Mind is the most fundamental yet enigmatic layer of a being. Arthur Schopenhauer, describing Kantian philosophy’s relation to Christianity, may have described the human being’s relation to his or her own mind: “a man who at a ball has been flirting the whole evening with a masked beauty, in hopes of making a conquest; till at last, throwing off her disguise, she reveals herself—as his wife” (Basis 105). Intimate yet occulted by proximity, mind and consciousness have seemed largely beyond understanding; some have altogether “ignored the phenomena … [as] inappropriate for empirical investigation” (Salamone n.p.). Far from inappropriate, however, Thomas Nagel suggests that mind and consciousness may be simply incompatible with materialist and new-Darwinian paradigms. Ultimately, “existence presents us with the fact that somehow the world generates conscious beings … We don’t know how this happens, but it is hard not to believe that there is some explanation” (Nagel Mind 31).
The eighth-century Buddhist master Vimalamitra described the progress of a meditator: one first becomes acquainted with his or her thoughts, as with familiar friends; they then learn to allow trains of thought to unravel themselves, like a snake effortlessly unknotting itself; finally, one’s mind becomes like an empty house, within which thieves find nothing (Urgyen et al. 53). Not at all an exclusively Buddhist practice, for millennia numerous cultures around the world have utilized meditation in various forms. However, despite the diversity of theories and practices underlying meditation, Vimalamitra’s definition pinpoints what they hold in common: a desire and capacity to quiet an otherwise hyperactive mind. Only relatively recently, however, have researchers been able to analyze these claims. The results of scientific inquiries suggest that meditation provides numerous benefits, including greater presence, an increased ability to manage negative emotion, more productive sociability, as well as potential neurological benefits.
I recently came across a useful bit of advice: in essence, to highlight often when reading an ebook, and then to revisit those highlights in order to gain not only the gist of a text, but perhaps to see what attracted your attention the most.
Nowadays I mostly read ebooks—PDF, epub, Kindle, etc.—partly because of visual impairments (I can read print books just fine, but I can enlarge ebooks to my heart’s content). But a happy byproduct of my preference for ebooks is that, as mentioned in the advice above, they make it easier to extract and compile notes taken and highlights made. I’ve been thinking about this bit of advice for some time, and, as an experiment, I ended up reaching back for one of my favorite novels, Hermann Hesse’s Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair’s Youth.
Because the past while has been more or less the usual (editing, prepping Infinite Zero, etc.; the tedium that has to get done), I thought I’d share what I’m reading, plus some thoughts that have come from it.
First a bit of background: for a long time I’ve had pretty eclectic reading habits, but for the past year or so, I’ve been really enamored with psychology and its various schools of thought. Partly I think it’s because it lends itself to so many aspects of life, which then bleed rather naturally into writing. Put another way, having something like a semi-stable landscape of the human mind in general is really helpful in character development. All of this has somewhat organically led me to studying theories of consciousness, which led me in turn to two books, both from the mid-twentieth century.