Science

Thinking about Not-Thinking

Posted 4 Sep 2008 at 18:57 UTC by steve Share This

The original instructions for Zen meditation date back to the 12th century saying, "Think of neither good nor evil and judge not right or wrong. Stop the operation of the mind, and consciousness; bring to an end all desires, all concepts and judgments". The latest fMRI brain scanning techniques have recently been turned on practitioners of this technique to find out what happens in the brain. The results have been published in a paper titled, Thinking about Not-Thinking: Neural Correlates of Conceptual Processing during Zen Meditation (PDF format). Researchers found brain regions that are active during this mental state but not during normal goal-oriented behavior. These brain regions appear to be involved in control of voluntary attention and are also thought to be part of our "sense of self". What the meditators appear to gain from learning to control this region is, "the ability to control the automatic cascade of semantic associations triggered by a stimulus and, by extension, to voluntarily regulate the flow of spontaneous mentation." In practical terms, the meditators were in more control of their brain, able to complete conceptual tasks faster and more accurately than non-mediators in the study. So does all this have any implications for AI or robotics? If we give robots human-like minds that think randomly and inaccurately, will they eventually adopt Zen meditation to overcome those handicaps?

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