I was teaching a friend the amazing game of “Go” (“WeiQi” in Chinese). In the game, the principle of “life and death” is crucial, and my friend was having trouble seeing if his group of stones had the potential to live through a battle. I pointed out to him, that, in this game, a player must learn to look at the empty spaces and not just look the stones themselves. Seeing-the-empty-spaces is a skill required to progress in WeiQi. Below I give an example.
|Here is an example puzzle:
White is to kill Black’s stones.
The untrained eye will only focus on
the Black & White stones
|But the simplicity of the problem
is revealed when, White looks at
Black’s empty spaces (red)
and ignores Black’s stones.
Being an accomplished trumpet player, my friend immediately understood and related this WeiQi principal to what he had learned about Jazz. To illustrate, he told me a Jazz story — he carefully warned me that it may be apocryphal – but it makes the point.
Apparently, as a young hot shot, Wynton Marsalis was already technically an unsurpassed trumpet player who could play crazy runs and riffs. But one of his mentors, Stanly Crouch, told Marsalis that his Jazz was soulless. Crouch quoted Miles Davis saying, “Jazz is the notes you don’t play“. Marsalis took his mentor’s teaching to heart and became one of the world’s most accomplished trumpet players.
This parallel between the Jazz principle of silence (notes-unplayed) and the WeiQi principle of seeing-the-empty-space was crystal clear to my friend. I feel that a Meta-Thought informed both principles in my friend’s mind. This seeing-the-empty-space idea is can be further illustrated as an element in the Japanese aesthetic principle of Wabi-Sabi. My point is that seeing/hearing/feeling the empty space is a deep principle that informs diverse areas. I call that deep principle “Meta-Thought”.
Another example of Meta-Thought happens in language. I often, when speaking in English, I have ideas that pop into my head that first find expression in Japanese rather than English even though I am also speaking to an English speaker. I then have to struggle to get the idea out of Japanese and into English (which can look awkward :-) ). Similarly, sometimes while thinking about a philosophical idea, a WeiQi pattern floats into my head to express the thought before I can put it into philosophical terms. I remember when this first happened because I thought I was just daydreaming about WeiQi until I realized that my mind was floundering to express a Meta-Thought using WeiQi patterns.
In my vocabulary, “Meta-Thought” is what lies behind thought. Meta-Thought gives birth to expression. Meta-Thought grabs vehicles to express itself while it is forming. Thus, the same Meta-Thought could be expressed in music, in WeiQi, in a computer program, in a sculpture, in a mathematical express or in a dance. People fluent in two or more creative expression styles often have that amazing experience of feeling the simultaneous expressions from a common Meta-Thought. I think that the epiphany of Meta-Thought is captured in part of what E.O.Wilson’s wrote in his book, “Conscilience“.
To me, Meta-Thought is the complex relationships of impressions and feelings that create our thoughts — it is the EN of thought.
Why write about this? I think Meta-Thoughts also inform our theologies and philosophies. Thus, though two people may have different theologies or philosophies, with careful observations we can sometimes reveal similar Meta-Thought informing both of these apparently diverse expressions. For me, the principal of Meta-Thought is key to fruitful religious dialogue. Even in the extreme, I feel that an Atheist and a Theist could each have very similar Meta-Thoughts informing large swatches of their apparently contradictory worldviews.
Note: I am sure others have said something like this before me and so I have probably made up a term when I don’t need to. So if the reader knows of these, please let me know. In linguistics, perhaps my “Meta-Thought” is similar to the concept of Mentalese and in Philosophy of Mind, perhaps it is similar to the Language of Thought Hypothesis. I am, however, not at all familiar with all subtle analytic pros and cons of these positions. My Meta-Thought metaphor is simple but it has served as a good model for me to understand my mind. I’d love to hear your thoughts.