Reclaiming Reason

The word “rational” has been used in recent days to describe two very different mentalities. It’s primary meaning, to describe the reasoned and practiced thought of one who avoids the tyranny of impassioned impulse, has become more and more obscured and in some cases fully reversed. Often it is used as a synonym for an authoritarian mentality that may be consistently materialist but which is not consistently rational in its operation. Even if an individual or collective of people display a stubborn or emotionally reactive intolerance towards certain ideas, despite supporting evidence, we may nevertheless describe them as “too rational” or “more rational” than ourselves.

In public discourse this is highly polarizing, and to many people it sounds like an admission by one side that their beliefs are just empty choices. In the past we have advocated a policy of “overcoming rationality” or the growing beyond the “nagging voice of reason” as a way of expressing that the unfolding of many spiritual insights is impeded by the “grounded” and often cynical reasoning of our daily lives. Such daily “rational” thinking seems to be a constellation of at least two things: reasoning which is well adapted to the day-to-day world of physical existence, and habits of reasoning which areconditioned, whether by cultural messages or by our egoic schemas.

It is the former reasoning which we slowly outgrow but retain for simpler operations, not academic thinking, while the latter flavor of conditioned “rational” thinking is the kind of reasoning which continues to resist almost every hopeful and paradigm changing innovation presented to humankind. We may recognize it when a debater appeals to cynicism and claims something is “too good to be true,” or we may sense it when we detect a recurrent theme coloring our own meaning-making. We may come across many professedly rational responses which we disagree with strongly… and we are most likely to disagree with them when they are forms of incomplete reasoning, when they omit relevant information or important factors that any reasonable person would take into account if they understood them.

We are essentially losing the word “reason” or “rationality,” and making invisible the path of development which it represents. It is not the rational quest to understand phenomena in detail which causes inherent friction between a “rational” worldview and others… it is the fact that rationalism can too easily be adopted as a mere persona rather than a true modus operandi. To the authentic rationalist there is always room for doubt, always room for new nuances of understanding, and to an increasingly mature rationalist there is a sophisticated drive to know thyself and the many factors that might lead to self-deception or authoritarian thinking. It is a challenge to say definitively whether the impetus towards accommodating others’ opinions lies to a greater degree in the realm of mental wisdom or empathetic knowing. Rationalism – whether practiced in the individual or in the society – eventually recognizes that most truths worth knowing once seemed either impossible or beyond understanding from a previous point of view, and once this realization begins to take hold a profound transformation has taken place… Rationalism enters the aperspectival stage of its life cycle, a stage which affords it untold freedom in the concepts it can explore and the methods it has for exploring them. It’s voice becomes increasingly that of a witnessing consciousness, like an archetypal avatar who holds space for all that arises.

This higher or “more executive” voice of reason holds hands with the empathetic voice of emotional witnessing (personal and interpersonal), and these two forces of the soul are like dear friends or lovers. Both are forms of aperspectival wisdom, and here the paths of rationality and emotionality have joined, resembling the silhouette of a double-helix where they have drawn so close together that they are almost indistinguishable. This is the image and felt experience of authentic rationality, one which seems to be sourced from levels of the human being more executive than the cognitive heuristics of the brain, the emotional currents of the body, and even the majestic sweeping currents of emotion in our extended field. But as exalted as it may sound to connect with and act from such a potentially beautiful place of the soul, it is far more reachable than one might think.

We can make small efforts each day to better embody aperspectival thinking; being mindfully engaged with ourselves and others, considering simultaneously the honest truth in people’s stated beliefs and the forms of conditioning which may be affecting them, and we can repeatedly remember ourselves as beings living within the context of a massive world which constantly bears witness to a myriad of activities which we are not present to observe. We also foster greater rationality with every new thing we learn and every opinion we consider and investigate… so long as the “close friend or lover” referenced earlier, highlyconscious emotion, keeps our rationality reminded that it’s greatest goal lies not within anyone hypothesis or potential truth, but within the drive towards greater accuracy and authenticity itself.