263. Order and disorder in thought
With babies, thought is erratic, incoherent, in what the philosopher William James called ‘a blooming, buzzing confusion’. As they develop coordinated movement, in focused action, thoughts mirror this in some coherence, in neural configuration. Then comes the miracle of language to further form and order thought.
Montaigne withdrew from public life to his castle, disenchanted by the hypocrisy, cowardice, mediocrity, and inanity there. He withdrew into himself and to his dismay found his thoughts flying off in all directions. He found that he had to discipline his thought in the order of writing them down, addressing some indeterminate audience.
Wittgenstein argued against the possibility of a private language. Meanings of words need to be stabilized in the order of discourse.
In sum, one needs others to stabilize one’s thoughts.
Nietzsche was insane for the last ten years of his life. One speculation about it is that his insanity was due to a syphilis that purportedly he contracted from a whore, seemingly the only time he had sex in his life. I offer an different possible speculation. Nietzsche argued for will to power, sublimated in transcending the self, overcoming resistance of the self to its transformation. Pain, suffering is an inevitable part of that, a price to be paid. Nietzsche certainly had his share of pain and suffering. Physical pain from a chronic migraine. Mental pain from loneliness and isolation. His one friend, Paul Ree, with whom he had a triangular relationship with Lou Salomé, was ultimately chosen by her over him. His earlier infatuation with Wagner’s wife Cosima was dissolved in his break with Wagner. Nietzsche ostensibly believed in self-transformation, in lifting himself from the swamp by his own bootstraps. I wonder: could this have contributed to his insanity?
As I argued extensively in this blog, one needs opposition from others to correct and develop oneself. To order one’s thoughts it helps to write them down, as Montaigne discovered. It may help even more to call in the discipline of logic, or mathematics, if possible, to get a grip. But response from others, rejoinder in debate, yields a more powerful boost.
One needs that to get out of rigidities, ruts, vicious circles of thought. In this blog (item 49) I argued that it contributes to the highest level of freedom: freedom from one’s prejudices.
However, perhaps discourse, harnessed in language, is still too structured, too limited in its scope of variety. Perhaps one also needs more random sources of disturbance. The role of randomness for learning is shown in so-called genetic algorithms in computer science, inspired by the evolutionary logic of random mutations of genes and cross-over of parental chromosomes to generate new forms of life. Earlier in this blog (item 35) I referred to the ‘neural Darwinism’ developed by Gerald Edelman, which applies such evolutionary logic to the brain.
And how about dreaming? And mind-blowing drugs like LSD? I recently read in a newspaper article that MRI scans of the brain show that patterns from LSD are similar to those of sleep and of babies.
Perhaps thought requires an alternation of order and disorder: order of language and logic, minor disorder of shifts from discourse and debate, and more radical leaps of disorder in dreaming. Perhaps this entails the same logic as the one for invention that I developed before, which also included a dialectic of order and disorder, in assimilation and accommodation, in exploitation and exploration, with convergence and divergence (see item 35).
In item 137 of this blog I suggested that this may be linked to the dialectic of Yin and Yang in Taoist philosophy.