Pre-Summary: There are three phases of knowledge. The first two entail social conditioning, whereas the third arises from yourself as purely as possible. Stage 1 includes what you have been taught and have believed since the beginning of your life; for most of us this “knowledge” comes from parents, mass media, and schools.
Stage 2 departs from infantile conditioning but it is still strongly based in social influence. This can take the form of adopting the viewpoints of a fringe political party or those expressed in a book.
In Stage 3 your opinions are truly your own. Of course some of the knowledge involved is still derived from forces outside yourself, but you have attained a viewpoint which truly makes sense to you. For this reason, you almost always act in accordance with this viewpoint. It contributes to a deep value within you now, and no one can take that away from you.
On different issues and aspects of life an individual may be at different phases of knowledge. It is safe (though pessimistic) to assume that the majority of people have not reached Stage 3 in any substantial measure.
True knowing can be only in your own words. As time goes on this becomes more and more apparent to me.
This may either be self-evident to you or sound like a load of fluff. Let’s take a look at both sides.
Objective, and In-Between
To understand the art of using different perspectives it may help to first be aware of the two main, or meta, perspectives of viewing life: Subjective Reality and Objective Reality. I have written about these in various articles: Building Trust with the Universe (this discusses these most extensively), You Always Get What You Want, and Work, Play, and Purpose (to a light extent). If I am insufficient then Steve Pavlina (through his website) and Tom Campbell (through YouTube and his book My Big Toe) can help you out.
To be brief, objective reality is roughly the view of science (there are studies on consciousness but they are not in the majority). It states that we live in a world of objects, and consciousness (awareness; thought) arises from a physical brain in our heads. Using consciousness we explore the material world that exists beyond ourselves.
Subjective reality states that reality arises from consciousness, and exists insofar as we are aware of it. Using this physical body we explore consciousness. In this way everything is an extension of ourselves, as we (in a sense) create reality.
There is a place that is between subjective and objective reality. You might believe that what you think is the highest truth, and possibly that knowledge is derived from you. If I have described it correctly, this is a model of reality called solipsism, in which the self is seen as the center of reality. However, instead of seeing reality as an extension of your consciousness- which is a representation of the collective consciousness- solipsism sees reality as an extension of your physical ego identity.
The problem with this model is that its combination of objectivity and subjectivity makes it degenerate. The subjective piece- seeing your own truth as the truth- is fine on its own. Throw in some detail and you get the premise of this article. However, when you add the objective piece to it, which says that this truth invalidates all others that people hold, makes it problematic. Odds are that you are going to be arrogant and friendless, so a primarily subjective model with an underlying objectivity is out (but not invalid, of course).
Opposite (in a way) of that is a primarily objective model with an underlying subjectivity. In this model you would look at things primarily objectively and say that “There is my perspective and there are other people’s perspectives, and they are all equally valid.” Perhaps there is some objective or even absolute truth we are all trying to make our way towards also. This model would be okay too.
The subjective piece lies in your belief that both myself and other people have perspectives, and thus we are all conscious. You probably imagine that consciousness is a thing that each of us has in our heads, and thus there are ~7 billion separate conscious entities on this Earth. This is as close to objectivity as you can get without writing off consciousness. The models of objectivity most people seem to hold entail consciousness, which means that they are primarily objective with subjectivity underlying.
It’s hard to imagine what becomes of truth when you attest that we are all unconscious beings- yourself included. In that case I would say that there is either an absolute truth which is either unattainable to us or which controls and guides us—either way we cannot know because we are unconscious. That, or there simply is no truth, and this is all a bunch of materialist-reductionist randomness.
You are free to believe any of those if you want to, but trust me—seeing every living creature (humans included) as a mindless idiotic machine is not fun. In fact, taken far enough it’s horrifying. Experience that if you dare; I just hope that you can pull yourself out after.
A primarily or purely objective perspective is the most apt to write off “true knowing can be only in your own words” as a load of fluff. You think that truth exists somewhere out there, and it is the duty of humans to do their best research to find it.
That, or you believe there is no truth, and any search for such is a waste of time. I just hope you realize that this belief is your truth as you accept it. ;)
The Three Phases of Truth
At least some degree of objectivity is useful, but on its own (or with only a small amount of subjectivity lying underneath) it is not very powerful. This would be a good point to lay out what I see as the Progression of Truth, or the Phases of Knowledge. It is rather simple- maybe rudimentary even. It looks like this:
Stuff that was programmed into your subconscious by others à Unlearning à Stuff you thought of on your own
Part of what makes the primarily objective model ineffective is that it is too narrow and restricted. This may sound counterintuitive, in that objectivity sees a whole massive universe out there with billions of people, potentially with truth lying around somewhere also. Isn’t that huge?!
