Saturday, September 26, 2009

Meditative Thinking: More Important than Calculative?

Heidegger creates an interesting distinction between “meditative and calculative thinking” in “from Discourse on Thinking,” one that seems to make a lot of sense to me. In many ways, it seems, we fail to understand, or attempt to understand, the core truth behind elements of our life; in other words, we fail to “meditate,” and instead, only think in “calculative” terms. “Calculative” thought certainly seems to be favored in the modern world, primarily because it is efficient. It leads to definite answers, moving us away from the abstract—a primary goal of the modern world. But this does not seem to convey the full picture, according to Heidegger, because it does not convey the meaning behind our calculations and our lives. This is essential in Heidegger’s conception of complete truth and complete thinking.

This relates, fundamentally, to Heidegger’s ideas on the authentic and the inauthentic: his ideas of how a person can correspond to his world according to individual motives or external ones. When we “meditate,” we consider our being, our singular truths, and the meaning of our lives. We, subsequently, develop a self-derived kind of meaning, a real kind of truth. This sort of truth is what Heidegger seems to imply in his discussion of the authentic. Calculative thinking requires a substantial drawing from the external world, the world of the “they;” it is inauthentic.

Meditative thinking, on the other hand, seems to me to be a more important type of thinking than the calculative; it helps us to understand our life’s meaning, placing significance on the individual rather than the collective. Calculative thinking makes our individual lives less important. It implies that there is a way to categorize everyone and everything in the world, taking away any real free will (in the vein of Dostoevsky). Calculative thinking, then—if taken as the entire truth—makes us entirely mechanistic. It suggests that there is complete, objective truth and order in the world. There would be no free will, because every action would fit into a greater structure.

I recognize the importance of the calculative approach, but not as an equal counterpart to meditative thinking. Without meditative thinking, there is no meaning in the world, only a series of categorizations and analysis. This, it seems, is an empty, bleak conception of human existence, antithetical to existential philosophy and the way in which most of us live our lives. Heidegger makes a great point, here, but perhaps the importance of meditative thinking is even greater than he suggests.


  1. I really did enjoy this section on Heidegger. It opened my eyes to a lot of things that I had never thought of before. I've always looked at meditative thinking as reflections, which I somewhat never liked however, thanks to Heidegger I now see more of a reason for reflecting and thinking in a more meditative way. I have confused myself some though within Heideggar b/c when he tells us that we like to think calculatively because it's more efficient, when I look at thining things through in a meditative state, in order to find meaning for my life, then I see that as trying to be more efficient. I look at finding meaning in my life as trying to figure out what my life's purpose is in order to better myself or "live more" in a sense, which, to me is calculative in the sense to where I am trying to increase my life's efficiency, my purpose for living. Also, I see the process by which we "decide" to read Heidegger a calculative one. We are not reflecting by choosing to read Heidegger rather, we reflect b/c of our reading of Heidegger. It's almost as if Meditative thought stems from the calculative thought to do so in the first place.

  2. Calculative and meditative thinking seem deeply interconnected to me, and it might be beneficial to avoid placing value of one over the other. Calculative thinking orders my life and allows me to function in the world. But meditative thinking reflects on that order, makes sense of that order.

    That being said, meditative thinking seems to be the greatest exercise of my freedom. I can think anything I want and it won't matter if it's moral or correct or typical or strange because it is all mine. You'll never know what I'm thinking unless I choose to express it to you in some way. In this way, meditative thinking is maybe more powerful than calculative thinking for the individual; which would explain why existentialism is so concerned with it.


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