Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bodhipaksa - Calling BS on the Mind’s Stories

Nice post from Bodhipaksa at WildMind Buddhist Meditation and disengaging from the stories we tell ourselves.

Calling BS on the mind’s stories

Bodhipaksa (June 17, 2009)

Bodhipaksa points out that you “don’t have to believe everything you think.”

I was talking to a friend the other day who’d found that recently he just wasn’t interested in his meditation practice. He’d found that he was watching the breath, but his mind was constantly telling him there were other, more interesting, things that he could be doing — that the breath was boring. The mind is always doing things like this: making up plausible stories that “make sense” of our experience. But the trouble is that these stories often are neither true, nor helpful.

An illustration of how arbitrary and untrue our mind’s stories are can be found in some fascinating brain studies. In treating some epileptic patients, it was once common for doctors to sever the corpus callosum, or band of tissue connecting the left and right brains. This means that the two sides of the brain, which have different functions, cannot communicate with each other, and each functions independently. It’s possible to present words or images to the left visual field, and only that side of the brain will respond: the right brain quite literally sees nothing, and vice versa.

In one intriguing experiment, split-brain subjects were presented with two cognitive tests simultaneously — one to each side of the brain. They were presented with a picture and asked to point to an object that went with that picture. Both sides of the brain performed perfectly: when the left hemisphere is shown a chicken foot, the right hand pointed to a chicken, and the right hemisphere, shown a snow scene, led to the left hand pointing to a shovel. The subject now has to explain — using his left hemisphere — why he made his choice. The response — “I saw a claw and I picked the chicken, and you have to clean out the chicken shed with a shovel” — makes no sense at all and is in fact a fiction, because there was no causal connection at all between the actions of the left and right brains, which were acting in an uncoordinated way.

In other experiments the word “Laugh” was flashed to the left field of vision (the right hemisphere), and the subject laughed. When asked, “Why are you laughing?”, the subject said, “Oh…you guys are really something.” The right brain laughs because it’s seen the word “laugh”. The left brain hasn’t seen the word, but knows that the subject has in fact laughed. And the left brain comes up with a plausible-sounding reason for why the laughing occurred, not knowing the real reason.

This may sound a long way from our day-to-day experience, but it’s not.
Read the whole post.


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