Up until my early forties, I was drunk on thought bolstered with the certainty of belief. Fortunately, I found a way to detoxify myself, although this is still a work in progress.
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.
The only testable “facilitators” for anything animals do (or don’t do) are either genetic or circumstance (nature + nurture). In addition, we imagine myriad ‘magical’ causes (untestable), in which either gods, devils, free will or spirits are usually held responsible.
Alcohol is a sugar (carbohydrate). We have an instinctive attraction to sugar, fat and protein (genetic) for these three are the primary building blocks of life. So, I don’t see how anyone could say there wasn’t a genetic factor to our attraction to alcohol. And that is not even taking into consideration the sociological/physiological/psychological reasons which in either direct or roundabout ways are driven by genetics and circumstance.
Now, am I sure? I’d say certainty (“sureness”) is an emotion which is naturally rooted in genetics. I see certainty as a symptom of one’s inner fear and insecurity or by extension need. The more passionate the certainty, the stronger the fear and need. In other words, certainty is just a symptom of an animals (us included) inner emotional state.
Now, why do my answers have to be so long? Heck, I could have just “no”, but then I never claimed there weren’t genetic factors to begin with. I suppose one tends to be more “sure” when one cares about what the answer is. That’s why people who believe are so sure they are right.
This reminds me of Buddha’s 2nd truth: “the illusion of self originates and manifests itself in a cleaving to things”. Beliefs are “things” the mind cleaves to, which help create and maintain the illusion of self. People hang onto their beliefs for dear life, for any threat to their belief threatens the illusion of self. No wonder we have so much difficulty coming to a meeting of the minds.
@Lynn — Are you sure ‘science’ hasn’t found genetic facilitators for alcoholism?
Our brain’s mind is certainly rooted in biology and “runs in” the whole human family. On the surface, this trait manifests itself differently, according to one’s temperament and cultural circumstance (“education”). We get hung up on that content, which often blinds us to the mysterious ‘light’ behind the shadows we’re focused upon.
Naturally there is a survival advantage in certainty… the emotion. All living things experiences it to some degree. The difficulty occurs when emotional certainty props up and ‘proves’ the content of human cognition. Whether such certainty-based belief is a survival advantage is questionable.
For example, the only reason seat belts are a survival advantage is because we drive cars. We drive cars to get ‘there’ faster. Yet, the faster we go, the less able we are to know where ‘there’ is. I imagine that this ironic fact account for chapter 80’s Bring it about that the people will return to the use of the knotted rope.
Lynn cornish says
Alcoholism is a lot easier to deal with than certainty-backed thinking. All you have to do is stop drinking whereas you cannot stop thinking nor would you want to. Both, however, are done moment to moment, at least in early sobriety when the obsession and compulsion to drink is powerful. But that gets easier and easier until one doesn’t think about it at all. Not so with belief.
I’m surprised that you didn’t mention biological factors. They say alcoholism runs in families although they haven’t found the gene for that yet. My father, brother,sister, grandfather, uncles were all alcoholics. (My poor Mom.) Perhaps there is a survival advantage to certainty-based belief? Holding the tribe together is an advantage. Jamie really did say it well…we are who we are and we’re going to think/believe/behave as we do.
I don’t know how old you are, but I’d guess ‘old enough to know better’. It fascinates me to witness how steadfastly we cling to the illusionary stories within which thinking allows us to escape. As the years go by, the story becomes less and less convincing for many folks, I feel. That really is where my hope for humanity lies: as the median age of the human population rises (through health sciences mostly) more and more people will reach a point where they ‘are old enough to know better’. If I am wrong, God help us! (But, I’m not wrong am I? This is how nature works: for the big old lake bass that learns to avoid the hook, for the old elephants that knows the score, and eventually for us as well I’m sure.
Jamie G. says
One thing I appreciate about Zen practice is that it attempts to knock the practitioner out of their conceptualizations. Too often, so say the Zen masters, do we let language fence us in to a specific way of looking at the world, which keeps the intuitive connection to the Tao at bay. The Zen masters consistently say over and over that there is nothing to achieve, nothing to do, no enlightenment to seek. And they are right in my opinion.
This comes back to me about the falsehood of “freewill”. In the framework of our conceptualizations freewill and the choice to change our destiny seems all too logical. But it’s a hard pill to swallow when one realizes that the universe is as it should be, in every aspect of our life. The universe is slowly moving toward entropy (or perfect balance of yin and yang), and it is sometimes in negative force (yin) to do this, and sometimes positive force (yang), like the oscillating of a sound wave. But in the end the universe ends up as it will, and we as “individuals” (the buddha hit it on the head with “non-self”) flow naturally with it, in whatever state we are in.