Pupil. I’m happy that we have finally met to discuss some of our most important themes.
Mentor. It’s really a precious opportunity. Let’s see not to waste it in futile small talk and get right to the point.
Pupil. Good, well then I will ask you without any mincing of my words: what is, according to you, the fundamental problem of us human beings?
Mentor. Would you like a short answer?
Pupil. Sure, and maybe also concise.
Mentor. The fundamental problem of us Homo sapiens sapiens is the one of false identification.
Pupil. What does that mean?
Mentor. That we have the unfortunate tendency to impersonate all that we are not.
Pupil. Why would that be a problem?
Mentor. Because false identification results in negating reality. And conflicts, both internal and external, are always a consequence of the process of negating reality. Furthermore, as you know, conflicts are the very reason of our suffering, be it physical, emotional, or mental.
Pupil. You have been decidedly concise, maybe a bit much for my tastes. I am not sure if I have understood.
Mentor. What have you not understood?
Pupil. To be honest… everything!
Mentor. To be specific, what did you not understand from that everything?
Pupil. For example what do you mean by “false identification”?
Mentor. Do you own a car?
Pupil. Yes, I just bought a beautiful sports car recently.
Mentor. Imagine that right under your very eyes an individual approaches your beloved new car and vigorously scratches the entire side. Can you imagine that?
Pupil. Yes, I can!
Mentor. What do you feel?
Pupil. I feel pain. It is as if he were scratching me. I also feel a great anger welling up inside of me, with the desire to strangle that creep!
Mentor. You just experienced a false identification!
Pupil. Explain yourself better.
Mentor. You are a human being, right?
Pupil. That is without a doubt.
Mentor. You are not a sports car.
Pupil. That seems evident.
Mentor. For what reason then when an individual scratches the body of your car, you suffer as if he were scratching your own skin?
Pupil. You don’t want me to believe that I have identified myself with my car?
Mentor. In a certain way, yes. Moreover, since you are not a car, but a human being, it sounds like false identification.
Pupil. Hmm… I doubt that your conclusion is correct. I know very well that I am not a car: I possess a car, and that is different.
Mentor. Why do you suffer then?
Pupil. I suffer because he is damaging something that belongs to me, something that I cherish. What would be wrong with that?
Mentor. Nothing. However, if you think it is more desirable to live without suffering than to suffer, you could ask yourself why this happens.
Pupil. Do you mean to say why do I suffer when someone damages my car?
Mentor. For example.
Pupil. Your answer, if I have understood well, would be that I suffer because I am in a state of deep confusion, because I believe I am a car.
Mentor. In a certain sense, yes.
Pupil. But I know very well that I am not a car. In addition, I know that you know that I know that I am not a car.
Mentor. That is why at first I said “in a certain sense”. Undoubtedly, you are perfectly capable of distinguishing between you and your car.
Pupil. So, you agree: I did not identify myself with my car.
Mentor. Not in a strict sense. However, you do entertain thoughts about your car.
Pupil. Of course, that’s normal.
Mentor. Thoughts that you think are true.
Mentor. Thoughts that you believe in.
Pupil. Without a doubt.
Mentor. Naturally, those relative to your car are only a small part of your thoughts that you hold as true and in which you believe. Tell me: are these thoughts or are they not part of you?
Pupil. Being my thoughts, in which I believe, I imagine they are part of me.
Mentor. We can therefore affirm that you are what you believe.
Pupil. Hmm… I never thought of it in this way.
Mentor. Do it now.
Pupil. Well, I cannot of course confirm that I am exclusively what I believe, but that in which I believe is undoubtedly a part of what I am.
Mentor. In other words, your identity, or at least a part of it, consists in what you believe in, in your belief systems.
Pupil. I think it is correct to say that, but where is it that you are going with this?
Mentor. I am already there. You confirmed that you have beliefs connected to your car: can you give me an example?
Pupil. My car is new and can go up to 250 kilometers an hour. This is a thought that I think is true, in which I believe.
Mentor. So, because your beliefs are part of your identity, and your car is a part of your beliefs, isn’t it possible to deduct that you are partially identified with your car?
Pupil. Could you repeat that please?
