Chapter 3


There is no limit to experience in us, so far as I can detect, save what we cold-bloodedly and self-consciously impose upon ourselves in response to the conceptual tyranny of western "civilization." All is not lost, however. Once we recognize that there really are cultural (purely artificial) barriers to our experience, it is possible to begin to entertain the possibility of breaching them. ...Only one act is required, and that is perhaps the most difficult (and yet, paradoxically, the easiest) you have ever undertaken. That is the act of opening.

J.A. Livingston, The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation

T he word "intuition" as commonly used refers to a range of experiences of knowing. It typically labels a type of experience in which the answer to a question, the solution to a problem, guidance in following some goal, the creation of some image, idea or pattern, springs into consciousness whole-cloth, seemingly out of nowhere. The root of the word derives from the Latin intuitus meaning something on the order of "the act of achieving knowledge from direct perception or contemplation."


William James (1962) left us an interesting description of the achievement of intuition in his Principles of Psychology:

If pure thought runs all our trains, why should she run some so fast and some so slow, some through dull flats and some through gorgeous scenery, some to mountain-heights and jewelled mines, others through dismal swamps and darkness? --and run some off the track altogether, and into the wilderness of lunacy? Why do we spend years straining after a certain scientific or practical problem, but all in vain -- thought refusing to evolve the solution we desire? And why, some day, walking in the street with our attention miles away from the quest, does the answer saunter into our minds as carelessly as if it had never been called for -- suggested, possibly, by the flowers on the bonnet of the lady in front of us, or possibly by nothing that we can discover? If reason can give us relief then, why did she not do so earlier?

Perhaps by way of illustration I might share a personal experience of intuitive insight, one of many that have occurred. I was once driving along a highway and chatting with a companion. As I glanced at the side of the road I chanced to notice a strange object. It was a tapestry about 10 by 15 feet in dimension apparently made out of old tires. It was an object so novel to me I was momentarily curious about what it was and what it was used for. The curiosity passed and I went back to the discussion with my companion and thought nothing more about it. A bit further on we entered a construction zone and there was a sign on the side of the road warning us that explosives were being used and that we should not broadcast with radios. I continued the conversation with my friend as we drove past the construction zone, and then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, I knew what the tapestry of old tires was used for -- to cushion the force of dynamite blasts on the construction site. One moment I was talking with my friend about something totally unrelated, the next I knew the function of that object which, for me, was completely novel, about which I had been briefly curious, but about which I had given no conscious thought since that brief moment of curiosity. And I knew its function with absolute certainty, yet a certainty ungrounded in any observations of the use of the tapestry. Of course I subsequently discovered that it is indeed the function of such tapestries and have seen them in use many times since then. But what I realized at the time was that here was an intuitive insight, the product of unconscious cognitive processes that had been working on the problem while "I" had been chatting gaily away about unrelated things, that was experienced as absolutely certain, but that despite the sense of certainty might well prove to be wrong.

I offer this trivial example to illustrate how common and everyday the experience of intuition can be, at least for many people. I offer it also to exemplify many of the features of the experience of intuitive "leaps," or "aha's" reported in the literature on the topic. For instance, Adelbert Ames, the remarkable perceptual physiologist and philosopher I mentioned in Chapter 1, is said to have

...had the habit of putting a problem to himself in the evening just before he went to bed. Then he "forgot" it. The problem never seemed to disturb his sleep. But he often "found" the next morning on awakening that he had made progress on the problem. And as soon as he got to his office he would pick up his pencil and pad of paper and begin to write. He always said he didn't know just "what would come out,"...

(Cantril 1960:viii)

Perhaps if you took seriously the exercise suggested in the last chapter in which you moved your attention around in sensorial space, you may have directly experienced this kind of an insight into some aspect of consciousness you had not "seen" before. The "seeing" is an apprehension through sudden awareness of an activity that has always been operating and there to "see." This sort of knowing is fundamental to the functioning of awareness and occurs in all of us all the time.

