This thought occurred to me when I was ritualistically driving home from work one day:
Once the rate of our physical movement exceeds the movement of our ability absorb our surroundings we lose our ability to focus. In short bursts where the temporary acceleration serves as an exception it is easy to revert back to a state of equilibrium. But, when the acceleration is the norm rather than a burst, reversion to a natural state is more severely difficult. When I think about the rate at which our minds need to absorb things, at least to an acceptable degree of understanding, questions emerge as to just what we are missing. The ancients had such time, even in their work of survival, to think and absorb. Such thought led to epic wisdom literature. Rumination over keen observations was allowed to ferment into metaphor and symbol. Maybe the symbols took control, and to the extent that they did, their creativity ended and their absorption into the culture led to tradition and other modes of culture-building. Maybe they were led astray by delusions in their ruminations, which led beyond cultural identity into idolatry and superstitions. Nevertheless, they were right in one aspect: the value of thinking is not in quantity, but quality. Although our thoughts can speed up or slow down, I think that there is a natural limitation to both the rate of absorption and the duration of exposure to acceleration.
The contemporary notion, which seems the result of mechanization and the control of scientism, seeks quick verification; then determination based on results. The there is either immediate dismissal or pragmatic utilization. As the relentless atomic clock drives the nails into the coffins of our creativity it seeks to replace imagination with invention. The difference is like that between knowledge and wisdom that the ancients so well understood. Knowledge is useful, but temporary. Wisdom is ‘useless’ but eternal. If we allow the waves of this mechanized thought-acceleration to take over we lose the ability to create a generation of stewards. Rapid staccato beats dull our minds, and distract us from fully-experiencing the world around us. Our minds learn to ignore what they cannot perceive. Although we always do this to a degree, problems arise when we ignore more than we should; more that is safe. True, we no longer need to listen to the rustling of leaves in order to preserve our personal physical existence, but our survival as a culture hinges upon our ability to perceive and think fully through the issues of our times. We no longer seem willing to generate positive thought towards the issues; we seem incapable of even recognizing what those issues are: the rate of the ephemeral transmission of information is too quick for us to digest. The daily news and social media act as ‘scrubbing bubbles’: providing effervescent puerile cleanliness for the mind.
In art, this threatens beauty. Beauty exists in the eternal realm that cannot be reached through the acquisition of facts; it exists in the timeless realm where experience saturates us and absorbs our cognitive emanations. We must slow down and allow the eternal to reach into our hearts (the center of our humanity, if you will). Without this slowing-down-to-experience we are left with only the rapid pace of the automaton. The dehumanized machine cannot create; it can only repeat, only appropriate and reconfigure symbols, not use them in thoughtful and dynamic ways. The result of this is that we are left with hollow or shallow works that only reflect the function of life, not the beauty or truth to be had.
All of this fails to affirm the value of existence. At best it only grudgingly allows for the thought THAT we exist. The dull replication of aspects of life, the mechanization of art-processes, and the dismal game-playing that goes on in the art world today do nothing to affirm culture. It cannot build anything except more machines. Humanity has no heart; he is no longer gossamer, but a lab experiment. The loss of value is the result of the positivism of previous generations, and the atheism of our fathers. I believe that the accelerated environment that we see around us is conducive and amenable to maintaining a secular thought-life, but is antithetical towards a spiritual mindset where contemplation and reflection is paramount. Atheism and agnosticism are impatient and uncreative. It is akin to the relationship some historians have felt between the Greeks and the Romans. The Greeks understood beauty while the Romans understood engineering. To nail this point home Duchamp stated about his “Fountain” that America’s legacy in art is to be found in its plumbing.
I would suggest that we seek to decrease our heart-rate and open all our senses and absorb the meaning we find all around us. Children assume such a state but are educated out of it. As God’s Children, let us return to our youth and enter the Kingdom with wisdom.
Note: I did not type this out while I was driving.