to our lives. The best we can hope from this sort of approach is that we temporarily disassociate ourselves from a problem by escaping from the pain we feel into thoughts which may distract us. How many people who "know" that eating healthier would benefit them, for example, actually take that knowledge into account when confronted with some delectable? Given the size of the weight control industry (no pun intended), I would hazard a guess that the number is rather small.
Given that we are now becoming more and more aware that thinking about a problem is not the same as fixing it, and that we harbor inside us multiple awarenesses / consciousnesses, it may be time to modify our problem-solving approach to one that addresses the multiplicity of the elements of which we are constituted.
With the guardians of the "talk-and-think-yourself-well" brigade, therapists and counselors, being sued for lack of results and sometimes even harm caused to patients, and an ever-increasing interest in techniques that resolve issues using energy-based methods like EFT and fully associated techniques like AER, the groundswell away from Rene and his narrow focus on just one of the parts of a human whole is appearing on the horizon.
Copyright Robert S. Vibert January 2006 all rights reserved.
First published on www.real-personal-growth.com