Rosicrucian Writings Online
THE ART OF THINKING
[From The Rosicrucian Digest April 1932]WE constantly hear today of the virtue of thought and its many attributes. There are numerous movements advocating the power of thought, the projection of thought, and the effect of thought on environment, the individual and circumstances. Unfortunately, however, the primary factors of thought--its nature and its process, the art of thinking--are little dwelt with.
This recalls the story of the man who spent much time in the purchase of a bridle before selecting the horse. He said he did so because it was the most economical purchase in connection with the securing of the horse.
Perhaps some persons are more concerned with the results of thought than with its origin or process, because it is the least difficult to understand. The study of the results of thought is as little effective without a thorough comprehension of its nature and origin as the bridle without the horse. Of the two, the nature and process of thought in the art of thinking, the latter is far the most important for the successful use of thought in the attainment of any end.
Let us briefly concern ourselves with this ancient, yet ever new, art--thinking. We are apt to believe we are past masters of this art because we are called upon daily, perhaps hourly, to employ it. What we consider the process of thinking as we commonly employ it, is really a perversion of what at times seems almost a "lost art."
Our ordinary thinking, so termed, is merely a reactionary process to registered impressions. We meet a passer-by who inquires of us as to our choice for presidential nominee. What is our usual method of thought in determining our answers? During the last few months we have perhaps contacted several periodicals and newspapers discussing the subject, and listened to radio programs expounding the qualifications of a certain individual. Some of these discussions and arguments have been more persuasive than others, and have influenced us to a greater extent. These various impressions, suggestions, and ideas we have classified.
Immediately, therefore, the query as to whom we favor for presidential nominee releases a succession of associated impressions that have been accumulated, especially those which at the time we retained in our consciousness the longest, thus holding them in our memory. We cite a name--we are of the opinion that we give that name because we have given the question thought. In common vernacular it is merely snap judgment. Snap judgment is the quick assembly of impressions without due reasoning. Snap judgment in superficial matters may oftentimes be accurate; in profound matters or problems of great moment it may prove erroneous. Even the apparent accuracy of snap judgment is often proven faulty by the sheer light of time. Deliberation, on the other hand, is not absolute assurance of certainty of a decision, but it is an assurance of a greater percentage of accuracy.
With the average, normal individual there is a balanced reasoning. To a certain extent we are constantly going through a process of syllogistical reasoning; that is, inductive, deductive, imaginative, etc. Every impression we receive, whether it is received through sense of sight, or hearing, is measured by our reasoning faculty. We weigh it instantly, almost unconsciously. If it appears to us reasonable; that is, meets with the approval of our judgment, we accept it, or we cast it aside for future investigation.
Our experiences are the measuring rod of all new impressions. We have previously weighed the experiences, and through some process of reasoning have formed definite opinions about them. When new impressions are received we associate them with other related ideas, and the same opinion is maintained for the new ones. Time is apt to prove that new impressions should not have been associated with past experiences, and that the extemporaneous opinion or decision, therefore, was faulty.
Furthermore, we are apt to accept opinions and conclusions of others as being correct because their prima facie value is logical. In other words, a conclusion is always more acceptable than unrelated impressions, and, of course, less exerting to the mind. If the conclusion is one that does not conflict with one we have already formulated, we accept, or I might say, adopt it as our own, and in the future repeat it with the inference that it originated after due thought in our own mind. In fact, we are even apt to believe that we "did think," and arrive at the premise.
When a conclusion is passed on to us that conflicts with, as I have said, a previous conclusion of our own, then we do not arbitrarily accept the new one. Then is where real thought is apt to begin; there is a mental controversy, a weighing of the premise, and the result of such a conflict is a third opinion, the accuracy of which greatly exceeds the other two.
Today, for various reasons, the individual is not encouraged to think. For commercial, political, social, and other reasons, it is thought best that he arrive at no profound conclusions on many subjects. Thus, premises or conclusions are furnished us which are not apt to oppose our common snap judgment, or superficial opinions. Since they satisfy, and at least in many instances do not oppose our common reasoning, we readily accept these conclusions given us.
