As an atheist and skeptic, I enjoy thinking, reflecting, pondering.   The idea to deliberately stop thinking appears ludicrous to me.   

Over the years, I have read many definitions of what meditation is supposed to be, but behind many big words it seem essentially to be just an attempt to stop thinking.  Personally I am puzzled, how not thinking can attract anybody.  

Yet so many people claim, that meditation is beneficial for them.   They obviously feel something they call spirituality and it seems that by meditation they can enhance it.  It is elusive to me, just as the idea of somebody claiming to be spiritual but not religious is beyond my comprehension. Feeling interconnected with some cosmical power is as alien to me as is the belief in a deity.   
Sometimes I am wondering, if some spirituality module is lacking in my brain.   Or rather, that I am free of it.   I do not miss spirituality, whatever it may be, but I am puzzled, why it is of so much importance to so many people.   The belief in a deity and in the power of rituals like praying can be explained by extrinsic influences.   But this elusive spirituality seems to be intrinsic.  

Do other atheists experience something like spirituality?   Are there others, who are as void of it as I am?  

Tags: meditation, spirituality

Views: 906

Replies to This Discussion

Like you, meditation is for me an action (or inaction) and spirituality a concept wholly beyond my personal comprehension as a strong atheist
While I have had a few highly emotional experiences that I have been unable to explain, with the exception of the first which I did ascribe to a god at that time (some 60 years ago), I have had no trouble placing these experiences as being within the abilities (disabilities?) of my mind. I have since come to realize the totally rational mind is very much the exception, and much of our actions are based on our wants, our perceived needs and our wishes rather than the pursuit of the rational.

I wish these posts had "like" buttons, as on Facebook. 


I agree with you: "I find much more impressive that my brain can do that sort of thing, than it being some kind of supernatural thing."

... and especially agree with your very last paragraph. 


I've never been fully sure what people mean when they talk about spirituality or being spiritual. I'm sure I've probably had similar experiences as theirs, but just didn't name that that. I also think that some people are so afraid of being hated ... so afraid of loosing friends ... and whatever other reasons there might be ... that they'd prefer to say they're spiritual vs. religious, instead of saying that they're atheist/agnostic vs. religious. 


I am not trained in the proper way of meditating, and have not done much research on it, however I love to have moments of complete piece ... silence (with just nature sounds around me) ... it helps with stress ... it helps to relax. I would guess that there are people out there who do meditation for the same reason (to distress) vs. for spirituality. 


I have a model, which we could debate it's accuracy in reflecting reality, but it works in making sense for me.


We have a verbal-reasoning cortex (which is our great advantage, and in some smaller fashion our problem) and we have a non-verbally reasoning more primitive (take your pick:primate, lizard) brain.


The non-verbal is often mistaken for 'the spirit' and is the cause of the nebulous feeling of 'something else' inhabiting us - often ascribed a label of soul, spirit, collective consciousness, intuition sunconscious etc etc ad nauseum.


Meditation is not really about not thinking.  Our brain is a thinking machine - it will create thoughts whether we want them or not.  


When a thought arises from an external or purely internal stimulus, our amygdala attaches emotions to it, our memory attaches our history to it, and our cortex analyses the bejasus out of it.


Meditation is more an attempt to allow those thoughts to arise, quite naturally, but NOT attach the extra processing to them - the emotion, memory, analysis.


So I would describe it as more like stilling the internal chatter created by our avanced cortex, and allowing the non-verbal, quieter, more primitive brain to be heard.  


It's not an exercise in non-thinking, but an exercise in non-verbal-thinking.


I have done it occasionally, and sometimes felt I was close to the 'stillness' that is portrayed.  It's not spiritual (in my interpretation) in the slightest, my anecdotes attest only to it's non-supernatural advantages that proper studies hint at.


Thanks to all for the good answers to ponder over.   I am still struggling to understand.   
It's not an exercise in non-thinking, but an exercise in non-verbal-thinking.

What exactly do you mean by non-verbal-thinking?  

Right now, I only know two ways of non-verbal thinking from my own experience:
1.  The momentary delay after a thought enters my consciousness, a short moment similar to the tip-of-the tongue phenomenon, while my brain is still deciding, in which language to think, before converting the pre-verbal thought into this specific language.  
2.  When I focus on it, I can make myself aware, that my thoughts are accompanied by visual images on a screen on the inside of my forehead.   

