Beware Excessive Conceptualization

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.

Old fashioned alarm clock with a question mark on its face.

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:

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Your Easy Life May Be Depressing

Depression is becoming a pandemic in the West. Perhaps surprisingly, hardship and want are not always – or even often – the source of our misery. The problem is more likely to stem from our comfortable standard of living and secure social safety net. Having it easy makes us passive and complacent – and that leaves us vulnerable to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Looking at some famous examples of the more chronic forms of depression will illuminate the modern experience.

Winston Churchill War Poster

Winston Churchill often battled depression calling the dark mood his “black dog.” (Photo: Wikimedia)

Depression often assailed Winston Churchill who referred to the wretched emotional state as his “black dog.” Like a loyal hound, depression has a habit of following the sufferer around. Rather than Churchill’s black dog, I use the image of a black pit when contemplating my own troubles with depression. To remain free of this gloomy curse requires constant clawing at the sloping lip of the abyss. Even a moment’s lapse in the desperate struggle results in a nasty tumble into despair, from whence it can be difficult to regain the precarious, yet greatly desired, perch on the edge. Depressive types live their whole lives in this manner. (Manic-depressives such as me get some respite during manic episodes.)

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The Intrinsic Rewards of Mental Activity

I once saw a short film about the famous experiment where research scientists gave brushes, paint, and large sheets of paper to a number of chimpanzees, and then left them to their own devices. Soon, the chimps became so engrossed in daubing colour on the paper that they neglected their usual mating and eating habits. In a sense, they had become crude abstract artists! The important thing to note is that, while mating and eating are necessary for survival, daubing paint is not.

Mind Related Activities

Mind related activities can be so absorbing we neglect vital functions such as eating. (Photos: public domain)

The chimps were demonstrating that mind-related activity is so powerfully rewarding it can overpower even such basic life-sustaining drives as hunger and lust. If the effect is so strong in chimpanzees, we can easily see why human creators, with their more-powerful minds, behave the way they do. Here is the doorway that humans have walked through as we evolved beyond being just animals. Once our intelligence reached a certain point, mind became the primary driving force in our evolutionary development. Importantly, this is true not only because we became better at hunting and gathering, but also because mind is useful for much more than sharpening our survival skills.

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We Need New Explanations of Reality

Every culture has its own way of accounting for reality. These explanations are necessary to enable the culture as a whole, and the individuals within it, to act and to justify those actions. We cannot come to grips with anything until we have some way of understanding and explaining what we are dealing with.

Passing of the Parliament Bill, 1911

Legislation enforces the ideology of those who elected the government, but may quash the ideology of those who voted another way. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Unfortunately, there is a huge problem here. The scheme works best if our explanation of reality is sound. In some areas, we may indeed have adequate accounts of reality (e.g. engineering), but human knowledge is limited, and in many more cases (e.g. medicine), our explanations do not coincide with actuality. In these situations, we must act within inadequate frameworks. So tenuous is our conceptual grasp on reality that sometimes we are aware of the damaging shortcomings of our explanations while at other times we remain in the dark.

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Death Dreams and Synchronicity Oracles

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 intent rather 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.

If you know what you are doung, gazing into crystal balls or consulting oracles can help keep you sane.

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.

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Do You Live in the Past, the Future, or the Eternal Now?

We humans have various ways of orienting ourselves in time. Some people seem to live in the past while others are oriented towards the future. Then we have the “live in the moment” types who believe we should look neither backward nor forward but concentrate only on the here and now. Because prestigious philosophies such as Buddhism promote this “being here” attitude as a form of great wisdom, the latter group often see themselves as uniquely enlightened.

Etching of Father Time and Marchers

Father Time may relentlessly march on, but people relate to time in different ways. (public domain image)

People of all kinds and ages fall into each of the orientations, but there are some groups where folks are more likely to have one preference or another. The elderly are most likely to spend a lot of time thinking about the past. They love to look back on their long lives and fondly remember the good times or shed a tear over some lasting sorrow. Reminiscing at length with anyone who will listen is a favoured pastime. You know, chatting about “the good old days.”

