Calculative Thinking and Meditative Thinking

This is from Martin Heidegger’s Discourse on Thinking, in the book Existentialism, pages 151-152.

This so easy to understand that anyone could benefit from reading it. Why isn’t everyone doing so? There are lots of reasons, but the one Heidegger gives is the flight from thinking – something I have noticed myself. One of the commandments of our time seems to be: thou shalt not think. He says:

This flight-from-thought is the ground of thoughtlessness. But part of the flight is that man will neither see nor admit it. Man today will even flatly deny this flight from reasoning. He will assert he opposite. He will say – and quite rightly – that there were at no time such far-reaching plans, so many inquiries in so many areas, research carried on as passionately as today. Of course. And this display of ingenuity and deliberation has its own great usefulness. Such thought remains indispensable. But – it also reamains true that it is thinking of a special kind.

Its peculiarity consists in the fact that whenever we plan, research, and organize, we always reckon with conditions that are given. We take them into account with the calculated intention of their serving specific purposes. This we can count on definite results. This calculation is the mark of all thinking that plans and investigates. Such thinking remains calculation even if it neither works with numbers nor uses an adding machine or computer. Calculative thinking never stops, never collects itself. Calculative thinking is not meditative thinking, not thinking which contemplates the meaning which reigns in everything that is.

There are, then, two kinds of thinking, each justified and needed in its own way: calculative thinking and meditative thinking.

Meditative thinking is what we have in mind when we say that contemporary man is in flight from thinking.

I agree wholeheartedly. When I try to explain the difference between the two, I say ordinary thinking cannot arrive at the basics of experience (which makes no sense if you do not meditate yourself). Which is precisely why people don’t want to do it – they don’t want to know what is really going on.

This fits in with McGilchrist’s left-hemisphere mode of thinking and right-hemisphere mode of thinking – my basic text.

Understanding this difference, in my opinion, is the most important task of our time. We have no end of solutions for everything under the sun, but unless we understand how we are thinking about our problems, we are wasting our time – and our precious lives.


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