This system of formulated public opinion given in the press, by radio, in advertisements, and from the public platform, produces a collectivity of thought. It suppresses individual thought by "unfair" competition. Collective thought compels no mental exertion, or use of time. Furthermore, it always places you in harmony with the majority of your neighbors, those who think as you do. Undoubtedly, they receive their conclusions from the same source, or sources. Furthermore, it offers a sense of satisfaction that if time proves the conclusion that you hold to be wrong, there are many others also wrong, and, therefore, you may believe it no reflection upon yourself, as you would be the average, whether that average be high or low. These are the inducements of collective thought.
Individual thought at first means mental exertion, which to many is disagreeable. It must be realized that mental exertion is different from the mere use of the mind and senses, which process is involuntary in most instances. True thought is the blazing of a new trail. Involuntary action, or automatic mental performance, such as habitual mental duties, are comparable with coasting along a well constructed thoroughfare. Real thought, however, necessitates the making of its own roadbed. Real, individual thought, because of the custom of collective thinking, is becoming a rarity, and quite a hardship. To the one who endures the hardship the rewards are plenty, but the volunteers are few. It is for the benefit of the few who desire to really accomplish in life through thinking, that these few suggestions are humbly offered.
Let us consider, step by step, the necessary processes in the "art of thinking." The general belief is that the exercise of will is an obstacle to thought. Will, in reality, is necessary to prepare the mind for thought, but if permitted to dominate defeats its own purpose, as I will endeavor to explain. When you have selected a subject or theme which you wish to entertain, you perhaps find it difficult to hold it uppermost in your outer, objective consciousness.
Let us take, as a supposition, the subject of "evil." You desire, we will say, to determine as to its nature, whether or not evil is an actual condition, or the absence of one. This is purely a metaphysical problem. As you ponder upon it a number of impressions come to the fore in your consciousness;--all the opinions, as aforementioned, that you have heard or read upon the subject. Most persistent would be the general conclusions you had previously formed, or which had been formed for you in a religious, moral, or ethical code. If you retain for a fraction of a second in your consciousness a conclusion, you have simultaneously a realization of all the factors composing that conclusion. Here we come to a danger point. We are apt to mentally pursue a by-path; that is, follow in our thoughts one of the elements of the conclusion, and deviate from the fundamental theme; in other words, ramble.
If you were to recall an early orthodox, theological explanation of evil you would undoubtedly recollect some of the outstanding arguments given in its favor. If permitted, your consciousness would "coast" down the by-path channels of memory, and you would eventually be obliged to come back to the path of "thinking" your own thoughts on the subject. Such deviation from the primary theme is irritable, and is one of the greatest contributions toward making thinking unpopular, and a tiresome effort.
The first principle in the art of thinking is concentration, the ability to focus one's consciousness absolutely on the subject of the time. Will power is necessary for this. You first must objectively decide that you intend to exclude all unneeded, irrelevant thoughts, which are apt to be distracting. You must decide not to focus your attention on any impressions of your senses; that is, sounds you hear, things you see around you, or impressions you may feel. After making that decision compel its enforcement with your will. Suppress every other thought, by constantly holding paramount in your mind the subject you wish to analyze.
This requires a strong display of will, especially if one is not accustomed to true thinking. It is actually fatiguing and the mind tries to relax under the pressure of the will. You will note your attention slipping, and other thoughts and impressions not related to the subject flashing through your mind. The will must be exerted, and the mind lashed into the performance of its duty. Permit the holding in your consciousness of only those thoughts which are akin to your subject. After a brief but supreme struggle the mind dutifully obeys. Outside, irrelevant impressions are eliminated, and you gradually, effortlessly, step by step, proceed to analyze your premise. When you have attained this point, do not attempt further exercise of the will by repeating, mentally or verbally, your theme like an affirmation, or the trend of the subjective process is broken, and you will need to repeat the method. The will is needed only as an objective command to the subjective mind.
