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The Nature Of Thought - Part 2
The divisive nature of thought is the source of our genius, and our insanity.
On the previous page of this article series, we discussed how thought operates by dividing the single unified reality in to conceptual parts. On this page we’ll explore how this thought generated process of division is the source of two central properties of the human condition, our genius as a species, and our insanity.
We Are Genius!
The source of our genius as a species is that 1) thought divides reality in to conceptual parts, and then 2) we can rearrange the conceptual parts in our minds to create visions of reality that don’t yet exist. That is, we can be creative.
We inhabit both the real world of tangible objects, and also a virtual world of conceptual objects in our minds. In our inner virtual world we have the freedom to move conceptual objects around in to many different arrangements, because the conceptual objects are merely imaginary, they have no physical weight, mass or shape which might obstruct us.
Once we have an arrangement of conceptual objects in our minds that we find pleasing, we can then use that vision as a map of where the real world objects we are trying to manipulate should go.
Consider the cave man who comes upon a stream. He wants to cross the stream, but he doesn’t want to get his feet wet. So he looks around at all the logs laying on the ground, and checks out their length and weight, until he finds a log that he imagines being suitable for his purpose. The cave man builds a conceptual foot bridge out of conceptual logs in his mind first, and when that inner model seems to work, he attempts to replicate the inner model of the foot bridge in the real world.
An animal might try to build a bridge out of sticks, be it would be more likely to be moving the actual real world sticks around in a random manner, and that is a lot more work than moving conceptual logs around in one’s mind, and much less likely to succeed.
Once the divisive nature of thought has given us the ability to create conceptual objects which reference real world phenomena, we can then assign a sound to a conceptual object, and spoken language is born. With spoken language I don’t have to point to a tree, I can instead just say the sound for “tree”, and bring up the images you have in your mind for trees.
If we then assign some scribbles on a piece of bark to the concept “tree”, written language is born, which allows us to communicate over time and distance.
With language we can transfer an arrangement of conceptual objects from one mind to another, and a network of human minds is created, thus multiplying our creative power as a species.
So what we see happening here is that language, like so much else of the human condition, arises directly out of the divisive nature of thought, it’s ability to divide reality in to conceptual objects. Without this conceptual division process, sophisticated language wouldn’t be possible, creativity wouldn’t be likely, and networking humans to work together in concert would be much more difficult.
We Are Insane!
Just as the nature of thought makes us brilliantly creative, it also makes us literally insane, a danger to ourselves and the environment we inhabit. This is the intriguing irony of the human condition, the best and worst of us arises from the same source, that which we are made of, thought.
The divisive nature of thought creates a human experience of reality as being divided between “me” and “everything else”. “Me” is perceived to be very very small, and “everything else” is perceived to be very very big. This perception gives rise to fear, which is in turn the source of most of the problems we humans create for ourselves.
We should recall the distortion involved in the perception that “me” is one thing and “everything else” is another different thing. A simple experiment you can do right now at your desk will reveal how intimately connected “me” and “everything else” actually are. Are you ready? Ok, here we go…
Hold your breath.
How long did you last? One minute? Maybe two?
The point here is of course that we are intimately connected to “everything else” every minute of our lives, and the perception that we are separate is not entirely wrong, but not all that right either. Conceptually there is a clear dividing line between “me” and “everything else”, but in reality, not so much.
What drives the fear at the center of the human condition is a distorted understanding of our situation, a distortion which is generated by the divisive nature of thought.
Perhaps the most compelling example of this very human marriage between genius and insanity is the phenomena of nuclear weapons.
We brilliantly learned how to manage a fundamental building block of all matter, and then insanely used that knowledge to produce a global mass suicide device.
Nuclear weapons help illustrate in an easily accessible manner that human history is powered by the nature of that which we’re all made of, thought. It’s thought’s ability to divide the single unified reality in to conceptual objects that is the source of both our genius and insanity. And it is the relationship between the genius and insanity which defines us as a species, explains our past, and will determine our future.
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