The function of the brain
Why has the brain got caught in the narrow circle of the self?
2nd Public Talk, Saanen
July 12, 1983
May we go on with where we left off on Sunday?
We were talking about peace: why human beings who have lived on this earth for so many thousands and thousands of years have had no peace at all. There have been innumerable wars and probably there will be more wars. And why with all the technological knowledge we have acquired, and all the protestations of religions about peace, pacem in terris, why we have not peace at all, either outwardly in the world, or inwardly. The world which we have created, the society in which we live is put together by man, by all of us, by the past generations and probably from the future generations. We live in a world very dangerous, uncertain, insecure and there seems to be no peace on earth - why?
We went into that, talking over together - we mean together - not that the speaker says something with which you either agree or disagree but rather together, you and the speaker, together explore why human beings who apparently are so clever, so intelligent - which I doubt - why they have not created a world where we can all live peacefully. I wonder if we have ever asked that question of ourselves and of the world, the politicians, the religions and so on.
And talking it over together, we came to a certain point the day before yesterday: what is the fundamental function of the brain? I think that is where we left off. Why the brain, which has evolved for millennia upon millennia, it has had tremendous experience of every kind: sorrow, pleasure and the uncertainty, death - why such a brain has not solved this problem. And who is going to solve the problem? The leaders? New leaders? New political statesmen? The new priests? The new ideology? We have tried all that. Man has tried every way to bring about peace in the world and also peace in himself. And the brain, which is a very, very complex affair, capable of extraordinary technological progress and yet that very brain has become very primitive and has not solved any of its problems.
What is the function of the brain? Just to go on living like this? Acquiring great knowledge in every field and using that knowledge to destroy each other, to destroy the earth, nature and all the rest of it? We all know this very well. And one asks, if one is at all serious, and we are here a gathering of people who are serious I hope, not casual visitors but who are taking life seriously, they must inevitably ask: what is the function of the brain? Most of us are only concerned with ourselves, if we are at all frank and honest. We are concerned with ourselves. Self-interest, from the highest category of people, intellectual and so on, down to the most primitive people, the educated and the uneducated, the sophisticated and the religious people, they may identify themselves with something noble but that very identification is part of self-interest. And the brain, our brain, is concerned only with that - personal problems, problems of mathematics, problems of computers and so on. But basically we are concerned with ourselves. That is a fact - right? However much we may try to hide the self-interest in noble work, in meditation, in belonging to various groups, self-interest dominates, consciously or unconsciously. If you are honest, look into ourselves and our activities, political, religious and so on, we are only concerned basically with ourselves. And we have lived that way from the beginning of time. And we are still living that way. And so the brain only functions in a very, very small, limited field.
Is that all the function of the brain - to be concerned with itself, with its problems, with its pleasures and sorrows and pain, ambition, greed and so on? That is the way we have lived. And the result of that in the world is chaos. Each one wanting to fulfil, wanting to achieve, whether illumination, enlightenment, or become a big business man - it is the same thing. So we have reduced our brain, which is an extraordinary instrument, into something so petty. And we have reduced that brain to be very, very limited - right? It may be extraordinarily capable in the technological world, the marvellous instruments that they are creating: instruments of war, instruments of surgery, medicine, communication, computer; there the brain has functioned with an extraordinary vitality, with extraordinary capacity. And that very brain is only concerned with its own self-protective activity. This is all obvious fact. We are only dealing with facts, not with ideals, not with ideas, not with theories - facts. As we explained the other day, facts are something that has been done in the past and remembered, something that is being done now. Those are the facts. From those facts we abstract ideas, conclusions, strong opinions, which have nothing to do with facts.
So the brain lives on memories and not on facts. This is very important to understand if we are going to explore together what is the function of the brain, what is the deep quality of a brain that can penetrate and find out its deep function. We are dealing with facts only, which is that we are a series of movements of memory - which we talked about the other day. Memory. That is the faculty to remember. To remember things that have happened, and the things that are happening now. So memory has become extraordinarily important, which has nothing to do with facts. My son is dead, he is gone, and I remember, there is only remembrance. And on those remembrances I live. On those memories, on those incidents which we had together - I cherish those memories - right? Please, you are doing this, I am not telling you something which you are not doing.
So we are a series of movements of memory and time. Memory is time. Right? Memory is the reaction of experience, knowledge, and the things that one has remembered. This is what the self is, what we are.
