Two recent Science News pieces touch on a core human problem. The problem is, as chapter 71 puts it, “Realizing I don’t’ know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease.”
The anthropology book review, Kidding Ourselves, shows the rational side of self-deception. The other, People will take pain over being left alone with their thoughts, is a summary of various research showing how people generally dislike and avoid being alone with their thoughts.
Is a Wandering Mind Unhappy?
This parallels a post I did a few years back, Wandering Mind Is Unhappy Mind. Obviously, I don’t share the difficulty of being alone with thought, or perhaps my cognitive output is merely a symptom of my difficulty with being alone with thought. Hmm… Anyway, these Science News articles sited above stirred up more thoughts on this subject.
Ignorance isn’t bliss after all
We humans cleverly rationalize reasons for what we like and want, and what we dislike and reject. Naturally, inside that bubble of self-justification we have little ability to see reality in its own right. We can’t see ‘reality’ any other way than the way we want it to be. That sounds something like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We hang onto our version of reality (our story) because it gives life meaning; it justifies our existence. This really comes down to survival. Losing one’s grip on one’s story, for whatever reason, is tantamount to losing one’s self. No wonder we cling onto the belief in our story for dear life. Yet, it isn’t enough, for in the end a story is just a story… not the impartial big picture of reality.
Easing up on the certainty of our story is a form of ‘ego’ suicide. It is the death of something near and dear to life as we’ve come to know it. Not only do we constantly retell ourselves our stories, we seek out others who share the same story to affirm its validity. Therefore, losing the story can also mean losing connection to those folks who hold on to that same story. That is tantamount to banishment from the tribe.
Ignorance vs. self-honesty
Building up and maintaining one’s story inevitably rests upon the shifting sands of our imagination. We must constantly shore this up by ‘kidding’ ourselves, and being ‘alone with thought’ as seldom as possible. All this suggests that self-honesty and my story… any story… are essentially at odds with each other. The integrity of self-honesty must be rooted deeper than thought! Thus, we must let go of our story to gain self-honesty. This loss of something so dearly held makes facing one’s self nearly impossible in practice. Essentially, it means a loss of innocence and ignorance, but not any true loss of bliss, in my experience.
Finally, isn’t this post all a story as well? Certainly, anything that uses words qualifies as being a story. That’s why chapter 56 plainly states, Knower not speak; speaker not know. I often wonder why I drone on and on about this. After all, More speech counts as exceptionally limited; not in accord with keeping to the middle. I figure the social aspect is what pushes me on. Instead of being concerned about banishment from a tribe, I appear to be searching for my tribe. Yet ironically, “I don’t want to belong to any club [tribe] that will accept people like me as a member“, as Groucho Marx once said. Well, a Taoist worldview allows for that. 😉 Life is certainly an odd cookie!
Masters of Empathy
Is there any doubt that humans are a profoundly empathetic species? I’ve often wondered if anything, other than our natural genetics, contributes to this. I now suspect that our “Alone with Thought” problem may do just that. Thought, in concert with our sense of self (ego brought about by cleaving to things, as Buddha’s 2nd Truth points out), either creates or intensifies a feeling of separateness… our loss of Eden if you will. Being a social species, this would exasperate any sense of aloneness, and drive us to identify with all manner of things: people, cars, ideas, pets, waterfalls, trees, and stars. If you can name it, someone can share space and time — empathize — with it. Oh, and that would especially include God, or the equivalent ‘higher power’.