The Language of Thought
The landscape of the mind changes thought by thought. ‘Be careful what you wish for’ is an often-voiced warning to temper the longing for things which may seem desirable at the time, but may be harmful or detrimental in the long run. We must take great care and exercise the necessary self-discipline especially in these matters, because, stirred to reality by a thousand forces, a wish can bring blessing but also become a curse if what we wish for is not in the best interests of ourselves, our surroundings or the wider world in general.
So it is that we yearn with hope and yet at the same time with anxiety or trepidation because the power of the world of thoughts is both lauded and feared at the same time.
By Jide Adefope
(This article is in 3 instalments: this is the first.)
Thinking is a solitary activity, a mental discourse in our consciousness of being steeped in the assailing vibrations of experiences emanating from both our inner selves and our external surrounds. Thus, a thought may be the embodiment of an internal desire or volition or the reaction to an external stimulus. Hence thoughts strike us suddenly, amid a continuous random flow into the mind from the relay of sight, sound, touch and other sensations. In thought we seem involuntarily to draw in all manner of perceptions. But it is by the nature of our desires and wishes, our propensity and inner craving that we adjust the mind to the power of attraction of all that is of the same nature, thus what thoughts can or cannot flow in and thereby what feeling can be aroused in us. It is as though through our wish or free decision we stretch forth the hand to clasp what is of like nature. For we can also carve through the fog of disembodied thoughts with focused, rational, innovative and strategic thinking; we can direct an enlightened, disciplined volition to meet the weaving in and around us. Thought activity can knit the strands of our daily lives firmly into a conscious narrative of our experiences and perceptions. Thoughts define our perception of reality and this perception will be different from the perception of others, although the reality itself remains the same. Any sensation which registers in our consciousness may evoke thoughts, but it is we who are (or should be) always firmly in control so that external influences can never overwhelm us unless we let them in. We talk about having thoughts about this and that, think freely and cannot help thinking in our waking state. Even if most thoughts appear to be only fleeting shadows that leave no lasting impression, they are nevertheless a rudimentary aspect of our sense of self. Our mental life is like a river of thoughts through time, at times fleeting and at other times a flood or surge. We are never without a perception. René Descartes (1596-1650) deliberated on this fact and concluded that if he was thinking, it must mean that he existed. On this basis, he set philosophy on a modern course. In reality, we think because we ‘exist’, not the other way around as could easily be interpreted from Descartes!
We cast thoughts in the world without knowing what they do or how they interact with their surroundings, what this implies for us, and, most importantly, what personal responsibility may be associated with their generation. Some people, though, may feel they have no responsibility whatsoever in this regard because thoughts fall outside the jurisdiction of earthly justice and are therefore considered to be of no consequence. Since thoughts play such a pivotal role in human life, as will be explained in the following paragraphs, our critical judgment demands exercising far greater care in relation to thought formation and making sure that they accurately reflect what we genuinely intend to achieve. In other words, if we would not say or do something, then we should not think it either. Within limits, of course! For instance, we can and should be polite and cordial to people we dislike and try to focus our thoughts on the matter at hand rather than on the person and try to be objective towards them but nevertheless be on our guard. These thoughts of dislike may caution us to be careful in our dealings with this particular person and not let him or her get too close. Provided, of course, that these negative thoughts about the person spring from pure intuition and are not the result of latent prejudices and biases we may harbour against certain types of people.
Everyone knows that one cannot infer real existence from thoughts alone because we can think things up that do not exist. Although these thought-creations may be pure fantasy, they still have the power to influence people, such as fantasy novels, computer games and the like. Movies especially are a great danger here because, through computerized graphics and other “tricks of the trade”, they can conjure up impossibilities which are so life-like, that they can confuse impressionable mind, especially of children, which are, after all, the grown-ups of tomorrow. Therefore, even if these thought creations and their manifestations are fictions concocted by the human mind, devoid of all reality, they are by no means harmless! At the same time, the visionary thought or idea encompasses more than is sensed materially or seen externally. The medieval man might have looked at birds in the air and envisioned man being able to fly, and indeed many early attempts at flight were made with artificial wings strapped to the arms. The truth of the internet or smartphone would have been a far-fetched notion a century ago while the demise of such things as the telegram, the 35mm camera, the public payphone and the decline of mailed correspondence would not have been anticipated and are sorely missed by many senior citizens who struggle to come to grips with the new technology which replaces them. What is the nature of thought, what is its scope of influence? Do thoughts intervene decisively in the fate of every person or have only a limited value? How do thoughts act? Can they provide a solid foundation for developing our lives, advancing our work and our knowledge?
