Ah, my first blog post title inspired by David Hume, a philosopher whom I've only admired through the admiration of others, not directly through his writings.
Today I read Hume's ideas about the liveliness of sensual, emotional, and willful "impressions," which he contrasts with less lively "ideas."
Rings true to me.
I just got back from a late afternoon dog walk. The two family canines and I meandered along a path that leads across a creek, through some woods, and around a small lake. I always feel restored and rejuvenated when I go on this walk.
Because I'm focused mainly on sights and sounds, not thoughts and concepts. During much of the day my head is filled with a mixture of impressions and ideas that tilts more toward the "monkey mind" ideational side.
Hard to resist in our 21st century connected age.
The daily newspapers (we subscribe to both the Salem and Portland papers), Internet news, blog postings, Twitter feed, Facebook timeline, political talk on satellite radio -- all of this stimulates thoughts of irritation, worry, hope, satisfaction, impatience, concern, and other ideations.
I'm not being affected by what is right around me.
I'm getting signals from distant corners of the globe, telling me about stuff ("Immigration reform on Congress agenda this week!" "South Dakota passes stringent anti-abortion laws!" etc, etc, etc, etc.) that I'd be clueless about if all I knew was what my senses and emotions told me.
Now this wouldn't be how I'd want to live, clueless of what is happening in the world beyond my immediate surroundings.
But my daily dog walk reminds me of how unnatural so much of modern culture is, how it distances us from what evolution has attuned us to pay attention to (rustling in the brush, cries of birds flying overhead, fresh sprouts of vegetation springing up), and how important it is to focus on lively perceptions instead of deadening ideas.
On today's walk I looked down more than I ususally do.
I wanted to notice little things more than big things. Rather than gazing at the large firs and oaks beside the trail, I paid attention to the light green new-growth tendrils of ferns, tiny flowers in April bloom, the look and feel of roots that cross the path.
I didn't get any astounding insights. However, I enjoyed many sights that had largely escaped my notice on previous dog walks where the goings-on inside my head had occupied a larger share of my attention.
The here-and-now and there-and-then are both real, albeit in different ways. Attending to each is part of being human. Hume, though, reminds us that life is best lived as fully alive as possible.
Ideas aren't nearly as enlivening as perceptions.
By the term impression, then, I mean all our more lively perceptions, when we hear, or see, or feel, or love, or hate, or desire, or will. And impressions are distinguished from ideas, which are the less lively perceptions, of which we are conscious, when we reflect on any of those sensations or movements above mentioned.
...Nothing, at first view, may seem more unbounded that the thought of man, which not only escapes all human power and authority, but is not even restrained within the limits of nature and reality.
To form monsters, and join incongruous shapes and appearances, costs the imagination no more trouble than to conceive the most natural and familiar objects.
And while the body is confined to one planet, along which it creeps with pain and difficulty; the thought can in an instant transport us into the most distant regions of the universe; or even beyond the universe, into the unbounded chaos, where nature is supposed to lie in total confusion.
...In short, all the materials of thinking are derived either from our outward or inward sentiment: the mixture and composition of these belongs alone to the mind and will. Or, to express myself in philosophical language, all our ideas or more feeble perceptions are copies of our impressions or more lively ones.
There's nothing wrong with copies. But for a good part of the day, we should be occupied with originals. Look! They're all around you! And also... directly you.