Interview of C.R. Mukundan
EDUCATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS: Diploma in Medicine and Social Psychology, Ph.D.
INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE: Conducted various workshops and conferences internationally; Associated with Forensic Psychological Investigations (Singapore)
PUBLICATIONS: About 100 research publications in national and international journals, 4 books, contribution of chapters in several books
RESEARCH GUIDANCE: Chief/Joint research supervisor for over 70 doctoral and other research projects
ACHIEVEMENTS: “Lifetime Achievement Award” from All India Institute of Medical Sciences in 2014
TEACHING EXPERIENCE: 35 years (GFSU, KGMC, NIMHANS)
RESEARCH PROJECTS: Innovative researchers in the field of neuro-cognition: awarded by ICMR and NIAAA (USA)
ADMINISTRATIVE EXPERIENCE: Professor and Head of Department of Clinical Psychology at the National Institute of Mental Health & Neuro Sciences, Bangalore; Professor Emeritus at the Institute of Behavioural Science, Gujarat Forensic Sciences University at Gandhinagar, Gujarat; Honorary chairman of Axxonet Brain Research Laboratory at Axxonet System Technologies, Bangalore
INVENTIONS AND INTERVENTIONS: Set up the Clinical Neuropsychology Services and Neuropsychological Laboratory at NIMHANS; Developed various Clinical Neuropsychological assessment methods at NIMHANS for testing patients and training students; Designed a 24 channels EEG System; Developed a Computerized cognitive Retraining Programme called "Brain Function Therapy"; Developed a computerized "Neurobehavioral Controls and Potentiality Measurements"; Developed Brain Electrical Oscillations Signature (BEOS) profiling system for forensic and clinical applications
1) When did you first become interested in psychology as a career? What inspired you to take up psychology as your field of study?
I was interested in Indian and Christian philosophy since childhood. I wanted to join Chinmaya mission after my B.Sc. in Physics. My grandparents were deeply interested in Indian Philosophy and paternal Grandfather had become a Yogi. My parents did not allow me, they begged me that I should not join any missionary set. I was very disturbed and decided not to study any more. I was made to join a school as a teacher in the 7th standard, by the Vice Principal of my college (St.Albert’s College, at Ernakulam). We all in the family used to regularly prey in the morning and evening, as it was a family practice. My father had several Christian and Muslim friends, whom he used offer homeopathic drugs, and he also worked free in a homeopathy hospital of the church in the area, though he was employed as a draftsman for the central government, working in the Cochin island. After my graduation, when I found that I could not join a “Yoga” group and when I was asked to take up post-graduation, I thought Psychology as a subject would enable me to learn concepts about consciousness, thinking etc.
2) Who was your role model in the student life? How did she/he inspire you to psychology?
My Grandparents were my inspiration. I was also inspired by Swami Chinmayanada and local Christian Priests. Apart from them, the two role models were Sigmund Freud and Ivan Petrovich Pavlov. I was interested in learning about unconscious mind, thinking and learning through conditioning. I used to read Bhagavat Geeta regularly. I used to make a handwritten magazine, when I was in the 8th standard, named “Kaladeepika,” with the help of my friends. I was the editor and drawing expert for it. I was also interested in building mechanical toys and always got into problem with father as I took away his shaving blades for cutting my toys and took away all the hard cover pages of my sister’s note books as that was the only way I could get hard boards for making my toys. I was regularly punished for these by my father for these. He used to sometime tie my hands on the windows for hours together. We were all very fond of cats and dogs as pets. We all ate only vegetarian food.
3) What was the biggest challenge you faced in your student life?
I did not have enough money to buy tools and instruments and I took up the challenge of assembling a radio (Valve set). It was financed by my elder brother. I took one year to learn the electronics and build it as I had to do the whole work all by myself, though initially we were promised to be trained in the college. I succeeded finally to assemble the radio, and the first song that I heard in the set was a Hindi song by Hemant Kumar. I named the radio “Hemant”.
As I could not join a “yogic” group, I decided to learn psychology. One year later, my eldest brother succeeded in getting me an admission for M.A. psychology in St.John’s College at Agra and sent me there to take up the prost graduate course. However, I did not find the regular subjects of psychology, challenging or interesting. I spent maximum time in experimental works. I built two more valve radios there, one for myself and the other for the hostel.
