Limitations of Linear Thinking


If I am ignorant, I am in the dark. If I am learned, I am in even greater darkness. ~ paraphrasing the Vedas.

Linear thinking is a way of, first of all, learning things. And, second, of performing cognitive operations with the things you have learned.

Cognitive operations are analysis, synthesis, comparison, etc. If both are linear (the learning and the building of new knowledge off of the already acquired knowledge), the individual plunges into infinite darkness where he or she never achieves illumination (or, as they say, “enlightenment”.)

Why?

Because of the limited nature of linear thinking. Imagine that the world looks like this.

And, say, the linear mind (liner learning + linear thinking) wants to explore Existence.

So, it goes like this.

It keeps tackling the question from multiple sides/facets, but keeps failing to grasp the big picture.

A linear mind is also puzzled by contradictions. It can’t see the whole.

How do you define linear?

Once in a English literature class the teacher drew a timeline of literary genres on the board. The timeline was linear and went consequently from one genre to another.

The teacher then said: “you may have noticed that certain genres come back within similar periods of time. If you look at the timeline in terms of cycles [classicism – decadence – renaissance – neo classicism, etc.], it will be easier for you to remember.”

In existence, linear motion comes across as very unnatural.

Think about these cycles:

spring | summer | fall | winter | spring

life | death | life

Q1 | Q2 | Q3 | Q4 | Q1

Linear represents a not fully natural, simplified picture of the phenomenal world.

Knowledge vs information

Albert Einstein famously said that “true knowledge comes from experience; everything else is information.” At least this quote is attributed to him.

If you have never been to Malaysia, no matter how much you “learn” about it from others, this is information. A human being has limited time in this world to have first-hand experiences. With that in mind, one should always remember that most of what they learn is useless. It’s like honey that was never gathered, but was only observed by an idle bee from the distance.

How to be truly phenomenal

Maybe I’ve been reading too much of Swami Vivekananda these days, and it’s been affecting my mind.. But, for what it’s worth >

Phenomenal = natural = accidental as in a “natural phenomenon.”

The opposite of linear thinking is phenomenal thinking (here’s to those of you who thought I’d say “spherical” or something like that.)

Existence is a natural phenomenon. By exploring it with a natural mind, you can get complete, non-contradictory knowledge.

I came across this analogy (and the quote from the Vedas) in the book “The Journey Continues: A sequel to Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master” by Sri M.

Non-contradictory knowledge

The reason I started this post with a quote from the Vedas, which is a great source of “phenomenal” (if in a slightly different sense) knowledge, is that, according to them, there are six sources of non-contradictory knowledge.

For your learning process to be phenomenal, all six should be in balance.

Image credit: Alexey Kljatov via Flickr

  1. Direct observation
  2. Testimony by an authority (who is to be trusted)
  3. Logic (including analysis, comparison, etc.)
  4. Experiment
  5. Intuition
  6. Non-existence!

My peculiar education

From an early age, I’ve been getting these insights about how the world works from time to time. They did not come from my teachers, my friends or my parents. They rather came from a source within me, which I cannot explain.

When the circumstances are right, I sometimes get a powerful message that “attacks” me with these three components at once:

  • deep idea
  • strong emotion
  • visual scheme

As for the visual scheme, I normally see it with my mind’s eye – no hallucinations, or course.

For example, one day I suddenly saw that the world’s gravity system is a hierarchy of escape holes (=black holes). At first, I could not believe my own idea. Yet pretty soon it was partially confirmed by scientists who discovered black holes inside atoms.

Could Tiny ‘Black Hole Atoms’ Be Elusive Dark Matter?

A Black Hole at the Heart of an Atom! PDF

Black hole in the nuclei of an atom

(If you are interested in this particular subject, there’s an article about it on my other blog.)

I often feel sorry for the people whose habit of using the linear mind is blocking them from receiving information in the same way I get some of “my” ideas.

The conclusion and the gist of this post is that the linear mind has its limitations. Intuition can serve like a flashlight in a dark forest and can illuminate the path ahead, if temporarily. It can help you take a shortcut.

This is not to say that intuition alone can be reliable. But linear thinking without its 5 other rightful companions (see “non-contradictory knowledge”) is doomed to bring progress at snail’s pace.

Acknowledgements

As I wrote before, I came across the original quote of the Vedas and the metaphor that a still mind beholds the absolute while reading “The Journey Continues: A sequel to Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master” by Sri M.

The person who told me about the six sources of non-contradictory knowledge was my friend and mentor Prof. M.I. Mikhailov. Together with his wife who is a mathematician, he co-authored “Key to the Vedas“, a scientific research that contains proof that the Vedas are nothing by syllabically-encoded mathematical-astronomical body of code. And, if you know the key, you can decipher the message contained in the great ancient scriptures.

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