Is it possible to think about nothing? Surely our consciousness is always whirring away. Paul Lambert, Southampton

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You can’t think about nothing, as thinking involves creating concepts, even if it is a concept about what nothing might be like. You can, however, empty your mind of thoughts and sit with nothing going on in your mind. This doesn’t mean unconsciousness, but an experience of a pure consciousness, the mind before it does anything to create our usual experience and endless fountain of thoughts. You will need a meditation teacher and a bit of discipline, but the resulting experience of unbounded silence and peace is an invigorating one. aarthoor

Try meditating on the Brexit “benefits”. WiffWaff

It’s not consciousness that is always whirring away; it is the thinking function of the mind that is so busy. Consciousness is always at peace, often overlooked, as the background to all experience. LemuelBabcock

Yes is the answer. In the north-east of Scotland, we call it dwamming. cocotheradge

I’m a philosopher who has faced this question from students many times over the years. The key thing to note is that thinking about nothing is not the same as thinking nothing. To think nothing is simply to lack any thoughts at all, and this may certainly be possible (eg in a dreamless sleep).

To think about nothing is to think something, the same as to think about Father Christmas is to think something, even though there is no Father Christmas to think about. Of course, as nothing is not something, one cannot think about something and be thinking about nothing. But one can entertain the thought that there is nothing, ie that it is not the case that there is something. Of course, one cannot do so and think something true, but nevertheless one can do this – and this is to think something.

Ideas of this kind occupied some of the earliest philosophers, for example Parmenides, a pre-Socratic, who thought he could show that time does not exist by such reflections. He was wrong about that, but I’m pleased to see such thoughts continue to occupy people today. Useless though they are, they are quite fun. Dr Benjamin L Curtis, Nottingham Trent University

Speaking as a nonexistent owl, as you may imagine, I’ve given a lot of thought to nothing and nothingness. So, I can say with some confidence that, yes, it is possible to think about nothing. For example, one of the definitions that my dictionary gives for nothing is “a trifle”, and I should imagine very few people have any trouble at all thinking about a trifle.

But, on the other hand, it’s not possible to not think about anything. If you should happen to find yourself not thinking about anything, you should seriously not consider the possibility that you may be dead, but just haven’t noticed. ThereisnoOwl

There are plenty of politicians who seem to do exactly that, day in, day out. TheTrueHOOHA

I’m trying my damnedest to think of an answer, but nothing comes to mind. EddieChorepost

I read an interesting take on this question in one of DT Suzuki’s essays on Zen Buddhism. Suzuki posits that the objective is misunderstood and that the rescinding of active control of your thoughts is the point. He proposes to simply watch your mind think, as an outside observer, to become a mere passenger on the flood of thoughts that pass through your mind without trying to steer, block or otherwise intervene with the process; as if you were observing another person’s train of thoughts.

It is an interesting exercise and it may give you more confidence in your mind’s ability to take care of things when left to its own devices, which in turn will fuel your creativity. It is weird and wonderful to see where your mind wanders when freed from conscious control. Enjoy! DocMar

I’ve been meditating for more than 30 years. After a decade of Zen meditation and retreats, I’ve continued meditating on and off (and since retirement very regularly). One of the basic steps in meditation is to simply allow thoughts to come and go without getting lost in them. Treat them like clouds drifting across the sky. With time, the thoughts and other objects of awareness (sensations etc) can diminish and sometimes drop away completely. Mind and body dropped away tends to be a state of pure awareness.

A further step is to turn that awareness back on itself. I have done this on several occasions. Sitting in pure awareness without thoughts is definitely possible, with practice. And, according to Zen, it is the gateway to enlightenment, although I don’t know for myself if that is right. I should also add that my first experience of this state, for a few minutes, happened spontaneously one night before I had much experience with meditation. Thorloki

It’s perfectly possible to think about nothing; in fact, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote half of Being and Nothingness about it. More seriously, there is a difference between thinking and consciousness. If you meditate, you soon find that thinking, by which I mean the constant flow of ideas, images and sentences that we generally experience constantly, is only one category of the phenomena that occur in conscious awareness. In my experience, if you’re in the right mood and you meditate for long enough, you will find that thinking slows down-. If you’re lucky, it might stop for a bit. Peter Wright

Thinking about nothing is a bit of an oxymoron. It is possible to be empty of thought, but is not easy to find and you can’t think your way to it. It’s a relinquishment of thought that brings you to nothing, and everything exists there. LorLala

“Sometimes I sits and thinks; and then again I just sits.” PeterMarkham

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