Do we really understand how paradoxical / absurd the ‚human condition‘ (conditio humana) essentially is? I doubt it!
We cannot exist / think / speak without making generally valid assumptions about ‚us‘ and the ‚world‘ (generalizations, mythologies, metaphysical assumptions), but the moment we believe in them we fall prey to them (i.e. then we are missing proprioception of thought, as David Bohm used to say). Absurd, isn’t it?
The ‚meaning of life‘ seems to be nothing more and nothing less than gaining INSIGHT into the absurdity of the ‚human condition‘. This Insight means freedom from meaningless absurdity – and ‚that’s it‘!!!!
⇒ „The thinker and the thought, and the observed and the observer are just different phases of one thing, one process.“
Siehe auch: Todesverleugnung
⇒⇒>You may ask, „How could an image ever get power?“ ……. Why should the image of the self have such power? Because there are tremendous values which are attributed to it. Whatever has value, the whole system must try to act on it. That is an absolute necessity and the way it works.<
Suspending impulsive action: „Your first impulse might be to try and go out and insult the person and do something, and in earlier times you might even have hit the person. And now you say don’t do any of those things, but let the feelings come up and watch what’s going on. We’re regarding it as a sort of test display of the process, you understand? So then you’ll see these angry feelings which will produce tension in the solar plexus and the belly and the chest, and affect your breathing, and heartbeat, and all sorts of things. You’ll be able to see a sort of movement of responses all over the body, such as a tension of the jaw, in the neck.“
„All the huge achievements of humankind throughout history, whether it’s building the pyramids or flying to the moon, have been based not on individual abilities, but on this ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers. What enables us alone, of all the animals, to cooperate in such a way? The answer is our imagination. We can cooperate flexibly with countless numbers of strangers, because we alone, of all the animals on the planet, can create and believe fictions, fictional stories. And as long as everybody believes in the same fiction, everybody obeys and follows the same rules, the same norms, the same values.…..what I want to emphasize is that exactly the same mechanism underlies all other forms of mass-scale human cooperation, not only in the religious field.
Take, for example, the legal field. Most legal systems today in the world are based on a belief in human rights. But what are human rights? Human rights, just like God and heaven, are just a story that we’ve invented. They are not an objective reality; they are not some biological effect about homo sapiens. Take a human being, cut him open, look inside, you will find the heart, the kidneys, neurons, hormones, DNA, but you won’t find any rights. The only place you find rights are in the stories that we have invented and spread around over the last few centuries. They may be very positive stories, very good stories, but they’re still just fictional stories that we’ve invented.
The same is true of the political field. The most important factors in modern politics are states and nations. But what are states and nations? They are not an objective reality. A mountain is an objective reality. You can see it, you can touch it, you can even smell it. But a nation or a state, like Israel or Iran or France or Germany, this is just a story that we’ve invented and became extremely attached to.“
November 1989 Ojai, California
Lee Nichol: It is not unusual for people to spend an entire lifetime carefully scrutinizing their personal inclinations and motivations, their whole psychological make-up. But, somehow, even if one spends that much time and that much energy, the mind seems to maintain its basic patterns, without any fundamental change. The question is, is it possible that after years of study and work in this area that a person could continue to make fundamental mistakes with regard to observation?
David Bohm: Yes. You see the whole field is very deceptive. Things are not what they appear to be. The structures are a lot different from what they seem. For example, one of the basic assumptions that we make is that one can look at the mind as if one were a separate observer, looking at something different, as I, for example, can look at the chair and see that my thought is one thing and the chair is another. The chair is independent of my thought, and my thought can move independently of the chair. We may make a similar assumption as we look at our own internal processes, but this is not true. Our thought profoundly affects the emotion and the whole state of the body, which in turn profoundly affects thought in a cycle, a feedback loop that tends to build up. This is one of the basic mistakes. If you thus start with a false assumption, your whole enquiry may make things worse, and add more complications to those already there. There are many such false assumptions that are operating within our sociocultural context.
LN: If we make this assumption that we can look at the mind as separate from the looker, and then add to that some approach aimed at bringing about order or solving problems, it seems that, as you say, this only compounds it.
