German philosopher, mathematician and man of affairs (i.e. businessman), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz always said that he found no book so bad that he could get nothing from it. He was referring to serious works of non-fiction and meant that he could glean a few bits of worthwhile material from any book he read. There is a more powerful way to think about bad books. The fact that they are obviously wrong helps you to clarify your own thinking. (Perhaps Leibniz had this in mind as well.) You can view your own notions in the light of the wrong ideas in the bad book, make comparisons, and work out arguments to knock down what you are reading. I make a habit of reading books (not necessarily bad ones!) that present views opposed to my own.
Philosophers such as Leibniz work out entire philosophical systems. Ordinary people settle for a set of personal values. (Image: wpclipart.com)
Most folks just buy into the consensus worldview of their time unquestioningly adopting it as they grow to maturity, but this means we have a second-hand worldview made by others. (Image: public domain.)
Human beings have an inborn need to make sense of their lives and the world around them. The drive is stronger in some (such as artists and philosophers) than in others, but generally, we all want to know what things signify. Knowing the meaning of something means knowing how things fit together. To make sense of our lives, to give them meaning, it is essential that we possess a comprehensive, consistent, unified worldview.
Worldview is defined (by COED) as “a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world.” At first glance, this suggests an objective view of things, something you could study in a book and learn, either by rote, or by understanding. Ideologues do just that, adopting viewpoints like the cultural Marxism currently so popular with the left. Religious people do the same, converting to one sect or another’s standard declared creed. Most folks just buy into the consensus worldview of their time unquestioningly adopting it as they grow to maturity.
In the early days of the Christian era, a curious flip or reversal of reality occurred in the minds of the period’s thinkers. Faced with the insecurity engendered by the steady decline of the Roman Empire they decided the old assumption that “I die but the world goes on,” should actually read, “the world dies but I go on.” Thus the idea of immortality was born. Life continued eternally after death. The individual survived, while the world eventually ceased to exist.
Do human beings literally create the cosmos by thinking and conceiving ideas about how it works? (Image: public domain.)
A similar phenomenon of reversal is growing in our own time. Faced with the rapid decline in the importance of humankind brought about by the discoveries of science, some of today’s “thinkers” have taken to reversing the idea that puny man discovers or uncovers a pre-existing universe and its preset laws. They offer instead the elevating concept of man-the-god, a being that creates the universe and its laws in an ongoing off-the-cuff manner simply by thinking about the cosmos and how it works. There were no black holes, according to this way of looking at things, until some astrophysicist thought them up! (A more likely explanation is that the concept came first and then someone juggled the facts to fit the concept, but we will leave such “cynical” considerations for a future post.)
Artists must develop over time, and they do this by examining and exploring the implications and ramifications of their personal vision of existence. In other words, they explore their philosophy of life. When the artist combines this activity with their view of a particular branch of the arts, what emerges is their artistic vision; the artist’s preferred subject matter and style. The combination is sometimes so unique that the artist’s works, whatever they may be, are instantly recognizable.
Many creators hold their personal artistic vision with religious zeal. (Image: public domain)
Concepts, abstract or general ideas, are a veil that hides reality from our eyes. Without our knowing it, they create a powerful illusion. Anyone who unquestioningly accepts their society’s consensus worldview is suffering from cultural hypnosis. Most of us are affected. We sleepwalk through our lives never understanding that much of what we assume to be true simply is not. We are not even aware that concepts can have this effect.
Many of us sleepwalk through our lives in a muddled state of cultural hypnosis. (Image: public domain)
To dispel the illusion, we must peer past preconceived concepts at the raw data of experience. There is a hidden reality, but it is not on some astral plane or stashed in some mystical “beyond.” The hidden reality is all around us, firmly rooted in this world, yet invisible to eyes blinded by consensus notions of what we are seeing. The hunger that cries, “There must be more to life than this” is, in part, the hunger to experience what lies behind the obscuring veil of concepts. Many sense its presence, as indeed they must, but immediately fall into the very trap they need to escape. They conceptualize the nature of this hidden reality in bizarre and obscure ways, thus trading a consensual illusion for another, even more unrealistic, one.