That is when I came to know about the Clinical Psychology course at NIMHANS, Bangalore. I was selected and joined the course. However, I did not find the psychological testing procedures used interesting. I again spent all the time in experimental laboratory and set up the laboratory equipment and worked on skin potential using an amplifier that I built for the research projects. After the two years course, I joined for Ph.D. in the same department. I came to understand Clinical Neuropsychology in 1976 and worked in the area for the next several years and developed clinical Neuropsychological assessment methods at NIMHANS and it became a regular clinical method of testing patients and subject for training students at different clinical levels. I also had the privilege to set up a Neuropsychology Laboratory for cognitive neuroscience experiments at NIMHANS. I had research projects awarded by ICMR, and NIAAA (USA).
4) What was your topic of research in your Doctorate?
I worked on psychophysiological response changes in schizophrenic patients for my Ph.D. research. I assembled all the equipment needed for the measurement of heart rate, skin resistance, EMG, etc, and conducted the Ph.D. research. Received three months of WHO fellowship in 1983 for visiting United Kingdom. Received a 5 years research project from NIAAA (USA) for the study of alcohol dependent individuals in 1993, at NIMHANS.
5) What is your current position/ Responsibilities?
Currently working as an honorary Chairman of the Axxonet Brain Research Laboratory, engaged in my own research. I take care of all my financial needs with the pension that I receive from NIMHANS, where I worked from 1974 to 2003. Main responsibility is regarding the further development of the BEOS technology that I developed with Axxonet System Technology for testing neurocognitive processes of remembrance, used for forensic investigations of individuals suspected to have committed crimes. Helping Axxonet in developing the technology for testing early presence of dementia in individuals. I am primarily interested in a few specific research activities and publication of original articles in professional journals in the area of cognitive neuroscience. I still continue to be the co-guide to a few Ph.D. students, and visit universities and academic-clinical institutions as an invited member in their research committees.
6) Where have you worked in the past?
1. King George Medical College, Lucknow – 1 year
2. NIMHANS, Bangalore – 1974 – 2003.
3. Professor Emeritus & Director, Institute of Behavioral Science, Gujarat
Forensic Sciences University, Gandhinagar - 2013 – 2016..
7) Describe some of the current research projects you are involved in?
I have been developing a technology, which was named Brain Electrical Oscillations Signature (BEOS) Profiling since 1997. Directorate of Forensic Science at Gandhinagar, Gujarat signed an MOU with me at NIMHANS, for developing the technology. The system required heavy digital computing, and the task was given to Axxonet System Technology, Bangalore. The system measures the presence of remembrance of autobiographic episodes or experiences taking place in the brain. For eliciting remembrance, several related verbal probes in sequential order (as planned by investigators) are presented to cue remembrance. The subject has to only listen to the verbal probes, without giving any response. Multichannel EEG is collected and large sections (epochs) of EEG time locked to each probe is analyzed by the BEOS system. The system measures EEG and analyses multiple channels over 10 sec epochs, for detecting EEG frequency domain changes indicating presence of sensory registration, accessing source memory, encoding, recreation of sensory-motor imageries, time domain changes of remembrance and emotional effects. The system carries out the digital and statistical analyses and identifies probes which could elicit remembrance in the individual. Presence of remembrance is recorded in the automatic analyzed report. The investigator of the case could use the findings in the report for further investigations and interrogations of the individuals involved in the case. The BEOS test allows testing different forensic formulations and the specific involvement different individuals as envisaged in the forensic formulations. More than 600 cases have been examined as per court permission and the findings have held identification of individuals with innocence or involvement in hundreds of cases. The test is now used outside India also. This is the only technique currently developed and available for testing the neurocognitive process of remembrance in individuals. However, the test is not administered to neuropsychiatric patients and individuals with alcoholism addiction, etc. Apart from that, I am also involved in the following;
a) EEG assessment of neurocognitive process of remembrance of autobiographical episodes or Experiential Knowledge.
b) Theoretical models of molding drive into emotion, and Neurocognitive processes of initiation of action when drive attains Critical Levels of Potentiation.
c) Advantages of practicing “Stitha Prajna” – control or restrains of emotional responses to the emotional expressions which others make.
8) What are some of your personal interests?
