It’s pretty easy to feel down about the state of human affairs. There’s so much greed, so much suffering, so much to feel bad about. What’s to be done when feeling blue?
There are those who view the current moment as deterministic, that everything that’s happening is simply the result of previous causes. Determinism treats reality as if it’s a machine, a chain of events that inevitably transpire in a universe of cause and effect. If we only had a computer powerful enough to observe everything, determinists believe, we could perfectly predict everything. Of course, we don’t have such a computer and instead must rely on our logic and intellect to anticipate outcomes. Overall, we do fairly well, although the complexity of reality makes absolute prediction impossible, and our intellect is by nature abstract, using symbolic language to convey and transform concepts and ideas.
In this age, we rely on intellect almost entirely in the conduct of our daily lives, ignoring its abstract character and treating our observations as if they are always accurate representations of reality. Belief in science, a system of methodically testing ideas to ascertain their truth or falsity, buttresses our use of intellect and serves to enhance our reliance upon it. As compelling as this approach is, it still relies upon our sensory capabilities, capabilities which impart some information about reality to our intellect, but just a small fraction of what’s available. In this way, our senses gather yet limit information; our experience of reality is confined to that we can perceive.
To fill the information gap we use our intellect and imagination. To explain what appears to us, we invent words and create stories. Our intellect allows us to manipulate our imagined ideas as if they are real objects; we imagine things, visualize them, rotate them, and gather them together in various arrangements. We can then use our hands and the technologies we’ve invented to replicate what we’ve envisioned and bring things into the material world. It may be that the primary purpose of intellect is the manipulation of material objects that help insure our survival, an evolution of instinctive capacities observable in conscious, but not intellectual, animals.
Feeling blue, however, is a matter of emotion, not intellect. Accordingly, although we can distract ourselves with stories and intellectual abstractions, developmentally our emotions precede intellect and often are more in sync with reality than are our thoughts; it’s hard to think your way out of the blues. Before intellect or self-consciousness, feelings are what ensured our survival. In the watery world of life’s beginnings, long before the development of eyes or ears, it may have been taste that guided our actions, or perhaps touch. It’s remarkable how much we still rely on these very primitive senses to guide our way through the world.
The character of life defies determinism and relies on chance, potentialities, possibilities and the flow of time. Life’s impetus, however it emerged so many billions of years ago, remains powerful; it’s creative, expanding and unpredictable nature mirrors the continuity of the universe itself, which is creatively expanding.
Abandoning intellect is impossible, but ironically it can be harnessed to techniques to lessen reliance on it, techniques that connect our feelings with the continuous flow of time and the unfolding of reality. We sit on the edge of now, and fully feeling that moment may not always end the blues, but just might.
One thought on “Blues and the abstract truth”
This is a good thought for today.