The Two Minds

Of Fire and Ice

As soon as you feel yourself against me you have ceased to understand my position and consequently my arguments! You have to be the victim of the same passion!


There are two types of minds: minds of fire, and minds of ice. The mind of fire burns with the energizing passion of its search for truth. The mind of ice surrounds itself with a paralyzing air of dogma. The former seeks power by gaining knowledge, the latter seeks power by closing opposing avenues of thought. The former is alive, growing and evolving, the latter ossified and frozen in place. The former seeks out and retains every argument against its beliefs, the latter ceaselessly eliminates every opposing thought. The former is a magnet for ideas, the latter a walled fortress.

Who can be more foolish than the man who brags that he has not changed his beliefs all his life? You mean you have not used your brain all this time? Or maybe you have been born omniscient? Or have you been too cowardly to ever admit to being wrong? Integrity is staying true to your beliefs – at a moment in time. It does not mean never changing your beliefs – they have to change if you are to grow. Knowledge is not merely a matter of acquisition, but of replacement. What matters is how you change or retain beliefs, or at least your claimed beliefs. Is it done to please others, or is it done from your own convictions? The man of integrity relies on the judgement of his own mind, the coward surrenders his mind to the will of another.

You cannot argue with a mind of ice – it can never change, can never surrender its terrain. Its only desire is to convince others of its views so as to strengthen its position in the world. Such minds are instances of reason having been subordinated to instinct, of reason being used to justify and rationalize unconscious convictions, or worse, to justify the convictions of others for the sake of worldly status, i.e. fear of changing a long held belief, a desire for recognition within a certain group.

Minds of ice define their self through their beliefs. One can recognize a mind of ice by the labels they choose for themselves. A person who positions themselves as a member of a “school of thought” is a mind of ice – e.g. a communist, a conservative, a Catholic, an atheist1 – or at the very least a mind being chilled. Man has no need for labels. Putting a label on yourself makes it more difficult to remove it later should you find your ideas wrong, a difficulty that only grows with time. For a mind of ice to change its belief is to destroy the self associated with it.

Yes, reason always follows instinct, but it need not be subordinate to it. How? By developing an instinct for reason. When your passion is for the truth itself, when knowledge turns from a good that is merely instrumental – pursued the sake of something else – into one that is intrinsic – pursued for its own sake – then you turns the one-way path from instinct to reason into a self reinforcing loop. You begin to pursue the truth because that is what you want.

A pursuit of truth for its own sake aids the pursuit of all other goals. Knowledge is power, and it is power that helps us achieve control over the world, across all domains, matter and mind. The pursuit of truth does not limit your other values, it reinforces them. What separates those who choose illusion over reality is a lack of willpower, a lack of strength to reject the agreeable, soothing balm of false beliefs and deal with the uncomfortable, evolving, clashing ideas of the real. The mind of fire must retain many opposing ideas, all colliding and pulling in different directions, must be able to live with a myriad contradictions and unknowns. It is easier to surrender one’s capacity to reason and submit to an established worldview than to live on the battlefield of ideas, investing your strength and energy in all of the sides as they struggle for ground.

Nietzsche’s Übermensch – the overman – is a concept oft-misunderstood. People assume that the overman is a superior man, a man unrestrained by morality, a man beyond morality, free to pursue his own desires as he sees fit. This is not the case because the overman is not a man at all – he is a not man. The overman is what we are not, and thus, one can never be the overman. It is a goal that cannot be reached because it is always relative to where you are. The reason over is used instead of not is to add an evaluation to the idea, that is, we must evolve, but not without a direction, and that direction must be deemed better. The idea of the overman is that of conscious evolution, evolution of thought and reason itself. It is the ultimate encapsulation of the pursuit of truth for its own sake as an intrinsic good, because what’s being presented as good is not the end result, but the process itself. The overman itself is not what’s important, what’s important is the path towards it.

  1. Yes, atheism too has become a “school of thought”. It need not be said that I am not talking about atheists in general, but atheists who define themselves as atheists. Such people position their rejection of base superstition as a mark of an intellectual.
Share on Twitter Facebook Email

“For even falsehood, uttered by the tongue of man, seemed like truth and light before this hopelessly-deaf and unresponsive silence.”

My new book: a translation of selected short stories by Leonid Andreyev, the father of Russian Expressionism from the Silver Age of Russian literature. A piercing, pitiless glance into the heart of the human condition.

☛ Read online

Further Reading

Proust wrote that the true voyage of discovery is not to visit strange lands, but to possess other eyes, to behold a hundred universes that each of them beholds. Thus, in the words of Ruskin, what good books give us is not mere knowledge, but sight.

Sign up to my email newsletter to receive regular recommendations of exceptional books on a wide range of topics including design, art, history and philosophy. A summary of latest site updates will also be included. Sign up below: