This piece was commissioned by Sally Wijesundera.
Part 1: The Bully, And His Accomplice.
Many people have sought to uncover the truth that sets human beings free from pain. And some, arguably, have even succeeded. But steeped in ancient mystique, superstition and dogma, the core dynamics lie buried.
What you are about to discover is a new option of how to live, free of blindness, with eyes wide open. A new way to tap into the very essence of what it means to be a human being.
And in this clarity lies a hope - that anyone who wants to can move beyond whatever division and frustration blights their lives, and see, with clear eyes, the dawn of a new day.
This piece was originally commissioned as an investigation into a book called The Master And His Emissary, by a man called Iain McGilchrist.
Iain McGilchrist was a Consultant Psychiatrist of the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley NHS Trust in London, where he was Clinical Director of their southern sector Acute Mental Health Services. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. He trained at the Maudsley Hospital in London, working on specialist units including the Neuropsychiatry and Epilepsy Unit, He also worked as a Research Fellow in neuroimaging at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, USA.
He's been published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, and the American Journal of Psychiatry, and has published original research on neuroimaging in schizophrenia, the phenomenology of schizophrenia, and other topics.
Here's a quick quote regarding his new piece: "McGilchrist's careful analysis of how brains work is a veritable tour de force, gradually and skilfully revealed. I know of no better exposition of the current state of functional brain neuroscience." - W. F. Bynum
W. F. Bynum is a Yale MD, with a Cambridge PhD in the history of science, who held a professorship in the same at UCL.
The Master And His Emissary won the Scientific And Medical Network Book Prize, and the Bristol Festival Of Ideas Book Prize, and was longlisted for the Royal Society Book prize.
After reading it, it became rapidly apparent that a simple review piece would be wholly inappropriate, and it needed a much deeper examination, and my client agreed. I hope, by the time you're finished reading here, you'll understand why.
McGilchrist's success in The Master And His Emissary is that he's cut through a huge amount of data, with a very clear idea that brings it all together, about how the brain works, and what it is fundamentally doing. This has many clear connections with the work I do, which is on the core structure of human suffering. And I hoped, and now believe, that from this new perspective, a new depth could be struck. A very strange, but very powerful truth can be used - by anyone - to free themselves of needless suffering, rapidly, and in real life, forever. A new future for anyone who chooses it. And perhaps, given enough time, a new future for us all.
So let's start with McGilchrist's work. It's all about hemispheric difference, the different roles and various interactions of the two sides of the brain, the hemispheres. And what makes it so new, so radical, and so fresh is that it cuts right through oceans of data with a clear vision that makes hitherto unimaginable sense of the brain itself, and what it's really doing. From this clarity, a whole new raft of possibilities open up.
Now, there's an important caveat to keep in mind during what you're about to read. The hemispheres work together, and there are very few mental events, if any, that are purely one-sided.
With that said, there is a striking clarity that can be brought to the separate agendas of these hemispheres. This is what McGilchrist's book focuses on, and opens up in a genuinely groundbreaking way. I of course owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for this, and have worked hard to make sure that the way in which I've handled the science here, and elsewhere in this piece is faithful to the research.
Any mistakes made are of course, my own.
Another thing to say is this. In looking at neuroscience and physics, we're going to be going very far out on a limb. There is a conjecture to be made about how all this ties together, and it hasn't been made before. I have tried to mark out clearly where we are stepping beyond the accepted understandings into new territory, and the new way of looking at things must stand and fall on its own merits.
With that said - because of the nature of what we're looking at, everything we're about to see converges on a real way that human beings can undercut needless suffering at source. With this clarity, you can do something with this conjecture. You can test it. And I hope you do.
So let's take a look, shall we, at what the man has to say...
The Left Hemisphere
The left hemisphere generates divisional attention. It divides things, and the attention it produces is fundamentally dualistic in nature. It divides up the world into stark lines and certainties, opposites, this and that. It has no time for subtlety, for contour, for flavour. It's all about division, and certainty.
