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Friday, April 20, 2001


Thinking creatively begins and ends in the light


Once, a brilliant drop of ink from the pen of French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) fell upon the ocean of thought. "Cogito ergo sum," he declared. Ever since, "I think, therefore I am" has illuminated the minds of thinkers around the world.

Another French philosopher, Blaise Pascal (1623-62), put it this way: "Man is a thinking reed." English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) added, "A Person is a thinking intelligent Being," while Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) explained that " 'I think, therefore I am' can only mean 'I think, therefore I am a thinker' " ("The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and in Peoples," 1913, translated by J.E.C. Flitch, p. 35).

Thus, Descartes' single drop of ink has helped the whole of humankind to think deeply. Human beings might be poor in body but are always rich in mind, since we are thinking beings, conscious of existence.

I enjoy reflecting on the thinking mind, especially the concept of creative thinking, because creativity is a remarkable feature of the human mind.

As written in Genesis (1:3), God's first creature was light. And light continues to "be" in both the outer and inner worlds of human beings. Light is closely connected to our physical and mental ability to grasp things. Seeing and thinking both require light to illuminate or eliminate the darkness that blocks insight.

According to "Aristotle for Everybody" (1991) by Mortimer J. Addler (pp. 16-19), the human mind moves in three directions -- making, doing and knowing or learning. "Making" is concerned with creative thinking about producing well; "doing" with practical thinking about acting well; and "knowing" or "learning" with speculative thinking for knowing well or learning well.

Using these mental activities to seek and acquire beauty, truth or goodness, the human being moves toward the pursuit of happiness. Thinking plays a leading role. The term "creative thinking" represents this covert, cognitive and manipulative pursuit of poetic or artistic ideas, images, concepts and perceptions. Creative thinking also assumes various modes of pondering, imagining, ruminating, perceiving and so forth.

Yet "thinking, knowing and perceiving," says the French theologian Antoine Arnauld (1612-94), "are all the same" ("The Philosophical Writings of Descartes," translated by J. Cottingham et al., p. 150). Besides, Descartes also observes that ". . . all the operations of the will, the intellect, the imagination and the senses are thoughts" (ibid, p. 113). The union of these polymorphous mental operations makes it possible to philosophize about the object itself or to intuit the essence of the object.

For example, when one gazes at a definite object, the inner faculties begin to speculate about how that object affects oneself. In the poem "Mitsumeru (Gazing)," by Japanese writer Jun Takami (1907-65), all the faculties of mind, heart and eye conspire to elicit this in-depth perception:

The dog gazes at me Intently With earnest eyes. The very idea Fills my eyes with tears. For in my midnight sickroom I, too, gaze earnestly ahead. On death.

-- Translated by T. Horiuchi

The poem portrays a man envisioning the very serious matter of his own approaching death. In the silence surrounding the man's sickroom at midnight, his dog (which also senses the footsteps of death) lies sadly nearby, gazing at its master. The man exerts all his remaining energy gazing and waiting for death. His concentration matches that of his dog on himself.

Deep darkness lies heavy over both man and dog. Tears seem to intensify the gaze of each. Then, the shadow of Deep Sleep emerges from the darkness and creeps across the eyes of the man in his sickbed.

The dog's voice reaches from beyond the shadow of Deep Sleep and is heard by the man who yet "wonders if something like a rainbow appears between life and death" (from a poem entitled "On the Boundary of Life and Death," also by Jun Takami).

It is evident that intense speculation ignites insight into a brilliant flash of clear consciousness wherein essential thought or beauty is perceived. Not unlike the rainbow itself, which contains all light, the drops of rainbow-colored thought within oneself form the sweeping promise of a new, creative world.

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