I do not know if you have ever enquired into what is the present, what is 'now'? Is it the cessation of memory? Or we don't know what the now is at all? May I go into it a little bit?
Zero contains all the numbers - mathematically. Zero was invented by the ancient Hindus and in the zero all the numbers are contained. Is the 'now' - please listen - is the 'now' the totality of all time? We will go into this further. You see the brain having cultivated self-interest, which is the accumulation of memories and so the brain has become a very, very small psychological instrument, obviously. When I am thinking about myself all day long, it is a very small affair. Or when I think about the whole world, it is still a small affair. I don't know if you are understanding? We are moving together? I hope. Right, sirs?
So, why has the brain got caught in this narrow circle of the self? The self, the 'me', the ego, and all that, is nothing but words and memories. Right? It is so, it is so. And that self has become so terribly important. And when one is concerned with oneself, all our actions must be psychologically limited. And where there is limitation there must be conflict. I am a Jew, you are an Arab. That is a limitation, a tribalism which is limited. And I cling to my limitation, and you cling to your limitation and therefore the perpetual conflict. If you are constantly repeating 'I am a Russian', and identify with that particular country, tradition, language and all the literature of that country, it is very, very limited. So we have reduced the brain, the brain seeking security in the self has made itself limited, psychologically. So there is a contradiction between the psychological limitation and the extraordinary limitless technological progress. Is this the function of the brain, to live perpetually in conflict? And therefore there is never a liberation, a freedom. Is this the function of the brain - just to limit, live in a small area psychologically? And is it possible when one understands the nature of the self, as we briefly explained, is it possible to break down this limitation? And who is to break it down? You understand my question? This limitation has been brought about by thought, thought which has created or sought in the limitation, security. And thought itself is limited because thought is the outcome of vast experience, accumulated knowledge, stored in the brain, in the very brain cells. The speaker is not an expert. We have watched very carefully. And thought is the outcome of memory - right? As memory is limited, knowledge will always be limited, and experience is never complete. You understand?
So the brain is functioning with the only instrument - the limited thought. Is this clear? Are we moving together? And so we are perpetually living in conflict, in struggle, in pain and sorrow, because we seek security in the limitation, in memories and so on. That is simple. So is it the function of the brain to find security, survival, physical survival - one must survive physically, unless, of course, one is a little bit dotty, then that is a different matter. But one seeks physical security and also psychological security. Is there psychological security at all? Don't please, don't accept this. Go into it very carefully with the speaker. Together we are examining. We are not imposing a thing on you. We are not trying to convince you of anything. I really mean this. We are not trying to convert you to some philosophy, which is a horror - please. So we are together walking, perhaps hand in hand, down a lane, shady, full of dappled light, and the beauty of the earth around us. And we are talking about serious things, not petty little things because we are both serious. And we say: is this what we have reduced our life to, just seeking self-security in the limitation? And physically there is no security because of wars, of racial, tribal conflict, ideological conflict, between the Russians, the totalitarians and the so-called democratic, the West and the East. They are preparing for war - you know all that. Of course they won't listen, you can't talk to the politicians because they are concerned to preserve their own position - you know all the rest, I don't have to go into it.
So we are asking: is that the only function of the brain, to seek security in limitation? That is what we are doing. And in the search for security in limitation we are bringing about havoc in the world - right? - such great disorder, confusion. That's again obvious.
Now, what is the function of thought, because that is the only instrument the brain has? We are together in this? What is the function of thought? What is thought? What is thinking? We all think, whether you are highly educated, sophisticated or the most uneducated person, hungry, very little food and all the rest of it, he also thinks. The sophisticated, the highly educated person who can express things clearly, he thinks. And the person who is not, he also thinks. So thinking is common to all of us - right? It is not your thinking. You may think and express it differently, you may be an artist, you may be a mathematician, biologist and so on, and I may be a layman, but we both think. So thinking is not yours. Thinking is not individual. Please this is a fundamental thing to understand. And yet this is what we are doing - 'This is what I think, my opinion, my judgement, my values of opinions' - right? See what is happening to us. We have reduced the whole vast process of thinking as mine - right?
