Basically, this question is two-fold:

  1. Give me a good explanation of what the 'nous' is and what it is not, especially compared to the mind and the other components of the spirit, from the Eastern Orthodox standpoint.
  2. What techniques have been used and are excepted by the Eastern Orthodox for recognizing when the nous is at work vs. other components of the spirit and body (how to I recognize the nous at work within myself?).

Answers should be backed by references to what theologians and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church have taught/written on the subject.

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    Since 'nous' is the English transliteration of a Greek word, what Greek word do you have in mind for the English word "mind"? And by "spirit," I suppose you have in mind πνεῦμα, right? – user900 Oct 22 '15 at 23:55
  • @H3br3wHamm3r81 I can't read any ancient Greek (or modern, for that matter), but what I can say is what I think of as the mind is, it is the human component which directs the will and reason of a man (but it is not the brain itself, per-say). The brain may process information and draw conclusions, but the mind reasons about the meaning and implications of what the brain processes. I interpret the spirit as the part which encompasses all aspects of a human being which are immaterial (such as intent, consciousness, imagination, etc). – Josiah Oct 23 '15 at 0:07
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    @H3br3wHamm3r81 “nous” transliterates the Greek word νοῦς, which means intellect or mind. In most of the systems I am familiar with it means a person’s capacity to know. The νοῦς is a spiritual capacity, not the same thing as the brain, which is material. I hope an member of the Eastern Orthodox will weigh in to tell us what it means for the Orthdox Church. – AthanasiusOfAlex Oct 23 '15 at 13:49
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    @AthanasiusOfAlex: I'm aware. My question to him was what the equivalent Greek words for "mind" and "spirit" were (according to him). – user900 Oct 23 '15 at 16:02
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    @Josiah: I understand. I was just letting Alex know that my original question to you was asking for. You've already answered my question way up there. :) – user900 Oct 23 '15 at 16:25

If you are using the word theologian in the traditional sense, I'm not sure if Frederica Mathewes-Green counts (I won't judge her) but I can tell what she has to say on the topic in Welcome to the Orthodox Church.

I don't have the book with me or I'd quote it. However, she says the mind has two gears in which it can operate. In one, it is producing information by engaging in analytical thinking. In the other (the nous) it is receiving information and experiencing reality directly.

For example, take Sherlock Holmes. He uses powers of physical observation to gather facts and then use deductive "fleshly reason" to analyze these facts and draw conclusions. On the other hand, St. Mary of Egypt knew everything about Fr. Zosimas as soon as she laid eyes on him (possibly before, I do not know).

While Sherlock had to think in order to learn about others, St. Mary was of such purity that she simply experienced Fr. Zosimas and immediately experienced his entire life as well.

Everyone experiences things and gains insight by the nous in the same manner as St. Mary. When I return home from work, it's difficult to look at my children and not admire them simply and without contrivance. However, doing so teaches me nothing about them because sinners such as myself see through a glass darkly while the glass of St. Mary was polished, clear, and shining.

Frederica says that we can only use one of these gears at a time and that, as soon as you begin critically evaluating something, you stop experiencing it. This does not mean the nous is a magical device which, upon our access and after much striving, will immediately grant us all knowledge.

Anytime you stop analyzing and start experiencing, you are using your nous. The difference between ourselves and a great saint is that our nous is dirty and darkened and theirs is full of light. Also, that we tend toward neglect of it and exercise of the analytical mind.

There are of course many other mental faculties such as will, emotion, etc.

  • Can you explain this more completely? I know Frederica personally and she is generally orthodox in what she says. I think the answer would be valuable without official sources of it still sites will known Orthodox speakers like Frederica, but more valuable with official church documents and quotes from Saints. – Josiah Oct 23 '15 at 13:58
  • @Josiah What more would you like to know? If you have any specific questions I'd be happy to try to answer them. – sirdank Oct 23 '15 at 15:59
  • can you expand on what is meant by analytical thinking vs receiving information and experiencing reality directly by solidifying each concept with some concrete examples of what each is and is not? (in other words, what is an example of analytical thinking, what is an example of something that's not analytical thinking, what is an example of direct experience had by the nous, and what is an example that is not direct experience of the nous, and is it always one or the other, or is there some overlap between them or some things the brain or spirit does that is neither of these?) – Josiah Oct 23 '15 at 16:06
  • @Josiah Ok, check it out now. – sirdank Oct 23 '15 at 16:29
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    @Josiah The nous is the faculty by which we receive information and that is its only side. It is opposed to the analytic function of the mind which may be why you are having difficulty analyzing it. You, Josiah, are using it whenever you stop and feel the sun on your face or admire an ancient tree. The nous isn't something spiritual masters have discovered and can now 'use' to 'see' a person's spiritual appearance. They just see clearly rather than darkly. – sirdank Oct 23 '15 at 17:03

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