The Incompleteness of Thought

(Essay) Unreality, Prediction, Risk Assessment, and Motivation

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What good is thinking and reasoning if economists, pundits, intellectuals, and the like are so often wrong? Great minds failed to foresee the 2008 Financial Crisis, Brexit, the rise of Russian aggression, the Trump presidency — so what use is thought? Clearly whatever its use, even if that use is necessary and invaluable, the use of thought still seems remarkably limited. Though mastering thinking is necessary (for reasons argued throughout the works of O.G. Rose), thinking alone is inadequate. If we fail to realize how innately incomplete thinking is (even genius thought), we may think that we have the tools necessary for saving the world, but when we go to make a difference, before our very eyes, nothing will change.

(Audio Summary)

If we tell a Deaf person something intelligent and the person says something strange and even foolish in response, is that person stupid? No: because of how the person “is,” the person is simply unable to understand what we are saying. To determine if the person was unintelligent, we would have to sign the intelligent statement to the Deaf person accurately in a way he or she could understand, and then assess how he or she responded (imperfectly). Without this “translation,” any assessment we made would be incomplete and inaccurate, and the truth is, all of us are like the mentioned Deaf person. Because of how we “are,” we cannot fathom all the information in the world, translate it into terms we understand, or even come close to realizing all that “we don’t know we don’t know” (as discussed in “The Phenomenology of (True) Ignorance” by O.G. Rose). And yet we respond to it, and often must respond to it, and often our responses are strange and even foolish. Does this mean we are stupid? No: it has nothing to do with us being stupid or ideological, but rather everything to do with what kind of creatures we “are.”

Great Music for Reading

To stress the point: this paper isn’t so much about how thinking is prone to error — say due to confirmation bias, conflating “thinking” and “critical thinking,” etc. — but rather this paper is about how thinking in its very structure is limited and even useless (even “perfect” thinking from geniuses). Again, this paper is not simply about how thinking is often poorly constructed or erroneous, but about how thought is inherently limited and incomplete. Learning the limits of thinking, we will hopefully not make the mistake of putting too much faith in thinking.

I

Thinking is always bound to the information available to it. If I am in a room that is on fire and there is a door, it is rational for me to open that door. But what if on the other side of the door was a madman with a gun and in ten second the fire department would arrive and put out the fire? Then it would suddenly be rational to stay in the room, despite all evidence to the contrary. But what if I didn’t know what was on the other side of the door or that the fire department was about to arrive? Then though it would be “best” for me to stay in the room, it would still be “rational” for me to leave: I can either do what is “best and irrational” or “worst and rational.” The intelligent person, precisely because he or she was intelligent, would probably do what was “worst and rational.”

Thinking cannot ponder what it doesn’t know. If I’m a pollster trying to decide who will win an election and no data I’ve collected suggests that ten percent more people are going to come out to vote, then my thinking and rationality would necessarily lead me to construct polling data that will be missing a large chunk of necessary data. But since I cannot know that I don’t know the “random event” that will happen during the election, there is no possibility of me trying to look for it or to know that I should be looking for it: the nature of reality is such that even if I do everything rationally and follow strict procedure, I must necessarily end up looking like a fool on election day. There’s “no exit.”

Thinking is incapable of being structured by randomness, happenstance, and “black swans,” and yet thinking is always “of” a world/reality in which randomness, happenstance, and “black swans” exist. Hence, thinking is always structured by “unreality,” if you will. This doesn’t mean thinking doesn’t have a place, isn’t invaluable, and/or that thinking is never right, but it does mean that the scope of thinking is always smaller than the scope of the world of which thinking is “of.” Granted, in some ways, the scope of thinking can be bigger, for I can think of abstract ideas like numbers (which aren’t in the world), but when my thinking is “toward” what I sense, it is smaller.

In line with thought presented in “On Thinking and Perceiving” by O.G. Rose, thinking is never thinking “of” everything, because no human can know or experience everything. This seems obvious enough, and we all know this when asked directly, but the thought rises and falls in consciousness as we live out our daily lives. Thinking is always incomplete relative to “what is” even when thought is complete relative to “what is known.” Relative to the data the pollster received and knew he could receive, the pollster in the earlier example didn’t make any mistakes: he was “objectively right” relative to that data, and yet “actually wrong.” If the pollster lost his job, in some respects, it would be unjust.

