Most humans throughout history probably thought relatively little about emotions. They were more concerned about the outside world. Objects are self-evident, while emotions very often are not. To identify exactly what an emotion is, and how it can influence behavior, requires a degree of effort that often does not come easily. Additionally, to ignore an emotion may be easier (and more desirable) than to ignore external reality. The external world is what one has to perceive if one wants to survive and function. As a consequence, reason may be applied more to external reality than to internal reality. Unfortunately, one’s internal reality may become increasingly difficult to understand the more one avoids awareness of it.
Though emotions are an enormous part of every human being, they can seem intangible or vague at times. From our present context, let us examine the nature of our emotional mechanism. An emotion is a psycho-physical reaction to, and reflection of, an assessment of some aspect of reality (internal or external) being beneficial or harmful to oneself and/or one’s values.10 Emotions are signals or indicators of what we consider good and what we consider bad for us—in much the same way as physical pain and pleasure. I use the term “consider” to underscore that we are capable of making false assessments—unlike, for the most part, our physical pain/pleasure mechanism (at least for a healthy neural system).
Emotions really entail two components, each of which may be a larger or smaller part of the experience. On one end are subconscious (or conscious) evaluations, thoughts that indicate and assess one’s particular predicament. On the other end are physiological responses, such as fluctuations in blood pressure, breathing and heart rate, tactile and visceral sensations, and so on (which can also be called feelings).
The evaluative component of an emotion may occur so fast and be so vague and seemingly ungraspable that it may go undetected. All that sometimes seem to be experienced are the feelings, the physiological responses. In turn, these physiological responses may linger for a time after the evaluative aspect has come and gone.
For example, suppose you experience and assess an event as dangerous or frightening. Anxious responses can be the result of many different specific evaluations, which usually can be identified after one reflects on the experience. With performance anxiety, for instance, thoughts such as “I can’t do this,” “What will others think of me?” “What if I make a mistake?” “I’m not good at this,” “People will laugh at me,” “I’m going to look ‘stupid’,” may come to mind quickly. One might also find, after some introspection, that more existential evaluations are driving these misgivings. The two most potent ones are “I’m not good enough” and “I’m unfit to exist.”
Of course in correlation with this feeling of anxiety (in truth giving rise to it) the approximate physiological sequence can also be roughly outlined. In terms of the brain pathways, the visual association cortex reports to the temporal cortex, then to the amygdala and thalamus, and then to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus immediately activates the sympathetic component of the autonomic nervous system, and signals the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland stimulates the release of hormones (e.g., epinephrine and norepinephrine) that travel through the circulatory system. These hormones augment (in a matter of a few minutes) such sympathetic nervous system symptoms as rapid heart beat, perspiration, and so on. The orbitalfrontal cortex and the hippocampal formation are also probably involved, because the information of this event is interacting with these regions of thought (as well as other more specific brain regions).
Physiological explanations are important in various scientific contexts. Subconscious activity in general and emotional super-rapid appraisals in particular result from extremely complex brain activity. Brain activity is responsible for subconscious functioning, of course (which is an aspect of mind we will address shortly).
Yet, we can easily lose the meaning of an emotion if we rely on physiological explanations for psychological understanding. We are never aware of the amazingly integrated neural synapses occurring in our brains at any given moment of awareness, let alone when we are experiencing emotions. Therefore, we will avoid the physiological perspective in this discussion and focus on our mental experiences in the holistic (rather than neurological) manner we experience them. This is the most pertinent model for us.
A feeling such as anxiety is triggered by a sum of evaluations that indicate something wrong or dangerous. Cognitive therapy holds a similar view about the emotional mechanism: the positive aspects of an anxiety-provoking experience fade into the background while the negatives are blown out of proportion to what is reasonable.16
Although as a rule anxiety is not rationally founded, once produced it cannot be successfully fought against. Resisting stressful emotions usually just exacerbates them. Thus, we need to accept feelings of this sort, instead of reject them. They are, after all, an important part of how one presently judges a situation. With self-acceptance comes self-understanding, which thereby facilitates emotional changes.9
Psychiatrists have prescribed medication for years to diminish uncomfortable emotional responses—to help individuals feel less anxious, less depressed, and so forth. Many studies have revealed the efficacy of such drugs (in alleviating depression, for instance). Yet in the long run such efforts can be greatly misguided. They attempt to alleviate only one side of the problem—the feelings, which are the result of our evaluations.
Because of the nature of human evaluation, strong placebo effects can occur from psychotropic drug use. Real changes in thought, mental outlook, and behavior that have nothing to do with the actions of the drugs themselves—but rather with the belief that they are helping—happen frequently. The human brain is so multifaceted in the way it gives rise to thoughts and evaluations that the creation of a “magic mood pill” is enormously doubtful. And a drug to change personality and the way we think about ourselves is still more unlikely.
Ultimately, our volitional mechanism is most responsible for changes in our character structure, personality, and the thoughts that drive emotional and physical responses. Although at times our particular moods may seem out of our control, we are also ultimately responsible for even these transitory feelings (e.g., irritability, laziness, apathy, and the like). Acknowledgment of this bolsters our capacity to deal with and change our moods, if need be.
In order to promote authentic changes, we need the inestimable psychological benefit of making changes ourselves. This is an inherently emotionally fulfilling and self-esteem-enhancing process. Again, the primary way a rational organism can alter the contents of its mind is through volitional processes, those that involve all the limitless choices offered to us every day of our life.
The truly important aspect of any emotion is the appraisal, not the physical response. This can be evidenced by noticing the differences in feeling between two similar physiological events: the physical effects of extreme anxiety, and the effects of physical exercise. Both induce similar responses, such as rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, and perspiration. But, we do not feel anxious when we exercise, only when we have anxious emotions. Without a negative evaluation of the event, the physiological response itself has little cognitive meaning or significance (other than what we ascribe to it). The only thing that matters is what we tell ourselves about the situation concerning such things as our capability, worth, and value.
In technical terms, emotions emanate from the subconscious. The subconscious, as the word implies, is the contents of mind not in direct, conscious awareness.10 One main aspect of the subconscious serves as a repository, and the other main aspect serves as a function. As a repository, the subconscious is the sum of all experiences (sensations, perceptions, and conceptions), which include all memories, assessments, thoughts (both verbal and sensory images, such as visual and auditory). As a function, or process, subconscious material constantly projects either into direct awareness or into the periphery of awareness.
At any given moment one’s conscious mind is interacting with one’s subconscious. Conscious mental awareness contains primary focal material, such as whatever one is directly thinking, speaking, experiencing, interpreting, or reflecting on. It also contains, depending on the type and intensity of focus, peripheral (subconscious) material that one can choose to make more or less noticeable.
Of course, what is in the periphery of awareness often remains in a lower state of awareness, because a human mind—being a finite entity—can only attend to so much material at any given time. That which is in conscious focus necessarily limits the amount of all other possible mental experiences. However, we are still capable of shifting and spanning the mental depths of peripheral mental contents with amazing speed and efficiency with practice——especially when we perceive it beneficial to do so. Much of creative thinking, for example, involves this rapid utilization of subconscious assumptions and thoughts.
We can also access the part of our subconscious that produces particular emotions. The fact that we are having feelings means that we are evaluating something subconsciously, and this can be focused on and brought into conscious awareness.
This explanation of the subconscious is different than Sigmund Freud’s (and, generally, psychoanalytic theory’s) notion of the “unconscious.” Freud’s idea of the unconscious pertains to mental material that is forever outside awareness. Hence, the laborious and often inefficient task of psychoanalysis is to formulate hypotheses (usually by a therapist) about certain feelings and behaviors. Since alleged unconscious processes are unknown and nongraspable, they can only be interpreted indirectly through signs and symptoms of anxiety, depression, and so on. This in turn leads to all sorts of extravagant and frequently unwarranted inferences about “fixations,” “Oedipus complexes,” and so forth, which supposedly stem from early blocked or thwarted desires and needs.
Because the unconscious is unknown, it implies that one can never grasp part of one’s mental world. This means that it is not just unknown, but unknowable—which basically means that one has selective amnesia. Yet interestingly, only those parts of mind that are most emotionally threatening and disruptive are cut off from awareness. They are labeled the “Id,” one of psychoanalytic theory’s areas of self that contains all of one’s so-called drives and impulses (the other two areas are the Ego and Superego).
The main contradiction with this view of “the unconscious” involves the belief that one cannot access—with one’s conscious mind—experiences and assessments that have been placed into one’s mind. In actuality, since our experiences were all experienced consciously (barring dreams, which are quasi-conscious experiences), they can be accessed consciously. This assumes, of course, that we can remember them.
If experiences were not properly focused on and placed in memory effectively, then they may be lost. And, depending on how we evaluated them, we may have strong interests in keeping certain remembered experiences out of conscious awareness. Ingrained habits of evasion, repression, and rationalization (three defense mechanisms insightfully identified by Freud) are sometimes difficult to overcome. The person has utilized them to essentially disown parts of his or her experiences, evaluations, and self-assessments. So, the choice to recognize and own these parts may have become unthinkable.9
For humans, any kind of assessment made of reality—any kind of emotion in the broad sense—is derived from a process of identification and evaluation. We first need to conceive what something is before we can accurately judge it to be either good or bad for us. The ability to reason provides the invaluable advantage of understanding what is felt to be good or bad, and why. For other animals, such a process cannot occur. Other animals react to present experiences in relation to past experiences, thus evidencing learned behavior. Many of the responses they elicit are due mainly to their hereditary predispositions, which are structured to avoid certain things and be attracted to others.
