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The Nirvana of Thoughts

Continued from a previous post… Coding Nirvana

At the end of the last post, I spoke of the parallels between all acts of thought and creativity. However, to start off, let’s just go back to programming for a bit. In that context, looking at many people, many projects, many failures, I feel fairly confident in saying that everyone undergoes these stages of evolution of discipline. However, “all” and “everyone” is qualified here by the condition that the practitioner is in fact trying to change. Legion are those who do not fall within this category. In coding, we disparagingly call them “code monkeys.” These people exist only within a field, but are not versed in any discipline. Like monkeys, given appropriate training, these members of society can do certain things. However, they do not think about what they do (insofar as the discipline is concerned), and therefore never transcend their current situation. They may be excellent workers, and accomplished at their tasks. However, they do not evolve. To return to the metaphors of Buddhism, they do not progress in the eternal cycle.

This brings forth an interesting issue: the concept of progress of thought. What is it, and how can we achieve it? Well, withholding disbelief of what I have said in the last post, then progress is to move from exploration to structure to overarching concepts. But even accepting all the caveats, how do we go about achieving this progress? After all, to ask thoughts to evolve is just as ludicrous as asking genes to evolve. While we can engineer genes, that is not evolution. There is no discovery, no mistake, no hindsighted explanations of the order of things involved. It is merely construction, where the knowledge comes a priori. It’s the same fallacy that infects attempts to teach innovation, or creativity, or interest. These things, like progress in though, cannot be constructed. They can only be nurtured, from within and from without.

Having twisted one question into another, we are still short of an answer to the question of how to nurture progress in thought. Frankly, I don’t quite know (or I would be out there giving grandiose lectures on how to do it). I do know, though, a few ways not to do it. Perhaps the easiest way to fail is to become too fond of one’s own thoughts. It is quite natural, since across the board, we hold all our own possessions as more valuable than the rest. That is not to say that one should not take ownership of thoughts. Thoughts must be owned to be examined and pursued. It is even necessary to defend the idea, and temper it through critical discourse. However, to defend does not mean to defend till death. A good strategist of thoughts must be willing to give way when the situation demands it. Giving way on thoughts leads to an understanding of good thoughts and bad, and a capability to discard those without merit. Without this, there can be no evolution, because the most meritorious thoughts are not allowed to flourish above the rest

Another way to lose the path is to become too lazy or too secure; to rest on one’s laurels. Good ideas, thoughts, and plans are all hard to come by. Even when a good one has been identified and made to flourish, the temptation is to keep squeezing that one thought instead of cultivating new disciplines. But an unused blade dulls with time, and likewise the keenness and ability to nurture good disciplines erodes with disuse. As much as it is necessary to have patience to succeed, it is necessary to have audacity to explore. While a good discipline can bring tangible benefits, it cannot bring forth other good disciplines, and the search, it seems, must always go on.

If there is an apparent tension between waiting to nurture, and jumping to explore, then it is perhaps made worse by the need to act. Thoughts are, ultimately, immaterial. It is possible to think about thoughts, and about actions, and about acting. To communicate and hold discourse, it necessary to act in some way, be it speaking, writing, or building. As long as the thought is not expressed, it is always safe in the confines of the mind. Once expressed, it interacts with other thoughts and becomes discourse. Some of the discourse attacks the idea, and becomes critique. The idea fights back, and that is defense. However, it all begins with expression. Even if the whole of the idea cannot be expressed so simply, it must be made tangible to make a difference. It is easy to shelter the thoughts too much, avoiding the tempering which allows it to grow (or to die, as perhaps it should).

Ultimately, there are no recipes for succeeding and attaining this nirvana of thoughts. As with the nirvana of the soul, the path for each is rich and varied, and cannot be prescribed, because by the act of prescribing itself, the thought is doomed. Many thoughts will never make it. Some will be deserving and fail. A few will make it all the way. We the creators have the duty to oversee the thoughts in this cycle, and to keep the cycle going, so that we may have the privilege of experiencing the success of the few.

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