Though invaluable and necessary, thinking is always of “unreality,” per se, but by this I don’t mean that thinking is “of” things that don’t exist, just that what thinking is “of” is never everything. It is always “incomplete,” and by “unreality” I mean something more like “incomplete reality” versus “fake reality” or “daydream.” But it really must be emphasized how “incomplete” thought actually is, virtually to the point of being “unreal.” Take right now: you are thinking about this sentence, and probably little or nothing else. You aren’t thinking about the chair you might be sitting in, how what you are reading was produced, the composition of the letters, or the atoms that compose everything you are beholding. You aren’t thinking about the desk you are sitting at, the cabinet that might stand in the corner, the people living their lives outsides your window, or the people in the plane passing by overhead. In this way, thought blinds in the very act it reveals; it fails to grasp in the act of understanding. As you read this sentence, you are thinking about the most infinitesimal percent of reality: so small is the subject of your mind that it’s almost laughable to say that your thoughts are “of” reality at all. Yes, this sentence is “part of reality,” but nothing even slightly close to “reality” itself.

And when confronted with this point directly, we all nod and say “of course,” but then we naturally proceed to live our lives, the thought falling away into the depths of consciousness, and we live as if thought is more real than “unreal.” It’s almost as if we can’t help it, and in many respects, thought calibrates us “toward” being this way. Thought is all we have, and if we thought all the time about how “incomplete” and/or “unreal” our thinking was, we’d perhaps go mad. To keep sanity and to think at all, we virtually must forget that thought is never “of” reality (completely), and this makes us prone time and time again to fail to foresee a 2008 Financial Crisis, a Trump election, or worse.

II

Prediction rarely predicts: “unreal,” thought is remarkably incapable of foreseeing the future. Nassim Taleb, Thomas Sowell, and many other thinkers have warned about this for years, and yet the human race never seems capable of fully absorbing their teachings. I personally believe they are right, and yet I still find myself falling into “prediction thinking” regularly and being shocked when I turn out wrong. Even when we know that thought is limited, it seems we cannot help but fall back into believing thought is “more right than wrong.” Perhaps this is because thought is all we have and we spend our days thinking; as a result, we must necessarily believe that we can trust in thought, for otherwise we’d be dysfunctional (it would be like us using our hands while believing that we couldn’t rely on them to hold what they held). Similarly, if we didn’t believe that we could rely on the thoughts running through our heads, we’d go mad, and yet it is the case that we cannot readily rely on thinking for predictions, regardless the genius or expertise of the minds behind them.

Why do we constantly keep falling back into relying on predictions? To start, we require them: to decide if I should bring an umbrella today, I must rely on the “prediction” of the forecaster. If I’m dating someone and continue to pour time, thought, and love into the relationship, I must do so because I’ve made some kind of prediction about the likelihood that the relationship will work out, that the person I’m dating isn’t hiding his or her true self, and so on. If I start a job, I’m made some kind of “cost/benefit analysis” about working at the place and made a “prediction” about how likely it is that the job will prove favorable. Humans have to make and live by predictions, and we do so a lot more than we realize.

In other works by O.G. Rose, it is pointed out that all reasoning is relative to a truth: if I believe it is going to rain today, it is rational for me to bring an umbrella. Yet it’s important to note that I don’t actually know for sure that it’s going to rain: I’m acting rational relative to a prediction, a prediction which is based on various flows of information. The idea “it will rain” is a truth premise that organizes my rationality, but it isn’t a truth premise the same as “2 + 2 = 4”; rather, it is a “probable truth premise” or “predictive truth premise.” The point is that rationality is constantly organized and defined relative to predictions: if I believe the food at x place is good, it is rational to go there, yet I don’t know for sure that food will be good this time (I’m acting relative to a prediction and probability, which is based on experience). Why a person accepts one truth premise versus another is a question for another time: the point is that many if not most truth premises are probabilities.

We constantly live according to probabilities, and hence there is reason to suspect we are prone to constantly put more faith in probabilities than we should. We’re subconsciously trained, and it is strange to think that something we do so often is something we often do so poorly. But perhaps I’m being unfair: we tend to notice our errors more than our successes, and on a daily basis, many of our probability assessments are accurate (the door does open when I try; I’m not in a car wreck on the way to work; etc.). We seem better at making predictions about our particularities than about the future, on large scales, and the like, but of course predictions about the election “stand out” to us more so than predictions about an afternoon rain. Considering this, perhaps the error isn’t so much “overconfidence” — we tend to be mostly accurate regarding predictions bound to our particular and daily lies — but rather misapplication: thinking that we are as good at prediction on a “large scale” as we are on our “small scale.” Perhaps we are rather subconsciously trained to “misapply” our predictive abilities and must work to realize this about ourselves and “check and balance” it. Unfortunately, it seems to be the nature of thought to “misapply” and hence to give into the temptation to make bad predictions, and even if we know this, the nature of thought seems to “practice us out of” remembering.

