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The following article is a partial transcript of Gerbode’s 1990 Applied Metapsychology Conference Plenary Address
I want to talk today about the philosophical underpinnings of Applied Metapsychology — what it’s really based on, philosophically. I am sure you have been exposed to many different belief systems, and the last thing I want to do is inflict yet another one on you. Fortunately, Applied Metapsychology is not a belief system at all but, rather, an Un-belief System.
Let me explain what I mean by that. I’m going to bore you with a little personal history here. My life has consisted of a personal war on belief systems of all kinds. I’ve never been able to believe in things I didn’t believe in. I think it must be a genetic deficiency of some kind. No matter how much I wanted to believe in things because they were really good and nice, I couldn’t. That has always been a problem with me; it has always gotten me in trouble; it has always made me unpopular. I remember when I was in school, I used to sneer at “school spirit”. I thought school spirit was the stupidest thing in the world. I saw no reason why we should think we were in the best school in the world, when there were probably lots of schools in the world that were better. I also thought, “Well, my family’s OK, but why think of it as the best family in the world? There are probably lots of families that are better than mine.”
Patriotism also seemed really stupid to me. I remember when we had to recite the “Pledge of Allegiance”. I always felt embarrassed standing there with my hand on my chest, and pledging allegiance…to a flag. At any rate, I have always had a real problem with believing things. I’m just a very skeptical and disagreeable person. I doubt that I’m ever going to change in that respect.
It is said that everybody needs some sort of system to order his or her world, but when I looked for one, I really couldn’t get excited about a belief system. I had to find something that was not based on faith or belief, but that I could look at from my own experience and know, not have to believe something I didn’t believe. True, we all have the task of building up a world view starting with whatever data we have been given and accepted without question. The challenge is to build up a world view based on the fewest assumptions; in other words, to construct the most parsimonious world view: a minimalist world view.
It has always intrigued me to wonder what would be the smallest set of assumptions you could start with and still derive a workable world view. The rule of the game was that there could only be a small number of assumptions, and they couldn’t include things like “I go to the best school in the world, or “I belong to the best family in the world.” There are a minimal number of things we need to believe, can’t help but believe, and do believe, because if we didn’t believe these things, we couldn’t live at all. Those are the things I’m interested in. Ordering my thoughts about these things has been a long process for me. It has been going on for at least twenty-five or thirty years. But during the time when I was writing a book outlining the foundations of Applied Metapsychology [Beyond Psychology: An Introduction to Metapsychology], the subject really crystallized for me. I had to do some serious thinking about what I really did believe and what I didn’t have to believe.
I figured that since I’m about the most skeptical person I’ve ever met, if I outlined the things I couldn’t help believing, I might find that others couldn’t help believing them either. Such ideas, I thought, might form a good basis for agreement amongst a wide group of people. And you wouldn’t have to belong to some sort of organization that shared a particular belief system in order to agree with them. You wouldn’t have to be an adherent of any religion or school of philosophy to use Applied Metapsychology. If I could boil the fundamental assumptions behind life down to a small number, then maybe it would be a very important accomplishment. Such, at any rate, was my dream of glory.
Well, I believe – and I’m going to be a bit dogmatic about this – that I was successful.
Of course, everyone believes his or her own belief system is correct, so naturally I believe that I’ve been pretty successful in finding some of the fundamental truths that underlie experience. Not that these are necessarily going to prove unchangeable and that nobody will ever be able to find anything better. But I think I’ve done pretty well, and I certainly feel that one of my major contributions to the effort that we’re all involved in has been to install beneath our practice a secure philosophical foundation, one that doesn’t require actual belief. Encountering it, you can just look at your experience, and say, “Yes, I know that.”
In fact, this has been a problem for me because what I have considered to be the most important thing that I wrote – and the best part of my book – is the philosophical part, the first 100-200 pages. This is the part that has all the boring definitions and tedious argumentation. This is the part everybody else seems to hate the most.
