In a very real sense we are addicted to thoughts and especially addicted to thoughts that cause suffering. In fact – and this may be very hard to admit and even harder to realize on a level deeper than merely intellectual, at a lived level – we are addicted to suffering itself.
I notice a certain set of physiological phenomena within me when I indulge in miserable thoughts. There is a racing of the heart, a dropping sensation in the belly. In fact I believe the symptoms are similar to those that we experience in moments of panic or danger. It is the fight or flight response. When the body performs the fight or flight response a whole cascade of hormones and neuro-transmitters come into action. One of these is dopamine. Dopamine is the pleasure neuron-transmitter. (I am of course talking from the position of a highly uneducated laymen when it comes to biology in general and neuro-biology in particular. So this may not be highly accurate though I hope it is – in all relevant aspects – good enough). Is also the compound responsible for addiction.
Not only do painful thoughts cause these symptoms but intense situations. Have you ever wondered why arguments are so prevalent? Why people shout so much at one another despite the fact that raising your voice adds no information? (Well it may tell the other that you are unhappy but surely “I am unhappy” is a superior means of conveying the same information!) It’s because the fight or flight response is at the helm and you let it stay there because you’re loving the rush! You may not admit this to yourself… Indeed your conscious mind may be fully convinced that it doesn’t want to argue but if this were true why would you continue exhibiting such irrational and self-destructive behavior? Ask the drug-addict why he persists in taking a drug which he claims to want to stop and you’ll get the answer for why you think painful thoughts and have domestic arguments!
On the way home from work today I was being hassled by thoughts concerning my loneliness. Recently I’ve been putting myself out there on a dating website, have been on a few dates and nothing has happened. There was one girl who I was talking to for a bit and it seemed quite promising but it just vanished. So there I was walking home being hassled by thoughts like “I’m never going to find anyone!”. There’s no point giving them all a written voice because they are thoughts that are all to common.
Instead of being destroyed by these thoughts as I used to I watched them. I asked questions of them.
“What is your function?”
To impart information.
“Don’t lie! If your function was to impart information why do you repeat yourselves so much? Why go on saying the same thing over and over? Information does not change with repetition!”
To make you more successful.
“Don’t lie!” I said in a slightly more strident voice. “You’ve been saying these things to me my whole life… or at least as long as I can remember. If you’re intention was to assist me in attaining what you make me think I want then you would have changed what you said by now because you’re spiel’s been as efficacious as a rotten egg!”
To make you feel.
“Now I think we are getting closer to the truth… I have noticed that the thoughts that are the most persistent are those thoughts that generate the most emotional activity. If you analyzed thoughts and attempted to distinguish between them, to find a qualitative difference between one thought and another, you’d be at a total loss to find any. There seem to be two things interacting here : thoughts and emotions. You cannot understand the hold a thought will have on a person by looking at it in isolation.”
(To be continued… )
Why do we find painful things painful?
Now this seems like a silly question but it really isn’t. A reformulation of it that may make more sense would be “Why do we not like pain?”
Now there are answers which aren’t really answers to what I’m attempting to get at. One of these would be “We do not like pain because not liking pain causes us to avoid that which causes pain. Over time natural selection has selected those that avoid pain because pain is a consequence of damage and those that do no avoid pain tend to die sooner and produce less off-spring.” All well and good.
Maybe to make getting to my point a bit easier I should be explicit about my agenda here. I am attempting to communicate a realization I had while walking my dogs today. The realization is that nothing is really painful in the really painful sense. By pain here I am not talking about the physical sensations we call pain but I’m talking about that which causes us to react in the way we do to pain. The psychological phenomena that characterizes all phenomena we label as un-desirable.
So maybe the question would be better articulated as “Why do we find pain undesirable?” (or maybe even “Why do we find undesirableness undesirable?”) See we can sit and watch the pain, we can even sit and watch the undesirableness of the pain and we can reach a state where the pain is neither desirable or undesirable. A state where the pain is just stuff happening. From this state it becomes clear that for pain to become undesirable – indeed for anything to become undesirable – there has to be an action taken on our part which we can not take if we choose.