III

How do we determine what we should think about? Indirectly or directly, embedded into the structure of thought itself, I would argue that it is by risk assessment and cost/benefit analysis: we choose to think about x instead of y because we believe there is more reason to think about x instead of y (even if this is not the case). Perhaps we believe this for emotional reasons more so than intellectual (as argued in “The Heart/Mind Dialectic and the Phenomenology of View(s)” by O.G. Rose); perhaps it’s more subconscious than conscious. Regardless, the act of thinking about x and y indirectly entails a kind of valuing x over y, if for no longer than the moment. If at 11:59AM today I think about x instead of y, then relative to 11:59AM in whatever location I might be in, for whatever reason, I thought it was better to think about x instead of y, even if I’m completely wrong. This is a cost/benefit analysis, a kind of risk assessment, and every act of thought seems indivisible from it. This doesn’t mean that we “will” every thought that enters into our minds, but it does mean that if we choose to “accept” whatever pops into our minds, even if we’re entirely wrong, we believe it is better to “accept” it than not.

Focus implies value: all thinking is indivisible from what I will call a “CBRA” or “cost/benefit/risk assessment.” To think of x at 11:59AM on November 11, 2016 is to CBRA x over y relative to 11:59AM on November 11, 2016, even though at 12:00PM I might be focusing on y. To think is to CBRA (it’s inescapable), but this point is no more practically consequential than saying “to live is to breath.” However, this point is important to realize in order to grasp a particular irony: though we CBRA constantly, we are terrible at CBRA.

The likelihood of being killed in a terrorist attack is incredibly low, but Conservatives seem constantly afraid of terrorists. The likelihood of being killed by the police is also very low, but concern about police violence has led to many Progressives being paralyzed with fear. Many won’t fly in planes but will thoughtlessly drive cars; many will demand the government to stop terrorism to save their children and then proceed to install a swimming pool in their backyard. Driving a car is far more dangerous than flying in planes and installing a swimming pool a far greater risk than government takeover, but we regularly think about the danger of planes and horrors of Statism. For whatever reason, we focus on exactly what least warrants our focus. Part of the explanation seems to harken back to Heidegger’s point about doorknobs: doorknobs are “invisible” until they are broken. Likewise, we don’t notice driving and swimming pools because they are “invisible” to us, being so normal, while terrorism, police killings, and plane crashes are so horrible our “hearts” force our “minds” to focus on them.

Much of what actually impacts our lives — what can probably affect us — is that which is “invisible” to us, and hence it is that about which we don’t accurately CBRA. Does this mean we should never think about terrorism, plane crashes, racism, or the like? Not at all: my point is only that we are terrible at keeping things “in perspective.” Certainly terrorism, racism, and police violence are real threats that hurt real people, but installing a swimming pool while worrying about Al-Qaeda is deeply ironic. People drown in swimming pools far more often than die in plane crashes, but that said, the number of people who drown in pools is much less than the number of people who die in car crashes, and that number is likely less than the number of people who die from heart attacks. Horrible at CBRA, we are more likely to buy a gun to protect ourselves from the government than we are to exercise.

CBRA accuracy doesn’t necessarily increase as does intelligence, because CBRA directs the focus of intelligence “before” intelligence; in other words, CBRA occurs and then intelligence goes to work based on the decisions of CBRA. As it’s hard to see the foundation of a building while in or on top of it, so it is difficult to recognize the CBRA which “supports” thought. Thought has to “look under itself” to grasp this truth, and this act isn’t necessarily one that an intelligent person is more likely to do than someone who is uneducated. This is because one’s “feelings” will probably motivate the individual to just keep “building the building,” to not look back and question if the construction should continue. In fact, the more intelligent we are, the more “beautiful the building,” and hence the more likely we might be to keep building, regardless the strength of the foundation. Intelligence hence can become a liability.

IV

As thought is terribly unreliable at predicting, thought is remarkably incapable of changing people. As discussed by James K.A. Smith and in “The Postchristian Church” by O.G. Rose, humans are not primarily “thinking beings”: thought changes us much less than do experiences, feelings, and the like (though this isn’t to say thought doesn’t play a role at all). An argument for LGBT marriage will not change people’s view of LGBT marriage as much as will a movie about LGBTs living their daily lives. Yes, arguments can help people “open up” to such a movie, but arguments without art tend to leave a hole with nothing to fill it. Beauty changes more than syllogisms.