Deeply interested in listening to Indian and Christian sacred and classical music. I have purchased several hundreds of these music CDs and cassettes, and listen to selected music items every day. However, since childhood, since childhood, I have never visited any religious places or spent time in believing and worshipping any higher power.
9) What are some of your personal strengths and weaknesses?
I can objectively and critically analyze self, self-approaches and decisions, and correct myself if need arises. Intense need for self-generation of emotional experiences and their frequent absence cause agony and weakness.
10) What aspect of research are you interested in and why?
Currently I have shifted my research interest in understanding the neurogenesis of emotional arousal, since last 4- 5 years. I have already published more than a dozen original research papers on emotion and still working on some important issues. I have been practicing “Sthita Prajna” in the last 2 years and it has totally changed my cognitive judgments and emotional responses of personal life. I am interested in Neurocognitive aspects because knowing neurocognitive aspects enables us to create virtual realities and through them create new physical realities based on the rules and relationships that exist in nature.
11) Cognitive Neuroscience is a much talked about area these days. What in your opinion is the importance of the emergence of "Cognitive Neuroscience" and how is it beneficial in the field of psychology. What should be done to promote the said field?
Cognitive neuroscience explains the complex domain that we call psychology. For promoting psychology in this sense, everyone should learn neuroscience to the extent needed for understanding psychological relationships. Knowing psychology outside the field of neuroscience is the ancient method, when we did not have any knowledge of neuroscience, and made us consider psychology, spiritualism, and physical worlds as separate entities. All psychological and behavioral components must be studied within the structural premises with their functional involvements producing the psychological effects. Drive and Cognition are the only two basic functions of the brain. Cognitive judgments and decisions help mold the drive into emotion. I consider that “drive” is what the ancient people called the “atma” or soul. A man cannot lift even his little finger without drive. These are the only two major functional domains of the brain, that we need to study and cultivate for making the best use of man’s capabilities. Most of the human beings are still far away from these goals. They have a long way to develop their own strength and capabilities to the best levels.
12) You have developed a methodology called "Brain Electrical Oscillation Signature Profiling", where a suspect's role in the crime is detected by eliciting electrophysiological impulses. Can this technique be used to identify the neurological basis for the psychological disorders OR do you intend to expand its reach into the clinical aspect of psychology? If yes then how will it be helpful and effective?
What I have developed is only a method of explaining the details of neurocognitive changes taking place in the brain. The same could be definitely used for knowing and explaining their decline in brain disorders which cause dementia and similar diseases, as well as new learning procedures in the brain. The work in this direction is already in progress.
13) You have worked among the Indian population for many years. What has been your experience working with the diverse and/or multicultural population?
Too much differences exist in the educational and neurocognitive capabilities of individuals in different socioeconomic groups. Their judgment of qualitative aspects may be diverse.
14) There are various good psychological associations/ societies abroad. Do you think India also needs that level of association/society?
Yes, definitely we require superior societies for encouraging and facilitating the work in psychology and social conditioning (socialization) of individuals. We are at a loss as we do not have such societies in India.
15) What kind of changes have you seen in psychology in the past five decades?
5 Decades back, we used to constantly think of unconscious minds, and spiritualism. All these have now disappeared, though the behavioral and psychological aspects have explanations at different levels using neurocognitive processes. For example, today we know how brain responds to signals without their perception or awareness, which we earlier called unconscious mental processes. Greater awareness and acceptance of neurocognitive discipline and the application of biological and physical sciences for explaining psychological aspects. These have happened as all Science and Technology institutes are now specializing in neurocognitive areas.
16) There are many students who want to go abroad for Higher Education. what would you like to suggest them?
I strongly support higher education abroad, until we are able to introduce other science subjects and learn to make use of them for understanding psychology from a larger scientific perspective.
17) What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a psychologist?
A psychologist must learn neurobiological sciences and physical sciences as the foundation of science and behavior, and learn to apply them for understanding – interpretation of psychology. Psychological interpretations outside these disciplines have no value or use for man. Psychology outside the scope of interpretations of basic sciences, is merely fictional, virtual, and has no relevance to the physical realities. Learn psychology and relevant science subjects in an integrated manner.
18) Any other advice for the aspiring Psychologists?
Love, empathy and hard work are integral parts of human psychology.