Is thought our enemy?

Here’s the Tweet.

I feel I should give some further context to this quote.

Here is the video where I obtained the quote. Apologies, but the audio, like so much of U.G.’s material, isn’t very good. U.G.s point, like Peter Zapffe, is that the evolution of mankind didn’t stop with proto-humans (who were much like every other creature) but evolved, in a Darwinian sense, a consciousness or higher reasoning. Zapffe put it like this:

Whatever happened? A breach in the very unity of life, a biological paradox, an abomination, an absurdity, an exaggeration of disastrous nature. Life had overshot its target, blowing itself apart. A species had been armed too heavily – by spirit made almighty without, but equally a menace to its own well-being. Its weapon was like a sword without hilt or plate, a two-edged blade cleaving everything; but he who is to wield it must grasp the blade and turn the one edge toward himself.

It might be too big a leap, absent cogent evidence, to say that we developed the ability to think but that’s what I assume happened. But of course, it wasn’t just the ability to think (I’ll come to the idiocy of attaching any weight to a non-material, ethereal idea that there is such a thing as thoughts further below) but also seeing, perceiving and sensing objects, emotions, feelings and the thoughts themself to interpret still further the material world (I’m imagining these labels had to be ascribed over time and did not materialise instantaneously).

In essence, we moved beyond the limbic system and this was when, or so I believe, the separation between us and the rest of nature first happened — and look where that’s got us (“Cop26: world on track for disastrous heating of more than 2.4C, says key report” — The Guardian, 9 November 2021).

Ipso facto there wasn’t just one language to the inner, unguarded dialogue but many. This is important to understand because whilst ‘my’ (as a pronoun) thoughts are in English, I assume, if your first language or only language is different, so your thoughts will appear in the same native tongue. Of course, someone had to tell us that these were thoughts or we read that that was the case, as, otherwise, how else would we know?

Again, this is conjecture but I think I can advance this proposition: when we’re born it’s doubtful that we’re born with a lexicon of perfected thoughts sufficient to give labels to anything. In fact, it takes many months for us to start the pattern-making and attachment that will become the hallmark for the rest of our days. Our drive — if you can call it that — is to stay alive by feeding, excreting and attaching to our mother or caregiver. It’s only after a few months where, normally, the people who care for us start to talk to us, describing certain things. This is important because up to then, we’d have the unlabelled and unknown sights, sounds and feelings but no words to describe the thing that is being pointed to or described. Take as example when our parents or carers start to describe certain parts of our anatomy, e.g. nose, hands, toes. That is perfectly understandable because what they’re setting up or establishing is our ability to (safely) move through and make sense of the world. That said, they could deceive us to the extent that rather than calling our nose a nose, they could call it something else. I know this might sound childish but the point is, they, and in turn us, have no way of knowing what anything is other than what somebody else told our parents etc. In short, they and we rely exclusively on memory to know what to say and in what circumstances. At this point, it’s worth remembering the quote of J. Krishnamurti:

The day you teach the child the name of the bird, the child will never see that bird again.

Pausing for one minute to reflect on the rubric. If all we were told and understood was how to function without certain stories and brainwashing being added to the mix — e.g. what we need to do to be and become happy or at peace or fall in love — then it’s debatable that we wouldn’t live such angst-ridden lives. But the point is, we’re not told, or certainly I wasn’t, that what I now say and/or experience doesn’t describe the actual thing I’m seeking to describe. Even something as mundane as a chair is only something we know of and about because someone else told us (how did they know?). Even if you think this a moot point — I don’t — like all things (and you can check this against your own experience), everything is changing — some things much more slowly than others. That means, to make sense of something that one minute is one thing and something else the next (albeit it might take a few decades or longer) means we’ve no choice but to concretise everything we see as otherwise all we could ever say is that the said thing was a moving, shifting experience.

In summary, this epistemological exploration of our way of seeing, sensing, perceiving and then using a vocabulary to explain matters is deeply flawed.

I want to go still further though. When I talk about thoughts being our enemy, and if I understand U.G. correctly, we’ve imbued them with an ontology that simply doesn’t bear scrutiny. I’d argue that there is no such thing as thoughts in that if I asked you to locate the precise region of your body that they emanated from, you’d be unable to do so. The brain, perhaps. Exactly where? Even under an FMRI scan you wouldn’t be able to show me an actual, identifiable thought, less still would you be able to tell me why you had that thought and not a different one? I am aware of an article in Popular Mechanics that said this:

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University developed an algorithm that can decode a person’s thoughts using data from a brain scan. The researchers used this algorithm to gain insights into how our brains work and form complex topics.

Sorry, but that doesn’t explain anything. It certainly does not deal with my earlier point that you’re only able to give labels and/or meaning to your thoughts because of a) what you’ve been told and b) in time, your memory recall.

The point that I’m trying to make concerns our biology, as much as our supposed consciousness. As I’ve said previously on this blog, our hearts, lungs, healing system and digestion works perfectly well without us having to think any of those things into existence. In fact, it would be puerile to suggest that we have to think our body to do anything. Even the functioning of our brain. It does what it does and even things which we’ve come to label in a binary way — e.g. pain vs. pleasure, happiness vs. sadness and sweet vs. savoury — are only that way because of what we’ve been conditioned to believe. Put it another way, to say “I don’t like cake” (and I’m assuming you don’t suffer from a physical condition, e.g. celiac disease) means to suppose you can locate the ‘I’ which doesn’t like something that absent our story you’d have no way of describing. Whilst I’m on the subject of the first person singular pronoun ‘I’, it always intrigues me when everyone starts talking about being X, Y and Z and I invite them to consider which part of them suffers these ailments and they always go to the head. My slightly childish retort is to ask if their heart, hands, feet and lungs (as examples) feel any of these things, assuming that is that the ‘I’ includes all parts of the human body and not just the mind (whatever or wherever that is located).

I realise by now that what I’m describing can probably leave you feeling a little discombobulated. Indeed, you may feel that I’m making a big deal out of nothing. Fair enough, but if you really start investigating the nature of thought and what we ascribe to it, you’ll quickly realise, or at least I hope you do, that what you’ve been told or assumed to be the case just isn’t true.

In conclusion, the moment we accept and don’t question thoughts is the day that our lives are apt to be thrown into a constant state of turmoil. As to being our enemy, perhaps that language is a bit emotive but they can just as easily attack us as they can support us. But to take them as representing something other than a biologal function and one we never stop long to question, is to fall victim to a sense that we’re not in charge but have been taken over by a homunculus pulling all the levers on our life.