Although it can be correctly argued that other animals have emotional responses, or feelings, these are non-conceptualized reactions. The kinds of emotions humans experience are intricately connected to their conceptual faculty. The enormous complexity and range of human emotion is a result of conscious and subconscious conceptual value-judgments (abstract assessments of things being beneficial or harmful). The feelings of other animals (and even human infants) can be explained as reactions and responses to what is sensed good or bad according to their biological structures.
Inevitably, what distinguishes the emotions of developed human beings from other animals is both our ability to evaluate in the abstract sense and our capability to be cognizant of particular emotional states and examine—all by means of concepts—what has caused them. A reasoning mind can identify value-judgments, make them explicit and, therefore, link emotions with the ideas that underlie and color them.
Yet evaluations that we form about certain situations (or people) may be ingrained strongly in our subconscious. At times, these feelings may feel like conditioned responses, almost like reflexes. We may wonder about whether we have any choice as to how we can respond to particular circumstances, especially unpleasant ones. Fortunately though, we are capable of gaining insights into the reasons for these feelings. We are also able to take mental and physical action to change our circumstances as well as our feelings, when deemed necessary. This is, in fact, part of the technology of psychotherapy.
Further emotional differences between us and other animals can be demonstrated. Time spent with animals allows us to draw some important conclusions. For example, a cat that purrs after climbing onto one’s lap to nestle and be petted, or a dog that eagerly awaits a toy to be thrown so that it can fetch it and repeat the same episode, or a horse that cheerfully gallops away and tosses its head and kicks when released after a long day’s ride, all show us that animals experience positive feelings. We can certainly relate to such feelings of arousal and excitement. It is the main reason why we can become so endeared to animals. Animals can also show us a degree of emotional spontaneity that is absent in many people.
But these sorts of behaviors are salient in our mind because they are so positive. Much of the time, most animals are in a neutral emotional state. From our conceptual standpoint, a great deal of their lives is completely filled with boredom. To spend a life alongside an animal—or to live an animal’s life—if this were at all possible, would soon lead a conceptual being to severe depression or utter madness. Our emotional mechanism differs from other animals in that we must choose and pursue conscious values to make life worth living.
A value is defined as that which one acts to gain and/or keep. Virtues are the ways in which one acts to gain and/or keep values.76 For humans—in fact for any organism—the fundamental issue is survival. Logically then, primary values relate to our dealings with reality and ourselves; they must ensure mental and physical benefit and health.
Values such as reason, logic, genuine self-esteem, enlightened self-concept, active mind, brilliant sense of life, and purpose can be considered crucial to our lives as rational beings. Other essential values, such as happiness, romantic love, and friendship, can be viewed as the outcomes of holding and striving for primary values; they can also be seen as their compliments.
Virtues represent how we sustain and improve our values. Rationality, integrity, independence, responsibility, honesty, productivity, and so on, are key virtues. Other virtues pertain especially to how we deal with others, for instance kindness, generosity, benevolence, empathy, goodwill, and understanding. In addition to all these mental (or spiritual) values and virtues, an endless variety of material values promote happiness and help make life safer and more pleasurable.
However, this is only a brief description; it cannot describe the complexity and variation in how our values are to be sought and upheld. All reality-oriented values and virtues mesh and interact as the sum total of what a human being deems essential about his or her life. Nonetheless, clarity about essentials is important. In the field of ethics, the field that deals with values and virtues, clarity is desperately needed. (Ethics will be addressed more in later sections.)
In addition to conscious valuing, another unique aspect of our emotional mechanism is that we can experience positive emotions virtually anytime we desire—although this may require some practice. We do not need the experience of positive external stimuli to do this (though it is an added bonus). Basically, we can have, or eventually develop, a state of mind in which we make ourselves happy. Others or other things do not have to create this feeling in us. The greatest example is perhaps when we ponder the awesome fact that we are alive; it should elate us. Our everyday experiences, achievements, and hopes for the future can also uplift us as we reflect on them.
Evolution has granted us a reasoning capacity, but not the ability to automatically utilize it in the most beneficial way. Evolution also has granted us an emotional capacity but, again, not the ability to automatically utilize it beneficially. Essentially, we are born with a biologically adaptive function (a volitional, reasoning mind) that can take maladaptive actions.6 This unique model of consciousness, as explained earlier, confounds many of the theories of modern psychologists and evolutionists. Free will can throw a wrench in their mechanistic models. Many theories neglect the fact that we are capable of choosing the exact opposite of what they predict. The human mind is capable of choosing to act based on principles, instead of responding unthinkingly to stimuli.
Obviously, we take many more adaptive actions than maladaptive; otherwise, the volitional function itself would not be adaptive and selected by nature. The reason for this phenomenon is relatively simple, and it does not imply that our capacity to choose is tainted, diminished, or biased in the direction of acting solely for our well-being: Adaptive actions typically yield positive physical and emotional results, for either the short-term or long-term. Emotions are tied to our physiology, so we are geared to choose actions that benefit us at least in physical ways (i.e., that produce good feelings). However, at any time we can choose otherwise based on other emotional factors, which reflect the values we have accepted or rejected. This can produce harmful, if not fatal, results (such as suicide).
Our emotions are no better or worse than the evaluations we have made. And, our evaluations are no better or worse than our identifications, which yield these evaluations. This, of course, is part of our greatness as human beings. Our emotional capacity gives us the ability to experience joy. And, our reasoning capacity provides limitless possibilities for this experience by making accurate identifications and evaluations.
With the ability to reason comes the acquisition of knowledge that advances an organism beyond the common restrictions of evolutionary adaptations. These restrictions typically allow an organism to function only in an environment suitable for that particular adaptation. Because of this, organisms are confined by the particular limits or parameters of their adaptations. They are most fitted for the particular environment in which they were formed. When their environment changes significantly, their behavior may appear useless, unnecessary, or detrimental. For example, an animal being domesticated may continually try to run away or bite its caretaker; it has trouble adapting to its new environment. Another familiar example is a herd of deer caught, mesmerized, in the headlights of an oncoming automobile, or a rabbit running desperately down the road in front of a car instead of moving to the side. Their adaptive functions carry them only so far (they were not designed for highways and automobiles).
Still another case in point is the species of dinosaurs that became extinct when their environment changed, be it geographically, from new viruses, or otherwise. The most compelling evidence tells of an asteroid or comet roughly 10 kilometers in diameter that struck Earth at the Yucatan Peninsula. The impact drastically altered the climate and life for dinosaurs and other creatures. Interestingly, if this episode had not occurred, our species might not have arisen. Higher mammals did not evolve until after dinosaurs left the scene. Such adept and ferocious predators as dinosaurs made it difficult for most mammals except small rodents to survive.
To be like all other forms of life, to be endowed with just automatic or “built in” traits, would limit our functioning. An adaptation with a set mode of functioning lacks the flexibility required for surviving when environmental conditions change significantly. Human thoughts and emotions cannot, at the outset, be automatically suited to a particular environment or situation. They do not automatically guide us along the most beneficial and proper courses of thought, feeling, or action. To desire them to do so is to misunderstand the glory of our own unique faculty.
The faculty of reason and its corresponding ally, emotion, rely on the automatic faculties of sensation and perception. From there we can identify, integrate, and evaluate, but no sooner. In order for the wishes of automatic knowledge, innate ideas, and desirable emotions (i.e., automatic happiness) to become reality, they would first have to circumvent a great contradiction: perception and conceptual integration would have had to occur before birth. Obviously, choices cannot be made in the womb.
Conceptualization can only occur when a mind can cognitively shift its focus of awareness to identify and integrate units in reality, and one has to be in reality to do this. Although many professional (as well as armchair) philosophers have dreamt otherwise, without anything to experience, no choices can be made and no emotions can be formed.
Furthermore, a rational being is a finite being (this term is actually a redundancy; any being must be finite to exist). We are necessarily limited to what we can focus on. Therefore, we are susceptible to all sorts of errors in the integration and selection process. This leads to the next topic, which concerns the method by which we can avoid such pitfalls.
Logic For Understanding Emotions And Ideas
One of the most important tasks at hand for our species is to correctly understand the faculties of reason and emotion. By doing so, we can resolve problems that have beleaguered humans for centuries. Since reason is our distinctive tool of survival, a process or method is needed to discover when reason is being utilized properly or improperly. Logic provides for this. It is the central process and method of all proper reasoning.
Ayn Rand defined logic as “the art of non-contradictory identification.”81(p.112) Few, if any, logic courses will assert it so simply and correctly. Unfortunately, this “art” has at times been absent throughout history. Because of a basic lack of understanding of logic, coupled with various emotional disincentives to pursue this understanding, our species has avoided fully addressing various problematic issues.
Logic enables a rational being to arrive at the right conclusions. These conclusions stem from prior identifications and assessments. Reason as a capacity can take place on numerous levels; it can encompass a broad range and depth of identifications. Simple identifications, such as recognizing that one is awake, alive, and not dreaming, or that one is hungry, or that one is reading a book, rest on a whole foundation of concepts acquired from childhood. First-level identifications must be made before more advanced concepts can be formulated and understood.81
By, say, age ten, most of us have integrated the vast majority of concepts needed to sustain ourselves and function on a regular basis. But many issues and ideas arise that get us sidetracked in our reasoning. We can end up—and have vested interests in—avoiding logical clarity in these areas.
A major factor in this avoidance involves unwanted and undesirable feelings. Rather than face various feelings associated with certain issues, we can disown them through denial and repression. The defense mechanism of repression entails the initial denial of a feeling—and the importance of the evaluation attached to it. Denial develops into repression when the habit of eschewing emotional awareness becomes automatized (when it becomes a subconscious response). Yet, since the subconscious is interconnected, many different emotions become repressed—not just the unwanted ones.
