Chapter 1



Confronted with a chaotic universe, what is the first requirement of the mind? To comprehend the universe. But we are unable to do this with the images it offers us, since we immediately realize how transitory they are; thus we try to assimilate its rhythm. Experiencing the universe is not the same as systematizing it, no more than experiencing love is the same as analyzing it. Only intense awareness achieves understanding.

Andre Malraux, The Temptation of the West

If the eye were not sunlike, it could never see the sun.


T he approach to contemplation I advocate in this book originated in my collaboration with several other scholars which produced a perspective we call biogenetic structuralism. And, as this perspective has resulted in quite a unique approach to phenomenology, epistemology and contemplation, I would like to summarize its highlights so that some of the terms I use later will not seem so foreign to the reader. Those familiar with biogenetic structural theory may wish to skip directly to the discussion of technique and technology, a topic heretofore undeveloped in our theory, but one that is of central relevance to our later discussion of techniques used in meditation. Also, as I consider the present book to be something of a companion piece to our previous work, Brain, Symbol and Experience (Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990), those wishing a fully fleshed-out discussion of the biogenetic structural concepts used here should consult that work.


Biogenetic structuralism conceives of the human being as an organism, and thus as a community of cells . The trillions of cells comprising the being are organized into various organs and other structures that function to maintain themselves and the being as a whole. The nervous system is a sub-community of cells that has evolved to facilitate communication between different structures, regulation of structures, and the internal depiction of the being and its environment. The latter function is primarily the job of the evolutionarily most advanced parts of the nervous system.

The principal function of the human nervous system at the level of the cerebral cortex (1) is the construction of a vast network of models (2) of the world. Models are comprised of the form taken by constituent cells and their patterns of interaction. This form expressed as activity is "information" -- literally that which results from the cells' in-forming themselves (see Varela 1979, Young 1987: 27). We call this entire network of models an individual's cognized environment . (3) This term contrasts with an individual's operational environment which is the real nature of that individual as an organism and that individual's world. Both the organism (or species) develops (evolves) and the outer operational environment unfolds and develops. This co-evolutionary view is fundamental to biogenetic structuralism, as it has been for similar theories. (4)

The cognized environment emerges during the course of life -- especially early life -- by means of the growth of networks of cells that become active in development, that grow, and that become progressively hierarchized into more complex organizations (Bruner 1974). The process by which neural cells organize themselves into networks is called entrainment . Entrainment is a technical term in neurophysiology that means the linking of cells and neural systems into larger configurations by way of dendritic-axonic-endocrinological interconnections. Entrainments may be relatively momentary or enduring. A change in a pattern of entrainment is termed re-entrainment .

The prime function of the cognized environment is the adaptation of the individual to its internal and external operational environment (Piaget 1971, 1985), which is to say to itself and its world.

The Transcendental and the Zone of Uncertainty .

The emphasis upon adaptation is important, for we make the fundamental assumption that the operational environment is transcendental relative to the capacity of any individual or group to comprehend it. That is, the cognized environment is a point of view, a system of knowledge about the operational environment, and there is always more to know about the operational environment, or any aspect of it, than can be known. The operational environment may be modeled in an adaptively isomorphic (5) way -- and this is precisely the function of the higher neural processes of the human brain -- but there always exists a set of boundaries to knowledge, a zone of uncertainty (6) (d'Aquili et al. 1979: 40, 171) formed by the limits to spatial discernment and discrimination, and to the capacity to apprehend temporal and causal relations. The zone of uncertainty is the directly experienceable interface between the transcendental nature of the self and the world, and the limits of an individual's understanding (see Elster 1984: Chapter 4).

As we will see when we discuss the transcendental phenomenology of Edmund Husserl in Chapter 4, human beings tacitly assume their cognized environments to be the real world. They take their cognized environments for granted. In phenomenology, this uncritical attitude of most people toward their world of experience has been called the "natural attitude" (Husserl 1977:152-153). It is the task of contemplation to become critical of the natural attitude, a process that inevitably changes the experience and the structure of the cognized environment for the contemplative. There are innumerable approaches to this task. For instance, Adelbert Ames constructed a series of remarkable optical illusions, such as the famous "trapazoid window" and "distorted room," to demonstrate the extent to which the mind produces what it "sees" (Cantril 1960). When the observer is in the proper frame of mind, the experience of such illusions can lead to a profound alteration in self-understanding. Among other things, one may no longer take what she "sees" for granted.

The Rule of Minimal Inclusion .

Because the true nature of the operational environment is transcendental, and because all forms of knowledge -- all theories, models, conceptions and points of view -- are partial, incomplete and distortions of the true nature of things, biogenetic structuralism has imposed a methodological discipline it has called the "rule of minimal inclusion" (see Rubinstein, Laughlin and McManus 1984: 93): Any explanation of a living system (including its behavior, perception, cognition or experience) must take into account any and all levels of organization efficiently present in (or "co-producing"; see Ackoff and Emery 1972) that system and the interaction between that system and its environment . It is the exercise of this rule in approaching a study and explanation of any particular phenomenon that produces the most robust form of theory, and in the present case a theoretical perspective that can handle the incorporation of introspective data from trained contemplatives pertaining to the experience of consciousness and neurobiological data pertaining to the structures of the cognized environment mediating that experience.


