Hopeful Thinking

Every thought that goes through our head is either a hopeful one or fearful one – either we hope that the thought that we’re thinking is true, or we fear that it is.

If it didn’t matter one way or another to us – if we neither hoped nor feared – then we wouldn’t bother thinking in the first place; would not embark upon this mechanical endeavour, this dry exercise in rationalization. Thought is only ever concerned with <gain versus loss>, which is another way of saying that the rational mind is always biased. When we don’t care about whether a particular (specified) outcome is achieved or not is to come out of a place of equanimity, and this is the one thing thought cannot do.   

The reason we hope that our thought is true (or fear that it might be) is simply because it never can be. Nothing we can think is true. That was never on the cards, that was never ever a possibility. If we didn’t assume – either optimistically or pessimistically, as the case may be – that our thoughts are actually true, (or meaningful) then wouldn’t be any point in the exercise, since the point of thinking – as we have just said – is always to obtain some sort of concrete benefit. Thought, as we have just said, always comes out of a bias (or ‘one-sidedness’) and the only thing that can come out of bias is more bias, a repetition or reiteration of that bias. That’s the only thing a bias can ever do – repeat itself ad nauseam…

Thought is always geared towards attaining a benefit – there is absolutely no such thing as ‘a thought that isn’t either an attempt to gain something or avoid something’. There’s no such thing as ‘a thought that does not come out of attachment’, no such thing as ‘a thought that doesn’t come out of the polarity of like and dislike’, ‘thought that isn’t looking for a solution’. Thinking is predicated on bias and it is an enactment of that bias; this is why thought can be said to be ‘lacking in freedom’ – because it serves a master that it can’t acknowledge, a master that it says it doesn’t have. It can’t ever do anything apart from ‘repeating itself’, apart from asserting the same thing over and over again. Thought can’t ever do anything apart from ‘copying out the same old template’ – it can never create anything, it can only echo. As J.R. Tolkien says,

The Shadow that bred them can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own.

We might object to the suggestion that thinking (which we idolize) is merely ‘just another form of grasping’. We might – for example – say that there is such a thing as philosophical thought, which is a form of thought which is pure and innocent of guile, a form of thought that is unbiased, a form of thought which – in an entirely noble way – seeks to free us from the shackles of ignorance.

To believe something as absurd as this illustrates our blind spot – as Westerners we can’t help thinking that thought can be impartial, that it can be unprejudiced and honest. Thought can never be any of these things – it always comes with a secret agenda, which is why we shouldn’t trust it (never mind adulate it). Thought is never interested in ‘the world as it is in itself’ and neither are we when we fall under its influence. If we were genuinely interested in the world then we wouldn’t think about it, we wouldn’t spend all our time trying to disassemble it and slot the bits into our made-up conceptual boxes. This isn’t interest therefore, this is pure aggression. We’re ‘up to something’ – our motives aren’t pure.

If we were able to see that our made-up conceptual boxes are only ‘made-up conceptual boxes’ then they wouldn’t have the power over us that they do, clearly. The advantages we strive to obtain are meaningful to us only because of our biased viewpoint (only because we are ‘biased without knowing it’) and our supposedly ‘noble’ search for an objectively correct picture of the world is no exception. We’re not really searching for ‘truth at any price’; our search is a qualified one – our search is for a truth that agrees with our hidden prejudice, a truth that fits in with what we (unconsciously) want to believe. We’re looking for a particular kind of truth – the kind that can be stated positively, the kind that can be represented in a ‘linear’ fashion, in terms of a set of abstract conceptual boxes.

If we were really interested in the world (rather than looking to exploit it in some way) then we would observe it rather than think about it; we would contemplate the matter at hand rather than coldly analysing it, rather than trying our best to pull it to pieces. The reason we don’t engage much (or at all) in contemplation in this modern era is because we are always concerned about results; the reason we don’t spend much (if any) time observing the world is because we’re greedy for results and contemplation doesn’t yield ‘results’ – that’s not what it’s about. We don’t contemplate ‘for a reason’.

It might seem unfair to say that we are ‘inescapably greedy’ but it’s not so much that we are greedy in the usual sense of the word, but we are – when we’re in the conditioned mode of being – slaves of an agenda that we can’t see, which is ‘the agenda to prove that our way of looking at things is the right one’. We’re acting out of a bias that we can’t see to be a bias and so – secretly – we’re always seeking to prove that this arbitrary bias isn’t ‘arbitrary’, isn’t a bias’. This is what unconscious life is all about. When we can’t see the bias that gives shape to our perceived world then that bias controls us in everything we do and if we’re being ‘controlled every step of the way by a master we can’t see’ then there’s no chance of us ever being ‘curious about the world’. It’s ridiculous to claim that we have (or can have) any genuine curiosity about anything when we’re in the conditioned mode. All the ‘finer’ aspects of conscious have been dulled (sometimes to the point of non-existence) when we’re governed by mechanical rules which we mistake for our own will.  

