The Subsistence of Thought

August 17, 2016

In my latest piece I wrote about how our eyes and ears and other senses inform our minds so that they can interpret objects according to those objects’ purposes and their structures. I gave an example of an object of this kind -  which we humans name an ordinary dining table. Natural features likewise get names from us which reflect their structure and sometimes as well their ‘purpose’ – which is to say, the effects and consequences on surrounding areas which they cause and display. An example of a natural feature is a ‘basin’ or a ‘cliff’; the first, a basin, is a scooped out arc in land or in a seabed; the second, a cliff, is a danger, and a sudden drop in height-above-sea-level.

I wrote also about how were there no sentient beings like humans who bear consciousness and self-consciousness; and who give these names to objects and to natural features in this way; then objects and natural features would bear no recognisable structure nor any meaningful effects or purposes.  We humans not only name things, we use those measurement standards we have created so as to assess things and to categorise them; so that we have over the ages worked-up a body of reliable information about where we live and how things go on here - on earth.

I then went on to touch on an idea that our minds as units belonging to individuals are only allowed to expand according to the current state of the collective information available as our heritage from past accumulations of observation and testing.  I also touched on the idea that our minds are able to function as individual units only by and because of their participation in the ‘general mind’ – which might be described crudely as being the sum capacity for all of this current information as it is held and mulled over within the sum total of sentient minds at any time.

Now the idea that we as sentient beings are able to push back the barriers preventing our accessing yet more collective information, is as curious as is the idea of ‘making money’. Both are great enigmas and are not short of being called miraculous things that are seen to occur in life.  In fact ‘making money’ is a very similar enigma to the ability to add to out current stocks of information. Both are unexplained but clearly they do both happen.

Money after all, as I have explained in earlier articles, is just one more of those objects our minds have created and to which we have applied measure quantity, and structure; and over time, have also added a tranche of reliable information.  Money subsists and few of us would deny the reality of money; its effects are too great and too pertinent to our survival and to our lifestyles.

Yet – I have said so before now – banks, particularly Nation State National Banks like The Bank of England or the US Federal Reserve, take it upon themselves to ‘create new money’ merely by printing a few more banknotes. Sometimes not even this much; but instead they create money simply by allowing – for a fee of course – Commercial banks to offer a greater aggregated credit allowance to their customers – literally money – as Shakespeare has it – out of ‘thin air’.

And it is not an illusion, nor is it an illusory money, being created in such ways; no more so than is any money already in circulation and in use beforehand to this printing off of more notes etc. Money is funny stuff indeed.

Likewise our certainties which we name our societies, civilisations, cultures, minds, thoughts, ideas, feelings, urges, wills, and our day to day lives and habits; all are similarly no more nor no less illusory than is money.  Everyone assents that were there no sentient humans there would be no money. No need for it. We cannot use it when we are not intelligent beings: full stop.

But both minds and money have an uncanny and wholly mysterious way of expanding; so that there is more mind being created just as there is more money being created; as we go on in our lives and whilst things remain on the whole good.

This is to say that unless things on the whole remain good there is a possibility, and sometimes an actuality where money is uncreated and collective mind also loses ground. This is not to simply equate collective mind with size of available reliable information; individuals differ in what they master in their minds, and in how much. But nonetheless ground sometimes has to be recovered, in collective mind capability and also in sum total of reliable information current. Here is one of my favourite poets (TS Eliot) writing on this phenomenon: ......what there is to conquer By strength and submission, has already been discovered Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope To emulate - but there is no competition - There is only the fight to recover what has been lost And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss. For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business Undoubtedly there is in the field of technology and also in biology and other sciences at the current time very much being added to our collective stocks of reliable information.  The poet here is talking not about sciences but about a kind of collective information which might loosely be termed ‘wisdom’ or else ‘epistemological’; which he feels (I tend to agree) has suffered loss by neglect at the hands of our current devotion to, and enamour with, the scientific kinds of information. That is another article however.

The fact is that across the social spectrum our minds do carry more in them in general today than was carried in a similar number of minds say 200 years ago. Not only are there more things for us to be aware of than at that former time; more things in toto are now generally available to be absorbed by us.

There are humans whose minds are exceptional and who come along every so often; whose minds are able to make substantive individual contributions of new information to the common stock. But in general this common stock is maintained and added to by the efforts and creative ability of the mass of individual minds, and ‘towering giants’ with individual additions of startling importance are the exception rather than the rule.