Or do you refer to transliminality?   That again is something, that I am void of.  

Transliminality is a totally new word to me.  A quick glance at wikipedia makes me pretty sure its a BS word for a BS concept.  The inventor of the word is a woowoo-ist.

My model (again, the disclaimer - it appears to be a reasonable model that works, it's not intended as a description of reality) is based on all I have read, and boils down to this (extremely brief) summary:

Animals have brains.  Animals exhibit behaviours which are taken of indicators of thought (eg, they plan, use tools, can imagine different scenarios, can choose between actions and consequences, can evaluate risk and benefits, and can communicate).  Animals (outside of humans) lack extensive, structured language.  How then, without language, are they representing thought - how are they 'thinking' without language?

You say (paraphrasing) in your experience you only know two ways on non-verbal thinking.  In the experience of a gorilla? A dog? An elephant?  What is their non-verbal thinking like?

I don't know.  But it seems reasonable to suppose that the ancestors of homo sapiens had  a similar thinking process - and we modern humans retain that.  The 'animal' brain that humans have is overlaid with the verbally-proficient cortex. We retain that non-verbal human brain which is tied more closely to our bodies than the cortex (touch something too hot, and the 'animal' brain will react to take your hand away before the cortex has even started to analyse the situation).  Reflexes, instincts, emotions and autonomous actions are all the responsibility of the animal brain.

The human being has 2 brains.  OK, that's sensationalist - humans have a non-verbal, non-vestigial brain similar to other primates, and this brain is overlaid with a second brain - a modern, grossly expanded cortex that thinks in language.  That's well-known.  The primate brain cannot communicate verbally - it doesn't have that capability.  The results of it's cogitations are expressed in hormone levels, in serotonin secretion (and so on), and in emotions.


Meditation (as I have been taught, and as I have practised) is a recognition that thoughts appear.  And that any thought that appears give rise to huge cortex processing.  Think "Mother" - that word alone will give rise to enormous amounts of memory, and depending upon your experience, remembered happiness, remembered love, remembered shame, regret, sadness, pride, longing, belonging . ...  These in turn give rise to echoing thoughts and emotions, of gratitude, of love, of despair, anger ... And then will link to similar situations where you've faced despair, other circumstances you have felt love .... and so on.

A network of connections is triggered (then re-triggers in turn a new set of connections (then re-triggers in turn a new set of connections ( then re-triggers and so on...... Each set of connections is weaker and quieter.  A mind-map - quite literally.

In meditation, the objective is to allow the word "Mother" pop up if it does, and not fire off those connections.  For that word - or any other word or thought - to be evaluated for itself, for it not to drowned out by tree of connections it would normally fire off in your busy head.


This is what I mean by non-verbal-thinking.  It brings to mind for me, somtimes. the ludicrous picture of a cow looking at a tractor.  She just looks at it.  She doesn't load the word 'tractor' with thoughts of gasoline, oil, pistons, cubic capacity, harvesting, big rubber tyres, ploughing, snow-clearing, accidents, farmers and so on.  Just simply - 'tractor'.


I hope I have explained well enough to answer your question about non-verbal-thinking.  Your limbic system, of which your animal brain is chief director, and your subconscious, are prime examples of thought that is not in words.


Justb a final comment - because I think humans are pretty damn clever.  If you look at the language of woo, including meditation, it correctly identifies this part of the brain.  You don't go to a 'higher' level - or a left or right place - you go to a 'deeper' level - which is a damn good (but simplistic) description of the animal brains position.  Under and buried within the cortex.  You don't deal with 'surface' concepts, but 'deeper' truths.

I am not in the slightest 'spiritual'.  I will call BS on nearly every meditation teacher, guru, or whatever.  The spiritual only exists insofar as the word spiritual labels those subconscious parts of ourselves we don't normally take notice of, because they are overshadowed by our cortex.

Hope I am making sense - and interesting sense at that. 


"Transliminality is a totally new word to me.  A quick glance at wikipedia makes me pretty sure its a BS word for a BS concept.  The inventor of the word is a woowoo-ist."

