The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once made an interesting observation regarding human interpretation of external reality: when we perceive a tree with branches full of leaves in all imaginable colours, our minds melt all distinct variation into a single unity, and thus we exclaim: "that tree has leaves on it". This parable describes the tendency of the human mind, when interpreting something outside of the immediate subjective thought, to simplify multiple forms of data and transform them into their most basic and raw forms that somewhat correctly corresponds to the original objects perceived. This is a natural way for a limited mind to process the amazing structures of complexity in our world, yet sometimes we tend to simplify things until we only have meaningless symbols out of context left and, thus, disconnect with our outside realities.
The modern man loves to simplify complex data, because it is much easier to process through a bureaucratic system based on uniform conformism. Our jobs have become mere symbolic tasks to fulfil the economic needs of the starving masses, mass-producing plastic products without soul or actual meaning. No one ever thinks of criticizing the current economic trend, partly because it sustains our material needs, and partly because our minds are accustomed to that form of simplistic lifestyle where you sign and organize papers, administrate local offices by clicking on the computer, and then walk home to receive your pay check and spend it on the latest plasma TV, so that your kids will remain quiet during the evening.
Our cultural music (what remains of it) is nothing but the same old compositional method based on a neat lead melody and some sentimental rants about broken love. Of course there's Brahms, Tangerine Dream, and Dead Can Dance out there in the record stores as well, but who wants complex music when you're able to buy the symbols; your neighbour listens to it, so you follow what's put before you. The political field is filled with, perhaps even based upon, the simple process of taking complex issues such as broken ecosystems, ethnic conflicts, high rates of unemployment, and internal affairs of fraud and creates a token-based output made to further enhance and stimulate the current mass media dualism between what's "OK" and what's not; environmental problems are solved by changing to low-energy light bulbs, failing multicultural projects are blamed on intolerance and rapid Nazism, economic trends going downhill are solved by selling another national company to the third world, and the obvious self-deconstruction of democracy is balanced by sending out more propaganda through television, radio, newspapers, and educational systems. The whole of our modern society works by the principle of unifying distinct variation and presenting it as a linear symbolic "freedom", which everyone must recognize but no one dare speak against.
As a result we've achieved the ultimate conformist system possible, based on the tendency of the majority of a people not being able to interpret reality on a more complex scale. As most of us are accustomed to daily being exposed to a large amount of information, we're also aware of the fact that our minds cannot process everything through commercials, socialization, or media, without being overloaded, so instead we make it a routine to simplify all data we receive - and in that process therefore also simplify the things we perhaps should have looked into more closely. Just ask any person what they think of our industries cutting down wild forests: "but we still have a few trees around the backyard, what's your problem?" They don't understand nature as a system, as a continuous process where every organic life collaborates through life and death with another organism, creating the forest as a whole - the forest which we see in simple and unified terms as "a place full of grass, trees, stones, and animals". But if this were the whole truth, we wouldn't need scientists or biologists to study the life of the forest in detail, explaining to us that if we kill one species by setting up a McDonald's, we'll face huge disasters in the near future with another species now going rampant due to overpopulation. That simply cannot be digested by most human beings, as it means dwelling deeper into reality, researching the complex structure behind things that we otherwise interpret as mere physical symbols.
This is why most intelligent people throughout history have been idealists; they understood that in order for us humans to become a part of the very system that brought us life, we must understand its basic core. Materialism, the belief that the material existence is the only existence, therefore becomes impotent when it refuses to study the structures behind the physical symbols. How are you able to understand how an entire ecosystem works by simply looking at a tree from a far distance and barely making out the difference in colours on the leaves, that gives the tree a harmonious colour as a whole? The answer is.. you're not; instead you'll be spending your life trying to get something out of life, out of your very existence, by studying that physical symbol until you one day realize it's time for both you and that tree to die. But then it's too late.
As idealists we instead look toward the composition of things. Try to think of this in terms of music: some of the most amazing work in musical art has been achieved within classical music. If you put on Beethoven's Fifth, you'll quickly notice that it doesn't work the same way as regular popular music does; you must think idealistically and interpret the structure behind the composition in order to understand the ideas communicated through the music. While a materialist would look for simple symbols to point out (like a lead melody), the idealist listens to the whole piece and then recreates the overall structure of the music (first gentle and smooth, then suddenly harsh, violent, ecstatic, concluding with a fanfare).
To go back to the original parable presented in the beginning of this article, we can never escape the fact that the human mind has limitations. Our world consists of data and it is impossible for us to keep track of every single detail we're exposed to during our daily lives. However, in order not to get caught up by simplified symbolism, we must always be aware of the distinct variation found within reality - both the internal and external. While it may seem comfortable to transform all problems in life into single-motivated forces such as "good" and "evil", this binary vision of life often tends to lead us astray from our primary motivations in life. We don't really want a forest with a few trees standing here and there, and most of us are aware of and can appreciate the beauty of multiple colours on a single tree, even if it means we have to take a closer look and concentrate our minds on what's behind the physical manifestations. Once we get past our personal comforts, there's an endless world lying before us, where each distinctive form of data will lead us into ever new paths to walk on - it's up to you, if you dare, to choose it or not...
January 14, 2007
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