Despite the common occurrence of the experience, it is poorly understood and poorly studied by psychology. One of the best current studies of the topic is that by Tony Bastick (1982) in which he isolates a number of the characteristics of the experience, including confidence in the process of intuition, the sense of certainty of the truth of insights (Husserl calls this the "apodicticity" of insight), the suddenness and immediacy of the awareness of knowing, the association of affect with insight, the non-analytic (non-rational, non-logical) and gestalt nature of the experience, the empathic aspect of intuition, the "preverbal" and frequently ineffable nature of the knowledge, the ineluctable relationship between intuition and creativity, and the fact that an insight may prove to be incorrect. The insight about the function of the tapestry was characterized by most of these features with the exception of empathy and ineffability, and this due to its trivial nature.

Intellect vs. Intuition: A False Dichotomy?

It is apparent to anyone who is in touch with the intuitive source of discovery that there is no creativity in science -- indeed, in any domain of creative activity -- that does not entail intuition (see Koestler 1959, Hayward 1984:29-33, Weil 1972, Vaughn 1979, Westcott 1968, Bastick 1982, Poincare 1913, Jung 1971, Slaatte 1983). In light of that fact, why is it then that some critics of intuition insist upon an absolute dichotomy between reason and intuition, and feel it necessary to maintain that intuition has little or no place in science (e.g., Bunge 1962, Lyons 1986, Weissman 1987, Piaget 1972)?

The answer to this question lies in the historical association of intuition with metaphysics and religious belief (see Morris and Hampson 1983:25-40). Religion and metaphysics became the combined nemesis of science. They appeared to stand as a hindrance to the free exploration of reality and as a source of notions about the world unavailable to empirical verification. They both appealed (it was argued) to esoteric and ineffable knowledge that, however productive of personal wisdom, was seen by scientists to be unaccessible to public scrutiny (see Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990: Chapter 12 for a critique of this belief). In reaction to this metaphysical and theological claim of ineffability, positivist science demanded that in order to be taken seriously, explanations of the world had to be couched in publicly shared natural language and be tied to observational procedures guaranteeing verifiability.

Somewhere in the process of formulating the positivist project, the intuitional baby was thrown out with the metaphysical bath. Science continued to depend upon the intuitive processes of mind for its creative impulse, but simply ignored or denied the role of insight in a welter of rational justification. Scientific discovery became interpreted in the culture of science as due solely to rigid compliance with a thoroughly non-problematic, unmysterious, rational scientism. Theories, considered to be the product of a conscious, rational and linguistically describable activity, came to be considered as logically tied to acts of objective observation by sets of rationally determined "correspondence rules."

There was no room left in this version of the process of scientific discovery for intuitive insight. It did not seem to bother most positivists over many generations that virtually no creative scientific discoveries are actually carried out in the positivist manner, least of all in the social sciences which nonetheless struggled valiantly to legitimize their activities in positivist terms.

The Key Problem: Verifiability.

But we must not lose sight of the original problem the positivists wished to solve; that being the cleaning up of a science littered with unverified and unverifiable notions about the world. This concern is valid. However, no philosopher of science of whom I am aware and who is critical of the positivist account would wish to embrace metaphysics or a theology of priestly received wisdom. Rather, each in his own way holds that the problem is not solved by rationalizing away the essential intuitive source of creative knowledge, but rather by studying the way science proceeds when it is creatively successful.

We have argued elsewhere (Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990: Chapter 12) that when we do examine how science and contemplation are carried out, as well as how each views the other, it is clear that both perspectives are to some extent esoteric and depend upon intuitive insight for their creativity. Moreover, both in fact produce theories tied to observations, and both find it necessary to train practitioners in the requisite ways of thinking and observing before they are able to fully participate in their respective disciplines.

In either case the issue of verifiability of intuitively derived insights is a valid concern, and is not easily solved in many cases. How one verifies notions like "black holes" (a scientific concept) and "emptiness" (a contemplative concept in Buddhist phenomenology) is not a straightforward matter, but requires training and skill at relating ideas and observations in a manner that allows the one to cross-check the other.

In embracing a neurophenomenology, I have no intention to sidestep the issue of verifiability. On the contrary, it is by merging the two perspectives on the structures of experience that a valuable and systematic cross-checking is made possible. In the trivial example of the function of the old tire tapestry given above, the insight was accompanied by a sense of certainty, and yet there was the awareness that the insight might prove wrong. "Prove" in what sense? Prove by reference to another domain of experience, namely asking someone in the know or hanging around construction sites until one sees the tapestry in use. In actual fact I verified the use of the tapestry with someone who had direct knowledge of blasting techniques.