Not surprisingly, chronic avoidance of feelings adversely affects the self. The faculty that normally inspects and remedies emotional troubles becomes denigrated. Harmful psychological structures are built around a doubt of one’s ability to address and resolve emotional issues. For instance, one may attend only to issues that do not negatively impact one’s emotional state. Or, one may embrace or strongly defend issues that insulate oneself emotionally—and evade or denounce issues and ideas that seem threatening. Thus, one avoids important aspects of personality and environment that cause feelings of anxiety, fear, guilt, pain, and so forth. Yet the defense mechanism of repression does not work completely: one still experiences the feelings; one is still partially aware of them. Partial awareness of feelings just precludes understanding and rectification of them.
Psychological policies of this nature are usually how the process of logic gets subverted. Such policies can prevent us from realizing our own capability to use reason beneficially. Our own joy can be stifled in the process too.
A minimal awareness of and lack of concern for one’s emotional world is evident in most irrational behavior throughout history. As stated, to identify a feeling is oftentimes a more challenging task than to identify something physical. For primitive people especially, the whole realm of thoughts, images, dreams, and feelings seemed to have a mystical aura. The physically unseen nature (and oftentimes ambiguous properties) of these psychological states contributed to this. Rather than see the mind in a scientific manner, early humans indulged in beliefs about omnipresent spirits and unseen powers; they were oblivious to both logic and contradictions.55 Less knowledge and less inquisitiveness basically inured them to the status quo. Habits of psychological avoidance were almost inevitable, given their conditions.
Psychological practices seem to push us in certain directions. Sometimes, they can be hard to fight against—even though doing so may be in our best interests. We can remain in contexts that do injury to our ability to be aware and to reason logically. We may act and feel with little reflection.
Organisms tend to gravitate towards pleasant (or at least nonpainful) experiences. After all, those that did not respond in this way might soon perish. These experiences provide strong incentives to further the processes of life. The survival benefits of this are obvious, at least for other animals. For humans, this is only a part of the process of achieving happiness.
As mentioned, a pleasant or nonpainful emotional world is not something that is built into our system. We can seek pleasurable experiences in order to escape from those that are emotionally unpleasant, but nonetheless important. By not examining the areas of conflict that evidence themselves emotionally, we can retard the growth of our faculty of awareness and our capacity to experience joyful emotions. In a sense, we are the only organisms capable of creating or destroying our own happiness; we are the only living things in charge of how we feel.
Because our emotional world is tied to our rational faculty, we need to discover this world—to identify it. As Ayn Rand ingeniously stated, “Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.”75(p.125) For other animals, consciousness is basically perception. To be sure, they may recognize and learn all kinds of things, but not in the abstract sense. We, as humans, must go an immeasurable step further if we are to actualize the full potential of our minds. This is our responsibility.
If we were emotionally similar to other animals, we could save ourselves the tasks of rational identification and integration. Though that may sound comfortable, our life should be less about comfort and contentment and more about challenge and discovery. Every step forward in human thought is a challenge in its own right. Historically, the emotional world of the typical human was a signal for it to look inside, to inspect.
We are confronted with a series of facts, one being that we have important emotions and feelings tied to how we think. These emotions and feelings may drive us away from ourselves, or they may draw us toward greater self-discovery and self-enjoyment. The choice is ultimately our own. The questions, “Why do we have unwanted and undesirable emotions, and what is their possible survival value?” have been answered by showing that we can evaluate and assess aspects of reality mistakenly. Our rational faculty tells us that we may have done so—thereby enabling us to correct ourselves and fix problem areas.
Instead of running from or ignoring our emotional world, we can decide to stop and inspect it, just like we would do with anything that arouses our curiosity. But we may have trouble being curious about something that is uncomfortable or even painful. So, we can divert our attention. We can slip into a routine or engage in an activity that never demands emotional inquiry.
Repressing feelings and evading conflicts nonetheless diminishes our self-respect. Such a policy puts our humanity and respect for others in jeopardy as well. Much of the brutal and barbaric history of humans attests to this. People kept repeating the same behavior, making mistakes over and over, never discovering how emotions were driving them.
Actions taken solely based on one’s feelings sometimes do not yield a good outcome. Of course, the type of feelings and the context have a major bearing. For instance, if we feel ecstatic about some event in our life, we may do exciting or salutary things. On the other hand, if we are angry about something, we may proceed to act on that anger without asking ourselves if it is right to do so. Or, if we feel anxious about doing something (e.g., asserting ourselves appropriately) we may learn to avoid such anxiety-provoking situations, instead of challenging our evaluations of them. Or, we may be irritated and unnerved by another’s argument that contests our belief system and, instead of asking why we feel so upset, we proceed to dismiss the argument and maybe even disrespect the person.
Emotions are tied to our sense of self. By examining and working to remedy a sometimes-confusing emotional world, we discover more of who we are. But, to act on certain unexamined emotions is to avoid knowledge of self. To cover up what one is truly feeling leads to further self-estrangement. This sort of concealment can influence thoughts and actions in many ways. Nathaniel Branden made note of this:
Few of the irrationalities people commit——the destructive behavior they unleash against themselves and against others——would be possible to them if they did not first cut themselves off from their own deepest feelings. Paradoxically, the person we sometimes describe as ‘ruled by his feelings’——the irresponsible, impulsive ‘whim-worshipper’——is as dissociated from his inner emotional life as the most inhibited ‘intellectualizer.’ The difference in personality is more of form than of essence.9(p.24)
Recognition of emotions and regulation of action accordingly are tasks for a volitional consciousness. These practices are best undertaken with the method of logic. Logic is the only method that can tell us if our feelings and actions are based on contradictions.
Logic reveals that contradictions cannot exist in objective reality.81 Therefore, when certain emotions defy reasonable justification, they expose contradictions within oneself—that is, self-created and self-maintained contradictions.
As astonishing as it may sound, a man who wrote comprehensibly about logic and contradictions lived over two millennia ago. Aristotle astutely stated what “the starting point of all the other axioms” is: “It is impossible for the same attribute at once to belong and not to belong to the same thing and in the same relation;”.(IV.iii.9) This was basically his formulation of the Law of Non-Contradiction. He continued this line of thinking as follows:
And if it is impossible for contrary attributes to belong at the same time to the same subject…and an opinion which contradicts another is contrary to it, then clearly it is impossible for the same man to suppose at the same time that the same thing is and is not; for the man who made this error would entertain two contrary opinions at the same time….(IV.iii.11)
[If contradictory statements are] predicated at the same time….the result is the dictum of Anaxagoras, ‘all things mixed together’; so that nothing truly exists. It seems, then, that they are speaking of the Indeterminate…. (IV.iv.27)2
So a contradiction is mistaken reasoning, reasoning that involves premises or assumptions that are untrue. Therefore, such premises or assumptions are in opposition to the facts of reality (or, derivatively, to prior valid reasoning based on such facts). The facts of reality are determined from demonstrable or observable phenomena. Logically, valid reasoning involves identifications that follow from proof and evidence, which follow from the three fundamental axioms.
Axiomatic concepts include existence, consciousness, and identity. In the words of Ayn Rand:
An axiomatic concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component parts. It is implicit in all facts and in all knowledge. It is the fundamentally given and directly perceived or experienced, which requires no proof or explanation, but on which all proofs and explanations rest.81(p.55)
Rand made an additional series of central points:
Since axiomatic concepts refer to facts of reality and are not a matter of ‘faith’ or of man’s arbitrary choice, there is a way to ascertain whether a given concept is axiomatic or not: one ascertains it by observing the fact that an axiomatic concept cannot be escaped, that it is implicit in all knowledge, that it has to be accepted and used even in the process of any attempt to deny it.
For instance, when modern philosophers declare that axioms are a matter of arbitrary choice, and proceed to choose complex, derivative concepts as the alleged axioms of their alleged reasoning, one can observe that their statements imply and depend on ‘existence,’ ‘consciousness,’ ‘identity,’ which they profess to negate, but which are smuggled into their arguments in the form of unacknowledged, ‘stolen’ concepts.81(p.59)
Any line of reasoning that involves stolen concepts is necessarily invalid and therefore contradictory. Mistaken reasoning can have all sorts of forms. Usually it is based on other mistaken reasoning, that is, reasoning which contradicts itself. As mentioned, contradictory reasoning is based on falsehood; it does not follow from the facts of reality (or prior valid reasoning).
The Latin term non sequitur describes a line of reasoning that does not follow from the stated premises or evidence provided. Notice that a non sequitur may or may not imply valid premises. For instance, one could hold a certain ideological position (either logical or illogical) and make statements supposedly in support of this position but which actually are not.
Yet, an untrue argument that has an “internal logic” (i.e., one in opposition to facts, but that has a certain conceptual consistency to it) is still a contradictory argument. Logic must be used as a fact/axiom-based method of understanding reality conceptually—not to relate floating abstractions or fantasy concepts to each other in a however consistent fashion.
Contradictions are revealed when we take statements and ideas to their eventual, necessary, conceptual outcomes. We must form connections between concepts and their referents in reality—in order to see how they relate to the facts of reality and to other concepts. These processes require us to make further identifications and distinctions, which normally entail the processes of induction and deduction. We reason from particulars to a general principles and from general principles to particular instances. By applying the method of logic, noncontradictory identification, we leave no relevant epistemological stones unturned.