When we’re in the conditioned mode of being then we’re driven in everything we do by a mechanical tendency, which is ‘the mechanical (or rule-based) tendency of thought’. As long as we’re being guided by rationality then everything we do is always going to be about ‘obtaining definite outcomes’  – either a definite outcome with regard to some sort of goal, or a definite outcome with regard to how we evaluate the world (which is to say, with regard to the conclusions we can draw about it). When we’re being governed by the Operating System of Thought then we are driven by the need to reach some kind of a conclusion and because of this we’re never going to see the truth of our situation. We’re never going to see this because the truth of our situation isn’t a conclusion and can’t be made into one.

We can’t possibly see the truth about our situation by thinking about it because when we think we automatically create a ‘false reality’ for ourselves – the false reality that is brought about by our grasping for a conclusion, by our grasping for a solution. Grasping means that we’re greedy – we’re acting out of mechanical need, we’re being driven by our need to ‘find a resolution’ and what this means is that we’re more interested in obtaining resolution then we are in seeing the truth. Our loyalty is to the master we don’t know we have.

To be governed by the Operating System of Thought is to function according to bias, and no prices have been going to do anything apart from the latest to the version of reality that it is biassed towards seeing. Furthermore, we can say that acting on a bias can only ever do one thing, and that one thing is to involve us in a closed loop of logic. A bias (or rule) when enacted always creates a close system; a definite assertion – in order to be definite – has to assume a closed world (since definite statements only have any meaning within a closed world) but once we do this then we can’t undo it again. We can’t retrace our steps; we can’t even know that any steps have been taken. The ‘bias’ has now become invisible, inaccessible, undetectable and this constitutes what we could call the Demiurgic Principle – the principle by which [1] A fake world is created and [2] We get trapped within this fake world.

Each time we act in a manner that is ‘unreflectively purposeful’ (i.e., a way that is based on our assumed map of the world) we invoke this principle; we’re invoking the Demiurgic Principle because we are in this way buying into a world in which the frame of reference that our unreflectively purposeful actions are predicated upon is reflected back at us. This is a ‘Trojan Horse’-type mechanism. We could also say that for every time we proceed in a rational fashion we take for granted a world that just plain isn’t true.  To think a thought (which we do all the time, quite automatically) is to accept as true the virtual (or ‘propositional’) world that this thought makes sense within, which is a world that is not in any way real. This sounds pretty crazy, but the point is that – unbeknownst to ourselves – we have a need for there to be some kind of positive world, some kind of concrete reality, and so – actually –everything is going perfectly to plan. When it comes down to it our allegiance isn’t to the truth; it’s not the truth that we are serving but our unacknowledged need to live in a world that is made up of definite statements, statements that we don’t have to question.

It’s not that we’re hoping to ‘uncover the truth’ with our endeavours therefore, but rather that we’re hoping to prove to ourselves that there’s no such thing as radical uncertainty. We live in hope that we can ‘escape openness’; we live in the hope that we can prove to ourselves that we exist in a ‘definite’ or ‘literal’ way (rather than in only a provisional or propositional way). To put this in Greg Tucker’s terms, ‘the dreamer the mind dreams’ is trying to prove – by whatever means it can – that it is a person outside of that dream.

That’s why we’re ‘hoping without realising it’, but it’s a hope that can never come good. We’re like Miss Havisham in Great Expectations (only Miss Havisham at least knew that she was waiting, whilst we don’t). The fact that what we’re waiting for will never arrive isn’t a problem, however; we can get round it – we can even turn it to our advantage. All we need to do is keep on having thoughts and acting unreflectively on them, all we need to do is to keep on having goals and doggedly pursuing them, and by doing this we can ‘assume a world’.  What we’re doing is that we’re assuming that the Formal World of our descriptions is in fact literally true and acting as if this really were the case. By acting as if our assumptions are true, we effectively solidify them. As far as we’re concerned ‘the world that we’re assuming’ absolutely is true and we would get a terrible shock if we were to discover otherwise (which is something that one day we will discover, of course).

All of the stuff we do on the basis of thought would be legitimate if the world we automatically assume to be true actually was true but isn’t and never could be. We never troubled ourselves to see if the world we assuming to exists but rather we hope that it is, we hope that this assumed world exists and we proceed on in this hopeful basis. We bank on it and we validate this unwise strategy saying that hope is a great thing, a sacred thing which must never be questioned. Hope is a virtue in the orthodox Christian tradition. It is odd that we should carry on like this, of course – the fact that we prefer to live on the basis of hope rather than ‘no hope’ (which is to say, ‘no expectation’) tells us something very important, something that we don’t generally care to acknowledge, which is that hope always comes out of doubt.

Image – Getty Images

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