Tuesday 14 May 2024

The unexamined life... mundane-thinking, and not-thinking

The phrase attributed to Socrates that "the unexamined life is not worth living" has usually struck me as true: true for me, at any rate. 

But from my perspective the desirable - i.e. examined - life is one in which I am aware of living while I am living: it is partly a matter of consciousness. 

And it is one in which thinking is active and inner-driven, rather than passive and responding to external inputs and demands. 

Enemies of the examined life include mundane-thinking and not-thinking. 

Mundane thinking is that modern state termed "alienation"

It is that state in which my thinking is not involved with what is thought-about - it is thinking "about" stuff, rather than thinking-stuff. 

Thinking when there there is little "participation", but the thinking is disengaged, like a free-spinning cog. 

For instance, you go for a walk in the country, or attend a musical concert or play; and spend the whole time thinking about other things; thinking mundane thoughts; so that you may suddenly realize you might as well not have been there at all

Indeed, you have not actually been there; because you didn't "be" and you weren't inhabiting the "there" situation. 

Not-thinking is just being so wrapped up in doing, that one is unaware of doing. 

It is the usual situation for many types of "work" - and indeed leisure. Social interaction is all-too-often of this kind. 

e.g. Yesterday I did some house painting, which required constant and unremitting concentration for a few hours. The job needed doing, and was done; but it was really done by a machine that I inhabited; because I was not conscious of my self while I was doing the job. 

At the end of the day it felt somewhat as if I had been switched-off for most of the time. 

The fact that so much of my life is (and always has been) spent in mundane- or not-thinking - despite that I don't regard either of these as having intrinsic value; has always suggested to me that some people (and especially those who see or feel no imperative to "the examined life") might spend all - or nearly all - of their lives in either not- or mundane-thinking, or oscillating between these, without ever at any point becoming self-aware.   

Such people probably achieve and do many and useful things: more than I do; but I agree with Socrates that that kind of life does seem futile, and is an avoidance of "what we are here for". 

Of course "the examined life" can, and does, often revert to being just more mundane-thinking; a mere matter of thinking about the examined life, rather than actually living it. 

Like the difference between studying philosophy (its history, descriptions of it) such as modern professional academic philosophers; as contrasted with doing philosophy, thinking for- and from-oneself; with participation and self-awareness - which is "the examined life", and which perhaps everybody ought to do. 

Especially here-and-now; when the external and social world is overwhelmingly corrupt, and value-inverted, and evil-motivated. 

Here-and-now: the unexamined life is just a temporary phase of living-death. 


Ron Tomlinson said...

The way I see it thinking consists of having ideas and then thinking through their implications. The first part is divine and out of our direct control. It consists more in listening and watching internally than trying to do anything. The communication is 'ostensive'. Certain things we perceive or imagine are emphasized beyond the usual amount as when a mother uses a sing-song voice to teach her child, or points at something and speaks its name. We have to guess what it means and this is how the idea is born. I suppose sometimes the communication comes explicitly in words (otherwise how could the Old Testament prophets have said what they said) but even there the words will ring, reverberate and stand out from the rest of the inner monologue.

When people are on autopilot are being driven by external inputs they do get a limited sense of goodness and badness of, say, different movies but they lack the ability to create anything significant and new. The same with knobs on if they get drunk or drink too much coffee in which case their thoughts do indeed become free-spinning cogs or a car revving its wheels in the mud!

One of the valuable lessons of this blog is the warning about external inputs and the desire of most people to be overwhelmed, to be inebriated, swept off their feet by some person or new activity. Perhaps even the desire to serve something 'bigger than themselves'.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ron "The first part is divine and out of our direct control"

I agree, and would add that I believe "the divine" may come from our divine-selves, as well as from the Holy Ghost. This ultimate guidance is something deeper than "will power". It may emerge into consciousness, but is not from the conscious part of our minds.

But whether we hear, listen - and take note, and follow that lead - this is our choice, our conscious will power. And depends on our ultimate assumptions.