Cognition & Reality

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Pictures, Real & False

Filed under: Emotion,Memory,Radical Constructivism — drtone @ 11:14 am

I had an interview this morning about a contract job I may take. I had spoken on the phone a few daze ago with the person I was meeting. Based on that conversation, I was expecting someone in her early to middle forties, with permed blonde or strawberry blonde hair, pretty but pinched WASPy features, dressed in a prim outfit. The real person was in her early to middle thirties, not a WASP, maybe part Chicano or something, dressed casually in slacks and a striped top. On the phone, I thought she would be a brittle person trying to be overpowering,  Actually, she was easygoing and mild. It’s amazing how one develops pictures in the mind of how someone or something will be. In my experience, the picture and the reality rarely match.


Wednesday, 2 March 2011


Filed under: Attachment,Non-Dualism,Perennial Philosophy — drtone @ 2:26 pm

Before birth, beings are not manifest to our human senses. In the interim between birth and death, they are manifest. At death they return to the unmanifest again. What is there in all this to grieve over? Bhagavad-Gita II

Because it is only a web of stories, subjective consciousness is not real. The self, the mind, the world, all these are illusions. There is nothing novel in such a view, which has been held and developed for millennia by Eastern sages. I am a story I tell myself. Attachment is, therefore, little more than a dream, because the “I” or ego who is the central character is an illusion, as is the timeline through which the ego moves.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Meeting The Dragon

Filed under: Non-Dualism,Perennial Philosophy — drtone @ 11:15 am

I’m reading another Robert Masters book, Meeting the Dragon, about what Masters terms at one point “radical acceptance.” He offers his method for entering our pain and thereby ending our suffering, because pain and suffering are not the same thing. Maybe that’s why damages are awarded for both pain and suffering. The pain is what hurts and how it hurts. The suffering is our story about it.

As I often tell clients and myself, feelings are always present, whether we acknowledge them or not. The temptation is to keep them subliminal, as if they were not present. It requires no fancy figuring to realize that doing so keeps us from being fully present. Holding part of me at bay not only prevents me from being fully embodied, but also takes energy. Therefore, it drains life force away from where I might otherwise use it. Even if a feeling hurts, it still deserves attention. The whole purpose of pain is to draw conscious awareness to the place that hurts. Following this natural law has its rewards, as Masters demonstrates, because bringing conscious awareness to bear anywhere brings conscious awareness everywhere.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

If It Ain’t Broke…

Filed under: Emotion,Psychotherapy,Radical Constructivism — drtone @ 9:09 am

Because the process of psychotherapy also depends on a story, one about receiving “treatment” for a “problem,” it consists in a self-contradictory story. In that story, I am damaged and someone else, a “therapist,” comes along and fixes whatever is wrong with me. Not only does such a story depend on a static medical model, with a doctor ministering to a passive recipient, but it also involves the false portrayal of the entire situation as a transit from illness to health. When we renounce attachment to our narrative about repairing the Self, we discover that there was nothing broken in the first place.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a maxim to live by. Once we recognize that the true self manifests constantly, we can begin to examine why that is not apparent to the conscious mind. Suffering does occur. Under no circumstances can arrangements in the world meet every need. Life outside is not like life in the womb. It can be uncomfortable and unsafe, a discovery an infant continues to make from birth onward. In response, we develop defenses against the elements of experience that do not comport with feelings of comfort and safety. Psychotherapy is somehow about reaching behind those defenses without disrespecting them.

A client suggested to me, when we discussed psychotherapy and the question of “fixing,” to consider the meaning of the word “fix,” which is about preserving the status quo. In photography, for example, the “fixer” bath prevents the newly developed photo from changing. Fixing, thought of that way, is against change. Therefore, the client suggested, psychotherapy, at its best, is about “un-fixing.”

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Grocery Store

I have finally got round to reading The Metaphysical Club, by Louis Menand. It’s about William James, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Charles Sanders Peirce, John Dewey, and the development of pragmatism as an American philosophy. Of course, it’s interesting, but the most fascinating thing about it is that I’m learning that I, and others, have been reinventing pragmatism as a sort of adjunct to radical constructivism. The central point of pragmatism is that our thoughts are only thoughts, and any theory about the world is only a story made up of selections from individual experience. So much for ideas. So much for theory. For example, as one passage in the book explains, legal arguments about liability identify causal chains of events, although such chains are actually fabrications based on a given point of view.

In this connection, consider my experience of going to the grocery store and its relationship with what “actually happens” at the grocery store. There are typically dozens of people in the store, most or all of whom I do not know and do not know me. There are the clerks, to whom I am perhaps familiar in a shadowy sort of way if I frequent that supermarket. Other than that, it is rare for me to see anyone I know. The other shoppers and I are, in effect, independent observers of the events occurring before us. We all literally have our own points of view because we’re all standing in different places. Furthermore, we have come into the market carried along by our own stories about ourselves and our intentions in being there.

