George Northoff shared his views in Acem Forum in Oslo

The Acem Centre in Oslo was filled to the brim, and the audience was full of expectations. The world-renowned philosopher and neuroscientist Georg Northoff of the University of Ottawa was visiting and was about to explain how he thinks consciousness comes about. Those who practice Acem Meditation were surprisingly familiar with several aspects of his explanation:

 The brain is not only a passive recipient but has its own spontaneous activity – as in meditation.

  • This spontaneous activity forms the inner milieu in which all deliberate activity takes place, as with the repetition of the meditation sound.
  • The rhythms of the brain swing along with the rhythms of the body and the environment, and the more these rhythms are synchronized, the better the flow of experience and action; we also become more empathic – as we sometimes experience the results of meditation.

Everybody understands something

Northoff’s lecture covered a wide range of topics, from simple, almost obvious points to reflections so advanced that they flew far above the heads of most of the audience. To the great relief of many of us, Northoff emphasized that it wasn’t necessary to understand everything. “I don’t either,” he reassured the audience. “But everybody understands something!”

The grand questions

After the lecture, there was time for questions, starting with the neuroscientist Svend Davanger and the cultural historian Halvor Eifring, both affiliated with Acem and with the University of Oslo. Thereafter the entire audience took part in a refreshing exchange. Many of the comments touched upon grand questions: the limits of time and space, materialism vs. panpsychism, as well as the alignment of brain waves, body rhythms, and movements in the environment.

 World and brain

Did we get the answer? At least, what seemed clear is that it is not the brain alone that creates consciousness, but the brain in interaction with the environment – the world-brain relation.

It had been a stimulating evening, with discussions of a type one seldom encounters, neither in Acem nor elsewhere. Northoff had read the Acem book The Power of the Wandering Mind and expressed a strong interest in nondirective meditation, precisely because it emphasizes the spontaneous activity of the mind. And almost as if to bolster our self-esteem, he repeatedly emphasized: “In the area of meditation, you are the experts, not I.”