No Thought, Best Thought, and Science Agrees

All that thinking, mental wrestling and teeth gnashing is pointless?
Zen teaches wu-nien/no-thought, this does not mean do not think, but rather, understand the futility of thinking. When you see thinking as a habit of the mind, attachment to the thought disappears, and with it all the anxiety. Thoughts are allowed to come and go, but you have no desire to grasp, analyze or judge them. Zen* practice cultivates a calm mind, and with this comes stronger intuition and 'knowing'.
And now science is offering some support to this concept....

Wall Street Journal
Get Out of Your Own Way
Studies Show the Value of Not Overthinking a Decision Fishing in the stream of consciousness, researchers now can detect our intentions and predict our choices before we are aware of them ourselves.
The brain, they have found, appears to make up its mind 10 seconds before we become conscious of a decision -- an eternity at the speed of thought.

Their findings challenge conventional notions of choice. "We think our decisions are conscious," said neuroscientist John-Dylan Haynes at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, who is pioneering this research. "But these data show that consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg. This doesn't rule out free will, but it does make it implausible." In ways we are only beginning to understand, the synapses and neurons in the human nervous system work in concert to perceive the world around them, to learn from their perceptions, to remember important experiences, to plan ahead, and to decide and act on incomplete information. In a rudimentary way, they predetermine our choices....

Is your freedom of choice an illusion? Your brain knows what you're going to do 10 seconds before you are aware of it, neuroscientist John-Dylan Haynes and his colleagues reported recently in Nature Neuroscience. Last year In the journal Current Biology, the scientists reported they could use brain wave patterns to identify your intentions before you revealed them. Their work builds on a landmark 1983 paper in the journal Brain by the late Benjamin Libet and his colleagues at the University of California in San Francisco, who found out that the brain initiates free choices about a third of a second before we are aware of them.

Together, these findings support the importance of the unconscious in shaping decisions. Psychologist Ap Dijksterhuis and his co-workers at the University of Amsterdam reported in the journal Science that it is not always best to deliberate too much before making a choice. Nobel laureate Francis Crick -- co-discoverer of the structure of DNA -- tackled the implications of such cognitive science in his 1993 book The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul. With co-author Giulio Tononi, Nobel laureate Gerald Edleman explores his biology-based theory of consciousness in A Universe Of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination...more from
Wall Street Journal

"The idea that conscious deliberation before making a decision is always good is simply one of those illusions consciousness creates for us," Dr. Dijksterhuis

Wall Street Journal
Science Journal
Robert Lee Hotz
June 27, 2008

Pin It


Vikram Madan said...

Hi MD,

Very interesting post. Brilliant actually. Was looking for something like this for a long time.

The question of freewill found my interest a year or so back, after reading bits and pieces of Ramesh Balsekar's book, 'The Ultimate Understanding'.

Eckhart Tolle, a big influence on me, also touches upon lack of volition in human life many times in his talks, but in a subtle manner.

But Balsekar says it quite openly. That there is no volition in human life.

A long time back I wrote a post entitled 'Kill the Thinker' (currently offline - plan to put it back on soon)...which...also points to lack of volition...and...this post is rooted in Chaos Theory/Self Organising Systems.

(What I am writing below - I am mixing two entirely different paradigms - mysticism and Chaos Theory.)

A self organising system has no centralised control, no controller, no centre. It 'manifests spontaneously'.

The human body/mind is a self organising system. No reason for it not to be a self organising system since all natural systems are self organising.

Body cells/brain cells/muscles etc. together form a complex 'Self Organising System' that follows the laws of Chaos Theory.

This would mean the human mind/body has no centre and is just a 'spontaneous manifestation'. A 'strange attractor' in a system of Chaos. A phenomenon. A self organising machine.

Just like the body/mind maintains its blood pressure/temperature etc. automatically - thoughts also happen automatically.

Its correct to say that thoughts are a self-organising system CONTAINED in a self organising system known as the body/mind.

So thoughts are a self organising system - which is devoid of centralised control, by definition.

The implications of this are quite bizarre of course -- Lack of a "Self with volition" at the centre of the human body/mind.

Sigmund Freud said (it seems) that the 'Ego' is a prisoner of the house, not its master. Another pointer. I take his words very seriously.

All this reminds me of the Eagles song ... 'we're prisoners walking through this world all along' in their song 'desperado'.