DB: Yes, you see, if the assumption of separation of observer and observed were correct (which it isn’t), it would make sense to project, to find out what is the problem and try to bring about some desired result as a goal. In such an approach, which is suitable, for example, in practical affairs, you may change your goal through further insight, but the basic idea of having some kind of a goal to direct you is always there. On the other hand, within the mind, this approach may be totally out of place because there is no separation of the kind that has been assumed, the goal you project is therefore fantasy, with arbitrary features of certain ideas that you are simply trying to impose on top of the confusion that’s already there, about which you’re actually doing nothing.
LN: Would it be fair to say that until this particular issue is quite thoroughly cleared up, any activity in the realm of self-investigation could only lead to further confusion?
DB: Well it’s very likely to. Maybe it could be helpful on a certain level for people who are extremely disturbed. We can probably get them past some of their disturbing fantasies with such investigation and treatment (subject/object approach). But it cannot really get to the root of the problem. In the long run it will add to it. This, I think, is one of the key points that Krishnamurti made in all of his talking.
LN: So coming to terms with the dynamics of assuming an internal separation is fundamental to real investigation. Now, it seems that part of the difficulty is that we may read this or hear it, and in some way, it seems quite clear. Then we assume !hat this is not really the issue; that there is another more important issue or a series of more important issues, and so we proceed to observe these other issues; but once again, without having really cleared up this apparently simple and basic question of how we look at ourselves.
DB: Yes, it’s not so easy to clear it up, you see, because we’re caught up in it. One can say that one of the problems is, that we may have insight into this issue on a certain level, but that then there is still the problem of distraction. In this connection, I have a friend who was studying young children. There has been a belief, based on the work of Piaget, that children learn certain concepts, such as conservation of water at a certain age. But my friend has shown that such learning has to do with the function of distracting factors. If you can reduce the distracting factors, they can learn it much earlier. And if you increase the distracting factors, there may be delays. Or to put it differently, attention is required to learn, and distracting factors may draw the attention elsewhere. Similarly, at an intellectual level, you may see fairly clearly, that the problem that we are talking about here is that of the observer and the observed, but when the time comes to look in another context, there are a lot of distracting factors. One of these is the ability of the mind to create very powerful, vivid, convincing images that are experienced as real, especially when they move very fast. Thus, if we take a television set and there is a telephone bell ringing, when we look into the image and see a telephone, we experience that telephone ringing in the image though there is no telephone, nothing there except spots of light. But on the other hand, if it doesn’t look consistent, for example, if nobody answers it, we may think it’s the telephone in the next room and experience it that way. So the way we experience depends on attribution.
A basic property of thought is to attribute a quality or a property to something. And then it’s experienced as intrinsic to that thing, right? So I suggest that once you have the assumption of the observer and the observed, the mind can create an image of an observer looking at the observed, as you could have in the television set. You could have some man looking at something and you could say there’s the observer, and there’s the observed — but nothing is going on at all of that nature. And similarly, in the mind, there will seem to be the observer and the observed, and various little things indicating that combination. Thought attributes the whole of the process to the observer who is looking at the observed, and who says that thought comes out of the thinker. What actually happens however is that thought creates the image of the thinker, and then it attributes its origin to that image. Thought then behaves as if it were being produced by a thinker, but in fact, thought is producing an image which it calls the thinker and attributes itself to that. The thinker and the thought, and the observed and the observer are just different phases of one thing, one process. And therefore, as a person is thinking, very often tacitly and implicitly without knowing that he’s thinking, all of this is attributed to a thinker, which gives it great authority.
LN: You’re suggesting that this separation is actually hidden.
DB: What is covered up is the true nature of the whole process. Actually there is no real separation, but the assumed separation is attributed to an image, and the resulting experience is regarded as proof that there is a real separation. That is to say, the image is experienced as if it were real, and that is taken as proof that the assumption is correct. This is part of the way in which the real nature of the process is covered up.
LN: But all of this that you’re describing is generally an unconscious process.
DB: Yes. We’ll call it unconscious, implicit, tacit. The thought behind it is implicit.
LN: If, by definition, this other process is implicit or unconscious, it seems that it would take something more than conscious thinking to reveal the actual dynamics. Perhaps that’s the starting point.
