Abhijit Naskar

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How Understanding Neuroscience can improve our lives | Abhijit Naskar on Voice America Radio

Join Dr. Alise Cortez and Abhijit Naskar on Voice America Radio as they have a delicious conversation on How understanding Neuroscience can improve our lives.

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Listen now here:
www.voiceamerica.com/episode/106914/how-understanding-neuroscience-can-improve-our-lives

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The Peace Talk | Abhijit Naskar

Neuroscientist, Author and Speaker Abhijit Naskar addresses the world on Peace and Harmony.

Meditation beyond Traditions – An Interview

Psychotherapist Serge Prengel interviews Abhijit Naskar on Meditation and Mindfulness.

This conversation is available as a video, as well as audio only here www.activepause.com/naskar and a printable PDF transcript.

 

Dr Diane Hamilton Interviews Abhijit Naskar

Dr Diane Hamilton, MBA Program Chair at Forbes Business School, Interviews Abhijit Naskar on Neuroscience, Religion and Social Issues.

How the understanding of the brain can change our lives

People often ask me – what is my work about? I tell them – I study humans – I study how they think, how they feel, how they behave and why. This answer probably would induce another question in your mind, which is – “how does this apply to my personal life?” So, the real question here is – how does the understanding of the mind, which essentially is the understanding of brain functions in a large scale, can effect and change human life? How can the understanding of the mind be applied by the lay-person – the non-scientist, in his or her life, to live better, with friends, family and co-workers?

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These are the questions, which I attempted to address in one of my works, entitled “What is Mind?” I concocted various thought experiments to elucidate answers to such questions among other philosophical ones? So, in this piece, we are going to take a look, at two excerpts from the book, which are most appropriate in this context. First let’s bring up an excerpt to shed some light on how our behavioral capacities and traits can alter radically based on internal and external conditions.

Excerpt 1 from What is Mind?:

Imagine yourself having a fight with your romantic partner. The tension of the situation makes your limbic system run at full throttle and you become flooded with stress hormones like cortisol and adrenalin. The high levels of these chemicals suddenly make you so damn angry, that you burst out in front of your partner saying, “I wish you die, so that I can have some peace in my life”. Given the stress of the situation through highly active limbic system, your PFC loses its freedom to take the right decision and you burst out with foul language in front of your partner, that may ruin your relationship. In simple terms due to your mental instability, you lost your free will to make the right decision.

But when the conversation is over, and you relax for a while, your stress hormone levels come down to normal, and you regain your usual cheerful state of mind. Immediately, your PFC starts analyzing the explosive conversation you had with your partner. Healthy activity of the entire frontal lobes, especially the PFC suddenly overwhelms you with a feeling of guilt. Your brain makes you realize, that you have done something devilish. As a result, now you find yourself making the willful decision of apologizing to your partner and making up to him or her, no matter how much effort it takes, because your PFC comes up the solution that it is the healthiest thing to do for your personal life.

From this you can see, that what you call free will is something that is not consistent. It changes based on your mental health. Mental instability or illness, truly cripples your free will. And the healthier your frontal lobes are, the better you can take good decisions. And the most effective way to keep your frontal lobes healthy is to practice some kind of meditation.

So, you see, what you feel when you are angry or sad, or desperate, may not actually be the baseline emotional state of your individual mind. Taking that into consideration, you can take necessary precautions to prevent your angry outburst from ruining a certain relationship with another person. Now let’s look at one of the most significant thought experiments from What is Mind?, which actually depicts the real life benefit of the understanding of brain functioning. I named this thought experiment The PMDD Conundrum.

Excerpt 2, A Thought Experiment from What is Mind?

The PMDD Conundrum (Thought Experiment, What is Mind?, 2016)

Mental health influences your decision-making ability regardless of your experiences. However, experience is what makes you better at making the right decision in a given situation. Here the term right only refers to your subjective perspective of the choice. To explain how experience alters one’s free will,let’s carry out a little thought experiment in the context of two different scenarios.

CONTEXT 1

Imagine yourself to be layman with no notable awareness of biology. You start dating a woman planning a long-term relationship. Every month right before her period starts, she gets extremely cranky like all menstruating women. However, she tells you that she has a rare medical condition called Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder or PMDD, which is the extreme form of PMS. You have already heard all about women getting agitated during their PMS, so you think that it is just the same. However, in time things get real stressful. Every month during those days, she would turn into a completely different person. And one time, she gets so agitated that she bursts out – you are the worst decision of my life. Naturally, it feels beyond acceptable to you. You are a human after all.