Intuition, Unconscious Cognition and the Brain.

In more recent years, attempts have been made to explain the process of intuition by reference to neurophysiological research (e.g., Bogen 1969). It is known, for example, that the two hemispheres of the human brain carry out complimentary functions: the left lobe primarily mediates language production, analytic thought, lineal and causal sequencing of events, while the right lobe primarily mediates the production of images, gestalt or "holistic" thought and spatiotemporal patterning (Bogen 1969, Bogen et al. 1972, Sperry 1974, 1982, Levy 1972, Levy-Agresti and Sperry 1968, Gazzaniga 1970, Bryden 1982, Milner 1980, Ley 1983). The left lobe in a word distinguishes parts of wholes -- sees trees, so to speak -- and the right lobe integrates parts into wholes -- sees the forest.

Some researchers have used these findings to suggest that we humans have two modes of consciousness, one corresponding to what we call "reason," associated with left lobe functioning, and another called "intuition," associated with right lobe functioning (see e.g., articles by Ornstein and Galin in Lee et al. 1976). Some theorists in anthropology have gone so far as to suggest two different types of culture defined upon these dual modes of knowing. Warren TenHouten (1978-79) has called these two modes of thought "propositional" and "compositional" and has argued that they lay on a continuum with a third mode of knowing, the "dialectical," laying in the middle as an integration of the left and right lobe cognitive functions. Years ago, P.A. Sorokin (1941) suggested that all societies oscillate over time like a pendulum between two extreme poles, one having cultures characterized by rational knowledge and materialistic values, and the other by intuitive knowledge and spiritual values. He said that the most enlightened societies are those at the "golden mean" between the two extreme poles. But, he said that as this oscillation is unconscious to people in the society, no society is able to hang onto the mid-point for long.

Whereas there is no doubt some use to be made by distinguishing the experience of intuition from the experience of ratiocination -- I will show the utility of this distinction when I speak of the process of insight meditation in a later chapter --I believe it to be a fundamental error to consider them either as oppositional modes or as due simply to left and right lobe functioning. It is quite evidently erroneous, as I have shown, to characterize western science as associated solely with ratiocination and eastern mysticism solely with intuition -- a tendency all too evident in the current New Age literature where intellect frequently becomes the "bad guy" to intuition's "good guy." This is merely the polar bias to that of positivist science where, as we have seen, intellect wears the white hat and intuition the black hat, or no hat at all. This polarization and evaluation leads to a distorted understanding of both science and mysticism. For example, Buddhist psychology becomes frequently associated with holistic teachings about "totality" while its more analytic teachings such as the patthana portion of the Abhidharma, or the Great Discourse on Causality (Maha-Midana-Suttanta) are ignored.

My view is that ratiocination (or intellect, reason) refers to cognized models of cognitive processes that are reified and often couched in terms of normative rules (see Rubinstein, Laughlin and McManus 1984: 34, Beth and Piaget 1966). Intuition, on the other hand, refers to our experience of the products of transcendental, operational cognitive processes that occur while usually disentrained to conscious network (Kissin 1986). And these operational processes are mediated by neural networks in both lobes, not merely in the right lobe. Moreover, I suspect that these unconscious cognitive processes are thoroughly neurognostic in their structure and development, a fact that would account for the universal, pan-human attributes of the experience of intuitive insight. Practitioners of zazen of whatever culture will be encouraged by various techniques (e.g., the koan (1)) to suspend the rational faculty and access intuitive sources of knowledge directly (Chang 1959).

