I think we take too many things for granted. Way.
The miracle of memory for one.
A thought appears. It may be spontaneously and absolutely out of nowhere, or it might have been spawned by something you saw or heard or felt; no matter: here it is, and catching your mental eye and your interest: you engage.
You are now on board, invested. This thought is now alive and ready to proliferate. And before you can say Jack Robinson, there’s another, a new (a child) thought, seemingly unrelated, that on closer inspection (a seldom indulged in luxury, I know) is found to bear a definite relation, an association albeit subtle but often very, very germane. Literally out of nowhere, this one too; well, out of memory, but still.
So, here’s the question: who or what Googled memory for thoughts associative? Who entered the search criteria (for there are literally thousands of them, and thousands of shades of those thousands in the original—parent—thought to choose from)? Consider every single magical brick that goes to make up the castle of a single thought, and the many, many shades of each: the number is flirting with the infinite.
And who scanned the search results and decided upon this one specific memory with only tangential (but oh, so apt) relation to the parent thought?
Yes, we say, it happens automatically. And to that I answer, nothing happens automatically. It takes both intention and intelligence to not only spawn the search, but to filter the (possibly trillions of) hits returned and to then—using both intelligence and judgment—settle for that one: the one that now drifts into view as the second link of association.
The Buddha once said that there are three thousand time moments in the blink of an eye; methinks he is not far off-base since it would take quite a few time moments to perform this search—filtering—choosing to arrive at this very child thought; and, really, it takes someone, some intelligence, some intent, to do it.
To us, laggards that we are, it all happens instantaneously, but viewing this with a time-microscope (if such a thing exists—and if not, then someone should invent it, it’d definitely come in handy at times), I’m sure you can trace the entire sequence through however many microscopic time moments it took for the search, filter, select to occur. A thousand maybe? Less? More? Who knows? I don’t have a time-microscope.
And, no, I don’t think this all happens “in the brain.” I think it happens in the mind, and I think that the mind is something far more magical, far more spacious, far more intelligent, far more mysterious, far more intriguing, and far more wonderful than the brain.
Food for thought, no?