Recovering alcoholics continue to confess, “I’m an alcoholic”, even as they strive to stay continuously on the straight and narrow day after day. Similarly, I’m a thinker continuously recovering from certainty of thought day after day. (See Belief: Are We Just Fooling Ourselves?, p.591.).
Of course, like alcohol, certainty is not bad by itself. It is all about the circumstances and quantity. Inborn certainty that makes me jump away to avoid an oncoming bus or avoid food that smells off, benefits me without fail. Cognitive certainty is where things go awry. Any possibility of chapter 16’s One’s action will lead to impartiality flies out the window once the emotional of certainty begins reinforcing thought. At that point, the emotion blindsides perception and difficulties multiply.
I’m a little surprised that this process isn’t more widely recognized since humanity has been aware of this for ages. The clearest example is probably represented by chapter 71, to know yet to think that one does not know is best; not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty. Buddha also spoke to this cognitive problem. Much of his Noble Truths and Eight Fold Path (p.604) speaks to the role the mind plays in life.
My own naiveté surprises me even more. There is simply no way that we can impartially evaluate anything that offers us pleasure. Pleasure is the bait, as Buddha said, and it creates a blind spot around the source of that pleasure. Can merely understanding that we intoxicate ourselves with thought help anyone sober up? I would imagine not.
Just as in any other intoxicating habit—shopping, eating, drugs, social media, and so on—we personally have to reach rock bottom before we can begin recovery. Simple understanding rarely, if ever, breaks a habit… we must viscerally know. Chapter 36 points out this process, if you would have a thing laid aside, you must first set it up. Only when a thing is fully set up are we ready to lay it aside (1). Why should an addiction to certainty-of-belief be any different?
Alas, our addiction to certainty-of-belief is somewhat different and more challenging. There are obvious physical consequences to all other addictions: a glutton’s obesity, a shopper’s debt, a smoker’s cough, or a drunkard’s hangovers. Not so with thought, other than the neurotic impulses from which we suffer. In addition, even if we recognized our addiction to certainty-of-belief, what are we to do? Other sources of addictions are external, which can be kept out of reach, if not eliminated. Thinking lies at the heart of awareness… even in our sleep through dreams. This explains the appeal of psychopharmacology, which is at least better than a lobotomy. However, better still is the do-it-yourself virtual lobotomy. What?
A do-it-yourself virtual lobotomy
If your certainty-of-belief exhausts you, try out the Correlations process (p.565) as a type of do-it-yourself virtual lobotomy. It may help detoxify your mind from the weight of its preconceptions as it did for me. Slightly less effective but much more accessible would be delving into the depths of the Tao Te Ching. Also useful are yogic practices like meditation and hatha yoga. Heck, most any spiritual practice should help.
(1) That may not be altogether true. The power of an addiction is symptomatic of the degree of disconnection we feel. The more secure our sense of social connection, the less sway any addiction has upon us. Improvements in our sense of connection should take some of the steam out of the set it up in order to lay it aside process that chapter 36 describes.
Thought and the ‘word bricks’ we use to put it together, have left us with a unique sense of disconnection compared to other animals. That is the price we must pay for the powerful advantages that thought and imagination afford us. Isn’t it ironic that we use thought to reconnect, i.e., any belief that promises reconnection with God, the One, or whatever label we use. This is like building a fortress of belief on the shifting sands of mysterious sameness – #56. As chapter 25 describes ‘it’, There is a thing confusedly formed, Born before heaven and earth. Silent and void.
To be sure, there is nothing wrong with belief! After all, belief is actually a symptom of deeper realities and not a sin to avoid. Belief is just something that can easily become too much of a good thing. Thus, we need less certainty in belief to counterbalance belief’s polar extremes. The less passionate we hold to any particular belief, the more smoothly our thought can adapt to ever-changing reality.