Divided we fall

Cognitive division of reality is effectively the basis of all abstract ideas.

This is largely hidden within everyday thinking, but our ideas are inherently based on the mind dividing, categorizing and labeling the world.   No conceptualizations of reality would be possible without such cognitive acts – albeit they are so deep within the mind’s operations that they almost never surface as conscious thoughts.   Even the idea of their existence is possibly nothing more than the outcome of conventional reasoning; it seems likely that we have never consciously reflected on the matter, having uncritically assimilated cultural perspectives of reality since birth.

The key philosophical issue concerns the relationship between the human mind’s abstract thoughts about reality, and reality itself – if indeed the two can be distinguished.   Specifically, is reality really divided in the manner the mind envisages it to be, or are such divisions mere artifacts of how abstract thought operates?   Is reality best understood as a whole that our mind simply models as parts, or is it really an endless collection of parts right down to sub-atomic particles and possibly beyond?

Uniquely human
It seems reasonable to assume from animal conduct that basic forms of division and recognition are fundamental mental acts: the ability to differentiate members of one’s own species from others including predators and prey is obviously essential.

However, manifestation of the process has taken a quantum leap in humans.   Our cultures progressively perceive or invent more and more divisions of both ideological and tangible natures.   The world of politics for example, is forever creating new groups based on new ideas and views previously unheard of.   Bundling people into different factions on the basis of mere belief is also a feature of the religious world.   And so it is only logical that politics and religion are considered no-go areas for polite company – being divisive generally being seen as socially disruptive.

By necessity, division permeates all areas of abstract thought: we simply cannot symbolically represent the world through words, concepts or graphics without cognitively identifying whatever bits we feel are relevant to our ideas and communications.

Having moved beyond the primitive animal need to differentiate only our basic needs, threats and opportunities, the general march of human ideas is towards ever finer dissection of whatever is studied.   This has culminated in highly theoretical paradigms probing the component particles of the atom at one extreme, and the postulation of temporal and spatial limits to the universe at the other – not to mention a whole world of biology, plus literally anything and everything else we can think of in between.

Crucially, it can be noticed that all our grand speculations about the vastness of the universe are based on observations of what we understand to be its parts.   Without the ideas we have amassed about such seemingly separate entities, phenomena and properties, we would still be looking innocently at the night sky as it is seen by an owl, for example.

In reasoning why the fundamentally divisive nature of abstract thought is so utterly overlooked within most cultures, this can be considered probably accidental inasmuch as the early human use of conceptualization would have lacked any sophisticated philosophical framework to examine and possibly realize what it was about.   The dawn of our abstract form of knowledge may have resembled the modern child’s instinctive learning process – albeit incredibly much slower.

More generally, human development was no doubt too preoccupied with the empowering magic of abstraction to reflect on the ground on which all such thinking is built.   Hence, any idea the world is not made of things still sounds plain crazy to the average individual without a deeper understanding of what is being said.

The issue is not about the existence or nonexistence of whatever the mind envisages – it is about interrogating the subliminal assumption that a full or optimal understanding of our world is to be had by working exclusively with an intrinsically and inescapably divisive model.

The questioning of that assumption is well justified, if only because this has almost never been done – not to mention that any assumption is by definition something made without reflection.   And at a time when we see from within a deeply divided and troubled humanity that even the cold inanimate world of physics has become a conundrum to our conventional ways of thinking, all the signs indicate a need to get right back to basics rather than carry on blindly with age-old assumptions.

It is notable that so many apparently different problems – from warring human cohabitation on the planet, to science’s most probing questions – uniquely afflict the only species to have this divisive form of abstract thought.   Natural inquisition looking at such a fact has to suspect a common link.

Noticeably, once we consider reality as a whole and thereby ultimately beyond our divisive and limited powers of understanding – our logical problems can be framed as reflecting identifiable limitations to our modes of thought.   And once the mind unthinks its habitual convictions that, for example, the world’s population is defined by a set of divisions, societal problems are much harder to sustain.

All such things very arguably only persist because humans continue to think as they do – in manners that fail to interrogate assumptions they scarcely even know they are making.