Empty Brain – Happy Brain: Thinking is overrated


Find the happiness of emptiness.

Few things scare us more than inner emptiness. The presumed emptiness of coma or dementia scares us so much that we even sign living wills to avoid these states. Yet as Zen masters have long known, inner emptiness can also be productive and useful. We can reach this state through meditation, concentration, music, or even during sex. In fact, our brain loves emptiness — it makes us happy.

Leading brain researcher Niels Birbaumer investigates the pleasure in emptiness and how we can take advantage of it. He explains how to overcome the evolutionary attentiveness of your brain and take a break from thinking — a skill that’s more important than ever in an increasingly frantic world.


  • Introduction – A parachute jump into emptiness
  • There’s always something. How we have banished emptiness from our lives
  • Free at last. Philosophers as pioneers of emptiness
  • Marching in slow step. The brainwaves of emptiness
  • Beyond the defence mechanism. The brain areas of emptiness
  • Default-mode network. The brain on autopilot
  • Senselessly happy. What happens to us when nothing happens
  • Training for emptiness. Why is a mouse when it spins
  • Lusting for emptiness. What sex, religion, and epilepsy have in common
  • The rhythm of emptiness. How music carries us away
  • The pathology of emptiness. How we should deal with “disease of emptiness”
  • The right life in the wrong body. The happiness of locked-in syndrome
  • Emptiness as the beginning of the end of life. How emptiness will return to us at last

Author Bio:

Niels Birbaumer is a psychologist and neurobiologist. He is a leading figure in the development of brain–computer interfaces, a field he has researched for 40 years, with a focus on treating brain disturbances. He has been awarded numerous international honours and prizes, including the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize and the Albert Einstein World Award of Science. Professor Birbaumer is co-director of the Institute of Behavioural Neurobiology at the University of Tübingen in Germany, and senior researcher at the Wyss Centre for Bio- and Neuro-engineering in Switzerland.

Jörg Zittlau is a freelance journalist and writes about science, psychology, and philosophy, among other topics. He is also the author of several bestsellers.