As phenomena, our minds exist simply because other minds with whom we commune also exist as a collective unit Take away the bathwater of collective mind and the baby of individual mind inevitably is swilled down the waste pipe also.  There is one thing which is marvellous and which concerns minds and which is able to run against the general trend of this dependency of individuals’ minds on the greater collective of minds. This is our unaccountable ability to create – new ideas, new appliances, and devices, new ways of doing, of seeing, of entertaining ourselves; of getting a job done.

Scientifically and technologically speaking this faculty has been for us ‘the ace up our sleeve’ since the take-off in history of The Industrial Revolution and right up to the present day global party,. By its means we have defeated the harmful encroachments of natural hazards, and of injuries and of disease, of food scarcity and of a great swathe of other hazards to life. By its means we place a hope and a tentative faith in science and in technology to keep us ahead of the game in fighting off these pests and threats to us.

We have learned; or we ought to have learned by now; that nature overcomes given time and re-presents itself as hazard at our doors again and again. This has been our experience with antibiotics; with insecticides; with degenerative diseases; with allergies and allergens and with a multitude of other instances.

Crude oil and fossil fuels have rendered Shanghai a city besieged by smogs and dirty air; poor land management has rendered Nevada a desert; several Soviet schemes – like for hydroelectric and land reclamation – have  cause distress to whole nations and lasting damage to ecological systems.  Our own personal habits are not excepted. We drink alcohol and smoke tobacco and so we store up their perils for our late middle age; and at great money cost to our pockets. Indeed the old ‘wisdom’ which says: ‘your sins will find you out’ is proved and found salient.

We like to hope and expect that science and technology will keep us ahead of the game; and thereby will force nature into a perpetual role of playing catch-up with our sprinting human capacity for ingenuity and for creative thought.

Here lies a question. Does nature ever catch up? Do our ‘sins’ cumulate so far and disperse so far around our environment so as to reach a critical mass and so overwhelm us as a sapient species?  Will we make one too many quick fixes ‘on the hoof’?

Our capacity and ability to create new things of and in the mind – information and blueprints for gadgets – has been our undoing – at since least 1750 to date.

Like a guy who has been told again and again how beautiful and talented he is and who learns only to value himself and to value himself only for his good looks and his talents; we have sent ourselves up, set ourselves up, hyped our capacities to create so far off the scale that we are now enamoured and so captive in thrall to all that hype we generated when we told flattering stories to ourselves; and we are captive likewise also to that vicious circle of -  nature encroaches – then humans quick fix it – which our self-love and self-infatuation has encouraged and created in us to be our rod to be borne.

Off the scale are we so far in these straits that many, maybe most of us cannot see it really is the case. We are so far unbalanced as a culture – globally it seems – and it is getting worse by the week - that we have lost sight of the other end of the seesaw set beyond its central fulcrum.

We have become victims of our own successes of earlier days; days before the knock-ons and the counter-effects of those successes had really begun to bed into our lives and into our planet. We have been hyped by our own propaganda; so far the we don’t, we are unable to, question our beliefs seriously, and we are now in a position where it seems we have no choice but to throw the die for a double six and hope our science and technology turns up the goods.

That ace we were holding up our sleeve has run out. It has seen us through several crises; some eschatological in size; but we have been found out now so many times by our opposite player, nature, and we have been seen to be cheating by hiding it there; and the game is now perhaps up with us, and the better player, nature, is freed up to continue on a roll?

We have been cheated by our own stories we told ourselves, and we believed our own hype, and we are in a cleft stick with no option but to lie on the bed we have made. And all because we did not see; did not figure; that the collective mind is a shifting sand, a moveable feast; which ranges about carrying the minds of us individuals; and carrying also the soups of the day and the flavours of the month; and alas we were unable to see; did not discern; that we had lost some time back a proper ability to counterbalance these untimely dictates of fashion and of human energies, or to be able to curb and temper our gusto at riding our initial waves of success, and so become unable to find ever new working sets of toys.

We took up the new toys we churned out of factories, and the gusto and the successes; and made them our Rallying Calls and Battle Cries – to the nth degree we have followed through our zest and desire and thus we have created a Consumer Society; one which is consuming our veritable heritage; and consuming our prodigious planetary home; and consuming that home’s natural facilities and comforts.