To revisit thought from “On Thinking and Perceiving” by O.G. Rose, thinking is inherently reductionist. I cannot think of everything, especially not simultaneously, and hence to think is to reduce. I never think of everything in the room I am in, just one thing at a time “as if” that was all that was present. To put the point in Heideggerian terms, thought translates Being into being more so than does art: both unveil and hide Being in being simultaneously, but thinking commits the trespass more so.1, 2 Thinking is always less than experience: the thought of x is always much smaller than the experience of x (and understanding this is the key to grasping why ideas never motivate as powerfully as do experiences).

Unlike philosophy, sociology, or other schools of thought, art tries to create a “full” experience versus a “reduced” idea. We live in experience, not ideas, and hence art tries to create something “more like” what we live through daily than does thinking, not because thinking doesn’t try, but because thinking inherently cannot. Invaluable and necessary, thinking is always “smaller” than experience, though that doesn’t mean experience is necessarily “better.” Thinking is necessary for experience, and deep thought can “open up” a person to experiences that without thought a person couldn’t receive. “Bigger” isn’t a simile for “better,” but when it comes to motivation, experiences do have an advantage over thought. Furthermore, the brain in “shrinking” things can actually make things that don’t matter seem “a bigger deal” than they actually are, for these things can dominate a person’s focus. The brain’s tendency to “shrink” takes things out of proportion, which can both make them seem irrelevant and overly relevant.

What about thought that manifests through engineering into the form of a building? A fair point: there is an argument to be made that all manifestation of thought into a table, a book, etc. are a kind of “art” and/or are more “motivational” than thought without manifestation. To allude to “Sensualization” by O.G. Rose, all “sensualized” thought (or thought given “sense-able” physicality) is more motivational than “unsensualized” thought, but I believe thought “sensualized” into art is more motivational than thought “sensualized” into other forms. Art is uniquely powerful because it “opens up” the viewer to change in ways that the sight of a skyscraper usually doesn’t: while a bridge may paralyze a person in awe, it doesn’t tend to change a person’s worldview. It can, but not like art.

Admittedly, I realize this point opens the door to a huge question — “What is art?” — and for now, I will have to sidestep a full explanation, pointing to “On Art” by O.G. Rose as at least a start of an answer. But for now, I will say that art is an experience that suspends the self from keeping itself from hearing a question the art asks: “Will you change?” This forces the self to ask, “Who am I?”, “Can I change?”, “What do I want?”, and other existential questions that can profoundly change a person’s life. Does all art do this to people equally? No: one person might be impacted by one piece of art while another person is impacted by another. Furthermore, we have to explore questions of what makes art not merely entertainment, and acknowledge that mediocre art doesn’t motivate people as much as does excellent art. And paradoxically, art that can be reduced to syllogisms and “the meaning” tends to be art that — though easier to discuss in philosophy textbooks — doesn’t change people existentially, personally, and motivationally, as well as does art that is much more immune to “reduction,” art that “you just got to see to get.”

Art is more so an experience than ideas. Art requires ideas to exist, but the particular manifestation of ideas into art can motivate more so than do ideas that only manifest into syllogisms. To be human is to experience: though it is possible to exist in a state of thoughtlessness, it is not possible to exist in a state of “experiencelessness.” As humans are necessarily bodily, we are necessarily experiential. Hence, art more so “gets” at what is “inescapably human” than does syllogisms, deductive arguments, and the like. Humans are not just “brains on sticks”: we are bodies stumbling through experiences and thoughts. Art tends to guide us better than do ideas, for it is easier for humans to learn “direction” from an experience than a thought (for we are more familiar with experience and it is clearer how to apply lessons from experience to experience). Yes, thoughts can change people’s lives, but not the majority and not as regularly as can art. Without artistic manifestation, thought is never a strong motivator: we simply don’t connect with it as well (even though we think all the time).

Thinking changes the world mostly to the degree that it enables us to have deeper experiences of beauty, truth, and goodness. Without thought, beauty, truth, and goodness cannot be experienced deeply, and since we are “heart/mind” creatures more than “heart and mind” creatures, we need thinking to change our hearts. But don’t let this lead you to think that thinking can never fully grasp the world or change the world without beauty, truth, and goodness. Mediocre ideas that inspire art change the world more than brilliant ideas that don’t inspire art. Ideas without art can change people, but never the majority, while thoughtless art changes the majority more than does brilliance. Though necessary and invaluable, regardless its genius, thought alone can never be art.