A source of confusion relative to the synthetic or analytic quality of intuitive operations is the suddenness and completeness of the products of intuitive operations when they first enter consciousness. The results appear as a whole, whether or not the processes that produced the results involve synthesis or analysis, or whether they have occurred in tandem or as parallel distributed processes. Speaking metaphorically, it is as though the solution to a problem were being processed at the bottom of a murky river, and the results written out on a blackboard that is then released to float upward to the surface. "I" (the empirical ego) become aware of the solution in a sudden flash of insight as the blackboard breaks the surface. "I" experience the realization of the solution reached in this manner differently than I do when "I" have worked out the solution using formal rational processes. I can perceive the analytical faculties operating in the latter, but not in the former. "I" naively appear to have control over the latter, but not the former (actually mature contemplatives come to have some measure of control over access to intuitive processes as well).


The association of natural language (and later, natural language and mathematics) with scientific knowledge and theory in the positivist account is a clear tipoff to the etiology of the isolation of intellect from its intuitive foundations, and the closure of its formalized procedures. Biogenetic structuralism has argued that language evolved as a sign system for the transmission of vicarious experience and the control of individual cognized environments in their service of adaptive sociality and action (Laughlin and d'Aquili 1974: 95-96, Rubinstein, Laughlin and McManus 1984: 26). These relations are crucial to understanding the nature, evolution and development of the intuitive processes.

The Cognitive Extension of Prehension.

An evolutionary advance in cognitive complexity and social cooperation is clearly evident in the hominid line -- at least by the stage of Homo erectus. This advance was due, we believe, not to increased reliance upon tool-use, but upon developments in the capacity of the hominid brain to mediate cognized relations in both space and time that were progressively less stimulus-bound (we called this development the "cognitive extension of prehension;" see Laughlin and d'Aquili 1974: Chapter 4). That is, the brain could now cognize a world significantly more extensive than the perceptual field, and causally more complex than temporal immediacy. We will see in Chapter 10 that this extended spatiotemporal "chunking" of associations allowed the production of a society comprised of categorical relationships well removed from direct, face-to-face social encounters.

Images and behaviors became embedded in spatially more extensive maps and bound into temporally more complex "plans" (Pribram 1971). We suggest that, despite the temptation to place technology at center stage in explaining the evolution of the brain (e.g., Passingham 1982: 166ff), neural evolution was minimally linked to technology, the latter being more an artifactual expression of advances in cognitive competence caused by other, non-technological factors (Laughlin and d'Aquili 1974). And the factor being addressed here is the emergence of neurobiological structures capable of associating events distant in space and duration (the mechanism of temporal consciousness will be suggested in Chapter 7).

This evolutionary advance in cognitive capacity, if it had occurred separately from those neurophysiological processes mediating interlocution, would potentially have produced the formulation of divergent individual cognized environments among group members to the detriment of sociality and cohesive group action (Count 1973). But of course the nervous system evolves all of a piece, and the symbolic function along with it. Not only was there an advance in the neurocognitive capacity to elaborate meanings of sensorial objects beyond immediate perceptual space-time, there was also an advance in the capacity to express (describe, instruct about, augment, etc.) the cognized environment. In other words, not only did the evocative mode of the symbolic function evolve, but so too did its fulfilling and expressive modes as well.

To fully appreciate our argument here it is crucial to keep in mind that the expressive mode of symbolic functioning is a behavioral elaboration of the fulfilling mode. The organism anticipates the fulfillment of meaning; that is, the neural structures that are the meaning of an object will cause the organism to seek that object to arise in the sensorium (Neisser 1976). This desire for fulfillment will result in behavior as simple as scanning with the eyes, or as complex as a chimpanzee trudging off to find a termite hill, stick in hand. As we have noted above, such behavior in part functions to control perception so that the desired object or event arises in the sensorium (Powers 1973). Sometimes these behaviors will take on a signalling (expressive) function (ethologists call this the "formalization" or "ritualization" of behavior; see W. John Smith in d'Aquili et al. 1979: 52). Expressive behavior may function as well to fulfill anticipated sensorial events, as when the male bird attracts a mate or repulses a rival with his call. Fulfilling operations and behaviors manipulate the individual and its world, while expressive operations and behaviors may also manipulate the individual's conspecifics.

The Evolution of Language-As-Technology.