I find there are two categories of people who read my book. The first is those who just skim over it and don’t really read it carefully. They don’t have a problem with it. They just think it’s sort of stupid for me to spend so much time with definitions and such, and they are waiting for me to get to the point. The others are the ones who read it carefully. The problem with them is that they say, “Yeah, well, I knew that already. So what?” But actually I’m happy to get the latter response, because that’s sort of the point of the exercise. We’re trying to get at the foundations, the sorts of things you know already. So it’s fine that careful readers have that reaction. The only problem is that it doesn’t contribute to my glory as much. In order to be properly glorified, I would have to say things that sound very profound and mystical but that are actually not really comprehensible. Then people would feel they were dealing with a superior intellect who could obviously understand things they couldn’t. Sic transit gloria mundi. [Thus passes the glory of the world, or “Worldly things are fleeting.”]
This is an occupational hazard of trying to create an Un-belief System. I found that despite the fact that if you look at what I am saying from a certain viewpoint, it can appear pretty radical, I haven’t had anyone actually disagree with me. Either they don’t read it, or they read it and say, “So what?” But in any case, I have never gone through life caring too much what people thought, so I’m planning to present some of these ideas to you anyway. I’ll try to do so concisely, and I’m going to cover a lot of ground. I’m going to violate the principle that in a lecture you’re only supposed to say one thing. I’m going to try to paint in broad strokes the whole philosophical underpinning of Applied Metapsychology.
The first thing to know about the subject is that it starts from ordinary consciousness. It is not a revealed truth. It is not something I obtained from either God or my Higher Self, so far as I know. Well, maybe I did. Who knows? But understanding the subject does not require that one be in an altered state of consciousness. As a matter of fact, my system relies entirely on a normal state of everyday, conscious experience. That’s important for an Un-belief System. If you have a system that relies on some sort of special knowledge you get from having been in some special state of mind, then people who haven’t experienced that particular state of mind have to take what you say on faith. If you want to create an Un-belief System, you’d better not have any particularly idiosyncratic special states of mind involved in it.
This requirement has gotten me in trouble sometimes. Just last weekend we did a seminar at a local community college, in which we talked about communication. We talked about the fact that in order to perceive something you have to be at a distance from it. And somebody in the audience piped up and said, “What about intuition? What about when you have oneness with the object of perception?” That really caught me off guard; I didn’t know what to say. I did say, “Well, gee! My system really doesn’t deal well with that because I’m talking about ordinary consciousness. So those of you who have experienced these mystical or intuitive states, please bear with me and accept the fact that in talking about Applied Metapsychology I’m not coming from that viewpoint. You’re probably going to have valid objections to some of the things I say, but what I’m saying is from a lower level of awareness. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is.”
Or, rather, that’s the way I am.
I have a pet peeve about the all-too-commonplace practice of Descartes bashing. In the last twenty years or so, a favorite pastime for those of a philosophical bent who have nothing better to do has been to say that Descartes – whose discovery of analytical geometry, was only one of a long list of remarkable intellectual achievements – was an idiot because he said, “I think; therefore I am.” But actually he wasn’t an idiot. Our ordinary experience – though perhaps not mystical experience – fits very well with Descartes’ ideas. In ordinary experience, we feel that we exist. We are not “One with the Universe”, and we’re not being a “Great Nothingness”, or whatever. No. We actually feel that we exist. And not only that, we feel that there is a world around us. Naturally people with different belief systems have different viewpoints about the world and about the self.
In some belief systems, the self is an immortal soul; in others, the self is something else that has an immortal soul, and the soul goes off to heaven at some point … and heaven knows what the self does when the soul goes away.
In another belief system, the self is just a body, a sophisticated computer made out of meat which does a lot of very interesting things and hasn’t yet been duplicated in the field of artificial intelligence but will be one day.
Yet another belief system – what I call “New Age Pantheism” – says, “Yes, you are your body, but the whole physical universe, including your body, is part of a spiritual All-That-Is. All that is material is also spiritual, so you must be spiritual as well.” In other words, the whole universe is God, and since you’re part of the universe, you’re part of God. Therefore it’s all very spiritual and yet material at the same time.
These are belief systems. But what does the world look like from the viewpoint of an Un-belief System? What is the self and what is the world, according to this view? In other words, what is our personal everyday experience of ourselves and our personal everyday experience of the world?
