The Limitation of Rationality and the Universal Thought

By Ross Bishop in Creativity on December 2nd, 2007 / 4 Comments

The limitations of rational thought become clear if we consider the simple premise: “God does not have to think.” Thinking is not possible without information, and perfect information makes thinking unnecessary. When you have information, you simply know, there is nothing to think about. There are no decisions to make, situations define themselves and what needs to be done is obvious. Thinking is a compensation for inadequate knowledge. It is a substitute, and a poor one at that.

Some years ago an English couple living in India wanted to have a window installed in their home. They located an Indian craftsman and explained what they wanted. They left the house on the appointed day as the carpenter installed the new window. When they returned, they found, to their dismay that the man had botched the job horribly. “Why didn’t you use your common sense?” The wife asked of the carpenter. The man drew himself up with all of his carpenterial dignity and solemnly replied, “Common sense, madam, is a gift from God. I have technical knowledge only.”

In their book Extinction, Paul and Ann Erlich tell a story of parachuting cats. Some years ago, the World Health Organization used DDT to control malarial mosquitoes and houseflies in Borneo. The DDT also killed the parasitic wasps that kept down the local caterpillar population. The caterpillars multiplied and began eating holes in the thatched roofs of houses. Meanwhile, the poisoned houseflies became a sudden bounty for gecko lizards who became sick from eating the flies. The sickened lizards became easy prey to cats who eventually died of their own accumulated burden of DDT. As a result, rats flourished, bubonic plague began to spread and the government was forced to parachute cats, like commandos, into the area. Presumably the cats had easy access through the tattered roofs.

The rational mind needs complexity to feed its inherent ungroundedness. A person knows when he has done something dishonest or hurtful; detailed laws simply obscure the process and give would-be wrongdoers something to hide behind and attorneys a reason to exist. God gave man Ten Commandments written simply on tablets of stone. Although we have not done too well with the Ten, we did the only rational thing and passed millions of additional laws that would consume a large forest of trees just to print. Perhaps we should have tried to master the Ten first. On an even larger scale, questions about life and creation have always been great mysteries to man.

The more scientists learn about nature the more they realize how little they understand. Physicist Gary Zukhov points out that, “Physicists have ‘proved,’ rationally, that our rational ideas about the world in which we live are profoundly deficient.” We have amassed millions of books researching life with no real understanding of it. To quote Carl Jung, “Knowledge does not enrich us, it moves us further from the mythic world in which we were once at home by right of birth.” We substitute a conceptual order for the perceptual order in which our life experience originally comes and then wonder why we cannot answer the essential questions. Rationality does very well with “how?” questions, but very badly with the “whys?” of life. Vaclav Havel, the now former President of the Czech Republic said in a speech:

Classical modern science described only the surface of things, a single dimension of reality. And the more dogmatically science treated it as the only dimension, as the very essence of reality, the more misleading it became. We may know immeasurably more about the universe than our ancestors did, and yet they knew something more essential about it than we do, something that escapes us . . .

Thus, we enjoy all the achievements of modern civilization that have made our physical existence easier in so many important ways. Yet we do not know what to do with ourselves, where to turn.

The world of our experiences seems chaotic, confusing. Experts can explain anything in the objective world to us, yet we understand our own lives less and less. We live in the post-modern world, where everything is possible and almost nothing is certain.

The struggle between rationality and universal knowledge is illustrated by the fable of Adam and Eve. We must remember that the parable taught us was heavily revised to fit the needs of the Church. In the Garden of Eden there is no Adam and there is no Eve, there is just “isness.” “Spiritual interiority” as Jung called it, is not a quality of Reason. Neither Adam or Eve wears a fig leaf because it doesn’t matter. There was nothing to be ashamed of. Adam and Eve eat of the apple of (rational) knowledge (urged on by a serpent) and move into the dualism of subjects and objects. Suddenly they become conscious of their separateness. We see the inauguration of morality and its stepchild, shame. God calls to them and finds them hiding. He says, “Who told you were naked?” He then sends them out of the garden so that they can learn about duality and ego and move beyond both of them. Our job is to find a way out of rational dualism and get back to our essential beingness. That is why we are here.

A large and significant part of our existence lies beyond the realm of rational understanding. Natural states of being such as joy, fear, love, anger, etc., can only be known experientially and communicated empithetically. They defy the limited bounds of rationality. The Hindu saint Mother Meera says, “You cannot know in the beginning. Knowledge comes only from experience. Words and ideas are only useful when you have had the experience.” No matter how intelligent you are, your linear, rational mind will never figure it out. It cannot. When we cut ourselves off from the universal wisdom of the Creator and live in the man-created world of dualities we place ourselves in inherent conflict with life, nature and each other.

The things outside rational understanding cannot be “explained.” Berthold Brecht once asked, “What is the value of a musical instrument to a buyer of brass?” Although we can describe the perspectives and behaviors that accompany a particular state we cannot describe (de-scribe: to place a boundary around) the thing itself. Gregory Bateson once pointed out, “No one can taste an apple for you.” Carl Jung shared this perspective when he wrote, “Knowledge does not enrich us, it moves us further from the mythic world in which we were once at home by right of birth.” “Hundreds of years ago Paracelsus wrote, “Magic has power to experience and fathom things which are inaccessible to human reason. For magic is a great secret wisdom, just as reason is a great public folly.”