And also we ought to enquire if your brain is separate from another. Please, don't... We will go into it slowly. Don't get impatient or cling to your own particular point of view. The brain has evolved through time, through thousands and thousands, upon thousands of years of experience, knowledge and all the activities of thought in the world - technologically, personally and all that - thinking. And we say 'It is my brain through which I think'. Is that so? Is your brain yours? Or it is the result of thousands of years of evolution. So it is not your brain, or my brain. It is brain. I wonder if you see the depth of this. And the brain is the centre of our consciousness - right? What is our consciousness? Not according to the experts, but when you ask yourself that question: your consciousness, what is it? Your beliefs, your conclusions, your opinions, your two thousand years of being programmed, as a Christian, or five thousand years as a Hindu and so on - right? Your consciousness is the reaction, the reflexes, the fears, the pleasures, the sorrows, the pain, the grief and all the misery of human beings. That is your consciousness. Is your consciousness different from another? Or your consciousness is like the consciousness of all humanity? Because they suffer in Russia, in India, in China, they may have different outward garments, the environment may be different, but psychologically the content of our consciousness is common, it is shared by all human beings. Right? So your brain and your consciousness is shared by all human beings. So you are the rest of mankind. You may be a German, a Swiss and a proud Englishman, but you are the rest of mankind. Right? Sir, it is not an intellectual concept, it is not an idea, a romantic sentimental something, but it is a fact. And when that is deeply real, when that is the truth, then your whole outlook on a life changes. Then you are responsible for all humanity. It is rather frightening, but it is so.
So one has to understand that in this investigation we are not being self-centred, we are not cultivating the self more and more and more. We are not making the self more intelligent. But we are like the rest of mankind. Out of that comes compassion. You understand?
So is the brain an instrument which is merely concerned with security - psychological as well as physical? If it is not, then what is the function of the brain? You understand? If I am not concerned with myself everlastingly in my meditation - you know all that kind of silly stuff, then what place has thought and is there a new instrument altogether which is not the activity of thought? Am I making myself clear? We can see what thought has done in the world, the technological world and the human world. And thought has built the most extraordinary, beautiful things - architecture, paintings, marvellous poems, great novels. But also thought has divided people. And thought also, through its division, has created wars. Therefore thought is not the instrument of peace - right? I wonder if this is clear? Right? Are we meeting each other? Are we walking together? So far? That thought, being in itself divisive, limited, it cannot possibly bring about peace in the world. It is shown: the League of Nations, the United Nations - you follow? Napoleon tried to conquer, unify Europe, so did poor Hitler, and so on. So activity of thought, thought cannot possibly resolve human problems - right? If you see that very clearly, then what? You understand me?
Suppose I see very clearly what thought has done in the world. I see very clearly what thought has done in the realm of my own psyche. The search for security is the basis of the movement of thought - right? And is there security at all through thought? Do you understand my...? Or there is security only when thought, with its own intelligence, with its own cunningness, realises its place and does not enter into the area of the psyche. Are we together in this? I will go into it a little more.
We cannot live by ourselves. Life is a movement in relationship. In that relationship there are innumerable problems: sexual, psychological, companionship, loneliness - you follow? - the whole problem of relationship. So what is relationship? When you are related to your wife, or to your father, husband and so on, what is - when you say, 'I am related', what does that word mean? Not the dictionary meaning of it, which we all know, but the depth of it, the significance of that word. I am related to my wife. And in this relationship there is perpetual conflict - which you probably know much more than I do - right? Why? When we ask that question we are trying to find out if this conflict can end - right? End. So to find out whether it can end we must face the actual fact of what is our relationship to another, however intimate it may be. Is our relationship based on thought? I am asking you this question, please. Your have to answer it to yourself. We are two friends talking over... we are two friends talking over things together. One friend asks the other: why is there conflict in our relationship? Is our relationship based on thought, on memory, on incidents that have passed, they have happened, pleasant or unpleasant, and there is the remembrance of those, the memory of those, and each one of us lives on those memories, which is thought - right? I am ambitious and also she is ambitious. She wants to fulfil in her way, and I want to fulfil my way. She has come to some definite conclusions and so have I. So there is always this division - right? And where there is division there must be conflict. Right, sir? This is simple.