Logic enables us to effectively prove, to ourselves or others, the veracity of any identification or evaluation. It is the only way for a conceptual organism to reach the truth on any issue—in order to know what one knows, and be certain of it. Otherwise, one perpetuates two bad conditions for a rational consciousness: confusion and incomprehensibility. As Aristotle stated many, many centuries ago:
And if all men are equally right and wrong, an exponent of this view can neither speak nor mean anything, since at the same time he says both ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ And if he forms no judgment, but ‘thinks’ and ‘thinks not’ indifferently, what difference will there be between him and the vegetables?2(IV.iv.39)
Impediments To Self-Understanding And Attaining Abstract Knowledge
Disincentives from outside ourselves to examine our emotional world (and our mental world in general) may be large. We saw this was the case for past groups of people. We can easily do what those around us are doing, regardless of whether it is the most beneficial and appropriate policy. We can look around us and see most things readily noticeable, and yet miss many important observations, miss many things others will discover later.
The undesirable in a future age can be the perversely desirable in the current one. In this way, the status quo can be viewed as normal and elevated above any sort of revolutionary change. What we know about aspects of the world and universe is just a fraction of what others will know about it hundreds of years from now. Context of knowledge has a major effect on the type and scope of our thinking and actions. This can be an impediment to seeing other possibilities—or it can be a great motivator for us.
Throughout the centuries of human history that were comparatively unproductive from an innovation and technology standpoint, most people probably thought that there was nothing else to really learn (or at least nothing to learn of great importance). Most were not concerned about changing the future. Keeping everything under control and in the tribal order was of greater concern; as noted, little independent thought was encouraged. How one could help the group and what the plans were for the day, week, or season, were sizable concerns as well. The tendency to get mired in everyday tasks without reflecting on them becomes strongest when the common mentality believes that most original thinking has been done—either that all important answers have been found, or that none are possible.
In fact, the harder survival is, the more tenaciously people cling to whatever immediate values they possess. Particular habits and cultural norms may seem to demarcate all the opportunities of life. The harder survival is, the more people rely on these norms for protection from the unknown and the undiscovered. Of course, this soon becomes a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies, because as humans our choices determine our fates. And when these choices are shortsighted, they make the possibility for change seem harder (or even frightening).
Native people in third-world countries, for example, live much like people hundreds or even thousands of years ago. They endure their conditions. But contrary to the cliché, what they do not know is indeed hurting them. In addition to entrenched psychological attitudes about the merits of uncreative routines, more sinister factors contribute to their given state of affairs. Terribly flawed political systems promote pathetic situations. They also cause stark contrasts in societal conditions among countries. Such systems are usually aided by the doctrine of cultural relativism, which shows more concern for particular customs and traditions than human health and personal growth.
Many periods in human history have showed a preference for contentment. This is why some individuals are inspiring historical figures; they seemed not to fit exactly into their era’s general outlook; they transcended day-to-day happenings and reflected on life and reality. Sometimes even entire societies embraced change and challenge during certain periods. These were times when humans rose above the everyday and started to ask unique questions about their existence.
One salient period was in Ionia and Greece about 2,500 years ago (following initial intellectual progress in Egypt and Babylon). A more rational view of the world arose in thinkers of natural philosophy and science such as Thales, Xenophanes, and Anaxamander. They shared a new outlook on nature as intelligible. Physical inquiry into phenomena that had gone basically unquestioned for countless centuries became encouraged.42
Such novel exploration happened at this time for various reasons. In part, a political climate permitted rational criticism and debate for various people. Economies had also developed that allowed some (a minority however) the luxury to engage in thinking for its own sake.
To these philosophers, the supernatural was an unsatisfactory explanation for many things. The relatively permissive social context fostered curiosity and a desire for knowledge of physical processes. Unfortunately, two important practices taken from this small group of early scientists—the application of mathematics to understand natural phenomena, and the undertaking of empirical research—were not rediscovered until many hundreds of years later, during the Renaissance.56
In his description of the mentality of some of the ancient Greeks, historian William Heidel stated, “The Hippocratic Law puts the matter succinctly: ‘Science and opinion are two distinct things; the former leads to knowledge, the latter to ignorance.’”(Hippocrates, Lex IV.642L.) Heidel continued:
It was a common saying of the ancients, and it is worth repeating, that philosophy, like science, originated in the desire to rid the world of confusion. They rest ultimately on the assumption of a certain fundamental unity in things, perhaps, in strictness, a moral postulate, which as it comes progressively more clearly to consciousness ramifies in many directions and constitutes the frame that supports the entire structure of man’s making.38(p.17)
Aristotle was another great example of those who appreciated this type of thinking. He went against many of the teachings of prominent philosophers before him, such as Plato and Socrates. In an age much different from our own, he was still tremendously dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. In fact, as we saw with his ideas about logic, many of his observations about human beings and the nature of reality are invaluable. They have certainly contributed to the progress of our species; for instance, they helped to pull Western civilization out of the Dark Ages (via such thinkers as Thomas Aquinas).
Ideas are timeless——especially philosophical ones. As long as they are consistent with the facts of reality and life-sustaining, their period of formulation matters little. Of course, they matter a great deal to those who are able to benefit from them. Aristotle made note of the trait of inquisitiveness that generates new ideas:
It is through wonder that men now begin and originally began to philosophize; wondering in the first place at obvious perplexities, and then by gradual progression raising questions about the greater matters too, e.g. about the changes of the moon and of the sun, about the stars and about the origin of the universe.2(I.ii.9)
Aristotle probably could not have achieved so much had he lived a thousand years earlier. Since knowledge is contextual, one needs a certain base to from which to start. To reach levels much beyond that base would be too great a cognitive leap for even a mind of genius. But usually great thinkers are able to give us glimpses of the next stage in our ideological evolution.
These observations pertain not only to scientific and technological discovery but also to philosophical and psychological discovery. Though the latter two seem to rely on a base that is constant in any age, they still require certain contextual components for fostering enlightenment. With the fields of philosophy and psychology, we face a different set of difficulties. They can be even more of a challenge to overcome than in overtly scientific areas.
For instance, the law of gravity formulated by Isaac Newton was discovered through directly perceivable means. He noticed the pervasive characteristic in nature that objects are drawn to each other, for instance smaller objects to enormous ones such as the Earth (an apple from a tree to the ground). He then proceeded to outline the properties of gravity stemming from the masses of entities and the distances between them.
Yet the discovery of emotions and mental processes, for instance, involves looking inward. What makes discovery of mind and related ideas sometimes more difficult is, of course, the ideational and emotional world of that same mind under study. Certain emotions and conceptual connections may prevent taking new perspectives. They can prevent the application of logic and thus can deter us from grasping what will be quite obvious to people in the future.
Psychological and philosophical discoveries are surely not beyond our logical capability. Since we are presented with the task of discovering things about the discoverer, we need to be as objective as possible. At times, parts of our subconscious may divert us from inspection of particular ideas. We may arrive unwittingly at conclusions that may be inaccurate in the light of total objectivity.
Unfortunately, many philosophers (and their various spokespersons) have maintained that objectivity does not exist. Of course, such a notion is self-refuting. We might recall the discussion of constructivism here. Any sort of claim, no matter how fantastic, must necessarily take place in objective reality. Objective reality (existence) is an axiomatic concept.
Subjectivity is a term that specifies a particular relationship to the objective. Typically, “subjective” is taken to mean an experience from a particular person’s isolated perspective. Such an experience is distinguished from the wider context in which it is taking place—that is, the objective context.
If a person attempts to dispute the idea of objectivity, he or she must do so from an objective standpoint. Otherwise, the attempted disputation would only be subjective—hence, it would have no meaning in terms of objective knowledge. Because subjectivity is purportedly a place where there are no absolutes, the denial of objectivity (like the notion of determinism) can be used to promote less than healthy ideas and behavior.
In any era, a particular base or foundation of objective knowledge exists (i.e., knowledge is contextual). With this base, we can make more identifications about ourselves and about the world. These identifications, if they are logical, should be consistent with the major framework of knowledge. In other words, they should be objective. If inconsistencies arise, then our interpretations (either past or present) need to be refined.
Ultimately, knowledge keeps building on itself. For the individual and for society, knowledge is hierarchical.70 Claims to new knowledge must be scrutinized according to the Law of Non-Contradiction. As mentioned, our psychology can play a larger role than we sometimes realize in how we recognize and apply this law.
At times, forces in our psyche may tend to block clear thinking and a striving for enlightenment. Nevertheless, the striving for enlightenment—even if only from an emotional perspective—is evidenced throughout the world. It normally forms the essence of every major philosophy and religion. In the next section the ideas of personal enlightenment found in some of the world’s major religions will be inspected. By understanding what they essentially present to people, we can better decide which path or paths to take on our enlightened journey.
Historical/Religious Views Of Enlightenment
To see life from an emotionally enlightened perspective seems to be a driving force in most religions. Religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Taoism, or Judaism portray either some ideal or set of ideals to be strived for. These ideals are meant to bring about such things as happiness, personal fulfillment, and social benefit.
Each religion contains a rich history of how each arose and the processes by which each was refined. This is usually accompanied by an immensely diverse set of customs, practices, and rituals. These activities provide structure and organization that help unify people. Religious practices, such as going to church, enable like-minded persons to share experiences and participate in events that cater to desires of togetherness and belongingness. Social needs are thus met and a deeper feeling of relatedness and sense of community can be fostered.
To concentrate on the various teachings of religious belief systems (i.e., the values and virtues they propagate) would of course lead to a book in itself. However, it is important to consider the psychological essentials they convey. These essentials are the building blocks for an “enlightened” state that billions of people strive to embrace. Seen as giving hope to people, these essentials can be viewed as a form of layman’s psychology. They try to explain and even rectify dilemmas about reality, mental processes, emotions, and social relationships in commonsensical or intuitive ways.
