This paper was presented at
Psychology: The Indian Contribution
National Conference on
Indian Psychology, Yoga and Consciousness
organised by the Indian Council of Philosophical Research
at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education
Pondicherry, India, 10-13 December 2004

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Understanding of Human Mind and Behaviour: The Missing Link of Intuitive Experience

M.B. Sharan

Professor of Psychology
Department of Humanities & Social Sciences, IIT Kharagpur

Psychology: Gaining Consciousness

Psychology began as the study of consciousness, then turned to the study of observable behaviour. Today, it is the science of both: behaviour and mental processes. Thus, what psychology lost once (consciousness), it is gaining again with renewed vigour in the name of mental processes (Myers, 1986). Now, the question is: Why these swings of interest? Actually, in the beginning, the difficulty of studying consciousness scientifically led many psychologists to turn to direct observations of behaviour. But, by 1960, advances in neuroscience made it possible to relate brain activity to various mental states – waking, sleeping, and dreaming. As a result, today, many psychologists are affirming the importance of mental processes and are looking afresh into the power of infinite mind.

Human Mind: Conscious, Subconscious or Unconscious?

The nature of human mind, however, is very difficult to understand because it is very subtle as well as hidden. Therefore, it has been defined in different ways by different thinkers. Since Freud originally defined the structure of personality in terms of the unconscious, preconscious, and conscious, we psychologists have also been talking about the same topographical model all these years - ‘conscious’ as the part of the psyche that includes material of which one is fully aware; ‘preconscious’ (or ‘subconscious’) as the part of the psyche that includes material which is not at the moment within one’s awareness, but which can readily be brought to the conscious mind; and ‘unconscious’ as the part of the psyche that includes material not within one’s awareness and which cannot readily be brought to the conscious mind (Ewen, 1980). And thus, under the influence of Freud and his psychoanalysis, we have been recognizing unconscious factors as significant determinants of human behaviour.

Recently, however, a new debate between the “minds” has started and many of the thinkers and researchers are recommending to maintain a balance between the unconscious mind and the conscious/ subconscious mind. They are just a way of describing events - ‘conscious’ as whatever we are aware of at a moment, and ‘unconscious’ as everything else – that are useful in the context of therapeutic change (Bandler & Grinder, 1979). Otherwise, as a whole, we have only one mind. This can be supported by an example. Suppose, we are driving along the highway returning home; on approaching the neighborhood, we start realizing that for the past several minutes our mind has been elsewhere. Daydreaming, thinking about things, our mind has been on anything but paying attention to the road. We wonder how we managed to watch out for cars, follow traffic signals, and make the right turns when we were “not there”. Thus, there are a number of things we are doing without paying proper attention to all at a time and the pendulum of awareness swings between the “minds” without any difficulty.

Now, the question is: By which name should this one mind be known? Those who are working in the field of information processing say that conscious awareness is just the tip of the iceberg. It simply enables us to exert voluntary control and to communicate our mental states to others (Kihlstrom, 1987). Beneath the surface, actually, subconscious information processing occurs simultaneously on many parallel tracks. When we look at a flying bird, we are consciously aware of the result of our cognitive processing but not of our sub-processing of the bird’s colour, form, movement, distance and identity. Therefore, from the functional viewpoint, it is the subconscious mind (including unconscious) which takes care of all the processes that are occurring out of conscious awareness. This one mind thus should be known as the subconscious mind.

Philosophers and some other thinkers, however, attach maximum importance to the conscious part of the mind. They say that it is the conscious part of the mind which does all the processing of information because it is logical, reasonable and can change its point of view at will. Since the subconscious mind is not logical and reasonable, it cannot take any independent decision of its own and it has to simply support the conscious mind. According to Vedanta (Ellis, 1994), the mind is called antahkarana, that is, “internal instrument” which perceives through five sense organs – eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin. It also instructs the five organs of action – the organ of speech, the hands, the legs, the organ of procreation, and the organ of evacuation. Thus, Vedanta recognizes the different functions of the mind – cognition, feeling and willing as the primary functions and memory, imagination, love, hatred, hope, fear, anger, etc. as the other functions. All these functions are possible only through the power of consciousness. And thus, the ‘one mind’ should be known as the conscious mind because it has the power to be illuminated by consciousness.

Vedanta says further that the power of consciousness, however, is not the built-in- characteristic of the mind. This comes from some higher source known as Soul, Atman or Self. Since mind is not the real perceiver or knower of the mental phenomenon, Hindu religion differentiates between the mind and the Self – the mind as an object (the known) and the Self as a subject (the knower). Anything that falls into the category of the known does not have consciousness as its very essence whereas the subject or knower does. Thus, there is one ultimate observer or experiencer, and that is the Self. This is the reason why today many are also supporting the idea that there are three distinct factors of human personality – the physical body, the mind, and the soul. They are vitally connected and though they appear to be one single entity, they are distinguishable.

