Entertaining Ideas

My idea about ideas ... is that we burn them up too quickly. We get rid of them by immediately putting them into practice. We only know one thing to do with an idea: apply it; convert it into something usable. And it dies right there in the conversion. It loses its generative power.

This sterilizing of ideas happens often when I give a talk. Someone in the audience asks, "How does that work?" "Can you give an example?" These are questions from what's classically called the Practical Intellect, whereas my talk was ideational, another aspect of reason altogether.

... when a speaker puts out an idea and then answers a question about how it works, he or she is depriving the listener of the full impact of the idea and where it might carry the listener if pondered. My answer tends to channel the thought only in one direction, generally my direction.

Explain means to lay out flat.

Not only narrow/flattened - my answering means I'm doing the thinking for the questioner, whose job it is to start thinking, not asking. That's why she or he came to the talk in the first place. Again, it's that latent child in the head who believes himself, herself, unknowing (innocent), who asks questions and expects someone else to carry the work of thinking.

... where do you go to play with ideas? There is Church, where an idea may be presented to you in a sermon - more likely though, it's a judgment, not an idea. There is TV; on "60 Minutes" there may be three ideas, presented as pros and cons, as if the point of an idea were to force you into a choice. Newspaper editorials urge ideas onto you. But you aren't shown how to play with them. Where can we go to imagine an idea and move it further? In none of these places - Church, TV, Newspaper - do you let the idea swim way out and reel it back in again. You just don't relish the delight of the idea in itself.

... we don't have places for entertaining ideas. And that is precisely what we're supposed to do with an idea: entertain it. This means having respect for ideas in themselves: letting them come and go without demanding too much from them at first, like their origins (who said that first), their popularity (what if everybody thought that), their logic (but that doesn't fit with what you just said). Why can't they be a little crazy?

The media do not really favour ideas. They mix them with opinions. We have plenty of opinions on most everything - but opinions are personal. We get pugnacious. They involve belief. Ideas are much easier to live with; they don't ask to be believed in, and an idea doesn't belong to you even when you "have" one. You can become friends with an idea, and after a while it will show you more of itself, or you and it may get tired of each other and separate.

That word "entertain" means to hold in between. What you do with an idea is hold it between - between your two hands. On the one hand, acting or applying it in the world and on the other hand, forgetting it, judging it, ignoring it, etc. So when these crazy things come in come in on you unannounced the best you can do for them is to think them, holding them, turning them over, wondering awhile. Not rushing into practice. Not rushing into associations. This reminds of that: this is just like that. Off we go, away from the strange idea to things we already know. Not judging. Rather than judging them as good and bad, true or false, we might first spend a little time with them.

Putting the idea in practice stops the play of ideas, the entertainment from going on.

How else could we evaluate an idea? Is the idea fertile, fecund? Does it make you think? Is it surprising, shocking? Does it stop you from habits and bring a spark of reflection? Is it delightful to think it? Does it seem deep? Important? Needing to be told? Does it wear out quickly? Especially: What does the idea itself want from you, why in the world did it decide to light in your mind?

Pondering is an action of its own and keeps you holding the idea, from letting it go into other kinds of action before it is fully appreciated.

... ideas are not only things you can pick up and ponder. They also give you eyes, new ways of seeing things. Ideas are already operating in our perspectives, the way we look at things. We take our usual ideas for granted, and so, ideas have us rather then we have them.

For ideas to be therapeutic, that is, beneficial to the soul and body politic, they must gather into themselves, garnering force, building strength, like great movers of the mind's furniture, so that the space we inhabit is rearranged. Your thoughts, feelings, perceptions, memories have to move around in new ways, because the furniture has been moved.

A long-lasting idea, like a good poem or a strong character in a movie or a novel, continues to affect your practical life without ever having been put there. Ideas that live, live in us and through us into the world.

Viable ideas have their own innate heat, their own vitality. They are living things too. But first they have to move your furniture, else it is the same old you, with your same old habits trying to apply a new idea in the same old way. Then nothing happens except the loss of the idea as "impractical" because of your haste to make it "practical"

[James Hillman]
We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy - And the World's Getting Worse, p.142, 143, 144, 145, 146


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1 comment:

  1. [...] one can begin to detect with increasing certainty that Bion answers his questioners in a way so as to distract their attention, their focus, from what they believe they are asking by supplying a novel subject that is seemingly far removed from what the questioner thought he was asking.

    He [was] changing their view from certainty to uncertainty - so that they could thereupon come to be open to the spontaneously emerging unpredictable answer latent within them [...] Bion responds in such a way that the questioner unconsciously finds and becomes his own answer.

    [James S. Grotstein]
    A Beam of Intense Darkness, p.17