18. Thinking Exercises
by Culture and Anti Culture
(For context see Post 1)
In the preceding post, we characterized thinking, feeling and willing with regard to determining truth. Feeling can be manipulated; willing, imposed from without. Thinking has the capacity to accurately convey truth to the thinker, but must be developed in order to have depth and objectivity. In this entry, we will take up the strengthening of thought through specific exercises. Subsequent posts will describe practices to refine feeling and redirect will.
In order to see the hidden role played by thinking in everyday life, undertake this simple observation.
Look at this figure:
When asked what they see, almost everyone says “a cube”, and that the foremost facet of the cube is on the lower left. (Europeans, in my experience, almost all identify the upper right as foremost) On reflection it is obvious that there is no cube, but rather a so-called “optical illusion”-the appearance of a 3-dimensional object which actually is a collection of lines on a planar surface. It is also obvious that this appearance is learned; someone from an aboriginal culture not acquainted with squares and cubes would see an entirely different pattern.
The point of this observation is to recognize that what causes this appearance is not the outer perception, but the idea we bring unconsciously to bear on the image. This can be made clearer. With a little practice the orientation of the “cube” can be shifted at will, or its appearance eliminated entirely by focusing on the central rectangle (the one with no lines passing through it) which appears surrounded by triangles and polygons. What is most striking about this exercise (if a serious effort is devoted to it) is that you can eventually directly sense the change in the reality of the perception through a shift in thinking. This change has a kind of magical, mind-boggling quality, occurring suddenly when the focus of attention is shifted.
The next exercise is a more complex and potent means of strengthening thinking.
Conditions of the exercise;
1. Get comfortable, close your eyes.
2. Devote 15 “inner minutes” to each session. Ignore the clock.
3. Don’t concern yourself with success or failure. (This is most important!) Either try or do not.
4. If distracted by random thoughts, bodily sensations or external noise, redirect your attention back to the exercise.
5. Do the exercise once daily, preferably at about the same time.
Mentally pick a simple man-made object to contemplate. It should have a minimum of moving parts (preferably none) and involve no electricity. (For example, utensils, tools, plates, cups, etc.) Plan to change objects every few days: sticking to one object can become a bad habit.
Picture the object in your imagination as vividly as possible. It should have no personal references for you–simply a generic example of the object. For example, a fork. Once you a have a stable image in mind, begin to think about it. Avoid definitions, such as “a fork is a utensil”, etc. Ask yourself the following questions:
1. What does it consist of? For example, it is shovel-like with a handle on one end and distinct parallel extensions on the other.
2. Why is it this way and not otherwise? Why is a tennis ball not a fork? Why is a knife or spoon not a fork? What is the “fork-ness” of a fork? Why is the handle shaped the way it is? How many tines does it have and how do they work in penetrating, retaining and relinquishing food or other substances? What are the variety of forks and why do they exist?
3. What are forks made of and why? (i.e., metal, plastic, wood).
4. How are forks made? Try to figure this out without resorting to external references. Actually picture the process that might be used in their manufacture.
5. How are the materials for the fork derived from the products of nature? (Logging, mining, etc.)
6. History–How might forks have been discovered and developed, and what has been their role in civilization? Try to get a sense for the genius that must have created the original idea, remembering that there are no actual forks in nature.
This exercise can become surprisingly pleasant to do and is a powerful stimulus to clear thought.
In the next posts we will address some simple exercises related to feeling and will
“Contemporary humanity is in the midst of many crises. At the heart of them all is the crisis in the inner life of the human being. We are writing for the consciously distressed.”