Meditation and Metacognition: Ancient Wisdom and Modern Research

Cognition is the ability to retrieve knowledge from memory. Self-monitoring of knowledge is subject of research for modern neuro-scientists. It was also the topic of meditation in ancient eastern traditions.

What is Metacognition?

Metacognition is your knowledge about what you know. It is the ability to monitor and evaluate your own cognitive processes with your own mind. It is the quality of your mind to know your own thoughts and memories.  Metacognition is very important for developing brain power, memory and learning ability. Interactive metacognition is very effective for learning.

Metacognition and Recent Research:

brain neuronsNormally, prefrontal cortex area of the brain is considered as the main area of metacognition. It is located right at the front of the brain. It is involved in high-level thoughts, conscious planning and monitoring of the ongoing brain activities. However, recently a research team [See Ref. 1] of University of Pittsburgh studied single neurons in vivo in three frontal cortical regions of the brain: the frontal eye field (associated with visual attention and eye movements), the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (responsible for motor planning, organization, and regulation), and the supplementary eye field (SEF) involved in the planning and control of eye movements. SEF is associated with extremely fast movements of the eye that allow it to continually refocus on an object. The researchers found that metacognitive activity are linked to SEF area of the brain.

Metacognition and Meditation:

Metacognition meditation is reflecting on the learning what you already know. This meditation is very helpful for the young students as well as for the elderly persons. For students it improves the memory power and the learning ability. For the senior persons metacognition meditation improves brains plasticity. It cleanses the neural pathways. It also reorganizes the pathways. The process of metacognition meditation involves awareness, self-regulation, and refocusing. It includes integrating previous knowledge with new information.

Metacognition and Ancient Wisdom:

In the ancient wisdom book of India (Drig Dirsya and Viveka), meditation is described as observing the thoughts with detachment and from a distance. It discriminates between the seer and the seen. Here, seen means the thoughts, mental images and the knowledge. It discriminates knowledge from the knower. In meditating on the knowledge and the knower relationship, the following principles are followed:

1. The knower and the knowledge are different from each other. The knower can never become knowledge and knowledge can never become knower.

2.  The knowledge is inert but the knower is aware and conscious.

3.  The distance between the knowledge and the knower is the measure of meditation.

4. Knower knows the quality and the quantity of knowledge but the knowledge has no ability to know the knower.

In ancient India interactive metacognition was very popular, particularly for spiritual debate. They developed different patterns for metacognition meditation. With the development of new technologies like fMRI brain imaging system, we are in a better position now to know exactly how metacognition works.


1. Paul G. Middlebrooks, Marc A. Sommer. Neuronal Correlates of Metacognition in Primate Frontal CortexNeuron, 2012; 75 (3): 517 DOI:10.1016/j.neuron.2012.05.028

2. Kikyo, H., Ohki, K., & Miyashita, Y. (2002). Neural correlates for feeling-off-knowing: an fMRI parametric analysis. Neuron, 36(1), 177-186.

3. Anderson, J. R.,Betts, S. A., Ferris, J. L., & Fincham, J. M. Cognitive and metacognitive activity in mathematical problem solving: Prefrontal and parietal patterns.Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, 11, 52-67.

4. Drig Dirsya and Viveka  By Adi Sankaracharya