Why? Why divide? Well, it's actually pretty straightforward. In order to interact with things, there have to be things to interact with. That's what the left hemisphere is doing. Chopping and slicing all incoming data into 'things'. In McGilchrist's words,
“The values of fixity and clarity are added by the processing of the left hemisphere, which is what makes it possible for us to control, manipulate and use the world.”
This is interesting enough, but it goes a little deeper – because for whatever reason, the divisional, dualistic, manipulative world-view of the left hemisphere seems to constantly be working to take control. To rework everything into its divisions, to edit reality itself to reinforce those divisions, protect them, entrench them, and spread them.
And indeed – it's even stranger than that. The left hemisphere is not, for want of a better word, honest, which is quite a weird thing, if you think about it.
The left hemisphere is not creating these divisions in a purely dispassionate way, to aid manipulation of the world. It's not just chopping things up for accuracy's sake. Indeed, accuracy seems almost wholly incidental to its work. It constantly 'loads the dice', as it were, for a different agenda. And what is this agenda? It seems to be to defend and promote the divisions it has already made.
We'll look at this in more detail in a second, but a good way to think about it is that the left hemisphere of the brain is like a person who is a pathological liar, who's only real agenda is to protect their lies, and profit from them.
What is actually happening in reality is only of use to a person such as this inasmuch as it helps sustain their lies. When what is happening helps their lies, it is greedily seized upon. When it doesn't help their lies, it is utterly ignored, rejected – and potentially even attacked.
Indeed, if you think about such a person in real life, those kinds of patterns, that kind of thinking – that's left hemisphere thinking. Or rather – left hemisphere dominant thinking. No real interest in reality, but huge interest in their own stories, their own tales. One might almost say, their own image.
So, fully one side of the brain, it would appear, has very little interest in reality, which is a very strange thing to say, but is borne out by experiment. This 'lying side', however, has a great deal of interest in what it is saying and in protecting and promoting that.
Another thing about the left hemisphere is that the kind of thinking that it generates has a very specific, and very interesting quality. Certainty.
The left hemisphere, dishonest as it is, has a relentless hunger for certainty, and speaks only in absolute and certain terms. Total certainty, certainty that brooks no doubt or further investigation. Certainty is prized by left-hemisphere thinking, prized massively over accuracy. In fact, left hemisphere thinking doesn't really seem to prize accuracy at all. It just wants to build and sustain certainties, regardless of whether or not they are true. As and when those certainties clash with what's actually going on, it knows exactly which side it's on, and it isn't the side of the angels.
Nonetheless, left hemisphere thinking, for all its dishonesty, is the home of logic. Logic is a strikingly left-hemisphere thing, absolute certainties leading to absolute certainties. And so it might seem that the left hemisphere is the 'rationality' part of the brain. Indeed, this is how the left hemisphere is commonly spoken about, and understood.
But if you wanted to say that, you'd also have to say that rationality might not be quite as rational as it says on the packaging.
But actually, even that's not really enough. In a fascinating section of The Master And His Emissary, McGilchrist opens up some very interesting theories about left hemisphere thinking's evolutionary origins. And he makes a very strong case that what we're looking at in this, most seemingly logical and rational of hemispheres, is not that of logical processing.
Its origin is manipulation. Manipulation of the environment. And manipulation in the truest sense of that word – manipulation comes from the Latin word for 'hand'.
Logic isn't really at the centre of left-hemisphere thinking. It just looks that way. What's really at the centre of it, is grasping. Grabbing. Handling, taking, manipulating. It is, in fact, so closely linked to the physical manipulation of things that most people are right-handed, and that's why, because the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, and is far more naturally adept at manual dexterity.
Dualistic thought that is fundamentally grasping in character, that has only an incidental interest in what is real, and is fully focused on maintaining and defending its own divisions, stories and certainties at all costs, especially the cost of truth. This is the fundamental character of left-hemisphere thinking.