Neural networks do not pop into existence out of thin air. Rather, the networks comprising the cognized environment have their developmental origin in initial neurognostic (7) structures that are present before, at, or just after birth, and the organization of which is largely determined genetically. In the phenomenological sense, neurognosis is experienced as the "already there" quality of the world of experience. Evidence for the neurognostic structure of experience is scattered throughout this book, particularly in Chapters 6, 7 and 10, as well as in our previous publications.

The developmental re-entrainment of these neurognostic structures is neurognostically regulated as well; that is, the course of much of development is genetically charted. Development of neural models involves a great deal of selectivity among alternative entrainments (Changeux 1985, Edelman 1987, Varela 1979) during which some potential organizations deteriorate, others become active, and still others remain relatively latent and undeveloped. This selectivity is one reason why there is such remarkable plasticity in cognitive adaptation to the transcendental nature of the self and the world. The influence of different societies and cultures, combined with idiosyncratic structural differences (e.g., temperament), result in a remarkable variation in the different details of cognized environments. There is also a great deal of evidence that the relative richness or poverty of the outer operational environment has a determinant effect upon the complexity and growth of neural networks in ontogenesis (Renner and Rosenzweig 1987, M.C. Diamond 1988).

Intentionality .

The ongoing, moment-by-moment operation of the cognized environment is essentially intentional in organization; that is, neural networks tend to organize themselves about a phenomenal object. That object is also mediated by a neural network and is, for the moment, the central focus of cognitive, affective, metabolic and motor operations for the organism (Neisser 1976: 20ff). As we shall see in a later chapter, intentionality derives from a characteristic dialogue between the prefrontal cortex and the sensorial cortex of the human brain -- what I call the "prefrontosensorial polarity principle" (see Chapter 6). Subsidiary structures entrained as a consequence of the dialogue between prefrontal and sensorial processes may be located over a wide expanse of cortical (e.g., parietal visual attention structures, right lobe imaginal structures, left lobe language processing structures), subcortical (e.g., hippocampal recognition structures, brainstem arousal structures, limbic emotional structures) and endocrinal (e.g., hypothalamic and pituitary structures) areas.


Experience is a function of this intentional dialogue, and involves the constitution of a phenomenal world within the sensorium, the latter being a field of neural activity that arises and dissolves in temporally sequential epochs and that is coordinated with cognitive processes that associate meaning and form in a unitary frame (see Figure 0).

Prefrontal Sensorium


(Subject) (Object)


Figure 0. Schematization of the Arising of Both the Subject and the Object in the Context of Experience.

Experience also refers to "that which arises before the subject" in consciousness (Dilthey 1976, Husserl 1977). This includes sensation, perception, thought, imagination, intuition, affect and sensation. A point to emphasize here is that both the sensory and the cognitive-intentional aspects of experience are active (never static!) products of neurological functioning, and are exquisitely ordered in the service of abstract pattern recognition, both in moment-by-moment adult experience (Gibson 1969), and in development from earliest periods of pre- and perinatal consciousness.

Consciousness and Conscious Network

In Brain, Symbol and Experience (Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990:76-101) we spent a lot of time discussing the difficulties in operationalizing the concept of "consciousness." The basic problem is that the term derives solely from experience. I may say that "I am conscious of this book," but no one has yet been able to cut open a brain and point to a "wee me" that is conscious of the book. This fact will lead some people to suppose that consciousness is independent of brain function. However, this is merely one of the many traps that result from naive introspection. When we come to know consciousness as the mature contemplative comes to know it, it is far easier to understand that the search for the "wee me" is as pointless as it is fatuous.

In defining and analyzing consciousness, we have attempted in our various writings to keep true to both a contemplative's eye view of the range of human experiences and to what we know about the processes involved in consciousness from the neurosciences. It is clear from contemplation that the qualities and organization of consciousness change from moment to moment. Consciousness never remains exactly the same. As they say in esoteric traditions, you can never step in the same river twice. And it is clear from the neurosciences that the processes that subserve consciousness are distributed all over the brain, including cortical, midbrain and brainstem structures. Although many of these structures can be damaged and leave consciousness intact (Konner 1982:183), such damage does change the quality and organization of consciousness, sometimes drastically as when the visual cortex is destroyed producing blindness, or the hippocampus is damaged causing an interference in memory. And we have all know or have heard of people effected by Alzheimer's disease, a degenerative condition of the brain.

Consciousness may be defined only roughly, because of its experiential status. This means consciousness cannot be exclusively defined in such a way that it is distinguished, say, from "intentionality," "experience," "object of consciousness," or "awareness." All of these terms are rather orientations towards, essential structures of, or refinements upon our point of view towards consciousness. In any case, my views follow those of Edmund Husserl (8) (1931:112-135) whose term Bewusstein ("consciousness") is closely related to Bewusstheit ("awareness"). Consciousness is thus defined here as a field conditioned by an inherent intentionality -- a field of intentional processes that arises between the subject and the object of experience. That is, consciousness refers to the entire field of objects (feelings, forms, relations, memories, plans, thoughts, images, behaviors, knowledge, judgements, recognitions, etc.) of which I (the transcendental ego) may be directly aware in the moment, however central or peripheral to awareness may be those objects. Consciousness is the total field of experience before the transcendental ego at the moment in which I may potentially turn my awareness from this to that . There is always, every moment, an ever-changing "horizon" (Husserl 1931:102) to consciousness within which objects are present to me, however vaguely, and beyond which they are not present to me. Consciousness always "fuzzes off" into non-consciousness (events going on that are relatively subconscious or unconscious to me).

