Our dubious fixation on ‘things’

The view of Non-Objective Reality (NOR) is that the mind’s abstract modeling of reality amounts to an artificially divisive segmentation of perceptual data such that the model thereby conceived is a vastly simplified version populated by relatively discrete components generically referred to as things – the supposed component parts of reality.   NOR challenges the wisdom of this approach.

This notion of things covers all specific categories such as physical substances, inanimate objects, organic beings, emotions, works of art, cultural phenomena, scientific theories, and whatever else is required to include everything we know – even including our ideas about our abstract ideas.   Within any category there are obviously endless more-specific things – many of which can themselves be broken down in both space and time until we eventually end up with sub-atomic particles and their momentary behavior.   But even at that minute level where we do not really understand much in a pragmatic manner, our mind is nonetheless still fixated on its model of things within its inherently divisive conceptualizations.   Meanwhile, intangible things such as personal feelings and memories are similarly treated by the mind as real things not to be dismissed.   For thought to proceed at all, it seems we need conceptual components which, for immediate discussion purposes, can all be labeled under the generic term things.

The English language demonstrates abundantly just how pervasive this thing-based thing really is within our thoughts.   Consider how extensively the derived words something, anything, everything and nothing are used as logical guides.

For example, if we want others to simply imagine something or anything, we will typically ask them to think of something – or anything.   We effectively state even the absence of things as the presence of nothing – it being perfectly acceptable to state for example that nothing was found.   And regardless of topic, the thing is, can always be interjected to recenter a loose conversation.   How are things? as a greeting actually infers life in general can be reduced to just so many things, and this may be true – at least as regards everything we think.

We exist within cultures that have long perfected their visions of reality as a collection of identified things, and it is utterly obvious how thoroughly modern life as we know it is built upon those visions.   Physiological evidence even suggests the evolution of the human brain is particularly developed in the related linguistic and conceptual areas.

However, if the human mind’s strategy of conceptualizing its world has dramatically increased the species’ ability to technologically manipulate and exploit its environment, it appears we may be living through an era in which the use of those abilities requires a new level of wisdom to mitigate their potentially devastating effects.   The powers we now have over our reality are conceivably greater than our understanding of the full consequences of using those powers.

NOR questions the otherwise presumed validity of the modern mind’s unfettered conceptualization of reality.   Specifically, if reality is considered as a single whole, or even just as a highly interconnected collection of parts, isn’t the development of human culture and its increasing conceptualization just confounding any ability to understand such a complementary view?   If conceptualization is an inherently divisive process, how could it ever be up to the job of comprehending the whole?

The ability or inability of abstract thought to understand the whole is central to NOR.   And it is appropriate to state matters in this way, given that NOR ultimately reduces to yet more human thoughts about things.   Every last idea the human race has ever had is obviously constrained by whatever limitations the filter of abstract thought imposes.   And if all thoughts are seen as based around the mind’s artificial creation of things, then the only idea that is perhaps valid about the entirety of reality – the whole – is that thought simply cannot comprehend it, given it should ideally be seen as the one-and-only indivisible thing.

This train of thinking naturally leads to notions of gods, and of the absolute or the all – notions that can of course date back to the various spiritual perspectives of antiquity, but that are arguably just NOR phrased in different terms.  Impossible though it is to properly gage the worldview of our ancestors who more readily spoke in such terms, their minds were obviously less cluttered with the multitude of things found in modern minds.   Perhaps they could more clearly see certain dangerous ravines within the landscape of the human mind.   Perhaps they spotted a certain delusion in retreating into endless thought and abstraction as a supposed means of better comprehending the human condition.   After all, even by common perspectives, the mind’s models of reality are something distinct from reality itself.   Hence it can be asked to what degree we should place our attention on the one at the cost of ignoring the other.

The modern city dweller is someone mentally drowning in a multitude of demanding things – goals and social complications that not even our recent ancestors had to accommodate.   His days are filled with a mass of thoughts and plans that are effectively essential to navigating the endless complexities of modern society – so many conceptual things that simply did not exist in previous times.

It is not hard to see such an individual as so fixated on the things he believes sustain his lifestyle that any idea he actually does not understand his reality appears to him as a completely fruitless and nonsensical philosophical indulgence – not something he would devote a moment’s attention to, if he even knew where to start.

But this observation gets to the nub of how the mind operates.   Its natural priority is to sustain and protect itself; understanding reality – whatever that might mean – is relatively unimportant.   The mind does not assimilate its bloated and convoluted conceptualization of the world as a result of any philosophical reflections on how to best understand reality; instead, it quite naturally learns whatever ideas and social behaviors help it secure a safe place within its cultural environment.   And if that cultural environment demands the individual acts in manners that might actually be detrimental, his primary evolutionary instinct is nonetheless to conform as the means of assuring his acceptance within the herd.

Hence, the thing-based model of the world – more academically referred to as objectivity – is a model that is both expanding at an alarming rate alongside our increasingly complex lifestyles, and something we are deeply and subliminally anchored to as a key survival tool.   But it should be noted how all this is adopted by the individual for his own ends; never has there been any proper assessment if such a strategy benefits the species or the planet as a whole.   There is of course evidence it does not.

If it seems unlikely, unrealistic, ill-advised, and even impossible that we could ever reverse the evolutionary process that provided us with the mental abstraction underpinning the peculiar development of our species, then perhaps we at least ought to look more respectfully on certain things as opposed to others.   If abstract thought has no way of approaching the absolute or the all, perhaps it could at least recognize its weakness in that area, and prioritize whichever appears key to the general welfare of all – things that do not seek to divide in a manner that places short term human goals above long term human survival.

Ultimately, all these apparent divisions which create the things we imagine to populate reality likely exist nowhere but within the mind.   If we cannot temper our ideas with that reflection then we disassociate ourselves from reality through an unchecked preoccupation with abstraction.