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What Socrates Meant by the Examined Life

When Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living” he was not recommending a life spent in endless naval-gazing, the practice of complacent self-absorption. He meant something far more rigorous. Pertaining to our day to day lives, he was telling us that philosophy is a lifelong dedication to accurate analysis and sound critical thinking about what life is and all that it means. Regarding our inner lives, we interpret his words as a call to honest introspection and an indication of the rich rewards that flow from the practice.

The Socrates Bust in the Vatican

When Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living” he was challenging us to a lifetime of rigorous introspection. (Photo: Wikimedia)

This raises an important question. What is the difference between introspection and self-absorption?

Rumination as a (Possibly Bad) Habit

I am an introvert. Like all introverts, rumination is a way of life for me. Across many years, I was a conscious believer in the act of rumination, which I will define as the fine art of sitting and doing nothing while letting the mind idly wander or perhaps ponder, often somewhat obsessively, some event of the day. What I randomly mulled over might include an anxiety-inducing blunder I had made, something someone had said that seemed to have important overtones, or more happily, my creative writing or a new philosophical idea.

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Turn Your Anxiety into an Asset

A great deal of confusion surrounds the emotion we call anxiety. The feeling is unpleasant and makes us want to avoid whatever has aroused it, but we all know there are times (like going to the dentist) when we have to press on regardless. Few of us would ever think to describe anxiety as an asset. Yet life coach and holistic psychotherapist Robert Gerzon, author of Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety, actually believes anxiety can be extremely useful. In fact, he claims that “follow your anxiety” is as good a dictum as Joseph Campbell’s “follow your bliss”! He sincerely holds the view that anxiety will take us to the same destination as our bliss, a position predicated upon the idea that the pursuit of bliss will inevitably lead us into anxiety-inducing situations that we must face and overcome in order to achieve the bliss we seek.

Man Getting Anxious over His Finances

Contrary to what you might expect, anxiety can be a very useful feeling. (Photo: Public Domain Photos)

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The Glorious Psychology of Blogging

As a blogger, I have begun to notice that one of life’s little lessons keeps popping up in the books I am reading, a lesson that seems relevant to the way I perceive my current internet activities. It is an incredibly obvious lesson, and it seems odd to me that I have never fully comprehended this bit of wisdom before; but I suppose we never really notice anything until we are ready for the message it has to impart. The lesson is this: Revealing personal things about ourselves to others is risky because it gives power to those who now enjoy our intimacy. Not everyone in this world is well intentioned, and those who are benign in intent are very often utterly misguided in their interpretations, beliefs, and actions. The benign are thus just as likely to do us in as the malignant types!

Viking Raiders Coming Ashore

Like those shaggy sword wielding vikings of old, today’s bloggers are willing to risk life and limb to achieve immortality through glory and renown. (Photo: US History Images)

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Simone de Beauvoir on Death

Like all those who place the ego’s false persona before all else, Simone De Beauvoir struggled mightily with the reality of death. She writes of “the scandal of finiteness,” referring to our inescapable mortality. When you insist on emphasizing your separateness and see yourself as merely an isolated conscious ego, it becomes inevitable that fear of the permanent extinction of consciousness — occasioned by physical death — will threaten your peace of mind. Death can become something of a preoccupation.

Sartre and de Beauvoir at Balzac Memorial

Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre wanted more from life than it could give. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The real scandal here is de Beauvoir’s way of ignoring the bigger picture — the immortality of the human race, which transcends individual mortality. Unfortunately, for those locked into believing they are merely a self-made false persona, only the individual counts. They never look beyond the boundaries of self-absorption and never seem to learn that such selfishness comes at a terrible price. Placing too much emphasis on maintaining a false image is a massive source of anxiety. The chronic angst generated by the necessity of maintaining and defending an idealized false persona is confused with fear of death and labelled existential angst. However, it is the dread of humiliation and exposure as a fraud that really drives this kind of continuing anxiety. The more-immediate fear is the death of the false persona.

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