Thinking in the age of unthought-I

Aziz Ali Dad

In the world of ideas, thinking has a pivotal position because it is deemed to be the locus from which ideas emerge. However, the process of thinking remains in the background for the reason that we tend to focus on the ideas on the foreground only. Ideas elicit our attention, for they gradually manifest themselves in social and personal spaces in the shape of the battle of ideas. That is why Friedrich Hegel locates sole motor of historical change in ideas. Other thinkers have tried to explain ideas by explicating functions and role of the mind in understanding the self, society, and world.

German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s magisterial book Critique of Pure Reason explores the scope and limitation of the human mind. Kant thinks that the human mind imposes order on sense impression because it is rational. According to John Steven Kreis, for Kant “the word appears rational not because the world is rational – the world appears rational because the mind is rational.” From this point of view, Kant also discussed the duality of mind and body, and noumenon and phenomenon. In comparison to the corpus of discussion related to the mind and ideas, the process of thinking itself has got meagre attention from philosophers and thinkers alike.

In the case of Pakistan, the situation related to philosophical discourses about thinking appears even more abysmal.

Normally, a reader starts his or her journey of learning and understanding by focusing on ideas enunciated in a book or a speech. Gradually, these ideas are employed for comprehending the external reality and subjective states of human beings. Seen this way, thinking appears to be an accumulation of certain facts, information, and vocabulary that collectively form the corpus we called knowledge. This approach explains the very convoluted process of knowledge formation by providing a general analysis of what appears on the surface or crust that is called knowledge. What it does not explain is the inner geological changes and processes of thinking before thought bursts forth on the upper terrain of ideas.

Martin Heidegger criticised the modern perspective of thinking because it keeps us under the illusion that we have “thinking thoughts and “thoughtful” mind. In fact, we lack the idea of what thinking is. He laments that in modern time we act too much with little thought. As a result, our actions remain meaningless, and we take our opinion as thinking or knowledge.

In his book What is Called Thinking?, which comprised his lectures at the University of Freiburg, Germany, he laments, “In the present discourse… the word ‘thinking’ means as much as ‘having view.’ One might say, for instance: ‘I think it will snow tonight.’ But he who speaks that way is not thinking, he just has views on something.” Therefore, we can say that lack of thinking paves the way for the unthinking mode of being.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan the dialectical conversation is not taking place. It is a society where monologue rules from family, tribe, political party, and ideology to religion. In a family, it is the father figure that dictates all. Also, it is the same case with tribal leader and dynastic politics in Pakistan.

In our country we have a surfeit of views bombarded by analysts and anchors through airwaves round the clock. People are fed opinions and views of unthinking analysts. As a result, the society as a whole has become more opinionated and less knowledgeable. There is a kind of disdain for thinking among people because it is considered an impediment to life. In haste, we prefer ready-made views offered to us as “thought”. Such a hasty mindset seeks definite answers and conclusions for the convoluted issues of life and society.

Søren Kierkegaard criticises the philosophical approach that focuses on conclusion or end products. Instead, he favours development of thinking or meta-cognition processes whereby one keeps the eternal quest or inquisitiveness alive by engaging in objective and subjective ambiguities through thinking. Seen this way, the end products or conclusions appear to be fictions or fleeting truths.

The question arises here is how to achieve the meta-cognition that Kierkegaard was speaking about? We become what we think. Before answering that it is important to know what our mind is engaged with. Our mind is mostly mired in mundane affairs. Gradually, it tries to adjust to the structure of mundane to deal with the daily tasks of life. With the passage of time, the mundane opinion/view colonises the whole personality.

The first step to attaining meta-cognition is to achieve autonomy from the opinion that dominates our everyday life. This enables us to engage with the world of ideas.

While reading a book or discussing the ideas of a thinker, it is important to identify the approach of the thinker towards a particular issue. It is not ideas that give birth to approach, but it is an approach that begets novel ideas by enabling the seeker of knowledge with new ways of seeing. Think about what makes Thomas S. Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions different from his peer scientists? There were many thinkers who wrote about socialism before Karl Marx. What makes Marx different from others is his approach to history, society, economics, and religion. Same way, amidst the authoritative voices of logical positivism in the first half of the twentieth century, only Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote things about the language in the slim book “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” that would influence debates in the social sciences in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Most of the time, a reader or researcher rests on his laurels with the understanding of the ideas of the thinker. There is no denying the fact that ideas are very important, but what is even more important is the realisation of the fact that ideas help in expanding or opening new horizons. They do not close the possibility of new intellectual horizons. Ideas are not conclusions; rather they are a prologue for the understanding of the subterranean sphere of mind called thinking.

When we are engaged with a thinker, we try to enter into his ideas. Upon entering his universe of ideas, we realise the darkness within and let the light to illumine us. Thus, it starts to influence our way of seeing and thinking. After the realisation of our own capitulation to ideas, we endeavour to expel some of his ideas within us to retain cognitive space for critical reflection. However, we cannot completely expel ideas within for they have become part of us just like Hegel became part of Marx. This process can be called dialectical conversation wherein ideas, wrestle to achieve thinking homeostasis by engaging, internalising, expelling and raising our voice amidst the pandemonium of thoughts within.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan, the dialectical conversation is not taking place. It is a society where monologue rules from family, tribe, political party, and ideology to religion. In a family, it is the father figure that dictates all. Also, it is the same case with a tribal leader and dynastic politics in Pakistan. Ideological enclosures have crippled imagination of our intelligentsia to make sense of the emerging reality. The religious monologue is palpable in the acoustic space of society where the pulpit of the mosque still shouts the neighbourhood through a loudspeaker.

Owing to monologue, the society and its thinkers are not engaged with what they want to change. Our atheists/liberals lament dominance of religiosity in society, but they never try to engage intellectually with the dynamics and processes that led to the resurgence of religion in the late modernity. They have a lurking fear that engagement with religion may pollute their ideological purity. Similarly, religious obscurantists never try to acquire modern knowledge about the world and institutional arrangements. Hence, the dialectical conversation has turned into a diabolical representation of the “Others”.

The didactic monologue goes against the grain of the intellectual history of the world. All the great thinkers and schools of thought on the intellectual firmament of the world emerged because they were involved intellectually with the entity or idea they were fighting against. For instance, Karl Marx developed his idea of socialism after his deep study of capitalism, economy and religion. Similarly, atheism knows more about itself by learning more about theism.

Existentialism unravels the lived experience by grappling with existential dilemmas of the world, not by escaping them. Despite the diversity of ideas in the cited cases, the process has remained the same. That process is an approach of the thinker towards an issue by getting rid of the ladder of others’ ideas once he reaches the roof. So it can be said that the book takes us beyond the book by enabling us to think after thoroughly thinking through.

However, deciphering the thinking process and thinking itself is not an easy task. The reason a majority of people, including thinkers feel comfortable with living on opinion is that they want to avoid the pain associated with thinking. Even if they were offered the freedom of thinking, they would prefer to escape from it. This is evident from the prevalent anti-intellectualism and hatred for anything theoretical in our society. (To be concluded)

The author is a Gilgit-based writer, social scientist, currently doing his Asia Leadership Fellow Program at Tokyo University


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