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

Consciousness is indeed rocket science

A tired brain says all kinds of stuff – but none of it, is the actual intention of the individual. If your wife is extremely upset during the hormonal storms striking her psyche before menstruation, she may most vocally proclaim that she does not love you any more, or that she is tired of you – but the hard reality beyond the momentary hormonal impulses is that those words are nowhere near the actual truth. Now let’s turn the situation around. If your husband gets extremely angry for some reason, and bursts out saying that, you are the greatest mistake of his life, this does not mean, that it is exactly what he feels in his lucid state of mind. And that my friend, is the complexity of human consciousness.

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Human consciousness is not at all as simple as you think. Yes I have said previously on my works that it is the simplest phenomenon on earth, but that statement would only make sense to you if you have actually studied the human brain. Otherwise, you would either take our word for it, or completely refute it, deluded by your culturally passed on barbarian idea of soul and afterlife and all that non-sense of our tribal days.

Human consciousness is the part of the mind which we are actively engaged in. And human mind is not what you think it is, that is, it is not a fixed system. It is a relentlessly changing virtual system, created by electrochemical interactions among the neurons of the brain. Billions of neurons talk to each other through the language of neurochemicals, and voila! We have a sense of being, i.e. a sense of mind. Now here, many new readers of my work have put forward the argument, that we neuroscientists are talking about a magically appearing mind or consciousness out of a bunch of neurons. Recently, somebody referred to it, in the comments sections of one of my articles, as “neurostupidity”. While accepting that I am stupid, and I try my best to become less stupid over time, this attack does not bother me the least, but what does bother me is that these people deem traditionally passed opinions as more important than empirical research of modern science. They think, because those beliefs are a part of their tradition, they must be true. What kind of barbarian logic is that! If one says that it is stupidity for us neuroscientists to say that consciousness is a product of neurons and it does not come from the heavens, because one does not understand it, then it is completely fine, and we scientists would do our best to make the matter as easy as possible. But if one says it’s stupidity, because it does not abide by the traditional wisdom of their forefathers, then I am afraid, it is that one creature who’s stupid and still is living in the barbarian days of ignorance. But the point is, even ignorance can be resolved, but not illusion of knowledge.

“Shallow intellect is worse than ignorance. Ignorance can be treated with knowledge, but shallow intellect, that is illusion of knowledge, is untreatable and quite dangerous to the progress and wellbeing of humanity.”

― Either Civilized or Phobic: A Treatise on Homosexuality

To have a real insight, not just theoretical understanding of how the mind is born through physical activity of neurons, an individual must go through decades of research on the human brain. Without this laborious endeavor, no human can truly realize – truly, genuinely realize, how the neurons create the mind. I am talking literally seeing this fact, as clear as one sees the sun and the moon. And this non-conflicted seeing cannot happen, even if one simply listens to a talk by a Neuroscientist for an hour. Yes, we Neuroscientists can bring up various examples, to illustrate how the brain creates our perception of ourselves and the world, and this may make you a bit able to see this rise of consciousness or to a broader aspect the mind in the brain, but it will still not make you see the way we the scientists of the mind see it. It’s a matter of deep revelation, not just about theorizing and conceptualizing. And, I am in no way saying that we are smarter than you or any other layperson. But the only difference is in our engagement in the matter. While we wake up, while we sleep, while we eat, while we walk, we are relentlessly, thinking about various elements of the human mind. I cannot be sure of other scientists, but at least I function this way.

If one wants to have the confident awareness of how the mind is born in the brain, one must go through the pains that a scientist takes in order to study decades of research on the matter and scrutinize them very closely. The alternative is to take our word for it – by our I mean, the majority of Neuroscientists, Psychologists and Psychiatrists. To avoid the intellectual ordeal, you can depend on us, and that may make things clear to you, but it will still not be a complete understanding of the mind. Like it or not, there is no easy way here. Trying to understand the origin and nature of consciousness without actually arduously studying neurobiology, is like trying to understand quantum mechanics without actually studying physics.

Now the point is, people would most willingly accept that quantum physics is something that they don’t understand, but when it comes to the mind or soul, or consciousness, they would most neurotically proclaim that they know everything, because various traditions throughout the world have passed on their imaginary perception of this concept as a form of divine wisdom. And it takes huge courage and curiosity to actually see that those so-called perceptions were nothing but imaginations and opinions formed in the absence of real empirical understanding of the phenomenon which we scientists call the mind, and the ancient people called soul. This makes me think of the very nature of scientific understanding.

Science or scientific understanding begins not with the knowledge of something, rather with the actual acceptance of our ignorance of that phenomenon. You only begin to understand something truly, when you accept that you don’t know anything real about it – when you accept that your ancestors did not hand over to you actual knowledge, rather they handed over their imaginary stories to you. So, the first step towards actually, genuinely, truly, and least subjectively understand the rise of the mind in the brain, and its true nature and features, is to let go of your so-called traditional or cultural ideas on this issue. If those ideas indeed do have even traces of truth, you would discover them for yourself, once you truly start to understand the phenomenon.

Consciousness is indeed Rocket Science. To understand truly, how it is born from electrochemical activity of neurons, one must take the pains that we scientists take to study it. If you don’t have that kind of time and patience, then the easier alternative for you is to rely on the opinions of us scientists, that is the majority of us. But, be aware, no matter how desperately we scientists attempt to clarify this issue for the understanding of the general population, we can only give an overall perspective on the neurological origin of consciousness, but that perspective could never be an actual revelatory insight. So, the choice is yours – either do the study yourself, or rely on our works, or be a deluded idiot and take traditional beliefs as fact.

(Simultaneously published on Goodreads, Apple News and TopBuzz.)
Recommended Reading

Put God first, but don’t boast it

Belief in God – that is what we will naively discuss in this piece. And the focus is of course on being naive, because it is the first criterion to understand a phenomenon truly with its real fundamentals. One cannot understand something, if one is already filled with predominant conditioned beliefs, opinions and ideas. So, let’s look at the belief in an Almighty Concerned Entity or Force, with literally, not theoretically, naive eyes. If you have read my works, you’d know that one statement is pretty prevalent in most of them. It is “belief is a self-preservation mechanism of the mind.” Here, the belief I mentioned is not necessarily of religious type. The belief in this statement refers to all sorts of belief, not just religious. However, in this piece, we are interested specifically, in the belief in a supernatural entity.

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But why? Why am I talking about it exactly now? Because, I was scrolling through my youtube feed, and came across a video of some actor, shouting out “put God first”. The very first casual response that mind spat out was – even the stupidest and barbarian opinions of celebrities can appear to the masses as greatly inspirational and glorious statements – what a shame! As I said, this was the first response that my mind produced upon watching the thumbnail. So, now, let’s get over this casual response and dissect the situation – to be specific, the statement – “put God first”. It basically says, never lose faith in God, and you’ll achieve everything. I won’t say whether it is civilized or not. But I would say this. Belief in a supernatural entity having control of and concern for, your life, is basically, not a sign of glory, rather a sign of weakness.

Weakness is a fact – not bad or good. Like it or not, we all feel weak at times – I accept, that I do. And specifically in these times of excruciating agony, the mind kicks into a defense mode – where it naturally tends to put its faith and control upon a higher illusory entity. It’s not good – it’s not bad – it is what it is. And we cannot change this situation, just yet, because though we have developed extraordinary brain capacities, inside, we still remain cave-people, with a highly sensitive amygdala, that reacts quite effectively to every single fear and stress stimulus. And to quote from my book The Krishna Cancer“Mother Nature created God as a neurological anti-depressant sentiment.”

Belief in an imaginary entity or force, is a sign of weakness. And, weakness is a part of biological existence. So, glorifying that weakness, does not make a person any more religious, spiritual or wise, than beating one’s wife does for not sleeping with him. Yes, we have developed through the process of natural selection, the capacity for limitless good and glory, but that does not mean, our innate brutal nature has vanished from our psyche for good. We have the capacity for courage and conscience, but you must remember, we also bear the seeds of weakness and brutality within us. These seeds served us well for millions of years. They have been the most crucial elements in our survival in the wild. Let me give you an example.

Imagine a man is sitting with his wife on the couch, while watching TV. Suddenly, a woman on TV starts stripping. What kind of changes do you think, would take place in the man’s pants! Now here is the real question, the man gets erect by watching the stripping lady on TV, say it’s my good friend and popular pornstar Olivia Austin – does this mean, he actually wants to do her? Does this mean, he does not love his wife? These questions are all non-sense. Of course he loves his wife. And consciously, he does not desire to mate with Olivia, but his subconscious mind does – and that’s not a theory, but a fact. Because that’s how the man’s brain has been surviving in the wild. His penis had to be prepare within seconds, the moment he had an opportunity to spread his genes – there was no consent involved. Because the competition was high. And that libidinal programming still remains active within the man’s neurobiology. That’s why erection upon the sight of a hot lady, is quite normal and in fact, healthy, but that does not necessarily mean, it is a sign of intentional desire for intercourse with that lady. A man may be married happily, and still his penis would get erect, the moment his mind visualizes a glimmer of opportunity for spreading his genes. Similar is the process of belief in an imaginary entity, named God.

The mind has various mechanisms to maintain its internal order and well being. And belief in something higher than the petty little human existence, is one of those self-preservation mechanisms. A person may be the most rational being on earth when everything is almost fine in his or her life. But the moment, clouds of excruciating agonies begin to cover the sky of his or her psyche, all rationality will go out of the window, and what will remain, is pure, savage, survival instinct. During these moments of utter disaster, a healthy human mind is more likely to give in to supernaturalism, than to bring out a notebook and do logical analysis. Eventually when those clouds start to disperse, the mind would slowly gain its natural rational capacities. Then he or she would again start talking most boastfully about reasoning and free thinking. This is not hypocrisy – this is human life – or to be more accurate, this is biological life.

Another such mechanism comes to my mind in this context. This mechanism kicks in when somebody faces a life-threatening trauma, and gives rise to the mesmerizing experience of afterlife, in which apparently the trauma-struck individual has an encounter with supernatural entities, prophets, or diseased relatives. And this experience manifests as more real than actual reality. The purpose of it is to put your mind in a preconceived domain of comfort, while your body is under tremendous stress. And before when medical science was not developed, people died with this last conscious experience of entering into a higher dimension. We did not have the means to save a dying person. Now we do. So, even though they go close to the doorstep of death and start experiencing the conscious hallucinatory domain of afterlife, we are capable of bringing the person back to life. And when they finally wake up, they can excite all others around them with their supposed experience of the afterlife, unlike our ancestors who did not have the means to come back from the doorstep of death.

The mind is who you are. You are your mind. And as such, you are not even aware of most of its features – because you are not supposed to, biologically speaking. Underneath the surface of conscious awareness, lies a whole territory of subconscious traits and processes. Some of these processes become active on a daily basis, others, when truly necessary. But they are there, nevertheless. They are there for a reason – the reason of survival – the reason of maintaining well being when every other modern means fails. They don’t follow modern norms of rationality. They only follow Mother Nature’s law of survival. And they are definitely not glorious in nature, rather, they are simply the mind’s way of preserving itself. It is not something to be proud of, or critical of. It just is, what it is – an unavoidable part of human mental existence.

 

(Simultaneously published on Goodreads)

Recommended Reading

Autobiography of God: Biopsy of A Cognitive Reality, 2016