Two Science News reports touch on what is probably humanity’s most serious problem. As chapter 71 puts it, “Realizing I don’t’ know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease.” Google [Hallinan Kidding Ourselves] for a rational anthropological view of self-deception. Also, google [People will take pain over being left alone with their thoughts] for a summary of various research showing how people generally dislike and avoid being alone with their thoughts.
Is a Wandering Mind Unhappy?
These reports parallel observations I made in Wandering Mind Is Unhappy Mind (p.156). Evidently, 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 reports cited above stirred up more thoughts on this subject.
Ignorance isn’t bliss after all
We humans cunningly 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 the situation impartially. We can’t see reality any other way than the way we desire 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 and validates our existence. This matter 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 cleave tightly to our beliefs, our story. Yet, it isn’t enough, for in the end a story is only a story, and not reality’s big cosmic picture.
Easing up on the certainty of our beliefs is a form of ego suicide. This amounts to the death of what has become so near and dear to life as we 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 that same story. That is tantamount to banishment from the tribe.
Ignorance vs. self-honesty
To build and maintain our story unavoidably rests upon the shifting sands of imagination. Accordingly, we continually retell our story to ourselves and others to avoid being alone, trapped in silent emptiness. All this suggests that self-honesty and our story are essentially at odds with each other. In fact, the integrity of self-honesty is rooted deeper than thought itself. Thus, deepening self-honesty requires downplaying our story. Alas, this loss of a story so dearly held makes reaching self-honesty a fearsome challenge. Essentially, it entails a loss of innocence and ignorance.
Naturally, this post is also a story. Anything formed from words and names is a story. That’s why chapter 56 plainly states, Knower not speak; speaker not know. Unsurprisingly, I wonder why I drone on about these matters. After all, as chapter 5 observes, More speech counts as exceptionally limited; not in accord with keeping to the middle. I assume the social aspect plays a big role for me. However, instead of concerns about banishment from a tribe, I appear to be searching for my tribe. Yet, perhaps “I don’t want to belong to any club [tribe] that will accept people like me as a member”, as Groucho Marx ironically put it. Oddly, a Taoist worldview allows for that, does it not?
Ultimately, the human mind is a story itself. Thus, if my mind must tell itself a story, I will strive to find a story that is as impartial as possible. That can only help deepen self-honesty, and as a bonus help avoid the stress that self-righteous judgment and partisan bias arouse.
Masters of Empathy
Clearly, humans are a profoundly empathetic species. I’ve often wondered if any factor, other than genetics, contributes to this. I now suspect that our “Alone with Thought” problem is a major catalyst. Thought, in concert with our sense of self (i.e., ego brought about by cleaving to things, as Buddha’s 2nd Truth points out), either creates or intensifies a feeling of separateness… our banishment from Eden as it were. 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 will empathize with it. Oh, and that would especially include God, or the equivalent higher power.