I would like to propose that in your ordinary experience, you are that which is acting, and your world is that which you are acting upon. I want to make one point clear here. When I talk about “ordinary experience”, I’m inviting you to look at a tiny slice – an instant – of experience. I’m talking about what the world looks like to you at any particular time, from a particular viewpoint. Different people have different viewpoints at different times, and they’re not always being the same person, the same identity. So from the viewpoint of a particular identity at a particular point in time, what does the world look like to you? From that viewpoint, those things you are acting on are out there, and that which is acting is you.
There are two basic kinds of actions that people can engage in. One type of action is an outflow from the self to the world. I call that “creative action”, or “creation”. Creation is making a change out in the world somewhere; it’s making something different. That could mean putting something there that wasn’t there before, changing something that is there, or destroying – getting rid of – something that was there. Something is actually different out in the world when you have performed a creative action.
The other kind of action is receptive action, or “reception”. When you perform a receptive action, nothing changes in the world, but you are receiving some data. This is an inflow from the world to the self. Perception, for instance, is a receptive action. When I perceive that blackboard and the words written on it, the blackboard doesn’t change just because I get data from it. It may be that at the level of sub-atomic particles, perception itself may change something. That is a controversial point, but in the world of ordinary experience, perception by itself does not change the world.
This brings up a common confusion, one that I had had until I started writing my book, and that is the confusion between causation, and creation. This confusion has resulted in a lot of philosophical problems. Causation and creation are two different things. It is possible to be causative both in your creative actions and in your receptive actions. You can cause inflow as well as outflow. There’s no reason why perceiving something shouldn’t be a causative act, even though it isn’t creating a change out in the world. Various belief systems, such as Creativism and Constructivism, have failed to make that distinction, and so they say that we’re creating our world because we have various filters and whatnot that cause us to perceive it in a certain way. According to them, this means that we are actually creating it. But no. We don’t experience the act of perceiving, however “filtered”, as a creative action. When you are perceiving the world in a certain way, you don’t conceive of yourself as actually changing it. It’s just that you’re getting an impression of what is there. That, I think, is an important distinction, and one that is usually not made. I hope I made it clearly, because if you get embroiled in that confusion, you founder on the shoals of solipsism [the theory that the self is the only real, provable entity that exists]. You start thinking, “I’m creating everything because everything that I’m perceiving I’m perceiving in a certain way. Therefore I must be putting it there, because I’m contributing to the perception.” No. That’s not the way it is. No matter how I look at a star – whether I look at it with my naked eye or through a telescope, whether I turn upside down and look at it – it is still a star. It’s still there. I’m just perceiving it in a different way, but I’m not changing the star.
At my age, it may take a fair amount of doing to stand on my head and look at a star that way, but despite the effort, I still don’t feel I can take credit for creating the star. For what I am going to talk about next, I am going to use the word “entity” in a special sense. I’m not using the term as Stephen King uses it, but with the normal philosophical meaning: “an entity is something that exists.” That’s all, anything that exists. At any particular time, a person’s world consists of all the entities that exist for him or her at that moment. An entity is just a part of a person’s world.
Now, suppose we have an entity – a radio, let’s say – and a person. What connects the person to the radio? It is an action that the person performs. In this case, perhaps, it is an act of perception, a receptive act. The act of perceiving the radio, like any action, does two things. First of all, it joins the person to an entity. It is through our receptive and creative actions that entities become a part of the world we’re in. It’s through perception that we see the things around us. We’re thinking of things and we’re aware of them. That’s what gives us those things, so to speak. But our actions also separate us from the entities on which we act, because there is a distance across which the action takes place. The fact that you are able to be aware of something means that you are not that thing. It means that there is a distance of some kind between you and it. Again, we are talking here about ordinary consciousness, not a “oneness with the object of perception.”
