Illusion of Thought

Perception is perspectival. It is from here, now, from this angle. This is obvious.

Thought is also perspectival. Only unlike perception, thought appears absolute. As if it hovers free of the here and now, seeing the world from above.

Science as a practice is a method for safe guarding against this illusion implicit in thinking. The scientific method and the method of peer review acknowledges that no thought about any scientific matter in fact has reached a non-perspectival stance. Which is not to say all claims are on a par. But the scientific method is a guard against the illusion of objectivity.

Most everyday thought is not scientific. It is mundane, about oneself and others. About who did what to whom, who is right and who is wrong, about fears and hopes, anxieties and dreams.

This mundane thought no less carries the illusion of objectivity. As thought, it feels like it simply is capturing the truth, stating just how things are beyond perspective.

To fall for this illusion of thought is maya. It is to live in sin. Sin is not fundamentally a moral claim. It is a claim of knowledge, or more specifically, the lack of knowledge. Of not knowing what one does not know. Of thinking one knows when one doesn’t. To live in sin is to be caught in maya. To live in dukha – suffering.

The safeguard against maya is not maya-free thought. For the assumption of perspective-less thought, of maya-free thought, is itself maya.

The safeguard against maya is simply awareness of thought. Simply awareness of the contours of thought without judgment. Without bringing more thought to thoughts. Letting the thoughts buzz without identifying them. Without falling for the illusion implicit in the thoughts that they are free of bias and perspective, that they transcend the here and now, the local and the limited. That while others are limited by their perspective, my thoughts are really most thought-like, really capture the world as it is.

Cosmic awareness is awareness of the limitedness of all of one’s thoughts. An awareness which is not fooled by thoughts’ appearance of objectivity.

It is a stillness among the buzzing of thoughts. Untouched by them. Free of illusion.

2 thoughts on “Illusion of Thought

  1. I agree with the overall arc here. But the positioning of scientific thought as the virtuous hero seems odd — scientists can be extremely arrogant about discoveries and theories in science (and dismissive of activities that don’t fit that model, cf. the disdain toward “soft sciences” or religion, or dismissing a lot of human experience as “purely subjective” and not really real). Basically, there is a certain kind of scientist who thinks that their scientific approach gives them a privileged perspective on the world.

    Put another way: The scientific method (disinterested observation, hypothesis generation and testing, etc.) is a guard against truthiness (basically a parochial worldview that masquerades as objective truth about the world), so it can instill an epistemic humility (“My observations are limited and fallible”) but can still lead to methodological pride (“I have the right way of overcoming my human limitations”) and metaphysical abolutism (“there is a single right way to conceive of the natural of physical reality”).

    > The safeguard against maya is simply awareness of thought.

    I understand what you mean, but there is an interesting point to be teased out, I think. Let me try it out this way: There is no safeguard against maya, because to be an embodied being is to step into (be part of) a web of cares and concerns (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umwelt). This is not a bad thing, anymore than having a heart or legs is a bad thing. It is just that an organism with legs will naturally get into running, but we wouldn’t say that we need to “safeguard against running”.

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    • Re science: certainly there is a distinction between scientific method and ego of scientists.

      The contrast I was implicitly highlighting was between scientific method and wisdom. The former mitigates against the false appearance of objectivity of thoughts in certain domains. The latter does the same re thoughts in the everyday world, i.e. re the chatter mind. Awareness in the latter is akin to scientific method in the former.

      Re safeguard, I see what you mean. In one sense, true. Maya is not an illusion like the bent stick in water, where we take the stick out of the water and we see it and describe it as “it really is”. There is no analogue to that with maya. There is no “as it really is” description of the world which is not itself part of maya. But there is an awareness that there is maya, and that opens up a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

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