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Sjahari Hollands - Do We Really Need a New Explanation of the Latihan?

about 'rasa'. From Merin Nielsen, February 7, 2008. Time 7:52

about 'rasa'

On February 4, David discussed rasa in feedback to the article "What is Subud?" He concluded:

>> I'm very curious to see what you, Michael, Helissa, Andrew and Stefan might make of "rasa", in terms of describing your own experiences. (Sorry if I missed anyone!)

That's okay, David. The following is what I make of rasa in relation to a somewhat academic and materialist interpretation of my own experience.

I think rasa corresponds to the mental facility for forming a complete and consistent 'model' of the relationships between one's 'inner states' and elements of the world in general. I will explain this in some detail below. In summary, I support 'Connectionism' as the basis of mind (or mental states), the 'Computational Theory of Mind' as the basis of meaning, 'Higher Order Representation Theory' as the basis of consciousness, and the 'Language of Thought Hypothesis' as the basis of language. Also below are links to reading material on these topics.

According to connectionism, one's model of the world is really a huge, intricate set of relationships between the basic components of one's experience of reality whose myriad 'meanings' are ultimately generated in the form of a neural network. The arrangements and weightings of connections within this gigantic network mirror the relationships between things in the world, such that this isomorphic mimicking is the sole source of semantic meaning. In my view, rasa corresponds well to gradually extending this amazingly complex model to encompass the mechanisms of one's own dispositional nature, including the mind and emotions, in progressively more accurate detail.

However, I think this process amounts to an activity that human nature doesn't readily provide for, since it isn't very relevant to natural selection. While human nature includes the same facilities of consciousness and cognition that are shared by cats, cows and crows, it also comes with a symbol processing capacity that is the basis of language, but which may be turned to purposes other than the everyday enhancement of survival prospects. For cats, cows and crows, environmental stimuli produce sensory mental states that might simultaneously be represented within the animal's world model, where such representations are more or less coarsely analogue. Conscious states are such states that simultaneously have such representations. If these representations subsequently evoke further subtle, internal states, then they are 'cognitions', subject to inference and analysis, and thus useful for enhancing one's survival prospects in many ways. Humanity's extra symbol processing system, on the other hand, can take huge combinations of analogue representations and arbitrarily allocate symbols to them. This sidesteps all the heavy-duty processing of analogue representation. Supervening networks of relationships between symbols then supply a far more efficient shortcut means of modelling the world, as well as permitting relationships themselves to be allocated with symbols. Such 'concepts' can be transmitted between individuals in the form of language.

As per cats, cows, crows and other empathically social creatures, to a limited extent we naturally process representations of our own and others' mental states, via the original system of analogue representation. But the symbol processing system might let us translate all these representations into symbols whose interrelationships can be more concisely modelled, provided there is careful observation and inferential reasoning. This modelling has the potential to be uncontaminated by analogue influences, thus very rational. I suggest that the analogue system can't be successfully applied to the task because it is founded on a fixed range of primitive sensory states, while those concerning our own mental mechanisms are likely to be unprecedented. In that case, it might be important to avoid relying on pre-existing characterisations. Fresh symbols could be adopted as realities of new elements are inferred, and further symbols allocated to the relationships between them. On achieving enough clarity, the symbolic 'digital' model becomes analogue to all intents, accurately reflecting internal reality. The final upshot is that, thanks to evolutionary advantages incidentally conferred by the facility of language, we detect the possibility of modelling our own mental apparatus in finer detail, and independently of its phenomenal contents. Rasa, therefore, might be the application of our symbol processing facility to this end.

David's feedback comment about rasa:

(and scroll down to February 4)

links to reading material:

also interesting:

From Merin Nielsen, February 7, 2008. Time 7:54

Some loose definitions and discussion.

1) State (of a human brain) -- a condition involving some sort of 'disequilibrium', whether mild or intense, that may produce a response, whether conscious or unconscious. States include basic and complex sensations, as well as manifesting instincts and emotions. Essentially, they're comprised of the basic stuff of existence, be that physical, biochemical or whatever.

2) Representation -- a mental 'echo' of some state or a combination of states recorded in memory. Each representation is linked to some specific state. It can be analogue or symbolic, complex or simple, but does not in itself involve 'accuracy'. In this view, representations ultimately have no semantic properties apart from the subtleties of their associated states of disequilibrium.

When I smell a flower, my brain is in a corresponding state, and at the same time I have a mental representation of smelling a flower, by virtue of having done this (or things like this) in the past. But each and every representation is linked to others.

blueness + vastness + aboveness = sky (complex).

thirst + beer (complex) + feeling of security = action of drinking.

