Controlled Experiments

Saturday 23 April, 2011

In the previous post (‘We Already Know’) I wrote that we already have the answers we are looking for. But how can we be sure? How do we distinguish the genuine from the misleading? One question I remember raising with Karaj early in my training was, ‘How do I know the thought/feeling I’m having is genuine and not a construct of my mind?’

Our mind is often out to trick us. Even – and especially – in meditation it can be difficult to quieten the mind. So, how do I know whether the thought which has just occurred to me is my intuition or my mind?

The answer is the type of thoroughness found in controlled experiments. Controlled experiments test one variable at a time and, by a steady process of elimination, eventually arrive at a conclusion, which may be a discovery, an insight or just another question. The work requires discipline, is laborious and can appear unrewarding, but it is both essential and effective.

I have a friend who writes a weekly column for a Dutch national newspaper. She is a microbiologist and has spent the last two years doing controlled experiments on lactic acid bacteria. In her recent article she talks about wanting to inspire two students who were coming to her for a six-week internship.

She writes about her passion for what she does and for science too, but points out that, after two years of controlled experiments, she has only experienced two occasions which, in her words, ‘weren’t even discoveries, merely suggestions of one.’ So how does she inspire her students when such a large part of the work is mundane? She inspires them with the whole. With science. She wants her students ‘to think about nothing else, talk about nothing else and want nothing else but science, science, science’.

In answer to my original question, Karaj told me to observe what happens when those thoughts and feelings arise. Eventually, with effort and awareness, the time and distance between the genuine feeling and the constructs of the mind will be large enough to discern the difference.

So, if we can be inspired by the whole then, with fascination, we can be thorough in our observations and analysis, and so improve ourselves step by step. At the very least, we may discover the kind of passion about which my friend writes.

Related posts: We Already Know | Analysis & Clues | Listen to Yourself
Related article: Melkzuurbacteriën (in Dutch)

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