The Birth of Thought
Written on Thursday, 22 May, 2014
How does one enter into the world of thought, ideas, words, expression and wisdom?
I find that it is as though life goes in stages. First the infant must rear his body into self identity, into self awareness or consciousness. Consciousness then comes, suddenly and unexpectedly, it seems, in a moment of solitude, like walking home from school, alone. Then, in this state of self awareness, the youth is smacked upside the face with reality, the result of being suddenly confronted with the enormity of information the brain had been processing but, up until that point, kept to it self. For some the information load is too great and they decline into a gentle, but sustaining ignorance, often through conditioned ideology, such as religion, faith, or some other moral structure, and live, more or less, happily ever after, depending on the moral structure they adopt. For others, ignorance cannot be reached, and those ones tend to sink down into depression, intoxication, and chemically induced denial and detachment from reality.
Some, however, reach helplessly into the Heavens, and their ambition presents as restlessness, and their helplessness, only a temporary state of inexperience. These ones are often suppressed by their superiors – that is superior in might but not in mind – and often disappear into strange underground realms of success where those superiors cannot touch them. I, for I am who this is about, had the fortune of being raised in an environment where restlessness was allowed, drudgingly tolerated, and rarely suppressed.
During this stage of life a madness sinks in such that the individual may cope with the vast amount of information being presented to them. Madness is necessary, because, to these individuals, instinct keeps them subconsciously unable to conform entirely to any particular ideology, religion, or other ethical structure by which they may appropriately interact with their environment. Madness is their mask of sanity. In order for an individual to interact appropriately with a community of other human beings, a common system of morals is required, otherwise the individual becomes antagonistic to the community, and is shunned. For many this system comes in the form of a complete ideology to which they are devoted, such as religion. For many, these morals are taught by the family, an ethical code of conduct, which is likely the unconscious result of religious conditioning, which in America, where I grew up, is largely based on the Judeo-Christian tradition. Some societies, however, grow up without religion, but still have strongly conditioned ethical codes. This is often the case, for example, in mainland China, where the Confucian tradition has left a basis for strong family ties and prescribed modes of inter-familial communication, even lasting through the cultural reforms of the last century.
For my part, ideology was not so simple. Sure, growing up in 21st century America, I went to church once in a while, and no doubt absorbed the Judeo-Christian conditioning of my parents, greater family, friends and community. Still, my value system grew out of something more complex. I grew up with tales of might and cunning from Homer to J.R.R. Tolkien.
In primary school I was introduced not only to the teachings of various large scale religions, but I also attended pipe circles and was sent on Native American vision quests; I studied Greek and Norse mythology; celebrated the Day of the Dead, and sat in Shinto shrines and practiced the Japanese tea ceremony. Yet, for the most part there was little conscious absorption of these systems of thought into my conditioning. I suspect this is partially because of a unique learning style, but also because of a lack of care. Something deep inside of me was aware of primacy, the laws of nature, which, I knew intuitively, lack morality and are beautifully brutal.
I began to make sense of this feeling with the exploration of Buddhist traditions, and the more extreme Samurai culture of Japan. (Which might be thought of as the culmination of the Daoist School, the Confucian tradition, Mohism, and the Buddhist teachings as interpreted by the razor-sharp imagination only witnessed in the Japanese speaking peoples). The reason these hit me so profoundly was that these traditions focused heavily on death, or non-being, which leads to a method by which I could peer through the looking glass, and see nature as it is without the distortion of conditioned perception. Still, I grew to understand that all of these ethical structures which I had been exposed to where not in vain, and that they were taught to serve a larger purpose – such as, to deal with intense suffering and pleasure, to produce social cohesion, or to build influence or power. They also were taught to me as an example of variation.
The mind which knows so many systems is acutely aware that no single system provides absolute truth. This understanding is both liberating and painful. Many, still, would prefer to enter quietly into the mundane depths of denial and accept one truth, such that they may cope with the more relevant difficulties of procuring modes of comfort, food, shelter and self replication.
