We half-consciously navigate our way through life by the light of what we take for granted, by beliefs that, if articulated, would be prefaced with “of course.”
“Of course, the world is this way.”
“Of course, people are this way.”
“Of course, I am this way.”
But where do these “of course” assumptions come from? Their force, their compelling “of course” status, is proportionally related to the difficulty of answering this question. Actually, their force derives from the unlikelihood of our ever even formulating the question in the first place. We do not ordinarily think about these assumptions, we think with them.
These “of course” assumptions are rooted in the shadowy borderland between conscious and unconscious thought. They were, for the most part, formed in childhood and we were unaware that they were taking shape.They envelop us.
Occasionally though, their contours appear to us fleetingly, like the outlines of a cloud that becomes visible at night when it is shot through with lightning. That flash of insight may be just enough to quicken our imagination, weaken the hold of the “of course,” and illuminate new possibilities. Such intellectual flashes are among the great pleasures of the life of the mind, even though they may sometimes mingle terror with their beauty.
We cannot do without the assumptions that structure thought. We cannot, in other words, imagine the world anew each time that we try to think at all. But it is good to remember, for humility’s sake, that our assumptions are there, like the unseen cloud against the night sky, unseen yet shaping what we see. And we should welcome the lightning when it strikes.