On one level, we are physical beings with a rational mind embodying thoughts and feelings that help shape our everyday relationship with the world we see and hear. This mind, if working exclusively through the intellect, will envisage everything entirely from the material or physical standpoint. Of its own accord, this mental will of the limited intellect, which belongs to the perishable body, cannot envisage or comprehend anything beyond the purely material earthly, from which it stems because, as is well-known, nothing can go beyond the boundaries set by its species. Thus, the intellectual sense of self and its will are circumscribed in a rational conception that does not rise above an encompassing realm of material space and time. Therefore, if the limited intellect gains exclusive direction of the mind, this may lead to the erroneous conclusion that mental life is all brain activity and our thoughts are events which occur inside our heads, isolated from the outside world. Can a deluge of thoughts give rise to a mental claustrophobia?
The fact that the brain is the seat of ceaseless electrochemical activity has been known for well over a century. Yet what our brain does is outside our conscious awareness and this makes it impossible to comprehend life and psychic processes from external material events alone. Knowing how neurons fire or what every neuron is doing at a particular instant in a person’s life can no more unravel the mind or track feelings and emotions than viewing thought patterns on a monitoring device can tell us the nature of the thought. We can safely conclude, however, that the brain – with all its involuntary mechanisms – is not aware of itself because research has never been able to prove otherwise despite decades-long study and attempts to prove that the brain is the seat of the self-conscious mind. Therefore, understanding how the brain works is far removed from a true understanding of the real mind. Thus, the assertion that the brain constitutes the mind has no factual basis, but is merely a conjecture based on superficial analysis. They remain superficial not because of any neglect of scientific principles or lack of due diligence in the research, but because of the self-imposed limitations of the conception of what science is, namely the exclusion of any entity outside of the material world from the domain of science.
On another level, we are psychic personalities with enlightened promptings of truth from an intuitive mind whose character traits persist over the ages and bind in the human condition with our changing physical form and biological nature. We desire and perceive from the moral and motivational compass of our character – these are awakened feelings! We make decisions in everyday life, we have motives and feel emotions such as joy and elation, sorrow, anger and humiliation, we have goals and values, beliefs and principles, and if we strive to develop our abilities we mature towards self-realisation which leads to an enhanced consciousness of self. Experience will rouse a deep intuitive awareness within us, a perception anchored in the nascent spiritual self that transcends the limitations of the body. The enlightened glimpses of this unfolding self into unchanging cosmic laws can direct our striving towards higher and purer values. We are animate! Our psychic personality, a disposition of our animating core of immaterial spirit, which exhibits character traits distinguishing us from other creatures, even if we do share the same organic substances found in their physical bodies. For instance, the possession of a sophisticated brain is by no means a defining characteristic of the human being as such, because some animals that also have sophisticated brains, which allow them to do things which continue to amaze us. Our task naturally is to exert mastery over the brain for the vigour of mind and body.
Except for the ‘automatic’ functions such as heartbeat, breathing and the metabolic processes, every human action, every movement is always willed beforehand by the spirit; the body is simply the animated tool that has been bound into the visible form and sustained by the power emanating from the embodied spirit, but at the same time, must also be nourished from without. In order to take command of this tool, the animating spirit core of the human being thus needs to be always awakened to its task. Otherwise, if the spirit is inactive, slumbering, or just plain lazy, due either to an indolent self-complacency or a materialistic mind-set, which in effect would enslave a person to what is his tool, the struggle for control of the direction of volition between an over-cultivated material intellect and the feeble intuitive will of the dysfunctional spirit turns an earth life into a never-ending procession of faults, distorted conceptions and weaknesses, one that is steeped in lack of true love and in gloominess. Of course, if the connection between the spirit and the body is weak or even totally undermined, so that untethered from the depth of intuitive perception of the spiritual mind, the mental life that is wholly beholden to the material intellect, this intellect will naturally conclude that the physical body is all there is to the human being. Yet, against all the biases that may stem from the overpowering position of intellectual thought processes, the faculty of conscience is still stirred to override these narrow-minded considerations and change course if necessary! Above all, we are self-aware and on this our whole existence operates: the human being is embarked on an existential pilgrimage of self-discovery – to know oneself has always been the pinnacle of human striving once it transcends the constraints of purely material motivations.
[End of part 1; part 2 appears in the next issue of Pearl Magazine.]