Thinking and nothingness

Is it possible to think about nothing?
Think about it…

To paraphrase one of the great thinkers of the twentieth century, John Dewey:


Dewey has pragmatic (as opposed abstract) reasons for this assertion, but this is a central aspect of his philisophy. A good book to read is “Democracy and Education,” which contains several chapters on exactly why this is so.

Jason R Remy

“And it could be safely said that at that moment, in the whole of India, no one, absolutely no one, was f^(king a goat.”
– John Irving A Son of the Circus (1994)

While meditating, I have experienced a state in which thoughts just pass though very quickly and not very coherently, and are completely impossible to remember. Not exactly the same thing, but kinda feels like it. :slight_smile:

I spent some time in a sensory-deprivation tank and, after a while, reached a state where if I was thinking about anything, I sure couldn’t have told you what it was.

Or did you mean: is it possible to contemplate a situation where there is zero stuff?

Isn’t that the medical definition of “Brain dead”?

I meant consciously clear your mind of any thought. I would think that, as a deliberate act this would be an impossibility.

I think the dial tone about which you inquire is something close to what I approached in the Lilly tank.

omniscientnot posted:

Yes, the empty set is readily conceived as an abstract thought.
onciscientnot may have meant:

The philosophical position of Dewey notwithstanding, yes, but with difficulty. This is the goal of transcendental meditation, any many types of Asian and Western contemplatives (religiously known as monks).

The meditation requires you to ‘silence your mind’ – that’s no easy feat. The task of silencing itself requires active thought which is not what the silence is supposed to be. However, monks, mystics, and contemplatives usually go through these steps:

  1. exercises of relaxing their bodies (can’t be thinkless if your foot is cramping);

  2. concentrating on a boring, repetitive task (e.g., breathing) or phrase (i.e., a mantra) in order to force the mind to stop thinking about other stuff;

  3. consciously put out of their minds the stuff that pops up (although, the student may have to deal with this stuff – in couseling if necessary – that keeps popping up before moving on to the next step);

  4. and once stuff stops popping up, to eventually forget monitoring one’s thoughts and to forget concentrating on the breathing or mantra – then there is no thought.

Now, grasshopper, go and be.


Just to clarify on Dewey’s position, Thinking is a process which cannot be divorced for its subject matter.

Think of a process like eating. For purposes of analysis, we can divide eating into separate parts. We can talk about the process of eating, and of food. We can talk of pre-eating (bringing food to your mouth) chewing, and digestion. And we can speak of these things without thinking of food. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that thsi divorcing of eating and food is only an invention for the purpose of analysis. In order to say that we are really eating, we must be eating something.

Likewise, we can analyze thought by seperating the process of thinking from the substance of thoughts, and look at them seperately. But we must remember that this distinction is an analytical convenience. Thinking must have an object. You cannot think about * nothing * in the sense that thinking implies thought in the same way that eating implies food.

Now if your question is can we think about emptyness, the answer is yes, the object of our thinking is that emptyness. And if you are asking, can we not think, that is can we let our mind go blank, the answer is yes. Eastern religions often work towards this, though I posit that many Western teenagers accomplish this as a course of nature. But we cannot think about nothing precisely because the action of thinking implies an object, if we don’t have an object in our minds (and for this purpose, I include “emptyness” or “void” as an object) we are not thinking, just like if we have no food in our mouths we are not eating.

Jason R Remy

“And it could be safely said that at that moment, in the whole of India, no one, absolutely no one, was f^(king a goat.”
– John Irving A Son of the Circus (1994)

Is it possible to think about nothing?
Think about it…

Nothing or, no-thing?
There is a difference you know.

But yes, both are possible.

If you knew Zazen, you would have not asked the question.


“Or did you mean: is it possible to contemplate a situation where there is zero stuff?”


“Omniscientnot may have meant: Is it possible not to think about anything at all?”


“Now if your question is can we think about emptyness…”
“And if you are asking, can we not think, that is can we let our mind go blank…”


“Nothing or, no-thing?”

Jesus!! You people ARE picky! :smiley:

To reiterate:


“I meant consciously clear your mind of any thought.”

I guess the question’s been answered, though I’m not sure. I’m trying not think about it too much.

Sure, have you watched Beavis and Butthead?

Sure, have you watched Beavis and Butthead?

Hey Beatle? I’m curious…how long were you in the sensory-deprivation tank? Etc? Can I have details? I have several people here who are dying to know…


And now, for something completely different.

When I was studying an ancient meditation ritual (I read about it in one of those 25 cent pamphlets while waiting in a checkout line), we were supposed to picture our consciousness as a huge, 3d, full color chalkboard. Anytime a thought entered, we’d use the eraser on it. After a while, we were supposed to use the eraser to actually get rid of the chalk board a little at a time.

Once the chalkboard was gone, your mind would be perfectly blank.

I always fell asleep, though. :wink:

SoulFrost wrote:

Wouldn’t you still have the eraser? What were you supposed to do with that?

Take it outside and clean it. And don’t touch anything else, mister!

And don’t breathe any of that chalk-dust–it causes cancer, y’know.

Due regards to Mrs. Poss (1st Grade, Homeroom) who frequently said things like that…

I use a meditation technique that results in as close to “thinkin about nothing” as I have ever experienced. Curiously, it is based not on thinking about less, but thinking about more. Rather than thinking about one topic at a time in a linear cause/effect fashion, I force myself to contemplate many things at once, never completing a “thread” if you will. By letting the stream of consciousness flow faster and faster, thoughts begin to trip over each other and get blown away in an increasing torrent of cogitation until everything blurs out, and soon all I am aware of is an unintelligible hash of white noise that becomes very soothing. I can only keep it up for short periods, but I find that in times of high stress, the net result is a feeling of serenity that is quite enjoyable.


“Cheating is a gift a man gives to himself”
–C. Montgomery Burns


It’s late & I’m tired, so this won’t be as detailed a response as I’d like to give you; nevertheless…

Time in the tank: ~2 1/2 hours. The Lilly tanks (I wonder if you can still find one) were about the size of a Hummvee and made of (I think) double-walled fibreglass. They were designed to be acoustically negative, (i.e. they dampened to the extreme both exterior and interior sound. The atmosphere was (silently) heated to a little bit above normal body temerature, as was the water. Water depth is about 10" and the water is heavily dosed w/epsom salts so you float high. The idea is that you will float w/o worry about breathing and that the waterline contact on your body will be indiscernible. Anyway, it is a very effective method for shutting down sensory input.

The experience; it probably took about 15 minutes to just adapt to the idea of floating in a warm pool in a sealed tank and to begin to release oneself from the daily duties of responding to external stimuli. A transitional phase follows wherein you become (hyper)aware of internal stimuli. You’ve no doubt heard your heartbeat while swimming or some such, but this package of sensations is different. You can make slight adjustments in your body and they resound. The small, incremental movements of tractor molecules in your muscles scream to be heard. In a search for input to help you, you open and close your eyes - no difference in the visual input, but you become aware of the resounding noise of your eyelids opening and closing. Finally, you abandon it all.

Next phase is (your own) dial tone.

And then they wake you up and send you on your way.

I’d like to add to it,… but it IS snooze time…

Hope this helps, Pippy…