Helping clients to get back in charge of their lives, with the confidence, calmness & self-sufficiency to flourish.

Einstein's optical delusion

Listening to Jill Bolte Taylor's description of her 'stroke of insight' reminded me of a quote from Albert Einstein, which Richard Davidson used to close his session at the thirteenth Mind and Life dialogue, "The Science and Clinical Applications of Meditation":

'A human being is part of the whole, called by us 'Universe,' a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.'

This brief quotation seems to connect so well with the insights that Jill shares in her presentation: The concept of oneness, or connection, and how we are cut of from it by the 'optical delusion' of our consciousness. The sense that we can observe this restriction and strive to free ourselves from it. And not least, the need for compassion.

On that subject, Davidson's presentation, (Mind-Brain-Body Interaction and Meditation), covered some of his research into neural states in experienced and novice meditators. He noted, 'Many areas of the brain were more activated during compassion meditation compared to the neutral state… Another brain region, the medial prefrontal cortex, has been implicated in self-relevant processing… This area of the brain associated with the self is deactivated when people are generating compassion, which is very much a selfless state.'

A transcription of the thirteenth Mind and Life dialogue has been published in "The Mind's Own Physician" - ISBN: 978-1-57224-968-4

Despite the fact that this is quite a well-known quotation from Einstein, there seems to be some uncertainty as to the exact wording he used. It’s possible he may have re-written this a few times, leading to confusion today, but after some searching I found the following quote was included in a letter he wrote in 1950.

'A human being is a part of the whole, called by us 'Universe', a part limited by time & space.
He experiences himself, his thoughts & feelings as something separated from the rest –
A kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.

The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion.
Not to nourish the delusion but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind'.


Albert Einstein, February 12, 1950.

A trip to La La Land

Something that I posted on my previous blog, and I really think is worth sharing again, is this unmissable TED talk;

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist who woke up one morning with a headache, which turned out to be the early indications of a stroke. Her understanding of the brain gave her insight into what was happening, and an ability to interpret what the changes in her brain function meant in terms of her moment-by-moment experience. In this presentation she sheds light on how the functioning of our brains impacts our perception of reality, how our knowledge of the world, and of ourselves is fundamentally changed by the the ways in which our brains are wired. The fact that she does this with humour makes it all the more compelling to watch…

Much of our sense of an embodied self is generated in the left hemisphere of the brain, (in the Parietal lobe), along with our internal dialogue, whilst activity in the right hemisphere creates the sense of present space and time that we are in. It would seem that some degree of disconnection between the two, which may come from deep meditation, psychedelic drugs, damage, etc., can transform our experience and understanding. The result may be an experience of insight that is religious, mystical, enlightening, spiritual and profound, often accompanied by a loss of the sense of self, and a feeling of connectedness or oneness. But what is remarkable about these experiences is that they so often produce enduring changes to the outlook of those people that have them. Whether they are monks, hippies or neuroanatomists…