I was thinking today about how much more we readily accept the reality of optical illusions over reasoning illusions. Certainly, the optical illusions are easier to spot. I imagine reason based illusions are not easy to notice because we have such a deep-seated faith in what we think.
Why do we trust our thinking ‘sixth’ sense so deeply? From a symptoms point of view, we trust thought as deeply simply because we need to. That is obvious I suppose, although it is curious how the obvious can be easily overlooked.
Ironically, the thinking sense is likely our most unreliable sense. For one thing, the five primary senses receive their input directly. For thought, the input is derivative. In other words, thought relies on preconceptions — names, words, and a native language — to shape its interpretation of direct sensory input. This input, woven into thought by our native language, becomes the biases, myths, fears, and aesthetics (1) that our native culture inculcates in us from infancy.
Our framework of thought relies on the secondary knowledge of names and words. For example, the word “tree” and the object it symbolizes are light-years apart to anyone who deeply feels an actual tree via Tat Tvam Asi, i.e., ‘That thou art’, and compares that to an imaginary symbolic “tree”. Yet, words hold more weight. Words allow us to funnel existential reality down into comfortable stereotypes.
Despite the second-hand reality of thought, this sixth sense is the greatest survival tool we have. Our ability to interact cognitively and ‘be on the same page’ is at least in part responsible for our exceptional ability to invent tools. Tools, in turn, have lifted us to the top of the food chain.
Alas, this strength easily turns out to be too much of a good thing. As chapter 32 cautions us, Only when it is cut are there names. As soon as there are names, one ought to know that it is time to stop. Knowing when to stop one can be free from danger.
Ironically, by funneling reality down into stereotypes we divorce ourselves from an extemporaneous experience of reality. This disconnect drives us to trust and believe in our stereotypical ideals even more. It’s crazy! No wonder chapter 71 warns, Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty.
(1) Chapter 2 calls out the unreliability and un-reality of our biases and aesthetics, The whole world recognizes the beautiful as the beautiful, yet this is only the ugly; the whole world recognizes the good as the good, yet this is only the bad.