Saturday, September 26, 2009

Meditative thinking as value creating

As I re-read the section from Discourse on Thinking, I found myself questioning where exactly the distinction between the calculative and meditative methods of thought fits in to the existential movement, and, more generally, my life as whole. Granted, Heidegger implicitly supplies reasons for us, but only as far as saying that the meditative way is better, and that although both are needed in their own way, the meditative is what is "closer" to us. Now, Hugh wonderfully discussed how meditative thought adds meaning to our life, so I encourage reading his post "Meditative Thinking: More Important than Calculative?". I do not think I'll be overlapping with his post too much, so apologies if that occurs!

To continue, I would like to reiterate the metaphor which I brought up in class for the distinction between scientific and meditative thinking, as I plan to draw upon it later. We can think of scientific thinking as simply watching a projector, where we can describe the scene which we are given in a variety of ways. Most importantly, the projector adds meaning to the image, and we are simply an observer which can describe what is given to us. One engaged in meditative thought becomes the projector itself; the meaning of the image is generated by the mind. Rather than take context from the image, the thinker gives context to the image. We might think of this as the difference between describing our classroom as a rectangular space containing twenty some odd people, some desks, a table, and Dr. J and thinking of our classroom as a space in which we have our being as an issue.

Now, I'd like to bring in our old friend Nietzsche to perhaps add contextual meaning to the distinction at hand. First, remember that for Nietzsche the truly "life affirming" values are those values which we have complete ownership over; they are those values which we will for ourselves and which are not herd-ish in any way. In other words, the most life affirming, or noble values are not "good" in the way we use the term today, charged with many religious ties and given to us by the "herd"; rather, only when we create our own values do we truly affirm our own existence. In the Dostoveskyan sense, we are completely free from the irrational and absurd values created by the herd (e.g. that power is evil) only when we scribe our own values according to our natural tendencies for life. To bring our conversation back into the realm of Hiedegger, let us ask how any truly free, authentic, and life affirming individual (take your pick of terminology/author) can exist as such without breaking away from the enslaving and limiting nature of scientific thought and engaging wholly in meditative thought? I contest (and I think our authors would as well) that any individual acting in a scientific manner is limiting his/her own existence. Hugh mentions that this way of thinking draws too much upon the external world, and I think that he is completely right. Consider the "scientific man." He finds himself fallen into a world, enslaved to an initial condition. He then calculates his options based upon that initial condition, and is limited to an equation of sorts, decided by a given and governed by laws uncreated by him. His existence is dictated by the they; they tell him what he can and cannot do. The meditative man, on the other hand, finds himself fallen into world and consequently questions how he came to be in that world. He meditates on the fact that he will at some point cease to be in that world, and he acts based on this realization. Further, insofar as he acts on this realization, he creates his own values; he lives authentically and rejects the dictations of the they because the they dumb down the importance of being-towards-death. Going back to Neitzsche, the meditative man makes his own life affirming values. In being-towards-death, the meditative man liberates himself from the they and from the herd; he becomes the projector by adding meaning to the world in which he finds himself, rather than taking meaning from it and confining himself to the narrow, and often irrational, space which it occupies in the realm of possibilities.

In regards to my own life (I'm sorry that I constantly try to relate what we read to how I should live my life), being "meditative" means making the most of my existence. By thinking meditatively, I take complete ownership of my existence because I create my existence rather than accept an existence fed to me.


  1. I agree with much of your critique on thought in regards to existence, although, I think we are all guilty in assuming that there are limits of the calculative thinker. Yes, as of now, the calculative thinker cannot answer the fundamental questions of existence and self; but, isn’t that due to the fact that the calculative thinker is relatively new to the realm of thought. He/she has yet to gain the capacity to answer questions that humans have been meditating on since our species began: why am I, and what is my purpose? These questions resonate within us and can still only be ‘answered’ in the form of meditative thought, but when calculative thought gets to this level our question of existence will be definite. While, this breakthrough probably won’t happen in our lifetime, it would be cool to see.

  2. I don't think there are limits on the calculative thinker, I think there are limits on the calculative way of thinking. The whole point of calculative thinking is performing calculations within a set of parameters, which can be reproduced. Calculative thinking is not in any way behind meditative thinking, but just a less individualistic way of rationalizing, one that is common and the same across individuals.


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