January 09

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Riding the Currents on the Ocean of Mind

I can describe the beautiful image that built in my mind as I read John Dewey’s book “Experience and Nature” by describing a vision of reality as currents in the ocean of mind. Think of mind as an ocean and within that ocean there are currents. Now imagine that there are objects floating on the surface of the ocean. The objects represent people and the direction that the objects will float in over the surface of the ocean will be determined by which current they get caught in.

The objects get swept into one current and get carried along for a while in one direction. Then another current picks them up and sweeps them off in a different direction. You might see different objects get swept along by different currents in different directions and as the currents change direction the movement of the objects also changes direction.

You can’t really see an ocean current. (Let’s for the moment not count waves and ripples and assume the currents are very slow and not really visible.) When you see the patterns that get traced out by the objects floating on the surface of the water you know the currents are there. This is very similar to the magnetic field that surrounds a magnet. You can’t see a magnetic field, but if you pour out iron filings around the magnet the iron filings will arrange themselves along the lines of force of the magnetic field. The movement of the iron filings allows you to “see” the magnetic field.

This is how I believe John Dewey saw the mind. It is not something that exists in people’s heads. It is an ocean with currents in it or a magnetic field with lines of force. We only see the currents in the ocean of mind by seeing the direction that people’s actions take them. When you see someone going to work every day you realize that “going-to-work-every-day” is a current in the ocean of mind and that many people are caught in that current. (I don’t intend to place a value judgment on working it just happens to be an obvious current that we are all familiar with.)

As I began to describe in my last few posts, the currents of mind take the form of ideas (mental objects) that have meaning associated with them. Ideas act as signs or pointers that direct us towards certain possible outcomes. The idea “job” points to the possibility of working for a living. The idea “responsibility” might also point in the same direction and reinforce the idea of “job.” The ideas that we hold are all pointers, they are currents in the ocean of mind. We all know that if you hold onto an idea that idea can easily sweep you up and lead you to actions and possible futures.

I believe that John Dewey saw ideas as currents in mind that carry us in different directions. In this he is very much following in the footsteps of one of his mentors and friends William James. Look at all of the ideas that are always swimming around in your head (I am using the phrase figuratively not literally) and notice how they have an energy to them that point towards and even compel you towards different possible actions that will lead to different possible futures. If you were not aware of any ideas at all, what would happen to you? How would you behave?

Allow yourself to get a sense of the fluid liquid ocean of ideas that we are all swimming in. Get a sense of how it is sweeping you along, pushing you in this direction, carrying you in that one. We are like objects floating on an ocean of ideas, but we are not passive. We create the ideas and adjust the ideas. We change our minds; we have some ideas that tell us to do one thing, some ideas that tell us to do the opposite and still other ideas that decide between the two. We float on the ocean currents and get swept away by them and we create and alter the currents in the ocean that we float on. By changing our ideas, we can change the direction that our energy and our actions will take us in. Changing our ideas will change the future.