Recent experiences with my son reinforce this viewpoint. Ah, if only there was a ‘mis-interpreter’, who could cook up the raw Taoist view into something more palatable. Perhaps that is the role of mainstream religions, eh?
This is not that different from the view chapter 65 which says, ‘of ancients adept in the way, none ever use it to enlighten people, They will use it in order to fool them’. This feels somewhat counter intuitive I suppose, and in our ideal-centric world would even seem immoral. This is where the adept ‘mis-interpreter’ comes in handy. Now I am wondering whether the ‘mis-interpreter’ believes his own mis-interpretation, or is it just the process of speech that does it? Oh well, I’ll leave this conundrum for another time and get on with today’s bit of foolishness…
One way to look at this problem is to think of understanding as being a two-part process. A few years ago I more clearly began to realize how one must know before one can understand, as I have discussed in past posts such as, You Know. Naturally, this only applies to us thinking animals. For us, it is not only possible to understand long before we know, it is also typical. True ‘understanding’ based on experiential ‘gut’ knowing occurs gradually (and continually) over a lifetime.
Think of it this way. You can understand the words and the principle involved with the cortex—those gray matter outer layers of the brain where much of rational thought and language takes place. The knowing to which I refer is more of a whole brain awareness, especially mid and lower brain regions from where primal emotion appears to arise.
Guilt and Shame
A discussion with my son about the sense of guilt and shame may help exemplify knowing vs. understanding. The other day my son referred to some rather heady physiological ways of examining the nature of guilt. I suppose the idea being that through analyzing it thoroughly, one could find a way to manage it. I countered with my simpler zoology based view of seeing guilt as being merely an innate social instinct, with the practical purpose of pushing and pulling members of a group to interact. Additionally, guilt, along with competition, also serves to set up the hierarchical relationships between people… and other social animals, in my view.
Viewed even more closely, guilt and shame would seem to be the result of two opposing needs with undercurrents of what I call the fairness gene influencing everything. First, one feels a social need to be connected to the group, do the ‘right thing’ socially for the group, do the ‘fair’ thing. Second, one feels the self-oriented need to do be ‘happy’, ‘fulfilled’, and ‘win’ at life. Thoughts of self and thoughts of the group vie for our attention, and an inner war of opposing ideals ensues (these ‘thoughts’ originate in their emotional roots, of course). I suppose the sense of guilt and shame increases in proportion to how much self-interest wins out over one’s ideals and expectations for fairness (1).
Feeling Guilt Precludes Understanding Guilt
The noteworthy difference between Luke’s complicated psychological reasonings and my simple reasonings is probably that his doesn’t require knowing guilt impartially. The analytical approach permits us to play around with something in our mind without the difficulty of experiencing it impartially, yet still end up thinking that we know. Put another way, if you feel guilt, how can you truly know its nature impartially? If you can’t see it impartially, how can you know its truth? We solve this enigma by employing our higher brain functions, reason and analysis, which can operate easily without connecting simultaneously to the actual experience (2).
Of course, this is where we get into difficulty: Again, Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty. At some point science, with its commitment to impartiality, will lay out its biological basis. This should help somewhat (3). I couldn’t wait that long, so I put a drawing at the top of this post that depicts a biological basis of love. That’s close enough I reckon; guilt, shame and love have much in common. To say it is simply biology helps me untangle the issue, yet leaves the profound mystery of the workings of biology to awe me endlessly.
Forever, a Work in Progress
Another example of the by-paths to which thinking leads, occurs when we experience a sense of loss (real or imagined). When reality doesn’t conform to our expectations, we feel a sense of failure and loss. This emotion pushes the mind to single out data (empirical and otherwise) to provide evidence for that non-rational emotional ‘truth’. I have found that knowing that my mind is doing this helps to mitigate the original emotion and allows me to seek out rational evidence pointing the other direction. Eventually, ‘big picture’ cognitive balance returns.
Alas, this happens only so long as I remain actively aware of the bio-hoodwink acting upon me. I say alas, because emotion constantly bubbles up to steer the mind back to support emotion’s non-rational ‘truth’—my emotional standpoint at the moment. Buddha nailed it all right: Right Mindfulness keeps me remembering what Right Understanding sees. Right Concentration and Right Attentiveness keep Right Mindfulness pointed in the right direction. Right Effort pulls Right Concentration to stay attentive. But, double alas, I Am Foolish Of Human Mind Also?
The sacred person is not defective, taking his defect as a defect
Clearly, our tendency to not know yet think that we know is part and parcel of having a brain that has a mind of its own. Allowing the story, ‘gossip’, ideals, expectations, and such, to lead our thoughts around like a bull with a ring through its nose, makes life difficult. Doing this, we let the ‘gossip’ destroy our journey into the mystery of the yet to be known. That is why, When the best student hears about the way he practices it assiduously.
(1) Thoughts of self, desires, and ideals of fairness exacerbate the social instincts that cause guilt and shame. Given the social bonding purpose of these instincts, it is reasonable to assume that feeling guilt and shame increases in proportion to increases in self-interest. Mother Nature ‘wants’ social animals to bond rather than be off doing their own thing. Consequently, an increasing need to do your own thing would naturally induce painful conflict: self-interest desires vs. group-interest desires. We call that conflict guilt. On the other hand, the group member feeling a persistent need for group bonding would experience anger toward any member’s inclination to do their own thing. This explains why whistle blowers are ostracized by their group even though their actions are virtuous. (Honestly, don’t you think that considering humans from a zoological standpoint helps illuminate, yes? no? maybe so?)
(2) So how am I able to observe guilt and shame impartially? I have never felt either, and when I told Luke that, he felt that incredulous. Okay, no doubt I’ve experienced some shame and guilt, but not enough to ‘stick’ long. I guess that is because I march to the beat of my own drum. This allows me greater social impartiality. How much or how accurate I am is unknowable. You could say, it all comes back to being in the defective eye of the beholder. Did I just travel a long way to go nowhere? How taoisty!
(3) Science does a lot more for advancing human sanity than is often realized. For example, the Aztecs killed thousands under the belief that such sacrifice would insure the Sun’s daily ‘rebirth’ in the sky. Knowing the science behind the Sun now makes that impossible, at least culture wide, i.e., there are always pockets of deluded folks who will believe in anything, including the virtue of blood sacrifice. Eventually, science will force most humans to face their biological reality which perhaps brings us a few step closer to appreciating the true mystery of biology.