Thus, with the advent of the cognitive extension of prehension both the evocative and the fulfilling modes of symbolic operations became more elaborate, and there likely was a vigorous selection in favor of expressive faculties ( SYMBOLIC and sign systems), especially noticeable in the archaeological record around the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic (approximately 40,000 years ago), and producing a balance between neurocognitive evolution as manifested in individual development and social cohesion. Communication was no longer merely an augmentation of experience largely bound by the perceptual field, but became capable of transmitting vicarious experience, of sharing information about resources and events encountered while separate from conspecifics, and synchronizing individual cognized environments within a total world view that facilitates more complex collective action.

This transformation of communication and sociality among the early hominids has been admirably worked out in optimal foraging theory (Kurland and Beckerman 1985). Indeed, Parker and Gibson (1979, 1982, Parker 1985) have also argued persuasively that language began to develop among the early hominids in precisely this way -- as an augmentation of technology for the joint exploitation of food resources by the group. Language expanded the range of subsistence strategies beyond that of individual foraging by making possible the indication of hidden foodstuffs and other resources, recruitment of cooperative ventures like game drives and the processing and transportation of materials, and so on (Parker 1985: 25). Of course, biogenetic structuralism has argued for a broader range of coordinations among cognized environments requisite to the evolution of sociality, technology and communication than those limited to and by subsistence activities. But optimal foraging theory is a move in the right direction.

Adaptation and Intuition.

The point is that language evolved as a neurocognitive act specialized for socially adaptive purposes. Neither language, nor its concomitant conceptual structures, evolved to understand and express the entire cognitive system and its operations, but rather to relevate and express versions of knowledge abstracted to service adaptation in a very social creature. To arbitrarily limit legitimate knowledge in science to that which the brain's linguistic/conceptual structures can express is to tacitly select for knowledge in its most superficial social and adaptive guise and to cut-off the process of knowing from its grandest scope; that is, from the transcendental processes upon which knowledge in its broader creative sense depends. On the other hand, to cleave to the ineffable and away from socially shared forms of knowledge is to select for a solipsistic stance understandably anathema to science. Neither extreme is necessary, of course. Both the transcendental, operational structures of the being, and the linguistic/conceptual structures that model and express the operational structures have evolved as a unit and should be interpreted within a framework that accepts the functions of each (Slaatte 1983:142).

Not knowing in any ultimate sense how we come to know what we know via intuitive processes, we must build-in socially meaningful cross-checks to veridicality and truth. After all, I could have been wrong about the function of the old tire tapestry. It might have been used to shore up crumbling earth banks along the road. There must be ways built into the movement from knowledge to experience that allows verification. On the other hand, there must be full appreciation that those social mechanisms by means of which we query the truth value of intuitive knowledge must never so constrain exploration that access to the greater transcendental processes of knowing is lost.

Neither cleavage to the ineffable, nor formal scientistic epistemologies will do for any domain of empirical exploration, least of all for the exploration of consciousness. While it is quite common in science to disclaim the value of "mysticism," the fact is that the further one explores into the zone of uncertainty relative to knowledge, the more one's results seem "mystical" or "occult." The only way a scientist can avoid the "mystical" aspects of scientific discovery is to stay well away from the consensus zone of uncertainty. But then that scientist's ideas and results will likely contain nothing new or interesting.

For, in the study of consciousness, the brain is querying its own essential structures. The structures we wish to know about are the very structures whose organizations mediate the knowledge we seek. The act of consciously knowing about consciousness is the act of the brain mirroring its own organizations, cognizing about its own cognizing. And, of course, the act of cognizing changes the organization of the tissues being explored. An apt eastern metaphor is of the snake eating its own tail: in coming to know its own essential organizations, the organizations themselves develop and change. Thus self-knowing is literally neural structures growing-into-knowledge. Being able to express that knowledge is always secondary to the intuitive processes involved, for conceptualized and expressed knowledge is always transposed (2) knowledge. Yet such expression is essential in order to cross-check for delusory interpretations. As Ludwig Wittgenstein put it in his Tractatus, "...what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence." In evolution, erroneous intuitions were penalized by extinction, in science they are penalized by disconfirmation and social sanction.

Modern neurophenomenology depends upon a unified blending of the transcendental source of intuitive knowledge with the socially constrained expression and verification of that knowledge. Intuition is the source, socially shared individual experience is the field of verification -- an evolutionarily ancient combination of individual and social biological processes that merely appear historically new in their roles as "science" and "neurophenomenology" in the combination's most recent cultural guise.