You cannot ignore such behavior any more. You start perceiving every single insulting word from her mouth to be true. It seems that it is what she really feels. You start getting upset beyond tolerance. And after several of such intense insults from her during those days, you realize that you don’t deserve such nonsense. You have no practical idea of what PMDD really is, so you perceive the insulting and violent behavior of your woman to be extremely inappropriate. So, one day you simply go ahead and tell her – you are nothing but a psychopathic maniac who just likes to hurt people. I think it’s time we ended things. Here, due to the lack of deeper understanding of what PMDD really is, your lay brain makes a decision based on your limited perception and needs, that you need to end the relationship.

CONTEXT 2

Now let’s run the same experiment in a different context. Imagine yourself to be a person with a hobby of reading a lot of Science books, especially those connected to the mind. You like to learn new things. Now, you get into the same situation and the same circumstances as mentioned earlier. But, here when your girlfriend tells you about her condition after the first month of outburst in your relationship, you get really curious. Previously due to your curiosity you have already learnt about the basic biology behind PMS and how it affects the female psychology. So, hearing about PMDD, you don’t only feel responsible but also very intrigued to learn about it. You feel the urge to know how can such a cheerful person turn into a completely different human being, almost like a beast?

And as you start reading, everything begins to make sense. The first thing you realize is that, PMDD is nothing like the common PMS that almost every girl faces. It is the extremely violent form of PMS, which is very rare. Due to the intense hormonal storms of PMDD inside a woman’s head, her cognitive reality changes drastically during the pre-menstrual days. You start to realize what your woman has to go through every month, due to her condition. A man can never even imagine in his wildest dreams how such storm feels like.

PMDD leads to the worst of hormonal mood swings. Every month during these days she turns into a completely different person filled with hopelessness and gloom. As soon as the tides change she comes back to her real cheerful self. It is this condition which makes her say the things she would never say in a lucid mental state.

You begin to understand that for most women with PMS the hormonal changes are manageable, and they are able to somehow keep their agitation to themselves. But for your special lady, the story is different and quite unmanageable. Most weeks of the month she is brainy, creative, enthusiastic, cheerful and optimistic, but a mere shift in the hormonal flood on certain days makes her absolutely hopeless about the future, about herself, about your relationship and basically about everything that she can think of. On those days her inner instability forces her to hate herself as well as get irritated at every single action you take. And the most fascinating thing about her mental state during that time is that the hopelessness caused by hormonal imbalances feels so damn real to her that she literally perceives it as the everlasting reality of her life. The utter hormonal turbulence completely transforms her cognitive reality from a cheerful one to a gloomy one. It constructs an altered state of consciousness, in which she becomes a different personality filled with nothing but hatred and rage.

She becomes absolutely blind to all the cheerful moments of her life. And she gets so restless that she explodes with insulting words towards you. Over time, you learn that the best to do in this situation is to do nothing and just be there with her. And every time she gets cranky, you simply learn to remain patient and unaffected by her words. Every month, once the hormonal storm wears off, she comes back to her original sunny state. In time, you grow more attachment for her, and she even becomes fonder of you, because you are always there for her, even when she is mad as hell. Thus, you don’t ever feel to leave her, rather together you stay forever and beyond.

ANALYSIS

In both contexts, you had two available options to choose from – leave or stay. Yet, you made totally opposite decisions in exactly the same circumstances. The only thing that was different is your understanding and experience.

In the first context, you were a layman with a general view of the world. You perceived everything in a generalized manner, with no further need of your own to explore and have deeper understanding of a phenomenon. Hence, when it came to decide whether to leave or to stay in the relationship, your brain made the decision based on your generalized understanding of everything, and you willfully preferred to leave your woman in the pursuit of a better prize, with less crankiness.

In the second context, you had a better grip over natural phenomena. Moreover, you had the curiosity to understand things, in a better way than the general public. And your understanding allowed you to try seeing the world from your woman’s perspective. And the more you tried, the better you became at being next to her when she needed you the most and hated you at the same time. You got experienced at it.

Naturally, the thought of leaving her, never occurred in your mind. And even if it did, you brushed off as the spur of the moment. Because your PFC already had sufficient data on the situation to analyze and come up with a positive outcome. Your experience here served as the very foundation, of your willful support towards your woman.

Each emotional impulse, each thought, each behavioral expression, has a neurological basis. Understanding these bases can redefine how we look at a person, how we look at a certain behavior of that person, how we look at a certain emotional impulse or behavioral expression of ourselves, and then to choose whether or not to accept it as our usual characteristic. And this very looking can change how we see our lives, how we live our lives, and how we see the world which we live in. In this looking lies the true key to contentment. In this looking, lie precious jewels of graceful living.