Anyway, there's quite a few pointers to all this, your post also serves as a pointer....a brilliant one.

But an existence in which there is no "self with volition" makes no sense to me.

And this has made me ponder the concepts of MAYA. (or should I say ponderance has happened - on its own!! :-) )

I am considering this quite seriously now. That this entire realm - the human realm - is nothing but a huge illusion that has surrounded us - sleeping beings. That we are unable to realise (directly) that this is an illusion because we are asleep in this giant collective dream. Unable to realise directly because our awareness is very low, as is the case when one sleeps.

You must be aware of concepts that say 'when a person reaches self realisation, he/she realises there was never a self. The self was an illusion.' Or 'the self
vanishes at enlightenment'....OR... 'I am nobody, going nowhere.'

Such concepts seem to say exactly what Chaos Theory/Self Organising Systems say about the human mind/body --- No centralised control. No centre. No controller...No doer. No thinker. No self. No volition. Shunya. Null. Void.

(Sounds like something out of "THE MATRIX"! : P . But then there's a saying....'Truth is stranger than fiction'.)

My conjecture:
I refuse to take all this 'AS IT IS'. Because I am not a phenomena. I am a person. The only thing that makes sense is that I am a SLEEPING person, merely witnessing and watching human life, and not participating. This sleeping person-the REAL me - is witnessing, not participating. Just witnessing - not doing. The human DOER - the one who's life I see everyday - he is an illusion. A dream entity in MAYA. So his 'doing' is an illusion. His world is an illusion.

And the words that flow here and create the logic that they do are flowing spontaneously, origin-less, flowing for some reason unknown.

Quite a mind-bending conjecture!

But just CONJECTURE. I cannot call it 'my truth' unless I have direct experiences that point to its validity.

From your post: "The brain, they have found, appears to make up its mind 10 seconds before we become conscious of a decision -- an eternity at the speed of thought."

Reminds me of something about myself that bugs me a lot... sometimes I say something and a few seconds later a thought hits me...'Wha? Wtf was that! Why the hell did I say that!!'. :P

Guess I'll stop here, my comment has become huge.

md said...

Hi Vikram,

maybe freewill is not so free....but then what is? :)

What we really are is probably beyond the grasp of our present consciousness.
Science is telling us, and the mystics have always taught, that we are not as solid as we appear. We all fear that we are not really here...because we're not.

I feel we are happenings, 'spontaneous manifestations' of the groundless ground, the source of all creativity and consciousness. ..........all beings are animated/motivated by a surge from this ground, and it precedes the minds habitual creation of words and images.

Our actions may be independent of the 'thought' to 'act' by a split second, but the action, how we act, is a result of the contents of the mind/body.......We are all manifestations of the same consciousness, and we all feel this surge(kundalini), but the mind/body filters and controls it, and so it is manifest uniquely in each being/happening. Our blood pressure and heart beat are maintained by the body/mind without our conscious thought moment by moment. But, how that manifests is dependent on, or affected by our previous actions(diet etc), and even our previous thoughts.....and as you know, many a good yogi can consciously alter heart rate, temperature etc, at will.

This is why a practice is so important. Spiritual discipline and training the mind, opens and awakens this consciousness, reduces the noise of the ego and purifies the mind/body.

For some this is a sudden awakening, just as in physical awakening, but for most I think it is gradual.
'Awakening' is no different than the experience of being aware you are dreaming and gradually waking up. While you were dreaming it all seemed so real and now that you are waking, that seems real, but 'this' and 'that' are in the mind, and really not real at all....

So, yes, our 'waking' state is simply anouther level of dreaming. They both are equally illusory and mind made.
We are not awake, just less asleep than when we are dreaming..........

The practice is to awaken, and I guess I hope not to awaken naked in a pod of goo ala Matrix.

I luv the Matrix, and I frequently recommend the Matrix as a quick course in basic Buddhism

Vikram Madan said...

Waking up naked in a pile of s**t, well, that's how I sometimes describe being born into this world. The cosmic trashcan, as I often call it.

Reminds me of a poem of mine named

"Street Children"

Born in sin...
the cosmic trashcan...
born naked in this searing heat
this danger
this insecurity;

Delicate innocence
innocent, tender, vulnerable;
thrown into the arms
of the bloody dragon.

Not a pessimistic outlook to life. Its reality of course.

This is how street children come into this world, especially in India.

(Off the topic of this blog entry, sorry about that!)