Two Thousand Years of Mind Wandering
This project will explore the cultural history of spontaneous thought in contemplative traditions.
About the project
Thoughts, feelings and images that pass through the mind of their own accord fill our consciousness almost half of our waking time and have an immense influence on our lives. They have been alleged to be distractive and destructive, making us unhappy and unproductive. An emerging alternative view maintains that they help us process the past and anticipate the future, understand ourselves and empathise with others, as well as thinking and acting creatively. While science and philosophy have only recently begun to show interest in this part of the mind, it has been a central concern of contemplative traditions for more than two millennia.
This project will use five case studies to explore the cultural history of spontaneous thought in contemplative traditions, based on the parallel close reading of texts representing one modern and four pre-modern approaches: Modern neuroscience, cognitive science and philosophy of mind; Early Christian asceticism; Classical Yoga philosophy; Ancient Chinese thought; Late pre-modern Pure Land Buddhism.