Our imagination is more like our Achilles’ heel, as I see it anyway. The special irony in this, is that this promising source of our salvation causes the need for salvation. Oddly, this ironic dynamic reminds me of a Möbius like geometry of Escher’s Waterfall, although for once, I’m at a loss to reason why.
We can imagine ‘better’ so we expect better. Animals feel the same emotions that drives imagination in us, but only momentarily, and mostly just connected to current external stimulus. In addition to external stimuli, we fabricate self-stimuli from remembered past and imagined future images tied ultimately to deep-seated needs and fears.
From there, our imagined scenarios feed into our emotions, triggering their energetic response and we soon find ourselves chomping-at-the-bit because reality isn’t conforming to our imagined ideal of what ‘should be‘. We then begin contending with how ‘it’ is and push to make ‘it’ how we want ‘it’ to be. Sure, sometimes that works just fine, especially when the ideal and the real are practically (meanings both practical and practically) aligned with one another. Yet, even then, success is fleeting and off we go imagining a more perfect world to be. Our hunter-gatherer nature is always pulling the strings through the ever present “more is better” instinct. Imagining a more perfect world leads us to actions that bring unintended consequence. So indeed, not knowing the constant, rash actions lead to ominous results.
The pains of life are inevitable—natural. Cognitively resisting what is natural adds suffering to life’s pain. This is something from which non-thinking animals are spared. They can’t think and so can’t imagine a better way. Does this mean humans suffer more? Yes. Imagined gains and losses (need and fear + thought) create our desires and worries. These do seem to add a degree of discomfort beyond what other animals experience. The next question is, how large is the difference?
Any judgment on degree of difference will always be a projection of the observer’s (the judge’s) needs and fears as well. The clever human mind has great difficulty seeing, realizing, knowing, and finally accepting the fallibility of itself. In addition, it generally doesn’t appreciate its fallibility pointed out. A couple of Taoist core observations speak to this: Knower not speak; speaker not know (I think of thought as the internal aspect of speaking, or visa versa). Realizing I don’t know is superior, not knowing this realization is a defect. And finally topped off with When understanding reaches its full extent, can you know nothing?
Memory Poisons Consciousness’s Well
I suppose it is heretical to say, but human memory is another destructive and sorrow causing aspect of our superior cognitive ability. As we know, a blade cuts both ways. First a ‘good’ side of the memory coin: it is one of humanity’s premier survival tools, and it offers us the sweet (and bitter sweet) joy of nostalgia. Now, the other side of the coin…
For example, I’m sure we’ve all experienced how hearing ‘negative’ gossip about people leaves us with a mountain of preconceptions to overcome when meeting them… and sincerely wanting to judge them impartiality. (Knowing the constant allows, allowing therefore impartial, Impartial therefore whole, whole therefore natural.)
Another pernicious side to memory is favoritism. As Lau puts it, it is the way of heaven to show no favoritism. Just as we tend to see and hear what we want; we also then tend to form and store away a version of memory that support our point-of-view. Memory then becomes profoundly more unreliable (i.e., a biased memory is worse than neutral non memory).
Being more actively aware of this tendency to use memory as ammunition to push an ideal or action, whether an offensive attack or defensive, helps me take the certainty out of the thought and the steam out of the push. Honestly seeing this bio-hoodwink for what it is, has so far turned out to be my weapon of choice against my own delusion and folly.