It is important to emphasize that extreme stress inhibits creative insight (see Daniels 1973 cited in Bastick 1982: 91, Schroder et al. 1967, Harvey et al. 1961). The relationship between perceived stress and cognition is a complex one and may be modeled using an inverted U-curve (as we have done in various places; see Rubinstein et al. 1984: 32, McManus 1979, Laughlin and Brady 1978: 43).

[Figure of U-Curve here]

Briefly put, the individual cognitive system operates at its best, at its most creative and its greatest complexity, under an optimal range of perceived environmental press. This is how we would define positive stress, or "eustress" in Selye's (1956, 1974) terms. Below that level of perceived stress, there is a decrement in complexity and creativity evidenced in cognitive responses, a decrement also evident when too much perceived stress (negative stress, "noxity," or "distress" in Selye's terms) impinges on the system. Eustress challenges the system to peak performance, distress tends to drive the system toward concreteness and creodized responses (McManus 1979). Severe necessity is definitely not the mother of invention, to paraphrase Barnett (1953).

It is significant to our understanding of the structures of contemplation that the activity of play follows the same curvilinear relationship (Laughlin 1990, Laughlin and McManus 1982). Play is also inhibited by distress, not only among humans, but in all social mammals exhibiting play behaviors. The organism must feel secure, but interested in the world in order to spontaneously play. The two phenomena, play and intuition, are related. The neurocognitive growth facilitated by play involves intuitive learning, and intuitive insights frequently arise as a consequence of "playing around" with a problem. Both are manifestations of the intrinsic, neurognostically structured cognitive imperative that drives the intentional processes to construct adaptive meaning about the object as focus. And this growth is most optimal when the world is perceived as interesting and challenging, but not demanding abrupt responses and threatening dire consequences for failure. In other words, this growth is optimal when the system is in a metanoic phase (see Chapter 1).

Ergotropic-Trophotropic Tuning and Intuitive Insight.

There is a body of theory and research in the neurosciences that offers a compelling explanation for this relationship between stress and cognitive functioning. But curiously this view has had little play in the literature so far. I am referring of the work of Ernst Gellhorn and his associates (1967, Gellhorn and Loofbourrow, 1963, Gellhorn and Kiely 1972) on the neurobiology of emotion and arousal. Based upon the pioneering work of W.R. Hess (1925, 1957), Gellhorn argued that the entire neuroendocrine system is polarized into two complimentary systems: one, the ergotropic system, mediates excitational processes that facilitate adaption to the world, the other, the trophotropic system, mediates the relaxational, vegetative-growth processes of the body. Whole ranges of phases of consciousness are determined by the balance (or tuning ) of these two systems (Gellhorn and Kiely 1972). This bicameral view of the human nervous system has been applied to an account of a variety of alternative phases of consciousness, including ritual trance (Lex in d'Aquili et al. 1979) and meditation/contemplative states (Davidson 1976, Fischer 1986, Laughlin et al. 1986, Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990:307-323).

Roland Fischer (1971, 1986) in particular has pointed to research associating expectation-interpretive operations and behaviors with the ergotropic, or excitational system, and hypometabolic operations with the trophotropic, or relaxation system. He has related these metabolic-arousal associations to a continuum of mind states mediated by differential ergotropic-trophotropic tuning.

[Figure from Fischer here]

We need to go further than this. Given what I have said above about the evolutionary-adaptive function of conceptualization and linguistic transmission of vicarious experience, it make sense to hypothesize that the systems mediating linguistically-conceptually-based thought evolved as part of the ergotropic repertoire of the hominid neuroendocrine system for the purpose of consciously formulating and transmitting adaptively significant, vicarious experience among conspecifics. Being driven from a relatively heavy ergotropic tuning, conceptually-linguistically-based ratiocination produces a predominance of anticipatory operations over sensorial manifestations. That is, ergotropically driven thought shifts experience toward a predominance of projected meaning and symbolic fulfillment (what Jean Piaget 1971 would call "over-assimilation" of sensory input into unchanging models), and away from a predominance of sensorial novelty and symbolic evocation (Piaget's "accommodation;" see Figure 0).