Mentor. Your belief systems that define in part your identity of human being have many aspects. Among those, there is that of your car. Therefore, your beliefs about your car are part of your identity and it is justified in saying that, because of this, you are partially identified with your car.
Pupil. I agree, but I don’t see why this would be a problem.
Mentor. Now I will explain it to you. Let us suppose that among your beliefs about your car there is also the belief that no one should scratch it.
Pupil. You don’t have to guess at that, I believe it strongly: nobody should scratch my car, for no reason whatever! People should always respect other people’s property.
Mentor. It undoubtedly has something to do with what you believe. In addition, because you believe it, then it is part of your identity.
Pupil. A very little part though.
Mentor. Yes, a very little part, in which you identify necessarily.
Pupil. I don’t see what’s wrong about identifying yourself with your own thoughts, those in which you believe: it all seems like a natural process.
Mentor. Well maybe, but such a process becomes problematic when the thoughts in which you identify are false, because in this case it deals with false identification. Better, it deals with an identification that is doubly false. It is false at the first level, because the thoughts in which you identify are false. Moreover, it is false at the second level, because your identity is not reducible to the mere content of your thoughts.
Pupil. I do not understand: what is there so wrong with thinking that nobody should scratch my car?
Mentor. Your thought is only a thought and as such cannot be wrong. The mistake, if we can talk about mistakes, is in holding that the contents of this thought expresses a truth, when in fact, undoubtedly, it expresses a falsehood. In fact, it negates reality!
Pupil. What reality?
Mentor. Your personal reality, all that exists for you, in the sense of all that is available to you to experience. Imagine again that individual that scratches your precious car. His action could simply be an unknowing act of vandalism. Do you think that such a thing could be possible or impossible?
Pupil. Decisively possible. To be honest, such a thing happened to me.
Mentor. You’re telling me that your brand new car has already been scratched by someone?
Pupil. Yes, just yesterday I noticed a scratch that I am sure that I did not do. I think it happened in the parking lot.
Mentor. And what do you feel when you think of that scratch?
Pupil. I get really angry!
Mentor. Looking down deeper, what is behind that anger?
Pupil. I believe it’s pain, the pain that came from that scratch.
Mentor. A little bit like as if it were done to your own flesh?
Pupil. Something like that.
Mentor. Anger is a reaction to the pain. A reaction of aggressive nature towards whom or what in our way of seeing it is responsible for our pain.
Pupil. I understand, someone hurts me and I react by trying to hurt him back.
Mentor. But by doing that, you start a vicious circle, which can only be broken when the victims realize that nobody is able to hurt them, except themselves.
Pupil. That seems like a drastic statement.
Mentor. It is. It has to do with a radical change in your outlook: from being a complete victim to taking full responsibility for your own life. However, let’s not get side tracked. We were analyzing your beliefs about your car and in particular the one that nobody should scratch it. This belief of yours is it true or false?
Pupil. True: nobody should do that!
Mentor. But somebody did. You are the one that told me such a thing is possible.
Pupil. Are you telling me that the fact that someone could scratch my car means that my thoughts are not correct?
Mentor. It seems evident. The fact that there are people who could scratch your car shows exactly this: it’s not true that they shouldn’t do it.
Pupil. For what reason?
Mentor. For the simple reason that they can do it and every so often they do it, as you yourself confirmed. Moreover, if they do it, then it cannot be true that they should not do it.
Pupil. It’s a play on words.
Mentor. No, it is not. The possibility of someone scratching your car is an aspect of your reality that falsifies in fact the theory in which you believe.
Pupil. Maybe it is, but I still think that no one should scratch my car.
Mentor. I know. Your conviction is the real reason for your suffering, not the individual that actually scratched your car. In other words, you are the only one responsible for your pain.
Pupil. I am not following you.
Mentor. Let’s go by steps. Your theory is founded on the principle that no one should scratch your car. However, reality shows instead that there are people who will scratch others cars and therefore violate the principle on which you have founded your theory. Do you follow me?
Pupil. Until here yes, at least I think so. The very existence of individuals that do not respect other people’s property implies that my theory cannot be correct.
