A Legacy of “The Non-Rational”

Surrealist painting img

The “Non-Rational” Is Not “Irrational”

One of my brightest and most open friends sent me this guidance “A Father’s Legacy”:

“I’ve always prided myself on my rationality and the scientific world view means a lot to me. What allowed me to embrace the importance of the non-rational was that it had strong rational support in cognitive science. Leaving this aspect out would lessen the relevance of this subject to people like me.”

Thanks, Mark – I imagine many others share your perspective, so I’ll take your guidance as we begin…

Let’s think in terms of “The Rational,” “The Non-Rational” and “The Irrational.” We each have experience in all three. To me, “The Rational” means the world in which I can see linear cause and effect at work and generally use logic to figure out how to get from here to there. In “The Non-Rational World” I rarely can understand or explain precisely how I know or achieve what I do, but the process works at least as well as my rational one. In “The Irrational” world things are just nuts and nothing works or makes sense. I don’t recommend it.

But I do recommend using more of the non-rational abilities we all have and have been brain-washed to believe are silly – if not actually dangerous.

Let me be clear that I highly value my rationality. I use it all the time, and it has added greatly to my life. But reason, logic, rational understanding and articulation are not all there is “in heaven and earth.”

Our species originally operated using mostly instinct, intuition and other skills we don’t access so easily today. We did some good work with our non-rational abilities early on, but our lack of balancing rationality led us into some very bizarre activities like inquisitions, blood sacrifice, slavery, war and believing we could satisfy our deepest needs with things.

In the 21st century we’ve replaced the early skills of instinct, intuition and revelation with an over-reliance on logic, numbers and material production. This has improved our physical standard of living, but we’ve lost important parts of ourselves by devaluing the non-rational as “primitive.”

For the 7+ decades I’ve been around, my environment has insisted I develop my rational self and skills while simultaneously ridiculing my non-rational self and its abilities. There’s no question we needed to greatly develop language, logic and linear problem solving, but it has been costly to flip-flop from one form of lop-sidedness to another. Throwing out the baby with the bath water, like most forms of black-and-white, “Either/Or” thinking is an obsolete human habit it’s time to reprogram. Fortunately we are.

Brain research in the 60’s and 70’s began to question this imbalance with its discoveries that the two hemispheres of our brains seemed to perform different functions. In most people, the left hemisphere was the home our more rational abilities and the right housed the non-rational. More research with tools like the MRI has found the brain to be more complex and the “left-right” metaphor overly simplistic. But that image, like the beginnings of many new theories, was a useful step and helped many begin to open to the need for synergy between the rational and non-rational.

My hope in creating this “father’s legacy” is that it may help many, especially our children, realize the promise of their wholeness sooner than Mark and I did.

Places You Could Go Next…

STORY:Just Go…” describes an early attempt to develop both the rational and non-rational potentials in my 9th grade students. We called it “the Media Program” and are gathering to celebrate its 43rd anniversary this year…

ACTIVITY:Stream Your Consciousness” is an easy, fast exercise you can use at any time to see your own unconscious at work. Just click the link and follow the simple podcast instructions(NYA)

THEORY: There is a great deal of recent “rational” support for this re-thinking of how much more we are in David Brooks’ The Social Animal, Kristin Neff’s Self Compassion and Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius. Here are others that have meant much to me over time…

Capra’s The Tao of Physics

  • What do Physics and Mysticism have in common?

Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living  

  • Overcoming stress, pain, and illness…

Bach’s Illusions

  • A fantasy I’ve learned is true and useful…

Ram Dass’ Be Here Now

  • I found this in 1971 and am thankful still…