DB: Yes. You may say consciously and rationally and logically this is what’s the case, but if your whole feeling and whole experience and sensation are telling you otherwise, you really can’t be deeply convinced by it, right?
LN: So there are two things going on. An intellectual recognition that something may be operating in one way, but at the same time, a deeper set of sensations and experiences apparently indicating something very different.
DB: We wouldn’t necessarily say deeper, but different. It is a set of experiences that don’t agree with your intellectual conclusions, even though your intellectual conclusions are probably right; you’ve probably had a real intellectual insight at that level. So we mustn’t decry the intellect or say it is never of any value in this context.
LN: Instead of viewing that contradiction that you’ve just described as a further difficulty, is it possible that that contradiction, properly attended to, could actually lead to a deeper understanding of the whole process?
DB: Yes. You have to give attention to this contradiction — that’s quite right. And the question, then, is how. For this whole process of covering up and deception is going on. There’s a constant „show“ being put on, implying that all this is real, and that the intellectual stuff is not real. For example, the person may well say, “I’m not an intellectual, that’s just a lot of ideas. My real gut feeling is that it’s the other way.“ And, „I don’t go in for this intellectualism“, so I ignore all that you say, right? What I wanted to say is that this gut feeling is what is deceptive. There are true deep feelings, you know, you may get all sorts of responses if somebody dies that you’re close to, or if you look at nature, seeing the beauty and so on. But then I say there are also feelings which appear to be deep feelings, but are not, because they are produced by thought.
LN: But they have all the attributes of such feelings.
DB: They don’t have all or else we could never get out of it. But they have enough attributes to get by, to be accepted by us as real. The point is, now, to be able to see that this is what’s going on. That we are producing feelings out of thought. Everybody knows you can whip up feelings by certain shouts and cries and clamors and marches and songs, political rallies, etc. It’s well known that feelings can in this way be whipped up, essentially by actions directed by thought, so that such a response need not be a surprise. What about this sort of feeling as compared with deep feelings? At the moment that it is happening a person might not be able to tell the difference. You have a crowd shouting and screaming and a great leader in front of them shouting and screaming and driving and urging them on, and so on. So that establishes the principle that feelings can be produced artificially. But what I was talking about is much more common than this. It doesn’t require a demagogue or some unusual set of shouts, screams, and cries to do it. Rather, one simply has to notice that the meaning of a thought tends to be carried out in terms of feelings all over the body.
DB: In order to demonstrate this, you may take the case of getting angry. This is a feeling that is not as difficult to look at as say fear or pleasure — deceptive feelings of pleasure — which you know too can be produced by thought, a seductive thought. You see, a person may first get an outburst of anger and then cool down — it simmers down, but it’s still there. You may put it in abeyance because something more important comes up, but it’s still there ready to come up. My suggestion is to call it up on purpose by trying to find the words that express the reason for being angry. Thus, you may say, „I’m angry, and I have good reason because he did this and that and that.“ You will find that you are getting still angrier. Usually you’ll say, „I shouldn’t get angry, so I’d better stop this.“ But now we’re going to use this on purpose, not for the sake of getting angry, because we’re going to suspend the angry feelings, neither by stopping them, nor letting them come out. Is that clear what I mean?
LN: Yes, but there are some difficulties with suspending.
DB: Well you see, it’s not being done right in the heat of your original outburst of anger, but still, you’re not calling it up to get rid of the angry feelings. Your first impulse might be to try and go out and insult the person and do something, and in earlier times you might even have hit the person. And now you say don’t do any of those things, but let the feelings come up and watch what’s going on. We’re regarding it as a sort of test display of the process, you understand? So then you’ll see these angry feelings which will produce tension in the solar plexus and the belly and the chest, and affect your breathing, and heartbeat, and all sorts of things. You’ll be able to see a sort of movement of responses all over the body, such as a tension of the jaw, in the neck.
LN: Now let me raise one of the difficulties that commonly occurs here. Even if one waits a bit beyond the heat of the moment, there still comes up a very strong resistance to acknowledging that one is actually in this state.
