By Timothy E. Lewis — April 29th, 2016
The inner workings of the human mind are an abominable mystery. Breaking it into mere words on a screen is futile by its methodology. One might even find it humorous, that the mind cannot define itself. Perhaps, therein lies the problem: The attempt to define. The mind is not simply a processing unit, but a sentient processing unit, sharply distinct from any other non-biological comparison. In light of this, is it possible that the mind’s capacity is beyond its own comprehension? Is there a disconnect between our sentient consciousness and the calculating nature of our processing mind?
If I might humbly interpret:
Within the mind exists a duality of functions. There is thinking, a mechanism of the processing mind, and awareness, present within the sentient mind. Understanding the difference is crucial for shedding light on how we interpret the world around us.
Thinking is the process by which we define objects and ideas, thereby allowing us to fit them together and create logic. Through thinking we conceptualize, strategize, coordinate, and communicate. Therefore, and perhaps obviously, thinking is important. One of my very first memories is my preschool teacher informing me to think before I act; quite the revelation. In this sense, thinking is not only important, but necessary as well. However, thinking is limited by the nature of its processes, and cannot be relied upon in all situations.
Awareness is to thinking as wisdom is to knowledge. Both have their place, with the latter being more common and the former more elusive. Awareness transcends thinking. It is the acceptance of what exists without the confines of absolutes or identity. For it is in absolutes and identity that we lose the beauty of the infinite, the perfection of abstraction, that which has no true measure. Such a loss is experienced when we attempt to use thinking as a replacement for awareness.
Language is the communication of thought. To speak to one another we must have words assigned to what we wish to vocalize. By assigning a word to a thing, we give that thing a meaning. There are two forms of meaning: Defined meaning and identity meaning. Defined meaning is straightforward — the meaning of a word that we would find in a dictionary. Identity meaning is more convoluted, namely because a word can have a different identity depending on the person saying it, while also varying by circumstance. There are innumerable words with identity meanings. Think “love, racism, liberal, conservative, good, evil, health, God.”
The word “love” is an attempt to make something intangible and extremely powerful into a concept that’s easily understood. However, the way it is said and interpreted changes not just by the people, but by the language in which they converse. This is because love is not a universal concept. Its interpretation varies from one culture and individual to the next, changing by context.
To comprehend this idea of identity definition, imagine the color “blue”. Close your eyes for a few seconds and picture it vividly.
While this may come easily, there is a good chance that the shade of blue that you immediately picture is different from that which another person might picture. The spectrum of blue is all truthfully blue, just as how the spectrum of love is all truthfully love. The idea of an identity definition is that one’s truth can be qualitatively different from another’s truth, without contradiction or competition for legitimacy.
Where this places us, is at the intersection of language and thinking. They thrive together, through the articulation of thought and the required artistry needed to do so effectively. Unfortunately, some concepts can not be thought through because, in fact, they are not concepts at all.
We specify truths we know to exist in order to convert them into logic and conversation. This process is inherently flawed. Why? Because there is a disconnect between the identity meaning of words across everyone in existence. Therefore, logic, something with a defined meaning of “reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity,” cannot be properly determined when validity is subject to personal discretion. That is, logic is only “logical” when validity is quantifiable. When concepts don’t fit an exact quantifiable measurement, flawless logic can no longer exist. The “thinking-conversation” is compromised by its very nature.
Language is of the thinking mind, operating in definitions and absolutes. Absolutes exist only in the realm of the truly quantifiable. That which falls outside of the truly quantifiable is, by nature, something the thinking mind is incapable of wholly processing.
I’m sure that you, like myself, have encountered anxiety, regret, depression — the products of the thinking mind. We experience these emotions as a result of the fallacy of thinking: The belief that thought is the mother of answers.
This thinking, once again, has truth to it if the line of logic is based on quantifiable concepts. If not, each time we assign a definition, identity, or numerical understanding to something intangible, we deviate further from that thing’s essence and expand the potential for misrepresentation. Again, giving form to the abstract is an automatic deviation from reality.
The best example I can think of to explain this misrepresentation is by noting how we use time as a basis for thought. According to common understanding of time, it is a progressive, linear force that started after the initial expansion of the universe (Big Bang theory), and goes on forever and ever… maybe. That explanation is fine. For this purpose, we don’t need a conventional definition. Instead, our focus is on how we use time to give meaning to our existence. With the compulsion to identify ourselves, we have a desire to grasp how time is interwoven with our personal being. For many, this is the reason we experience anxiety, regret, and depression; because we rely on time to tell us who we are. Depression and regret are dictated by overthinking the past, assuming that previous experience is the overlord of our current being. Anxiety, meanwhile, deals with future-time, intimating a fictitious scenario that evokes panic. Together, depression, regret, and anxiety control our lives through mental processes that create reality from presumption. Throughout our lives, the concept of time becomes so embedded, so conditioned, that we can’t think past it. As a Buddhist might confirm, we must “unlearn.”
For us to unlearn, we must stop thinking about time and become aware of time. How? At this point, the explanation defies explanation. We must unlearn the personal self that we have attached to previous and future times. This is because neither of these realities exist outside of our own interpretation of them. To interpret these times we must think about them, and to think about them we must turn them into concepts. Once these interpretations are concepts we have effectively erected boundaries, establishing who and what we are. To simplify: With thought, we create our own identity, forming it through past experience and future worry. All of this is done because our basic thought-understanding of time teaches us to connect ourselves to it, instead of embracing its ever changing fluidity as a representation of our own identity. We are as time is.
The act of thinking can be paradoxical. We tend to believe that, the deeper we think, the more precise our conclusions will be. While this is true, “more precise” does not equate “more correct.” If we write a book, put forth a hypothesis for scientific testing, or detail a virtual platform for a computer program, thorough thought is likely to do justice to the final result. If we’re dealing with the death of a loved one, a heartbreak, or a spiritual awakening, thinking is inclined to tie the mind in knots.
All thoughts are produced within the realm of our own understanding. This is why, when we assume understanding of say, time or love, our capacity for thinking becomes irrelevant.
If the foundations of our logic are no more than assumed truths, what we build upon those truths is flawed by association. When we are challenged on an emotional or spiritual level, thinking quickly becomes inadequate. Yet, as opposed to replacing a blunt knife, we continue to saw away at our mental dilemmas. And, much like a blunt knife, our thoughts do not get sharper as they attempt to cut deeper into a “concept.” Instead we try to give ideas more definitive meanings, chopping them into form-fitting wedges that interlock and create more logic. The issue is, the more absolute we make mental constructs to fit our logic, the more we narrow the spectrum of interpretation. Rather than accepting all shades of blue as being truthfully blue, there is one particular shade that we choose to represent.
We must acknowledge, every processor has its limit.
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