Well, yes, but it overlooks the self. And of course it does, since the self is just another object lying around in the giant universe. However, when you place your focus on learning things out there and see yourself as a container for knowledge you set yourself up to go through life relatively blind, even if you’re learning a lot of fancy intellectual stuff.
What happens is that you overlook the subconscious, and as a result it rules you. To be more specific, it rules you without you realizing it. You cannot comprehend that your model of reality- how things are and how things should be- has been handed to you by other people. You are tricked into thinking that you are a lot more conscious than you truly are. You might even call yourself an independent thinker. The human mind is masterful at tricks, if nothing else (well, except for magic tricks sometimes. Those don’t always blow over well).
Don’t worry- I’ve been here. Being 18 it almost (I said almost!) naturally follows that I have spent most of my life living that way. It is thought that the magical entity that is consciousness does not develop in people until around the age of 7. For kids, truth is pretty much based on how other people act, what they say, and perhaps above all, how they act towards them.
Unfortunately it seems that a lot of kids grow up with some degree of fear, anger, and mistrust. Just think of how dysfunctional junior high was and still is for so many people. The world was certainly hostile to me at that time. It can take only a few critical punches, either literally or metaphorically, for a child to grow up with a disempowering, maladaptive worldview. Combine standout events with daily reinforcement of how things work (e.g. you must get good grades in school or you are scum and you will perish) and you get the sum total of a child’s beliefs and conditionings with which he functions.
It is most likely that not much change will be made in worldview until abstract reasoning begins to develop- perhaps around the age of 12. Now, “Unlearning” is the most ambiguous stage. It can entail that you alter a significant part of your worldview, but it might not suffice to get you to the last stage.
A solid example I can think of is when I adopted atheism at the age of 13. I was raised as a Catholic, but around age 12 I started spending a lot of time on the Internet, and I saw plenty of other, older teenagers on forums bad-mouth religion. It came as a shock to me a first, but with near-daily reinforcement from Facebook groups and other web pages the message settled in, and I was soon a cold, hard, near-militant atheist.
Though the ideas were still handed directly to me from other people this change defied my infantile conditioning. I demonstrated- really for the first time- that I could adopt a new perspective, or way of seeing the world. This roughly indicates Phase 2 understanding.
I pretty much forgot about that part of my life until now. I must say that was quite ballsy of me- especially in my ranting and raving to my friends. Not that that’s necessarily a good thing, but I can’t say I express my beliefs quite as openly now. Heh heh.
Anyway, this might be a good point to note that I originally called this stage “Stuff you read.” That means that you put information in your head that runs contrary to what you have known your whole life. You experience cognitive dissonance at first, but with continued exposure and some deliberation you soon adopt the new schema and place it superordinate to your previous ones, if the old isn’t gone entirely.
However, even though you’ve written over the old script you still cannot express these new truths in your own words. They are not from your original masters, but the thoughts still are not yours.
I think some academics have a way of stopping here. I have to think of Arkady from Ivan Turganov’s Fathers and Sons. Arkady got away from the then-dominant Romantic (think Rousseau, Lord Byron) view of the world shortly after leaving for college, where he met this crazy nihilistic guy named Bazarov. I’m sure Arkady was shocked by him at first; but, some time and care for his ranting and raving was evidently enough to take him from valuing nature, art, and beauty as his father had to caring nil about them. Instead, hard science was primary now. Nature was just a workshop for man, and beauty was useless. Life had no intrinsic meaning, and society’s present state was silly. They should just tear down all the consensus-beliefs and institutions that ruled the mother Russia.
Of course, he had no idea what would come after the destruction. I’m not sure that any of the nihilists did. The point, however, is that even though Arkady’s worldview changed drastically it still was one that belonged to another person—one that he merely bought into.
As the book went on Arkady was obviously ambivalent about all this nihilistic crazy stuff. His father was, of course, saddened at the change in his son and began to think of himself as obsolete and behind the times. He was open to trying to understand the new way, though not quite prepared to adopt it. Self-pity aside, if only all our masters could think like that. If only. But that’s okay, because we ultimately do not need them to.
I am wondering if this stage is necessary even if you roughly end up returning to identify with your original beliefs, as that is basically what Arkady did in the end. Even though it may look the same the key difference is that you have now experienced life from a different angle for some time; thus, you are able to return to the first one consciously- that is, out of choice. In this way it isn’t exactly the same perspective as before.
You see, in your developing years you just went through the motions of the perspective. You bought into it because it was all you knew, and it seemed to be expected of you.
However, once a novel perspective is introduced to you, you are shocked by it, and you decide to consider it rather than immediately reject it- this is the moment when thinking begins. I think I have to painfully accept that some people never reach this point at all, but maybe I’m being too pessimistic. Certainly everyone gets here in some aspect of life and in some degree. Pretty much everyone defies their parents somehow.