Mentor. Yes, because your principle of not scratching your car does not apply to these individuals. They go by another principle, opposite to yours: every so often, they have to do it, and in fact, they do it!
Pupil. In other words, my theory would be false and I would do better to undo it, or correct it.
Mentor. Exactly. On the other hand, this is how scientific research works: theories are constantly put to the test by experiments of critical nature, able to confirm them or to falsify them.
Pupil. In the case of my theory, what is the critical experiment?
Mentor. Simply the observation that individuals exist that delight in scratching other peoples cars. But since your theory doesn’t contemplate the existence of such individuals, it openly negates the reality of the facts.
Pupil. I understand. Reality does not behave in this way. It only has to do with my desire, which is based on a wrong conviction.
Mentor. That is, a conviction that does not take count of empirical data, of your observations.
Pupil. Yes, I neglected to correct my theory in light of the data that I had at my disposition.
Mentor. And for this you suffered when they scratched your car. So, in the ultimate analysis, your suffering is self-inflicted.
Pupil. I am missing something. I understand that I made a mistake by not correcting my theory when I had the elements to do so. However, I am still convinced that the person responsible for my suffering is not I, but the person who scratched my car.
Mentor. Again, it has to do with a mistaken conviction.
Pupil. Can you explain it to me?
Mentor. Do you agree that your convictions are entirely your own responsibility, because you are the only one that chooses in which theory to believe?
Pupil. I agree. Nobody can force me to believe anything.
Mentor. Which means that you are free, at least inside.
Mentor. A man that freely chooses to believe that nobody should scratch his car, right?
Pupil. Yes, even though I understand that this belief should be corrected.
Mentor. Because through our conversation you realized that it negates reality. Now ask yourself: what caused your pain while you visualized the individual scratching your car?
Pupil. Not what, but who. In my opinion, it was exactly that individual that caused my pain.
Mentor. Amazing, right? Was that individual a magician by chance?
Pupil. What do you mean?
Mentor. He must have immense powers. Without even a slight touch, he was able to cause you intense pain. How did he do it?
Pupil. To tell you the truth, I don’t know.
Mentor. Do you know how the mechanism of physical pain works?
Pupil. Vaguely. Please remind me.
Mentor. Our body is equipped with specific receptors called nociceptors. When we suffer an aggression, of whatever nature, the nociceptors are activated, transmitting to the brain an unpleasant sensation of pain. The activation of the nociceptors and the consequent pain sensation is a useful reaction, of a defensive nature. The pain informs us that there is an aggression in act, and we have to react if we want to avoid that the body suffer structural damages that would endanger its functionality.
Pupil. What does this have to do with our discussion?
Mentor. Now that you know of the existence of the nociceptors that determine our pain sensations, I can ask you the following question: how did the individual succeed in activating your nociceptors without ever getting in contact with your body?
Pupil. A great mystery!
Mentor. No mystery. He couldn’t possibly activate your nociceptors because he didn’t attack your body, but your car. Furthermore, I would like to remind you that you experienced a painful sensation even just imagining the scene.
Pupil. I give up: if that individual, real or imaginary, didn’t even touch me, he couldn’t possibly be the one responsible of the nociceptors’ activation.
Mentor. Who else is left?
Pupil. In your opinion, it would be I that in a very masochistic way inflicted pain upon me.
Mentor. In a way, yes.
Pupil. I do not understand: if there is pain, then there is an aggression. If there is an aggression, necessarily there is both a victim and an aggressor, at least two entities. I am only one entity and if I exclude that that one individual is in any way responsible for my sensations, I am the only one left to simultaneously fulfill both the role of the victim and of the aggressor. How is that possible?
Mentor. We have two possible levels of analysis. On the first level, you are perfectly right: necessarily two entities have to be present. One that does the aggression and one that is subject to the aggression. However, on the second level of analysis, you may discover that the entity that is subject to the aggression is itself responsible of its own aggression.
Pupil. What is the reason?
Mentor. Because it chooses to let itself be assaulted when it could avoid it. In other words, it is itself the mandate of its own aggression.
Pupil. On the first level of analysis, I can however still assert that it was that individual to assault me, right?