V

This paper has focused on four ways that thinking is unreliable and “useless,” and this paper suggests these four ways entail major implications. We live by predictions, yet thinking, bound to “unreality,” is prone to be wrong in its predictions. It is by CBRA that we determine what we should focus on and think about, but for various reasons, we are terrible at CBRA. Lastly, thinking and ideas alone have little motivational power: without beauty and emotions, they can do little to change the world.

As has been emphasized, please don’t mistake this paper as saying thought has no use at all; feeling that way, I wouldn’t have bothered with most of my essays. Yet that said, we certainly shouldn’t overestimate the range, scale, and influence thought can have on human life. We must master thinking, but even if we become masters, this will not be enough alone to save ourselves. We need art. We need emotion. We need experience.

Does awareness of the limitations of thought help? Yes, but then again, no. We have to predict; not everyone can be an artist; there’s not always time for art. We cannot avoid using thought to do that which thought is virtually useless at doing: ironically, we must think to do x, and thought is that which keeps us from doing x. We must do what we cannot do, and this being our ontological predicament, epistemological humility seems to be the virtue we all require, and yet it is the virtue our thinking is — in its very structure — against.

Great minds are prone to overestimate the influence of ideas-in-of-themselves, being overconfident in what they are talented in (like most), and in so doing, fail to direct ideas toward influencing art, culture, and markets in a manner that will impact society positively. Again, don’t mistake me as saying ideas don’t matter: my point is that ideas are innately limited in their capacity to accurately predict, influence, and grasp the world. It is essential we master “the life of the mind,” but we must never be deluded into thinking that the mind is all we should master. We must also master the heart. We must also be open to what we could never even begin to comprehend.

Experience is bigger and richer than thought, but without thought, we would be unable to receive much of the experience that can change us for the better. We must never forget that though thinking is a road we must master traveling, experience is ultimately the destination. We must not make the road a home.

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Notes

1Philosophy without stories tends to call Being “being,” and hence there is a need to deconstruct the traditional border drawn between philosophical and artistic work: mixing the two helps being resemble Being; truth, Truth; “(un)reality,” Existence.

2Alluding to “On Thinking and Perceiving” by O.G. Rose, Heidegger shouldn’t have made thought more thoughtful but more perceptive. But perhaps he knew this, yet the only tools available to him, as for us, were thought-ful?

There is a sense in which Heidegger wanted the act of thinking to be the act of art: he wanted thought to be experience. This is an impossible goal, but it seems Heidegger wanted to find a kind of thought that could at least “point to” a solution, even if that solution was unachievable. Such “artistic thought” could expand the possibilities of being(s) (in the world) (though not necessarily), while natural thought tends to actually shrink possibilities, for it tends to separate being from Being, to reduce “holistic things” into “mere things” (as usually determined by their “usefulness” to (the) thinker(s) — in this sense, art is a thing without usefulness, without “thingification”). And yet thought is required to deconstruct and/or evolve itself into “artistic thought.”

Generally, we realize what a thing “is for” by thought/use, and what a thing “is” thanks to art/perception. Considering this, there is a sense in which a portrait is better than a photograph, for while a photograph more so “thingifies,” a portrait depicts essence. It could be argued that a beautiful building is better than a purely utilitarian one, for beauty says something about the society the building is in: it says something about the “truth” of the society (a society that only focuses on “use” still speaks about its self in its buildings, but it can be harder to tell what it says). Considering this, does “artistic thought” experience truth better than does “thought?” It would seem so: it would seem that thought is somewhat useless to experience Being without translating Being into being.

Our being is always trying to devour Being; our world is always trying to devour the earth. Thought always tries to devour perception; thought always tries to devour meaning. Does this mean thought is bad? Not at all — it’s necessary and invaluable — but what it does mean is that what’s “necessary and invaluable” for knowing truth is at the same time what makes truth so hard to know.

We are our own obstacle.

2.1There is an argument to be made that “artistic thought” would be useful for overcoming racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry, for “artistic thought” would open a being up to “the other” as he or she “is,” versus as he or she “is thought to be” (as determined by the being). Art reconciles.

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Additions

1. As discussed in “The True Isn’t the Rational” by O.G. Rose, rationality is bound, defined, and directed by its truth premises, as is intelligence. Considering this, intelligence seems overrated: experience is likely more important, seeing as a person’s intelligence is bound, defined by, and directed relative to his or her experiences. Intelligence without experience is like a bird without wings, but it should be noted that wings without a bird can’t fly either.

2. It’s only rational to accept the limits of rationality once you understand how accepting those limits is rational, the act of which might be beyond the limits of rationality.