This might be a good spot to note that if your children start doing and saying things you don’t like, this may not be an explicitly bad thing. At least they aren’t complete robots. ;)
I think you have to be exposed to and consider a number of different perspectives (or pieces of information) before you can move on to the final stage of being able to truly think for yourself. Otherwise you may find yourself on the dark side of Stage 2, caught up only semi-consciously in one perspective- just as in the past. Maybe this is where a lot of people get stuck. Hm.
Most people probably have some combination of all three phases. In some areas of my life I certainly still have Stage 2 thinking. I try to think of my view on the subject and recognize that I do not have one there that is truly my own. I can see that this information came from someone else. The beauty of having reached Stage 3, however, is that I have the capacity to see this. These ideas are not my own; but, with time, deliberation, and experience I can write in my own lines there.
Thus far these principles have resonated with my reasoning, so I will continue with them. With time and experience I will be able to form conclusions of my own- even if they don’t sound too different from what’s guiding me now.
Unfortunately, sometimes my Stage 2 thoughts- particularly those about my self-worth and competence- revert back to Stage 1, and I go back to telling myself that I’m an idiot just like I’ve done for my whole life. I am able to recognize this, too, for what it is, but it occurs nevertheless.
Many people are ruled primarily by the beliefs and conditionings of Stage 1. They never see through them- they just take them for granted as an unalterable, inherent part of life.
Even though Stage 2 sees a change from Stage 1, a whole lot of Stage 1 may still be present. Maybe it’s in the form of the premise that truth is something out there, beyond yourself. There are other people who know the truth better than I, so I must learn it from them. Truth is still an objective concept. You probably don’t have an understanding of subjectivity yet. The world is [almost] certainly still one of separate objects to you.
Again, this is not a useless worldview but it is suboptimal. This is an important step in the process, but it’s nowhere to stay for life. If you get stuck here and show no inkling of progress, as far as I’m concerned you are a robot.
So the breakthrough point between Stages 1 and 2 is when you are exposed to a new perspective/new information, consider it (the truly key point of transition), and assimilate at least some of it- preferably in defiance of your old beliefs and ways of being.
If you want to truly be free, you have to keep doing this. You must continue learning, comparing, and trying out different perspectives until you are able to come up with one for yourself. You must educate yourself (and not just through school, either).
When does this breakthrough happen? It is hard to pinpoint exactly, but I can assure you that the first time you think a thought for yourself is absolutely amazing. It’s truly a mind-blowing experience. All this time you thought you were thinking for yourself, and now you realize that this is what thinking is really like.
It was only several months ago that I concluded this as having happened to me for the first time. If I’m not mistaken it’s something I started gradually noticing shortly after I ran a 100K race at the end of August. I noticed many other changes in myself following this event as well, but this is probably the most significant. I don’t think I had to run an ultramarathon to be able to think for myself, but I have a feeling it played a role. Just a feeling. Perhaps it was not the run itself, but rather the principle of doing something which laughed in the face of the conventions I have been taught (e.g. if you run more than 26.2 miles- especially as a teenager- you will die!!!) that created the shift in me.
It’s not that I never had my own thoughts before this point- in fact, it was profound realizations (insights, which are exemplary of phase 3) that brought me out of depression and into a more conscious existence. It’s just that there weren’t too many of them. Certainly not enough to call me an “independent thinker.” I’d have crazy, life-changing revelations here and there which catapulted me into thinking differently, but I still don’t quite want to call it Stage 3. I still depended a lot on outside information to direct my thinking.
However, I think coming into my own and becoming a real person endowed me with the capacity to think for myself. From there the ability grew rather slowly over the course of a year, and then the breakthrough into Stage 3 occurred a cute three months ago.
I also think that writing has played a massive role in this- that is, in journaling (writing about events in my life, my thoughts, and my feelings), taking notes on stuff I read and listen to, writing singular thoughts down, and perhaps most of all in creating articles like this. I can’t say that I’m comfortable with putting thoughts in these that are not my own. I think these articles are the most potent manifestation of my own independent thoughts.
Can someone get to Stage 3 without literally writing? I’m not sure. I think now that I’m already there I can pull up the Stage 2 and Stage 1 parts of my life without writing, but to get there in the first place I think it helps a lot to do some writing.
I perceive that I think differently through different media: writing, public speaking, conversation with others, and just thinking in my head each holds a different experience of thinking for me. Of course, even the thinking “in my head” is different during different activities, such as laying in bed vs. running, or even a 3 mile run vs. a 20 mile run. So maybe it’s that you have to think in different ways.
