I came upon a quote by Henry Sidgwick, an English utilitarian philosopher, and economist, and it got the neurons in my brain firing.
We think so because all other people think so;
Or because-or because-after all, we do think so;
Or because we were told so, and think we must think so;
Or because we once thought so, and think we still think so;
Or because, having thought so, we think we will think so.
~ Henry Sidgwick
In this brief summary, he has captured the conundrum that faces humanity. ‘Cogito ergo sum’ –translation, I think therefore I am, but whose thoughts are you thinking? Are you a sum total of your culture, family beliefs, society’s protocols, and a need for alignment with your peers or the leaders of your world?
Even as I sit down to pen my thoughts on the storm that has risen in my soul from reading the quote, I instinctively fall back on the teachings of Dalai Lama, Edward De Bono and the like. As a writer I have often asked myself, has this story been told before? Am I not capable of one original thought?
Our minds seem to be built on a modular plan, build gradually on new thoughts and ideas that ‘fit in’ and add into the existing framework. A fact proved by the study of people who have been radicalized, they are drip fed extremists ideologies over a long period of time that is built upon a singular belief the person has. A belief that might have been noble, like helping the oppressed.
Eastern philosophies have found a way to counter that, they insist on bypassing the rigidity of western thinking by challenging one’s way of thinking and even learning. The Zen phrase, empty your cup, has been made quite popular by Bruce Lee who went on to add ‘Empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality.’
The emphasis has always been to find one’s own truth, a quest or journey that helps the mind and soul to evolve and grow. The greatest allowance being, there is no right or wrong just your perception of it, releasing the pilgrim to be freed from this ominous weight of being right.
But isn’t that a model of thinking, albeit a more holistic one? I find the thought that everything I think, question, and understand is borrowed quite confronting. Do I question because someone else dared to question before and it fit into my existing framework of thought?
What about feelings and emotions? Do I feel a certain way because I have been trained to do so? I see myself impressing upon my children that they must do good, to be happy they must make others happy, admonishing them when they do wrong with the phrase do unto others as you would like done unto you, ….
What about the people who are evil or prone to do harmful acts? The western philosophy is to call them mentally disturbed, a deep-rooted subconscious imprint that resulted from an event or incident in one’s life. There are many eastern philosophies that deal with that, an imbalance in one’s yin-yang, a past life manifestation, possession by a demonic force etc.
One thing everyone agrees upon is that it is curable, with love, patience and time. Which brings us back to the reality that everything is changeable, transmutable, and that is disquieting. So who am I? Would I be different if my life had been altered, more antagonizing is the thought, would I have become the person I loath if only the circumstances had been manipulated. So Who am I?
A sum total of my experiences? A mathematical equation? They say the language of the universe is mathematics, it just makes me wonder.