Thursday, 30 October 2008


I remember reading somewhere that Zen Buddhists would burn all their books on reaching enlightenment. This always puzzled me. Surely this wealth of knowledge about the human condition should have been shared, and then distributed to every man, woman, and child. It could serve as a manual to help them understand their own lives. But then again, who the hell wants a manual? Maybe these teachers understood that people don't need to understand their own lives to be happy. Maybe people would just simply prefer to be happy.

Everyman (and woman!) his own journey. His own journey everyman.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Do You Have A Strange Mind Too?

The following email has done the rounds for some time on the internet now, but its implications are impressive. Have a go at reading the paragraph below:

fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too.I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mind! Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm.Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? Yaeh, and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

Well, how did you do? Apparently, not everyone can reveal the above message, and indeed, you may need a strange mind to do so. There's no official line from Cambridge University regarding this research though and some think of it as a well informed internet stunt. Nevertheless, it illustrates beautifully the inner workings of the mind. By messing around with the arrangement of letters in words it reveals something remarkable in how the mind processes information. When we leave the first and last letters of a word but muddle all the others, we are still able to read the true meaning regardless of how the word looks, because the mind uses shortcuts to cognise words more rapidly. The brain therefore is not reading the actual written word that we are consciously aware of, but rather identifying it as a shape, which it then matches to something stored in memory.Every word, and every meaning to every word, is contained within the brain somewhere. This seems obvious as we search our minds for the words we need to write, but remains as something we are unaware of when we read. We don't simply pick a word up from the page, but rather open its door from our own memory banks.

The implications of this are monumental, not only in how we apply it to when we read words on paper but also how we see EVERYTHING in the Universe. When we read the words off a page we are playing a game of association with them, and comparing them to ones held within memory, but is this not also true for how we describe every day objects we come into contact with? Are we at last seeing proofs of Buddhist theology and their teachings on the emptiness of the Universe?

So where on earth do we store all these memories of not only words, but also potentially the meaning of EVERTHING in the Universe? Well it appears that the oldest part of our brains which we inherited from our reptilian ancestors, plays a much more active role in our perception than previouslty thought. The cerebellum takes up only 10% of total brain volume, but has over 50% of all the neurons of the brain. The cerebellum has long been thought as a motor control structure, but modern research is starting to reveal a broader role in a number of key cognitive functions, including attention and the processing of language , music, and other sensory temporal stimuli. This here's worth a glance ....

And for anyone interested in Buddhist teachings on emptiness...

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

The Elixir of Life?

The human mind has only the capacity for one thought at a time. We can carry out multiple tasks all at once where automatic processes run in parallel, but we will only ever hold one conscious thought at any given time. Our minds relentlessly produce conscious thoughts one after the other, and they cascade down like the ticking of a clock. Our thoughts regulate the passage of time, and we regulate time by our thoughts, and it gives the appearance that time is real. It creates the illusion that time is constant and invariable and outside ourselves, when it's actually perpetrated by our rate of perception. Our thoughts can often appear so concrete that our ideas of time are concrete too.

So what then is a thought? About 100 billion neurons, or brain cells, make up the average adult's brain. Each of these neurons is connected to between 5,000 and 200,000 other neurons, the number of ways that information flows among neurons in the brain is so large it is greater than the number of stars in the entire Universe. The function of a neuron is to recieve input 'information' from other neurons, to process that information, then to send 'information' as output to other neurons.The voltage that carries signals from one neuron to the other is determined primarily by the potassium and sodium ionic concentrations internal and external to the neuron. In 1/1000 of a second, the cell changes from a negative charge to a positive and then back again. In this way, nerve cells 'hum' with electricity. It is the pattern and speed of the hum which the brain transfers into data and creates thought. I found this site offers an excellent insight into what's happening under the bonnet:

The electrical signals in the brain are travelling at a speed of 100 meters per second (or 200 miles an hour), along pathways reminiscent of a labyrinth. The appearance of a stimulus evokes neural responses that are related to the processing of this stimulus. The mediated response of the neo-cortex to stimuli generally occurs in about 50 ms. A simple movement such as raising a hand requires electrical signals from many regions of the brain. Every sight, sound, touch, emotion, reaction, every memory and every thought in the history of mankind is a result of these electrical signals. So I ask what would happen if we were able to somehow speed up the signals in the brain? If they are defining my rate of perception, then surely an increase in their speed would force reality to 'slow down'?

I'll leave you with this thought experiment. Imagine you and me are in the same room (don't get any ideas) and that I have been shrunk to a size so small that the distance between the neurones in my brain have halved, and so the speed of my thoughts are twice as fast as yours. In my mind it would appear that you were walking and talking at half your normal speed, while I would appear manic to you. But because inside each one of our minds we are still producing one thought at a time, our own rate of perception and therefore our concept of 'time' shall remain normal within our own personal experience. Does this experiment show that effectively 'time travel' is possible? If it is possible to slow down our experience of reality, are we then looking at a contender for the elixir of life?