I do not mean that consciousness includes the neural processes that produce those objects. The total field of consciousness arising each moment is mediated ("produced by" or "arises as a function of") by the conscious network , a continuously changing organization of neural entrainments that may include any particular network one moment and disentrain it the next (see Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990:94-95). Conscious network is not a simple, fixed structure that may be located in one place in the brain -- say in the hippocampus or in the frontal lobes. Rather it is a complex of functions of networks distributed over a wide area of cortical and subcortical tissue. These networks may operate simultaneously, in a parallel fashion, mediating the many processes that go into constituting experience. It is well to remember that consciousness is produced by the intercommunication among a vastly complex society of cells in the body. Intercommunication among the myriad sub-societies of cells is fluid and ever changing.

Parallel Distributed Processing

Some researchers have termed this multiple simultaneous activity of many systems parallel distributed processing (see Rumelhart and McClelland 1986, McClelland and Rumelhart 1986). We will return to this aspect of the production of the cognized environment when we speak about intentionality in Chapter 7. The point to be made at the outset is that while we experience our world as a totality, there are actually hundreds, and even thousands of parallel neural networks operating to mediate that experience. We are rarely aware of the myriad structures mediating our experience of self and world.

Phases and Warps of Consciousness

Experience, as we have said, is constituted within the intentional dialogue between the prefrontal processes and sensorial processes of the brain. The total field of this dialogue is the conscious network, and awareness of bits of experience is a principle component of this field. Because the definitive characteristic of awareness is recollection, remembering, or recognition of patterns in experience, awareness tacitly refers to a role played by knowledge in the constitution of experience. Furthermore, since the recursive quality of experience forms detectable patterns, and may thus be cognized as such, reflexive knowledge about consciousness itself involves knowledge of experiential episodes. If an episode is perceived as a salient unit, then it may be cognized as distinct from other episodes, and perhaps labelled: for example, I am "awake," "stoned," "depressed," "dreaming," "angry," "meditating," "out of my body," etc. These cognized episodes of experience, and their mediating neurocognitive entrainments, are called phases of consciousness . The points of experiential and neurophysiological transformation between phases are called warps of consciousness (Laughlin, McManus, Rubinstein and Shearer 1986, Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990:120-158).

We hypothesize that phases of consciousness cycle on a circadian basis as a neurognostic alternation between those phases structured to optimally promote adaptation to the external operational environment (we call these "being awake" in our culture) and those phases designed to optimally promote adaptation, to each other, of subsystems within the internal operational environment (we call these "being asleep"). The intentionality (prefrontal-sensorial dialogue) of consciousness alternates between that configured about objects and relations in the external operational environment, and that configured about objects-as-symbols of internal accommodation.

The Empirical Modification Cycle .

I conceive of the cognized environment as an "autopoieic" system (Maturana and Varela 1980, Varela 1979); that is, it is an autonomous, self-constructing, self-regulating system, one function of which is to make possible the adaptation of the organism to its operational environment, and another function of which is to maintain the unitary autonomy of the organism. The motor component of the cognized environment operates to control what arises within experience so as to fulfill anticipated events within the internal bounds of tolerance, a feedforward process we have termed the empirical modification cycle , or EMC (Laughlin and d'Aquili 1974: 84ff; see also Pribram 1971, Neisser 1976, Arbib 1972, Powers 1973, Gray 1982, Varela 1979 for consonant views). This feedforward, cognitive anticipation-sensorial fulfillment process is required for learning, and for transformation of models confronting the flux and ultimately incomprehensible complexity of an essentially transcendental world. Perhaps just as important, this process is required to bridge in theory from cognitive structure to world in order to avoid mind-body dualism, and its concomitant concepts, the culture-nature duality and the materialism-idealism duality (see Bourdieu 1977: 78ff for his very relevant concept of "habitus").


Not all phases of consciousness are as conducive to empirical modification as others. In fact, the human nervous system would seem to oscillate between entrainments that function to produce adaptive responses to the world, and entrainments that function to optimize growth of neural models. I will call the first type of entrainment an adaptive phase, and the second type a metanoic (9) phase (or simply metanoia ; see Laughlin 1990). Metanoia may be defined as the subprocess of the EMC by which an organism (1) intentionally enriches its operational environment for the purpose of optimizing the development of its cognized environment, and (2) loosens and expands the range of alternative structures that may eventually produce models. In other words, metanoia is an internally driven enhancement of empirical modification which both loosening the adaptational stability of models and enriches the stimuli with which the models dialogue. The operational environment may be enriched either by increasing the information about it, or by expanding its spatiotemporal range.