Children far and wide are encouraged to study religious teachings. When trying to make sense of the world, some kind of stable set of beliefs about how to live one’s life has immense appeal. Much of what a person learns about ideas and emotions comes from people immediately around him or her. Often, children absorb the values and beliefs most readily available; adults provide a specific context for them. Hence, it is not surprising to find Taoists in China, Hindus in India, Christians in the Western world, and so forth.
Children yearn to make sense of things. They also yearn for someone or something to help them figure out themselves and others. As they grow up, young persons can begin to deliberate the values and beliefs they have been offered, or they can simply accept them (for better or worse). Inevitably, though, people end up with thoughts and feelings about who they are and what is possible to them.
Regardless of the particular beliefs they acquire, people everywhere have at least a general feeling of what enlightenment is, or should be. This feeling is generally formed as one seeks to understand life in childhood. Children typically struggle constantly to make things intellectually and emotionally comprehensible (or at least secure). In fact, it is highly unusual for a child to not ask questions about the nature of people, things, and the universe in general.
Yet those who desire others to adopt a particular belief system may want to spare newcomers the task of thinking independently and figuring out one’s emotional world for oneself. They may want to make it seem as if all one’s questions have been miraculously answered—as if one’s internal troubles have been swiftly alleviated—as if one’s quest for understanding has been greatly shortened.
Unfortunately logic is not normally applied to many of the messages sent by religious doctrines and practices. As a result, contradictory answers to a variety of life’s questions can overwhelm the logical ones. Parents and other adults can make it easy or difficult for a child to continue questioning what enlightenment means. When they give a child truthful (i.e., noncontradictory) answers, or when they at least admit to not knowing the correct answers, they allow a child to make sense of things. Pretense is thus avoided. However, contradictory answers (whether or not fully recognized as such) typically must be wrapped in enticing or powerful emotional packages. They often target the child’s feelings of self-worth through external validation and various rewards and punishments.
By taking these potential problems into account, we are able to objectively examine various religions for logical clarity. Again, each religion has some sort of idea of what it means to be emotionally fulfilled, so let us review a few. Although, we must keep in mind that many aspects of a particular religion can be viewed in the literal sense or in the metaphorical sense. Even those individuals who subscribe to the same religion can have quite different interpretations of it.
Essentially for the Hindu, enlightenment is called nirvana. It is a state of feeling in harmony with one’s task to be fulfilled. Although, traditionally, complete nirvana is supposed to be reached after death, it can also be understood to occur primarily when one has renounced the things in life that trouble one’s self—such as desires. One thereby becomes somewhat “unattached” to self and the world.
Nirvana, as a state of enlightenment (achieved, in this sense, during one’s life), relates to a generalized description of who one should be, regardless of what one actually does. Irrespective of one’s particular “dharma,” or duty, it points to a longing to be content with one’s life. One is free from senseless desires, frustrations, and conflicts. This longing can be realized in any number of ways and practices (Yogas). Here is a passage of what it means to be divine from a book of Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita:
A man who is born with tendencies toward the Divine, is fearless and pure in heart. He perseveres in that path to union with Brahman [the Godhead, essence of the universe], which the scriptures and his teacher have taught him. He is charitable. He can control his passions. He studies the scriptures regularly, and obeys their directions. He practises spiritual disciplines. He is straightforward, truthful, and of an even temper. He harms no one. He renounces the things of this world. He has a tranquil mind and an unmalicious tongue. He is compassionate toward all. He is not greedy. He is gentle and modest. He abstains from useless activity. He has faith in the strength of his higher nature. He can forgive and endure. He is clean in thought and act. He is free from hatred and from pride. Such qualities are his birthright.
When a man is born with demonic tendencies, his birthright is hypocrisy, arrogance, conceit, anger, cruelty and ignorance.73(p.114)
Clearly, these statements outline many favorable virtues for individuals to practice. Yet simultaneously a few statements need explanation and justification, such as renouncing the things of this world and being free from pride. Even the idea of obeying the directions of scripture can be problematic. It makes one immediately wonder whether the scripture is always right, and how such a practice can accommodate personal autonomy and independent thought.
Of course, the first and last sentences from the above quote must be dismissed as contradictory if they are not judged metaphorically. The notion of “divine” or “demonic” tendencies in a volitional being is untenable. Nevertheless, such statements are what make Hinduism a religion believed and practiced in all its forms and facets by hundreds of millions of people. Selection of the good in writings like this definitely points to trying to find and maintain a certain degree of psychological awareness.
Yet in the search for the good, one can learn to tolerate the bad by overlooking or disregarding it. When people do exactly this on a regular basis, they may never critically inspect popular ideas and practices for contradictions. Maybe, then, the bad becomes the not-so-bad, and eventually the acceptable.
One can find various ideas and directives about self-renunciation, submission, endurance, and self-effacement in Hindu works. These naturally may be used to make dire social and political conditions seem more tolerable. After all, the pervasive religious ideas of sacrifice, selflessness, and renouncement of earthly things have been used for centuries in this endeavor.
But Hinduism is definitely not alone when it comes to ideas about surrender of self and worship of the various symbols in scripture. One can find overt statements about this in the ancient Chinese literature of Taoism. It is readily apparent in one of the Taoist scriptures, the Tao Te Ching. The following statements represent admonishments to any ruler of people:
It is just because one has no use for life that one is wiser than the man who values life.(p.137)
Do that which consists in taking no action; pursue that which is not meddlesome; savour that which has no flavour.Make the small big and the few many; do good to him who has done you an injury.(p.124)
Exterminate the sage, discard the wise, And the people will benefit a hundredfold; Exterminate benevolence, discard rectitude, And the people will again be filial; Exterminate ingenuity, discard profit, And there will be no more thieves and bandits.These three, being false adornments, are not enough And the people must have something to which they can attach themselves: Exhibit the unadorned and embrace the uncarved block, Have little thought of self and as few desires as possible.(p.75)
Not to honour men of worth will keep the people from contention; not to value goods which are hard to come by will keep them from theft; not to display what is desirable will keep them from being unsettled of mind. Therefore in governing the people, the sage empties their minds but fills their bellies, weakens their wills but strengthens their bones. He always keeps them innocent of knowledge and free from desire, and ensures that the clever never dare to act.Do that which consists in taking no action, and order will prevail.102(p.59)
Naturally, the beliefs involved in these statements can foster quite terrible social and political situations. In fact they may be instrumental in relegating hundreds of millions of people to conditions of poverty, disease, and famine. Although singled out from the full context of Taoism, these statements have a definite influence—no matter how much they are embellished or minimized. As in all religions, many notable exceptions do exist. But the bad tends to drive out the good; contradictions tend to drive out truths. No matter how they are interpreted, statements such as the above run counter to what we have discussed so far about the nature of living organisms.
Life for human beings is a process of self-generated and self-sustained action.75 For an organism to stop taking the actions that its nature requires assuredly means death. For humans, to fail to act, to fail to assert one’s needs, desires, goals, and ambitions is, at best, to remain in a state of half-life/half-death—to lose much of one’s dignity. At worst, it is to take steps backward in development, to regress to the point of dissolution of consciousness and being.
The state of half-life/half-death can be furthered with the common religious (and secular) conception of contentment. People can settle for a set mode of living and endure this condition to the end. Instead of realize one’s full potential, one can dispense with happiness and believe that desires frequently lead to frustration or wrongdoing. Consequently, people should be content with, among other things, the despots who rule over them as well as the existence these rulers helped create.
When a person cannot make sense of his or her inner (and outer) world, the self becomes fragmented. It may become something mysterious that seems to be influenced by strange forces. Conflicts between emotions, clashes among thoughts, and inconsistencies among values become regular troubles. During this process, a person may come to view the self as the root of all that is bad. He or she may think that the self is to blame for all the anger, hatred, resentment, contempt, and evil found in the world. Since problems with the self cause such things as fear, anxiety, and torment, the self should be scorned, repudiated, disowned.
However, problems will not begin to vanish when one has renounced the self. Life will not suddenly become more wholesome, serene, and beautiful. To believe that these things will occur is to default on understanding the nature of human consciousness and the nature of reality. Ultimately, we have two basic choices: conclude that what one has been offered for enlightenment is either wrong or insufficient and continue looking for a better way—or settle for whatever is most emotionally appealing at a particular time.
Buddhism is another religion that stresses becoming selfless and meshing with the totality of existence. Yet it does have sometimes a different emotional tone about enlightenment. One focuses on a personal grasp of one’s being in reality. An emphasis is placed on the proper mindset to act in the most enlightened way, and an increase in one’s present moment awareness is key in this process. Along with such things as meditation and concentration exercises (which can be found in other religions as well), many paradoxical statements are provided for a person to untangle.
Aspects of Zen Buddhism, for example, help one achieve a heightened sense of awareness and a state of relaxation in tasks, in which one does not try too hard. Zen assists one to integrate mind and body, which enables a person to function precisely and gracefully without being hindered by unwanted mental conflicts or distractions. Not surprisingly, Zen-like teachings are commonly used for practice of the martial arts. They aid the body and mind to act as a unified whole. The following is a list of thoughts from a collection of Zen writings:
Consider your essence as light rays rising from center to center up the vertebrae, and so rises livingness in you.(p.162)
Consider any area of your present form as limitlessly spacious.(p.164)
Feel your substance, bones, flesh, blood, saturated with cosmic essence.(ibid.)
Abide in some place endlessly spacious, clear of trees, hills, habitations. Thence comes the end of mind pressures.(p.166)
Feel cosmos as translucent ever-living presence.(ibid.)
With utmost devotion, center on the two junctions of breath and know the knower.(ibid.)
On joyously seeing a long-absent friend, permeate this joy.(p.167)
Wherever satisfaction is found, in whatever act, actualize this.(ibid.)
In summer when you see the entire sky endlessly clear, enter such clarity.(ibid.)
See as if for the first time a beauteous person or an ordinary object.(p.168)
Each thing is perceived through knowing. The self shines in space through knowing. Perceive one being as knower and known.86(p.174)
As one ponders over these, one might feel more at peace with oneself and the world. Being at peace is one of the main goals of most religions, Zen in particular. Certainly this idea points directly to psychological enlightenment.
But the idea of losing the self can readily be found in the writings and teachings of Buddhism too (it appears to be a general theme in Eastern philosophy). Part of this idea may involve striving to not be self-conscious in a way that inhibits spontaneous functioning; we all may be familiar with our capacity for unnecessary self-censorship. Yet the notion of losing the self most probably originates—as mentioned before—from the idea that self-conflict and self-torment are the main factors in all the disdain and problems with people.
Still, we can never fix a problematic self by running away from it. To become enlightened in the genuine intellectual and emotional sense we have to examine, understand, and remedy troublesome emotional conflicts. Only after we have accomplished this can we begin to live freely.
To finish the spectrum of orthodox religions, we turn to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Even though Islam differs more in its historical origin and scripture, it nonetheless presents its doctrines in the same kind of format as the other two. Enlightenment for the Christian, Hebrew, and Moslem entails study of structured moral teachings and doctrines. Many stories and examples (morals) are given to provide an overall picture of how one should live one’s life. Diligent reading of scriptures enables one to become more knowledgeable about this. Religious stories typically are interpreted to be passed on by God (e.g., Yahweh, or Allah), by an incarnation of God (e.g., Jesus), and by one or more prophets (e.g., Muhammad).
The various morals to be followed are well known in our culture—for example, the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament. “Thou shalt not steal,” “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor,” “Thou shalt not kill,” and numerous other moral edicts are heeded in order to be pious and virtuous.
The ways in which the Old Testament, the Koran, and the New Testament can be interpreted are probably as numerous and multifaceted as the people studying them. With so much complexity and so many dimensions of thinking and literary emotional expression, a plethora of understandings and insights are bound to arise. Nonetheless, the yearnings for enlightenment and a psychology free of conflict are addressed by the many denominations of these religions. As one studies and practices their teachings, one strives to be a more fulfilled person.
For instance, Jesus Christ represents what enlightenment is or should be in Christianity. His words and actions are of paramount importance in determining how one should live. He was on Earth to spread the word of God to humankind (similar to the prophet Muhammad). For the Christian, emphasis is placed on being a virtuous person who does not indulge in immoral acts (as the religion interprets them). Trying to be free from sin, coupled with repenting and seeking atonement for one’s sins, are often seen as the practices that bring enlightenment.
These brief descriptions of aspects of the world’s major religions are useful in showing that people everywhere may be in search of essentially the same things: personal fulfillment and happiness. Many people accept and practice certain religious teachings in order to derive psychological health and moral guidance. And children around the world either willingly or somewhat reluctantly adopt various religions and philosophies that are believed to be helpful by their parents, teachers, and contemporaries.
However, we must not overlook the main difficulty with religions in general. Many accept the notion that having faith in the realm of philosophical views is preferable to actually having coherent, fact-based knowledge. Hence, unfounded assertions from ancient texts and beliefs in events that allegedly require no demonstration or validation replace logical integration. In addition, many religious doctrines preclude the attainment of enlightenment because their context of understanding is based heavily on inarticulate feeling, instead of rational understanding. Such an imbalance soon loses respect for logical thought and objectivity.
Religions involve many philosophical issues of course. Yet in the midst of myriad sensible statements, one also finds a variety of illogical notions. Insuperable contradictions can be found in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, as well as politics. In religious teachings, important words—for example, truth, honesty, and life—can be rendered meaningless because they are not taken epistemologically seriously.
In order to advocate truth, one must know (i.e., define) what words mean in logical terms. This goes back to Rand’s statement that the truth or falsehood of a person’s convictions rests on the truth or falsehood of his or her definitions. When a concept is vaguely or illogically defined, it can become an anti-concept, that is, a concept that obfuscates or denies logical interpretation of the term.81 Thus, “truth” in reference to believing in the supernatural is quite different than scientific or logical truth. “Honesty” in reference to preaching life after death is quite different than acknowledgement of the facts of reality; necessarily, the meaning of “life” changes too.
Despite the emotional tasks, values, and goals of various religions, in order to free ourselves from psychological conflict we must use logic. If we ignore logic, we ignore the significance of contradictions. Rectifying contradictions must be done by the self-directed focus of an independent mind——a mind that is not compelled by others (or perhaps more ominously or mysteriously for a child, by an omnipresent God). This is why so many morals, commandments, admonishments, rules, guidelines, and emotional appeals are of so little help. And this exposes another detrimental aspect of most religious teachings.
Regardless of the rationality or irrationality of their values and virtues, many religions are authoritarian in nature. What they espouse is thought to come from a higher or more powerful authority than one’s own mind. Consequently, religious doctrines and rituals tend to maintain an unchallengeable nature. Self-surrender and obedience to the teachings are required to properly live and learn by them; questioning the doctrines in any fundamental way is forbidden. Certainly this can wreak havoc. For instance, it can hamper the fostering of trust in oneself to be an authentically thinking and feeling individual.50 We must be able to question authority as well as search for logical answers.
To begin the quest for enlightenment with unidentified or vague feelings is to potentially create major disappointments and difficulties. To use such feelings to accept any doctrine that hints of bringing enlightenment (or at least a doctrine that calms possible fears and insecurities), is to not honor one’s rational faculty. Hoping to achieve happiness (or enlightenment, or a clear state of mind) will usually not get us there.
Blind belief based primarily on feelings undercuts the only faculty we have to distinguish truth from falsehood, good from bad, real from unreal, and objective knowledge from mere arbitrary assertion. To use our mind to deny our mind is definitely contradictory.
Enlightenment entails not only the utilization of logic, but also psychological awareness, which leads to mental health. To grasp our philosophical and scientific base of understanding in these areas, we need to know what discoveries have been made about the mind. We need to know what emotions and feelings are, and how they relate to thoughts. We need the knowledge to enable us to accomplish the objectives being sought. Taking this approach puts the horse in front of the cart, so that logical analysis is possible.
The Condition Of Modern Psychology
When we look to the profession of psychology for knowledge and answers about ourselves, finding clarity can sometimes be as challenging as in religion. Yet psychology is a scientific profession. It seeks to validate its assertions, hypotheses, and theories, as well as its practices. It does this primarily through empirical investigation and experimentation. However, as we shall see, the use of logic (and philosophy in general) as a tool for validation is not typical.
Modern psychology originates mostly in mainstream academics. While it concerns primarily the study of the human mind, it also includes study of the brain and behavior (including that of other animals). For instance, fields such as neuropsychology or physiological psychology focus on biochemical processes and physiological aspects of the brain and nervous system. Because the brain is the organ that directly gives rise to consciousness, many researchers believe that studying brain processes can provide answers about human psychology.
The study of the brain is definitely a fascinating and extremely important subject. However, we cannot reduce thought, language, and behavior to brain processes without missing many essentials of psychology. The only way a human being can understand or comprehend anything is to use his or her mind (i.e., conceptual faculty). Of course, without a healthy functioning brain one’s mental faculties may suffer. One might not be able to read or write any words, for example.
Indeed, our intricate anatomy and physiology necessarily allows us to function and thus, as humans, to conceptualize. But knowing the exact way the brain works in order to deal with concepts tells us nothing about the truth or falsehood of them. Nor does it inform us about the correctness of particular evaluations. Simply put, it does not help us to understand why we act and think and feel the way we do—especially our reasons for choosing certain values. These things are appropriately explained by mental psychology and philosophy. The epistemological essentials of reason, volition, and the Law of Non-Contradiction are needed to understand ourselves. They are also advantageous in understanding the physiological processes within the brain.
As noted, consciousness is an axiomatic concept; so long as we exist, it is an ever-present feature of reality. And the subconscious is a significant aspect of consciousness. So, for psychology to be scientific, it needs a firm comprehension of the subconscious—as well as how the conscious mind interacts with the subconscious. Presently, much of the psychology profession is deficient in these respects. Because most of philosophy throughout history failed to provide human beings with a fully logical and coherent system of principles for living, the psychology profession was—and still is—affected by this.
Historically, until about 100 years ago, psychology was virtually indistinguishable from philosophy; it had yet to differentiate itself as a separate discipline. As psychology became a discipline unto itself, some focus initially was on introspective methods. While psychologists sought to scientifically document the contents of mind, they made only modest progress. Exceptions were primarily in the realm of perceptual psychology and psychophysics, in which psychological qualities and intensities could be observed and recorded.
In general, however, psychology’s endeavors were restricted both by psychology’s split from philosophy and the very nature of the discipline. Given that only the individual can know what occurs in his or her own mind, each person is his or her own best subject. Yet the methodology of introspection was eventually called into question. It was thought to preclude scientific observation and measurement of the mind by those external to it. Apparently, the actual possessors of mind were thought to be biased; it was considered non-objective to be simultaneously a subject and an observer.
Psychologists and researchers saw the study of others’ behavior as the best way for psychology to progress as a genuine science. After all, the natural sciences demanded quantification of entities and events. Human behavior could be quantified, and so it came to be viewed as primary.