DB: Yes, that’s part of our sociocultural conditioning, which says that you shouldn’t be angry, and not only that, you yourself have seen by clear thought that it’s leading you astray. You see, both reason, and society and everything is telling you, you shouldn’t be angry. Now there’s a serious mistake in there. Of course, it’s right that you shouldn’t be angry, if only because it is very destructive to your deeper interests. But the attempt to say you just shouldn’t be angry is simply not affecting the anger, it’s just trying to impose another pattern on top of the anger. This will come out as we go along, but the first point is to realize that such resistance is false and that this falseness will come out as we go through this process and pay attention to it.
LN: The falseness of the sociocultural as well as the personal judgment.
DB: Yes. This is very tricky, because in some ways the judgment appears to be right. But there’s a fundamental, deeper falseness in it. So we also have to give attention to our tendency to say, „I shouldn’t be angry, I must stop being angry“, and we will see that this too, has to be suspended. In this process one will begin to get certain feelings, at first perhaps very faintly because of all the resistance, and later more strongly — you’ll see the play of these feelings over the body, because the action is being suspended. If you actually did something, you would no longer notice the feelings … if you went out and hit somebody or punched him in the nose, or insulted him, or otherwise tried to get redress for your anger. You might momentarily feel a lot better, because the tension would go (until the other person retaliated in a similar way). But now, when action is suspended, you can see that the words are calling up the feelings, and you’ll be able to get a sense that there’s some sort of mechanical connection between the words and the feelings.
For example, you may find that the words may be, „He shouldn’t have done this; he shouldn’t treat me that way; he hasn’t due regard for me, he’s always doing that; he’s never taking my rights into account. It’s not the first time.“ So you may notice the feelings coming up rather mechanically, and that those feelings are producing mechanical pressure, making it very hard to look at those thoughts and see whether they’re right or not.
LN: Let’s go very slowly here. You say they produce mechanical responses and mechanical feelings. Now it seems to be a very thin line, because when you do what you suggest, if it’s really activating these responses you’re talking about, they don’t feel mechanical.
DB: No, but you can see a certain mechanical quality in the sense that the word is followed by the feeling. And you’ll see there is a little something also in that pressure of the feeling to avoid examining the meaning of the words, to avoid seeing whether you really have a good reason to be angry. LN: A resistance to seeing the connection. DB: Yes, that’s right. You see, if it were really a straightforward process, there would be no resistance to examining it. Now you can begin to suspect that it looks a little mechanical. Here you can use a certain amount of knowledge which has come from biofeedback. You have a device that, I forget what they call it, in the so-called lie detector, you attach an electrode to your finger, and you see, this measures the activity of the autonomic nervous system.
LN: The polygraph.
DB: The polygraph, yes. When the autonomic nervous system is aroused, you’ll get the solar plexus and heartbeat and the adrenaline and all those things acting. When somebody says something disturbing, or you think something disturbing, that arouses you in this way, then roughly three seconds later, the needle jerks. If it’s not very disturbing, you may be hardly aware that anything has happened, yet the needle jerks. So it does look very mechanical when you look at it that way. It takes three seconds. We could say that your thought is in the pipeline for three seconds, but you don’t pay attention to this. Then suddenly the emotional response appears. It suddenly appears in this way as if it were spontaneous. However, there’s been another thought in the background all the time saying that everything which appears suddenly like that is deep gut feeling, so that it’s really very important. That produces more thought which goes into the pipeline, and three seconds later there comes another jerk, and the whole process thus builds up. The thought that this is a deep gut feeling is now taken as further proof that you have good reason to be angry. See, the original proof was that he’s always doing this, right? Now you have an additional proof — the deep gut feeling — saying I have a deep feeling which is instinctive. I’ve been badly treated. In the case of fear, that’s even more clear. You can similarly produce a response of fear by thinking of danger, and a short time later, you have this sinking sensation in the solar plexus. You now say I have an instinctive feeling of danger. The animal would get just that feeling as the first sense of danger, right? Or you yourself might be in a very dangerous situation and get it. So that could be a real warning of danger. But the assumption is that it’s always a warning of danger. This ignores the fact that it could be an entirely false warning arranged by thought mechanically.
LN: Why do you think that there is a resistance to looking at the mechanical nature of this process?
