Support Provided ByLearn More

“What You Think, You Become.” Wow! Really?

ByAndré FentonThe Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

Receive emails about upcoming NOVA programs and related content, as well as featured reporting about current events through a science lens.

Click here for Andre’s Profile.

I’ve been fascinated about thoughts, how they arise, and how immensely valuable they can be. Once I had embraced a few foundation principles of neuroscience, it seemed self evident that experience must be fundamentally subjective and determined by the wiring and function of an individual’s brain.

Support Provided ByLearn More
“What You Think, You Become.” Wow! Really?-buddha_.jpg
You are what you eat? Nope. You are what you think!

One of those principles is summarized by the equality: “experience = brain activity.” In a sense this means my reality is the activity of my brain, nothing more, nothing less. That equality has challenged and soothed me, and for a rather long while, believing it made me feel like I understood something fundamental that was important in an everyday sort of way. The consequence was that I would focus my efforts on working out how neurons and brains operate.

A while back, an unsettling realization that my understanding of the equality was superficial began to percolate. Perhaps my thinking had been lazy and I had stopped short of what is a truly powerful, fundamental understanding. A very long time ago, Siddhartha Gautama, better know as Buddha, may have got it right when he said “What you think, you become.” The more I learn about neurons, brains, myself and other people, the truer that insight seems.

“What you think, you become.” That’s powerful; an understanding that can transform a lot, if not everything. If it is true, then thoughts, the network operations of brain cells, both define and can change a person, and possibly the world. I see dramatic examples all around me. Today’s inspiring examples appear to be the regime-changing news from Tunisia and Egypt. It seems there is nothing better to do for myself, and possibly everyone else, than to think clearly and well. I work to understand the nuts and bolts of how thinking works. I wonder if what Siddhartha said is true? Regardless, I’m enjoying trying to pass the thought along – “What you think, you become.” I hope we will all understand what that really means.