3. Though weathermen are often wrong, it doesn’t follow that anyone can be a weatherman; likewise, though thinkers are often wrong, it doesn’t follow that all thinking is arbitrary, that any thought is as good as any other, or that anyone who thinks is as good a thinker as anyone else (though when a thinker is wrong, it can certainly seem that way).

4. Is it ever rational to predict a 16-seed in college basketball will beat a 1-seed overall? Whether it is or not, such has occurred — UMBC beat UVa March 2018 — what does this suggest of rationality? If it isn’t possible to be rational and predict UMBC would beat UVa, then it is not possible in this situation to be rational and right. But what if you knew information about UMBC (such as how their defense worked, etc.) that suggested it was possible they could win? Knowing this information, perhaps it would be rational, but then one would have to determine how “weighty” that information was: does it make it a 60/40 chance, 30/40, etc.? How does one “rationally” determine the “weight” of information and/or evidence? Relative to what standard?

Being rational doesn’t guarantee being right; in fact, in the above situation, being right likely requires being irrational (if not intellectually dishonest), suggesting the limits of thought. Unless, that is, information existed that would unveil that UMBC could beat UVa, but even if so, this would suggest that thought is limited by the information available to it: if one is rational but lacks information, that person’s rationality many prove not only useless but counterproductive.

Rationality is limited by information and probabilities, and since people can’t know everything, rationality must always be limited. Lastly, rationality is often if not always tied to probabilities: if it is the case that there is a 60% chance x will occur, it is rational to believe x will occur; if there is a 40%, it is irrational. Or is it 40% irrational and 60% rational? Perhaps rationality is never completely this or completely that: perhaps rationality is always a probability. It would seem that this is the case (due to the fact “the truth” and “the rational” are separate categories), and if so, it would be wise of us to stop dividing the world into “the rational” and “the irrational” — these two classes don’t exist — everyone is a mixture of both: no one can be rational, only probabilistically so.

5. Edmund Burke argued that habit and custom are more by which humans operate than thought, and he did so in a book that readers must think about. To think about Burke is to attempt to understand and evaluate his argument through the very means he argued often proved inadequate. In a sense, Burke can never be intellectually consented to, only lived, and how we live is problematically often in a manner that preserves ideology.

If we learn x from experience, how do we evaluate the truthfulness of x without thinking about what we have experienced, thus translating experience into thought, which necessarily loses much of what experience entails? Similarly, the word “experience” is always lacking much of experience. Considering this, if the whole truth can’t be captured in language, only parts of it, how can we ever discuss and debate the whole truth? Considering Habermas, do note that discussion and debate seem necessary for keeping a society from being controlled by poor and totalitarian thinking.

Reasoning is how we evaluate truth, and yet truth isn’t only learned through reason, but problematically, it is evaluated by reason. Reason is how we “check and balance” what we experience so that we aren’t at the mercy of our experiences; our thinking, kept from always blowing this way and that. Propositions help us stay grounded, but if not all truth can be formulated into propositions — if some truth can only be “grasped” by habit (without awareness of the “grasping”) — then some truth is in the sky which we cannot reach. And perhaps some of that truth above us can save us? But perhaps to lose grounding is to lose everything? How can we tell but by thinking?

To say some truth cannot be grasped by reason is to say our quest for truth must always remain “open” — the loop can never be closed (or at least if it could, we couldn’t know it could, and that if we did close the loop, we could never know we closed it). Perhaps this is true, but perhaps it isn’t — mustn’t we think and debate this proposition?

6. If w is needed in context x and y is needed in context z, then we can never just simply settle for w or y: we always have to be ready to move from one to the other. If w and y are incredibly similar, this will be no easy task; furthermore, we will have to combat the bias of our minds for “the black and white” over “the gray.” The mind prefers “solids” to processes, for processes require constant awareness, diligence, and can transcend the capacities of the mind to figure out. If sometimes State action is best and sometimes free markets are superior, for example, then we have to examine every individual circumstance, within every possible context (and remain ever diligent), to determine when is when and what is what; however, if we could just say “free markets are always best,” we wouldn’t have to stay diligent at all: we could stop thinking.

If the truth is a mixture of x and y, seeing as it is natural and easier for people to ascribe just to x or y, it is probable that society will not be optimized, that people will not ascribe to the full truth, and so on. It is also unlikely anyone would be intelligent enough or possess the unnatural diligence to know when x should become y and so on (perhaps this hints at why civilizations don’t last forever, why history repeats, and why democracy often seems a doomed and necessary ideal). Thinking is “toward” single and permanent solutions, not “live” ones.

