Saturday, August 23, 2008

Immanuel Kant and Why You're Procrastinating

... or why we're both procrastinating, actually.

This is a posting about two of the most central elements to any rewarding writing life: intention and concentration. Just want to lay that out there before I crawl out onto a limb and hang myself.

Back in the 1700's The Enlightenment was in full swing. More happened to shape who we are in this century than most people realize. The arts, philosophy, science all snapped the tether that had leashed them to the church for over a millenium. Reason took hold and life in many ways became what we know today. This was the time of "I think therefore I am". It was the time of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of the scientific method. It let Mozart write Don Giovanni one day and a mass the next. Isaac Newton and the apple. It was an astonishing time. Humanity saw itself in an entirely new light. Not all of it was good, of course. The French Revolution comes to mind.

There was an explosion of philosophers. Most of them can be seen as engaging in the untethering of thought from the church. It's like they're figuring out how to untie the boat from the dock. Some are cautious. Others not so much. 'I think therefore I am' replaces 'God made me, and therefore I am'. The Enlightenment allowed us to measure and manipulate knowledge without falling back on some mystical unknowable relying on faith.

Immanuel Kant was at the head of the pack. He came up with a couple swell ideas. We can't truly know the reality of other individuals -- only our perception of them. And we can't act on objects across a distance.

This adds up to a couple problems. First, well, you can't really know anyone else. There's a loneliness there. We're all separated out. It's depressing. This has been sinking in for a few centuries now.

Second, it makes no difference what we intend. By intention, I mean things like prayer. We can pray, but we're not affecting anything. Some supreme being may observe it, but we're not really doing anything but bouncing thoughts off our own craniums.

Like I said, it's depressing. (And by the way, I don't think he really even believed it. He just had to say it in order to win an argument.)

Frankly, I think Kant was dead wrong on this one. If he was right, we wouldn't be praying anymore. We'd probably distantly remember religion at best. We'd have truly outgrown it. If Kant was right, then quantum physics wouldn't exist. But it does.

If you have a positive mental attitude, you know the power of intention. If you meditate, you know the power of intention. If you worship in a church, you know the power of intention. If you psych yourself up before the big game, you're using intention. We all use intention in some way.

And of course, if you write, you know the power of intention. You can bring a world into being. You can create characters that breathe and act and doubt in the existence of their creator. Writing exercises that same capacity -- that muscle of thought. We all settle into cliches of 'being creative' and forget that we are truly creating something. And we're creating it out of pure intention. Readers recreate that world out of their own intention. So screw Kant.

Of course, intention requires concentration. And why is it so damn hard to concentrate? Why are you surfing the internets right now instead of writing that story? To my eyes, we're busy 'pinging'. We're putting out beacons, seeing if the real world is out there. We're fighting that loneliness. And most of the time we're losing. We're confirming everthing Kant

Writing is requires more concentration than the average individual has anymore. It works a capacity that our culture has largely forgotten we have. It takes work and practice to learn it again. So pray, intend, meditate, wish well, whatever it takes. Do it every day. And get writing.

1 comment:

Samantha said...

A very insightful post on concentration exercises. Here's a website that i thought i might share with you, which is very helpful on teaching you how to improve your concentration. It's at There are easy guides for you to follow too.