Thinking About Thinking - 2019

The Sensei of Non-sense

By Balaji Prasad

“The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you." ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson

Words don't matter. Even though, our world is filled with words.

It is not easy to see through a black cloud when it is all around you. Even worse, when it is all inside you, swirling around with every breath you take, and with every thought you shake. The representations that you form inside you come from representations outside you, and these “things" become the things in your world. In such a world, black can become white, and white can become black. The world is suddenly turned upside down, with you hanging onto a word here, and a word there, trying your best not to fall off and hurtle into space, as you watch, with dismay, as your world of words disintegrates into smoke, at the very time you need it to stay still. Into a meaningless blur.

Meaning: The mother of all meanings

Man is in search of meaning, they say. Whoever this “they" are, they are a fairly influential group. I must confess that I have never met these folks, but do have healthy respect for the influence that they seem to wield over the thinking of millions of people. Regardless of the degree of respect that you are willing to accord the creators of these kinds of things, “meaning" is here to stay. You will just have to deal with it – in one way or another.

Why is this “meaning" thing accepted so easily? Isn't “meaning" itself just a word that is used to stuff a lot of things into – things that the poor word was never intended for originally? Be that as it may, meaning has acquired a certain meaning, a status, a gravitas. It cannot be easily dismissed. We must come to terms with the fact that cats and dogs and people sit alongside this thing called meaning. Not only that, cats and dogs and people pale in significance compared to this thing that we have created with our minds – a thing that has more meaning than things that you would think should have more meaning.

It gets worse. If you accept it, “meaning" is an overarching idea that rules over every other idea that you have – or will – ever come across. Not only does the word “meaning" need to mean something, but also so does every word and expression that you use. Meaning is the mother of all meanings!

Sense and sensibility

“Things have to make sense!" you say to yourself, and, by golly, you will! It doesn't matter how long it takes, or how many square pegs you damage as you try to get them to fit into round holes. All you know is that you are committed to making things make sense, and you will make them make sense, come hell or high water!

It feels great when things make sense. The birds sing, the bees buzz, and the brook warbles gently, soothing your ears. The world is all right, you are too, and everything is in unison with everything else.

Until it all goes helter-skelter suddenly, and, without the least warning! The world falls to pieces.

Maybe “sense" is a mere serf to the tyrant that is “sensibility"? Maybe that is what really matters to us, much of the time: that things should feel good, and that they should appeal to our “sensibilities"? If feeling good is what we are after, then is it possible that we use our words as intoxicants that waft us up into a smoke-filled, dream world that gives us pleasure, while the real world goes on, on its parallel track, undisturbed by our indulgence in fantasies?

The beauty of “sense" is that it can mean whatever you wish it to mean. We only have to see what our politicians see as sensible, to understand this: what makes perfect sense to a Democrat is complete nonsense to a Republican, and vice-versa. So, one person's sense is another's nonsense.

Non-sense is not Nonsense

Since we cannot always rely on our sense, underpinned by sensibility, as the arbiter of truth, we may need to look elsewhere if the goal is to get anything more than an illusory feeling. So, if “sense" won't oblige, where do we look? Non-sense, of course!

Non-sense encompasses all the things that sense includes, and beyond: The whole picture. But clearly, we can't get a sense for something that is beyond sense. That would defeat the purpose of wanting to go beyond sense, and it would turn non-sense too into nonsense. We certainly don't want that!

How do we grasp something that is beyond sense? The answer to this may not be pleasing. Maybe we cannot! After all, we know that there are things that are definitely beyond us. For example, we cannot wrap our arms around the earth. We accept that. Can we also not accept that we cannot wrap our minds around the universe? That may not make sense, but it can take us to a better place: non-sense.

The Sensei of non-sense

The only way to go beyond sense is, maybe, to go beyond our own selves. If we have habituated ourselves into “making sense" out of everything, we are likely to be in our own way. Getting out of one's own way is hard. Really hard! Some players on the field attain this when they are “in the zone" – it is just the ball, the field and the goal; there is no “I". If one can engage with one's reality in this manner, the universe changes. But it requires the discipline of a grandmaster – a Sensei. A Sensei of non-sense.


Balaji Prasad is an IIT/IIM graduate, a published author, SAT/ACT Online and Offline Coach, interview, resume, and career coach at NewCranium. Contact: 704.746.9779 or