Another interesting aspect that McGilchrist explores is the fundamentally abstracted nature of the divisions drawn by the left hemisphere. This might sound very strange, because it might seem more likely that the hemisphere most concerned with interaction would want concrete specifics, not abstract generalities.
But then, you have to think what kind of interaction this hemisphere has evolved for. Manipulation – but in what way? Instead of taking each situation as it comes, the left hemisphere works to build abstract systems of iron rules that can be systematically used to exploit the world around it.
This is of course, an incredible boon – it is what makes cars and planes and computers possible. And it would be a terrible thing to lose – as some people do when they suffer very specific brain injuries.
But it would also be a terrible thing to be held in thrall to. A deadened world, a deadened life of deadened things, inert, abstracted, cold and analytical. And herein lies the problem – that the left hemisphere has one more crucial trick to play. It is ambitious.
Always moving to dominate, to impose its way of thinking over the right hemisphere, to subsume all experience and human living within its divided, dishonest, cold, abstracted, analytical and hungry gaze.
And the most crucial point of McGilchrist's work about this hemisphere is that it does dominate, and has dominated, and will dominate. It seems to have some 'hold' over the right hemisphere, as a puppeteer holds the strings of a puppet.
Pulled away from any relationship with the outside world, left-hemisphere thinking cannibalises itself, making divisions inside divisions, making the experience of life progressively shallower, more empty, less colourful, less alive. What replaces depth and richness is stark division, petty drama, and constantly repeating patterns of the same thing, the same thoughts, over and over. Stifled of freshness and newness, life becomes cold and hard, worn out, old, played.
That's what the left hemisphere does. It doesn't just 'do' things. It dominates. It dominates a human's perspective, it is voracious, and always looking to 'take charge', to assert this divisional, this and that, black and white, colourless and nuance-free perspective over the human experience of living.
Left-hemisphere thinking isn't problematic – but left-hemisphere dominance is. Very much so. And the left-hemisphere is relentlessly dominant. It has some hold over the right, some hook embedded, a kind of leash, if you will. And all it needs to do is tug. And it isn't coy when it comes to that.
The Right Hemisphere
The right hemisphere generates attention that is, for want of a better word, holistic. It sees in terms of the whole, and of the quality of the whole. The shape and the flavour of things.
To give you a sense of the difference between concepts (left hemisphere) and quality (right hemisphere), think of, say, the colour red. Try to describe the colour red in words, and you will very rapidly find yourself stuck. It's just not the kind of thing that you can really put into words – but that's not to say that it's in any sense a vague thing.
Colour is very specific, and so is shape. Now with shape, you can of course talk in terms of simple geometry, of triangles and square, circles and cones. But reality is rough, to paraphrase the father of fractal geometry, Benoit Mandelbrot. The closer you look at anything real, the less simple it seems, the more roughness becomes apparent.
The natural world is full of examples – something simple, like a tree, isn't a very simple shape at all. Try to describe the shape of a tree in a way that communicates any real level of what that shape actually is, and you'll find yourself running into the same problem as you just did with the colour red.
Nonetheless, if you look at a tree, there it is, there the shape of it is.
That image of a tree is something that your brain creates from all the sense data that's coming in. And so in one sense, actually, your brain is very much able to accurately describe the complexity of its shape. That's what the image is. And yet, somehow, you can't.
You can't describe the shape of a tree, but your brain can. A strange divergence, and one that should make more sense by the end of this piece.
That's the difference between left-hemisphere and right-hemisphere thinking. The right hemisphere is more than happy – and more than able – to represent a unique quality, or a complex shape. The left hemisphere is not happy – and not able – to describe either.
Contour and quality are the domains of the right hemisphere. The kind of attention it generates is, in McGilchrist's own words, non-dual. Flavour, colour, quality. Not some abstracted concept, but the actual fullness of reality as such - the specific, particular, and indescribable contour of what is actually happening.