Now I would like to talk a little bit about identity, about what I am. I am capable of assuming various identities for various purposes, but what happens prior to my assuming an identity? Prior to assuming an identity, I have an intention. I want to do something, to create or receive something. What do I do when I form that intention? In order to fulfill the intention, I must assume an identity. So first I have an intention, and then I assume an identity to enable myself to fulfill that intention. Suppose, for instance, that I decide I want to make beautiful music. I do make music sometimes. I won’t say “beautiful”, but I do play a lute (Renaissance forerunner of the guitar). In order to do that, I must assume the identity of lute player. I have to get myself in the frame of mind in which I am being a lute player. Believe me, that’s quite a different frame of mind from the frame of mind I have just now as a speaker. It’s almost as though I’m a different person, but it’s really just a different identity. An identity is a package of skills, abilities, ways of looking at things and – sometimes – actual physical tools that one assumes as part of oneself when one is trying to accomplish a task. So in order to be a lute player, I have to have a lute. And the lute becomes, as it were, an extension of my self. If I’m really being a lute player, I no longer perceive the instrument as something separate from me. I expand my self-definition to include the lute as well as all the data and skills I need to play it. My focus of attention moves outward, and what my attention is on is the sound of the music or perhaps my appreciative or unappreciative audience, or lack of audience, as is usually the case.
When I’m not being a lute player, I’m being something else, such as a father. I have a whole set of ideas and skills that go along with that identity as well. I’m not saying they’re great skills, but at least they’re skills.
In all this, the focus of attention is outward from the identity. At any particular time, you are never aware of what you are, of your own identity at that time. You always look outward from the identity you are being toward the world. As soon as you “step back” and start looking at that identity, you are no longer being that identity, which is an interesting thing. Say I’m being a lute player, and all of a sudden I start worrying about myself as a lute player, and I start thinking, “What kind of a lute player am I?” What has happened? All of a sudden I’m no longer being a lute player! I have stepped back and gotten some distance from it. I’m being a critic of myself as a lute player. Any identity or yours that you can look at, you are not being at the instant you are looking at it.
Sometimes, people get fixed in identities and can’t get out of them, a really nasty type of trap. The usual reason why someone gets fixed in an identity is that the person has found that identity to be safe and other identities to be unsafe. The reason identities can be safe or unsafe is that each identity has a ruling intention that the identity is trying to fulfill. Playing a lute, for instance, is ruled by the intention to make pretty, old-fashioned music. If I fail to make pretty music because I haven’t practiced, then that identity has failed. In fact, every time you assume an identity, you risk failure of the intention that is ruling that identity. So some identities become unsafe because you have failed at them and sometimes you even get stuck in the ones you haven’t failed at, the ones that are “safe”.
I suppose one should not speak ill of one’s parents, but my father provides a good illustration. He was a great heart surgeon. He had a wonderful bedside manner, and whenever he was being a surgeon, he was a winner. He got a great many awards and honors, and helped a lot of people. The only trouble was that he couldn’t turn it off. When he came home in the evening, instead of having a nice dinner table atmosphere, we had “Grand Rounds” [formal hospital meeting at which experts present and explain cases]. My siblings and I had to report on what we had done that day, and when we were finished, we got a consultation from him. He could not turn it off.
You can find many people being that way. Sometimes a great politician can’t stop being a great politician – even when he goes home to talk to his three year old daughter – and it doesn’t work very well. When we are successful in one identity and don’t do as well in others, we tend to get stuck in the successful identity and find it difficult to step back from that identity because we feel insecure about doing so. Ideally, we should be able to step into or out of identities at will, to be “versatile”. Ideally, we can be whatever we need to be to handle whatever particular situation we are in without getting stuck in anything.
All right, now that we’ve handled everything about the self, we are going to handle everything about the world. As I said, I’m painting very broad strokes here. The question is, “What is the world made of?” First of all, in Applied Metapsychology, we’re talking about the world of experience and not about the world of some belief system; we’re talking about the world of the Un-belief System. That is the world we actually live in, the world we can’t help living in.
One’s world shifts with each identity that one assumes. When I assume the identity of a lute player, my world is filled with notes, finger positions, and various frustrations and victories that have to do with playing the lute. That’s quite a different world from that of standing up in front of a group of people and lecturing, but there are certain qualities that are part of any world, regardless of what identity you are in. Any world contains certain types of things.