In concert with this shift in focus to behavior, particular learning theories became predominant, especially those of Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner. They provided specific explanations for animal behavior, including that of humans. Pavlov’s Classical and Skinner’s Instrumental (or Operant) conditioning theories became the mainstay of researchers.
Emphasis on cognitive processes and various functions of mind has since arisen to supplement strict Behaviorist interpretations. Yet mainstream academic psychology still lacks the necessary philosophical foundation that could make its goals (and therefore its accomplishments) fully comprehensible. Detached from explicit philosophy, modern psychology has trouble outlining logical essentials. Therefore, like its related disciplines (e.g., sociology and anthropology), it can unwittingly present false notions, give vague interpretations, and create copious amounts of jargon and nonintegrated particulars. In various ways, pop psychology can be just as informed and helpful as academic professional psychology (which, in various ways, can be just as misinformed and unhelpful as pop psychology).
The methodology of Behaviorism focuses on quantification and measurement of behavior. On account of this, the scientific experiment is generally used to derive psychological knowledge about human beings. Experiments seek to foster explanations—and therefore predictions—of behavior. Quantifiable evidence is gathered for countless hypotheses—in clinical, experimental, social, industrial and organizational, school, counseling, and developmental psychology.
But without logical ideas about human nature (i.e., about consciousness and its method of correctly dealing with reality), psychological hypotheses cannot be properly validated; one can only give piles upon piles of evidence for (or against) them. Rather than understanding individuals through philosophy and their own specific personality dynamics, emphasis is often placed on the overall behavior of groups of people. Such an approach results in a variety of interpretations. For instance, persons may be considered “more likely” to do such and such, or “at higher risk” of developing a particular problem, based on relative averages (and on what is considered normal). On the neuropsychological side, we often hear statements about a person or group of people being “biochemically influenced,” “genetically predisposed,” or having a “genetic propensity” to be a certain way or do certain things.
Multitudinous controlled and uncontrolled studies use complex statistical designs with mostly probabilities as guides. After a lot of analysis, the causes of human behavior are typically attributed to biological-genetic and/or environmental-response processes (hence, the “nature versus nurture” controversy). The direct implication is that one is a product of one’s surroundings and/or one’s brain chemistry. Seldom are persons thought to be conscious valuers and decision-makers.
Clearly, the acquisition of empirical evidence is needed in science. To isolate phenomena—to control for extraneous factors or intervening variables—is in fact a scientific imperative. But to apply the strict experimental method of science to a rational, volitional being is to utilize an inadequate model. It is somewhat like trying to make a square peg fit properly into a round hole. For all practical purposes, such a model removes the mind from humans. It oddly tries to transform conceptual Homo sapiens into a solely perceptual creature. To treat individuals akin to pigeons, rats, dogs, or even monkeys may be simpler, but it certainly detracts from psychological understanding.
The failure to observe and identify all the causal factors of human behavior—for example, thought, principles, value-judgments, and volition—calls into question the scientific nature of much of the work in modern psychology. A medical doctor does not cure her patient by focusing solely on the symptoms, each individually without connections or causes. An astronomer does not study stars and planets without acknowledging their identity and basic attributes. Neither profession proceeds to accumulate information without taking into account the nature of the things under investigation.
Psychology is a discipline—like philosophy—that should be accessible to laypersons. It should not be so complex and technical that only psychologists can understand it and devise remedies to personal and social problems. Psychology is a tool for understanding self and others. Unfortunately, those who seek degrees in psychology are presented theories that do not provide the necessary knowledge. Seldom discussed are the achievement of philosophical understanding and the cultivation of happiness and dignity. At best, one finds sparse islands of clarity and bits of rational insight in a context that pays little attention to essentials.
Following from this context, we find that authentic self-esteem has been relegated to a simplistic afterthought. Yet, self-esteem is the core aspect of human psychology. It is properly defined as the conviction that one’s mind is competent to think, judge, and deal with the facts of reality, and the feeling that one’s person is worthy of happiness.10 The first component of self-esteem presupposes knowing the nature of one’s mind and the nature of reality, while the second component presupposes the remedying of subconscious conflicts that restrict healthy thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Ironically, many who study and teach psychology are unaware of these ideas, and so they cannot convey them. Most of their time is spent in other areas. Professors and students focus explicitly on many topics—for instance, theories, statistics, experimental methods, results of studies, and so forth. But rarely do they explicitly focus on their own psychologies, and rarely on their own emotions. Needless to say, this situation does not bode well. If modern psychology (and much of the psychotherapy profession) were to focus on self-esteem as a central value, conscious contradictions and conflicts of the subconscious could not be so easily overlooked.
Despite this overall situation, though, the fields of clinical and counseling psychology offer many theories of psychotherapy that can be beneficial. They apply techniques conducive to self-understanding and self-awareness. Many emphasize the workings of the subconscious and the nature of thoughts and emotions.
Adlerian therapy focuses on self-responsibility of thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Carl Rogers’ Person-Centered therapy deals with experiencing ourselves in a holistic way and developing a respectful awareness of our internal states. Aaron Beck’s and others’ (such as David Burns) Cognitive Therapy deals with cognitions and automatic thoughts (or “silent assumptions”) of the subconscious; “inference chaining” is one of its effective methods of subconscious discovery.
Albert Ellis’ Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) also solidly attempts to grasp subconscious processes. REBT was the precursor to Cognitive Therapy and, in addition to being one of the most well-recognized and multifaceted therapies, it emphasizes philosophical thinking (though it holds a mistaken assumption that humans, by nature, think irrationally). Also, Arnold Lazarus’ Multimodal Therapy, William Glasser’s Reality Therapy, and Existential Psychotherapy all emphasize that problems and conflicts reside in particular choices and values. Therefore, they grant that humans have the capacity to change thoughts, emotions, and behavior, which is inherently self-empowering. Even Behavior Therapy, in its own straightforward way, attempts to motivate persons to challenge their problematic behaviors and feelings. Certain exercises get individuals to venture into new possibilities for living and being. This helps bring one’s subconscious habits into conscious light (and therefore under more conscious control).
Additionally, various “systems” theories and therapies attempt to break dysfunctional patterns of interactions, particularly among family members. Many approaches of Family Therapy, for instance, help persons become more aware of and better able to deal with the emotional and skills problems that foster dysfunctional relationships.
Finally, Gestalt therapy, attempts to foster self-awareness through paying attention to one’s own actions and interactions with others. Greater awareness of various defenses, and of how the body “armors” itself, are all part of the psychological discovery process.
Most of the abovementioned therapies utilize strategies that are particularly effective. Role-playing, psychodrama, guided imagery, and so on, are designed to break through inner emotional blocks and problematic behaviors. Another, perhaps more effective psychotherapeutic type and technique—that of Nathaniel Branden—will be covered in a later chapter, on account of the following explanation.
Many of the above-mentioned therapies touch on aspects of the subconscious, and many are useful in a variety of contexts. However, they do not always recognize reason, volition, and logic as absolutes. These absolutes allow the creation of an objective value system—a system that promotes the life and happiness of the individual. After inspection of the psychology profession in general, we realize once more that no one can do our logical thinking for us. People in groups, be they members of a religion or members of the American Psychological Association, can rely heavily on the doctrines and status of their particular organizations. Depending on the type of psychological dynamics in operation, this can discourage self-responsibility and independent thinking. While we can look to groups for enlightenment, a group of people is simply a collection of individuals; it is as logical as the individual minds in the group that happen to value the utilization of logic.
By discarding certain doctrines that violate the Law of Non-Contradiction, and therefore reality, we can prevent becoming prisoners to faulty reasoning. We can then acknowledge what is real and what is not—instead of having to defend the arbitrary assertions of a particular doctrine for enlightenment.
The human organism has survived hundreds of thousands of years because it was able to observe reality in a relatively undistorted fashion. To the degree that it was distorted by different psychological operations, it was kept from advancing to a higher level of survival and functioning. Correspondingly, to the degree that a human being thought or acted based primarily on unrecognized feelings, he or she might fail to make the correct identifications and appropriate choices. This of course leads to all the forms and facets of maladaptive behavior so damaging to the life and well-being of a rational organism and, thus, entire societies.
Again, emotions represent evaluations that a mind has made of aspects of reality that appear for or against it. Correct evaluations need to be accompanied by rational cognition; before we can say for sure if something is good or bad for us, we have to identify exactly what we are evaluating. It turns out that feelings based on inaccurate evaluations have just as much power to influence thoughts and behavior as feelings that are warranted and based on facts.
Even though enlightenment is sought by many different people in cultures throughout the world, this does not mean that it will be achieved, or even realistically understood. After all, enlightenment is not some fanciful notion of effortless knowledge or eternal bliss. With psychology, as in all sciences, we must start with (noncontradictory) facts and build from there. Our base must be philosophically solid and real, not vague and illusory. So, we now proceed to the final section of this chapter—before we move on to the idea of political enlightenment.
The Pursuit Of Happiness
Emotions are intertwined in our mental fabric. They can sometimes be difficult to distinguish from thoughts. In fact, on one end of their spectrum, emotions are thoughts (in the form of evaluations)—usually extremely fast ones that are not explicit and clear. More noticeable evaluations generally take center stage in consciousness. Still, every emotion also shows some sign to us—however fleeting, obscure, or slight—in the physical form of a feeling. Even when we are engaged in intense problem solving, a certain feeling state is present. An aspect of one’s mind is always thinking and assessing behind one’s conscious mental activities.
Our ever-present emotional world can be viewed on a continuum. At one end are positive emotions that signify joy, elation, and so forth. Towards the middle are emotions that tell us of general normalcy, that nothing is troubling us. At the other end of the continuum are negative emotions that signify bad or aversive states, that something is wrong, disturbing, or threatening.