Mentor. I thought that it was already clear to you that he could not have assaulted you, since he did not even lightly touch you. The only entity that he attacked is your car, when he scratched it.
Pupil. So explain to me: on the first level of analysis, who is the notorious aggressor?
Pupil. Reality would have assaulted me?
Mentor. In a way, yes. Let it be clear, it doesn’t have anything against you personally.
Pupil. Then why did it do that?
Mentor. Because you provoked it.
Pupil. You are making fun of me.
Mentor. I have never been more serious. Reality strongly believes in the third law of Newton. Do you remember?
Pupil. If my memory does not fail me, the third law of Newton says that if object A exerts a force on object B, object B exerts an equal and opposite force on object A. Something like “if I push you, you react by pushing me”.
Mentor. In fact, the third law of Newton is also called the law of action and reaction.
Pupil. So, if I understood right, reality attacked me as a reaction to my action. But what did I do that was so terrible?
Mentor. You tried to negate it, by affirming that it should be different than it is. However, reality cannot be different from what is. For that, we cannot negate it, even if sometimes we try to do it.
Pupil. I still do not understand exactly in which way I have tried to negate reality.
Mentor. You did it when you believed in your false theory in which human beings should not scratch other people’s cars. Reality, as you yourself admitted, does not agree with such a theory, that consists in an outright attempt to negate it.
Pupil. I have the impression that reality is too susceptible. I just had a theory.
Mentor. Reality is not susceptible. Reality just simply is, and cannot be anything else than what is. If you throw a porcelain plate against a cement wall the plate disintegrates, because of the force of reaction by the wall. Would you for that reason say that the wall is susceptible?
Pupil. I get the concept: through my theory, I tried to negate reality, and because of the third law of Newton reality reacted.
Mentor. It reacted by negating your theory, therefore falsifying it.
Pupil. Why is the effect of this reaction so painful?
Mentor. Your theory is part of you. You are what you believe, remember?
Pupil. So reality reacts by negating what I am?
Mentor. Not all of what you are, but only that part of you that tries to negate reality.
Pupil. Like a porcelain plate that tries to negate the reality of the solidness of the cement wall?
Mentor. Exactly. The plate could not hope to make it: porcelain cannot penetrate cement.
Pupil. But in order to have pain it is necessary to have contact with the aggressor.
Mentor. You and reality, in fact, are always in intimate contact. If it weren’t like that, then you wouldn’t be a part of it.
Pupil. If I have understood well, when I adopt a false theory of reality (for example believing that no one should scratch my car), I am like a porcelain plate that believes it to be harder than a cement wall. Therefore, when reality crashes with my theory, it breaks into pieces, with the consequent activation of my nociceptors. It’s as if my body is literally constituted of all my theories of reality.
Mentor. It is not “as if”. It is so.
Pupil. It was only a metaphor.
Mentor. It is much more than a metaphor. Did you ever hear of the bodymind connection?
Pupil. I believe so: my mind perceives reality through my body. For example, when my body is assaulted what perceives the pain, in the final analysis, is my mind.
Mentor. Things work the other way around too: when your mind is assaulted, your body is hurt. Your thoughts, especially those in which you believe, are objects of energy that are capable of interacting with your body. When you provoke reality with a thought that tries to negate it, reality reacts by attacking that thought, therefore your mind. And because of the interaction between mind and body (mediated by your brain), the repercussion comes out into the physical plane.
Pupil. That’s why they say that thinking negative is not healthy.
Mentor. Negative thoughts are often false and eventually suffer an adverse reaction from reality.
Pupil. If I have understood well, it is as if our body cannot tell the difference between physical reality and that imagined by our mind.
Mentor. If you imagine biting a lemon, what happens to your salivary glands?
Pupil. They act as if I am biting a true lemon!
Mentor. Exactly like that.
Pupil. But if between mind and body there is such an intimate connection, wouldn’t it be more correct to assume that body and mind are the same?
Mentor. That is what I just confirmed. Our body and our mind are inseparable aspects of the same entity.
Pupil. And how would you call this strange “bodymind” entity?
Mentor. Simply mind, or as you just said bodymind.
Pupil. In other words, you are telling me that we human beings are essentially of a mental nature.
