Reason and Intuition

 

“It has certainly been true in the past that what we call intelligence and scientific discovery has conveyed a survival advantage…provided the universe has evolved in a regular way, we might expect the reasoning abilities that natural selection has given us would be valid also in our search…and so would not lead us to the wrong conclusions.

– Stephen Hawking quoted in “A Brief History of Time.”

 

“Intuition is the indubitable conception of a clear and attentive mind which proceeds solely from the light of reason…By ‘intuition’ I do not mean the fluctuating testimony of the senses or the deceptive judgement of the imagination as it botches things together, but the conception of a clear and attentive mind, which is so easy and so distinct that there can be no room for doubt about what we are understanding…another mode of knowing in addition to intuition (is) deduction, by which we mean the inference of something as following necessarily from some other propositions which are known with certainty…because immediate self-evidence is not required for deduction, as it is for intuition…but the first principles themselves are known only through intuition, and the remote conclusions only through deduction.

– Rene Descartes from “Rules for the Direction of the Mind,” written circa 1628, first Latin edition published in 1701.

“Language is entwined with human life…it reflects the way we grasp reality…It is…a window into human nature…Human intelligence, with its capacity to think an unlimited number of abstract thoughts, evolved out of primate circuitry for coping with the physical and social world, augmented by a capacity to extend these circuits to new domains by metaphorical abstraction…some metaphors can express truths about the world…So even if language and thought use metaphors, that doesn’t imply that knowledge and truth are obsolete. It may imply that metaphors can objectively and truthfully capture aspects of reality.”

– Steven Pinker, from his book, “The Stuff of Thought.”

 

There is something in the air, out in the world, something inside of me, that is pervasive. It’s always there, relentlessly seeking me. It feels like an embrace, and yet it does not always bring me peace. Sometimes, I cannot easily face it. In my life, I have known there is the possibility of pain–the other side of joy–and also of fear, as there has always been. Early in my life, I did not understand–did not see why I had to feel certain things. It didn’t make any sense to me. Why can’t everything just be okay? When you’re young, there’s no way to process or fully understand thoughts like that. There is a keener sense of the unknown; a resistance to potent emotions, inexplicable or mysterious energies, anything that suggests aspects of our reality which may be beyond our normal understanding.

 

Logically, of course, science and reason can provide us with a methodical and considered approach when it comes to investigating the unknown, and can often point to reasonable scientific principles which are clearly at work in certain situations; we can observe them, we experience them and assume because we know WHY these things happen, that we understand them. In my experience, truly apprehending the nature of things requires something more. Naturally, we see what we see, we hear what we hear; we consider information we bring in from the objective world; we interpret what comes through our senses and process the information utilizing the various talents of specific brain regions. We come to conclusions which often can be affirmed by comparing them to our experiences and memories, and by testing them through our subsequent actions, and we may even make choices regarding potential future actions.

 

As we observe what happens out there, we say, “So that’s why the planets are all traveling in loops around the sun,” or “no wonder it seems that light suddenly appears since it travels so reliably and predictably at the same speed.” All of these aspects of our reality that we can observe and affirm, tell us why things work the way they do, because the laws of physics require them to conform in this way. When all of our observations confirm the laws, we feel confident in establishing those principles as true. I haven’t always been convinced by what I see or hear or observe, not because I supposed that my senses weren’t working properly, but rather because those aspects did not conform precisely with my personal recollections of previous experiences. It’s possible for us to be mistaken about what our senses tell us, as in the case of optical illusions, and we can occasionally be easily misled by the clever application of deliberate or manipulative deception, but it can be much more difficult to persuade us of any suggested explanation of events which does not match up with the way we intuitively feel as we process that input.

 

Experience has taught me to trust the way I feel, especially when it comes to connections to other individuals, places, and ideas which resonate so strongly within me in particular circumstances, but our modern chaotic world doesn’t always encourage us to trust our intuition or to have the confidence always to listen to our genuine “gut” feelings. Throughout my life, there have been innumerable examples of instances where my inner urgings and startling responses to unexpected provocations have been right on the mark. There have been times when it seemed to me that I was virtually “standing on a precipice,” dangerously close to and looking over an edge, either about to fall, or maybe even getting ready to “take a leap of faith.” Conventional wisdom might suggest that if you’re near some sort of a virtual edge and you fall, it’s not necessarily your fault, and yet, at the same time, somehow you got yourself out on that ledge. That same wisdom might suggest that if you find yourself on that proverbial ledge and you decide to jump, for whatever reason, that is a choice for which you alone are responsible.