OK evolution has conditioned how we react to things in a certain. Whether or not we label particular sensations as pleasurable or not. But now it seems that we can wrest control over this “system” from natural selection and reshape it as we see fit. The “Why” of what we feel is irrelevant in looking at this. Or rather yes it is wise to take into account the why. But having such powerful motivations – that are subconscious – determining our actions seems to be… undesirable!
Now I’m not saying that such a state of affairs – one in which we transcend desirable and undesirable is easy to attain. I am yet to find a simple on off switch for it. But it is desirable non-the-less and I believe attainable through a dedicated application of mindfulness. It’s not about avoiding pain and pleasure… in fact it’s not about changing any outward circumstance in your life… the practice is one where whenever you experience anything instead of reacting to it in terms of desire just watch it and slowly you will grow (well I hope you will I’ve noticed I have – in peaks and troughs) to transcend the demons of your life!
I believe belief is not a choice. There has never been a time when you have considered a subject, believed nothing about it and from that position thought to yourself “I believe neither this or that but I feel I should so I am going to select this to believe!” To some people it may seem as if they are “Choosing” what to believe but they never are.
The reason is that in the process of selection they are looking at various options (this is of course looking at the ideal situation), weighing them up, comparing them to one another. What is the defining characteristic of this process? Aren’t you merely producing propositions and bringing them before the alter of your discretion which passes judgment? You look at a certain sentence, opinion, concept or whatever and you ask yourself “Is this true?” or if you’re clever “Do I believe this?” and you wait for that feeling of affirmation or negation. Only once that intuition has spoken are you then able to declare you stance.
Maybe a better perspective from which to look at it is from another issue. There are many Christians who believe that Homosexuality is a choice. That people choose to find members of the same sex physically attractive. This is clearly absurd. I mean we all remember that time when we had no sexual preference and we thought to ourselves “It’s about time I had a sexual preference! Which should I get aroused over: boys or girls? I can’t possibly give any reasons for my choice because if I choose girls because I like boobs well I’m saying I already find girls sexually attractive and if I say I prefer boys because of masculine facial structure then I’m saying I already find them attractive… I know I’ll roll a dice and whatever that comes up as I’ll fancy – but even that doesn’t work because even then my choice isn’t mine but the die’s!” Of course we don’t remember that time because it never happened! You just woke up one day with a boner and an image of Melinda Messenger naked and soapy in your mind!
In just the same way any reason you give for choosing to believe something is proof that you had that belief prior to your choosing it. So you’re left with a two alternatives.
What you believe is not under you control. You’re apparent choice to believe something is nothing other than a manifestation of a pre-existing state.
You’re beliefs are based on nothing. They are totally random and meaningless. You don’t believe something because it’s true but because for no reason you choose to believe it!
One of the questions that has been occupying my mind a lot for the last year is “What is consciousness?”
One of the supposedly fundamental properties of consciousness is intentionality. That is that consciousness is always about something. That we are never conscious as an abstract thing but rather that consciousness is always accompanies by something that you are conscious of.
Another feature of consciousness is meaning. Now meaning also has intentionality. Meaning is never seen in isolation but rather there is always a meaning of something, never just a meaning. Meaning cannot exist without consciousness. Or rather there can be no meaning if there is no-one to whom the meaning is for.
For instance take a car. What does it mean to be a car? Surely it is a functional definition. A car is a lump of stuff that is used for transport. Of course there are other fundamental qualities without which a car would not be a car but here we will isolate one of them: namely it’s function as a mode of transport.
Now say someone were to come along and use the car as a table. Not only that but believe that that was its function. Would the car still be the car? No it would be a table. A lower level of description – such as the assortment of minerals that made it up – would remain the same.
Now lets go for a further level of abstraction – or rather De-subjectification.What would that which we call a car be if seen from no point in space or time – or every point in space and time? Surely then even the mineral nature of the car would cease to be an anchor as the various elements and compounds that make it up exhibit their mercurial nature!.
