Recovering alcoholics continue to confess, “I’m an alcoholic”, even as they strive to stay on the straight and narrow moment-to-moment, day after day. Similarly, I’m a thinker recovering from certainty of thought moment-to-moment, day after day. (See Belief: Are We Just Fooling Ourselves?, p.591.).
Of course, just like alcohol, certainty is not bad by itself. It is all about the circumstances and magnitude. Intuitive certainty that induces me to jump out of the way of an oncoming bus or avoid food that smells off, benefits me without fail. Certainty’s affect on thought is where things go awry. Any possibility of chapter 16’s One’s action will lead to impartiality flies out the window once the emotion of certainty begins to back up thought. At that point, the emotion overtakes and blindsides perception — 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 disconnect. Much of his Noble Truths and Eight Fold Path (p.604) addresses 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 guess not.
Just as in any other intoxicating habit, we have to drink ourselves silly — shopping, eating, drugs, social media, and so on. Simple understanding can’t break the habit. We must viscerally know, and such depth of knowing only comes through personally reaching rock bottom. This is a process… as chapter 36 points out, 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 we can keep out of reach, if not eliminate. Thinking lies at the core 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 ever 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, any spiritual practice would 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 formulate it, has 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 we name ‘it’. That feels 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 an evil to eradicate. I suppose belief falls under the category of 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.