In-between Thoughts: I write to understand how I experience my mind

3/8/20: Did about 50 minutes on the stair stepper this morning, then a hike, and now hitting the gym for some weights. I am going to eat SO MUCH when I finally get home to eat my first meal! Intermittent fasting is awesome until you have days like today. #hangry

This is a photo of a verrrrry hungry woman.

Onto thoughts from in-between my gym sets…

Yesterday I finished drafting a post about the fifth article in the Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology, and again realized how much pleasure and satisfaction I receive from challenging my brain with new ideas. But it’s not just the reading and thinking about new ideas that is satisfying; the satisfaction is made complete when I write about those ideas, when I work not just to understand them, but to bring something new to them. I imagine the unquenchable drive I have to engage and wrestle with ideas is akin to the unquenchable drive artists have to create — the excitement of discovering and bringing newness to my experience of and work in the world.

I wonder why I am so drawn to writing about ideas I read about, why writing is the piece that completes the puzzle for me. On one hand, it’s obvious. Self-conscious thinking (here, through an evaluation via writing) is an act unique to our species, and thus kind of the apotheosis of the rational animal that is human. To read is human; to think and write about what one reads, divine(ly human).

On the other, I recognize the danger in living too much in my head. I do this emotionally, with my personal introspection. I can spiral into darkness and self-judgment so quickly when I am all up in my own head, and it is only in sharing my thoughts with my husband (or other loved ones) and receiving wise, compassionate, loving input and insight that I am able to pull myself out of it. In other words, the darkness is held at bay only when I connect my thoughts to something external to myself, in a way that lets those thoughts be evaluated, adjusted, or corrected by something/someone decidedly not-me.

But even that can go too far, and not just in my typical people-pleasing way. Sometimes I seek the external world too much, whether in an unhealthy search for validation or in a way that takes me too much outside the realm of what I’m trying to do. When I’m tossing around ideas for final papers in my philosophy class, I usually end up asking myself “What’s the point?”. In general I think that’s an important question to ask of any free, intentional endeavor (“What am I doing this for?”), but sometimes this question leads me to non-philosophical musings. Good musings, sure, but unhelpful in terms of writing a final philosophy paper. That question often leads me to look to the external world, or to scientific phenomena, and try to relate philosophical concepts to the world itself, mapping arguments onto historical, social, scientific, or cultural trends. This isn’t always philosophy, but rather some kind of critique using philosophy, so I then find myself course-correcting which then puts me in a continual pinging back and forth between theoretical philosophy and applied philosophy and… I realize I’m never quite sure where the sweet spot is between wrestling with ideas as ideas and finding their relevance or correlate in our external experience of the world. And what is most important in any particular context.

I imagine that sweet spot is a moving target, specific to context. And perhaps that’s why I love writing about ideas so much. It is that intellectual dance between describing and articulating an internal experience of the mind and that internal experience with the external world, and when I think I have found that sweet spot that makes intelligible my internal experience and the world around me… whoosh. That is deep satisfaction right there.

Truly, philosophy is the articulation of the human experience of the rational mind. Philosophy, even while being theoretical, is inherently empirical and inherently phenomenological, just within the brain itself rather than with bodily senses. I think it is important for us to connect ideas, no matter how abstract, to something concrete, but that it is also important for us to come to a clear understanding of how our concepts and thoughts “work” internally. Is an argument internally sound? A question that is, of course, distinct from “is it true?” (I so appreciate Dr. Brower’s wrestling and acknowledgement of this.) Both have an important place in reading, thought, and writing.

But back to my original question. (T-bar rows will scramble the brain like that.) Perhaps I’m drawn to the working out of ideas because it is an activity that is so universally human and so deeply personal. In working hard to understand new ideas, and working hard to bring something new to them, I ultimately learn and bring something new about and to myself. The process feels enriching personally, feels like I’m adding something valuable to my life and to the way I engage with the world. It is a distinct pleasure that makes the world more beautiful in my experience of it, and makes me more engaged with it and with myself. I think that’s a pretty good pleasure.