Now again, I’m not talking about a belief system about the world, though many such belief systems exist. There’s a materialistic belief system that says the world is entirely made up of spinning and bubbling atoms and subatomic particles. There’s another belief system that says the world is God, it’s all spiritual, and we’re all part of it. Yet another belief system says the world is illusion and there really isn’t any world. I’m not talking about any of that. I’m talking about how we experience the world: what it looks like from the point of view of the Un-belief System.
In ordinary consciousness, the world is partly objective, or physical, or whatever you want to call that stuff out there, and partly mental. Do mental impressions or pictures exist? (By mental picture, I mean any kind of mental image, whether visual, kinesthetic, tactile, olfactory, or whatever.) There’s one person I know who refuses to admit he has mental pictures. He says, for instance, that he doesn’t dream and that no one actually dreams. But I don’t think he is really being honest. He is trying to prove a point rather than honestly reporting on his experience. Everybody else I’ve ever talked to about it has experienced mental pictures. They can perceive pictures or impressions of things that aren’t out there in the physical universe, as when we dream. The Descartes bashers say Descartes made a big mistake in making the distinction between physical and mental. In so doing, they are ignoring something that is part of ordinary experience.
There are only three kinds of entities in the world of experience. This applies to everybody’s world. No matter what identity you have assumed, you will only experience three kinds of entities while being that identity: phenomena, concepts, and facts.
- Phenomena. These entities are the objects of sensory or non-sensory perception. By “sensory perception”, I mean perception via the physical senses. Things that you can touch, feel, see, hear, smell, or taste are phenomena perceived in this way. A table is a phenomenon; you can see one or feel one. A chalkboard is a phenomenon.Phenomena also include the objects of non-sensory perception, by which I do not mean “extrasensory perception”, or ESP. Non-sensory perception is part of ordinary consciousness; ESP is not. By “non-sensory perception”, I mean what happens when you close your eyes and make a picture of a horse. You get a perception of something; that something is a mental picture and not a sensory perception. You are seeing with the “mind’s eye”, not with the body’s eye. Similarly, if you’re sitting in a plane and hearing the vibrations as a sort of white noise, you can sometimes imagine symphonies going on in your mind. Perhaps you have had an experience like that.Parenthetically, I think that composers, even great ones, are just like us except that they have excellent ability to recall, good concentration, and the ability to write down what they listen to in their minds. If I could keep my attention on the beautiful symphonies in my head, and if I only knew how to write music from memory, maybe I’d be able to compose great things too.
- Concepts. The notion of a “concept” is somewhat more difficult to define. We sometimes call them “thoughts” or “ideas”, and they are not the same as phenomena. I can have the concept of a horse without experiencing the phenomenon of a particular horse. When I think about horses, I may get impressions of different horses, sort of fleeting pictures of this one and that one. That is what I call the “penumbra” [from Latin: “almost” + “shadow”] of the concept, the phenomena around the concept itself. Those phenomena are not the concept itself. The concept of the horse is something different. It’s a little hard to get your hands on it, because it’s not something you can touch or feel; it is something you can think, or conceptualize.Consider the concept of motherhood. When I have that concept, I may get pictures of mothers cuddling babies, or maybe just sort of a warm fuzzy feeling, but these phenomena are not the concept itself. These are part of the phenomenal penumbra of the concept. What is the concept itself? The concept is a potential reality. A concept is something that could exist, but doesn’t necessarily exist. The concept of a horse, for instance, is one that corresponds to an actual reality, there are still some horses around, in fact. On the other hand, the concept of Pegasus corresponds to a non-reality, because there aren’t any winged horses around, yet we can still have the concept of one. So a concept is something that could be a reality in some universe, but might not be a reality currently.
