Have you experienced an event in your life that caused you troubling thoughts? If you’re a living breathing human being the answer must be a resounding yes. When an unexpected event that causes mental pain occurs why does it linger longer than the pleasant thoughts? I’m not talking about someone who has obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) but at times it sure feels like it. Why is it that some of these thoughts hold on so tightly?
What are thoughts?
When you look at the cause of thoughts it is simply electro chemical reactions in your brain. The human brain is composed of about 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) interconnected by trillions of connections, called synapses. On average, each connection transmits about one signal per second. Some specialized connections send up to 1,000 signals per second. The trouble is from where do thoughts arise. Where is the origin of the thought? The brain is so complex and intricate that it is like asking where a forest begins. Is it the point where you encounter the first leaf or the first root as you enter a forest? So the answer is we don’t know just yet. More is being learned through advancing imaging technology. I recently saw a video of a group of researchers who were able to capture in real time the image of memory being formed in a mouse. This is amazing, but a primate brain, us, is much more complex than a small rodent brain.
A Philosopher’s View of Thoughts
“The perfume of a flower is in the flower. The very flower itself is the essence of that perfume.”- Jiddu Krishnamurti
I like Krishnamurti’s philosophy towards thoughts and thinking. You can listen to his talk on “What Is Thinking.” What is appealing about this talk to me is when he says “Experience, knowledge, memory and the response of memory is thought.” If we didn't have experiences would we have thoughts? Would chemical reactions bubble up from the unconscious part of our brains and become experiences? How could we possibly know?
That's nice, but why do certain thoughts cling?
Researchers have discovered that people who suffer from OCD have some type of damage in the basal ganglia area of the brain. If like the majority of us you don’t have damage to your basal ganglia why do you sometimes have recurring obsessive thinking? It appears to be related to anxiety. The unpleasant stimulus triggers the recurring thoughts which then triggers greater anxiety. We get caught in the stimulus response loop. So the key to confronting recurring thoughts would be to reduce anxiety. We have to break or step outside the loop. This is something we can consciously do. In the next post we will discuss some methods to deal with this. Stay tuned.