Mentor. Not just us humans, but everything living.
Pupil. Even a microbe?
Mentor. Yes, even it.
Pupil. But to have a mind don’t you have to have a brain?
Mentor. Not necessarily. The mind, as the seat of cognition, that is to say the process of knowing, can be likened to the process of life and its evolution. In that way, the mind is not dependent on the existence of a brain, the perception being sufficient to give even a simple microbe the capacity of cognition, even though at a very elementary level. According to this point of view, we human beings, and more generally all living things, are purely cognitive, mental entities, the body structures of which are nothing more than a support to manifest our theories of reality in a tangible way.
Pupil. More than living organisms, we are therefore strange living theories of reality!
Mentor. In a certain way, yes. Don’t forget though the second level of analysis.
Pupil. What do you mean to say?
Mentor. At the first level, we observed that reality attacks, if you could say that, our false theories of reality, a process in science that is called falsification. At the first level of analysis, there are therefore two entities: the reality that attacks and you that are attacked. This description is only partially correct because with a more attentive analysis we discover that the choice of theories in which we identify is our own responsibility. If we chose to identify with false theories, we cannot consider reality responsible for its reaction, apparently aggressive, just as we cannot consider a wall responsible for our bruises if we go and crash against it. So, at the second level of analysis we find that the victim and the aggressor are the same entity. Moreover, if it is true that we have total freedom of choice about which theories to adopt, that means that we are not only the sum of our theories, but much more! Would you liken a sculptor to his statues?
Pupil. Of course not, a sculptor is the author of his statues.
Mentor. And are we not maybe the authors of our theories, and more generally of our thought processes?
Pupil. Well yes, obviously.
Mentor. You will conclude then that it is not exact to say that we are living theories of reality, because in fact we are much more: we are the makers of our theories, we are the builders. That is quite a difference, don’t you believe?
Pupil. We are not statues, but sculptors!
Mentor. Yes, omnipotent creators of inner realities in which we integrate, and by which we express, our knowledge of reality.
Pupil. Therefore, we are not reduced to mere mental entities.
Mentor. We possess a mind, or a bodymind, if you prefer, but we are not a mind.
Pupil. What are we then?
Mentor. Something more.
Pupil. Does that something perhaps have a name?
Mentor. We can call that something the consciousness. The term consciousness comes from the Latin cosciente, which is the composition of con, (to have, to possess) and scire (knowledge). According to the etymology of the word, a consciousness is therefore a being (in the sense of a subject) gifted with knowledge.
Pupil. Knowledge of what?
Mentor. Of reality, be it inner or outer. A knowledge in continual evolution, that the consciousness expresses through the construction of operational theories of reality. Theories based on one’s own experience and integrated into one’s own intimate structure of bodymind.
Pupil. Our body, or bodymind, or mind, or whatever we want to call it, would be then a sort of walking, dynamic memory, in which we consciousnesses integrate, under the form of theories, our experiences of the real.
Mentor. Rightly so. And in the measure that we amplify, deepen and refine our experience-knowledge of reality, we tirelessly rewrite our memory replacing obsolete theories with theories that are more advanced. A process which is called evolution, or more precisely evolution of the consciousness.
Talking about reality
Massimiliano Sassoli de Bianchi
A mentor and his pupil question themselves about the nature of our relationship with reality, emphasizing the human tendency to negate what-is, thus creating the sense of impotence and the existential misery. This brings them to explore what seems to be the only method to follow to improve such a condition and make the sad evolutionary mechanism of suffering obsolete: a method of a critical nature, scientific, which is based on the powerful mechanism of the mirror reality; because when we look out we mostly see in, when we see reality, we are mostly seeing our theories of reality. It is then enough to turn our vision upside down to be able to identify the mistake, the false belief, and let it go, or simply correct it, opening up ourselves to the joy of paradise, which is not who knows where, but in our here-and-now, if we only surrender to the rhythm of life, to the beauty, to the love and peace which permeates everything. As everything would be reduced to this, to a simple choice, the choice of abandoning falsehood and returning home, into reality. A reality where every participatory consciousness has a special place, as an entity which is purely creative, complete, perfect.