Experiment: Do Nothing

Background: What question or issue motivates this experiment?

This is copied from Piet's chapter 8.

The main point in building a laboratory is to prevent disturbances, thereby creating a quiet and controlled environment in which to repeat the same experiment many times, and compare the results with that of other experiments, that you also repeat many times. Each experiment will still suffer from random influences, `noise' of various types, either intrinsic to the experiment or coming from the outside. However, even a little care in minimizing this noise goes a long way toward creating a better environment for experimentation.

Description: What should experimenters do?

(Also copied from Piet's chapter 8)

Find a comfortable place somewhere to sit down, in a quiet surrounding. A closed room where you are alone would be fine, or if you can find a quiet spot outdoors, that would also be a good choice. You can do this experiment while standing or lying down, but to start with, it would be best just to sit, on a chair or a rock or just on the ground. Take a few minutes to relax, letting go of the immediate concerns of the day. Take a few deep breaths, stretch your body a few times in whatever way you like, like a cat yawning, ready to get up. You may want to shake yourself loose a few times as well, like a jogger warming up, ready to start running.

The difference is, you will get ready to do nothing. After your first few minutes of warming up exercises, you just drop everything and you just sit there. That's it. Nothing else.

Of course, you'll keep breathing, and most likely, thoughts will keep coming up. Let your breathing be natural, and also let your thoughts come up as they want. Don't try to suppress them or tame them in any way. Just observe them and don't do anything with them. Let them be, moving as they want, just like you let your breath move as it wants. They can all do what they want; your only job in this experiment is to do nothing.

Lab reports

I did the breathing excercises and tried to relax as I sat in my office, getting ready to do the Do Nothing experiment. It is a fairly quiet environment here - I'm alone in the office. There is the occasional sound of a car passing by in the road outside.

I first sat and looked at the words on the screen and went over them in my mind. I happened to glance at a terminal where I was working on something, which brought back to me the issue I'd been concerned about today. Then I turned slightly in my chair (I noticed there was some resistance to do this on my part - probably stemming from the fact that I was instructed to do nothing) and faced the window. I looked at the building across the street and saw a person going down the steps. I noticed that he folded his legs carefully and sat down on one of the steps. Then, I looked up at the clouds in the sky, which were at different heights. After some time, I began to feel sleepy.

-- SC- 17 May 2005

Setup: At my desk. I stretched out my arms, back, and neck, and then sat down and looked out the window. It was a bright spring afternoon, the sun shining from a blue and cloudy sky.

Results: There is so much going on! As soon as I decide to do nothing, I am aware of so much: the tingling of my just-stretched muscles, the slight soreness in my right arm, the noise of the air conditioner turning over, the fan in my computer switching on, people walking by outside. And like EZ and LW, I find myself also thinking about what to write. I try to simply notice what is happening, so as not to really chase anything away but also to keep myself from following it too far in a tangent, but I notice my noticing, and am really very much doing something, lots of somethings all at the same time! I close my eyes and catch myself thinking about something else. I am feeling very sleepy. I open my eyes and my head feels heavy and I feel like laying down and taking a nap.

Discussion: I was amazed to find out how much is going on! I have often taken a lot of time to just sit and stare at something or at a scene, and listen to my thoughts, but thats different from trying to do nothing. Nothing for these sitting practices may be an active nothing, something other than just a big emptiness.

-- JL – June 3, 2004

Today I would like to share my experiences with doing or trying to do the “null experiment.”

We (JL and I) were sitting on a “Chinatown Bus” it was getting dark and there were no lights I put my book down and decided to do the null experiment. it didn’t quite work: I tried to relax, concentrating on my breathing but my thoughts were all over the place. The questions “what does it mean not to do anything” and “how do I do nothing” came up many times. I was trying to figure it out. For many people (that I know) doing nothing means many different things: watching TV is doing nothing, reading magazine, or a novel is relaxing, as well as running or taking shower. Meditating, concentrating on a specific thing is doing something. I discovered that it is impossible for me not to do anything. Even if I would stop, my body would continue its regular process, e.g. pumping blood, sending messages to the brain, etc. Now when I write this I have the feeling that I am missing the point of the exercise. And then, on the other hand I think that this is just the beginning and that I need to do more exercises and write more often.

Another thing that happened while I was trying not do to anything was a few seconds long subject-object reversal or something like that: It was already dark on the bus and I couldn’t see much. I was sitting in a seat and I can’t describe it how it (the seat) looked like but at some point I became fully aware of its presents, the way it is holding me, without actually ascribing personal/human characteristics to it. I had strange, good feeling flowing throughout my body, it felt comfortable then for some reason I got afraid of it or I got uncomfortable and it stopped. It lasted only for few seconds but I still clearly remember the feeling. I don’t know how to describe this “fear” but I hope with the time and more exercises it will become more clear.

-- EZ – June 15, 2004

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