- Facts. A fact is not something you can perceive. A fact is something you can know. I perceive this podium. I don’t know the podium. But a fact is something I know. I know, for instance, that women have babies. A fact is actually a concept to which one additional thing has been added. That is: “Yes!” In other words, I have the concept of certain creatures that gallop around, some of which are black, some brown, and one of which is Black Beauty. And then I say “Yes!” to that concept. I agree with it. I agree that it exists. That agreement creates a fact out of that concept. I have a concept to which I have said “Yes!” and for me it has become a fact.I have the concept of Socrates’ having been the teacher of Plato. That’s not a phenomenon in the present because Socrates and Plato are both long gone, but it is a fact that Socrates was the teacher of Plato. So, given the concept of Socrates’ having been the teacher of Plato, what makes this concept into a fact in my experience is that I say to myself, “Socrates having been the teacher of Plato – Yes!” If I were to say, “Socrates having been the teacher of Plato – No!”, that would mean it is not a fact but is only a concept, a fiction.Those three things – facts, concepts, and phenomena – make up any world, just those three things.
Now, I mentioned that every entity in a person’s experience has an action that relates it to the self, and I have asserted that there are three kinds of entities. So it should come as no surprise that there are three kinds of actions corresponding to these different entities. Not only that, but, because any entity can be received or created, there are six kinds of actions altogether, three for receiving and three for creating. Let me go through those quickly.
- Perceptualizing. Consider the actions that give us phenomena, the actions by which we “perceptualize”. On the creative side we have picturing, which is making a mental picture. You can create phenomena. If I ask you to close your eyes and make a picture or get an impression of a horse, you can do it. That’s a creative act. You’re not creating something in your physical world, but you are certainly creating something in your mental world.The receptive action that gives us phenomena is perceiving. Again, we have sensory and non-sensory perceptions.
- Conceptualizing. The creative action that gives us concepts is conceiving. We don’t create entirely new concepts very often, but we do do it sometimes. And when we do, it is usually pretty interesting.The receptive action that gives us concepts is interpreting. When we see something – as when we look at the hills of California and notice that they’re brown – that can give us several different ideas. We can interpret that brownness to mean that there has been insufficient rain, that somebody sprayed herbicide on the hillside, or that it burned. There are a number of different ideas we can get by looking at and interpreting the data, and those ideas are concepts. So you get a concept by interpreting something. Now again, I’m talking about ordinary reality, because some people will say you can get concepts by intuition as well. Fine, but let’s stick to ordinary reality.
- Cognizing. You “cognize” – create a fact – by an action called “postulating”. Postulating is the action of first conceiving a concept and then saying “Yes!” to it. You say, “My little finger raised in the next few seconds – Yes!” And by gosh, up it goes! This is a peculiar thing, because, experientially, we move our bodies by postulates. We do not experience ourselves as moving them by moving all those little muscles or by making the nerves do things. According to a certain materialistic belief system, all these things happen neurologically. That’s fine, but in the Un-belief System, we move by postulates, and that is inescapable. If you decide to do something and it happens, that decision – that postulate – is what made it happen. That’s how you create a fact, you postulate. Whether the fact that you wind up having created is a body motion, or the possession of a million dollars, or whatever, that is how you created it.
How do we receive facts? By understanding. First we look at data – the California hills, for example – and then we interpret them, getting perhaps several different possible concepts or interpretations. The brown color might be due to lack of rain…to herbicide…to fires. And then we say “Yes!” to one of those interpretations, “Yes! It’s lack of rain.” At that point we have understanding. We have understood at that point that the brownness is caused by lack of rain. Now, people will object and say, “Well, look! This is crazy! Just saying “Yes!” to something doesn’t make it a fact. It’s either a fact or it isn’t. Come on, Gerbode!” Well, again, according to various belief systems, if I believe that the reason the grass is brown is because of herbicides, and somebody else thinks it’s because of lack of water, then from the point of view of their belief system, what I have is not a fact. But from the point of view of the Un-belief System – from the point of view of experience – it is a fact for me, and that’s the crucial distinction.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t change people’s minds. You can. You can cause them to change their minds and cause things that are now facts for them not to be facts for them. That’s fine. That can be a legitimate thing to do. But there are legitimate and illegitimate ways of changing people’s minds. The legitimate ways are ways that are empowering to the individual, such as showing him things, demonstrating things, or educating him. I’m talking about “education” in the true sense of the word, which is drawing out knowledge (“educate” means “to draw out of”). This means giving a person data in such a way that she can evaluate it for herself and decide *for herself* whether it’s true or not.