7. To stop learning is always an act of faith, and though we may not stop learning in general, we often stop learning about particular subjects. If I don’t start learning, I have faith that what I would gain from learning isn’t worth the effort; if I stop learning at point x, y, or z, I have faith and trust that what falls beyond what I have learned will not change my views, add enough value to make it worth the effort, and so on — there is “letting go on both sides,” per se.

Thought cannot help us determine if it is worth the time to learn about x, if we should stop learning about x at point y, and if what we know about x is indeed enough. To put it another way, thought cannot tell us at what point it is intellectually responsible to stop thinking about x, as it cannot tell us which premises we should and shouldn’t investigate (perhaps to avoid being manipulated by a dictator who wants to keep us from ever acting). In fact, it seems rationality would have us never stop thinking about a given thing (which seems impractical and irrational relative to other possible subjects), as it would have us think about everything and thus be vulnerable to manipulation. To cease thinking about x, it would seem we have to act irrationality toward x; to avoid being paralyzed by topics, it would seem we have to act like we aren’t a critical thinker.

Thought seems useless to stop or start itself; neither act seems like it can be thoughtful. Thought both ends and begins with thoughtlessness: limits are embedded into the structure of rationality itself. Likewise, so that our rationality isn’t used as a weapon against ourselves, rationality must sometimes be cast aside, seeing as what makes humans human, what keeps society from chaos, is what can be used to paralyze people and control civilization.

How do we rationally determine when rationality is being used against itself and when rationality, facing its limits, must be abandoned? Perhaps the answer can only be rationalized, suggesting that rationalization plays a role in saving the world while simultaneously threatening it. Being is tension.

8. If truth is often indeterminable, what is a useful sign for “having reason to think” that x or y is true? Though consistency does not necessitate correctness, the fact an individual, system, or what have you maintains a position that “x is a triangle” over many years and through many questions is reason to think that “there really might be something to that idea that x is a triangle.” Additionally, if someone could make a million dollars to believe “y is a triangle” but the person refuses — the person stays consistent even though there is a monetary incentive to be an “opportunist” — then again, there is reason to take seriously the idea that “x is a triangle” (for there is “skin in the game”). Lastly, a person believes “x is a triangle” and consequently believes “y can’t be a triangle because x isn’t y,” that “x would be good for children,” that “x shouldn’t be used as a foundation for a house because a rectangle would be better” — in other words, if the person consistently “holds to” the idea that “x is a triangle” and all of their thinking is consequently shaped around it — this is evidence the person has really thought about x, and additionally if x holds through all these different situations and no essential contradictions emerge, there’s further reason to believe that “x is a triangle.”

Though consistency does not necessitate correctness, a dedication to it can be a sign that someone is trying their hardest to avoid the temptations of ideology preservation in favor of truth. If their view of x changes, proves susceptible to rationalization, or the like, then unfortunately it might be ideology that they are in service of more so than truth. Furthermore, if x is maintained consistently overtime, then there is reason to think that “the incompleteness of thought” isn’t causing x to be undermined because x is in fact true.

9. History, political science, math, religion — arguably all fields of thought — are orientated to achieve a certain end through thought that isn’t thought, but an experience. Political philosophy thinks in order to realize a society that is experienced as “the best of all possible societies”; Christians explore theological questions not ultimately for an explanation, but ultimately for the person of Jesu Christ; history seeks to understand how the past unfolded in hopes of helping us live a present moment free of historical mistakes — to help us live something, not just understand.

Problematically though, if x is the “lived experience” thought works through field y to achieve, when x is achieved, thought doesn’t automatically cease, and in fact will naturally and automatically try to think about x, thus transforming x into something like the variables that brought thought to x, making x seem no different than what was encountered along the way. In other words, it is natural for thought to overshoot, and problematically thought doesn’t change its nature and cease itself when “toward” that which is rational to live and experience.

What humans ultimately want isn’t an explanation, but an experience, which means that we need to think incredibly hard, and then suddenly stop just when we have mastered thinking at its finest (almost like timing the market — an incredibly difficult task). How will we know when we have reached this moment (without thinking)? Will we even be able to stop ourselves, having thought for so long? Will our capacity be long lost by then to accept a solution versus keep thinking about it?

“Ultimate truth” — a loaded phrase — is strangely the supreme accomplishment of thought, and not to be thought about (as Being is the goal of being according to Heidegger, yet the point at which being ceases or else transpositions Being into itself). Considering this, perhaps the problem of truth isn’t that we haven’t found it yet, but that we walked over it decades ago.

