This is the 36th monthly blog I will have published, so I thought I would celebrate three years of blogging by simply throwing out some random thoughts and questions.
When I think about areas of thought I want to explore, or types of projects I might want to pursue, there are 4 concepts or categories that frame many of my interests today. Whether or not these interests will hold my feet to the path tomorrow or down the road, I surely don’t know, but for now they’re good food for thought. Four areas that pique my interests presently are as follows: mind, meaning, knowing & doing, and finitude. The meanderings below are simply some random thoughts and questions for pondering.
The first question that comes to mind (no pun intended), is: What exactly do we mean when we speak of the human mind. How would we go about describing a person’s mind? The concept of mind leads one possibly to contemplate the various components of an individual’s makeup. Historically, several positions have been proffered to explain mind: materialist or reductionist, dualist, interactionist, and spiritual. Throughout the millennia, art and literature have spoken of the human mind, heart, soul, spirit, and body. How do these entities contribute to our understanding of what it is to be human?
No doubt one component of mind is its functionality in helping us to adapt and live. The mind is our tool that we employ to adapt to various contexts in which we live. We refer to mind as the bastion of knowledge. We speak of mind when we seek to understand our lives. We point to the mind as the entity that hopefully leads us to wisdom. Some would say that our mind comprises our beliefs, values, and precepts from which we seek to live out our lives.
Moreover, we use our mind to change and adapt. But what is change? How do we change? How do we adjust to life’s vicissitudes that come our way? Through the process of change, we sense that even through major changes in our lives, we, nonetheless, maintain a core of who we are. What is the relationship between mind and identity? Mind and change appear to go hand-in-hand. What does it mean to change core beliefs and values – that is, to change our mind? How does mind come to understand mind?
When we talk about making sense of life, are we not talking about meaning? Some would say that we are meaning-making creatures, that is human beings are the species that seek to understand their existence. We use our mind to interpret and make sense or meaning of personal experiences. Such experiences are countless, but in general may include the world we engage, the various encounters we undergo, the relationships we have, the people we know. What parts do mind and experience play in our meaning-making? What is the difference between surface and deep meaning, if there is such a distinction? What is the relationship between meaning and values. Some believe that meaning is totally constructed, while others believe that there is meaning inherent in the structure of the universe. Why do some people spend their lives in a search for meaning and purpose, while others appear not to give such notions a second thought?
Knowing & Doing
Do we act on what we claim to know? The mind is involved in this dynamic as well. Personally, I believe when a person lives out – acts – according to his beliefs and values, such a knowing-doing connection is a powerful dynamic for living. None of us probably come close to being anywhere near perfect in this dynamic. My so-called fortitude fails me everyday in a number of situations. I think the question whether or not our knowing and doing is in alignment is one that constantly haunts and nags at us. On the one hand, ultimate fulfillment rests in such an alignment; however, on the other hand, the constant failure to do so teaches us immense lessons about ourselves. Moreover, the relationship between knowing and doing appears to be related, as well, to the acquisition of wisdom. Wise living is wrapped up in the concrete living out of what we say we know, believe, and value. Misalignment has its upsides. It leads us to question things. Do I know what I truly believe and value? Do I know who I am, and what I’m about? Do I know how to skillfully go about life? Do I know how to live? We tend to feel out of sync with ourselves, others, and life in general. These experiences can leave us in doubt, generate a feeling of lostness, and can bring about powerful emotions. The dynamic of knowing and doing is one that continually pulls at our conscience, shaping our understanding of who we are.
I believe it was the philosopher of science, Karl Popper, who stated: What we don’t know is infinitely greater than what we do know. I think that notion not only entails the limits of science regarding the universe, but also our own limits to self-knowledge. We immediately recognize the sense of arrogance, hubris, and lack of humility in those who claim to have a full understanding of self, life, and the universe. How many times throughout the history of thought have various fields of endeavor claimed to be approaching the limits of knowledge, only to be blown back by new technologies and discoveries? I believe we need to become more enamored with what we don’t know in contrast with what we do know. The mind is a wonderful tool and avenue towards great understanding. But the limits of our knowledge are immeasurable.
These random thoughts and questions are ones that frame the direction I want to take my personal thought and exploration. I would possibly add to them the notion of worldview. I’m not sure how it fits in other than we shape our worldview via our mind, personal experiences and engagement with the world, and our constant failing and succeeding at our endeavors. The seven questions that I listed in last month’s article can help shape our understanding of worldview. For now these thoughts and questions lay the groundwork for an exciting journey on which to travel toward greater knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. It is a journey that ends only with our finitude. It is a journey that as we travel, we come to realize more and more the limits of our own understanding.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/July 14th, 2016