Let’s say I report to you about what it was like at the store. All I can tell you is a story entitled “My Visit to the Supermarket.” I can tell you the route I took around the store, what I bought, the number of people who were there, etc. If I were to give a detailed account, it might contain my impressions of my fellow shoppers, some of them at least, the number of checkstands that were open, the produce prices, the level of illumination, and the temperature in various parts of the store. What is the relationship of my report, however detailed, with what happened while I was in the store?

To begin with, there is  the question of events that happened while I was there, but that I did not or could not witness, such as the actions of shoppers in aisles I was not in when those actions occurred. Furthermore, my personal account must be silent regarding the experience of everyone else in the store, even supposing that one or two people spoke with me while I was there to comment on events as they happened. The chance are, moreover, that I would not appear as even a minor character in the report of any other shopper about her or his “visit to the supermarket.” As an expert in eyewitness testimony could tell you, if a crime had occurred while I was in the store, and I saw it happening, my report about it would vary in many details from the reports of other eyewitnesses. Even supposing that a crime did occur, and statements were taken, those statements, taken together, would still not constitute an account of what was happening, in total, within the store at the time I was there. Many more things than the crime were happening at any instant.

So where does this leave us? There was no place to stand in the store, no point of view, that would permit the creation of an individual report accounting for everything that happened during my visit. Standing in any place precludes standing in any other place. If we were to discuss what “everything that happened” means, we would find the same problem at another level, because your ideas about what constitutes a “fact” or “event” will almost certainly be at some variance from mine. For example, everyone in the store was breathing: Does each  inhalation and exhalation count as an event? Does every step that every shopper took? What about changes that were occurring at the molecular or atomic level? When asked what happened in the store, we might say, “God only knows,” and in some systems of philosophy the meaning of “God” is the point of view that sums or integrates all possible points of view. Were such a God to exist, however, neither you nor I would have direct access to her “experience.”

Let’s chew on that for a bit.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Science & The Church: An Addendum

Filed under: Attachment,Perennial Philosophy,Radical Constructivism — drtone @ 5:51 pm

Some may have found my entry of yesterday surprising because we are accustomed to think of science in opposition to religion. At least in part, this is because of science’s self-promotion as the only source of answers, demonstrating that it is indeed a child of the Church, whatever its current stance may be regarding religious doctrines. I have been struggling for some time with this sort of phenomenon, which I believe to be a function of closed systems: If a closed system has any products, those products retain the essential characteristics of the system as a whole. Possibly, this is what Varela and Maturana mean by autopoiesis.

Another area in which I think the same law or the same tendency applies is in the area of ego. Whatever it does, the ego’s products inevitably resemble the ego, a version of “You can run, but you can’t hide”: Whenever one enters the ego, one enters at the same place, with the same problems, concerns and beliefs, with the same attachments. At least, I think so.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Advaita Teacher

Filed under: Advaita,Perennial Philosophy — drtone @ 11:33 am

I can’t quite remember what my Googling was about, but I stumbled on a video of a guy in Vancouver named Burt Harding. He’s somewhat eccentric, but what do you expect of a guy who attributes his inspiration to a vision of Ramana Maharishi that came out of nowhere. Harding’s big ego provides an instructive contrast to his teachings about the ego, reinforcing rather than negating his words.

I also like his formulation “Human Being.” I am a human (who is) being. At once, it emphasizes the illusory nature of the individual and the existence of a real experiencer, giving another perspective on Ramana Maharshi’s injunction to ask, “Who am I?” The “human” part cannot do anything but struggle. Our only choice, as Burt Harding says over and over, is to recognize that we cannot choose either to struggle or not to struggle, because we are Being Here Now. Apprehending our own existence is all we can do.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Soul Without Shame: Book Recommendation

As background for writing a book on the Inner Bully, I’m reading Soul Without Shame by Byron Brown, written from the perspective of the Diamond Approach of A.H. Almaas, with quotes from Almaas. The format is good, using vignettes to illustrate the different forms the “inner judge” or superego takes, and delving precisely into the origins of self-criticism and self-doubt. The Diamond Approach, although based in Sufism and other mystical traditions, draws heavily on object relations theory, making the book of interest to anyone interested in the relationship of depth psychology and spirituality.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Weird News

Knowing that my therapist, Michael Sieck, was involved with the Diamond Approach, I have reluctantly concluded that all roads lead to Ken Wilber.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Wouldn’t It…Be Loverly?

Filed under: Attachment,Perennial Philosophy,Radical Constructivism — drtone @ 10:07 am

“Work done as a sacrifice for Vishnu has to be performed, otherwise work binds one to this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain unattached and free from bondage.” Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 3

If only we could, through good works, grant ourselves future health, wealth, and happiness. It doesn’t work that way. For one thing, acquiring “good karma” in that way presupposes a future in the past and a past in the future. As we know, “past” and “future” are the very fabric of Maya. Furthermore, my works become “good” through the operation of my ego, the seat of illusion, with its attachment to this and to that.

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