Right hemisphere thinking is far more comfortable with uncertainty about absolute rules. In fact, it doesn't really care about certainty at all, because it doesn't really care about rules. It's not building categories to lump things together – it's seeing the whole of things, and relating them as honestly and accurately as possible. It is the link between humanity and reality.
This brings us to a very interesting aspect of right-hemisphere attention - it is all about experience. All about what's actually going on, right now. What is essentially happening.
The right hemisphere doesn't trade in certainty, or division. It trades in the qualities of things, the specific contour of the real. And whereof we cannot speak, it has seas and oceans of things to say.
The Left-Right Relationship
Perhaps the best thing to do here is to just quote a passage from McGilchrist in full.
“If one had to encapsulate the principal differences in the experience mediated by the two hemispheres, their two modes of being, one could put it like this. The world of the left hemisphere, dependent on denotative language and abstraction, yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are known, fixed, static, isolated, decontextualised, explicit, disembodied, general in nature, but ultimately lifeless.
The right hemisphere, by contrast, yields a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate, living beings within the context of the lived world, but in the nature of things never fully graspable, always imperfectly known – and to this world it exists in a relationship of care.
The knowledge that is mediated by the left hemisphere is knowledge within a closed system. It has the advantage of perfection, but such perfection is bought ultimately at the price of emptiness, of self reference. It can mediate knowledge only in terms of a mechanical rearrangement of other things already known. It can never really ‘break out’ to know anything new, because its knowledge is of its own representations only.
Where the thing itself is ‘present’ to the right hemisphere, it is only ‘re-presented’ by the left hemisphere, now become an idea of a thing. Where the right hemisphere is conscious of the Other, whatever it may be, the left hemisphere's consciousness is of itself.”
The left hemisphere of the brain - the divisional, abstract hemisphere - deals in universals, in abstract concepts, in certainties, in strict division between this and that. To sum it up in one word, it deals in 'that'.
That something is happening is a left-hemisphere thing.
The right hemisphere of the brain, the non-dual, specific, contours hemisphere, deals in 'how'. The how of things, the specific shape of how they are.
How something is happening is a right-hemisphere thing.
The two sides communicate with each other across a thin membrane, the name of which is the corpus callosum. This allows these two different 'takes' on the world to interface with each other, and to interact. That they interact is true enough, but what is more interesting still, is how.
Some of the most revealing experiments have been behavioural studies on people who have, for whatever reason, had this connecting tissue severed. The most common reason being that severing the corpus callosum is a treatment for certain forms of epilepsy, although it can simply fail to develop, as a congenital defect. This is called having a 'split-brain'.
It is one of these experiments that I'd like to quickly examine now. McGilchrist talks about it at length in The Master And His Emissary. But also leads to an interesting and radical possibility about the nature of left hemisphere dominance, which could potentially allow us to go beyond McGilchrist's work.
The initial set-up for the experiment is relatively simple, but before it will make sense, there's a couple of things to understand.
The first is this – as we've seen, each hemisphere of the brain controls the opposite side of the body. The left hemisphere, the dualistic one which breaks things down into graspable, abstract labels, controls the right hand side of the body, all of it, the eyes, the hands, everything. The right hemisphere, the one that works in terms of contour, and the specific shape of real things, controls the left, all of it, eyes, hands, fingers, knees and toes.
The experiment is relatively simple, and it was devised by Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga at Caltech back in the 1950's. It is quite a celebrated experiment, and if you have even a passing interest in neuroscience you'll almost certainly know about it. For those who don't, here's what happens.
A split-brain patient (who has had their corpus callosum severed) is placed in a booth, with some viewing apparatus. What's special about the viewing apparatus is that they allow the person running the experiment to show different images to each eye.
At the same time, the patient has a small selection of cards available. Sometimes the experimenter will ask the patient to pick up a card with their left hand, sometimes with their right.
This experiment is well cited for a reason. It is simple, brilliantly conceived, and revealing in a way that I do not think has yet been fully understood.
