Thinking About Thinking - 2017


Thinking Pointlessly

By Balaji Prasad

“No finite point has meaning
Without an infinite reference point."
~ Jean-Paul Sartre

When you have two points in space, you can draw a line between them. You can start at point A, and draw the line toward point B. Or, if you prefer, you can do it the other way. Either way, the line that you draw looks the same. This is all wonderful, when you have two real points. But what if one or both of these points are not real? We have infinite imagination, and can see points where there are none, and fail to see points where there are points, as we fixate on points that do not exist.

Is there a point or not?

The point is that the act of thinking cannot be separated from the sensing of some “real" world that is out there. The only real world that we see, feel and hear is the one that is populated by things that we did not originate, intermixed with things that we did. And, it is quite difficult to tell them apart. If we knew which points are real and which ones are imaginary, we could live a bit closer to the reality. Things that are real seem to obey some physical laws, such as those codified by people like Newton, Einstein and such. Our lives would be so much more predictable, if we always lived on the side that seems to be somewhat independent of our imaginative minds. But since there is no line that divides sanity from insanity, perhaps we are doomed to a less-than-sane existence. We cannot live in the real world. Each of us can only live in our real world: Our very own, personal and unique “real world".

Are there only real things and imaginary things?

Maybe this is a bit more complex. There are points that clearly seem to have an existence of their own, and there are points that clearly seem to spring up from inside us that seem to have little to do with anything out there. But there are also points that straddle the two worlds of reality and imagination – points that might exist, but might not. And, maybe, there are many shades of these betwixt-the-worlds points, ranging from those that are well on the side of imagination to those that are deep into real world space.

When there are so many points, and you have a pencil, can you resist the temptation to draw?

Drawing lines is an endless pursuit

We human beings are a creative lot. We draw lines between points all the time, no matter whether the point is a real one, imaginary one, or one that is a mashup of the two flavors of the universe. Baskin Robbins has only thirty-one flavors, but we have an infinity of them.

If there are indeed so many points, imagine the number of lines that can be drawn between points!

Two points yield a single line. Three of them can produce three lines. Four points hold the potential for six lines to be drawn. If we had eight points to play with, we can draw twenty-eight lines between them. As the number of points increases, the number of lines increases even more.

Drawing lines could be meaningless

When we have so many points to choose from, not to mention that we can fabricate our own points out of thin air, when we feel the urge to do so, we can spend our lives drawing all kinds of lines. When a line is drawn between two points that do not exist, it would be fair to say that the line drawn between those points also does not exist. What about a line drawn between points that may or may not exist – the ones we talked about earlier that have one leg in the real world, and the other in the imaginary one? Does that line exist, or like the points that make it up, should it be seen as a line that might exist, but then again, might not?

Why do we draw lines, when surely, we know, somewhere within us, that the lines may be meaningless? – meaningless, in the sense that it is something that exists in the mind, but not necessarily in the real world? Maybe that is the nature of the beast? That is who we are? We draw not because we must, but because we can? Maybe we are programmed by some force within us to draw, draw and draw, until death do us part.

Meaning: It's all about me!

It is an ironic twist of language that the word, “meaning", begins with “me". In a world with so much in it that is filled with sense and nonsense, whatever I sketch out is uniquely mine. Everything is meaningful as long as there is a “me" attached to it. It only needs to make sense to me, “sense" being a fairly arbitrary idea that enables me to unilaterally and regally declare something to be sense, and something else to be nonsense.

So we draw, and draw, and draw. Life goes on. Occasionally, the artist stops and ponders what he or she drew, and where on earth all these things came from! But it doesn't matter. Drawing is what we do. There is only one problem.

Time is limited; lines are not!

Our imagination is vast, but our time in this world is not. We can draw all kinds of lines. But if we could channelize our energy into things that exist, maybe we would be more in harmony with the universe that is much larger than the “me" we feel? Maybe if our art mimics life, we wouldn't feel so distant from the birds and trees and the gentle breeze? If we took the “me" out of “meaning", and looked for something outside, something that could even be “real", would our lives be the better for it? Is it possible for there to be less of me, and more of it?

Life can be full of points, but it is not necessary to draw lines between points that are all inside me. Those points are pointless. Any lines I draw between those are pointless too. There is a whole world out there, and it is beautiful. If I can draw outside the lines that I have allowed to define something called “me", maybe that's when I become a real artist. Maybe when things become pointless, that's when the magic starts. Maybe. What do you think?