Over-Assimilation Perception

(heavy ergotropic tuning

and conceptual projection)


Figure 0. The "Two Hands Clapping" Model Used To Show the Effects of Heavy Ergotropic Tuning on Accommodation and Assimilation.

And these anticipatory processes extend beyond left lobe mediation of ratiocination and include right lobe mediated fantasy as well. As any beginning meditator knows, it is discursive thought and fantasy that commonly distract the mind in its pursuit of centeredness and calm, and that as calm deepens, discursive thought and fantasy fall away of their own accord.

On the complementary pole are those processes associated with trophotropic systems, including intuitive processing of meaning configured upon sensorial objects and events. We would therefore hypothesize that the systems mediating intuitively-based knowledge or meaning evolved as part of the trophotropic repertoire of the hominid neuroendocrine system for the purpose of developmentally reorganizing the cognized environment relative to the zone of uncertainty. Being driven from a relatively heavy trophotropic tuning, intuitive processes produce a predominance of gnostic receptivity relative to sensorial manifestations. That is, trophotropically driven intuitive cognition shifts experience towards the predominance of sensorial novelty and symbolic evocation ("over-accommodation" by models of sensory input) and away from a predominance of rational projection and symbolic fulfillment ("assimilation;" see Figure 0).

Cognition Over-Accommodation

(heavy trophotropic tuning,

access to intuition and

sensory novelty)


Figure 0. The "Two Hands Clapping" Model Used To Show the Effects of Heavy Trophotropic Tuning on Accommodation and Assimilation.

It follows from everything I have said so far that there exist a range of possible strategies for coming to know the being and the world. These strategies range on a continuum from ergotropically driven adaptive knowing and the types of knowing that may be socially transmitted, to trophotropically driven intuition and the types of knowing appropriate to maximizing novelty in experience. If projection and anticipation are the goals of knowing in the moment, then ergotropically-loaded strategies are appropriate, but if maximization of novelty and creativity are the goals, then trophotropically-loaded strategies are appropriate. As we shall see, training the contemplative to the full range of possible gnostic strategies is characteristic of some, but not all phenomenologies. It is our avowed bias that the full range of human experience is important for a fully fleshed-out neurophenomenology, for knowledge of the broadest limits of human experience is one of the best cross-checks we have for narrow conceptions of the functioning of the nervous system.

Hypo- and Hyperintentionality.

The ergotropic-trophotropic model of the metabolic-arousal functions of human consciousness, however ingenious for explaining the range of energy states in different phases of consciousness, is in itself insufficiently complex to explain the full range of alternative phases of consciousness of which the brain is capable. In order to complexify the model a bit, you will recall from Chapter One that biogenetic structuralism has suggested that the essential intentionality of experience is mediated by a dialogue between prefrontal processes oriented and configured upon sensorial objects (the "prefrontosensorial polarity principle;" see Chapter 6; see also Laughlin 1988b, Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990: Chapter 4). We may now add that the intensity of participation of the prefrontal cortex in experience may range from minimal, or hypointentional, through normal intentional to maximal, or hyperintentional, and that the quality of experience will change along that dimension. Under hypointentionality, experience will be on the order of scattered attention, "dulled-out," "floaty," bored, uninvolved, lack of awareness, etc. At the hyperintentional extreme experience will be marked by absorption in the object, energetic interest, intense curiosity, etc. Normal intentionality ranges between these two extremes.

Combined with the range of left and right lobe processes that may be entrained to conscious network, the three dimensions -- ergotropic-trophotropic tuning, hemispheric asymmetry of function and degree of intentionality -- may be combined within our model to account for a fairly broad range of phases of consciousness experienced by the contemplative and understandable within our limited knowledge of the neuroendocrine system:

[Figure of three dimensions here]

Prefrontal cortical processes are known to have intimate reciprocal connections with those subcortical areas, such as the limbic system and the brainstem reticular activating system, that control arousal. Prefrontal cortex is also connected to those cortical and subcortical areas, such as the posterior parietal visual attention processes, the frontal eye fields and the superior colliculum ocular orientation processes, that control attention. The prefrontal cortex would seem to exercise considerable control over selection of objects of interest and the investment of energy in studying those objects, regardless of whether the objects are constituted via predominantly left lobe, or right lobe processing. For example, it is an apparent paradox that in certain phases of consciousness (e.g., lucid dreaming and insight meditation) the body may be in a state of hypertrophotropic tuning while at the same time experience is marked by hyperintentionality relative to the object of perception -- the object being imagery or discriminative abstraction.