When we did all this we threw away our older toys; they were no longer convenient for what we intended and for what we wanted for ourselves – so they had to go.  And these older toys had been around a few thousand years and had served us well right up to the time they were jettisoned by us; at which time they were still serviceable and in good order.  Since that time new toys every week has been the order of the day at Amazon and at eBay etc, etc – a carousel ride to mayhem.

Our collective mind presently is unbalanced – I mean the pun. We are out of our heads; certainly out of our depth.  Few people grasp the veritable reality of what I am trying to establish by sound argument here.  Like a plant sown in shallow soil their minds have been provided insufficient roots to go deeper than mere columnist verbiage or anchorman asides.  What has been lost to us has been so lost that its existence let alone its whereabouts are utterly not on the agenda of 95% plus of people. These people do not know of them; would not recognise their names were they told of them; but look at you askance and think you unbalanced. Weird concepts from the past, then – and as far as most people are concerned – from the utterly dead past

Our collective mind has moved and shifted so far as to carry us – but we are its movers also – and so we are responsible adults for all this -  that what is now considered normal is in fact very odd and fearfully risible. Examples?

We sit in front of TVs watching super fit dedicated athletes doing stupendous feats at which their whole lives and training has been aimed for years now; and we ourselves are obese, overeat, drink booze and take various stimulants; are couch potatoes.

Some of us pay money each month to our gym. We go once or twice a week to keep trim. Yet we will not park our car and walk 50 yards to a newsagent; but we prefer to double park and so fecklessly hold up traffic horrendously and instead just walk 5 yards to the shop.

We buy the gym facilities yet we will not, would not dream of it, use natural and gratis means – like a family walk – or some gardening – we hire a gardener instead – which would make ourselves more fit.

Many of us put sun tan oils on which tan our skins without needing sunlight. Many of us go to tanning studios and bake ourselves for a while to look healthy – whilst the habits we keep continue working inside us to accumulate health troubles for us up ahead.

We have a Driving Theory Test. Drivers whom have passed it en masse do not adhere to its precepts.  The police do not enforce it.  Many drivers will not use indicator lights because to do so is so ‘uncool’. These drivers prefer to give no indication to other drivers and road users of their intentions at junctions; and so stay ‘cool’ to view.  There is a simple elementary fact: that bad manners like this; inconsiderate lack of care towards others; generates accidents on the roads and elsewhere.

Just as the collective mind is able to override common sense and dampen balanced outlooks whenever people’s enthusiasms run amuck; our habits are able to overtake and to override our better judgements; as when habitually we leave until the last moment pieces of work due; and, lo, we fall sick on the days immediately ahead of when it needs to be ready.

So staying cool turns into a habit; and one forgets all about being cool and still carries on doing a habit - long after a newer and the next cool fashion has taken hold.

Our current 'judgementally –free' approach to one another in regard to a person’s personal likes and dislikes; such as his recreations and pastimes: this carries with it a premise that any activity or pursuit is equally valid and commendable for a person to enjoy. Thus relishing bloodcurdling thrillers with acres of gore and teeming with gratuitous violence, scene after scene of horrors and atrocities; and all shown for its own sake and at no real furtherance of a storyline; that it is OK for a person to prefer these atrocities before items which invite a person to explore about the nature of things, of existence, of human pain and life’s dilemmas; or about what purpose there might be in being a living sentient being.  Further; the judgement of general equality of standing is so often made with a rider that one activity is as valuable and valid as any other is – hence value itself here as a standard of measurement itself is called into question and confounded.

More than called into question; it is repudiated and scotched; gerrymandered.  Of course to hold up in defence the reasonable course of reply to these idiocies and thus to point out that these persons who make such ‘egalitarian’ ‘liberal’ judgements, by them taking such a stance in fact have cut away all ground beneath them for standing such a judgement firmly upon.

These examples given then are just a few of the absurdities our manic adventure into the cul-de-sac of post-industrial salad days has allowed to emerge. They are an iceberg’s tip in a commonplace of widely-held worthless opinions and ludicrous habits.

The answer to the big question about how we might get back some sanity and balance into our 21st century zoological lives; and so resurrect some of that long-time jettisoned ballast of ‘wisdom,’ and ‘epistemological’ information: here stands the conundrum.

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