One example of a metanoic phase of consciousness is play . Play may be considered to be metanoic enrichment of the external operational environment via behavior (Laughlin 1990, Laughlin and McManus 1982, Blanchard 1986). Metanoia labels the internal frame of reference of play. Certainly one function of the metanoic frame is the "adaptive potentiation" of models to possible future responses to the operational environment (Sutton-Smith 1977). With play we are dealing with an active control on the part of the organism over the process of enriching novelty in the interests of the organism's internal drive to optimize cognitive complexity (Tipps 1981).

Another example of metanoia to which we have alluded above is dreaming (see McManus, Laughlin and Shearer 1991). Dreaming is a series of phases that allow the "freeing up" of networks for alternative entrainments and for growth. And yet another example, as we shall see during the course of this book, is meditation. Meditation may be defined as the "play" one must do in order to prepare the mind of true contemplation. That is, in order to contemplate in a mature way, the conscious network mediating experience must first become "loosened" so that routinized ways of experiencing and interpreting may be transcended.


The motor phase of the EMC of some animals is extended in physical space via technique to behaviorally control the perceived. This control is necessary in order to give rise to sensorial events that match those anticipated by cognitive-intentional structures (Beck 1980). The easiest and most primitive way the organism does this is by body posture and locomotion -- sensory organs or entire bodies may be moved in space. The world may also be manipulated so that experience "opens up" to the senses -- the bird coaxes a grub from under the tree bark; the chimpanzee fishes for termites. Human beings will likewise move their sensory organs and bodies in space (see Devine 1985 on the varieties of human locomotion), and are able to behaviorally transform their operational environments (both their inner being and their outer world) far more handily and complexly than other animals so as to better control sensorial events so they appear to take a form expected by cognitive processes. This is the phenomenological meaning of "technology." Contemplative traditions will often prescribe a variety of techniques for aiding the initiate to enter metanoic states requisite to true contemplation. Contemplation is, of course, not a technique, but a state of mind conducive to achievement of insight.


This developmental interaction between neural models and the operational environment -- as we have said, an interaction involving selection of, growth of, entrainment and re-entrainment of, and hierarchization of initially neurognostic structures -- canalizes functional processes relative to particular stimuli in the operational environment. Using C.H. Waddington's term, neural models (as part of the phenotype) become relatively fixed in organization and structure, and thus produce creodes ; i.e., become regularized, recursive and predictable in cognitive content and motoric response relative to the intentional object (Waddington 1957; see also Piaget 1971, 1985). It makes sense, therefore, to speak of an individual's cognized environment and its constituent models as an autopoieic system of creodes adapting to its operational environment. It is the construction of creodes that produces the adaptational entrainments mentioned above. By contrast, metanoic entrainments loosen the creodic hold upon experience. Metanoia makes the empirical modification of existing creodes, or the construction of new creodes possible.


Culture, on this account, is conceived as socially patterned creodes in individual cognized environments, as well as the social techniques by means of which those creodes are established. The "cognitive imperative" to organize internal cognitive systems in interaction with the operational environment provides the intrinsic motivation evident in the mimicry and play of developing individuals. Generally speaking, the more important a particular entrainment is to a society, the more the society will impose environmental and social conditions upon the learning situation.


The development and activity of the cognized environment is thoroughly symbolic in nature. The symbolic function refers to the relationship between the sensorial object and the cognitive, endocrinal and other somatic processes intended upon the object. The symbolic function of the nervous system is that by which the whole network of models mediating the "meaning" of an object is associated with that object. (10) The object, whether anticipated, imagined or actual, is mediated by a network of cells that provides a partial meaning (the topographical, rhythmic, color, or other order of the object, its constituent features and its sensory context). The object is commonly called a "symbol." The cognitive associations intended upon the object -- that is, the conceptual, imaginal, affective, arousal, metabolic and motor networks that become entrained to the network formed between the prefrontal "subject" and the sensorial "object" -- function to extend and elaborate the meaning of the object-as-symbol for the subject.

Evocative, Fulfilling and Expressive Modes .

These multiple, often complex and parallel distributed entrainments tend (during development or enculturation) to form an intentional creode (11) with the object being alternatively its evocator, its fulfillment and its expression. In the evocative mode the object arises first in the sensorium and is then configured by these multiple associations -- it is literally re-cognized as a meaningful object. The sensorial object may or may not have been stimulated by events in the operational environment external to the individual's nervous system (i.e., may arise in a dream or due to sensory receptor stimulation). In either case, we would say that the symbol has penetrated its meaning -- that is, the network mediating the sensory form of the object has evoked a wider field of entrainments constituting the "meaning" of the object (Webber and Laughlin 1979).

In the fulfilling mode the process is reversed and the network of multiple associations "desires" or anticipates the object for its fulfillment (see Husserl's discussions of "hyle" and "filling;" see also Miller 1984: 135, Laughlin 1988d, Neisser 1976, Elster 1983). Fulfillment may involve an imagined object or an object stimulated by events in the operational environment. In the latter instance there may well be a motor component to acquiring the fulfilling object. That is, the individual may actively seek the desired object. We would say in this case that the symbol has "fulfilled" its meaning.

And in the expressive mode , being a specialization of the fulfilling mode, the intentional network selects an object that signifies its meaning for the purpose of communication in the operational environment, or between individuals' cognized environments. If the communication is between cognized environments (whether between humans or non-human social animals), then a symbolic act would obviously involve both expression and evocation. Thus we would say that a symbol has "expressed" its meaning.


