How the mind associates thoughts….

Post my experience described in the previous post (A thought formed..), I successfully did ‘catch’ some of my thought trains and traced them back to the origin. I was basically curious to find out how a thought originates and  forms the first association (or connection) with the next one; which is the beginning of the thought train.

This wasn’t easy. I could do this only on handful of occasions. I wasn’t aware most of the other time and even when I was, it was not possible to trace the thought back to the origin.

But I found something interesting from the experience, on analyzing the first association. When an association is made between a new thought with one already in the memory (a past incident), the comparison is done rather ‘textually’ (like a string matching, sentence matching etc..) and not “visually”. But when the connection is done with something in the future (an imagination that is stored in the memory) it is ‘visual’.

                Another way to state this is to say that most of our past experiences are stored in the memory in ‘text’ form (when I say, text, don’t get carried away by text as we use in day to day world. I couldn’t find another appropriate word for it) and our imagination (anything that has not yet happened) is stored ‘visually’ (pictures static or moving).

                 You must have seen people who can associate two or more seemingly non-related things. (Btw, you must have also have done this yourself some times). Typically people who are found of story telling, have this ability. Given any incident, they will tell you a story, that is connected to the incident in a strange but uniquely strong way. I have been trying to find out how some people are able to do this, while others not. I think the answer lies here in what I described above. These are the people who can do a ‘visual’ association.               

                I think this is what is happening. When you have an experience (visual, auditory, emotion, conversation ….), the mind (the logical mind) has a compulsive need to interpret it and store in the form of language. This actually connects the ‘experience’ with you (the self or the ego or the identity whatever you call it). As you go along, you forget (or lose) the real experience and retain just the ‘interpretation’. Next time a similar experience occurs, it is first ‘interpreted’ and the interpretation is then compared with already stored interpretations in the memory to form the connection.

                Here is an example to understand this: You see a beautiful flower. The experience is “the beauty”, but say the interpretation is “Oh! I don’t have this in my garden”. Some days later, you see a good painting. The experience actually is the same: “the beauty”, but you are probably not able to relate this experience to seeing the flower because the connection is not happening at the level of experience. Now assume you see another beautiful flower, and the interpretation immediately is “Another one I want to have in my garden” and may be you connect the experience to the previous one.

                Since most of the events in life (perhaps with the exception of the time we were children) are interpreted and stored in the memory and this makes the associations to the past events slow and memory dependent. On the other hand, the future events (our imagination) has not yet been interpreted and they are stored in visual form.

                So if we need to form the right associations (with the past events of our life, what we have seen, heard, read, did…) we need to rather store the experience and not the interpretation. Then I think we will be able to do visual associations.When a new experience comes, immediately the association is made and this is effortless and fast.

                 This I believe is the crux of Mindfulness or awareness. When we are aware , what gets stored to memory first is the experience; then the mind kicks in, to do the interpretating job and also stores the interpretation to the memory. When a new experience comes and you are aware, the experience is compared to prior experiences first and only if there is no association found, the interpretations are compared.

                You can experience this yourself, when you are intensely aware in a situation, you form many associations to your child hood events (probably the only time, we didn’t much interpret things, but rather experienced them).

                The two problems that cause this are the ‘language’ and ‘thinking’. We have a compulsive need to interpret, analyze, judge, categorize and label everything around us and connect them to ‘us’ to form our sense of identity.


One thought on “How the mind associates thoughts….

  1. Pingback: Problem solving – what happens in the mind « Head to Heart

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