So to understand the nature of conflict, and to see whether it is possible to end conflict in relationship, we have to enquire whether thought dominates relationship. Then is thought love? Don't please, this is much too serious to agree or... Go into it for yourselves. It's thought in relationship that has bound us together through memory, through reactions, through pleasure, sexual and otherwise. And thought is the factor in relationship. She has said something to me which has hurt me and I have hurt her. That hurt is being carried on, which is memory. It is like two parallel lines never meeting. And this we call relationship, whether it is to your guru, whether it is to a woman or man, whether relationship to your political leader, or to the priest, it is all based on thought and memory. So is remembrance the activity of love? Sir, please ask this question. Then if it is, we are living on dead memories. Memories are not in the future. Memories are the past, the capacity to remember. Now is there a way of living without conflict in relationship? Is there a way of living in this relationship in which memory doesn't enter? One may ask these questions but mere asking questions is not the solution of the problem.
So is it possible to live with another without the accumulation of memory about the other? Which is the ending of thought. You understand? And so is love the activity of thought? Come on, sirs, you don't...
And as we are trying to find out how to live in this world peacefully, one has to understand the depth and the nature of thought and memory. And most of us from the beginning of our childhood till now bear the burden of many hurts - right? - many psychological wounds, and the memory of those wounds, and the continuation of those hurts. Can all that be wiped away? If I am hurt, how can I love another? Right? Please, this is not a sermon in a church or in some place. This is real enquiry so that you begin to see for yourself directly that there is a possibility of ending conflict. And that possibility exists only - the truth of it - when you have really deeply enquired into the whole nature of the self, self-interest, which is based on reward and punishment. Then you begin to find out for yourself thought is not the instrument in the solution of problems, human problems. Even in the technological problems you may think a great deal, work out problems, but you come to a state there too when thought is in abeyance and you discover something new. If you merely continue in the field of knowledge all the time, there is nothing new.
So in enquiring whether the brain can live in peace and therefore perhaps it will affect the society, and it may not. We are not seeking an effect. What will, if each one of us finds the activity of thought, the limitation of thought, and all the activities of memory and therefore very divisive, and consequently conflict, if you actually see the truth of it and you live that way, then you say what effect has this on the vast public? None! Does it matter? Are you concerned with society, with changing the society, making it more orderly? You really are not actually if you face the fact. Therefore it is a wrong question to say: what effect has it on the society if there is a fundamental mutation in my brain? You understand? If one may point out that is a wrong question. You are seeking through facts truth. That truth will act, not you will act.
I don't know if you have ever gone into the question of what is intelligence. I have got three minutes left. It is a very complicated question. Now the speaker asks you: what is intelligence? Right? How do you receive that question? How do you approach that question? Our brain is trained to solve problems. Right? It is trained from childhood to solve problems - mathematical, historical - you follow? - examinations, all those are indications of solving problems. So our brain is trained to solve problems: the architectural problems, engineering problems, problems of how to put a motor together. So we approach life with a brain that is trying to solve problems. I don't know if you realise this. So you treat life as a problem and then try to find a solution to the problem. So when the speaker asks you a question like this: what is intelligence? - you make that into a problem. Naturally. And then you try to solve that question through a brain that is trained to solve. Now can one, as a friend I am asking, can one look at this question: what is intelligence, not as a problem? Right? Can you do it? If you do that is the beginning of intelligence. That means the brain is already becoming free from its conditioning. But if you approach this question: what is intelligence? and then try to solve it, you are back in the old muddle. But when one realises that one's brain is conditioned to solve problems and therefore you approach any question with a mind, with a brain that says, 'I must solve it.' So we never meet a challenge afresh. To meet a problem, any problem, afresh, is the beginning of intelligence.
So we started out by asking whether humanity can live in peace. Because if it cannot live in peace you cannot flower, you cannot - you know, life becomes terribly small and petty. And in that enquiry whether human beings, that is you, me and the rest of the world, and you, being the rest of humanity - you are whether you like it or not, you may stick to your conditioning that you are an individual but you are not. You may have a different body, different name, different colour, you may have long hair, short hair, you may speak German, or Russian, but you are standing on the same ground as the rest of humanity. And we said that the brain has its function. And what is the root of that function? What is the basis of that function? It is not to live in conflict, obviously. Then that question is raised and you say, 'Now I must solve it.' Then you ask, 'How am I to do it?' Then you get the systems, the methods, the apologies, and all the rest of it, the arguments, the pros and cons. But when the brain is not approaching a challenge, an issue, with its old trained condition, then you can look at that question, that challenge, totally anew, fresh. Isn't that the capacity of intelligence, to look at something clearly? Not try to solve it.
So we are going to go into it further the day after tomorrow when we meet, whether there is a possibility of finding something totally new which is not the activity of thought. Right? May I get up?