The complex entrainments mediating meaning tend (during development or enculturation) to form an intentional creode with the object being alternatively its evocator (the object arises first and penetrates to its "meaning"), its fulfilment (the "meaning" goes looking for the object to complete itself) and its expression (the "meaning" uses the object to communicate itself). It is well to remember that every event in experience is mediated by neurophysiological and other somatic processes, but many events occur in the body that remain outside normal experience. Yet the activity of somatic processes may express themselves if they can penetrate sensorial networks.

The communicative interaction between the various parallel distributed networks that become entrained within a creode mediating experience we term homeomorphogenesis . (12) For example, neuroendocrine systems may communicate unconscious biochemical transductions to cortical imaginal systems, the activities of which the individual may experience (or become aware of) in the imagery of dream, trance or fantasy. In turn, as new research in psychneuroimmunology has shown (Ader 1980), concentration upon imagery may homeomorphogenically produce neuroimmunological transductions at the site of lesions, or produce enhanced production of endorphins to relieve pain (Prince 1982).

Evolution of the Symbolic Function .

Yet the human brain has clearly evolved, and the symbolic function naturally enough reflects this evolution. The symbolic function is operating during every moment of consciousness, and does so tacitly for the most part, being largely unconscious to all but the most self-aware humans. Humans do come to cognize certain symbols as especially salient, and are potentially more aware of the role of the cognized symbol (or as we put it, the Big-S SYMBOL ) in its evocative, fulfilling and expressive modes. Thus the notably red sap of a particular tree can come to be metaphorically associated with menstrual blood, sexual maturity and other notions important to a West African people (Turner 1967), or a wooden cross may evoke a powerful set of associations for a devout Christian. SYMBOLS are typically those that evoke the most profound, ramified, socially controlled and archetypal intentionalities available in a culture's repertoire (e.g., flags, totems, shamanic and dramatic regalia, geographical features, cosmograms, icons, etc.). The capacity to cognize symbols as SYMBOLS seems at best rudimentary in the higher non-human animals, but had apparently become quite advanced among hominids by the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic Entire events may be demarcated as SYMBOLIC and take the characteristic form of ritual performance.

A still more evolutionarily advanced form of the symbolic function is signing. A sign is a specialized constituent in a greater symbolic operation (e.g., lexemes are constituents of texts). In sign systems there is a more evident specialization of meaning and hierarchization of embedded constituents (e.g., phonemes comprising morphemes, morphemes comprising utterances, utterances comprising conversations, etc.). Signs also show a loss of the evolutionarily older stimulus-bound (so-called iconic) reference. They are thus a more abstract element participating in a relatively stimulus-free contextualization of meaning. However, in natural signing situations, such as a conversation, the telling of a myth, or the report of an event, the SYMBOLIC reference is rarely if ever lost at the highest level of intent. The context of the sign is the patterned (grammatical) relations it forms with other signs and embedded levels of signs, but the context of the text is generally experiential, and frequently metaphorical (Fernandez 1986).

The most advanced form of symbolic activity is formal signing in which both the constituent signs and the highest level of text may be totally abstracted from stimulus reference (e.g., mathematics and formal logical structures, as well as certain types of abstract art). Formal sign systems can establish their own contexts.

Adaptation and the Symbolic Function.

All four levels of symbolic activity may be present in the same event and operating within and between the same cognized environments. Furthermore, all four levels have adaptive consequences in both phylogenesis and ontogenesis. (13) The adaptive importance of the fundamental symbolic function, operating unconsciously in most individuals, has been made clear above. Stimuli in the operational environment produce sensorial objects that are abstractions of patterned energies in the operational environment and that evoke canalized associations and responses that have developed in perceptual and motoric interaction with those stimuli. The canalized associations are knowledge about those stimuli, or more properly about sensorial objects. Penetration by the object to the greater cognitive field allows rapid entrainment of total meaning from initially partial information about the operational environment. Yet any set of entrainments about any intentional object reflects its zone of uncertainty -- there is always a "horizon" to knowledge whether perceptual or cognitive. The attributes or abstract features recognized in the sensory field are always a subset of the total possible attributes and the meaning penetrated can always be different, or more accurate, more complete, more precise, seen from a different vantage point, etc., relative to the transcendental nature of the stimulus in the operational environment.

SYMBOLIC activity may exhibit its adaptive function in more dramatic ways, and in ways that have been of great interest to anthropologists. Some forms of SYMBOLISM such as mythology are directed at coping with a society's consensus zone of uncertainty. Myth frequently provides an explanation for the origins of the world and society, for the relations of life and death, and for why things are the way they appear. Myth also may provide a map of significant relations among gross domains of objects and events such as animals, heavenly bodies, seasons and calamities. Myth often provides a description of the normally unseen domains of the cosmos, multiple realities the existence of which accounts for unseen forces affecting human affairs. And when glimpsed, experiences of these previously hidden domains are given mythical interpretations -- the myth providing at the same time both the context of evocation and the context of interpretation.