Much of life can be filled with emotions in the middle of the continuum. We may feel well, but nothing is really exciting or disturbing us. This could be called emotional comfort or stability. Depending on the type of values a person maintains or pursues, and the significance he or she ascribes to them, a person may be more excitable or have a higher degree of energy. How he or she assesses various situations is an important factor in moods and personality in general.
At most times in our life, we experience a whole range of emotional responses. Of course, most of us favor feelings that reflect happiness. Rarely do we want to experience negative emotions for extended periods. Prolonged feelings of anger and depression, for example, certainly have their own payoffs; they can aid in avoiding the responsibility to resolve conflicts and live optimally. However, feelings such as pain, sadness, and disappointment are normal responses to particular life experiences. They are necessary parts of the healing process as well. At the very least, though, a healthy person strives for emotional comfort. He or she will try to behave and think in ways that will bring this about and make it last.
Those who have their most basic needs met usually want to be happy. Surveys done in poor, undeveloped countries indicate that most people there do not ponder the idea of happiness. As in primitive societies, their lives have been relegated to week-to-week, month-to-month subsistence. Endurance, instead of happiness, is the condition of these hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Apparently, only within the last few hundred years have people (mostly in developed countries) considered it possible for joy to be their natural state. Most are now aware of the popular phrase coined by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, “…the pursuit of happiness.”
Of course, the meaning of happiness can indeed vary among individuals. Some may call extended or momentary feelings of comfort happiness. In their desires to be happy, many individuals may settle for contentment. They become complacent with their given circumstances and consider happiness to mean being mildly satisfied. Absent the knowledge of what happiness requires, a person can even pretend that he or she has everything needed and wanted—at least until a significant other or event upsets him or her. Ultimately, comfort, contentment, and complacency may be a foundation for happiness, but they are not happiness.
In our everyday experiences we may have lasting and fulfilling episodes of joy. In fact the more of these delightful times we have, the closer we are to happiness; pleasure becomes the overriding emotion coloring our behavior. One could say that bliss becomes our state of consciousness. Yet, a relatively complete condition of happiness is definitely tied to enlightenment. We have to examine the full context of our life, values, and emotions. Periods of joy are only one judge of enlightenment. Such feelings can be the consequences of an enlightened state, but not the causes of it (which of course are many). One cause of enlightenment resides in the proper subconscious and conscious evaluations of what is good and bad for us. Another cause entails the active use of our mind to remedy contradictions.
Happiness must adequately describe what a life can, should, and ought to be for a person. This implies being free from needless psychological conflicts, free from unnecessary uncertainties and insecurities. Happiness entails the achievement of values such as self-esteem, which involves the development of self and an appreciation of reality. As we achieve more of these values, our state of happiness may expand or be intensified. For example, gaining the value of romantic love broadens the context of happiness; we are able to fulfill more aspects and possibilities of ourselves.
We tend to develop psychological structures that can stay with us. The way in which the conscious mind relates to the subconscious (and vice versa) is a large part of one’s personality. The subconscious is a complex mixture of memories, images, experiences, conclusions, inferences, evaluations, and so forth. And much of this mixture is tied directly to one’s emotional world.
If we are unsatisfied with our psychology—for instance, due to undesirable behavior and unwanted feelings—then we can decide to examine it. We can choose to alter mistaken premises shaped either recently or early on. Unfortunately, the majority of the human race rarely gives their inner world this much attention. Additionally, perhaps billions of people face existential conditions that are not conducive to in depth self-examination.
Only through rational thought can we understand anything extrospectively or introspectively. And our feelings often indicate where we should begin this thinking process. Such a process reveals to us that feelings should be treated neither as objects of guilt, shame, and torment nor as things of minor importance. Rather, they should be treated and approached in a respectful fashion.
Yet our emotional world may have become fragmented in childhood. We may have been recipients of practices that neglected our feelings. Since most parents treat their children as they themselves had been treated when young, cycles continue. Branden wrote about the varieties of unfavorable treatment:
For the majority of children, the early years of life contain many frightening and painful experiences. Perhaps a child has parents who never respond to his need to be touched, held and caressed; or who constantly scream at him or at each other; or who deliberately invoke fear and guilt in him as a means of exercising control; or who swing between over-solicitude and callous remoteness; or who subject him to lies and mockery; or who are neglectful and indifferent; or who continually criticize and rebuke him; or who overwhelm him with bewildering and contradictory injunctions; or who present him with expectations and demands that take no cognizance of his knowledge, needs or interests; or who subject him to physical violence; or who consistently discourage his efforts at spontaneity and self-assertiveness.9(p.8)
These influences may be subtle or not so subtle. Either way, they can encourage a child to repress and disown his or her emotional world. Such influences, not surprisingly, can also be noticed in people we encounter in our daily adult life, although the forms may be different. Repressing and disowning major parts of ourselves necessarily affects our behavior, self-assessment, and treatment of others. How we deal with and think about ourselves ultimately influences how we deal with and think about others.
We can, at times, have pretenses of happiness, pretenses of normalcy, and pretenses of genuine self-esteem. These types of rationalizations may help assuage the feeling of having betrayed something—usually one’s deepest sense of self. The self from childhood that initially demanded rationality and sanity to our psychological and physical worlds makes betrayals of this sort known.
As young children, we normally do not have pretenses. The main concern of children is to observe and identify the world. Because they are not interested in hiding their feelings, they are not adept at devising (and defending) rationalizations. Until we develop a sense of our own individuality and self-worth, hardly any questions arise about our self-esteem and happiness.
Whether we like it or not, our capacity for self-delusion, distortion, and evasion is as limitless as our capacity for self-focus, concentration, and awareness. This capacity is a fundamental nature of reason; everything entails choice at this most basic level—to think and reflect, or not. Identification and evaluation are required in every choice and subsequent action.
In addition to the conclusions about self that we eventually form, others may have repeatedly showed and told us that they doubted our effectiveness or worth. Thus, we may have accumulated some rather unpleasant subconscious material; and, it may have never been properly scrutinized. For example, one’s subconscious may express such assessments as, “You’re not good enough,” “Who are you to judge?” “Who are you to expect—and demand—happiness?” and so on. To accept these kinds of evaluations as the “not to be inspected and questioned” areas of self, is to effortlessly settle for a deficient state of being; it is to settle for a lower level of self-esteem. Branden stated the following on this issue:
The tragedy of many people’s lives is that in accepting the verdict that they are not enough, they may spend their years exhausting themselves in pursuit of the Holy Grail of enoughness. If I make a successful marriage, then I will be enough. If I make so many thousand dollars a year, then I will be enough. One more promotion, and I will be enough. One more sexual conquest, one more doubling of my assets, one more person telling me that I am lovable——then I will be enough. But I can never win the battle for enoughness on these terms. The battle was lost on the day I conceded there was anything that needed to be proved. I can free myself from the negative verdict that burdens my existence only by rejecting this very premise.12(p.26)
Self-esteem involves the convictions that one is effective, competent, and naturally possesses self-worth. One can draw many different assessments about oneself in this area as one encounters new ideas, new skills, new challenges, and new people. Yet, the essential point to remember is that one must trust one’s capability and worth in principle.
Especially in childhood, we often look to others for an understanding of the world around us and the world inside us. This is a natural and necessary part of gaining knowledge—and of reassuring ourselves that we are competent to think, judge, and act. The main problem occurs when others do not give us proper answers to some of life’s deepest questions. Instead of admit their lack of knowledge, they give us answers that can harm our sense of reality as well as discourage our self-esteem. Their pretenses are usually not completely noticed by us until later, when we start to notice them in ourselves.
We can all pretend we know things about ourselves and about the people around us, but it will never be coherent knowledge. We can rationalize the behavior of others and ourselves, but it will never be right. We can pretend the idea of self-worth is not an important—in fact a greatly important—issue for us to consider, but doing so will never make the issue go away. We can dismiss subtle feelings, but doing so will never resolve internal conflicts. We can also say that enlightenment is fleeting and can never be fully attained, and that we can only experience small islands of clarity in our life.
Irrespective of the number of enlightened people around us, enlightenment and happiness must begin with each individual turning his or her awareness inward. How one evaluates one’s fundamental competence and worth stems from what one has integrated conceptually. This includes an idea of who one is and what one thinks is possible for oneself—one’s self-concept. Typically, the subconscious did most of the processing. Formulation and evaluation of one’s self-value may come effortlessly. So it may be just as easy to not take over the helm of subconscious activity with conscious thought, choice, and deliberation.
With the subconscious, evolution has given us the ability to run on emotional/cognitive autopilot. We can perform more or less automatized routines with little conscious effort. We can get by, for a time, without making sense of life events and internal signals. Obviously, in regard to being aware of contradictions and resolving them, autopilot is terribly inadequate. As beings of volitional consciousness, how much conscious controlling and monitoring we do is ultimately our own choice, and the consequences are in store for us accordingly.
As a unique species, our task is to broaden our horizons. One of our most vital psychological values is happiness. In fact, it is our highest moral purpose.76 But we must understand the self to attain it.
We need not be stuck on a deficient level of psychological development—and correspondingly a deficient level of political development. This level of development is not something social, genetic, hereditary, or hormonal; rather, it is within our power of free will to change and alter. Further, the decision to alter ourselves does not pertain to the future evolution of our species. It pertains to the here and now, and it is readily reachable.
Individual development has been our primary concern thus far because it lays the foundation for the development of an enlightened society. Individual enlightenment and happiness brings about societal enlightenment. This of course entails new ways of looking at political systems and social relationships.
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