Today I heard Andy Puddicombe -- the Headspace founder who does the guiding -- talk about how thoughts are like a rainbow. Meaning, they are insubstantial, coming and going, while the "blue sky" of the mind is the ever-present backdrop to thoughts and feelings.
In We Are Not What We Do, Puddicombe says:
Sure, we have responsibility as to whether we choose to engage the thought and take it to the level of speech or action, but a thought is just a thought. It is like a rainbow in the sky... bright, colorful, amazing, inspiring, full of potential and yet, ultimately, there is nothing tangible there at all.
OK. I get his point.
A thought is just electro-chemical reactions. These are tangible. However, given the present state of neuroscience and brain imaging, it usually isn't possible for someone else to delve past the curtain of an individual's subjectivity and comprehend a thought.
(I said "usually," because intriguing research has begun to lift the veil on the general sorts of thoughts that are in a person's mind.)
However, when I pondered what Puddicombe said about thoughts being like a rainbow, I wanted to qualify that blanket statement. In truth, some thoughts are a lot more grounded than others.
Meaning, they point to something actually existent. I think about our dog, Zu Zu. The thought is admittedly intangible. But our dog is very substantial. Here she is, with my wife on a hike in central Oregon.
So a rainbow and our dog both can be seen. Both also can be thought about. But our dog exists whether or not someone is seeing her or thinking about her. A rainbow doesn't. There is nothing substantial at the end of a rainbow, where it seems to touch the ground.
By contrast, where our dog seems to touch the ground, she actually is.
Thus this is why I want to modify Puddicombe's rainbow metaphor. Some thoughts point to objectively existent realities. Other thoughts don't. While all thoughts are insubstantial, some are about tangible truths, and others aren't.
If we don't accept this distinction, we're left in a murky Alice in Wonderland world where "subjectivity" and "objectivity" lose all meaning.
Which brings me out of the realm of meditation and philosophy into politics and policy-making.
A few days ago, after another mass murder by a heavily-armed gunman, this time right here in Oregon, I wrote "More guns, more people killed by guns. It's obvious!" In part I said:
Facts are wonderful things. They can save lives. But this country keeps on ignoring facts about the relationship between gun ownership and gun deaths.
More guns, more deaths. That's a fact. Guns kill people. The more guns there are, the more people are killed.
Today Vox put up an informative piece, "Gun violence in America, in 17 maps and charts." Here's some of the disturbing key facts.
This led to some interactions with commenters on my blog post and associated Facebook post. It didn't come as a surprise to me that right-wing Tea Party types were dismissive of the facts that I shared.
Understand: they weren't my facts. They didn't reflect my personal thoughts.
They came from respected authorities who make it their business to keep track of statistics about gun ownership and gun deaths in various countries around the world, and various states in this country.
Yes, in a way every statement of a fact can be viewed as an insubstantial thought. This seems to be how those aforementioned conservative gun lovers saw my blog post: as an evanescent rainbow, intangible, insubstantial, inconclusive.
One local right-winger told me that he and I could talk forever about whose facts were right. I told him, no, you're wrong. We could honestly and openly examine those various facts. Then, some facts would turn out to be true and some wouldn't.
This reflected my proud liberal/progressive view that, as the saying goes...
Such seems unarguable to me. But, man, arguing with right-wing Tea Party types about gun violence sure leads me to believe that they would argue with the seemingly clear distinction between opinion and fact.
Which is a rainbow sort of worldview. Everybody has a different perspective on reality. What seems to exist from one standpoint doesn't exist from another standpoint. There is no way to decide which is more true: "More guns means more gun deaths" or "More guns means fewer gun deaths."
Yet actually, there is a way to arrive at the truth. This is the promise of science and the scientific method.
We aren't doomed to live in a world of truthiness, rather than truth. Thoughts may be mostly intangible, but reality isn't. Some thoughts are more true than others.