A prime example of true education is the practice of Applied Metapsychology that we call “viewing“, a way of drawing out of a person the data that he knows. And it’s an acceptable way to change people’s minds. It is not taking power from them; it is empowering them. However, there are other ways of changing peoples’ minds that are weakening to people. Being very authoritarian and speaking in a very dogmatic way, or saying things like: “You must believe this!” doesn’t empower the other person to think for herself. Also, the use of authority, or force, or pain in order to enforce belief is not an empowering way of changing people’s minds. So I don’t recommend these methods.
Since I’m talking about empowerment, I want to get on to my next topic, which is: what is power, anyway? I’m talking about personal power, not the kind that is generated in power stations. My thoughts on this topic have really only appeared in the last year, because I’ve recently given it some close attention.
In order to understand the nature of power, it is first important to discuss the relationship between desire and intention. I’ve been thinking about what the difference was between a wish and a desire. It occurred to me that you can wish for things that you know are impossible, and you can desire things you know are impossible, but you can’t intend things that you know are impossible.
Desire is an impulse toward something’s existing, an impulse toward having something exist for oneself in one’s world. At the age of fourteen, when I watched the movie, “Picnic”, I formulated an intense carnal desire for Kim Novak. I knew for a fact that there was absolutely no possibility of my ever attaining this particular experience. Nonetheless, I wished to bring it into existence.
Desire, then, is the impulse toward bringing something into existence. It is really a form of positive regard toward the world or some part of it, an affinity for some entity. When you desire something, you have a very positive regard for it, such as I had then for the feeling – the phenomenon – of having Kim Novak making love to me.
So much for desire. Now we’re sort of edging toward power, but the next concept we’re going to look at is that of ability.
What is ability? Obviously, while I had the desire to have Kim Novak, I didn’t have the ability. I didn’t have the connections, the good looks, or whatever. Now, ability is the capacity to act in a certain way, and as I mentioned, we all have certain basic abilities. We have the ability to picture, perceive, conceive, interpret, postulate, and understand. These are the basic abilities out of which every other ability we have is constructed. They are like the “basic instruction set”, of a computer. By combining them in various ways and applying them to different entities, we build up everything else we are capable of doing.
Suppose you are a very able person. At any given time, there could be lots of things you are able to do that you’re not doing. Why? Because you don’t desire to do them. You could be the most brilliant and capable person in the world, but if you have no desire for things, no capacity to desire things, no drive, you are not going to make anything happen. People are going to look on you rightly as a weakling. So in order to be powerful, not only must you have ability, you must also have drive: the desire, the impetus to make things exist. If you don’t have the impetus to make things exist, you are not going to bring anything into existence.
What is desire plus ability? Desire plus ability is intention. If you desire something and if you conceive yourself to be able to create or receive that thing, then you intend to create or receive that thing, again, from the point of view of the Un-belief System. We’re not worried about what you’re actually – by some external criteria is – able to do or not, but in your own view, if you desire and are able, then you intend. So intention equals desire plus ability.
The capacity to intend is a person’s personal power. It’s the amount of intention a person can generate which constitutes his or her power. Intention is what makes things happen. It is the force which makes things happen. Anything you can intend very strongly is going to happen. Some people are capable of generating a stronger intention than others. You might say that a person has X amount of the commodity, intention with which they do everything that they do, both creatively and receptively. The amount of intention that has to do with receiving is the available supply of attention, and that having to do with creating is the available amount of volition. The total amount of intention (attention and volition) a person can generate is that person’s power, and that power is composed of understanding, control, and drive. Or capacity to understand, capacity to control, and capacity to desire (drive).
The Buddhists feel that desire is a bad thing and that we shouldn’t desire things because it’s the ultimate source of human misery; if you didn’t desire anything you wouldn’t be miserable. Well, I say that’s fine, but if you don’t desire anything, you also can’t be happy, because happiness consists of making progress towards the fulfillment of an intention. If you didn’t have any desires or intentions, you wouldn’t be happy. You’d just be kind of “blah”. I really don’t think that not caring about anything is an ideal state to be in. I mean…life is meant to be lived, and part of being happy is having a lust for life. This is one of the main things we address in viewing, because, you see, a lust for life is just a positive regard for entities, for parts of the world. It’s a positive feeling about their being there. It’s not a bad thing, it’s a positive feeling. The bad thing is not desire, but aversion: not wanting things, but hating things. That’s what we’ve got to handle, not the positive side. And one way in which we handle that is by means of the technique called Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR). TIR handles the negative feelings that cause people to have unwanted aversions to things. That is a very important part of what we do.