There are many more methods than this; I suspect that most of them are variations of thinking in your head, such as thinking while lifting weights vs. while fixing a car. Talking and writing are direct outlets of thought, whereas physical tasks are indirect outlets of thought and also hold a distinct space for thought.
Likewise, I think the optimal approach in Stage 2 is to learn in different ways, in addition to thinking. Reading blog articles, reading books, listening to talks on Youtube, and listening to a speech in person all contribute differently to your learning.
The best way to learn, of course, is by doing and experiencing- experience is the stuff of life, after all- but bringing different information and perspectives you have learned to that experience can do a whole lot to enrich it.
There are some things that you might never become aware of if someone else doesn’t point them out to you somehow. How the heck can you know that you’re ruled by subconscious beliefs and conditionings if you don’t even know what a subconscious is? Can you know that you’re in denial if no one tells you what denial looks like? I don’t think I would have figured that one out on my own. If I were able to it probably would have taken waaay longer than it did. I doubt I would be writing this right now if books didn’t help me to figure out exactly how I was sabotaging myself.
Outsiders to our situation can easily have more clarity on it than we, trapped in the fog of our patterns, do.
The Two Minds
I must note that the subconscious does not get any less powerful as the conscious mind becomes more so. Rather, what happens is that the dysfunctional patterns and beliefs are removed from the subconscious. In time they become replaced by new patterns (hopefully) of your choosing, and now you have habits that still run subconsciously but which were chosen consciously.
A habit I am steadily forming is to write almost immediately after getting an idea, and to stay with that piece of writing until its end-- all in one session. Sometimes this is not practical, but when I can do so it is really quite productive. It’s the method I’ve gone about for this article (and happily so).
What happens here is that as the subconscious mind is altered the conscious mind becomes more powerful. The two feed into one another. This produces a synergy between the two, and I suspect that it is this synergy which is the key to power.
Habits and patterns resulting from consistent conscious thought and action + more novel/new conscious thought and action = power. Repetitions in the second category may in time be moved to the first. Purpose, motivation, and acting on those specific purposes and motivations are included in these.
Perhaps a helpful example would be, of course, Kim’s running. In Indoor Track in 10th grade (3 years ago) I developed a strategy of racing in which the key was to pick someone- preferably the leader- within the first lap or so and stay right on her butt for the majority of the race, even if that meant holding on for dear life. Those were the most exciting races- and my fastest ones. Stay with ‘em, I would tell myself.
I suspect that by Outdoor Track this had become nearly-automatic (I wasn’t totally aware of this at the time), and I could then focus on developing and assimilating other strategies, such as blowing everyone away with exactly 300 meters to go (which worked beautifully, by the way). Though running is meant to be free, running tactfully can be just as fun (hint hint: If you’re a trackie you might find strategy-use to work in your favor. Take that as a Stage 2 tip for now).
Courage is Key
Part of the problem with Phase 1 is that it’s so consistent. In my self-worth struggle I have plenty of Stage 2 information and even processes which defies the negative beliefs, but Stage 3 hasn’t come to my rescue quite yet. I must note that my sense of self-pity is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay way less intense than it used to be. And I mean way. But it is still present nevertheless, and sometimes it is quite strong.
It seems that stuff hanging around in Stage 2 will in time roll either way- back to Stage 1 if untouched, or forward to Stage 3 with the application of fairly consistent and constructive effort.
Now I am wondering where I might get that Stage 3 breakthrough in this situation, yet I feel like I may be approaching this incorrectly. I know all the massive action in the world can’t make you feel good about yourself, yet neither can all the thought-changing.
Of course, all the Stage 1 stuff is locked up emotionally. No amount of logic on its own will save you from it. No number of completed ultramarathons will make you believe that you’re good with women or even that you’re a worthwhile person.
You know, now I’m wondering if the breakthrough to Stage 3 may often times be courage. You just have to face up to those deep-seated, disempowering thoughts and feelings by taking action for what you consciously know to be right-- even if that means defying what has ruled you for years.
That, and you have to go up to the thought directly. Ask it about its life- maybe where it came from-, what it means, what it’s covering up. You must use foresight to see the world consciously and logically in spite of these emotionally-holding patterns.
Foresight, openness, adventure into the unknown and spookiness – I knew those principles were good for something! But I am wondering if they all rest, in this situation, on courage. I think they do, but I think courage does need guidance. Use foresight to show you what’s right. Be guided by love- whatever consciously chosen definition you have of it- and you will in time reach your own conclusions and take what are truly your own actions.
It is only when you start to make the pull toward Stage 3 that you can be guided by true meaning and value which are congruent with yourself. Educate yourself, start thinking, and start rewriting the script of your life. It’s time to take hold of yourself and show that you are a complete, conscious human being. It’s time to truly become yourself: it’s time to become real.
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(Written 22 November 2014)