At the first, a working definition of sanity must be presented:
“The state of sound mental and emotional faculties which allow for a rationalistic, logical and keenly-attuned awareness and interaction with one’s inner and outer environments.”
Most of us would probably confirm that we are, indeed, sane. We live in a world governed essentially by science and rationale. We know how to get from A to B, can create goals and end-states for ourselves, then build a plan to get us there step by step. We know that we have the capacity to follow said plan and to eventually achieve our goals. Such is the mundane orientation of a life disciplined. What happens, however, when we no longer feel like implementing step “2.4.1” of our Master Plan? Perhaps a better question might be, “Why do we find ourselves not always following-through?”
There are many answers to such a question. This article will not investigate those as motivational and anti-procrastination advice is widespread, repetitive and cheap (for instance). Here we will assume a number of reasons for the question to be any combination of the following and then some:
- We discovered something else we’d rather do.
- We decided our original plan was too difficult and gave up.
- We became overwhelmed by our responsibilities in the “real world”.
- Some other force beyond our control (circumstance, person or situation) prevented us from moving forward.
- We simply changed our minds.
The list continues, of course, but the relevant discussion for us now is to understand the nature of these reasons. What do such reasons ultimately mean for us? Some may immediately suggest they are merely excuses; “Winners never quit, and quitters never win”, for instance. This is actually a great example of why answering “Yes” or “No” to the question “Are you sane?” is actually quite un-sane.
Exposing duality as un-sane (or at least too reductionistic to be considered helpful)
Science has taught us a method of thinking and reasoning that is both profound and dangerous. Perhaps the power of the scientific method is its Achille’s Heel. After all, many powerful experiences in life seem to carry the double-edge sword phenomenon: Currently in love? You now have heartbreak as a potential fallout. Climbing the corporate ladder? Mind the increased work stress and competition (or resentment) from your colleagues. In using the scientific method, we have learned to isolate and control for variables. Medicine uses double-blind studies to test for and against the Placebo Effect. Physicists rigorously test through practically innumerable iterations in an attempt to eliminate – or at least reduce as much as possible – the number of variables that might influence an experiment, potentially rendering the results inconclusive or outright faulty.
This entire approach is built upon a reductionist methodology. It has to be, in fact. Too many variables exist in order for science to have achieved the level of progress that it has without first removing them from the equation.
However, I’m suggesting here that the reductionist method of viewing a scenario in order to arrive at a concrete conclusion cannot be adequately applied to human behavior including motivations, thought processes, emotional patterns and inter-personal relationships.
While this statement may be immediately agreeable upon first exposure to it, I urge the reader to consider it more thoroughly by applying it to observed, daily living.
Returning to the axiom stated earlier (“Winners never quit, and quitters never win”) we can now see how this is perhaps a reductionistic view that does not provide much assistance or insight. One limitation – and in no way is this the least significant – is the definition of the term “win”. Right away, we’ve found ourselves in a state of conjecture. For what one person claims is success another may not. Furthermore, even if I define success for myself, and then fail to achieve this (ahem, self-defined) success, the failure is actually just a construct of my own mind. In other words, I originally defined it which means I’m free to re-define it anytime and in any way I see fit.
Let’s briefly explore a basic example: Perhaps a “failed marriage” actually yields a “successful” development in the inter-personal relationship capabilities of both persons. Perhaps one of these persons continually views their divorce as a failure (even despite their lessons learned) while the other considers it a necessary step in their personal growth and development. Which is correct? The answer is subjective and personal. If the former maintains their perspective that their divorce is simply “bad”, that’s their right (although we can see how they are over-simplifying the situation). The latter person may not rejoice over the divorce, per se, but may come to understand how it was a necessary step in their learning process. They may even come to recognize that they needed the marriage, the struggles within it, and the subsequent divorce in order to achieve that growth.
I’m going insane, how does this relate to sanity?
The argument I’m presenting is that sanity looks beyond the surface of any given situation. Sanity recognizes that everything in life is filled with nuance and subtle contours that shape each experience uniquely, and in a particular time-space continuum. Physics has taught us the value of recognizing time-space as a singular measurement which helps to simplify a number of complex theories [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spacetime]. The question is not “What is it?” but “What is it at this time?” Sanity encourages present time-space awareness. It can look to the core duality, and then extrapolate layers of sophisticated potentialities that fill the infinite space between the set. It is this ability to comprehend and see the layers of possibilities and probabilities that define sanity. Learning to apply it to our understanding of ourselves, others and our environment can go a long way in developing a civilization full of meaning, texture and sanity.