They are linked together even though some are external, like beer and the action of drinking, while others are internal, like thirst and the feeling of security. The overall arrangement and significance of individual links adds up to a world model. States are characterised by 'fixing' their links among other, ultimately simple states. Once characterised, some types resist re-characterisation, whereas other types are changed easily, depending on the general circumstances of their original inclusion. Many of the links bypass conscious processing. There are many that an individual might be better off without, and others that ought to bypass consciousness in order to be useful. The entire set-up, however, finally comes down to linked states and (more or less complex) representations of states. But consider the trio of a state, its representation and the link between them. Symbolic reasoning lets us isolate the trio and transform the having of it into another state with its own link to its own representation. Thus, for example, we can be conscious of being conscious of being hungry.

3) Model (as a noun) -- the set of all one's representations that are interrelated and associated with each other more or less consistently and 'rationally', though constantly being shuffled around both consciously and unconsciously, with links being added, deleted, reinforced or diminished.

4) Attention -- the mechanism whereby states evoke (or provoke) representations to which they're linked. In a sense, states compete in terms of 'drawing' attention. This appears to allow 'relevant' information to be rationally dealt with in order to resolve the most urgent respective disequilibria.

5) Symbolic reasoning -- the mental capacity for employing symbols rather than direct, analogue representations in constructing a world model. This goes hand in hand with the language facility, which is based on allocating (and arbitrarily re-allocating) symbol associations. Manipulation of symbols provides a powerful shortcut for configuring one's world model, and permits 'rules' to be represented as patterns of relationships that are present among other representations.

6) Cognition -- typically a complex representation, often involving symbols (for humans at least), which is evoked by external stimuli or else by possibly subtle, internal states. Its components can evoke subsequent cognitions. That is to say, through the inner environment of one's world model, cognitions may stimulate sequential sensory states, which amounts to 'thinking'.

Cats, cows and crows are conscious in possessing representations of their sensory states, including various mental / emotional states. Cognition has them analysing and inferring about their external environments, which is effectively modelled in just that manner, by modifying the arrangement of links among the elements of one's experience. Since they lack symbolic reasoning, animals can't engage in abstractions like generalising rules as 'things', and perhaps especially not with respect to their own inner worlds. In the first instance, the human situation is similar. While our attention is capable of elegant symbol processing, especially involving cultural data, it remains fundamentally driven by the same emotional, instinctive and physical disequilibria driving cats, cows and crows.

This means that the symbol processing system is 'burdened' by pre-existing analogue associations imposed upon it by such states of disequilibrium, which dominate the formation of representations. Meanwhile, inference is readily available only when given some background of facts to work with. Despite this, it would seem that a largely separate 'secondary' network of symbolic relationships is required in order to properly model the mechanisms of the mind, with the scheme of analysis and inference beginning almost from scratch.

Before concluding, here's an important point. Whether we use analogue sensory states or symbols for our representations, semantic content never exists within any actual representation. 'Meaning' stems only from the relationships that hold between a given representation and all the rest of one's world model. Thus a sensory state is identifiable only in terms of its 'address' within the network, and even if symbol processing is active, symbols are not represented. The thing represented is a sensory state of the system that has certain relationships with all the other things in the real world. To represent it comprehensively is simply to mirror those relationships.


From Stefan, February 7, 2008. Time 15:7

Hi Merin,

I'm wondering why you put this brilliant sounding and well researched thesis on this particular page. Is it because Sjahari's article challenges members to come up with a persuasive alternative (to Bapak's) explanation of Subud? (Is this one?)

I guess that I would need either a week of determined study or a simplified version in order to fully understand it. But then I'm struggling generally to keep up with some of the refs to atomic physics and the nature of mind in other feedbacks.

A part of me is enjoying the mental gymnastics. On the other hand when I don't grasp it I feel frustrated. Sometimes I wonder if there's a bit of competetive mental sport going on, which is OK by me so long as I can hit a few balls! I would LOVE though, to see these conversations extended to more latihaners (and ex-latihaners) and hope it's not becoming so rarified as to exclude folk.


From Merin Nielsen, February 8, 2008. Time 10:6

Hi, Stefan,

Yep, I attached the above ideas to the feedback on Sjahari's article largely because of what you've just mentioned. These ideas are not directly about the latihan, although I could steer them in that direction, but I'm also sure they are acceptable to fairly few current latihaners, based on the reality that we're all different in terms of our personal dispositions -- which was another theme discussed in earlier feedback to Sjahari's article. One reason why the above notions could be hard to swallow is that they're rather 'mental' / philosophical / intellectual / academic -- which many Subud members are not. Another reason is that they are apparently materialist -- devoid of any other-worldly or supernatural kind of spirituality -- which may also often not suit Subud members. (I'd argue that these views are spiritual in a different way.)