What it allows the researcher to do is show one side of the patient's brain a simple image - say, a chicken. The patient is then asked to select the card which they associate with the image, from a selection of cards with pictures on, pictures of things like a snow-shovel, a wheel, a car, and a chicken's foot.
From the patient's point of view, it seems like a simple image-association test. But of course, it isn't.
If the researcher shows a picture of a chicken to the person's right eye, and then asks them to pick a card up with their right hand, they will pick up the card that has a picture of a chicken's foot on it. The side of the brain that sees the chicken is also the side of the brain that controls the hand picking up the card, so it's fair enough.
In the same way, if you show a picture of a chicken to a split-brain person's left eye, and ask them to pick a card up with their left hand, they will, again, select the card that has a picture of a chicken's foot. All fair enough and above board - a clean, obvious association.
But then the experimenters mix it up a little.
They show the patient's right eye a picture of a chicken, and their left eye a picture of a snowy landscape, and then ask them to pick up a card with their left hand.
Really take the time to get a good picture of this in your head, there's a lot of lefts and rights, it can be a little confusing, but it's absolutely worth the effort. I'll just go through that again, but this time talk in terms of hemispheres.
They show the divisional hemisphere a picture of a chicken, and the holistic hemisphere a picture of a snowy landscape, and then ask the patient to pick up a card using the hand under the control of the holistic hemisphere.
The person has to pick up the card with the side of the body that saw the snowy landscape. And it picks up the card with the picture of the snow-shovel on it, because you clear snow with a snow-shovel. Again, no real surprises. But we're about to see a very big surprise.
When the researcher asks the patient to explain why they chose the shovel, the left hemisphere always fields the question. The left, divisional hemisphere is the dominant one, and the one that deals with concepts and thus dominates in the field of language. Ask a question heard by both ears, and it's the left-hemisphere, the divisional hemisphere, that answers.
The right hemisphere saw the snowy landscape, and picked up the snow-shovel card. But the left hemisphere saw the chicken.
So when the patient is asked to explain why they chose the snow-shovel, they respond in a very interesting way. They lie.
If you ask that patient why he picked up the card with the shovel on it, the patient will give this answer:
"Because you use a shovel to clear up after chickens."
This is enormously strange. Not so much because the link between this card or that is stronger, but because this is a lie. This isn't why they chose the card. They chose the card because you use a snow shovel to shovel snow. That is why they chose it.
But when asked to account for it, the patient tells a story of a rational connection that did not occur. Regardless of how you clean out chickens, that thought process, that connection, was not something that patient actually experienced. It's just a story, a story of a seemingly rational thought process that never actually happened.
The patient is not aware that they are lying. They aren't doing it 'on purpose', so to speak. The lie, the fiction, the invented story of a rational process that never occurred, is generated instantly, fully internally coherent, and ready to ship, by the left hemisphere.
Now, it's tempting to file this away as a little interesting vignette, shrug, and bemoan the dishonesty of brain-damaged people.
But while it is interesting enough to note that split-brain patients lie under these circumstances, it is also interesting to note how they lie.
Which is to say - why specifically this lie? Why not another? Why lie in this exact way? Why do all of them, always lie in this exact way?
A Sharp Left Turn
Well, let's take another look at this experiment.
Say, just for the sake of argument, you are the left hemisphere. You're sitting there, you're doing your thing. See a picture of a chicken. Look down. Hand is holding a card, has a picture of a shovel on it. Researcher asks why you chose a shovel, in response to an image of a chicken.
And you say "Because you use a shovel to clear out chickens."
What is actually being done here? What is the purpose of this lie, this lie specifically? A specific lie repeated over and over by many hundreds of patients of all sorts of different cultures and backgrounds, all over the world?
Well, let's break it down to the simple. The person is claiming that a rational process took place, when actually, it didn't happen. In fact, it seems to have far more in common with 'making an excuse' than with actually describing what occurred.