Each of us has access to universal wisdom. We call it by many names: intuition, insight, wisdom, inspiration, knowingness, genius, that still small voice, etc., but it is the same in every case. “Intuition” literally means learning from within. It is a state of undifferentiation. Emmanuel Kant coined the term “noumena” to refer to the unknowable realities behind the phenomena of our existence. Lao Tsu called it √£the trackless path.” “Jehovah” translated means “I am.” In Genesis, God says to Moses, “I am that I am.” Contrast that with Descartes”, “I think, therefore I am.” This is why the Taoists maintain that, “True mind is no mind.” Hui Neng a Zen Patriarch of the 7th century said, √£Wisdom is immanent in our minds, it is part of man’s spiritual equipment.” Note that he said “spiritual” not “rational.”

Although the inner voice is fragile and easily overpowered by the noisy ego, all we need do is quiet the mind and listen. There is a place in each of us that is beyond thought, beyond the senses and the mind that gives us a direct experience of life. This inner knowingness is profound beyond description. Lao Tsu wrote, “The Tao which can be known is not the eternal Tao.” We sometimes refer to this inner place as God. It is through prayer (the direct contact with the Creator) that we feel the sacredness of our being. When we experience the natural web of connectedness between all things, we know the divine compassion of the Creator. Without that direct experience, there is fear, uncertainty and disorientation. Because we believe in science we treat inner perceptions as the byproducts of some yet unfathomed and complex rational process. In doing so, as Jung maintained, the divine “degenerates into an external object of worship” and “is robbed of its mysterious relation to the inner man.”

We need the mystical experience, it gives life meaning. It grounds us. Again, to quote Jung, “When God is not acknowledged, egomania develops, and out of this mania comes sickness.” And, Kat Duff continues:

. . . As we forgot the sacred dimension of life, we also lost much of our sense of awe, respect, and humility before all things, which normally place restraints upon our so-human tendency to explore, manipulate and control. So, as Jung explained, egomania develops, a false sense of pride, supremacy, and omnipotence that has lead to all manner of excesses . . .

The great mysteries of life must be experienced; they must be lived. Without them we are forced to survive by cleverness and guile. Duff writes of the Nahuatl Indians:

The Nahuatl peoples believed that we are born with a physical heart, but have to create a deified heart by finding a firm and enduring center within ourselves from which to lead our lives, so that our hearts will shine through our faces, and our features will become reliable reflections of ourselves. Otherwise, they explained, we wander aimlessly through life, giving our hearts to everything and nothing, and so destroy them; . . .

It might be useful to contrast this with Ram Dass’ perspective on Western society:

We come out of a philosophical materialistic framework in which we are totally identified with our bodies and the material plane of existence, and when you’re dead you’re dead so get it while it’s hot. And more is better and now is best because you don’t know when the curtain will come down and it will all be over. And better not to think about that curtain because it’s too frightening.

For more information visit: Ross Bishop

Share/Bookmark this article

Link to this article
Found this article useful? Please consider linking to it. Simply copy and paste the code below into your web site (Ctrl+C to copy).
It will look like this: The Limitation of Rationality and the Universal Thought

4 Responses to “The Limitation of Rationality and the Universal Thought”

  1. Hans-Wolfgang Says:

    So even our talk about the absolute is not absolute, because the moment we say “the absolute,” it has become known. Whatsoever we know, even the word `absolute’ is relative. That is why Lao Tsu insists so much that truth cannot be said. The moment you say it, it has become untrue because it has become relative. So whatsoever word we use — the truth, the absolute, PARA-BRAHMA, Tao — whatsoever word we use, the moment we use it, it has become relative and it has become untrue. The one has become divided into three.

  2. mbd Says:

    Rational thought and imaginary beings cannot coexist. End of article, as the entire thing is based off the belief in an imaginary being.

  3. Hans-Wolfgang Says:

    Zen teachers have used the koan method. Koans are puzzles that by their very nature are absurd. They cannot be solved by reason; you cannot think about them. Ostensibly, it looks as if something can be thought about them; that is the catch. It seems as if something can be thought about koans, so you begin to think. Your rational mind is put at ease; something has been given to it to be solved. But the thing given to it is something that cannot be solved. The very nature of it is such that it cannot be solved because the very nature of it is absurd.
    There are hundreds of puzzles. The teacher will say, “Think about a soundless sound.” Verbally, it seems as though it can be thought about. If you try hard, somehow, somewhere, a soundless sound can be found; it may be possible. Then, at a certain point–and that point cannot be predicted; it is not the same for everyone–the mind just goes flat. It is not there. You are, but the mind, with all its conditioning, is gone. You are just like a child.
    Conditioning is not there, you are just conscious; the narrowing concentration is not there.

  4. Fernando Says:

    I, being rational and believing, hereby declare that mbd’s statement is disproven.

Add Your Comments: