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The Limitations of Rational Psychology

One of the most glaring misunderstandings we come across in what we might call ‘rational psychology’ is that we assume it to be the case that we can will change in ourselves. Even to call this a ‘misunderstanding’ isn’t addressing the matter correctly – to believe that we can will change in our own mental state isn’t just ‘getting it wrong’, it’s an inversion of the truth. We couldn’t get it more wrong if we tried.



This proposition isn’t something that needs to be arrived at via advanced psychological research by gangs of intellectual heavyweights; on the contrary, it is a matter of direct personal experience. If we were to actually notice – from moment to moment – what is going on in our lives, then we would see very plainly that ‘willing change in our mental state’ is the one thing we can never do; this is a fundamental impossibility and we are free to keep on testing it as much as we need to in order to make this clear to ourselves. Experience always shows that we simply can’t do it any more than we can will ourselves to float in mid-air. No one ever changed their mental state on purpose and no one ever will. This is a bizarre notion that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny for a second.



Having said this, we also ought to acknowledge that – in practise – we never do learn this. There seem to be two impossibilities here, not just the one. There is ‘the impossibility of changing ourselves on purpose’ and there is the (apparent) impossibility of us ever being able to see this. There’s a very good reason for this second (apparent) impossibility however and that is the fact that we live our lives almost entirely within a state of delusion. Another way of putting this is to say that we live our lives on the basis of bias – confirmation – we have a bias as to what we’d like to believe to be true, what we’d like to believe to be the case, and then – surprise, surprise – we allow ourselves to be convinced that what we are biassed towards believing to be the case really is true. As Robert Anton Wilson puts it, ‘What the thinker thinks the prover proves’.



Bias-confirmation is the deadliest trap there is or ever could be. ‘Your greatest enemy is your self that is between your two sides’, says the Prophet. All of our energy goes into fighting ‘the enemy without’, whilst the whole time the enemy is the one who is hiding behind this misdirected attention, this blind aggression. What ‘bias-confirmation’ comes down to is of course fear – we are afraid of what really might turn out to be the case, what really might turn out to be true, and so we seek refuge in self-serving delusions. If we were to be honest in ourselves then we would be interested in what is true whether this suits us or not, but history shows that this kind of ‘inner honesty’ is extraordinarily rare – being interested in truth for its own sake is pretty much an alien concept to us and anyone who shows themselves to have this unusual trait is almost certain to be persecuted without mercy. The only way they won’t be persecuted is if they keep their interest in the truth to themselves!



Humankind has not changed psychologically in any appreciable way over the centuries – we pride ourselves on belonging to a modern, scientific era, which – or so the inference goes – means that we are free from the superstition and ignorance of our forefathers, and yet there is (needless to say) no evidence for this whatsoever. We personally haven’t done anything to emancipate ourselves from the ignorance, superstition and ‘other-directedness’ that is humanity’s lot, and yet somehow we feel worthy of sharing the glory of ‘scientific progress’. The truth is that we are perfectly happy to believe what everyone else believes, which is how things have always been; we’re perfectly happy to believe whatever everyone else believes and persecute the hell out of anyone who dares to disagree (and this is just as much the case in the 21st century as it ever was). We are languishing in the lowest state of consciousness that it is possible to be in; which is the state of consciousness (or rather unconsciousness) where we have to make no effort at all, but simply go along with everyone else. Any ‘glory’ we might imagine ourselves to possess (as a result of ‘agreeing with everyone else’) is therefore entirely hallucinatory.



This being the case, it can hardly be surprising to learn that we consistently ignore the evidence that is staring us in the face every day of our lives, which is that we are the resultant or product of our mental states, not the ‘chooser’ of it. There is no chooser. Who after all can ‘will’ themselves to be happy when they are sad, calm when they are anxious, peaceful when they are angry? We have no choice when we are in a particular mental state, as Krishnamurti keeps telling us; we have no choice as regards exiting this mental state because we are that mental state – anger cannot choose to be not angry, sorrow cannot choose to be joy. For all our insistence on the importance of control we do not ‘control our state of mind’, we are controlled by it. Likewise, we do not control our thoughts (which govern how we see the world), they control us. How we see the world controls everything about us. To believe that we are in control is is the universal delusion, as David Bohm says here –


Thought runs you. Thought, however, gives false info that you are running it, that you are the one who controls thought. Whereas actually thought is the one which controls each one of us.



It is possible to learn this profound psychological truth fairly quickly if we were to observe ourselves on a daily basis and we would then have to own up to ‘not being the boss’.  No one ever ‘stops thinking on purpose’, for example, and it is a useful exercise to try to do so. It is however not the technical difficulty of observing the impossibility of controlling our own thoughts but the psychological implications of such a discovery that holds us back. The ego isn’t just attached to the illusion that it is the master of its own house, its continued existence depends upon it. In order for the ego to function at all, it needs to perceive itself to be ‘the author of its own actions’, the ‘originator of its thoughts rather than being merely the passive product of them. Were the ego to learn that it is merely the puppet of the system of thought, that it is being ‘run by the system of thought’, as David Bohm says, and that it has zero volition of its own in anything, then the illusion that ‘this is me’ (the illusion that there is a ‘me’) would be irrevocably shattered. This is therefore more than enough motivation for us to have zero interest in looking under the bonnet to see what is making the machine tick. This holds good across the board – the ego (i.e., the thought-created idea of ourselves) has absolutely no motivation to ever see the truth about anything. The truth is simply ‘not its bag’; that’s not what it is about.



To learn that the system is running us (rather than vice versa) isn’t bad news in itself; the truth is never bad news in itself – it’s only bad news for the self-concept (bad news for the idea we have about ourselves), but because the world that we live in (the artificial world not the real one) has been created for the exclusive use of the self-concept (which is of course something that seems perfectly natural and reasonable to us) this type of message isn’t going to get a very favourable reception, to put it mildly. The whole setup is geared towards the well-being (if we can use the term in such a dubious connection) of the concept or image that we have of ourselves. Once this becomes clear then our remarkably obtuse approach to psychology and psychological therapy (or what we see fit to regard as such) starts to make more sense; it’s not that we’re ‘stupid’, but rather that our efforts are directed entirely towards understanding, and providing first aid for, the Self-Concept (rather than for who we actually are, which isn’t a concept).



Rational psychology was never meant to benefit ‘who we really are’; the whole point of it is to prop up as best we can the conditioned self, the ego, the persona, ‘the self we imagine we are’. We’re doing the very best we can (given what’s actually possible, which isn’t very much) to give succour to the afflicted self-image and get it ‘back on his feet again as quickly as possible’. This is in line with what we ourselves want, of course – since we understand ourselves to be this pseudo-entity and want (of course) very much to recover from the mental health disturbance that we’re suffering from and ‘come back to ourselves’ (which is to say, we want to come back to who we mistakenly understood ourselves to be). The problem with this scheme of things – the problem that we don’t want to understand – is [1] that we aren’t (and never were) who we, along with everyone else, including our therapist / counsellor, imagine ourselves to be and [2] because of this what we want so badly isn’t ever going to be possible. ‘Recovering’ (i.e., ‘coming back to who we thought we were’) is just never going to happen.



As we have just said, this basic argument the argument that our so-called ‘therapies’ are all for the sake of the unexamined or taken-for-granted ‘idea of ourselves’ (rather than ‘who we actually are’, which doesn’t need therapy since it is real and not a two-dimensional fiction that we are unwisely ‘putting all our money on’) isn’t particularly difficult to make, but we’re not in the least bit open to this line of speculation. We are in full-scale denial of any such suggestion; we’re in full-scale denial of the possibility that – in a fundamental way – we simply can’t entertain the suggestion that we aren’t who we think we are and that the ‘way to go’ is to outgrow our neurotic symptoms rather than obstinately trying to solve them on their own terms (as Carl Jung puts it). And yet – despite our profound unwillingness to countenance such a possibility, there is absolutely no way that we can disprove it. We can quote Buckminster Fuller on this point –


No man can prove upon awakening that he is the man who he thinks went to bed the night before, or that anything he recollects is anything other than a very convincing dream.


Because of our absolute identification with the mind-created self, this is a possibility we can’t allow ourselves to reflect on even for a second and the reason for this isn’t because it’s so preposterous but because we can’t help knowing that it could be true!



From the POV of the ego, the identity – with all its trappings – cannot be otherwise than sacred. To the ego, our likes and dislikes, our opinions and habits, our customary activities and traditions, are things which must be afforded the utmost respect, which must never be challenged or laughed at, and so on and so forth. We are all familiar with this sort of fragility, which is more in evidence now than it ever was. Our worshipping of this inflexible mask of ours is a measure of our profound unwillingness to have anything to do with the true, fluid nature of the world, therefore. Our glue-like attachment to the rigid and insecure ego is directly proportional to the degree of our denial with regard to what’s really going on in the world.



What’s ‘really going on’ is something that doesn’t take into account our prejudices and insecurities, in other words – something that is (from the ego’s perspective, at any rate) hostile to everything that we stand for.  This is the ‘Big Picture’ that we don’t want to know about. We could also talk about the smaller picture of our relationship with our immediate environment and say that what’s going on here is that we are conspiring against ourselves to persuade ourselves that we are who we aren’t (and that things aren’t what they are). This is of necessity a very shady business and it is most definitely not a pleasant thing to catch sight of it. The unconscious activity by which we struggle to cover up the truth is something we simply can’t afford to own up to; if we did own up to it then this would straightaway lead us to become aware of the bigger picture, which is that vast impersonal realm that offers no cosy validation for the arbitrary idea that we have of ourselves, and which is on this account utterly terrifying to us.



Our blind attachment to the crude illusion of ‘who I say I am’ is how we are able to protect ourselves from reality itself, therefore. For us to be able to believe on a full-time basis that [1] We really are this laughably petty and pathologically self-involved ego, and [2] The world which is made up of our unowned projections is a real thing rather than being nothing more than a cheap illusion that we have we are uncritically buying into, it is absolutely necessary for us to feel that we unquestionably do possess free volition. To see that this so-called ‘free will’ of ours is nothing more than a type of trick that comes about as a result of us passively identifying with the ‘push me / pull you tension’ which is automatically created when we separate the opposites is to irrevocably lose the comforting illusion that I actually am this self, that I am this ‘arbitrary egoic centre’.



We can hardly expect rational psychology to shine any light on any of this, however; we can’t expect rational psychology to illuminate this matter for us since thought itself can only exist between the two limits of <YES> and <NO>. It is only possible to make ‘definite statements’ (which is to say, statements that have to be either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’) within the remit of the continuum of logic and the continuum of logic is a ‘formal game’ rather than actually being anything that is actually real. Thought can only exist between the limits of one opposite and its complementary counterpart, and this is just another way of saying that thought is a null domain. Everything thought tells us is only ‘certain’ within the terms which it itself takes as being self-evident therefore, and this isn’t really saying much since these terms don’t actually exist outside of thought.



Thought creates ‘its own artificial universe’, we might say, and for this reason there are always going to be drawbacks to the ‘version of life’ that we have within it. The world that is made by though is bound to contain – as David Bohm says – ‘systematic errors’, which translate into ‘irresolvable glitches’ (i.e., ‘problems that we can never overcome’). We can’t overcome these problems, and we can’t allow ourselves to have any sort of awareness of their true nature either, and because of this ‘double limitation’ we are obliged to engage in a campaign that we can’t win, against the wrong enemy. The enemy that we’re fighting against, without knowing it, is consciousness (which is actually our ally) and we can’t ever succeed in this desperate struggle of ours because it just so happens that consciousness is all there is…






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