Fluidity of Thought Is a Far Cry From Flowering of Insight
By Martin LeFevre
Why is it that even as Artificial Intelligence (which should be called Artificial Thought) is overtaking human thought in speed, knowledge and efficiency, many thinkers are still upholding the notion that we are creatures of thought? There’s an obvious reason – their identity depends on it, since to do philosophy is to engage in reasoning, which is considered the highest function of thought. But it’s something much deeper — human identity itself is at issue. The apologia of ‘higher thought’ as indispensable basis of our humanness is usually implicit, rather than explicit, just as our conditioning and identity are usually implicit and rarely explicit. Maintaining the primacy of the first philosophers in the West is understandable. The intellectual breakthroughs of the ancient Greek philosophers poured the foundation for the high science and sophisticated technology of today. However that foundation is no longer sufficient to meet the self-made challenges humankind now faces. As often noted, the eastern Aegean produced “some of the first recorded theorists of the physical world.” (Note the words “theorists” and “physical world” in reading this column.) They include Heraclitus, “the earliest person whose reflections on the interrelatedness of things have come down to us.” However it’s simply false to say, “the frame of mind of these first thinkers remains astonishingly and surprisingly illuminating today.” It may be illuminating to a historian, but the frame of mind of the first Western thinkers has become an impediment to meeting the crisis of human consciousness. I’m not making a case for Eastern philosophy, though it has much greater depth and insight into suffering and the human condition. It’s a global society now, and the crisis of consciousness has surpassed geographic and hemispheric contexts. Philosophy had a geography in its origination in the West or East, but no longer. Besides, philosophy, by its nature, aspires to the universal. Of course all philosophers, like all humans generally, emerge from a particular land and location. But the idea that land and location, much less culture, language and background, determine the borders of one’s insights is a very recent and pernicious notion. So what is the frame of mind for which the first Greek philosophers poured the foundation? Clues can be found in thinkers that still espouse that frame of mind, and thinking in general as the unalterable ground of human beings. For example, consider the statement, “These early Greek forms of thought cross all the boundaries between poet and thinker, mystic and scientist, in a rolling, cyclical, wave-based vision of the nature of reality.” That simply isn’t so. The ancient Greek philosophers, and Western philosophers ever since, tried to cross all boundaries with their thinking and theories, but they inevitably failed. Thinking and thought cannot encompass and explain art and poetry, much less mystical experiencing. Giving primacy to the Western frame of mind, even when it’s softened with an admixture of modern physics and New Age ideas such as “a rolling, cyclical, wave-based vision of the nature of reality,” is a deep mistake. However it overlays an even deeper mistake: refusing to see the limitations of thinking and thought. It’s fine and well to speak of how Heraclitus believed that “everything flowed through everything else, multiplicity was goodness and singularity the grounds of either sterility or tyranny.” In point of fact however, the Western mind was stamped with the still unquestioned idea of “the interrelatedness of things.” All things are things of thought. Nature and the universe are not made up of things, but of the unity of seamless totalities, from energy to matter and from matter to life. To see life in terms of things one has to first separate life from the whole, and render it, and oneself and others, objects. Physicists and philosophers may talk about a “wave-based vision of nature and reality” as theory and countermeasure to thought’s inherent separativeness and growing fragmentation. But actually experiencing the seamless wholeness of life and the cosmos requires what is either diminished as meditation, or observed as another object of study by neuroscience. To go beyond ideas is to go beyond thinking and thought. Are these ideas I’m proposing, or insights to be reflected upon, in order for the reader to have their own insight? That depends on the intent of both the writer and the reader. To say, “the only understanding is in the fluidity of mind,” is disingenuous. It refers to the comforting idea of the fluidity of thought, and calls that vitality. However the crisis of human consciousness is the crisis of ‘higher thought’ in humankind. And its cumulative darkness since the time of the Greeks and before is suffocating the vitality of the individual and humanity. Finally, it’s absurd to try to return to “the early forms of Greek thought.” Even if we could, it would be inadequate to the present, unparalleled crisis of human consciousness. Even when there is flexibility rather than fixity of thought (in the form of firm opinions and rigid beliefs for example), the context of our consciousness is still thought and knowledge. And the continuity of thought and the self, which has become untenable for the earth and humanity, remains unquestioned. To say, “the only understanding is in the fluidity of mind,” is therefore to still be fixed, upholding and idolizing thinking and thought. There is a seeing beyond the capacity of thought, beyond knowledge and the known. Martin LeFevre
|Heraclitus (c. 500 BC) was an ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher from the city of Ephesus, which was part of the Persian Empire at the time.
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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. email@example.com