The human mind can be a powerful tool for good, but only if you know how to use it.

This quote from “The Trivium” has been rattling around in my head lately:

Only human beings have the power of intellectual abstraction; therefore, only human beings can form a general or universal concept. Irrational animals have the external and internal senses, which are sometimes keener than those of humans. But because they lack the rational powers (intellect, intellectual memory, and free will), they are incapable of progress or of culture. Despite their remarkable instinct , their product ions, intricate though they may be, remain the same through the centuries, for example: beaver dams, bird nests, ant hills, beehives.
It occurs to me that this ability of abstraction is both a blessing and a curse.  As Sr. Joseph rightly points out in the quote above, the ability of the human mind to observe the world around them and then to create general concepts/ideas about the way things work is the basis of all culture and progress – language, science, the arts, etc.  That’s the blessing part.
The curse comes not from the ability to form these concepts, but rather how we use them; specifically how we deal with the inevitable conflicts or inconsistencies between the models we have developed based on prior observations and an observation we make after the models have been created that doesn’t fit the model.  In other words, we think the world should work a specific way, but then we see it actually working another.  The question is what wins: how the world is actually working or our concept of how it “should” work? If the answer is the real world and that we need to adjust our concepts, then all is good.  If the answer is our concepts, then we quickly end up in all sorts of bad places: stereotypes, racism, collectivism – all of which stem from us forcing our ideas onto how the people in the world should behave instead of observing what is really happening.
The human mind can be a powerful tool for good, but only if you know how to use it.






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