As a child, one younger than I am now, I had borne a disdain for education, simply, I think, because it seemed fashionable to do so at the time. While I wish I had paid more attention in my mandatory studies, upon deeper reflection I suspect it was not so much loss after-all. Being a child I lacked perspective and would have been therefor unable to extract so many lessons from the stories. Such that, it may be I extracted all that I could, though I played at distaste. I cannot recall what age exactly, but I do recall a kind of fascination with many of the words and stories I had been exposed to. Basically, at approximately the same time my body was growing into self awareness, it was also being given a splattering of nonsense, which would, in time, become sense, a nostalgic kind of sense. Now that sense has grown into a fuzzy lattice like network which I may explore on my own terms, bolstered by an extended education in the sciences, linguistics, and the great languages and literature of China.
This is the birth of thought in me. So many ideas and thoughts passed through my head as a child, but I lacked the tools to properly investigate them. Really, I lacked the confidence to realize that others had no greater tools than I. Here, my ship sets sail anew, with a keen and relaxed observation of reality, and a budding new sense of humor which can only accompany such cool and unbiased observation, (which is not to say the opinions generated are so unbiased). And more, I have possibly spent more intellectual energy, during my studies, on the topic of learning, as it pertains to me, than the studied topics themselves, and I have thus built a profound toolbox by which to embark on my journey of thought and discovery.
The greatest obstruction for me, then, is the inaccessibility of quality education, teachers, mentors, and collaborators. I’ve been through some great educational institutions and made acquaintance with a few great thinkers and teachers. However, it has become plain to me that such institutions are too costly for formal attendance and my confidence in myself is too great to return to them; for I know now who my teachers learned from, and those teachers profess free of charge, through extant literature. I do hope to maintain my acquaintances, but I cannot afford to attend their respective institutions, unfortunately.
In life and in learning there are big steps and there are little steps. The big steps build foundation and wisdom, while the little steps traverse complex and awkward terrain. Little steps may keep the individual alive, but they do not lead to any place. It is then my goal to play as much as I can with the big steps.
Firstly, is vocabulary, which due to my early lack of interest in literature and study is stunted. Fortunately, there is a great vocabulary acquisition tool available now, that is the audio book. Vocabulary is best acquired, in my case, through context and use. How better then, than to listen to the words in use, and furthermore, to absorb the great literature of the world at the same time. I try then, to focus my use of audio books to classic English literature. Perspective is also an important big step. To understand the history of literature, philosophy, and science in general, and those great ethical ideologies which have permeated the various great societies like viruses: the religions. History in this sense is not so concerned with facts and dates, but of generalizations and relationships. Time frames can then naturally coalesce in my mind, by the flow of occurrences and ideas. This broader perspective intensifies the latticework have I previously mentioned.
Philology and linguistics, I think, may be the final essential to this structure. To explore the development, meaning, and change in language and words over time: for language embodies thought and ideas and can teach a lot about the process of thought. For example, both English and Chinese abstract words derive usually from older concrete words. What can this tell us about thought? I have studied a little of the classic writing of Chinese, but not so much Greek, Latin, Sanskrit or other such basic systems of expression through writing. (I am, admittedly, clumping spoken and written language together here, but of course they are two entirely different animals. I am thinking primarily of writing, as that is what is passed down.) So, I have to work on literature, vocabulary, philosophy, science, religion and language.
The most essential thing of all, then, is expression, through writing, and dialogue. The most carefully observant and reasonable individual need not any of the aforementioned education to hold their own in understanding, expression, and debate; though they may spend much time defining their terms (if there were no teachers do define them). It is the exploration of ideas, the expression and dialogue, which necessitates the education; except, maybe, in the case of the natural philosopher – that is the one who feels compelled toward knowledge and it’s manipulation regardless of it’s being put to use – the true lover of knowledge. This natural philosopher can concentrate his ambition with education and expression. This I intend to do.