10. In deciding what I should do with a cup, there are millions of things I could do with it, and yet I usually just consider about two options: pick it up or not. I don’t think through the millions of things I could do with the cup — put it on my head, throw it, step on it, etc. — and yet in a strange way, I “practically” do. It would seem that before I begin thinking about what I should do with the cup, I have subconsciously already “weighed” countless options and decided many aren’t even worth considering, and yet paradoxically, this takes consideration to determine.

Before I begin thinking, it’s as if I have already thought: “weighing” seems to happen before thought and what makes thought “practically” possible, for if I had to think through literally everything I could do with a cup before making a decision, before every phenomenon, I would be paralyzed. Before I consider options, there seems to be a kind of “weighing” that happens which sets the parameters of my consideration, without which it would be “practically” impossible to think. I seem to weigh certain options as “worth considering” and others as “not worth considering,” an act which should take consideration to do, and yet an act which seems to come before consideration.

“The thinking that happens before thought” is strange: we know that certain options aren’t even worth considering, and yet to know that, we should have to consider those options. We “practically” act irrational, and yet if I didn’t “bracket out” certain options, the people I was around would think I was acting irrationally, impractically, and that I was wasting time. If someone asked me, “What do you want to eat tonight?” and I began thinking about restaurants a thousand miles away, the person would wonder if I had lost my mind. To fail to “think before thought” — to fail to “weigh” — is to live impractically and perhaps insanely.

How do we come to “weigh?” Is it a skill we consciously develop? It doesn’t seem so, but rather seems to happen emergently relative to how we live our lives. If we usually use a cup to drink water from it, when we see a cup, our practical life has “bracketed out” considering the possibility of using the cup to grow a flower in it; if I live in a place where cups were often used to make flower gardens, that possibility would more likely fall before my conscious mind. My personality and how I live my life seems to be relative to which “weighing” orients itself, and it is with creativity and “out of the box thinking” that when I encounter a cup, if I’m not familiar with using it to make a garden, that I would think up that possibility.

Perhaps more so than a kind of “thought before thought,” “weighing” might be something that is a result of habit: perhaps it isn’t as much a mental act as it is bodily (though that isn’t to suggest there is a dualism between mind and body). “Weighing” seems to be an act of thought, but perhaps that is simply because to consider “weighing” we have to translate it into thought, hiding its true nature (in the act by which we can consider and recognize its existence intelligibly). If “weighing” is more a result of habit and routine, it would seem that we can sometimes achieve the ends of rational thinking without reason, which by the way is the only way we could achieve those ends, seeing as reason would otherwise eternally regress and/or paralyze itself, considering countless possibilities.

If the mind didn’t “weigh,” we couldn’t practically function, and in fact people working on a job together tend to get along best, for example, if everyone “weighs” in similar fashions: it streamlines the process. However, while practically enabling us, “weighing” also makes us susceptible to being “closed minded” without realizing we’re closed-minded (for we don’t “see” the options we don’t consider and that we have subconsciously disregarded), and because we “weigh,” we seem to need to develop creative thinking to “check and balance” ourselves and keep ourselves from boxing ourselves in.

Furthermore, since “weighing” seems to be orientated relative to our practical lives, the phenomenon of “weighing” may help us come to understand why people’s nationality, race, occupation, and the like can have such a large impact on how they think (in addition to the general “groundlessness” of any ideology, as discussed in “The True Isn’t the Rational” by O.G. Rose). According to “who we are,” we “weigh,” and especially if we lack creativity, we need others to help us realize the ideas, possibilities, and thoughts that we “bracket out” without even realizing it (“before thought”). This isn’t to say it’s impossible for us to know certain truths unless we’re a certain kind of person, but it is to say that it’s unlikely we’ll realize some truths that are universal to all without certain people around to help us see what we don’t realize we’re missing.

Thanks to “weighing,” for the sake of being able to practically live our lives, we fence ourselves into a space, without which we would have nothing, and yet fences also close off possibilities. We require limits and seem to establish them for ourselves “before thought,” and yet should strive to transcend our limits. We enable and disable ourselves in the same act, searching for a balance in ourselves.

Thought seems to be useless when it comes to stop itself from being “weighed” in one direction versus another, and yet without “weighing,” thought wouldn’t be possible: thought seems to require what it is virtually helpless to shape (at least not without conscious effort).

Written by

UNO Prize Finalist. The Write Launch. Iowa Review. Allegory Ridge. Streetlight. Ponder. Pidgeonholes. W&M Review. Poydras. Toho. www.ogrose.com

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