Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

The Truth of Truth (or Is It Delusion?)

Originally posted on May 6, 2014

“Aha, it all comes clear!” Such is the compelling feeling of what I heard called an “epiphanous delusion” that is a hallmark of paranoid schizophrenia. (See the Wikipedia on Apophany.) Or mystical insight. Or for that matter, any compelling insight or convergence of notions. Some of these can seem crazy to others, and some indeed may be flat wrong. More commonly, this “insight” often is the main thing going on with human thought. The unconscious is great at making things make sense. It’s called “the Gestalt function.”

One’s model of the world can really seem coherent—and the operative word is “seem.” Notions  are combined together along with an intuition of verisimilitude—what we feel in our dreams that draw us on—this is really happening. I must respond to it!—this is a pervasive tool of Maya, the goddess of illusion—for want of a better way to describe it.

This tendency to believe what seems so, what makes good sense, is one of the deepest and most pervasive human instincts. The human mind is driven by simple and complex instincts—the latter, complex instincts, also being called “archetypes” by the analytical psychologist and psychiatrist Carl Jung. A major, deep, unconscious instinct is the attribution of absolute reality to experience: Things thus seem not only real but also compelling: There’s a strong call to do something about this. Walk further along this hall. Pack up your things that fell out of your suitcase. Fight that enemy. You, know, the stuff that wraps you ever-tighter into a dream-story.

The point is that this dynamic is only slightly diluted and in some ways more compelling in states of mind we call being awake. Simpler minds not prone to much doubting may be seduced by a notion. It can be gripping and generate addictions, delusions (which take hallucinations a bit too seriously), prejudices, doctrines, ideologies, beliefs, systems of belief, and so forth.

The clue here is the dis-inclination to doubt. The effort to doubt, the effort to systematically investigate our doubts, is an aesthetic that pervades good science. Pseudo-science uses scientific methods or superficial practices to prove things about which one has no doubts, or at time things one knows not to be true. The devil can quote scripture, as someone observed.

But folks are dis-inclined to doubt that which is somewhat persuasive, by virtue of its internal consistency, but more because it is believed by people whom one respects. The passivity or laziness of mind should not be overestimated. The state of deep physical relaxation and its corresponding feeling of okay-ness may confirm the okay-ness of the unfolding story of the dream, a story that becomes quickly implausible and often largely forgotten upon awakening.

(I get a bit poetic here talking about God and destiny, but I don’t know how else to imply my impression that it’s “meant” to be this way—that this is part of the design.) I think this is God’s way of suggesting to us that the mind works this way, if only we’ll recognize it, re-cognize being re-thinking, or properly interpreting. It’s not just a common mystery: Dreams are there to remind us that we dream deeply, not so deeply, and much of our awake-state are dreamings-lite. It’s a call—well, this is but one very possibly wacky interpretation—to call our dreams into question, and call much of what we consider real into question as well. How else will God get this message to evolving humanity?

We had to evolve enough to think, to dream, to create culture based on our thinking-dreaming, and then to begin to think about our thinking itself—meta-cognition. Also this is known as psychology, the study of psyche. It’s only a couple of hundred years old and keeps evolving, just as our understanding of stuff—physics, materials science—is evolving.

What if psychology begins to grasp what meditators in India have long known, that much of what we call real is indeed real—but dreams are in one sense real—we really dreamt that!—but in another sense dreams are not real. And for that matter there are different levels of real so that what we think of as real often is illusion, or interpretation, or mis-understanding, or prejudice.

Evidence is accumulating about the elusive nature of what most folks have taken for granted as truth. Of course he did it! I saw him do it! This basic kind of evidence has time and time again proven false as other evidence has emerged to show that who we thought did it was in fact somewhere else. And who really did it was someone else. 

On Belief

Who would have thought that our perception and story-creating could be so plastic, so influenced by unconscious bias, by the need to please others or to appear clever or just to make sense out of impressions that are just crying out to be woven together—the aforementioned Gestalt function—even if they don’t in fact go together. Scientists have been demonstrating this susceptibility of the mind to illusion for a century and more! But still we believe our eyes.

I mean, it’s obvious that the sun goes around the earth. I don’t feel the earth moving, do you? Nope, it feels still. And flat. Okay, I bow to the experts, it’s round. But it sure feels flat. And the numbers of illusions have multiplied and multiplied again, though most folks haven’t yet gotten the idea. Maybe it’ll take a few more hundred years, the growing widespread idea that we get fooled, fooled and fooled. We fool ourselves. Respected citizens consciously fool us. They don’t admit it, sometimes even to themselves. It’s advertising. It’s publicity. It used to be called propaganda, but that word got tainted as something bad.

Very very gradually folks are getting used to the idea that it is wicked to fool others, to lie, to cheat, to deceive. It’s not so that “business is business” is a justification of unethical business practices. It’s immoral. Consciousness is very gradually raising in all these ways, though I can’t guarantee that this trend will continue. Many people have significant incentives to lie, and if they can fool themselves while they do it, so much the better. (“Slaves were happier that way!” said innocently. Yeah, sure.)

So this blog is just a drop in the ocean, or maybe the pond. What must be said again and again and again and again from many different quarters to raise the threshold of doubt? The mind is lazy and wants to believe. We want to settle into a stable belief system. It’s not only easier, but it feels right, and it can’t be wrong if it feels so right, right? To doubt is to struggle against our childish nature. Alas, that’s what’s up.

Can we dare teach this in adolescence? 98% of mass media begs us to surrender our critical functions and for awhile just coast along with them. No harm done. Innocent fun. But of course, beyond (I’m just making this number up) 33.4% it’s no longer innocent. A bit of fantasy, maybe, but we sorta know it’s fantasy. I am suggesting that the saturation of life with mass media generates an uncritical gullibility. Sure they’re our friends. They entertain us. They smile at us. They don’t hurt us. Well, they eat our wallets, but that don’t hurt us, do it?

Yes it does, and it’s not the wallet-eating. It’s the habit of opening our minds. But we want an open mind! There’s a big difference between an open mind and letting your brains fall out, and that difference is obscured by the thousand gentle seductions of the mass media.

We’re only giving folks what they want? Yeah, the same argument can be made by those who manufacture concentrated alcohol and drugs, and any addictogenic stimuli. This is such a pervasive part of our culture that to challenge it seems to make us the equivalent of a pinch-faced abolitionist. Where’s the mid-point?

It’s happening gradually with tobacco, at least in the USA. Is it happening elsewhere? How much? Ditto with all the other intoxicants and seductions. Dare we include sugar and sugared soft drinks? Television and mass media? Loud and intense music. The ethos of party and the entitlement to have fun—not just a little, but a lot? Is there an ethos of moderation? I’m chewing on many of these middle-ground problems.

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