The Life
of the Mind
The Life
of the Mind
The Life
of the Mind

    As Plato and other Perennialists indicate, the life of the mind--a life of thought, emotion, and sensation within the terrestrial realm--differs essentially from the life of the soul--a life of "light and splendor" separate from the body in which we commune with Higher Beings within the supersensible domain.

"When I enter the world of the mind, thought veils that light and splendour from me and I am left wondering how I have fallen from that lofty and divine place and am come to the place of thought, when my soul once had the power to leave her body behind and return to herself and rise to the world of mind and then to the divine world until she entered the place of splendour and light, which is the cause of all light and splendour. Wonderful it is too how I have seen my soul filled with light, while she was still in my body like her appearance, not leaving it."

The Theology of Aristotle, referring to Plato's mystical experiences 1

   Both Plato and Iamblicus--a major Neo-Platonist--indicate that the ultimate purpose for which humans are created is to attain a life of the soul in which we commune with advanced humans on the terrestrial plain and with Higher Beings in the supersensible realm.

"The end for which man was created was to achieve communion with the Higher Powers above the terrestrial realm, through the light and spirit of the Divine, the wings of the soul. That ought to be man's aim in the acquisition of knowledge."

Plato, Theaetetus

"There is another ultimate underlying potency (àρχñ) of the soul which is superior to the whole realm of nature and generated existence. Through it we are enabled to attain communion with the superior intelligences, of being transported beyond the scenes and arrangements of this world, and of partaking of the Life Eternal and the higher powers of the heavenly ones. Through this capability we are able to set ourselves free from the domination of Fate, and are made, so to speak, the arbiters of our own destinies. For, when the more excellent parts of us become filled with energy, and the soul is exalted to communion with superior beings, then it becomes separate altogether from those conditions which keep it under the dominion of the present every-day life of the world, exchanges the present for another life, gives itself to a different order, and abandons the conventional habits belonging to the external order of things, to enter and mingle itself with the order which pertains to the higher life."

Iamblicus (250-325 CE), The Egyptian Mysteries

   Though the life of the soul is of supreme importance to our being (terrestrial and supersensible), the life of the mind is transcendent, magical, and full of delights as well. The mind is, in essence, an aspect of the soul. The life of the mind is an aspect of the life of the soul. We have examined the life of the soul in an earlier series of essays. In this essay we will concentrate on the life of the mind.

The Life of the Mind

   The life of the mind is a special mode of Platonic dialectical interchange. A person can experience this life by himself or herself in inner dialectic, but it is most complete and productive when it is an aspect of a genuine relationship between philosophers (lovers and seekers of wisdom, terrestrial and supersensible).

   If you are fortunate enough to have a shared life of the mind with another person or persons, you find the other persons' understanding, ideas, creations, and actions exciting, extraordinarily meaningful, inciteful, and challenging. Through sharing a life of the mind you come to know that the other persons possesses or will gain genuine understanding of whatever phenomena you discuss or explore, that their understanding will be correct 2 and compatible (not necessarily identical) with yours.

   Plato's concept of dialectic (dialektos) refers to the activation of inspiration through reciprocal interchange between persons, aspects of a person, or between a mortal person and spiritual beings. The extraordinary elements Plato introduces in our understanding of dialectic are: seeing dialectic as the only acquired ability capable of discerning Forms, locating dialectic both in outer discourse and in inner dialogue, and seeing dialectic as interchange between carnate and discarnate (Higher) beings.

   The consummate life of the mind occurs when the engagement in dialectical interchange between two or more genuine philosophers becomes an ongoing way of life. The life of the mind becomes a crucial element of their relationship, deepening their affection and regard for one another.

   To say that the life of the mind is a rare phenomenon is a vast understatement. I know of only one contemporary instantiation of this phenomenon. Few people today (less than .0001% of the world population I would estimate) are sufficiently intellectually, morally, and socially developed to the point of making the life of the mind possible for them. We're fortunate to have prime examples of this way of being in Plato's dialogues, so we can be sure that Plato and Socrates shared a life of the mind. This way of being was shared by Plato and some of his students, and by other Perennialists.

