Mindfulness, Meditation and Yoga Reveal a Greater Truth About Human Cognition
Our evolved consciousness may be more fiend than friend.
In my first article about meditation, mindfulness and yoga (MM&Y), I proclaimed these practices inhibited the noisy and hyperactive human mind. Well, it’s obvious that they have this effect, isn’t it? But is this the ultimate reason people do them — to impede and even impair the cacophony of thinking cognition, or are they the side effects of other issues? What is it about human consciousness that makes us so special, and why might it be a problem that needs fixing? In this article I focus on the trouble with our big noggin and not so much about MM&Y.
One way humans are cognitively different from other animals is the ability to decouple information or to create metarepresentations. Simply, this means humans can generate and retain conditional information. Humans can adapt their behavior to local situations and pass those new behaviors to their offspring through learning. This is the basis of culture. A few other animals can slightly modify their environment — building a nest, for example — but that behavior is instinctual, and they aren’t able to change their behaviors if their ecosystem changes. Humans can adapt themselves to an enormous range of environments. Leda Cosmides and John Tooby at the University of California, Santa Barbara, describe it this way.
Arguably, one central and distinguishing innovation in human evolution has been the dramatic increase in the use of contingent information for the regulation of improvised behavior that is successfully tailored to local conditions.
Humans are freed or decoupled from their reliance and dependence on the instructions in their genes — instincts — to survive. Sounds like a good thing, right? Less instinct and more flexibility has to be a winning combination. What could go wrong? Could there be a liability from this way of cogitating? Psychologist Carl Jung was keenly aware of the psychic conflict that resulted from these cognitive changes wrought by evolution. In Modern Man in Search of a Soul, Jung summed up the human…