DB: Because it has gotten tied up with the self/world image. One feels uneasy about saying that one’s deep gut feelings may have no meaning because it begins to threaten the notion of the self-identity. For you identify yourself, among other things, with those deep gut feelings. So if you begin to think these deep gut feelings may have no meaning, and you have depended on them for the foundation of a lot of your life, you begin to worry about your whole self, right? There’s a thought behind it that’s ready to defend the self by not allowing this to be seen. It’s really defending the self-image. We don’t know what the self is, nobody has ever managed to look at the self, but what we have is a kind of an image of a self with an image of a world in which it lives. This image creates a wide range of neurophysiological effects, implying that this is all a reality of very great significance. We have already discussed some of these effects. And if this image is altered, the whole neurophysiological system goes into chaos so that there’s a response from the body and from the brain to do something to restore equilibrium. The most immediate way to do that would be to produce thoughts which would change those responses toward equilibrium. But then that would be a mechanical way of thinking, which is false. So you get mechanical feelings and mechanical thoughts working on each other.
LN: Just to put this into perspective from where we started, it seems that this apparently simple notion of observation, pursued in the way that you’ve described it, will actually lead one into difficulty and not necessarily clarity. For the act of looking at the connections in the way that you’ve indicated will eventually lead to this very point of questioning the meaning of one’s deepest feelings.
DB: Yes, and also one’s deepest thoughts.
LN: And one’s deepest thoughts. This is not a particularly comfortable position to find oneself in. Is it possible that this is one reason that observation never penetrates beyond a certain point?
DB: Yes, I think that there’s a kind of defense which is based on the assumption that whenever this whole system starts getting too disturbed, it’s best to keep away from whatever is disturbing it. The whole body reacts instinctively that way to pain, moving away from the pain, and then that same reaction is carried up into the higher functions of the brain by some movement of thought, away from the issue which is disturbing it. It moves in such a way as to ease the system. And that’s not an intelligent way for thought to operate.
LN: Now, let’s say that a person comes to the point that you’re describing. The deeper feelings and thoughts which constitute the sense of self for that individual begin to be exposed.
DB: Yes, as mechanical, and therefore having little value.
LN: Isn’t it particularly important at this level to have developed a certain skill? That skill being the ability to suspend judgment regarding the fact that one holds these beliefs or feelings or ideas. Because once you penetrate to a particularly deep and sensitive level, if you again begin to judge, it seems that it can be very destructive, and that this mechanism to protect might be appropriate.
DB: Well yes, you might say you could easily become very depressed or something.
LN: Yes, that’s the issue I’m trying to point to — how to avoid becoming deeply depressed at this point and so depressed at least, that it inhibits pursuing the question.
DB: I think the idea is not to push it too hard in the sense, don’t push it to the point where it would carry you into depression. You have to find a certain skill of pushing it to the point where you can observe and not to push too much, because that’s really more mechanical action again. You need insight, you see, and the whole point of suspension is merely to get insight, not to produce predetermined results. Only the insight can change you. The insight that this process is mechanical will change you. It will decrease the importance of the process in your mind, and therefore, the whole thing will change. But there’s always a danger that you haven’t gone far enough in doing this, because there’s more to the process. There’s all sorts of deeper things you haven’t touched yet, and you are beginning to shake them, too. But all I’m saying is: Don’t go too fast. Start with anger, where people generally realize that the thing is
destructive, so that you are able to work on it. It doesn’t shake you too much to discover these things about anger. You might then work on fear, because fear has a similar structure. And so does desire and pleasure. They all have a similar structure. In fact, desire comes from projecting in the imagination, the thing you want, and anticipating the satisfaction of pleasure, or whatever. And fear is the same thing except you anticipate all the trouble and pain that’s coming. So between desire and fear, there’s very little difference; it’s just that you anticipate something nice or something bad.
LN: Both rooted in anticipation.
DB: Yes. Anticipation is a function you need, but here it’s begun to go wrong. Because you’re anticipating the internal state of the mind and not realizing it’s just an image.
LN: Okay, so a person is observing patiently and not pushing the process too hard, and at the same time, not becoming complacent. There’s some skillful balance and willingness to continue.