But again – what kind of excuse? A rational excuse, an excuse of rational process. Rational connection. Linear, logical sequence. Saw the chicken, saw the shovel, clear out chickens with a shovel, all clear, all rational.
This is a very clear logical structure, which the left hemisphere throws together almost instantaneously. Remember – the story about the rational process arises very fast, but it is pure fiction.
It's all very smooth, very fast. The appearance of rational process. The story of a thought that never occurred.
An interesting question then arises, and it's from here that we can start to really open up a whole new way of looking at the human mind. Something that hasn't been done before, hasn't been seen before. A fresh perspective, with new possibilities.
Why fake a thought process? Why bother? And how about the fact that it's so fast, so immediately coherent, so rapidly constructed and woven, and presented with no sense of irony, or hesitation. Isn't that strange? Doesn't it seem almost as if the left hemisphere might, perhaps, have done this before?
It's not just 'that' the patient is lying. It's what kind of lie it is. Because here we see, very clearly, that the left hemisphere is both capable of, and very good at, constructing stories about mental processes that never actually happened.
Could it be that perhaps the left hemisphere isn't just lying this one time. It's almost as if it's too good for that, the lie is too slick, too well told, too coherent. It is a lie with an agenda – to present an appearance of rationality. To project a fiction of mind.
A false mind. A mind that doesn't exist. A rational process that never took place. A story about a mind that connected the chicken and the shovel. This is what the left hemisphere is constructing here, and it's doing it extremely well.
This experiment is very clearly shows that the left hemisphere is able, willing and, indeed, eager, to create a very specific kind of illusion.
An illusion of mind.
And the simplicity of this illusion opens up a completely new angle on understanding what the brain is doing. An angle which will allow a clear view, for the first time, of what human suffering really is, of what its real purpose is. A new understanding of the brain, of humanity, and the world in which we live.
It is as if the left hemisphere's central concern is to rework all incoming data into a very specific illusion. Its concern, as revealed by this experiment, is to weave a convincing and coherent illusion that there is a mind there, and this mind works in a coherent and rational way.
And this raises a very interesting possibility. What if that is what the mind is? If the mind has no processing faculty? If the mind doesn't really exist at all? What happens if the left hemisphere is simply, and relentlessly, creating the illusion of mind on an ongoing basis?
What if things like intelligence have a totally different source from the one we assume they have (the processing power of the mind) but are in fact a result of insight from the right hemisphere being reworked into an illusion of rationality and logic?
Of course, this goes way beyond McGilchrist's work, he doesn't suggest this, but I think the experiment does. It's a very big “if,” but we'll stick with it for a while, and see where it takes us.
What if there is no mind? What if the mind itself is a lie? What if all the rational processes we think inform our decisions and guide our lives never actually happen?
It sounds mad, but then the experiment shows that the left hemisphere is more than happy to do exactly that, and we all have a left hemisphere.
I suppose the first question would be – why would the brain be doing that? What would the point of that be? Why would fully 50% of our grey matter (closer to 51%, actually, it's slightly larger than the right hemisphere) have evolved to weave an ongoing fiction of mind?
Surely there'd be no possible reason for such a thing. Would there?
The best way to start finding the answer to that is to stay with the specific. With the specific how of this particular fiction. Specifically, why would the left hemisphere's immediate response to incoming data be to rework it in order to project the illusion of a coherent, rational mind?
Geoffrey Miller is an evolutionary psychologist with another glittering academic background. He points out in his book The Mating Mind that the faculties of the human mind are developed to a degree far higher than you can really account for through the evolutionary pressure to survive.
There's no danger in nature that calls for a mind so powerful it can build skyscrapers, fly to the moon, write epic poetry or split the atom.
Humans have the faculties to do all these things, and yet evolutionary survival cannot account for the emergence of these faculties. Miller points out that there is another, far less well-known, side to the evolutionary coin. Everyone knows about survival of the fittest, but even if you survive for a thousand years, if you never mate, evolution does not happen.