As far as I have understood the concept of transliminality, it is a two step definition.   The first part is a description and only the second part is woo-woo.  
Wikipedia:"It is defined as a hypersensitivity to psychological material (imagery, ideation, affect, and perception) originating in (a) the unconscious, and/or (b) the external environment".  There is no woo-woo in this.   The woo-woo part is the claim, that what is perceived by this hypersensitivity from the unconscious were woo-woo experiences, and of course that is nonsense. 
But I had been wondering, if maybe the same hypersensitivity if triggered by meditation could instead get to the unconscious without woo-woo and if this were then experienced as spirituality. 

I am still pondering, how to connect and find congruency between your brain model and mine.   So I postpone my reply to this part of your post.   Especially I am wondering, if my use and understanding of the word 'thinking' is really the same as yours.   Maybe I have to come up with some definitions and examples.  
After some more pondering, I start to see, why I did not understand the expression 'non-verbal thinking'.   My own understanding of thinking or reasoning is very different.  

In my model, the fundamental difference between animals and humans is the conscious self, which is able to recognize the value of the own individual wellbeing as independent from serving a purpose for the species and for the survival of the own genes.  

Animals are determined by instincts to submit all behavior to one ultimate purpose, which is the survival first of the own genes and then of the gene pool of the group and species.   Animals can learn, they can adapt to the environment and they can invest in raising their siblings' offspring instead of their own, but they are robots for the survival of genes.   Even those apes, who can recognize themselves in a mirror do not have enough notion of themselves to refuse to procreate.  
Only the human part of the brain can be independent and allow someone to consciously decide, that as an individual, life ends with death, and that procreation only continues the genes but is of no benefit for the individual.   

The fundamental difference between the animal and the human brain is the human's freedom to decide not to have children, because a childfree life is individually a better life.
Therefore, I define thinking and reasoning as including the freedom of choice as a conscious individual.   In this sense, animals do not think, they are robots fulfilling the program of their genes.   Animals perceive emotions, sensations and stimuli.   Their instincts cause them dishomeostasis and drive them to behavior restoring homeostasis.   Their pleasure center adds pleasure seeking behavior.
The same instincts also work on the subconscious level of the human brain, which creates the emotions and sensations, that are consciously perceived as raw material for subsequent reasoning.    This specifically human reasoning causes the freedom of decision:   Only animals are determined by the urge to immediate homeostation.   Human cognition allows to modify and control urges by using memory, long term thinking and evaluating the relative importance of competing urges, needs and wishes.  

In this sense I understand meditation as stopping or avoiding the human reasoning processes in favor of focusing on the emotions and sensations coming from the subconscious.
Concerning what all goes on between the unconscious and the conscious, you are right.   What I wrote was simplified and it is certainly more complex.  

But I maintain one crucial point.   I consider the one decisive difference between human cognition and animals the conscious choice to refuse to procreate, this being due to consciously perceiving oneself more as an individual than as a bearer of genes.  
I will maintain as highly probable until there is evidence of animals, who also prefer not to procreate without this being an instinctive response to environmental stimuli.   I am aware of the difficulty of getting this evidence, because so far we can only receive from humans an unequivocal declaration of their dislike or disinclination to procreate.   When animals have no offspring, the reasons are not always clear.  
Maybe one day there will be methods of communicating with the dolphins in your example or to make brain scans concerning their breeding motivation.      

Well said.

I'd like to briefly comment

Less difference between animals and humans.  Very much so.  The difference is language - very much a construct of the enlarged cortex.

Agree to lots of evidence of sub/conscious interaction.

Agree to the meaningful way to access those subconscious bits that float up.  Except I think we are aware of them - we just don't recognise it as such.  "I know in my heart", "Gut feeling", "Instinct".  Aversion to certain foods, attraction to particular members of the opposite genital grouping.  Religion.  Belief in homeopathy.  

We can find lots of examples where the logic, rational, reasoning and verbal part of the human is simply defending a decision, and not making a decision.  I would contend these are examples of the subconscious communicating the result of it's deliberations.

Further I contend that largely the 'animal' brain is our subconscious, and that sub-conscious is almost a synonym for 'non-verbal'.


Your reply is conceptually pretty much the one I would have made, except I think yours was much better than one I would have written.


Fred, are you addressing Fil?


Support Atheist Nexus

Donate Today



Help Nexus When You Buy From Amazon




© 2014   Atheist Nexus. All rights reserved. Admin: Richard Haynes.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service