SYMBOLISM in the form of ritual may operate to orient individual intentional processes (including behavior) toward socially important ends (d'Aquili et al. 1979). Points of transformation, such as life crises, may be demarcated and managed in ritual ways (van Gennep 1960). Ritual methods may be applied to effect the course of events, or to remedy perceived imbalances in the individual, the society, or the cosmos. They may also be used to evoke transpersonal experiences upon which the continued vitality of the cosmology depends. Spontaneous SYMBOLISM occurring in alternative phases of consciousness (see Laughlin et al. 1986), such as in dreams or during drug trips, may be interpreted by shamans in socially useful ways (e.g., portend of life's occupation, psychodynamic conflict, divination of future warfare or deprivation).

The adaptive importance of sign systems is most evident in natural language. Language evolved to facilitate the exchange of vicarious experience in a species whose brains had evolved to the point where they could know far more about the world than is ever phenomenally present to consciousness. (14) The potential problem for a social species with such a brain is that the consciousness, awareness and experience of individual group members may diverge to the extent that group consensus reality and social action become impossible. Interaction between individuals' cognized environments via language and other symbolic means makes possible a significant overlap in experience despite the inability of every individual to have the same direct experiences (Laughlin and d'Aquili 1974: Chapter 4, Chapple 1970, Count 1976, Kurland and Beckerman 1987). It is upon a proper analysis of the mechanisms by which cognized environments become adaptively synchronized that an integration of cognitive (or subjective) and social theories becomes possible (see eg. Burridge 1979, Henriques et al. 1984 on this issue).

Formal sign systems (like symbolic logic, and arithmetic, geometrical and algebraic formulations) make possible the expression of cognized relations about both the world and the being that are content-free (Beth and Piaget 1966). Knowledge of essential or abstract patterns in relations may be expressed and transmitted without the necessity for concrete sensorial fulfillment. Formal signs are artifacts of abstract thought; that is, thought about the logic of ideas and relations.



There is, as the following chapters will demonstrate, a technological aspect to mature contemplation, especially in the training of contemplatives. That is, contemplatives have their procedures for attaining knowledge and for training other contemplatives. Because the current usage of terms related to technique and technology tend to refer to material relations with the external world, it is important to make clear what I mean by these concepts. This is especially true since our group has yet to fully flesh out the applications of biogenetic structural theory to the evolution and operation of technology, except in an article published in French (see Laughlin 1989).

Biogenetic structural theory holds that technology is essentially a symbolic process involving both activity in the operational environment ("praxis," or physiological fulfillment and expression) and feedback about effects of knowledge upon the operational environment (physiological evocation). It is instructive that the root meaning of "technology" derives from the Greek for the "art," "skill" and "method" involved in doing something -- a connotation obviously focused upon knowledge. Moreover, the word technology is related to other words in English like tectonic, architect, technician, and technicism, all of which involve knowledge about accomplishing something.

Confusion About "Technology.

It would be useful if we could draw upon the full range of cross-cultural literature on technique and technology to elaborate our understanding of their use among contemplative traditions. Unfortunately, the anthropological literature is of little help in removing the semantic confusion. In its most restricted and commonplace anthropological usage, the term technology simply connotes tools and tool-use. In its broadest sense the term, and related terms like "technique" and "technical," may refer to any attention to procedure in accomplishing some practical end.

Robert Spier, while acknowledging its broader sense, chooses in his book, From the Hand of Man (1970:2), to restrict himself to the most narrow materialist usage of the term. For Spier, as for many anthropologists, a clear distinction between things physical (or natural) and things having no clear physical representation seems to make perfect sense. By way of contrast, A.F.C. Wallace in his text, Religion: An Anthropological View (1966:107-108), uses a broader meaning of technology to include aspects Spier would code as "magico-religious;" for example, ritual. Yet even in Wallace's thinking there is a taxonomic distinction being made between those things of a physical nature and those not of such a nature.

A Phenomenological View of Technology .

As Martin Heidegger (1977; see also Ellul 1980, Ihde 1983) has pointed out, restricting our understanding of the concept "technology" to tools, tool-use, or even practical, tool-like rituals, may result in our failing to get at the full essence of technology. In biogenetic structural theory this essence has to do with the relationship between the respective organizations of the cognized and operational environments -- the latter including both the being producing the cognized environment and that being's world. Both the being and the outer operational environment have evolved, and the relations between them have evolved.

And this co-evolution is evidenced in artifacts that are the material transformations of the external operational environment used to open up, control, exploit, fertilize and otherwise extend the explorations and adaptations possible given the limitations of the unaided motor and sensory facilities of the human body. These material transformations are the artifacts of knowledge, the material fulfillment and expression of cognized environments of individuals in various societies and at various points in hominid evolution.

In the fulfilling mode an artifact may facilitate the occurrence of desired perceptions; e.g., throwing a spear brings down a deer, meditation upon a crystal evokes a transformation of consciousness. In the expressive mode an artifact may operate as a SYMBOL ; e.g., a signal flag is used to send a message, a painting is used to express a state of mind. The same artifact may operate in both modes simultaneously; e.g., a physician's stethoscope may fulfill the physician's desire to hear the heartbeat, and be a SYMBOL of the physician's status for the patient. And in every case there is an evocative mode to the interaction in that the artifact is perceived and is meaningful prior to and during its use. It is this technological interaction between the cognized and operational environments (both internal being and external world) that is facilitated and expressed by material transformations in the external operational environment -- transformations that we normally refer to as technology.