Sexual selection is the shadow child of the evolution family. Sexual selection has a different perspective, but works in fundamentally the same way to survival pressure. As the pressure to survive doesn't really care too much how you do survive, as long as you do, the evolutionary pressure to successfully mate is much the same. It doesn't really care how you mate, as long as you do.
Often, of course, the ability to survive and the ability to reproduce work together - if you survive longer, you probably will mate more. But then, of course, if you mate more, you don't really need to survive that long in order to pass your genes along, and that's what the whole point of evolution is.
Sometimes these elements actually work against each other. The need to survive in a very harsh environment might severely limit the chances of mating (the forced isolation of polar bears is one obvious example). On the other hand, an environment which has abundant resources and few natural predators can give rise to spectacular mating displays that actually hamper the organism's ability to get through the day. A clear example of this would be the iridescent tail of the male peacock - try hiding from a wolf (or even walking around for a while) with that thing stuck to you.
Charles Darwin mentions the peacock specifically in The Origin Of Species as a very clear example of sexual selection at work.
Geoffrey Miller applies these principles to the human mind. His point is this - if, instead of thinking of the mind as a survival tool, you think of it as a courtship tool, allowing humans to build courtship displays to impress each other, you have a much more coherent account of the final product.
Miller's thesis is that the mind is a tool to create courtship displays. Poetry, language, knowledge, buildings, drawings, carts, cars, phones... the whole shebang. Instead of the peacock's tail, you have the human's poem, or the human's ship, or cave painting, or car, or house.
And indeed, many people do have rather impressive houses, and it doesn't seem to hurt their mating chances much.
But then - in Sperry and Gazzaniga's experiment with split-brain patients, we can see quite clearly that the left hemisphere of the brain consistently and specifically creates the illusion of a rational mind, with no hesitation, or any real concern about what's actually going on.
Does it not seem a little strange that fully half of the brain is more concerned with lying about what's going on to project an illusion of rationality, rather than actually being rational? If the brain were primarily a tool to create courtship displays, it would be more concerned with actually creating things, making good things, things to show others.
It's almost as if the mind isn't a tool to create displays. It's almost as if the mind itself is a display. That the brain is a tool that creates the illusion of mind.
The mind as an utter illusion. A striking, and strange thing to say. A new perspective which opens up a different way to look at rationality - and more than this. A perspective that makes crystal clear sense of irrationality, of human madness, frustration, and pain.
The Innocent Hemisphere...?
The right hemisphere comes out of all this looking very innocent indeed. And it does indeed have a level of fidelity (to use it in the technical sense of accuracy) that the left hemisphere doesn't have, and actually seems to work against.
It seems strange to say it, but it does seem at least possible that the agenda of the left hemisphere is to rework all incoming information in terms of a story about a coherent, rational mind, and project that story clearly, compellingly, and rapidly.
But the right hemisphere doesn't have this kind of agenda. It's far closer to what we might expect the brain to be doing. It doesn't work in linear process, of course, it's not crunching numbers, or processing things analytically. But it is mapping reality, as best it can. It's not perfect, but it is very good – the accuracy of human perception is extremely high – far higher than the accuracy of human language, for instance.
On top of all this, the right hemisphere is at least honest – which is to say that although it can and will make mistakes, it will not entrench or defend them, but will simply correct them with no fuss. If you are, for instance, half asleep and you see a coat hanging on the back of your door, and think it's a person standing there, and then you look again, and see it's just a coat, there's no conflict or defensiveness to that process. It just happens, and it works fine.
The right hemisphere has the faculty of potential accuracy. It's not magic, and it isn't always right, but it can be accurate, at least in principle, in a way the left hemisphere can't be. Which is because the left hemisphere is reworking all incoming data in order to produce a fundamental fiction – the fiction of mind.
The right hemisphere plays the central role in insight, and in metaphor. In recognising the patterns that underlie and unite experience and reality. The flashes of connection that draw together many things into crystal focus - these are the work of the right hemisphere.