By performing the method above the suggestion is soon received by the subjective consciousness, and the process of thinking then commences. It must be realized that the true state of thinking is subjective, not objective. Most of us are unsuccessful in our thinking because our thinking vacillates between the objective mind and its registration and classification of impressions momentarily, and the subjective process of reasoning.
We are, most of us, always conscious of where we are, what we are doing, who we are, and all other external influences at the time we are endeavoring to ponder upon a problem. That in itself is sufficient evidence that we are not truly thinking, and have not accomplished the first step, when in a state of true thought we are absolutely absorbed. There is such an absorption by the subjective mind that the outer consciousness of man is practically dormant. We are, to use a common phrase, "in a brown study."
When in what is termed deep thought, which is a simile for genuine thinking, there is no consciousness of surroundings. Many times we realize with a start that we have been in such a state for ten or fifteen seconds, perhaps a minute, and the sensation is most gratifying, and the results usually most enlightening,--but we in most instances find it impossible to attain such a state at will, and, after all, that is the value of the art of thinking--the ability to do so at will.
It is commonly considered that the highly educated person is more of a profound thinker than the uneducated one. Too often education is confused with mental prowess. One who may be termed uneducated and lacking in specialized training may, nevertheless, hold concepts which are beyond the possibility of the most highly learned, or specially trained. Thought is a mental energy that is dependent upon the mental capacity of the individual. The greatest value of education as an aid to thought, and right thinking, is the practice it affords.
We have stated how difficult it is for some to attain the point of complete absorption of the consciousness, to throw off impressions of their senses. As before said, it is due to two things--lack of practice, and a weak will. The will, however, is strengthened with its use. Through education in no matter what field of the sciences or arts, we are obliged, if we wish to attain success, to really think. It is only those who do think that completely comprehend the knowledge extended to them.
Through study, the method necessary for education or the accumulation of external knowledge, thinking becomes habitual. It is a simple matter to attain complete concentration. Thus we may see that education is an aid to thinking, but not an attribute of or necessary to it.
Even he who is most scholarly cannot generate in his mind a greater concept than a real thinker who is not possessed of outer learning. Education gives absolutely no assurance of profundity of thought, nor of the rationalism of the conclusions attained by it. Many who are educated to a high degree in a specific channel of learning show no breadth of mind or profundity of thought when obliged to reason upon a subject strange to their experience.
The ability to comprehend unusual circumstances and to logically correlate facts is oftentimes a virtue that the unlearned possesses to an extent far in excess of the pedagogue. It is native intelligence and brilliance of mind that determines the capability for origination of new concepts and ideas. The logic of a theorem and the scope it embraces is an indication not of the education of the propounder necessarily, but of his inherent intelligence. From the mouths of humble, brilliant personages have come words of wisdom embracing thoughts that were so far in advance of the accumulated knowledge of the learned as to conflict and, therefore, bring ridicule upon the speaker.
The uneducated lacks experience, he lacks experiences accumulated through centuries, which are extended to the student in our schools and universities in a few years' time. The channels for thoughts of the uneducated are exceedingly limited, but the channel that he contemplates and meditates upon, whatever it may be, is as endless to him as to the pedagogue. If this were not so, then we have now attained the ultimate in learning, and we need only teach that which we know. Education acquaints man with numerous channels for speculation and abstraction, none of which are more important than the single channel that may be selected for contemplation by the real thinker who may not have had specialized training.
The unguided horse without blinds who comes to a junction of several lanes may make his selection of the one he desires to travel. The horse with blinds at a junction may see but one or two of the many lanes, yet the one he selects upon which to travel will enable him to reach a distance just as great, and travel with as much endurance and speed as the horse who knew of the many lanes, and traveled but one.