 

 

We can’t always control what happens TO us, and sometimes we may even feel compelled to make choices that we don’t necessarily agree with completely, and why we feel that way is not always crystal clear. All sorts of influences and pressures from even trusted sources can weigh on us as we contemplate our next steps, distorting or mitigating our normal process of reasoning or, if we are fortunate, clarifying it. Our reasoning can be faulty and we can occasionally even refuse to consider outside influences which are meant to be helpful, but ultimately we must choose, one way or another.

The struggle between reason and intuition has become something of an epic battle these days, and considered and informed opinions may seem less prevalent in our modern social interactions, and so giving attention to sorting it all out is even more important now.

 

 

Samsara

This week, I was finally able to view a film I’ve been wanting to see for some time called, “Samsara,” directed by Ron Fricke and produced by Mark Magidson, and was stunned at the richness of the diversity of locations filmed, and was both inspired and disturbed by the powerful effect of the contrasts presented in the film.

In Indonesia, Balinese Tari Legong Dancers perform a dance in a tradition that goes back over 100 years. Kilauea Volcano erupts and spews forth massive clouds of steam and smoke and lava in a process that began billions of years ago on the primitive Earth. A human child developing in the womb, almost fully formed, shown in the tiniest graphic detail, with the very beginnings of human life hanging in the balance.

A human corpse of the anonymous Tollund Man, discovered in 1950 in a peat bog in Denmark, perfectly preserved, lies frozen in time, from the 4th century B.C., with the tiniest details of skin and facial hair preserved in its most raw form. The death mask of Tutankhamun displayed in brilliant detail, painted and golden, preserved with equally astonishing verity, from thousands of years ago. Each of these scenarios, in exquisite 70mm format, is part of the lead which introduces the film, “Samsara,” from the creators of the film, “Baraka.”

An extraordinary, almost alien landscape in the early morning haze, presents testimony to the extraordinary contributions that human beings sometimes make to the scenery of the natural world. Thiksey Monastery boys in Ladakh, India turning a prayer wheel. Monks making sand Mandalas. Switch from the barren deserts of Saudia Arabia, to the lush waters of Erupa Falls, in Angola.

Utter destruction from a modern catastrophe is followed by the exquisite beauty and grandeur of a palace in Europe. Natural wonders like spectacular waterfalls in Africa, rock formations in Utah, and volcanos in Hawaii, are contrasted with human-made wonders from ancient times like the pyramids, the Mayan ruins, the Hindu Temples of Angkor Wat, and the great Cathedral of Notre Dame.

According to Wikipedia:

“The official website describes the film, “Expanding on the themes they developed in Baraka (1992) and Chronos (1985), Samsara explores the wonders of our world from the mundane to the miraculous, looking into the unfathomable reaches of humanity’s spirituality and the human experience.”

Consulting the BBC.com website, I found a reasonably good explanation of the term, “samsara.”

“Hindus believe that human beings can create good or bad consequences for their actions and might reap the rewards of action in this life, in a future human rebirth in which the self is reborn for a period of time, as a result of their karma, which operates not only in this lifetime but across lifetimes: the results of an action might only be experienced after the present life in a new life.

This process of reincarnation is called samsara, a continuous cycle in which the soul is reborn over and over again according to the law of action and reaction. The goal of liberation (moksha) is to make us free from this cycle of action and reaction, and from rebirth.

An individual under the influence of Samsara will re-incarnate over and over again (not on purpose – only due to lack of knowledge) and always believe in the concept of death. Samsara is the world as created by ego; Samsara is the world of Maya—the world of illusions.”

For me, the most significant takeaway from this extraordinary film was the astonishing variety within the collection of depictions of the works of humanity and of Mother Nature. The presentation is exquisitely executed and it provides a great deal of material for thoughtful reflection without a single word being uttered throughout. It is, at times, mesmerizing and uplifting, and at other times, it is deeply disturbing and thought-provoking. I recommend viewing it when you have sufficient time afterwards to consider the impact it will no doubt have and to allow the messages it carries to sink in.