QA 26. (Nov 10) To change our thinking

If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?  The answer is: Nothing will work, but everything might. Now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments. Clay Shirky

We have a duty to change our mode of thinking. David Harvey

There appears to be magic simply in the willingness to tackle life’s hardest problems from the humble position of simply being one among many in a circle of individuals caring for the common lot. Alice Walker

The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them. Albert Einstein (attributed)

Having these words slung my way from many directions recently, I have decided to shift the focus of my philosophy café. To change our mode of thinking. Could there be a more philosophical challenge? But how is this even possible, if the mind we use to think with is the thing we have to change? I don’t know, but I have a few clues.

First, it – whatever it may be – should be radical; it has to get to the root of things, go all the way down. And perhaps it entails a qualitative shift. If that’s true, we may have no more idea of this “new mode of thinking” than water could imagine steam. Second, we have to do it together. We need to put our heads together, in all our commonality and differences. We need to talk. Third, we have to do it alone. I can’t think for you, and I sure don’t want you thinking for me. Our specific concerns and desires are our own business. This is a good thing. It means we can have lots and lots of experiments. No dogma; no dogs eating dogs.

This also means that these conversations will not be abstract but will draw upon and feed into whatever other work we each have to do. For me, my writing and counselling practice. For you, something else entirely.

What we will hold in common is at least this recognition that current modes of thinking will not get us out of the insoluble problems we face. It’s a humble position, which calls for presence, patience and attention. The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (in “Beyond Dialogue”) refers us to the airman in The Little Prince, who can’t draw a lamb to satisfy the child until he draws a box in which, he says, the lamb lies sleeping. Levinas continues:

I do not know how to draw the solution to insoluble problems. It is still sleeping in the bottom of a box; but a box over which persons who have drawn close to each other keep watch. I have no idea other than the idea of the idea one should have. The abstract drawing of a parallelogram – cradle of our hopes. I have the idea of a possibility in which the impossible may be sleeping.

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