Thursday, March 18, 2010

Considering Power

Out of all the concepts we might employ when pondering human essence in contrast to any other species, we cite concepts like consciousness, language, art, tool use and the like. For me, the concept which has become perhaps my favorite is Consideration.

At first glance, consideration smacks- or rather touches upon- politeness. "One is to be considerate in the presence of their elders" Miss Manners would implore her pupil. Its etymology however, points to a realm of power not of domestication- that of being able to look down from the vantage point of the stars: com (con) is the prefix that denotes with, and sider comes from sidus, meaning heavenly body. I think this capability to shift our perspective to the vantage point of heavenly bodies, is an ability unique to Human Being, and perhaps forms the very basis of our experience of I-self, I-Thou, and broadly put, Subject-Object. Without our innate ability to consider, we couldn't transcend our biology and its singular drive toward biological success on biological terms. A grizzly bear will remain a grizzly bear because it has no way out of its literalness. The only way out of the bonds of literalness is the power of Consideration.

The poets of the Eden story described this ability to consider as being made in the image of GoD; on the seventh day of rest, only those who could consider were able to join GoD for a conversation, while everyone else merrily fulfilled their biological literalness (which is a different kind of satisfaction).

In the context of Evolution, I would put it this way: As Life pushes itself along the arrow of time, it pushes toward more complexity. And in the quest for survivability in nature, it evolves a pinnacle like the grizzly bear which is nature's version of a tank. But Nature continues its march toward complexity and reaches a different level of order that is a -whole something else- than a grizzly bear; a level of order we call Human being. What is this something else we embody that no other species does? I would vote that it's our ability to Consider.

So what shall we do with such power? Argue over how the power arises in the first place, or imagine together how we can put such power to work in the making of our world together?

Through our core ability to poise our looking from heavenly bodies, we can theorize about reality in frameworks of religion or science or any number of ways. But the funny thing about Consideration, what makes it so beguiling, is that after all the theorizing is done, and its dust has settled, we have to consider a fresh moment. All our frameworks can really do, is advise us: they can't consider in our stead. That is unless we abdicate our ability, and ride along like lemmings in a herd of ideologies. But if we surrender our identifying ability of consideration, do we also surrender our very Humanness? And what does such surrender engender?

It's natural to fear heights, and things don't get much higher than the heavenly bodies. What's the difference between thrilling and terrifying? I don't have a ready answer, but I do know that Consideration entails both.


  1. Con-sider. Perhaps, but I think this could also be taken as "be together with other stars". I suppose that a star does not think of itself as looking down, it looks within and it looks out, it does not have the down that rules us, though galaxies may rule it. When I con-sider you, I look outside myself at you, I think of what it might be like to be you, looking out at me, of my needs and of your needs and of what it is like to be together, I do not look down. When I con-sider a star, I do not have to look up.

  2. Peter, you say, "When I con-sider a star, I do not have to look up." Wow. That's just begging to be an epigraph some day.

    I also like the way you riff with the word consider. One of the characteristics of words that I find so appealing is the way they lend themselves to such riffing.

    I'm curious about your sense of considering and poetic thinking in light of your sense of measuring that entails from your work as a research physicist and model making.

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  4. (^Just wanted to fix a typo...)

    I always like to apply evolutionary principles to the human situation.

    We have certainly ascended out of the biological world into our own order, as you have put it. The pattern of increasing complexity seems to hold for our mental realm just as it does for the biological. And consideration is really a key principle that allows us to continue increasing in complexity and harmonization of our complexities.

    Alongside the stars...
    This could have so many implications.
    I think it implies a vantage point that is stretching towards something greater than human. It eliminates selfish human action but also any selfish perspective, even identifying as human. Through consideration, our identity associated with human needs disappears and we merge with the very act of consideration - subsisting as the energy it entails more so than as a physical being, for a short while at least. Or maybe a more accurate way to describe my chain of thought is simply identifying yourself in another being.

    Always grateful for your posts, Mike.

  5. Stephen, I especially like this:

    Through consideration, our identity associated with human needs disappears and we merge with the very act of consideration - subsisting as the energy it entails more so than as a physical being, for a short while at least.

    'Merging with the very act of consideration' is giving me so much to chew on, Stephen. Thank you.