The Procrustean Bed of Our Beliefs

The limited (or ‘conditional’) mind has no capacity for entertaining two competing viewpoints at the same time. It can only entertain one worldview at a time, one perspective at a time, which shows how just how absurdly limited it is. Another way of putting this is simply to say that the conditional mind can only see things in a strictly literal way (since the sense of there being ‘a literal objective reality’ is a function of only having the one VP). This is no minor limitation either – when we can only see the world in a literal way then we are guaranteed to have no relationship whatsoever with that inconsequential little thing we call ‘the truth’.

The problem with only being able to see things in a literal way, in having a ‘concrete worldview’, is therefore that we aren’t seeing anything that is actually real! We can work with one hypothesis, or we can work with the other hypothesis, but we can’t work with them both. We can’t allow them ‘equal precedence’, so to speak. We are always on either ‘the one side or the other’: one always has to be the ‘right’ view, and that means that all other views must be ‘wrong’. We can therefore say that we are the prisoners of our way of seeing the world. Our ‘way of seeing the world’ (our model, theory or hypothesis) is our tool, our device, our tactic – it’s there to serve us, but what always ends up happening is that we end up serving it.

We end up having to fit into our view of the world (rather the vice versa), we are compelled to accommodate ourselves to it in what we might call a ‘procrustean’ fashion – if we’re too short for the bed then we will have to be stretched painfully on a rack until we’re long enough to fit it and if we’re too long then we will have to lose the excess length by having our feet (and maybe part of our legs) sawn off. This is exactly how it is with our rational understanding of the world – no matter what picture it is that we have to adapt ourselves to it’s always going to be to our detriment. Adaptation is always in favour of the template that we’re adapting ourselves to; when we’re being moulded then it is of course the mould that is the boss, not us. When we follow the rules then it is us that must change, not the rules…

Rationality works by picking one particular view and then automatically excluding all the others. EITHOR/OR logic is called by that name for a very good reason! The reason we find it so extremely uncomfortable not to pick a particular view (or slant) on things is because in order to do so we would have to suspend the operation of the either/or rational mind; we would have to drop our worldview and that’s not something we like doing, to put it mildly. Not only do we not like doing it, we don’t see any point to it, we don’t see that there is any value in suspending the operation of the judging, conceptualizing mind. This shouldn’t come as any great surprise, given the fact that we have assented for rationality to be our master. We can easily vote an autocrat into power, but the big snag is that we can’t vote him out again. The rational mind is the ultimate autocrat, the ultimate ‘tyrant,’ and it’s no good waiting for an autocrat to give up their power of their own accord.

Suspending the operation of the thinking mind is of course what Keats calls negative capability and having this capacity, according to Keats, is the key to creativity – the greater our capacity to tolerate radical uncertainty, the more creative we will be. Although the originator of the term doesn’t go down this road, it is clearly the case that without the boon of negative capability we can never be anything but machines. Only humans can tolerate uncertainty; rule-based systems never can. When thought is the master that we automatically defer to in all things then being a machine is the only possibility open to us. To be unable to drop the thinking mind is of course to be a slave and to be a slave of the rational mind is to be a machine, purely and simply – and this is not a metaphor! To have a concrete worldview is to be a machine; to have a concrete worldview is to be defined and therefore controlled by the thinking mind and when we are in the position of being defined by the in a literal way by the literal or concrete way that we have of seeing things is to be a machine, with all that this modality entails.

Going back to what we started off by saying, when we argue (as we are so very prone to doing) over ‘which particular concrete with worldview is the true one’ then we are functioning as machines. We are as – Kurt Vonnegut would say – ‘arguing machines’. There is absolutely no meaning to (or in) our arguments (since no concrete worldview can ever be true) and so we can observe something very curious here; we can – if we are so inclined – observe that the activity of arguing (or the activity of promoting or defending our opinions and beliefs) is the most supremely meaningless thing there is. When we’re in Machine Mode however, we have neither the capacity to see this nor the capacity to refrain from acting out our ideas, even if we wanted to.

That is nothing is undignified as being a machine; we are in our lives constantly trying to to prove (both to ourselves and others) that we are ‘in the right’ and yet there’s no such thing as ‘being in the right’. Being ‘right’ (or wanting to be ‘right’) simply means that we are ‘being a machine’, which is making a joke of ourselves. What we’re trying to do is validate ourselves since to be right is to be invulnerable, unassailable, unchallengeable, unquestionable, and so on. The need we experience to validate ourselves is immense; to be without validation (or to be devalidated by being saddled with a negative status) is utter anguish for us and we will do anything – as a rule – to avoid it. It is as if everything about us, our very existence itself, is somehow dependent upon the consent of others. We don’t belong to ourselves at all. This is why Anthony de Mello says that social approval is our heroin. Just as a smackhead is addicted to heroin so are we addicted to the approval of others (or of society in general). The only difference is that a heroin addict has more dignity than a regular ‘socially adapted person’ has since they are actually honest about it (at least to themselves).

The corollary of saying that ‘our way of seeing the world is our master and that we are its helpless slaves’, is that we don’t actually have the slightest interest – bizarre though this may sound – in whether the stuff we believe in is true or not. The truth simply doesn’t come into it. When I need to believe in something then there is of course zero possibility that I will ever critically examine it, and this makes a total mockery of the whole business. This is why ‘arguing about which viewpoint is right’ is such a meaningless thing. The fact that we go around trying to promote what we believe in and are so quick to engage in passionate argument on behalf of it, makes it look as if we are passionate about the truth; it makes it seem as if the question as to ‘what is true and what is not true’ really matters to us. This indeed is what we ourselves perceive to be the case; we are – in our own minds – ennobled by our staunch and heroic support of whatever it is we believe (not matter what that might be).

This is completely absurd however – we’re not in the slightest bit interested in the truth – all we’re interested in is ‘validating ourselves’. We’re scratching an itch; we’re functioning on autopilot. We’re only interested in feeding our addiction to being validated, and -what’s more – we’re not in the least bit honest about this. We’re not arguing as intensely as we are because we really care about what is true or not, we’re arguing because we’re arguing machines and because we’re arguing machines we will staunchly defend our position no matter what that position might be…

The only way we could ever be genuinely interested in the truth (or otherwise) of a viewpoint would be if we were unattached to it. To see a position for what it is we must be unattached to all viewpoints. We would have to suspend the operation of the thinking mind for that to happen, and suspending the operation of the thinking mind simply isn’t an option for us; that’s something we definitely aren’t interested in! That isn’t -and never will be – on the menus. Machines aren’t ‘interested’ in anything – it would be ridiculous to suggest that they were – machines are merely tools.  They merely ‘act out the rules that govern them’ and there is of course no virtue whatsoever in this. Any virtue we might imagine we possess as (a result of faithfully acting out the rules) we don’t.

Imaage –

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