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  • Writer's pictureMark Morton

Thinking about Nothing

A black hole
A black hole

Yesterday, as I was walking home with my dog Jasper, I realized that my mind was fretting about a bunch of things. Pesky things that were making it hard to relax my shoulders and enjoy the walk. So I tried to clear my head -- empty it, so to speak. Of course, I can't -- no one can, not totally. But then I wondered what if I could: if I could totally empty my mind, would it then be possible to get it going again? Do you need to have at least one thought in your mind in order to generate more thoughts? Otherwise, what would a new thought attach itself to? I think it might be kind of like trying to lift yourself up with your bootstraps: without something like a pulley, you just can't do it.


But what about newborns? Do they come into being with some sort of thought "pre-installled"? Or is a mere sensation -- of cold or noise or hunger -- the same thing as a thought? I don't think it is. Plants can have sensations -- they can sense the direction of the sun. Even seeds can sense gravity, which is why they grow downward. But I don't think plants have thoughts, and surely seeds don't.


Anyway, I don't think it's possible to totally empty our minds. At least not until brain death. And after that, I don't know. Maybe our thoughts continue. Maybe that's all that's left of us.

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Ken Stevens
Ken Stevens
Apr 28

“The baby, assailed by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing confusion; and to the very end of life, our location of all things in one space is due to the fact that the original extents or bignesses of all the sensations which came to our notice at once, coalesced together into one and the same space.”

William James, The Principles of Psychology (1890)

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Mark Morton
Mark Morton
Apr 28
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Nice passage. I especially like his use of "bignesses"!


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