Orientation toward the processes of interaction between neural models and noumena, rather than merely toward the material artifacts of this interaction, has allowed us to show (Laughlin 1989): (1) that treating artifacts as if they are the essence of culture is an exercise in misplaced concreteness, (2) that artifacts are both the fulfillment and the expression of cognitive competence, (3) that language and technology evolved in tandem as two media for manipulation and control of the operational environment, (4) that technology through much of human evolution has been an existentially empowering process, but for much of modern humanity has become a disempowering process, (5) that some technologies also exist to produce transformations in the being, and (6) that the technological process influences the way in which individuals come to cognize themselves.

Technique, Homeomorphogenesis, and the Transformation of Being.

Of these issues, it is the latter two, (5) techniques of inner transformation and (6) technology and self-modelling, that especially concern me in this book. In particular I will be interested in the use of objects and techniques for evoking transformations of consciousness, and the effects such transformations have upon an individual's understanding of the world and their self. I will be discussing the efficacy of meditative techniques and technologies both in training mature contemplatives and as socially salient SYMBOLS for the cultural manipulation of contemplative experiences.

As I have said, my use of the terms "artifact," "tool," and "technology" to refer to objects intended for use in evoking transformations of being may appear to many readers to be contra-intuitive and confusing. Yet there is no avoiding this usage, for it is a fully accurate way of speaking and one that helps us avoid the insidious influence of a materialistic, mind-body dualism that so pervades Euroamerican thinking; i.e., technology refers to physical reality out there, cognition (or experience, subjectivity, etc.) refers to mentality. (15)

The concept of homeomorphogenesis is handy in relating artifacts of knowledge and the meaning they evoke and express. The concept specifically refers to the isomorphic relations among neural networks and other somatic structures within the being, but outside the awareness of the being, and the networks entrained to conscious network that mediate experiences inside the awareness of the being. Processes involving liver cells or muscles in the leg may or may not produce activity in sensory cortex, and hence may or may not enter awareness. Of more interest to us here is that activities in the nervous system that are essentially outside the entrainments comprising the conscious network may be expressed symbolically, and even SYMBOLICALLY, within conscious network. Disease in vital organs may be experienced in dreams as monsters attacking us. Tranquillity may be experienced as bliss and images of floating clouds. These symbolic expressions of otherwise unconscious processes in the being are due, we suggest, to homeomorphogenic entrainments between sensorial and non-sensorial tissues. I will have much more to say about this notion later in the book (see especially Chapter 8).

The Epistemic Process.

By clear implication, then, biogenetic structuralism concludes that the epistemic process -- the process by which we come to know what we claim to know -- is, and can only be, a property of the organization of the nervous system. As such it involves neurognostic structures that develop and are modified via the EMC, the latter being fundamentally a symbolic process and sometimes incorporating as well a technological component. This means that there is no knowing apart from neurocognitive processes, and thus no knowing separable from an evolutionary and developmental frame (see Piaget 1971, 1985, Varela 1979). The human nervous system did not evolve as an empirical tabula rasa to passively record objective and accurate information about the operational environment, but rather as a community of cells that organizes itself in adaptively isomorphic models of the world. The relative veridicality of these models depends upon a continuous EMC dialogue between developing models and a constantly changing and unfolding operational environment -- an operational environment that includes the being of the cognizer as well. It is from this constructivist understanding of the nature of knowledge and experience that a neuroepistemology becomes not only conceivable, but necessary to the future development of science.

Thus I will use many of the concepts we have developed in biogenetic structural theory to both justify and explain the importance of mature contemplation to an understanding of the epistemic process, and to the future development of science. These concepts are also required to explain many of the essential features of consciousness intuited during the course of the training for, and the performing of contemplation. The more important concepts are those of neurognosis, intentionality, homeomorphogenesis, penetration, intuition, dots, the sensorium, and the empirical modification cycle (EMC). These will be used to construct a theoretical position that both grounds our understanding in modern neuroscience and anthropology, and requires a phenomenological exploration of the structures of experience, augmented by ethnographic and psychological observations of human behavior.


In the next chapter I will characterize phenomenology and discuss some of the advantages of combining phenomenology and the neurosciences. Because any type of phenomenology must rely upon access to intuitive insights about the nature of consciousness, Chapter 3 will analyze the process of intuition and show that it is both a natural function of the human nervous system and the principal source of creative knowledge about self and world.

As mature contemplation requires training, Chapter 4 presents the foundations and methods of transcendental phenomenology as taught by Edmund Husserl, and Chapter 5 presents the same for Buddhist Satipatthana meditation. We move on to discuss some of the essential structures of consciousness and give them a neurophysiological accounting. In Chapter 6 we explore the fundamental particles that make up objects in sensorial space, and in Chapter 7 we show how fields of particles are related to intentionality and internal time consciousness. Chapter 8 then presents a theory of imagery that may explain the ubiquitous use of images in meditation traditions around the planet.

