“Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe. What we believe is based on our perceptions. What we perceive depends on what we look for. What we look for depends on what we think. What we think depends on what we perceive. What we perceive determines what we believe. What we believe determines what we take to be true. What we take to be true is our reality.”
David Bohm, the famous quantum physicist and thinker believed that our thinking was the greatest source of all our problems. He said, “….it looks as if the thing we use to solve our problems with is the source of our problems”.
We assume we are rational thinkers, but in our thinking there are many unconscious biases. His quote at the top of the page summarises the dilemma nicely. Our so called rational mind is mainly rationalising. There is a great tendency for us to see things as we wish them to be and discard evidence to the contrary.
I remember reading in one of Charles Darwin’s diaries words to the effect, “When I am in the field and I find evidence which is contrary to what I am trying prove, I quickly write it down because I know that is what I will soonest forget!” But somebody needs to be particularly perceptive and courageous to think that way. Thomas S Kuhn in his famous book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” show how many scientists unwittingly discard data that is antagonistic to the thesis they are trying to prove.
Over a period of time having cultivated our knowledge in a particular field, we have a vested interest in maintaining the integrity of that knowledge.
And of course we do this in more mundane ways. If I read the newspaper I selectively read it to reinforce my beliefs. I cultivate friends with similar beliefs to my own so that my treasured position is not unduly challenged. When I hear criticism of my beliefs I create various defence mechanisms to prop up my cherished beliefs.
To some extent such defence mechanisms can be healthy so that my sense of self is not continuously being assailed. Indeed Martin Seligman in his book “Learned Optimism” shows that pessimistic people and those with depression often are deficient in such defence mechanisms.
As the French Author, Anais Nin perceptively wrote, “We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are.”
Henri Poincare, the great French mathematician and physicist made a similar observation. “It is impossible that there is a reality totally independent of the mind that conceives it, sees it, or senses it..”
It is obvious then that our state of mind impacts on how we might view the world.
In another story I am writing about a Princess with depression I describe the various techniques that the Buddhist Augustus, uses to try to change her worldview. Because I enjoy the teaching mechanism of parables, I am going to leave you with a couple of extracts from that manuscript.
Augustus was determined that he should coax the Princess to view the world differently. Her question about how was it possible to interpret the world in different ways was a typical response from those who were yet to understand. He had put the same question to his Master, Takygulpa Rinpoche. He smiled as he remembered his Master’s response.
“Old Yan Zi was said to have owned a small dog called Sunshi that barked incessantly.
The goldsmith who was an upright and optimistic man would walk past his house every morning. ‘Ah, little dog,’ he would say ‘it is good to hear you so chirpy and positive.’
The calligrapher who was always grumpy and pessimistic came soon after. ‘Why you little cur,’ he mumbled, ‘always complaining.’
The teacher, renowned for his insatiable curiosity then followed. ‘Sunshi,’ he said admonishingly, ‘always full of questions.’
Finally along came the Emperor’s cook. He was a very portly man. He shook his head and exclaimed, ‘Poor little dog – always hungry.’
The dog, on the other hand, just liked the sound of his own voice.”
The Princess looked at the little Buddhist and enquired, “You have told me Augustus that we each have different worldviews and because we see the world differently we respond to the world differently.”
“Yes – that is so Princess.”
“But how can these view points be so different?”
“Some of us are inwardly focused and fearful and as a result we can’t see very far. We are always looking for those things that we believe are threatening us. We can’t see beyond the next slight or insult. We see the world as a threatening place. Others that are more at ease with themselves are able to see the world more benignly. To them the world is more benign and they are more likely to be at one with their world.”
“Let me give you an example. Consider a green ant living with its colony in a mangrove tree. The ant is gnawing at the edge of a leaf. All of a sudden, a gust of wind arises and breaks the leaf from its branch. The leaf, with the ant clinging grimly to it, tumbles down into the water. The tide is running out and the leaf is whirled around by the eddies formed where the mangrove roots meet the water. The ant is thrust violently about and hangs on for grim death. Eventually the leaf emerges into the main stream and is washed further down the estuary. Soon the leaf comes to a sand bar. This impediment to the flow of the tide creates small waves in the water. But to the ant these seem like huge cataracts. Once over the bar the water becomes calm and another gust of wind arises and pushes the leaf with the hapless ant aboard to an overhanging branch. The ant quickly grasps the branch and hauls itself out of the water. It sits exhausted for a while on the branch, its little heart beating furiously. ‘Whew,’ it thinks to itself, “I’ll never go near the sea again. What a treacherous place it is, with whirlpools and cataracts and mountainous waves.”
“The poor thing,” exclaimed the Princess. “What a traumatic experience!”
Augustus resumed. “All the while the ant was enduring its journey down the estuary, a sea-eagle was soaring high overhead. The warm sun created a strong thermal that enabled it to hover effortlessly above the estuary. ‘What a lovely day,’ thinks the bird. ‘The estuary is so calm and beautiful. I feel at one with the world.’ What the ant saw as frightful and traumatic, the sea-eagle saw as tranquil and beautiful.”
“We are like the green ant and the sea-eagle. Those self obsessed and driven by fear see the world as a frightening place. They are compelled, through no fault of their own, to be defensive and pessimistic.”
My blog of June 20 2009 (see archives) also relates to this theme.