I had thought to write this column about answers, and how a definite answer, at least in the philosophical sense, would be an absurd proposition, because every answer opens up new questions. I would have found a way to point out that I end most of these columns with nothing definite to offer other than a new chain of thoughts.
Then I would have wrapped it up niftily by saying something like if I am ever naïve enough to offer a definite answer, I will have to go out, have one too many beers to restart my confusion, or at least castigate myself for rushing things and not thinking a bit clearer.
Things changed this week. Someone challenged me to post four texts or poems that I like. I might have quickly posted something gruesome from Clive Barker or Spike Milligan’s English Teeth poem. What happened instead was I ended up recalling pieces that stuck with me over the years.
The pieces cannot easily be classified as inspirational, a quick moment of warmth or laughter, rapidly forgotten. I realise that what each of them did was become part of the machinery of my mind, changing the way I think. To give a quick example, a hypothetical spider may inadvertently catch fireflies and need to be rescued from a blazing web, as James Thurber so nicely puts it. It’s easy to see that sometimes the firefly is not the actual victim, rather the ambitious but unprepared spider, and draw truths from that.
The thing was a pleasure, and I’m very glad it wasn’t something like ‘post four pictures of your favourite flowers’. I used it to the hilt as an exercise in remembering inputs that shape me on a fundamental level. It was also a challenge because I had to reveal a lot more depth, sort of like a personal bibliography of a scant four items. I have a better understanding of what makes me tick now, though more accurately tock.
The aftermath of the thing is what begins to tickle me now.
The obvious thing is that I am influenced by passages of words. As a contrast to this, no amount of those Bruce Lee photo quotes will ever enlighten me, other that to show me the true extent of my homicidal frustration with two-dimensional drivel.
The less obvious facet is the question of why I had to think so very hard to remember those four bits? Once the question becomes apparent, the answer is easy: there are too many things that demand attention, and those things drown out the essence of myself.
In the Nineties there was talk of an obscene amount of messages that everyone was exposed to, watching television, driving in cars, looking at newspapers, and so on. At the time the extent of the clutter in any mind, shocked me. That has changed with the advent of social media, my ongoing strand of thinking. Social media ups the number of messages, I estimate exponentially.
I think, because of all these messages, no single idea has much of a chance of standing out. Instead people arrive at an average sum of beliefs. Those beliefs are processed and delivered by the machine that is media, ranging from social media, to television, to half-heard songs and half-read items in newspapers. If a really stand-out idea does arrive, it will have limited duration of perhaps a few hours, as it struggles to keep its head above the rising tide of other inputs. In other words, the machine thinks for us. We don’t have to.
If you need further confirmation, consider the fact that computerised memory is reducing the need to store memories in deep brain structures, with resulting changes in neuro-biological structures.
I am going to gainsay my first paragraph and say that I have four answers about how I process thoughts, one of which I have shared with you, here. But there is yet another interesting question.
In order to find myself I need to cut myself off to stop my thoughts from drowning in the noise. But by cutting myself off, I lose the benefit of spotting rare moments and people. How should I process that?
I don’t need a beer yet, though the want is there. I do need to think harder and deeper. That’s also definite.