Habitual relations obtaining among processes of the three dimensions modeled above will define creodes limiting the attributes of any phase of consciousness. For example, an object (say a dog, spider, chasm, etc.) may evoke a phobic creode when it penetrates to and evokes imagery buried in unconscious right hemisphere memory, anxiety mediated by limbic structures and aversive behavior mediated by motor cortex. Clearly, there are constraints on the nature of experience imposed by the state of the neuroendocrine system and the precise entrainment of the conscious network mediating experience. To extend the example used above in a way that is meaningful to any beginning meditator, when a certain plateau of calm or tranquillity is reached, thought stops. Discursive thought drops away under heavy trophotropic tuning, and so too does fantasy. The mind becomes clear of discursive thought and fantasy, not by willing them to stop, but by producing the calm sufficient for them to stop of their own accord.

The combinations of entrainment possible within the field defined by these three dimensions are many and complex, but produce predicted domains of experience many of which correspond to experiences readily recognized by the mature contemplative. It is possible to experience a phase of consciousness marked by deep calm and lack of interest in any object, mediated by extreme trophotropic tuning and hypointentionality. On the other hand there may be deep calm and intense interest in some object, mediated by trophotropic tuning and hyperintentionality. The interest may range, as we experienced in our control of attention exercise earlier in this book, among all the various sensory modes, or may encompass some multimodal object, like the concept of object itself, or some abstract quality of objects in all modalities, such as impermanence, spatial extension, or movement.

Training Inquiry Within the Field of Consciousness.

The habitual processes that develop within our tri-dimensional field do define creodes, and it is easy to see that societies enculturate many of these processes in order to limit the range of individual experience. But the project of self-reflection we have termed "phenomenology," under whatever guise, requires an expansion of the enculturative limits normally imposed upon the individual by society (see Burridge 1979). Such an enterprise, if seriously undertaken, must, therefore, entail a re-training of the neurocognitive and neuroendocrinal systems mediating conscious network, particularly those impeding the entry into metanoic phases, and the development of intuitive knowledge about whatever aspect of consciousness is being studied. Re-training, as we shall see, may be carried out along any of the three dimensions we have included in our model. Indeed, re-training consciousness to the capacity of a mature contemplative may necessitate reorganization along all three dimensions. The contemplative may have to learn to calm the mind, intensify concentration and increase attention to imagery or ideas.

We will now turn our attention to two independently developed approaches to training the consciousness for contemplation. I am treating the training aspect of phenomenology at some length, for it is impossible to overemphasize the importance of the fact that the production of contemplative phases of consciousness is a developmental process. Critics of the utility of introspection in science are never themselves trained contemplatives. They never take the time and commit the energy required to realize the mind states the utility of which they criticise. I know of no single example of a critic who became a mature contemplative and then concluded the mind states attained useless to science. On the contrary, such critics are typically practitioners who are heirs to scientific and philosophical disciplines amply fed by those neurocognitive processes trained in the production of mature contemplation, but who are insufficiently self-aware to realize the source of their inspiration. Has it ever struck you as a curious fact that no one has yet given God (or Buddha, or the Universal Being) a Nobel Prize as the source of all creative inspiration?


1. A koan is a question posed by the teacher that is designed to evoke an intuitive insight. Examples of koans are "Thinking neither of good nor of evil, at this very moment, what is my Original Nature?" "Who was I before I was born?" "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"

2. The concept of "transposition" is borrowed from C.S. Lewis (1965) and has been developed at length elsewhere (see Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990). The term essentially means that information is lost during the process of symbolic expression, information that is regained only if it is already modeled and penetrated during the act of evocation. Metaphorically speaking, symbolically expressed knowledge is to the total field of intuitive knowledge as a guitar version of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is to the full orchestral version.