The problem with the dating game is one of maintaining identity.
Sure from a high enough vantage point there is no such thing as an identity that needs to be maintained. The problem with such a view though is that from such a height dating isn’t something that one would engage in. Or at least seek out.
So in the normal, run-of-the-mill, place where dating happens we have an identity. This identity is made up of our likes and dislikes, the kinds of words that we use, what we find funny and what we find taboo. Idealistically speaking the aim of the dating game is to find someone who’s identity you like and who likes your identity. In this game our rational mind is quite useless.
The trap the game presents is one of false-identities. It is incredibly difficult to maintain your identity in the face of an attractive member of the opposite sex who seems to not like that identity. A battle of wills occurs within one. There is the side – which often has the mind on it (at least in my case it does) – that says “This person is obviously not right for you.” But the other side – which is as powerful if not more so – says “But you like her!” Of course the like here is lust… You may conflate it with something else but it you’re honest with yourself what you want is to have sex with that person lots of times and in order to fulfill this desire you’re tempted to forsake your own identity.
The other side of this is that there are many people who are ashamed of themselves and so they habitually wear a false identity. In both these cases that identity cannot be maintained. Not even for short spans of time can it last without fractures. This is probably why Love has often been associated with torment. In a sense love has been conflated with a falseness in modern-society. Just look at the coquette ideal – that is someone who pretends not to like someone in order to get them to pursue.
One of the tricks that society plays on us is the trick of authority. Though this is relevant to all types of authority here I am focusing in on the idea of an authority when it comes to truth or knowledge.
Instead of engaging with experience 1st hand most people don’t even engage with it at all. That is they don’t attempt to understand what is. The reason behind this is partly school and partly media. At school people were just spoon-fed fact after fact. There was very little in the way of learning how facts come about.
In a very real sense the education system is upside down. When people are younger they should be taught procedural knowledge rather than factual knowledge. This would be a lot easier than it seems especially in things like the sciences because in the sciences you could just get them to perform the experiments. Get them to go through the scientific method but don’t be so concerned with getting them to get the “Right answer”. This would be incredibly easy because the scientific method is incredibly simple.
Don’t go telling me that children aren’t sophisticated enough for the practice that would make up the acquisition of procedural knowledge because they learn language when they have no language. I mean if nature – that is blind forces acting upon stuff – can cause a dumb child to speak then I am sure we can teach that same child how to act out the scientific method.
The media is no less responsible. As a result of the schooling people are given now those that don’t persist into further education generally tend to become vegetative in respects to anything to do with learning once they leave school. Media just perpetuates this state of affairs by offering a surplus of pseudo-documentaries that appear to be instructional but when analyses consist of nothing but a sequence of unsubstantiated truth-claims.
These claims may well be true but that is not the point. That such questions as “How is the truth-value of a claim to be known?”, “How are these “facts” generated?” and so on are not addressed is quite atrocious. It acts upon a person’s intellect in much the same way that the news acts upon a person’s moral sensibility. In the case of the news a person is constantly presented with a series of images where people are in distress but he can do nothing about it and thus his feeling of empathy is deadened. In the case of the pseudo-documentaries he is presented with a string of unconnected facts which come from god knows where and with which he can do nothing and so he is left in a stupor.
In the media – I am afraid to say – science plays the role of religion. Instead of saying to the laymen “Don’t ask that because it is forbidden” it says “Don’t ask that because you are stupid”.
After you die I reckon this happens. Well before I go into what I reckon happens I have to give a description of what I think it is that is ending.
So when we are alive I believe we are a device that is used by consciousness to experience itself. So when you are alive you are conscious of stuff from one place and one moment. This is comparable to looking out at space through a telescope. Just as with a telescope you can observe a limited portion of what is observable in any moment; whilst living you are limited to experiencing a small portion of the totality.