All that we extol as the advanced learning of the day was first born in the mind, not acquired from without. Reason always has, and always will continue to precede education. In any field of science that is today an efficient system established upon facts and the result of research and experimentation, the conceptions were first created in the virgin realm of the mind. Speculation and abstraction precedes physical research and experimentation. With every science, therefore, individuals have first pursued in the mental realm a premise, exercising the reasoning process to the fullest extent of their intelligence. Reasoning, through the art of thinking, precedes learning, or accumulation of facts, as mind precedes the assembly of matter in the chemist's test tube.
As we ponder upon a theme, and reason in the solitude of our mind, we exhaust all knowledge obtained through experiences, whether the experiences were obtained through education or were personally acquired otherwise. Memory contributes every combination of ideas we have ever realized; imagination sweeps us along untried and untested roads which, when measured by actualities are found often to be faulty.
This sheer reasoning and projection of thought into the past and future produces frequently a marvelous creation--inspiration. An inspiration is always the product of intense subjective thinking. It is the transmutation of the elements of memory and imagination into a new factor, containing the merits of both. When we receive an inspiration there accompanies it a sense of confidence that is not to be found in the decisions of our usual reasoning. Inspiration has the demonstrability of facts of actual experiences, and the advancement of imagination. Inspiration transcends all thought results. In the mysterious crucible of the mind, reasoning opens the door to inspiration. When the law of the creation of inspiration is learned man's present material advancement will be exhilarated a thousand times a thousand. Inspiration appears to us but now an accidental combination of the past and present in man's process of thinking.
Self-education comes first through the "art of thinking." Theory, abstraction, ideas, hypotheses, are born in the mind; they are unfounded and must be brought into the light of analysis. Under fair examination their faults are revealed, or they stand out as perfect examples of reasoning. As we proceed to put into practice our speculations, we accumulate knowledge of many fundamental, natural laws. Thus we become learned in facts.
True thinking eventually results in great learning comparable to the learning acquired through study of knowledge extended to us. The disadvantages of acquiring education through this process, however, is that it is a roundabout method, involving considerable time. To the one to whom time is no consequence, this method of self-education through thinking is a more exhaustive way of acquiring wisdom. This method, however, means a tedious process of elimination of theories which have been proven false by the test of experience. It necessitates traveling down blind alleys and returning to pick up the right trail again. However, by sheer reasoning and profound thought, or self-inquiry, as Socrates termed it, the most illiterate can attain without education, in the general meaning of education, the intellectual heights of the highly educated. This is, of course, dependent upon the amount of intelligence of the individual. Some of the greatest philosophers and scientists began with no other accessories than brilliancy of mind, and an understanding of the art of thinking. Yet their thoughts are now the knowledge that the educated seek to acquire, and attempt to comprehend.
For an exercise in the art of thinking, and to use your reasoning faculties, take some problem of the day, and go through the method outlined above, and then compare your conclusions with those of authorities upon the subject. Do not read any comments on the subject first, but select a problem you have not heard discussed so that you will not be biased in your reasoning. If you try diligently and attain the state of real absorption of consciousness, you will be surprised at the resemblance of your premise to those held by authorities on the subject.
Take, for example, the economic problem of the tariff wall, or restrictions. Consider as to whether they should exist to protect domestic industries, or should be abolished to prevent foreign reprisals against our goods. Reason the problem from all phases of its effect. Form certain opinions, then mentally scrutinize and appraise them. Eventually, when you are convinced you are right in your final opinion, compare your conclusions with the highest authority on the subject, check it with his, whether his conclusion be given in the press, or necessitates your referring to some highly-recommended work on the subject. This will train you to reason logically. It will furthermore convince you that man's greatest opportunity to fathom the mysteries of life is through the sheer efficacy of reasoning. It must be realized that for man, education is the beginning of the art of thinking, and to an equal number of men it becomes unfortunately an end of individual creative thought, and the beginning of collective thinking. There is no substitution for the personal penetration of one's own mind.
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