Conceptualization is a skill. The process involves working out an idea or explanation and formulating it mentally. Everyone can and does conceptualize, but like all skills, some people are better at it than others. Speed matters for many of those who consider themselves intelligent. They demonstrate their erudition and big IQ numbers – and impress others – with their ability to come up with swift conceptualizations of just about anything that crosses their path. Or so they think. In reality, we are all familiar with the person who can snap out ideas and explanations that sound plausible at the time, but which soon prove incomplete, inadequate, or just plain wrong.
Solid conceptualization (putting the pieces together) needs time and all of the mind’s resources. The language portion of thinking must be supplemented by association, intuition, etc. (image: pixabay.com)
Over the course of my life, there have been a number of nights where I have dreamt of my own death. Psychologists claim that dreaming of your own demise is a sign that you are about to change. I believe this is at least partly true, but might argue for serious intentrather than actuality. The story I am about to recount occurred during a period when I was recovering from a nervous breakdown and in the midst of learning that I was a type one manic-depressive. The dream did precede the abrupt cessation of mystical behaviour that had tormented me for many years. However, the change did not stick.
It can be a rough ride, but gazing into crystal balls or consulting oracles will allow you to dialogue with your unconscious mind. (Image: public domain.)
In the dream, I died a sudden death in a train wreck when the locomotive engineer took a curve too swiftly, toppling the train from its tracks into a forty- or fifty-foot-deep ravine. Death came on impact with the ground below. Just before the fatal accident, I remember leaning from a coach window and seeing, not far ahead, the engineer doing the same at an opening in the diesel engine’s cab. He did not seem to be paying much attention to his driving duties, a reflection, I am sure, of my own shocking self-neglect and depressed indifference to my fate at that time.
Recognizing patterns is a way of ordering, or seeing order in, the world. Spotting patterns can be a way of perceiving meaning, although we must remain aware that where there is a pattern there is notalways meaning. Maintaining a rational open-minded stance or avoiding the satisfying jump to conclusions can be surprisingly hard to do. Humans have evolved to notice patterns and ascribe, if not meaning, then at least significance, to them. English philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon said that humanity has a proclivity to “suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds.”
The tartan is a pattern without meaning (other than denoting clan) while the patterns on the coat of arms are heraldic and loaded with meaning. (Photo: dryburgh.us)
One of psychology’s most popular images is that of the gatekeeper strategically positioned between the conscious and unconscious minds to prevent certain unconscious contents from emerging into conscious awareness. We imagine some sort of autonomous process that filters out the unacceptable while allowing only “the good stuff” to pass. The trouble with this notion is the way it absolves ego of any responsibility for what is happening. If the process is autonomous, who, or what, is deciding what will pass through the gate and what will not?
Our mental gatekeeper, the origin of repression is entirely of our own making. (Image: Wikipedia)
What we are talking about here is repression and how it happens.
We tend to see symbols as dripping with meaning. A symbol, we believe, is so much more compact, vivid, and dynamic than mere language. Yet, if you stop to think about it, even some of the world’s most well-known and potent symbols have no meaning without a language “prop” or explanation to get them established. What does a Christian cross mean to someone who has never heard of the religion, a situation that would have existed at the beginning of the Christian era? An explanation would have been necessary. The same situation must have prevailed when the Muslims began to adopt the crescent.
Symbolic representation suffers from an excess of ambiguity. (Image: Greg Gnesios)
Being these days a regular curmudgeon, I am always getting upset about the ceaseless attacks launched against reason and logic in these foolishly emotion-drenched times. The disciples of feeling would reduce human beings to unthinking bags of hormones. The taste for irrationality is growing.
The current popularity of intuition and irrationality says the left brain is inferior to the right brain. In reality, there are two sides to this question! (Image: public domain)
Annoyingly, I came across just such an “attack” in G. L. Rico’s, Writing the Natural Way. Rico lists two sets of very different character traits, inferring that each set resides in one hemisphere of the brain. A careful examination of these sets (the items in bold below) reveals a clear bias in favour of those traits associated with the right hemisphere, often considered the seat of feeling and other irrational – or non-rational – aspects of the mind. Traits associated with the thinking left hemisphere are couched in ways that sound negative by comparison. To amuse my(nasty)self – and to turn the tables on an unsuspecting G. L. Rico – I typed up the lists in bold and then set out my own alternative interpretations in plain text. Do not take what you find here too seriously, but at least think about what I am rather strenuously suggesting. Take a minute or two to compare Rico’s original lists.
The common perception of intuition is that it is blindingly fast, an almost instantaneous comprehension of some problem, question, or situation. In fact, definitions of intuition often describe it in precisely this way. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary says, “… the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.” In reality, when solving complex problems, intuition can be extremely slow. Sometimes, years may pass before the needed insight suddenly emerges into conscious awareness.
While it might end in a sudden epiphany, the lyric poet Rainer Maria Rilke saw intuition as a years-long process. (Image: Wikipedia)
The sense of loneliness and yearning for something beyond personal needs, something lost or forgotten, some Eden is the longing to return to a state of unconscious union with the world, an abolition of fretful ego in favour of carefree unknowing, a state like that of crocodiles basking on the river-bank with a belly full of fish. All is well! All is right with the world! We hunger for sheer, unadulterated, unexamined contentment. In short, we want to regain the childish condition Jung so aptly called the “participation mystique,” the situation where, as small children, we could not tell what was “us” and what was the world.
The purpose of consciousness is language which enables us to communicate and co-operate. (Photo: Wikimedia)
In recent decades, a great deal has been made of the notion that language and object are not related. That is to say, a signifier (word) can never fully capture or embody the signified (object). From this position, philosophers and others (such as psychiatrists) then draw the conclusion that language is somehow useless or dangerously misleading.
Language is essential for sustaining consciousness. Without it, we go into a coma. (Image: Reusable Art)
A vague mysticism sets in where we assume that humans are condemned to live in a world we can never properly describe or even conceptually grasp. Unless we can master something like the knowledge-obliterating Buddhist technique of direct perception, we are forever divorced from reality and therefore must live our lives in a language-induced haze of unreality, error, and arbitrary subjectivity. There exists a widespread opinion that what goes on inside our heads has little or nothing to do with what goes on around us. Solipsism, the philosophical theory that all we can be sure of is the self, gains credence.