Monday 21 January 2019

Poetry: The Thought-Reader Revolution

Posted by Chengde Chen *

The Way to Root out Evil?
Thought reading: curing human nature with instinct

Why have the thousands of years of moral efforts,
– Religion, education, and the rule of law –
Not cured the human evil of harming others for gain?
Because faith, reason and justice, powerful as they are,
Cannot outdo the ultimate selfishness of human nature.
Kant said, ‘Out of the crooked timber of humanity,
No straight thing was ever made.’

But, what is more fundamental is human instinct –
The self-preservation based only on physiology.
As thoughts are invisible, one can deceive –
One’s evil intentions may not do harm to oneself,
Hence permitted by instinct, hence possible for evil.
If, by a ‘thought-reader’, thoughts become visible,
Any intention to harm others would harm oneself,
Hence prevented by instinct, hence impossible for evil.

Whether thoughts are visible is, in fact, a moral valve,
Controlling whether there is the possibility of evil.
The invisibility of thought = the possibility of evil;
The visibility of thought = the impossibility of evil.

To make thoughts visible makes morality an instinct,
And men “good men” who can’t be bad.

As the invisibility of thought is the cause of evil,
The truly effective way to root-out evil
Is not the moral classics from Plato to Marx,
But seeing thoughts, to cure human nature with instinct.
Instinct is water, to serve or flood depending on the river.
Only in the canal of truthfulness dredged by the machine,
Can the boat of coexistence sail freely with human dynamics.

* Chengde Chen is the author of the philosophical poems collection: Five Themes of Today, Open Gate Press, London.


docmartincohen said...

Thanks for another great poem, Chengde! Keep 'em comin'...

Keith said...

Thank you, Chengde, for this original thought experiment — all the more creative, being in poetry form. I wonder if ‘human instinct’ and ‘human nature’ are inseparably interlaced parts of a whole. Or, as suggested, divisible, occupying different hierarchical circles within the human personality. Anyway, even the hypothetical of a ‘thought reader’ quarrying thoughts unfiltered — baring all, for all to witness — might prove universally alarming. Even on the chance that in turning thoughts visible and switching on the ‘moral valve’, evil might be banished — or ‘rooted out’, as conjectured. Maybe that’s the point. Yet the prospect might remain chilling, in an Orwellian sort of way.

docmartincohen said...

The poem arrives the same time as news that some unfortunate Chinese children are to be made to wear hand bands that 'read their thoughts'- and alert the teacher if they are not 'concentrating'. The, truth, as so often, is both stranger, and more tragic, than the fiction

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

It is a pleasure to read another poem by Chengde Chen. I have two observations.

• There is a lot that we could know already if we were socially literate.
• And appropriate legislation helps to make a society more transparent.

Years ago, I stayed in a 'primitive' village. There were seven family huts, arranged in a circle, without any walls and no place to hide. It was unsettling for me. But they may have had the secret for keeping evil at bay.

Chengde Chen said...

Thanks gentlemen for the interesting comments, which I’ve just seen. I believe that we would all agree that if thoughts became visible, humans would behave differently, but in what way? Let’s put aside the pros and cons of the prospect, but just imagine: would people still contemplate the evil thoughts of harming others? If not, can we say that the invisibility of thoughts is the true root of human evil?

Martin Cohen said...

Yes, indeed, Chengde, you are right that transparency does not necessarily lead to virtue. The internet comment is open to the whole world, and yet people show themselves to be cruel, intolerant and vicious. So it is not so much the transparency that brings better behaviour as the judgement others can and will make. Which brings us back to one of philosophy's oldest observations and questions: who will watch the watchers?

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

If we expand on your thoughts, Chengde, and look at it from a global perspective, it would seem that the global crisis has a lot to do with the suppression or concealment of information. At such a time, however, we need transparency -- rules, plans, processes, and actions -- to understand the dynamics.

On a different tack, I'll make a personal observation about human nature. People may be all charm and benevolence, while behind it lies a corrupt nature. But the moment they know that that has been exposed, they turn. The charm and benevolence are gone.

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