When we get to Chapter 9, we will begin discussing issues of a more explicitly social nature. We begin with a neuro-developmental model for the universal and non-arbitrary attribution of gender to aspects of consciousness. Then in Chapter 10 we examine the social phenomenology of Alfred Schutz and suggest the elements of a social neurophenomenology of the social experience. We offer an example in Chapter 11 of the power of such a perspective in our analysis of the relations between social exchange and the phenomenology of love. In our concluding Chapter 12, we list a number of the things that a mature contemplative may come to know during the maturation of his or her self awareness.

1. The cortex is the phylogenetically newest part of the nervous system and forms a corrugated layer of tissue on the top of the brain. We agree with Doty (1975) that conscious processing is largely a cortical function.

2. When we speak of a model, we do not refer either to an ideal type or a description of a theory. A model is an actual organization of tissue the function of which is to constitute some aspect or aspects of the world before the mind.

3. We borrowed the concepts of cognized and operational environments from Rappaport (1968), but have changed their meaning substantially from his usage. For further elaboration of these concepts, see d'Aquili et al. (1979: 12ff), Rubinstein et al. (1984: 21ff), and Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990.

4. See Varela 1979 on "structural coupling," Piaget 1980 on "adequation," Bateson 1979 on "co-evolution," and van der Hammen 1988 on a structuralist account of evolution for consonant views on the co-evolution of the organism and its environment. It is significant that the co-evolutionary view is more in keeping than competing views (eg., the neo-Darwinian and Lemarckian accounts) with the Buddhist model of paticcasamuppada , the law of "dependant origination" or "dependent arising" of objects of consciousness. This latter view of causality is explored in various texts, including the Patthana, the seventh book of the Abhidhamma Pitaka (see Narada Maha Thera 1975), and a number of the sutras, including the Upanisa Sutta. Whether approached from a western co-evolutionary view, or from an eastern paticcasamuppada view, neither the being nor the world may be considered as causally independent of the other.

5. We have given a technical definition of "adaptive isomorphism" in d'Aquili et al. (1979: 17). The term implies that models are partially isomorphic to at least the extent required for survival. "Isomorphic" means that the elements and relations comprising the model are not the same as those of the noumenon being modeled. And just as there is more to a real airplane than there is to a model airplane, so too is there "transcendentally" more to the noumenon than there is to the model -- unless, of course, it is the network comprising the model that is itself the noumenon.

6. Husserl's (1931) term for this is "horizon."

7. The concept of neurognosis is complex and refers to the essential genetical component producing predictable cognitive organizations within the nervous system; see Laughlin and d'Aquili (1974: Chapter 5), d'Aquili et al. (1979: 8ff), Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili (1990:34-75), and Laughlin (1991).

8. I could as easily espouse a Buddhist Abhidharma description of consciousness, as we did in Brain, Symbol and Experience (Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990:80-82). The Buddhist notion of cita is consonant with Husserl's description of consciousness.

9. I am grateful to Ms. Susan Sample for providing me with this useful concept. Metanoia derives from the Greek and means to change one's mind, to reorient one's way of life, to be spiritually converted, or to repent or do penitence.

10. The biogenetic structuralist group has considered numerous issues relevant to the study of the symbolic function, including masquerade (Webber, Stephens and Laughlin 1983, Young-Laughlin and Laughlin 1988), the evolution of brain and symbol (Laughlin, McManus and Stephens 1981), ritual (d'Aquili 1983, d'Aquili and Laughlin 1975, d'Aquili, Laughlin and McManus 1979), myth and language (Laughlin and Stephens 1980), exchange (Laughlin 1988a), play (Laughlin and McManus 1982), phenomenology (Laughlin 1988c, 1988d) and transpersonal experience (Laughlin, Chetelat and Sekar 1985, Laughlin, McManus and Webber 1984, Laughlin 1988b, Laughlin, McManus and Shearer 1984, Laughlin et al. 1986, MacDonald et al. 1988, Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990). We consider the same fundamental processes operating at the neurocognitive level in all of these symbolic activities and among all human societies; processes that are operating as well in the neurophysiology of at least all higher animals.

11. The enculturative process of developing meaning intended upon an object we have termed semiosis (see Laughlin and Stephens 1980: 332).

12. The term homeomorphogenesis is a neologism we felt was required to focus analytical attention upon the communicative relationship between tissues in the body. The term combines the concept of morphogenesis that has currency in some biological formulations (see e.g., Sheldrake 1981) and the root homeo (as in "homeomorphic," meaning similar form or structure) to denote causally linked transformations of an isomorphic, but not the same kind in two or more subsystems.

13. I am aware of the often sloppy and inexplicit use put to the concept of adaptation in much of the anthropological literature (see Bargatzky 1984). Biogenetic structuralism uses the term in two related senses, that of survival of the organism and in the broader Piagetian sense of optimal cognitive to sensorial matching. We have previously restricted our use of the term to its first and most restrictive sense (see Laughlin and Brady 1978).

14. Our theory of the evolution of the brain is somewhat non-Darwinian; see our discussion of the evolutionary development of particular neural processes in Laughlin and d'Aquili 1974: Chapters 2, 3 and 4, and the consonant views noted in Footnote 4.

15. See the discussion of mind-body dualism in Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili (1990).