So I believe that when you die the telescope, the device disintegrates. This seems tragic because we believe that it is the device that is truly alive.We believe inchoately – and thus strongly – that the bit of us that feels is what we call our character, our individuality, our uniqueness. But really – and this can be discovered whilst alive (it is enlightenment) – it is not the character that feels but that which perceives the character.
So when this seemingly tragic event occurs and there is no longer an individual and unique person what will be experienced is this. Suddenly your perspective will shift from the finite and bounded to the infinite and unbounded. You will go from experiencing what is to be experienced from one position in space and one moment in time to experiencing everything all at once. This is utterly incomprehensible because there won’t be a character and we cannot conceive of experience without our character… currently.
Another thing that will become – not only known but – lived is that there is no separateness. It is an utter illusion. Because the consciousness will still be perceiving through all the perceivers. But because you are dead you will see this. You will not be seeing the birds-eye view because you will be the bird’s eye view.
Of course this is my subjective opinion. I do not believe this to be certainly true. In epistemological terms I believe this but I don’t know this. I don’t actually believe it is possible to know this until it happens. This is because the statement that consciousness does not continue after death is just as rational and reasonable given the evidence as the statement that it does continue.
What we can do given the undecidability of the issue of life after death is ask ourselves “What do I actually believe?” Because we all believe something about anything we think about. We don’t choose to believe that thing we just do. In the face of undecidable questions the only reasonable thing to do is to discover what you believe and express it if you feel inclined.
So I’ve only gone and put myself on a dating website! What am I like hey Tuts at self in jest as expressed through the mock rolling of the eye-balls.
It’s actually a wonderfully opportunity to examine the shyness and self-consciousness that arises in homo sapiens by watching my own internal environment as I agonize over personal statements and messages to potential mates.
One of the things I keep telling myself as I write stuff on there is “Just be me. You’re not trying to attract someone… Well you are but for god’s sake don’t let yourself know that because that’s when… You’ve only gone and done it haven’t you… Now write that back up.. go on that bit you just deleted because you thought that pretty ladies wouldn’t like it… actually no on second thoughts just leave it but from now on no deleting!!! Remember you’re trying to attract the women to you and some fictional idealized version of you!”
But it’s hard. I mean how do you start a conversation? Also when people reply in mono-syllables does that mean they’re not interested or just shy? I don’t want to hassle people but I don’t want potentials to fall through the net. I think as long as I fuck off when told I should be fine…
The site I signed up to has a funny name: POF.com or plenty of fish. Ha objectification or what! But the good kind I suppose because it’s objectifying men and women equally…
When we use words what are we doing?
I have heard a statement that went like this “Propositions just lead to other propositions”. I don’t think it is so. Sure propositions do very often lead to other propositions. You can create a whole formal language which will produce tonnes of propositions from a few propositions. But Propositions don’t JUST come from propositions and don’t JUST produce propositions.
I see language as a tool. It’s obvious use is one of communication but it comes into it’s own when used in philosophy. In my opinion philosophy is nothing other then the pursuit of the perfect phrase – or set of phrases – which describe, encapsulate and maybe even render reality.
By reality I do not mean just the gross reality of our senses but that which is thinkable, comprehensible, conceivable. Really – and this is quite funny – what I mean by reality is that which can be put into words… or at least that which lends itself to being talked about.
By reality I don’t mean that which is true.
So when I philosophize I often have this inchoate pseudo-visual/sensory experience and it is that which I am trying to paint in words.
The fact is that words are wonderful but woefully inadequate for the task. They never seem to say enough, or they always seem to say to much and in their quantity lose something fundamental to the experience I’m trying to render communicable. It’s because words and language are fundamentally symbols and as such they always point beyond themselves to that which they are symbols of.
When we – or at least I – try to express an experience which doesn’t seem to be as communal as say a run-of-the-mill visual experience (say a tree) we are never confident that we have actually communicated it. There is always the thought that we’ve used the wrong symbol or pressed the wrong button on the keypad to the other’s consciousness and now they are seeing cartoons when we wanted them to hear Ave Maria!