 

 

Recommended Reading

What is Mind?, 2016

For Speaking Engagement Inquiry or Consultation Inquiry, email at naskarism@gmail.com

Meditation is a method-less act

I want you to do something today. I want you to get rid of all the things that you have heard about meditation so far – everything – all those things about focus, attention, sitting upright, closing your eyes, focusing on breathing, sound, this and that – everything – even the things that you have heard from me. Let’s try it shall we! Let’s start afresh. Let’s take a fresh look at meditation. What is Meditation? Forget everything you know about meditation and simply think. Meditation simply means – thinking over – to think over something – to put your whole attention on something without pressure – anything. That is the simplest explanation for meditation. Meditation is simply thinking over.

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Today meditation has become a kind of hectic practice where you sit upright and do a lot of breathing exercises, this and that – and they call it Raja Yoga, Vipassana or something else. They need to call it that way, because this way they can keep it mystical. And the more they can keep it mystical, the more they can gain from it. Simplifying it doesn’t make the whole business of yoga, meditation and all that, profitable, does it!

So let’s simplify it, shall we! Meditation has been proposed as a means to psychological well being – and that means usually comes along with specific methodologies. The Buddhists have their Vipassana technique – the Hindus have their Kundalini nonsense. I am calling it nonsense because of all the mysticism it brings along. The mystical advocates of all that kundalini stuff, truly believe that there are actual energy centers throughout the human spine, and by unlocking them one could attain glorious spiritual potential. The Hindus also call this method of unlocking the kundalini centers of chakras, Raja Yoga, as if its something supreme, and not an ordinary mental state to be attained by an ordinary human. So, when the very practice of Raja Yoga proposes the notion, that it is something not ordinary, and basically unattainable without a teacher – that it is something higher than normal human practice, you naturally feel like you are supposed to go to an expert. This makes it profitable. Hence rises countless spiritual institutions upon the edifice of the primitive elements of human mysticism.

Now let’s throw all that mysticism away and look without judgement and preconceived mystical illusions of intellect. Meditation simply means focusing on something, thinking over something. Now the question is, do we need to sit upright and practise meditation the conventional way – closing our eyes, focusing on breathing or chanting or say Aum and going through a million other rituals! Is it necessary? Well, if it suits your taste then of course it’s okay – nobody is condemning it. It will bring you obvious health benefits, surely. But it’s only the way of the novice, also the most robotic way. Meditation means thinking over. But think over what? Do you have something to think over – something that you’d just think over, simply to take the pleasure from it – to simply be yourself in it – anything – a practice, a habit, a hobby, an idea, anything – something you can think over without any pressure of technicality, ritual or norms – that you can pay your whole attention to, simply because you love it, not because some great so-called guru tells you to practise it or some great scientist tells you to practise it! Do you have something like that – do you – anything – painting, writing, going out for a walk of contemplation, filmmaking, photography – any human activity that you can engage yourself in, without all the pressure that comes along with the very term “method”!

When you love doing something, there is no method, there is no risk, there is no fear, there is no insecurity of failure, there is just doing it. You just love it and do it. Often we also use the term “passion”, but I think, the word “passion” is a petty human attempt to justify the activity in front of the society. Why do you need to justify it! You simply love it and you do it. When you love it and do it, you are basically meditating upon it. And when the humans have something they love to do, and they do it, which means meditate upon it, they give a certain amount of time from their daily schedule to that activity, not out of pressure, not out of the insecurity of psychological obscurity, not out of a revolting attitude against the social norms, but simply to be themselves in that activity. When you do that on a daily basis, or find time to do that every now and then, every week, you are basically engaging your brain almost in the same manner as anybody else does in practising the conventional way of meditation – sitting upright, closing their eyes and focusing within. The brain functionings in both cases are basically similar – and they bring the same kind of inner emotional stability, same kind of inner content more importantly – basically the same kind of internal well being, which is sustained in the long run, if you can simply do what you love to do on a regular basis. This way your brain goes through a kind of unique refreshment – that basically is the product of meditation – the simplest meditation – meditation upon the activity that allows you to be you.

Meditation is a method-less act – an act of contemplation – an act of being. And this contemplation or this being is not a buddhist thing, a hindu thing or a jewish thing – it is simply a human thing. No pranayama, vipassana or kabala has any kind of exclusive authority over meditation whatsoever. All these ways are merely the means of the novice to begin the journey. But the means is not the real act itself. Seeing the method of meditation as meditation itself, is like confusing the menu for the meal. The real journey takes place when there is no means whatsoever – when the self does not need to make efforts to be the self – that’s real meditation – the meditation where you simply are who you are and do not seek methods to attain a superficial state of mind.

