Friday, October 14, 2011

The Will to Percieve a New World

Wisdom is to know that all we perceive and conceive is not necessarily wholly true, that to a large extent our perceptions and conceptions are a result of what we wish to see and think about. It is clear, then, as Aldous Huxley points out below, that what we concentrate our intelligence upon is critical to our well-being, for our thoughts and perceptions shape our world.
"Some thoughts are practically unthinkable," Huxley notes, "except in terms of an appropriate language and within the framework of an appropriate system of classification. Where these necessary instruments do not exist, the thoughts in question are not expressed and not even conceived. Nor is this all: the incentive to develop the instruments of certain kinds of thinking is not always present."

"For long periods of history and prehistory," he points out, "it would seem that men and women, though perfectly capable of doing so, did not wish to pay attention to problems which their descendants found absorbingly interesting. For example," he points out, "there is no reason to suppose that between the thirteenth century and the twentieth, the human mind underwent any kind of evolutionary change, comparable to the change, let us say, in the physical structure of the horse's foot during an incomparably longer span of geological time. What happened," he observes, "was that men turned their attention from certain aspects of reality to certain other aspects. The result, among other things, was the development of the natural sciences."

"Our perceptions and understandings are directed, in large measure, by our will," Huxley notes. "We are aware of and we think about the things which, for one reason or another, we want to see and understand. Where there's a will there is always an intellectual way. The capacities of the human mind are almost indefinitely great. Whatever we will to do, whether it be to come to the unitive knowledge of the Godhead, or to manufacture self-propelled flamethrowers - that we are able to do, provided always that the willing be sufficiently intense and sustained"
[Aldous Huxley, "The Perennial Philosophy," p. 17]
Given the atrocities of war, famine and increasing environmental crises we have witnessed in the past hundred-odd years, one can only question why our perceptions and conceptions of the world we have created remain so static. While our scientific understanding of our world has increased a thousandfold and more, our understanding of the inner man, our motivations and collective consciousness seem to have changed but little. What one asks, will it take for us to reorient our collective perceptions and conceptions? We cannot, after all, as Einstein so plainly understood, solve our current existential challenges with the same level of thinking that created them.

What, therefore, do we will? A greater understanding of ourselves and our place in the evolutionary process of the universe, or the proliferation of ever greater consumption and domination over nature? Do we wish to come to "the unitive knowledge of the Godhead" or produce ever more efficient weapons to maintain the status quo bequeathed us by the horrors of the twentieth century? One knows where Huxley, Einstein and other great thinkers would weigh in on these questions. It seems clear that they would evince a will to an ever greater understanding of man and his place in both a new world and a newfound evolving cosmos.

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