Metacognition is “thinking about thinking”, or “knowing about knowing”. It comes from the root word “meta”, meaning beyond. It can take many forms; it includes knowledge about when and how to use particular strategies for learning or for problem-solving. There are generally two components of metacognition: knowledge about cognition, and regulation of cognition. Some evolutionary psychologists hypothesize that metacognition is used as a survival tool, which would make it the same across cultures. Writings on metacognition can be traced back at least as far as On the Soul and the Parva Naturalia of the Greek philosopher Aristotle.
It can include many different things, but it mostly pertains to having very good critical thinking skills, being able to objectively consider problems, have perspective, adaptability and an intimate knowledge of when and how to use particular strategies for learning or for problem-solving. Geniuses in the past probably nailed this, knowingly or not.
A key element to metacognition is recognizing the limit of one’s own knowledge or ability and then figuring out how to expand that knowledge or extend the ability. It’s the practice of actively monitoring your learning strategies and resources to assess your readiness for other particular tasks and performances
Meditation can also be seen as a form of meta-cognition, but as a different and more organic form, that it’s almost like a short circuit to the brain. Where if you meditate on the fact that you are a you, who thinks a thought, and then you question who it is that is thinking, and who it is that thinks about this thinking. That can possibly lead you into the “infinite feedback loop” of one’s own pure awareness.
Metacognition is what is in practice when people learn something and then can immediately transfer or adapt their learning to new contexts and tasks without much thinking. Metacognition is the missing piece to the A.I. puzzle, if we really expect to create any sort of “real” intelligent robots, metacognition must come into play for sure.
At a professional level, this has led to emphasis on the development of reflective practice, particularly in the education and health-care professions. Metacognition helps people to perform many cognitive tasks more effectively. Strategies for promoting metacognition include self-questioning (e.g. “What do I already know about this topic? How have I solved problems like this before?”), thinking aloud while performing a task, and making graphic representations (e.g. concept maps, flow charts, semantic webs) of one’s thoughts and knowledge. Carr, 2002, argues that the physical act of writing plays a large part in the development of metacognitive skills.
Researchers at the University College London have discovered that subjects with better metacognition had more gray matter in the anterior (front) prefrontal cortex. Studies are ongoing to determine just how this brain area contributes to the critically important skill of metacognition.
“Know Thyself” is an appropriate catch phrase for metacognition.