Essay - A loose sally of the mind; an irregular indigested piece; not a regular and orderly composition.
- Samuel Johnson, Dictionary
Each and every word is a concept. The smallest word is a concept. Prepositions are concepts. Conjunctions and articles are concepts. Not just nouns. Pronouns are concepts. But certainly the strangest word providing the strangest concept is the word ‘mind.’ What does that word mean? Activity in my head, activity in my brain, but what is that activity? If there were no words to attach to the energy in my head, what would that energy look like? Would I be able to paint it? Sculpt it? How would I describe that activity to someone else? What use could I make of my body and hands to get the idea of ‘mind’ across to another mind?
I can see the action of my mind in a jar of strawberry jam. That is to say, judgment, problem solving, perception, conceptual configuration. A dance of interrelation. I need a tool. I choose a butterknife. It has already been in use for the butter, and since I don’t feel inclined to wash more cutlery than is necessary, I wipe it on the toast. The jam is in the refrigerator. I have to maneuver the jam out of the refrigerator through an obstacle course of jars and bottles. Then I twist, and remove the lid. I plunge the knife toward the bottom of the jar where there is a layer of jam about an inch thick. I maneuver the jam from the bottom, upending the jar, and wiggling the knife back and forth toward the opening. I put two generous dollops of jam on each slice of toast. This entire operation has involved a set of calculations that evidence a modus operandi of that stuff in my brain called a ‘mind.’
Every substance has something of the infinite, in so far as it involves its cause, namely God, observed Leibniz. That is, it has some trace of omniscience and omnipotence. For in the perfect notion of each individual substance there are contained all its predicates, alike necessary and contingent, past, present, and future; nay each substance expresses the whole universe according to its situation and aspect, in so far as other things are referred to it; and hence it is necessary that some of our perceptions, even if they be clear, should be confused, since they involve things which are infinite, as do our perceptions of colour, heat, etc.
It’s inconceivable to think of a mind separate from a body. Separate from physical reality. Sensation. Appetite. Desire. A vision of spring with all the sensations attendant on spring, fragrances, breezes, buds blossoming. We think of spirit as an entity without a body, but when a spirit is imagined, or manifested in a movie or drama, the spirit has a voice and an attitude. Spirits always seem to be pissed. Peevish and solemn. Why do we imagine spirits being angry or frustrated? We in the English language always dramatize spirits as being trapped by some obsession or unresolved problem. Emotional distress. L’esprit, in French, refers simultaneously to mind and spirit. The French do not distinguish between mind and spirit as we do in English, the language of Scrooge and Hamlet.
Mind, in German, is referred to variously as Geist, Kopf, Sinn (intention), Meinung (opinion), and Geistesgegenwart (presence of mind).
Mind, in Finnish, is mieli. I like that, because it sounds close to French for honey, miel. As if the mind were honey, sweet and translucent, the product of bees, buzzing, stunning navigation and pollination.
But it doesn’t stop there. There is also ajatukset (reflections, reason, sense), järki (sanity, mind, wit, intellect, memory), muisti (retention), mielipide (opinion, view) and psyyke (psyche).
Mind in Icelandic is huga, which reminds me of a car honking: huga! huga!
In Italian, mente, which reminds me of mint, those chocolate covered candies with the sweet white goo inside.
Albanian mendje, Danish sind, Dutch geest, Filipino isip, Haitian Creole lide, Irish aigne.
There are, then, two kinds of thinking, each justified and needed in its own way, observed Martin Heidegger: calculative thinking and meditative thinking. This meditative thinking is what we have in mind when se say that contemporary man is in flight-from-thinking. Yet you may protest: mere meditative thinking finds itself floating unaware above reality. It loses touch. It is worthless for dealing with current business. It profits nothing in carrying out practical affairs.
And you may say, finally, that mere meditative thinking, persevering meditation, is “above” the reach of ordinary understanding. In this excuse only this much is true, meditative thinking does not just happen by itself any more than does calculative thinking. At times it requires a greater effort. It is in need of even more delicate care than any genuine craft. But it must also be able to bide its time, to await as does the farmer, whether the seed will come up and ripen.
What more delightful sensation is there than to let the mind drift like something afloat on the ocean amid the glitter of waves? Undirected musing is a sensation of buoyancy and freedom. Freedom from the constraints of onerous survival, of performing activities without a narrow, purposeful channel to follow. Drifting is large. It is a taste of the infinite. We float among the stars, untethered by anything mundane. The spectacular, unpredictable energies that make a universe are available to us, and creativity begins.