Recently, some Western psychologists (Reed, 1989) have also started talking about the ‘superconscious’ and the ‘universal’ parts of the mind which were accepted by Indian thinkers ages ago. Since Freud did not support Jung’s collective unconscious, the transpersonal mind remained neglected all these years. Otherwise, Jung was of the firm opinion that the unconscious mind gave us all the encouragement and help that a bountiful nature could shower on man. “It holds possibilities which are locked away from the conscious mind, for it has at its disposal all subliminal psychic contents, all those things which have been forgotten or overlooked, as well as the wisdom and experience of uncounted centuries which are laid down in its archetypal organs….The unconscious can serve man as a unique guide, provided he can resist the lure of being misguided” (Ellis, 1994). Thus, the unconscious mind should not be treated as the ‘forgotten’ mind or the dark side of the mind. It has many spiritual and moral possibilities hidden within it.

Conclusion: Superconscious Mind as the Soul’s Mind

Now, the question is: What should we conclude from all these? We should not get caught by the words ‘conscious’, ‘subconscious’ and ‘unconscious’. They are just to describe different functions of the same mind. There are conscious and considered thought, subconscious having recallable memories, habits, and old feelings, and unconscious having forgotten instincts, conditioning and collective or universal experiences. Each of these is accessible to us in some way because they communicate with each other in their own way. We should, therefore, try to develop such a mind which can perceive and judge things rightly making use of all the information – conscious, subconscious or unconscious. According to Vedanta, “The richest soil, the soil of the human mind, lies fallow. If it could be tilled well it would yield golden crops, but since it lies fallow, it yields brambles and thorny bushes and weeds” (Ellis, 1994). That means, if there are wrong tendencies lying within, they have to be weakened by constant effort. Since the subconscious and the unconscious mind work mechanically, such change is possible only by the conscious mind through its special power of self-determination. Thus, for the development of the mind, we have to feed the mind with rich food, nourish it regularly, strengthen it, and enrich it. As a result, we can have good understanding, peace, wisdom and joy. In this sense, our mind, illuminated by the Self, becomes the Superconscious mind.

Human Behaviour: Physical, Mental or Spiritual?

American psychologists defined psychology as “the science of observable behaviour.” For them, behaviour was an overt activity of the organism. Since sensation, feeling and emotion (or any other subjective matter) were not observable, they could not be the subject matter of psychology. As a result, many of the studies in psychology remained restricted to overt activities of an organism for many-many years in the hands of behaviourists. But, today, we are not agreeing with the behaviourists and are studying mental processes in psychology as well. Not only that, we also try to explain every human behaviour in terms of ‘mind’ involved in it. Since mind instructs the body to behave in a definite way, every resultant behaviour is having minimum two aspects – the physical, and the mental. In order to have an effective behaviour, we try to maintain a balance between the two. In this process, the effective behaviour, in which mind and body work together without dominating upon each other, becomes “spiritual” in nature due to Gestalt effect. We can take the example of understanding love in a laboratory. Is it not a fact that by putting love under scientific scrutiny, we are destroying its mystery? In reality, love includes affection and anger, excitement and boredom, stability and change, bond and freedom, etc. This, therefore, cannot be known by any scientific method. As a result, those researchers, who have tried to know about it by using all sorts of sophisticated instruments, have found it to be a ‘triangle’ of which the three sides represent physiological, psychological, and anthropological factors. But, outside the laboratory, the “true love” has emerged as a ‘circle’ which combines all the three kinds of factors into one. This organization as a whole is known as “spiritual love” in which all the parts are merged with each other. This is such a nice blend that no factor is dominating upon anyone. This kind of “true love” cannot be analyzed but can be experienced. Like this, every human behaviour needs to be effective (spiritual) and needs to be understood finally by experience. And such experience is known as “Intuitive Experience.”

Can Intuition be one of the Methods of Psychology?

In any science, the methods of investigation depend largely on the subject matter. Accordingly, like all scientists, psychologists construct theories that organize observations and imply testable hypotheses. To describe, predict, and explain behaviour and mental processes, psychologists use several methods: Introspection, Naturalistic Observation, Questionnaire and Survey, Case Study, Correlation and Experimentation. Every method has been found to be useful but, at the same time, suffering from certain limitations. Even the experimental method, which is considered to be the ultimate method of psychology today, is subject to certain serious objections. “For many thoughtful students the idea of applying science to human affairs raises concerns about how well experiments relate to life, how experimenters treat human and animal subjects, and how psychologists’ values influence their work and its applications” (Myers, 1986). In such situation, as suggested by a good number of Indian thinkers and Western scientists (e.g. McDermott, 1970; Fitz, 2001; Denning, 2001), Intuition can be a very useful, and perhaps the only method in some cases, in Psychology. We all have this system in place but, the irony is, we have not yet learned how to use it fully: We just need to recognize it, to tune in to our intuition (Clare, 2003). According to Denning (2001), “Everyone has intuition; we could not live without it. It is just more highly developed in some people than in others. Most people are unaware of their intuitive abilities and therefore do not use them to their advantage.” Even Einstein, one of the towering intellects of modern time, remarked once that “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

What is Intuition?

The term “intuition” means exactly what it sounds like – in – tuition – an inner tutor or teaching and learning mechanism that takes us forward daily. The dictionary defines intuition as “the perception of truths, facts, etc. without reasoning; the immediate knowledge or learning of something without the conscious use of reasoning; instantaneous apprehension.” That means, it is a process which perceives things without relying on the senses and gives us a kind of creative awareness by interpreting all the information in a holistic way. Keeping all these in mind, Swami Omkarananda (1999) has rightly said that: “Intuition is the immediate knowledge of the Absolute, obtained through the eye of wisdom, as opposed to the knowledge of the external objects derived through the exercise of the senses and the intellect. It is truth obtained by internal apprehension, without the aid of perception or the operation of the reasoning powers. It is a direct vision and apprehension of the Divine Reality underlying the manifested and the unmanifested universe.”

Day (1996), while defining intuition as a nonlinear and nonempirical process of gaining and interpreting information, says further that intuition responds to questions. All our senses – touch, sight, smell, hearing and taste – respond to the questions our environment and our “body machine” pose. Our rational mind interprets the information provided by these senses for more efficient survival. And intuition’s function is to bring to consciousness that information which lies beyond what our rational mind perceives from our five senses: people we don’t know, places we have not been to or the future.

How can We have the Intuitive Experience?

Many belief systems teach that staying present or being ‘mindful’ is the basic principle behind inner peace and contentment which leads to intuitive experience. Being mindful means giving full concentration to whatever we are doing in the present, having no real awareness of anything else, becoming completely absorbed, lost in the activity and the moment. According to Clare (2003), “this experience of the moment means we are far more likely to notice things around us….” This suggests that intuition comes to person only when he or she has the intuitive state of mind. It involves more than simply “going with our gut” or “trusting our hunches.” It is also not synchronicity. It prompts a person to think in certain ways that create the results which contribute to well-being, allowing synchronicity to manifest (Denning, 2001). According to Reed and English (2000), by paying attention to the thoughts, feelings, and images that come to mind, we are learning to tune into our intuition which is a natural gift born in everyone. But it becomes most effective in a person who learns to develop The Intuitive Heart by caring and loving his/her own inner self and of others. In order to have the intuitive experience through The Intuitive Heart, Reed and English suggest the following six steps:

  • Learn from Your Breath to Trust Your Intuitive Inspiration: Focus on your breathing and discover how you can trust it to flow naturally, spontaneously, with no effort or control on your part. Intuitive inspiration will come to you automatically.
  • Make the Heart Connection: Let gratitude fill your heart, allowing you to release all concerns. Your heart energy naturally begins to expand. Focus it on the target of your search for intuition.
  • Invite a Memory: Ask for one of your millions of personal memories to pop into your mind. Without intentionally choosing it, but accepting the first one that comes, trust that within your heart is stored the perfect memory that is just right for this occasion.
  • Tell Your Story: Explore the experience that surrounds that memory. Let your memory be the seed of a story – here’s what was going on, here’s what happened, here’s how it turned out.
  • Search Your Heart for Wisdom: See what lessons your story holds. What truths does it contain? What did you learn from that experience? What does this story teach you today?
  • Learn from Feedback: Note how the teaching story relates to the focus of your quest for intuition. How can you use this new perspective to respond to your current situation differently?

Intuition as the Only Method of Knowing Truth

Modern science, particularly psychology which wants to understand today the superconscious mind and spiritual behaviour of human beings, must come to realize that, ultimately, the method of intuition is the only method of discerning the truth. Without developing the intuition, the intellectual remains imperfect and blind to the truth behind the appearances. According to Swami Omkarananda (1999), “Intuition is the only way by which the Absolute can be realized and experienced in all its totality. The mortal, finite, limited senses and the intellect, cannot comprehend the Reality which is immortal and all-pervading.” This is the reason why all Courses in Miracles are teaching today to have regular prayer (talking to God) and meditation (listening to God) to have His grace for developing Intuitive Mind.


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