DB: That’s right, and he’ll find that as certain issues come up in relationship, that they’re distracting. In this way, he loses sight of the insight because of powerful distractions. Then he needs to get insight into that distraction in a similar way. What Krishnamurti once said was „there is no distraction“ – every distraction is just a part of the process, which helps to reveal the process. We call it distraction, and the assumption that it is a distraction makes it a distraction.
LN: Which decreases one’s energy.
DB: Not only that, it misleads you. If it’s a distraction you’re going to say, „Well, my job is to get back on line;“ but your job is not to get back on line. You see, the line is the distraction.
Your job is to look at the distraction, not to say, „I was looking at fear before, and now I’m looking at something else. I’d better get back to fear.“ But rather, „I’d better get on to the fact that I’m distracted by such and such, finding out the thoughts that are distracting. “
LN: In that respect, potentially, everything is a basis for observation.
DB: Yes, and everything that happens is part of the process. There really is no genuine distraction in this process. Every one of those distractions is just part of the cover-up, you see. If there were no cover up, the process couldn’t exist, right? I mean, it’s too absurd to go on with if it’s not covered up and given a false interpretation.
LN: This is like an improvised dance. Because you cannot predict what apparent distraction is going to come at any moment. But if you are. willing and able to reorient your attention each time there is a distraction, then perhaps the notion of „no distraction“ could become a reality. But it is so common for us to have this sense, „Well, I don’t really want to look at that. I’m looking at this now. Don’t bother me with that.“
DB: That might make sense in another context, a practical context, „I have this job to do and I can’t be bothered with all this other stuff you’re bringing in.“ But it’s not true here because what you’re dealing with here is just the way the mind is working, and this so-called distraction is an essential part of the phenomenon. It’s not a distraction – it’s actually the same process you’re looking at, just taking a somewhat different form.
LN: To the point that we’ve discussed this, have we come to the picture of self and world?
DB: Yes, we’re sort of getting into it because all this anger and fear and pleasure and desire is a part of the constitution of the self and its relation to the world. These are part of the values which move you. Value has the same root as valor and valiant. It means strength. And values, or things of high value, give great strength to what we do, and give it high priority. Now we have a vast set of values which thus moves us. Some respond to one situation and some to another. We are moved by the values much faster than we can think.
LN: These values are like the branches of a tree, right?
LN: Are we getting closer to the generating source, to the root?
DB: Yes, we’re moving that way. You see, if somebody is prejudiced, for example, he’s got a value judgment which he may not be conscious of — for example, that people of a certain group are bad. Now he experiences this not as a thought, but rather as an apparent perception of the badness which is projected into a particular person who is being perceived, at a given moment, the same as the telephone in the television set.
LN: So it has the full appearance of reality.
DB: Yes. All sorts of value judgments of that kind affect your perception and your intentions at the same time. You see, people have the notion of freedom of choice and freedom of will but these values operate very fast and people think they have chosen, but they haven’t.
LN : Yes, well that’s the question I would like to look at. What do all these values have to do with the self?
DB: The self is determined by the values with which it’s identified, for example the supreme value of your religion or your country or your money or fame or power or ambition or your family or whatever it is. Or your body, your security, your comfort. Whatever has highest value will override the other values. And this generally leads to contradiction, you see. Thus you may have the value of honesty and truth, and so on; but if your value is also comfort and security of the self, or if your country comes first no matter what else is at stake, then when the time comes, such values may take over. And though you profess the right values of honesty and truth, they’re not really the dominant values. So the self is determined, in a way, by the whole set of values which are as much sociocultural as individual.
LN: Is this all there is to the self?
DB: Well, it is a dominant feature. If the values were not there, the self would collapse, would have no energy. It would be like something which is inflated. When someone removes the air, it collapses.
LN: When you say a dominant feature, do you mean, as well, an essential feature?
DB: Yes, it’s a moving essential power. There may be some other assumptions, perhaps, behind it, but these values are the moving essential power without which the self would have no power. It would be just an image. You may ask, „How could an image ever get power?“ Thus the telephone in the television set never does anything except produce a pattern of light. Why should the image of the self have such power? Because there are tremendous values which are attributed to it. Whatever has value, the whole system must try to act on it. That is an absolute necessity and the way it works.
LN: Yes. So we can suspend these values …
DB: Well, not so easily. They come very fast, you see.