I tried to write out the above ideas in a way that compromises between brevity and clarity, which naturally oppose each other. There's a lot to say while keeping within a reasonable length. There are some tricky words, but I chose to offer definitions just for a few that have special meanings outside of their colloquial meanings. I'm used to this form of discussion in my tertiary studies, and I realise most other people are not used to it, so I expect many people will find it somewhat hard to read, but I doubt that I can write much simpler without tedious lecturing.

Competitive mental sport? Yep, there's a bit of that, but I think in good spirit. And I think there will always be folk who find themselves more or less excluded from any communal activity, just because we all vary in nature and nurture, so we are all excluded from something or other.

My motivation is partly to highlight one more interesting (?) alternative among the wide variety of explanatory approaches that are available, one that suits my own background of experience and way of thinking (which finds enjoyment in trying to solve various puzzles).

Best wishes,


From Stefan, February 8, 2008. Time 15:19

Thanks Merin,

It takes some guts to swim againstv the tide and I fully support your right to hold and express "apparently materialistic" and scientifically derived views about what others would describe in mystical terms.

Even more than when Subud was founded, the educated public are (rightly) wary of any spiritual movement that draws members into one inflexible cosmology. On the other hand something that can be described in relation to research on consciousness - such as latihan the way you might describe it - could attract interest..

Can the core sense of what you've written be reframed in a more easily digestible form? (As if you were simplifying and summarising it for a popular magazine) If so, I'd be grateful to be "in on" the discussion. I'm drawn to the cat, the crow and the cow and hope they don't get gobbled up by the sneaky crocodile.


From Merin Nielsen, February 9, 2008. Time 8:7

Hi, Stefan,

The core sense... perhaps can leave out the issues of connectionism, representation and inference, which concern how sensations become organised perceptions and concepts.

First, there's this thing called rasa: "...." according to Stange, according to David.

It seems that we are somehow aware of the availability of some mysterious, optional (and possibly arduous) process of 'inner development' that goes with being human. But then we should ask what defines being human -- and the natural selection narrative suggests that this is essentially language. In terms of evolution, language bestows a very powerful capacity for our species to jointly process new information. i.e. I can discuss with my friend that there is a lion ten minutes along the track that has just killed an antelope that was chewing on the berry bush that she was just about to visit. This involves our portable, mental world models being sufficiently similar yet flexible to allow us to exchange symbols, usually words, while being able to assign new meanings to symbols, and all the while knowing that each other share this ability.

Thus, there's a very direct link between language and possessing a world model that's at least partly constructed out of symbols. It seems likely that, once our species began using language effectively, the advantage of using symbols for communication was amplified and greatly compounded by the advantages of using them to construct more information oriented world models. Spin-offs include the capacity to recognise and communicate about things like 'rules' and 'causes' and 'laws of nature'. (I think that it also generates the illusion of free will, connected with the representation of 'self' -- but that's a tangent topic.)

Along with our animal cousins (the cats, cows and crows), we still possess the original system of analysing and communicating information about the world, which does not use symbols. It relies on experiences being linked to mental 'events', with sensory details 'biologically' determining the mental details. The resulting world model includes details about our own minds and feelings, as well as other people's minds and feelings. The original system deals with this content because it's important for survival that social animals process certain information about one another's mental and emotional states. Also in this original system, there is a never ending list of priorities to deal with in order to bolster one's ongoing prospects of survival. This list largely determines what our minds notice, and what they'll probably be interested in next, according to whatever world model we've individually got at any particular moment. For human beings, though, the presence of this original system is always interrupting and putting pressure on the new kid on the block, which is our language (symbol processing) system.

Okay. By virtue of being human, we have available a facility of employing symbols to far more efficiently elaborate on the contents of our portable world models. Along with that, our models already incorporate a certain understanding of ourselves as symbol using creatures with minds, though with lots of instincts and emotions affecting our minds' operation. Also by virtue of our humanity, we sense that there's an option of 'inner development'. Meanwhile, it's reasonable to suppose we can apply the symbol processing system to fathoming more complete and consistent details of our own minds. I suspect that these elements of humanity come together in the task of extending one's world model such that it gradually encompasses the mechanisms that generate it. For this to occur, it might well be necessary to establish a nearly independent 'sub-world model', avoiding the original system's influence. And maybe this is rasa.

All the best,


From Stefan, February 9, 2008. Time 9:27

Thanks Merin,

I find this version easier to cope with (though I realise you gave more complex and rich detail in the first)

Would you agreee that to be able to attune to Rasa one basic requirement is to create a safe and protected situation, so that the instinctive (lizard) brain doesn't interrupt and over-ride the meditation/prayer/receiving/transmission or whatever we name the numinous experience?


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