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Here in the 21st century, we know without doubt that the powers of our brains can astonish us. The neuroscientists tell us that we probably haven’t plumbed even a fraction of what our rational minds can potentially accomplish. That distinct combination of reason, intellectual discovery and the perceptual power of the human spirit, the Baha’i teachings say, forms our rational soul:
The Exercised Intelligence of the Rational Soul. The first condition of perception in the world of nature is the perception of the rational soul. In this perception and in this power all men are sharers, whether they be neglectful or vigilant, believers or deniers. This human rational soul is God’s creation; it encompasses and excels other creatures; as it is more noble and distinguished, it encompasses things. The power of the rational soul can discover the realities of things, comprehend the peculiarities of beings, and penetrate the mysteries of existence. All sciences, knowledge, arts, wonders, institutions, discoveries and enterprises come from the exercised intelligence of the rational soul. There was a time when they were unknown, preserved mysteries and hidden secrets; the rational soul gradually discovered them and brought them out from the plane of the invisible and the hidden into the realm of the visible. This is the greatest power of perception in the world of nature, which in its highest flight and soaring comprehends the realities, the properties and the effects of the contingent beings. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 217.
Some scientists have calculated we normally process between 20-70,000 thoughts in a waking day. Here, test yourself: Count out one second in your mind without saying it aloud. Ready? Think ‘one thousand one.’ That took one second. You spend approximately 61,200 seconds awake each day. Yes, sometimes our minds wander (often, actually), and our conscious minds draw a blank. But the unconscious mind doesn’t wander. Thoughts don’t “stop.”
Only sleep stops the waking mind, and we know thoughts don’t stop there, either–because we dream constantly.
These thoughts our mind consistently produces insistently ask for examination. When I think or say ‘one thousand one,’ my mind instantly translates my English language words into images and meaning. My mind ‘pictures’ the number ‘one’ and knows it as the first Arabic numeral, which represents a single item. It does the same for whatever comes to mind, whenever it comes into our heads.
Our minds simultaneously translate every nanosecond of what we see, feel, hear, taste, touch and smell into images, thoughts, ruminations, ideas and internal and external sensations. That never-ending stream of human consciousness makes us intelligent, searching, spiritual beings.
In other words, your mind and mine constantly seek meaning. Our rational souls naturally search for something we can hold on to and assimilate, for something we can make ‘sense’ of. We crave order and meaning. We do not thrive in chaos, in violence, and in surprise (happy ones excluded). That’s why the stock market hates uncertainty.
No matter what our skin color and life experiences, our language and customs, our education or lack thereof, our views and beliefs–our minds continue to work diligently on life’s puzzles and questions. Our minds continually try to fit our experiences into our own little space of comprehension and understanding. Our minds constantly try to answer the question “Why?” and by extension, “Why me?”
But do our minds ask us those perennial questions? Or does something else?
The Baha’i teachings say the source for the answer to these fundamental human questions is the rational soul:
The human spirit which distinguishes man from the animal is the rational soul, and these two names — the human spirit and the rational soul — designate one thing. This spirit, which in the terminology of the philosophers is the rational soul, embraces all beings, and as far as human ability permits discovers the realities of things and becomes cognizant of their peculiarities and effects, and of the qualities and properties of beings. But the human spirit, unless assisted by the spirit of faith, does not become acquainted with the divine secrets and the heavenly realities. It is like a mirror which, although clear, polished and brilliant, is still in need of light. Until a ray of the sun reflects upon it, it cannot discover the heavenly secrets. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 208.