Take apples as an example: When we think of apples, we think of e.g. a round shaped object that is red and is juicy.

But when we are not thinking about apples, we are either not aware we are unconsciously thinking about apples, or apples never get called up consciously (or for the materialists, there are no neutral states that corresponds to the state of thinking about apples)

Whenever we try to consciously not thinking about apples, we often start with thinking what attributes an apple have and avoiding those attributes, thus in the process we end up conceiving the concept of an apple anyway (this is what the meme known as The Game based on)

So is it possible to consciously not thinking about apples, and if so, what does that mental or emotional state felt like. Any literature topic that investigate these kinds of antithinking?

  • "Tibetan book of the Dead", Nagarjuna's metaphysics, pyrhonist metaphysics, the trillema fallacies (munchauseen, agrippa, Frie), Lucretius "the nature of things", these are a few places to start. – Eodnhoj7 Aug 30 at 18:43
  • 3
    Trying to not think about X specifically is self-defeating, since one has to focus on X to exclude it. But clearing your mind generally is a part of Oriental meditation techniques. – Conifold Aug 30 at 21:09
  • there's a very famous saying by dogen, the soto (japanese meditation) zen monk, "how do you think of not thinking? without thinking". it's unclear -- in the western commentaries -- whether it's meant like koan practice, or is just basic buddhist meditation. i have practiced it, though never under a soto master, and for me it's a means primarily to listen and stay alert to sitting (though the fukanzazengi also says it has nothing to do with sitting – another_name Oct 1 at 8:56
  • you might want to look into the tao, also. – another_name Oct 1 at 10:27

To use the apples example: Not thinking about apples feels precisely like the following: For all x not being thought about, not thinking about apples feels precisely like not thinking x.

That's not really an answer, but it's a helpful reminder that any answer can answer the entire set of examples.

The example of "consciously not thinking about apples" is ambiguous: do you mean consciously thinking of something that isn't an apple? I presume you don't, but that settles the answer of what it feels like to not think about apples: either (A) not being conscious, or (B) Whatever it feels like to you now, not thinking of whatever it is you're not thinking of.

A more interesting interpretation is whether we can consciously think the thought "Apples are something I'm not thinking of" and have that belief be true. The question then really depends; could someone have that thought, but not have any phenomenal experience of apples? In general, i'd say no, but it's plausible there's exceptions. Then we boil it down to: is framing apples in your mind without having a mental experience of thinking about them, still thinking about them? I don't know; this isn't particularly of interest to me. But i'd hazard a guess that the answer to the question, framed that way, is the answer you're looking for.


According to Parmenides 'not thinking' is not possible. That is thinking always has a referent. So to not think about an apple means that you are thinking of something else, like a pear.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.