Prerequisites and Aspects of the Life of the Mind

  A life of the mind, engaged in by two or more persons, requires that all participants have achieved specific capabilities:
  • The ability to understand what true understanding is, as opposed to dogmatic belief

  • An understanding that a life of the mind differs from mere blather 3

  • An authentic interest in and a search for truth, understanding, and wisdom
  A good illustration of blather pretending to be a meaningful part of a true life of the mind is this article: The Life of the Mind: A Reading of Barton Fink.

  The article begins with the pretention that the movie is a complex, meaningful piece of subtle artwork: "Its [the movie's] subtext is so deep, that it's impossible to say that it has one overriding meaning...." Even the author of the article seems to realize that he's spouting nonsense, when he admits that the movie and the movie's "hero," Barton Fink, is, in essence twattle: "It's simply that Barton is a hypocritical, self-important writer living in Hollywood next door to a psychopathic serial killer."

  One of the many destructive elements of capitalism is its ongoing decimation of the public life of the mind which is a part of a truly democratic polity. In the world today there is still an impetus toward true democracy, a yearning and striving for a common, rational, mutual regard for one another. Capitalism places all emphasis on and supports only the wealthy, those whose only regard is for money and status, those wholly incapable of any genuine life of the mind, because they have no mind, only the calculations of profit by their brains.

Illustrations of the Inner Life of the Mind from the Poetry of Emily Dickenson

    The Soul selects her own Society -
    Then - shuts the Door -
    To her Divine Majority -
    Present no more -

    Unmoved - she notes the Chariots - pausing -
    At her low Gate -
    Unmoved - an Emperor be kneeling
    Upon her Mat -

    I've known her - from an ample nation -
    Choose One -
    Then - close the Valves of her attention -
    Like Stone -

    The Soul's Superior instants
    Occur to Her - alone -
    When friend - and Earth's occasion
    Have infinite withdrawn -

    Or She - Herself - ascended
    To too remote a Height
    For lower Recognition
    Than Her Omnipotent -

    This Mortal Abolition
    Is seldom - but as fair
    As Apparition - subject
    To Autocratic Air -

    Eternity's disclosure
    To favorites - a few -
    Of the Colossal substance
    Of Immortality

Illustrations of the Inner Life of the Mind from the Poetry of W.B. Yeats

O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,

Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,

How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Illustrations of the Inner Life of the Mind from an Essay by Wallace Stevens

". . .Poetry has to do with reality in that concrete and individual aspect of it which the mind can never tackle altogether on its own terms, with matter that is foreign and alien in a way in which abstract systems, ideas in which we detect an inherent pattern, a structure that belongs to the ideas themselves, can never be. It is never familiar to us in the way in which Plato wished the conquests of the mind to be familiar. On the contrary its function, the need which it meets and which has to be met in some way in every age that is not to become decadent or barbarous is precisely this contact with reality as it impinges on us from the outside, the sense that we can touch and feel a solid reality which does not wholly dissolve itself into the conceptions of our own minds. It is the individual and particular that does this. And the wonder and mystery of art, as indeed of religion in the last resort, is the revelation of something 'wholly other' by which the inexpressible loneliness of thinking is broken and enriched. To know facts as facts in the ordinary way has, indeed, no particular power or worth. But a quickening of our awareness of the irrevocability by which a thing is what it is, has such power, and it is, I believe, the very soul of art. But no fact is a bare fact, no individual is a universe in itself.

"The 'something said' is important, but it is important to the poem only in so far as the saying of that particular something in a special way is a revelation of reality. The form derives its significance from the whole. Form has no significance except in relation to the reality that is being revealed."

Wallace Stevens, Opus Posthumous, 1957


1 The Theology of Aristotle or Theologia Aristotelis is a paraphrase in Arabic of parts of Plotinus' Six Enneads along with Porphyry's commentary. The translator attempted to integrate Aristotle's ideas with those of Plotinus--while trying to make Plotinus compatible with Christianity and Islam, thus yielding a unique synthesis.

2 Free from error; true; the state of comprehending an affirmed truth

3 Blather: foolish gibberish; talk which erroneously presumes to convey thought or understanding, but is mere incoherent or meaningless babble