Corresponding to each of the components of power – which, again, are drive, understanding and control – there is a corresponding condition in the world that promotes each component, that empowers us, and that we seek. We seek a world that empowers us.
Corresponding to desire and drive, there are things in the world that we find pleasant or beautiful. We are attracted to – we have an impulse toward the existence of – things that are pleasant and beautiful. So we seek beauty, and we seek relief from pain.
What quality of the world would make it possible for us to understand things? Something about the world that gives it the quality of being a learning experience. I call that the “heuristic” quality of the world.
Thirdly, we seek a world that is orderly, because order is the objective element that corresponds to control. We can control things if they’re in a certain order. And if we can perceive the order of things and put them into order, we can control them.
Basically, the type of world we want to live in – that people universally want to live in – is a world that strikes what each considers to be a proper balance between pleasure and beauty, learning, and order. And if any one of these overbalances the others, then the quality of life deteriorates.
If you’re pursuing beauty but your life is “going to hell in a hand basket”, and you’re not learning anything, then you won’t really be happy. That’s the trap drug abusers fall into.
If you’re pursuing order but you’re not having any fun, then life is a disagreeable grind, and you are bored.
If you’re pursuing life as a learning experience, it can sometimes be very painful if it gets very disorderly and unpleasant. You can always chalk things up as learning experiences, though, no matter bad life is.
That has to do with entities of the world. Now I’d like to talk about other people, because we do have certain basic goals, relative to other people, which are different from those that relate to things. Power has to do with entities, but power is not the only thing we’re after. I don’t want to leave you with that impression. I think that what we seek even more than power is a state of relatedness to other people: what I call “communion”.
Communion is a combination of communication, comprehension and affection. Comprehension is a sharing of experience between people. If I am prehending something (having something in my grasp or awareness) and you are prehending the same thing, then we co-prehend – we comprehend – that thing. Affection is affinity or love for other people. These three elements: affection, communication, and comprehension, together constitute communion.
Communion with others is something we seek even more strongly than we seek power. In fact, I would venture to say that we seek power ultimately in order to have communion. I think any of us will find that the deepest points of satisfaction in our lives have been those times when we were in the deepest state of communication with another, when there was the deepest sharing of experience (comprehension), and where we had the strongest affection or love for other people.
These are the moments we live for. This is the point of the whole exercise.
What is help? Some belief systems prescribe a specific ideal state that people ought to be in, and consider that help consists of moving them into that state. This is the basis of the medical model, and it gives us the concept of “therapy”.
The physical body is an engine that runs at an ideal temperature; it has an ideal blood sugar; it has an ideal structure, etc. The object of a doctor is to get the body into that condition that is most nearly ideal. That works for the body. But what about the mind?
The concept of “therapy” has been carried over into psychiatry, which is considered to be a medical sub-specialty. According to the canons of psychiatry there is an ideal way in which the mind operates, a normal way to be, mentally. The psychiatrist’s job is to get a person from his current state of mind to that ideal, normal state (whether the person wants to go there or not!) The patient’s reluctance is sometimes a problem and is interpreted as “resistance”. That’s what you get if you look at help from the viewpoint of a belief system.
But if you work with an Un-belief System, you don’t have a pre-conceived notion of how the person should be. Instead, help becomes the simple action of enabling the person to get what he wants, whatever that happens to be. That’s what help really is. And what people want most deeply, according to the Un-belief System, is this quality of communion with other people. So if we can help them get that, we’re guaranteed to help them in getting what they do in fact want, and not something we’re imposing on them.
Viewing is therefore not a therapy; it’s an un-therapy. It does not prescribe a specific desirable condition. It simply helps a person to get what she wants and that is the best thing you can do for another person, since that’s what she’s trying to do for herself.