Speed of Thought

Openness to new ideas or different perspectives is incompatible with fear. Fear tends to malignantly transform belief into certainty and opinion into fact. Though fear can provide a protective warning against danger, left unchecked, that protection can morph into paranoia. Paranoia supplies an endless supply of fuel for malignant transformations, enabling the erasure of the dividing lines between belief and fact, opinion and certainty. How, then, can useful, protective fear be prevented from making the transition to paranoia? Answers are hard to come by in turbulent times, when neither progressive nor conservative outlooks offer reliable shields against unfounded beliefs and flawed opinions. Especially in times of chaos, fierce intellectual independence—that treats claims and assertions from all quarters with healthy skepticism—provides a buffer between gullibility and disbelief. Independence tends to minimize bias, whereas both left-leaning and right-leaning perspectives, by nature, invite and celebrate bias (though usually while denying the existence of bias in their points of view). Realistically, though, unbiased perspectives exist only in fantasies; pure rationality is entirely theoretical. Independent thinkers are biased, but their biases are contextual, rather than universal. I might call myself an independent thinker, but whether I am biased to the left or right would depend on the context of an issue. Two independent thinkers might have diametrically opposed biases, of course, which would open each of them to being labeled with “left biases” or “right biased,” depending on the context of the issue in question. What does all this mean? It depends on one’s perspective.


Life’s difficult moments often summon conflicting emotions that, on the surface, may be difficult to understand. Beneath the surface, though, the conflicting emotions make sense; they acknowledge the connections between joy and sorrow, for example. Pain may arise from memories of joyous occasions that are no longer possible. But pleasurable memories of joyous occasions can keep the pain in check. Emotions, both positive and negative, help define humanity. We can be happy and sad at the same time for the same reason. Complexity, too, helps define the nature of our existence.


I wish I could record my thoughts at the same speed at which they occur. Second best would be the ability to “play back” my thoughts so I could capture my thinking. Unfortunately, I can remember details of only a tiny fraction of my thoughts, so my records of what I was thinking at any given moment are, at best, incomplete. A ten-minute musing might cover a ten-year period of time. Though much of the memory of that musing is inconsequential, some of it—which I never can fully remember—is vital to a story I want to write or tell. In some cases, I manufacture something (often completed unrelated to the forgotten moments) to replace the lost thoughts. But the replacements are never as satisfying as were the missing pieces. I have tried to record my voice, which covers far more ground in the same amount of time than does typing, but I cannot speak fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. The result often is an incoherent set of mumblings whose only practical use might be as evidence in a court mental commitment proceeding. Such is life. On a scale of one to ten, the importance of my inability to record my thoughts as fast as they occur would fall somewhere somewhere between minus one hundred thousand and minus ninety-nine thousand.


Rain. Again. I love rain; I do. But I prefer it to stop when I want to go outside. Rain either doesn’t hear my wishes or it doesn’t care. So I sit at my desk, late in the morning, engaging in slovenly behavior. Take the world as it comes. Excluding the violence, famine, disease, hatred, pain, natural disasters, poverty, paralyzing fear, and everything else that infringes on the comfort and happiness of all the beings in the universe in which we live. Fantasy. Pure, irrational fantasy.


Another visit with the oncologist this afternoon. Between now and then, I need to go to the pharmacy, etc. to pick up prescriptions and supplies. And I should eat something. And, before I venture out into this rainy weather, I should try to accept the world as it is.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Speed of Thought

  1. Thank you, Trish. I’m glad it “struck a chord.” 🙂

  2. Trisha says:

    I don’t mind saying that I absolutely love this post of yours, John. Stuck some fine notes inside of me, and I thank you.

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