I got to thinking today of how much more readily we accept the reality of optical illusions over ‘rational’ illusions. Is it because the optical ones are easier to spot? We have such deep seated faith in what we think.
Thinking is a sixth sense, you could say, but why do we trust this ‘thinking sense’ so deeply? From my “symptoms point of view” I would guess we trust it as deeply as we do because we need to. That is obvious I suppose; although it is funny how the obvious can so easily get overlooked.
Ironically, the ‘thinking sense’ may be our most unreliable sense. For one thing, the five primary senses receive their input directly. For thought, the input is derivative. In other words, thought relies on preconceptions to shape its interpretation of direct sensory input. These, aided by language, are the biases (myths, fears, aesthetics(1), etc.) that our native culture inculcates in us from birth.
Our framework of thought is based on secondary knowing – names and words. For example, the word ‘tree’ and the object it symbolizes are light-years apart to anyone who actually feels a tree and not a ‘tree’. Yet, more often than not, we trust the word more than the experience.
Despite this second-hand unreliability, it is the greatest survival tool we have. Meaning, I think our profound ability to interact cognitively (‘group think’) is responsible for our exceptional ability to invent the tools that have thrust us to the top of the food chain.
On the other hand, too much of a good thing amounts to not knowing when to stop. If not for this ‘group think’, we wouldn’t be counseled to return to the use of the knotted rope, or warned that thinking one knows will lead to difficulty. No wonder I find it more helpful to think that I don’t know.
Finally, in fitting irony, I see our unwarranted trust in thinking as being caused by the emptiness that thought has poked into. It has turned out like a Pandora’s box revealing an infinity of boxes beyond. We desperately need to trust what we think in order to block out the empty uncertainty we feel lurking ‘outside-the-box’. Believing what we think attempts to shut that box. Too late—cat’s out of the bag.
(1) Yes, this gives another angle on the insightful, The whole world recognizes the beautiful as the beautiful, yet this is only the ugly; the whole world recognizes the good as the good, yet this is only the bad.