Diagnosing Unthought And Power Of Thinking
Strange is the human mind as it strives for understanding of the world around through thinking, which itself remains an enigma unto the mind and distinguishes humans from animals. Thinking enables humans to create gods, make idols and heroes and then smash the same with counter narrative.
The very reason for the existence of thinking lies in its capacity to create and destroy. So the question arises here: when does thinking lose its creative and destructive capabilities? It loses this power when mind gets stuck within its own framework. Gradually, the fertile ground of mind turns into a stagnant mire that devours everything that enters into it. Such a condition can be termed as unthought. Therefore, exploration of sources of unthought precedes any attempt to explain thinking.
Unthought is typical of human as it stems from his/her attempt to escape from thinking. It can be termed as the unconscious part of human thought. The less thought we have, the more unthought we accumulate; For instance, majority of Muslims, despite witnessing transformations in the objective and subjective world, put thinking in the dark dungeons of closed mind. When thinking becomes prisoner in the closed mind, then ideas disappear in society, and people lead their life in the state of unthought and society experiences inversion of values and meaning. It becomes so dark that even thinking gropes blindly within mind because it does not make sense of things around in the absence of light in dungeon. The current state of affairs in the realm of thought in Pakistan clearly shows dominance of unthought even among the thinkers.
After getting clarity about the concept of unthought, the next step in explicating thinking is the exploration of the process of thinking and its multiple manifestations. Since thinking is difficult, its opposite attracts more people. The structure of unthinking mind stymies thinking by reducing reasoning to the limited categorical imperatives of its own dogmatic outlook. Instead of expanding, such an approach reduces the horizons of thinking, and imprisons different disciplines and domains of life within its cocoon. As a result, orthodoxies emerge not only in religious domain, but also in political ideologies, science, literature, culture and economics as well. To liberate mind from our own reductionist structure of thinking, it is indispensable to listen to what “other” disciplines and people are saying. Only by looking at the reality from multiple perspectives we can expand the horizon of our thinking.
In our craze for specialisation and culture of disbelief, we have lost the capacity to extract meaning even from entities that are antithetical to our views. For example, generally, reflection is deemed as an activity with no connection to prevailing ideas in society. An all encompassing mind gleans meaning from the unknown places, sources and entities. In Pakistan, those who claim to have philosophical mind think that only by getting rid of religion, they can think better. As a corollary, they develop a rejectionist and essentialist mindset, the greatest danger to thinking in Pakistan and it’s people with theistic, liberal and atheistic persuasions.
Instead of thinking, most people prefer to live in the state of unthought because thinking is painstaking. By nature humans are averse to pain. But thinking is an attempt to escape the limitations of nature. The process of thinking needs more efforts to ascertain what thinking is than ignorance. Only after getting clarity about unthinking we can clear the pathway for thinking. Any genuine thinking in Pakistan is faced with myriad distractions and oppositions. So it is important to commit an act of treason against the dogmatic enclosure and contrapuntal reading. When reflective modes are suppressed, thinking commits an act of treason through art. Fine art is one of the realms through which humans subvert dominant meaning and practicing through creativity.
There are hundreds of factors to distract thinking but very little to make us focus on thinking. The process of thinking invites every kind of distraction to lure it away from attraction of thought. It is like a person who is lost in the jungle in a dark night wherein s/he seeks human voice for company or house for abode, but all s/he finds are howls of wild animals, roars of lions, rattling of snakes and the nocturnal activities of which s/he cannot make any sense. Classical religious literature depicts such temptations and distraction in their quest for religious vision. Saint Anthony during his Egyptian desert pilgrimage faced numerous temptation of power, comfort, flesh, mirages and supernatural beings. For a devout Christian, the biggest challenge is the temptation of flesh.
Saint Anthony’s existential situation is best portrayed by the famous surrealist artist Salvador Dali in his iconic painting “The Temptation of Saint Anthony”. In the painting, Saint Anthony appears a tiny figure on the left corner of foreground facing a cavalcade of temptations dominating rest of the space in the painting. This cavalcade is sent by the devil. Against the strong army of temptation, the tiny naked figure of Saint Anthony is holding a cross in his right hand. This connotes that the only arm in his disposal his faith. Also, it shows the overwhelming power of temptation against the power of dedication. This is clear in Dali’s painting. The more Saint Anthony resists the lust and shuns outside things in his hermetic life, the more they enter into his mind.
Ralf Schiebler thinks that in “The Temptation of Saint Anthony” “the saint’s halo threatens to become a vicious circle: the longer the hermit fights the lust he feels, the stronger the temptation becomes and the stronger the temptation, the harder he has to fight.” Similar is the case with thinking. The more we think, the more unthinking forces enter our meditation. In the world overwhelmed by consumerism, pelf, privilege, power, status, glitz and dependency on externalities, keeping oneself dedicated to thinking is a Promethean struggle. At the same time, in the time of nothingness, meaningless and nihilism, thinking is our only salvation.
Given the nature of closed mind and society in Pakistan, employment of art to explore thinking becomes even more important. If we develop the capacity to look at art, we can get rid of the habit of regurgitating received ideas, and develop thinking in a different way. No doubt thinking deprives life of many beautiful things and small blissful moments, but the existing condition in our country is caused more by sleeping of our thinking faculties. The deep slumber of our mind has given rise to the forces of death, monsters, horror and ghouls. They are gobbling up the last vestiges of beauty, and scaring small pleasures away from us. Let the art and thought fuse together to create a cosmic harmony and beauty.
The author is a social scientist and columnist. He can be reached @azizalidad