Two Science News reports touch on a core human problem. The problem is, as chapter 71 puts it, “Realizing I don’t’ know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease.” Google [Hallinan Kidding Ourselves] for an anthropological, rational 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 a post I did a few years back, Wandering Mind Is Unhappy Mind (p.156). Obviously, 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 cleverly 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 reality in its own right. We can’t see reality any other way than the way we want 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; it justifies our existence. This 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 cling onto the belief in our story for dear life. Yet, it isn’t enough, for in the end a story is just a story… not the impartial big picture of reality.
Easing up on the certainty of our story is a form of ego suicide. It is the death of something near and dear to life as we’ve come to 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 on to that same story. That is tantamount to banishment from the tribe.
Ignorance vs. self-honesty
Building and maintaining our story inevitably rests upon the shifting sands of imagination. As a result, we constantly retell our story to others and ourselves to avoid being alone trapped in silent emptiness. All this suggests that self-honesty and our story are essentially at odds with each other. Indeed, the integrity of self-honesty is rooted deeper than thought itself. Thus, deepening self-honesty requires downplaying our story. Alas, this loss of something so dearly held makes realizing self-honesty a fearsome challenge. Essentially, it entails a loss of innocence and ignorance.
Finally, isn’t this post a story as well? Certainly, anything that uses words makes it a story. That’s why chapter 56 plainly states, Knower not speak; speaker not know. Naturally, I wonder why I drone on and 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 figure the social aspect is what pushes me on. Instead of being concerned about banishment from a tribe, I appear to be searching for my tribe. Yet ironically, “I don’t want to belong to any club [tribe] that will accept people like me as a member”, as Groucho Marx once said. Oddly, a Taoist worldview allows for that, does it not?
Ultimately, however, the human mind is a story itself, as it were. Thus, if my mind must tell itself a story, I’ll strive to identify a story that is as impartial as possible. That helps deepen self-honesty, and as a bonus, helps avoid the stress that self-righteous judgment and partisan bias provoke.
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 loss of 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.