On Complex Thought and Grokking

Stranger in a Strange Land Grokking

There is a passage from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” that struck me so much that I placed it in the “About” section of this blog when I began it:

The past and present wilt—I have fill’d them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.
Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.
Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

I wish to meet a person who does not have contradictions in their life; someone who wakes up thinking only noble, pure, and unselfish thoughts. Please, let me meet them and I will find either the biggest liar or a person incapable of complex thought.

I used to thank God no one could read my mind. In 1984, George Orwell wrote about the “thought police”, who prosecuted anyone who had “unapproved” thoughts. This kept people in a constant state of fear that someone knew they were thinking about love, or lust, or a better government. And in a way, I see social media commentators as a form of “thought police” who come out with their pitchforks and caps locks to insult or demean something they are exposed to in a short 30 second video or a few blog posts. Any unconventional ideas are challenged and the mob ensues. Thought police do not like complex thought because someone who thinks is someone who can’t be controlled.

Circling back to Stranger in A Strange Land, the idea of grokking something is to understand it so fully that it becomes part of you. In order for you to hate something without ignorance, you have to fully understand it, fully empathize with it, so fully envelope yourself in it that any hate that you feel towards an action, or thought, or person is actually hating yourself as the hated item has become a part of you.

People who approach something or someone with hate, insults, and a lack of empathy are showing their ignorance, and are afraid of any complex thought synonymous with grokking something.

Grokking is actually very painful for someone unused to complex thought. It makes people uncomfortable to empathize with something they hate, to identify all emotions and ideas behind an action. For non-Martians, grokking something is an act that must be exercised daily and with every thought, be it a good, bad, strange, or evil thought. It does not come natural to us, and that is why humans are so comfortable with sitting behind our keyboards and judging what we do not understand; it is simply the easy way to live.


“Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. . . . To be great is to be misunderstood.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Complex thought is where emotional intelligence grows. I am capable of having “petty, childish, bitter” moments in the same instance that I am trying to grok someone’s shitty behavior towards me. That is the beauty of complex thought, and it is the foundation of why I forgive so easily. I understand that each moment is a fight for good intentions for most people. We must strive for the good and grok the bad.

I am large, I contain multitudes.