Know that we can think

Know that we can think

Know that we can think

Battered by noise, by press of emails, WhatApp, Messages, social media, a plethora of useful must-read articles, meetings to hatch eggs by and regulations a kindergarten would riot over, we are in danger of forgetting our most precious tool – our mind. We complain about increases in the cost of living and forget that the time-cost of thinking has gone up much faster. We slaver over outside stimuli and ignore internal ones.

Working the heavy horses in the fields as a child I learnt that a short rest every hour was essential if they were to perform at their peak. Later I discovered that an hour of stillness before a long flight reduced jet-lag by 90%. Now I know that we must ‘Stop, be still, and know that we can think’. Give your brain a chance and it will work dramatically better.

In between what you put in and what you get out there is a complex process. Just as the dough of a good loaf needs to rise before being baked so too do the thoughts of a business strategy or an innovation. Rush them and they will be half-baked. We all see plenty of that. An idea may – indeed probably should – be quick. Its germination takes a little longer.

It is not only development that needs time. Our whole body-mind is a delicate, finely-tuned machine, though when you think of what we do to it you conclude that it is pretty rugged, too. Much is said about healthy body, healthy eating, exercise and quality of life into old age. Too little is said about healthy mind, healthy thinking, stimuli and quality of mental enjoyment. Not much good being physically 100% if your brain is drained of thought.

Some brain deterioration is disease over which we have little or no control. We do not know how much. We do know that those who keep mentally active on balance keep their minds working longer than those who don’t. In a rapidly ageing population this is a key learning. We need the old not only to be self-sufficient for as long as possible but also to help those who are not so independent. I suggest we need them for even more than that.

An interesting experiment – non-scientific and with only anecdotal report so far – suggests that the usual routines for keeping the old thinking may not be the best. Sudoku, crossword puzzles, chess all stimulate the mind, for sure. Those who practice them become experts – at Sudoku, crossword puzzles etc. They may, however, still lose that part of the brain that makes them think creatively. It is human creative thinking that distinguishes us from other species, so the longer we can maintain that, the healthier our mind will be.

Asking older people to read three hours of philosophy a week has produced two tentative results we should explore more scientifically. First, they become interested enough to exceed the three hours and spend even more time exploring philosophy. It seems that, now aged 60+, they find the questions philosophers ask highly relevant. They are keen to learn for themselves what their life was all about. They want to know what was their purpose.

At the same time they ask themselves – and others – where society is currently heading with its focus on wealth and material and its rejection of fundamental principles like truth, honesty and self-respect. They have a need to answer these questions and think about how to pose them to their grandchildren in a way that is interesting and will help them reflect.

It is in reflection that the greatest benefit of self-questioning philosophy lies. As we teach people to communicate with questions rather than statements, so they can learn that the best questions are addressed to themselves.

Be still and know that we can think. It is the greatest adventure of all.