Cognitive mobility

Another way to picture open mindedness occurred to me today. What if our minds experience degrees of freedom, much like the variations in the movement of objects in space? As I reflected on this possibility, I realized how much mental phenomena gets explained by this metaphor. Here's how some of this possibility played out for me:

When our minds have zero degrees of freedom, they seem to be stuck, confined and overly constrained. We think to ourselves "I can't do that", "there's no way that will work" or "it's not within my power to interfere". With no freedom of movement, we feel powerless, helpless and persecuted in the face of any and all adversity. Our time sense looks entirely backward and gives us an experience of living in the past. It's enough to make us depressed, apathetic and self absorbed. Since what already happened to us is of prime importance, we're as stuck in time as the past history that cannot be changed. We live true to legacy practices, archaic traditions and rituals established long ago. Our minds are closed by default from considering possibilities that require a viable future, power to control situations and aggression to combat our persecutors.

When our minds enjoy one degree of freedom, they can make mental progress or regress to prior cognitive conditions. Living appears to occur on a time line with a future to look forward to and arrive at eventually. We think about having goals, making plans and accomplishing tasks. We battle against those who would revert to prior states or insist on living in the past. We feel powerful enough to control situations, take charge of scattered efforts and move things forward when others become aimless. The future gives us something to shoot for, paths to go down and changes to make before too long. Our minds are closed by our determination to remain focused on where we're headed and the tasks at hand.

When our minds experience two degrees of freedom, we're facing a panorama of possibilities. We're choosing which path by considering a variety of complicated options. There is so much to explore and learn, the future becomes a moving target. We're refining our processes, changing our strategies and thinking up new alternatives to consider. The now moment proves to be so rich with fascinating facets that we easily lose track of the passage of time. We become powerful enough to let go of what happened and confident enough to let things work themselves out in time. We become more trusting of what happens as meant to be, showing us something or guiding us in a new direction. Our minds are wide open to what other viewpoints are showing us and what else we can learn right now.

When our minds experience three degrees of freedom, we're free to transcend this plane of mortal existence. We rise above our circumstances, transcend our small mindedness and embrace the totality of any situation. We stand outside vicious cycles where we can transform the patterned reactions by coming from a different place. We see life as game worth playing with new challenges at every level of these added degrees of freedom. Our sense of time is eternal where we are free to time travel forward to bring back the next step in realizing visionary possibilities. Our minds are open to our inner world of inspired guidance, as well as the panoramic possibilities we explored with two degrees of freedom.


  1. In language learning, we call this cognitive flexibility. The boundaries of understanding are pushed when we are introduced to something that creates dissonance. There are three options: ignore the dissonance (don't recognize that there is a difference between what we "know" and what we are exposed to that is different). This would be a 0-1 degree of freedom. Recognize that there is a difference, but don't do anything about it (1 degree). Recognize the dissonance, try to identify its source, but then discount it as irrelevant at that point, tucking it away to a future time when it might be relevant (2 degrees). Or looking at the dissonance, studying it, reformulating your ideas, and fitting the idea into your cognition (either by discounting one idea over another, compromising one or both ideas so they can co-exist, or creating a whole new understanding). What is important with the 3rd degree is that your thinking (cognition) changes in some way, even if you throw out one of the ideas. Your understanding of the idea you keep is deeper because of the dissonance.

  2. This is a great model (new to me) for how we handle cognitive dissonance and your relating it to the degrees of freedom I explored here. That first response of denial makes sense to me as closed minded irrationality. The fear of dissonance from past experiences, (apprehensions of being wrong, looking stupid, attracting scorn, etc) would overrule recognizing the dissonance at all. When recognizing the dissonance without acting on it, a rational response has been made (decision, tradeoff, value judgment, etc). When the source of the dissonance gets considered, that seems to me like panoramic, complicated, open-minded rationality that seeks to understand unfamiliar experiences with other frames of reference. The occasions where the dissonance gets integrated one way or another ventures into the complex, open-minded irrationality where dilemmas get transcended. In other words, what you've added here fits perfectly to my way of thinking about open mindedness. Thanks Virginia!