Higher Thought: Threshold and Impediment to Intelligence
By Martin LeFevre
We drove to the end of the gravel road of the canyon just beyond town, and parked near the locked gate a half-mile from the gorge. Walking in on the rocky path, we stopped frequently to take in the volcanic slabs of the gorge, and the remaining lupines and poppies. There’s a spot with a spectacular view down the narrow gorge and east out into the canyon. Vultures and ravens flew by at eye level, 75 meters above the rushing stream. The vultures soared and scanned, flapping their huge wings as little as possible, conferring a feeling of timelessness without aimlessness. The ravens, like people, seemed in a hurry to get somewhere. And swallows, which appeared in trios, pirouetted and played on the air. It was a splendid couple of hours in the canyon, so close to town and yet still possessing wild, primitive beauty. Sheer cliffs loomed above, and below, at the bottom of the narrowing gorge, black lava shone in the sunlight, polished by thousands of years of rapidly flowing water. It’s often said that we humans are social (and more pejoratively) political animals. But in truth at bottom we are psychological creatures, creatures of separation, symbol and memory. Since we’ve now made machines in our own image, machines that have surpassed us in memory and the limited intelligence based on memory, what are we now? We can be beings of insight. The evolution of so-called higher thought, that is, conscious, symbolic thought, was clearly a necessary step and threshold in the evolution of a brain with the capacity for silent awareness of the earth and universe. So is the basic, intrinsic intent of the universe to evolve, through random processes, brains with the capacity to commune with the cosmic mind? During meditative experiencing, it feels so. If so, why is the silence of complete attentiveness so rare and difficult for human beings? In other words, why does the division and fragmentation of symbolic thought totally dominate the brain and planet, to the point of bringing about the Sixth Extinction, and with it, perhaps our own? Apparently, conscious, symbolic thought is such a powerful adaptation that the creature in whom it evolves strongly tends to view life and the universe in terms of it. Which is to say, in terms of separation, symbol and memory. That’s an existential mistake of the highest order, and lies at the root of human destructiveness. Even so, Homo sapiens is a potentially intelligent species that still has the capability of growing into an authentically intelligent species. I propose that until humankind makes that transition, we won’t belong to the kinship of intelligent species in the universe. Necessarily, we must work out the conundrum of higher thought for ourselves. Authentically intelligent species are not species with unimaginably advanced science and super-sophisticated technology. Rather, they’re beings that have attained an integrated insight into the limitations of thought and knowledge, and a deepening communion with the cosmic mind, and each other. The question remains – why is it so difficult and rare for humans to transcend thought? Why do division, conflict and fragmentation even now increasingly define the human condition? Do creatures of symbolic thought tend to become planet killers wherever they evolve in the universe, or is Homo sapiens an incorrigible thought-bearing species? I don’t know, but I am sure the human brain is exapted for insight, which means that the capacity for a silent state of insight is latent within us. I’m also sure that the transition and transmutation from creatures of thought (that is, psychological separation and memory) to human beings of insight and understanding requires our conscious awareness and diligent spadework. Whether transmutation happens slowly or quickly within the individual and thought-bearing species, it’s never a matter of time. Even in simply bringing about a completely quiet mind in a beautiful place, there can be no illusion of ‘later’ or tomorrow. The ‘I’ never acts, only reacts, and the will is an expression of ego. Then what acts on thought to end its continual chatter and cogitation? Passive, choiceless awareness of thought and emotion in the mirror of nature gathers unwilled, all-inclusive attention. Quieting thought is a matter of effortlessly initiating a spontaneous movement of negation, which is the true meaning of meditation.Watching every reaction without judgment as one delights in sensory awareness of nature, the brain gathers attention, which acts on the movement of thought and brings complete stillness to the mind. Time ends, and there’s wholeness and the unknowable. Transmutation and psychological revolution begin, which is the only thing that can change the disastrous course of humankind. Martin LeFevre
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Martin LeFevre, a contemplative, philosopher and writer in northern California, serves as a contributing writer for The Seoul Times. His "Meditations" explore and offer insights on spiritual, philosophical and political questions in the global society. LeFevre's philosophical thesis proposes a new theory of human nature. He welcomes dialogue. firstname.lastname@example.org