We’re inundated with arguments and counterarguments over what are considered facts and counter-facts. There is a scramble to create ever-larger data-farms to handle…, well, all the data.
There’s also been a curious turn of phrase used by one buffoon, George Will to describe another, Donald Trump. Will has claimed that “Trump doesn’t know how to think.”
A thought has been rising in my mind lately: There’s little evidence that anyone in public life has a clue of what it means to think.
Is there a connection?
Quantification, a belief that what can be measured is all that matters, has led to a proliferation of data. Not knowing how to think has led to a belief that more quantification will lead us somewhere worth going. The two are faces of the same problem… I say problem here and not predicament. It seems worth looking into whether this is too optimistic or whether we have finally found a problem that can be resolved close to the heart of our predicament.
This question regarding how we perceive and then attempt to navigate our situation; whether we see it as a quantitative problem or a question of Quality; matters. It matters a lot. At the heart of this distinction lies a potential fork in the road. We either continue to believe in data and remain clueless of how thinking actually works – and therefore continue to throw gas on the fire of our predicament, or we may investigate how our perceptions of Quality change our approach to thinking.
We believe that something called “due diligence” is a good idea. We believe that thinking is a mechanical, additive process, that our brains are a fancy calculator, a super-computer. We pour data in, turn the crank, and out comes reason.
There is a belief system at work here; not an engagement with reality. This is how scientism turned what had/could-have-been a powerful insight into wisdom into yet another power-worshiping religion.
And this is how dogma perverts insight. This is what happened to the example embodied in the life of someone we know as Jesus and that led to the churches and empires that perverted his teachings for the sake of power. It continues to send us into binds.
Insights do not require belief. Insights appear and their clarity is self-evident. It is only when someone makes a concerted effort to weaponize an insight, turning it into a dogma, that belief enters into it. This process is at the core of the Realm of Negotiation. This belief that how we think can be channeled into approved and forbidden pathways.
In this way we can see how we have completely missed the mark regarding what it is to think. A belief in Power acretes to it this belief that thinking is a manipulation of quantities. Quantities silo-ed into separate containers and then “weighed.” The syllogism that powerful thoughts have the power to convince leads us to lean into embracing these beliefs by whatever means are deemed necessary.
It doesn’t take long before any contact with reality is lost and the only thing left visible to us is this struggle of ideas. Abstraction compounds itself upon abstraction. As we lose grip on what-is the reactive forces of our fear and anger become prisons. We can see nothing but their cold-hard walls. Can think of nothing other than to make them colder, harder, higher.
At this point everything we encounter is swept into our predicament. No action we can think of has any hope of resolving anything. We are trapped within a hall-of-mirrors bound by our unintended consequences.
Recognizing our predicament as such is a step away from the impasse brought about by our refusal to investigate that how we are bound only enforces our imprisonment.
But what if there is still something else going on?
What if what we assume to be thinking; an assumption we hold onto with a desperate grip; the result of a growing uncertainty that our certainties can hold. What if this is just a habit of thought, a grand and creaky collection of accumulated conditioning?
What if thinking is something else again?
Every insightful ancestor we study has had something to say about how melting away paradox, having an ability to hold supposed opposites in mind, can break us free. It is not by grasping at our so-called strengths; fetishizing them into objects of Power while regretting and condemning our supposed weaknesses and faults; that we can move beyond our impasses. It is only by holding all of these aspects in mind, looking at them without falling into traps of judgement: playing tricks, negotiating for power, angling for an optimistic turn, blocking some negation because it would be too pessimistic to face. It is only when we let these all go and simply sit with what we find – not what we believe, what we want to find, but what we actually do find – it is only then that we can begin to see what it means to think.
And it has nothing at all to do with quantity, with measure, with weighing evidence, bolstering belief.
Thinking is not an act of Will. Thinking does not begin until we set aside the expectations that drive Will. A Will that is nothing more than a second-order illusion brought into being as the illusion of Ego fashions a container for its fantasies and calls it Will, “God’s Will,” “The Will-to-Power,” whatever glorifying name we might attach to it it is still a fantasy.
There is action involved in thinking. Let’s call it a negative action, as Jeff Shampnois speaks of it. It is an act of emptying, a getting-out-of-the-way. It can involve dedication to some practice or practices that provide a point-of-contact with what has become such an unfamiliar activity. This act of emptying, of allowing one’s self to be receptive – an act somewhat reminiscent of what was once meant by prayer? – cannot be reduced to an act of Will.
And it is at this point that we discover Quality.
Quality is what we notice when we perceive what is whole, what is integrated, what is vital.
This insight is so simple as to render it almost invisible. Easy enough to lose sight of Quality when we are possessed by quantification, lost in our chase after Power. It is simple, and it is in this simplicity that we find its efficacy. This simplicity and ease of efficacy we sometimes call Grace and sometimes we see it as the workings of Nature, the Hand of God. However we might characterize it; it just is.
And when we make contact with what-is we are open to something we might call thinking. Not an accumulation of data, knowledge, facts – or counter-facts. What happens then can be discounted as merely an expression of taste. We navigate Quality by perceiving beauty. This can make it seem to be no more than an aesthetic judgement. But the language of taste, of appetite, of yearning and finding satisfaction, satiation, a sense of enough… these are useful entries into how it is that we think when we address Quality.
It’s no wonder that the language of quantification, of Power, attempts to trivialize questions of taste, muddling taste into a dump-all category, just another pile of opinions. This completely misinterprets the sense of rightness that comes over us when we address Quality as if it were just a matter of taste. When we attend Quality, what we find could not be any farther from an opinion!
This conflation with opinion is a projection. We claim that those who oppose us have faults and that we are pure. Opinions are all we are left with when we give-in to the Realm of Negotiation. When we address Quality we discover what has-to-be, not what we wish-would-be.
Let us embrace this question and begin to experience what it means to think.