If you find something you love and make that your profession, then you’ll never need to practise the conventional meditation in your life, in order to be psychologically well, because your very profession would be the best meditation for you. If you don’t exactly have that dream profession, then simply taking time out from your daily schedule to do what you love to do, would still be a better meditation for you than the conventional one. And if none of these is an option for you, then you can resort to the conventional form of methodical meditation. The final call on this matter, would be made by nobody else but you. But bear in mind, kids meditate on things, the adults meditate on the self. Meditation on the self is the highest form of true method-less meditation, for it brings self-awareness – which is beyond the everyday joy and sorrow. True meditation does not put you in control of your sorrow, rather it takes your mind beyond that very sorrow, as well as joy, into the kingdom of contentment – a kingdom without ideology – without cognitive extremes, such as radical rationalism, radical romanticism or radical emotionalism. In that kingdom, you simply are a human, with no name, no nationality, no tradition, no culture, no religion, no gender and no social image – simply a human.

(Simultaneously published on Goodreads.)

Further Reading

Abhijit Naskar, In Search of Divinity: Journey to The Kingdom of Conscience, 2017

Biology of Kundalini Awakening

Human mind is without any doubt the most advanced and complex organized biological structure on this planet. It is the house of all your ambitions, emotions, feelings, thoughts, curiosity, and everything that makes you who you are. In fact, you are your brain.

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And in this brief article you are about to go back in time with me, to encounter something that your ancestors came up with, a few thousand years ago. They constructed a method to tap into their brain, and make it more productive than ever. This method is what you know as the Awakening of the Kundalini Chakras. In time, through interpretations, translations, and reinterpretations, this method got more mystical than it was in the first place. People with their personal ideas and beliefs made this simple system of self-development an ultimate tool in the hands of fanatics to exploit the vulnerable masses.

This system was born in the ancient India, as a method of mental exercise. There was no religion involved in it. It was just like any other ancient scientific discovery. Except here, the land where the method was born, itself made it look like an exclusive possession of the domain of religion.

When you google, Kundalini Chakras, you find millions of picture with a person sitting in a lotus position, with seven bright mysterious chakras or spindles spreading through the spine. The first thing here a rational human being must know is that, all these pictures are mere exaggerated imaginary artworks. They have nothing to do with reality. They look attractive, Yes. And that gives the fraudsters in the profession of ancient mysticism means to exploit vulnerable people. But in reality, kundalini awakening is anything but that.

The seven spindles of Kundalini Awakening, represent various mental states during the practice of plain meditation. And that’s it. There is no mumbo jumbo involved. When you practice meditation, your brain goes through various neurochemical changes, and these changes put an amazing and quite beneficial impact upon your mind as well as your body. That is, practice of meditation on a regular basis makes you more healthy, both physically and psychologically. I have discussed this whole matter in minute detail in my book Autobiography of God: Biopsy of A Cognitive Reality.

So, in short, the spindles that you see in any picture of Kundalini Awakening, are simple symbolic representation of various mental states. Those pictures are not to be taken literally. So, what exactly happens, during this so called awakening process?
Through this process, mind simply transcends from your usual state of consciousness into an extraordinary one. I am calling it extraordinary, because, it is by all means an extraordinary domain of pure bliss. It is the state what all of the religious founders of human history experienced. And you can do the same, without any Gurus and Preachers. It is right within you.

In various cultures throughout the world, this transcendental state of consciousness has been worshipped, with utmost reverence, because of its fascinating features. And the ultimate state of the Kundalini awakening is this. This transcendental state of consciousness is represented as the highest of the Chakras. The Sages of India, whom I prefer to call Scientists, termed it as the Sahasrara Chakra, which means the Thousand Petaled Lotus. We modern age Scientists simply call it the Crown Chakra.

Passing through all the mental states of the six other chakras, which are respectively called, Muladhara, Svadhisthana, Manipura, Anahata, Vissudha and Ajna, when you finally enter the Crown Chakra state, you start to lose all touch with reality. First comes the loss of physical awareness, then you cease to identify yourself with the mind. All these happen due to the inactivation of various regions of the brain. Then finally, your entire sense of self, or which you call ‘I’ disappears. And a whole new world opens up in your mind. You literally get immersed into the universe.

This is what different cultures have termed in different ways, such as, Nirvana, Samadhi, Advaita, or the Non- Duality state. Notice that all of these happen inside your own mind. And you are actually not going anywhere. Rather your brain has gone into a state where everything seems surreal and One with you. And this is achieved simply by the practice of meditation. Long-term practitioners of meditation eventually learn to attain the Crown Chakra state on a regular basis. And as a novice, even if you don’t reach that Crown chakra state, you still come out of the meditation as a healthier version of you both physically and mentally. Many of our neuroscientific studies have shown that practicing meditation on a regular basis makes the brain healthier. And a healthier brain gives rise to a healthier mind with more emotional control in all walks of life.

(This Article was originally published on Goodreads)

Further Reading
Abhijit Naskar, 2016, Autobiography of God: Biopsy of A Cognitive Reality
Abhijit Naskar, 2016, In Search of Divinity: Journey to The Kingdom of Conscience