Of course, the left hemisphere, reworking everything in terms of rational processes that never actually occur, steals all the credit – and perhaps there's a clue there. As a detective in a fraud squad might have it – follow the money. In this case, follow the credit.
The left hemisphere spins a story of a rational process, that was done by an individual. I worked this out, I worked that out. Say some connection is made by the right hemisphere, the left will take that connection and cast it as the result of a personal process with linear steps – a process that is clear, easy to talk about, easy to display – and undertaken by the individual.
So the left hemisphere is stealing all the credit of the right. And it does seem, doesn't it, that the left hemisphere is the 'baddie' of the piece, and the right the 'goodie'?
But the first, and most obvious problem with lionising the right hemisphere is that it doesn't put up any kind of fight whatsoever. It is more than happy to let this happen – indeed, it spends most of its time filling things in and fleshing things out at the behest of the left hemisphere. There's no conflict between the two because the right hemisphere has no problem whatsoever with what the left hemisphere is doing, which is to say, lying about the existence of a mind.
If anything, the right hemisphere seems less like a victim, and more like a kind of accomplice, or at the very least, an extremely enthusiastic enabler.
Indeed, partners in crime seems closer to the truth.
Partners In Crime
To put it in a simple way, if the left hemisphere is producing the lines a child draws in a picture, the right hemisphere is the set of crayons it uses to colour that picture in. Remember, the left hemisphere works in terms of this and that. Of stark lines and certainties. The right hemisphere works to project and generate quality, and specific contour.
Well, here we can go back to the main problem of the mind alone as a mating display – the mind itself is not particularly compelling, sexually or socially. It's not revolting, or repulsive, but it doesn't really generate any serious pull between people, as it would need to, were it a fully-evolved courtship display.
But then, if you look at what the right hemisphere does, which is to flesh things out with quality, emotion, contour and colour, could it be that the left hemisphere is using the abilities of the right to paint the fiction of mind in vivid, compelling colours?
Let me say that again. The left hemisphere produces the fiction of mind - but that's just a story about rational processes. Not particularly compelling..
It passes that structure over the corpus callosum to the right hemisphere, in the only terms it works in – absolute certainty. Think about that for a second – all of the fiction of rationality that the left hemisphere is producing include certainty as part of their nature. Certainty is just one of the qualities of left hemisphere thought.
It passes that fictional tale of rational thought over to the right hemisphere, in terms that are absolute and certain.
The right hemisphere just takes the information and does what it does, which is to flesh out the quality and unique contour of whatever it is presented with.
The right hemisphere doesn't challenge the certainty of the left – the right hemisphere doesn't challenge anything. Ever. It just paints as accurately as it can. And if that accuracy is directed within certain terms by the left hemisphere, the right can, and immediately will, fill in the gaps within those terms.
The certainty of left hemisphere thinking literally sets the boundaries within which the right can operate.
But when the illusion of mind is filled in with vibrant, vivid quality, invested and painted in the colours of emotion and feeling, it becomes something else, something far, far more powerful. Something that very much fits the bill as a mating display, in its compelling power, colour, vibrancy, and the absolute centrality of it in human life.
Something that dominates the human experience of living in a way that nothing else does. A fiction so pungent and vivid that it can and has utterly dominated the lives of the overwhelming majority of all humans who have ever lived.
A fiction that can now, for the first time, be brought into crystal focus.
The Illusion Of Self
We aren't drawn to people because they are especially rational, or logical. The rational and logical serve as a framework of sorts, and have to be (or at least must appear to be) consistent. But what really draws us to people is the unique flavour of a personality, the character of a person.
Distinctive emotional colour filling a framework of rational process, like flesh on a skeleton.
This is the fundamental nature of the human self, and the projection of that self is the fundamental function of the human brain. An evolved courtship display that is created by the two hemispheres working in sync with each other. The left provides the framework, the right fills it in.
This is a very powerful perspective from which to look at many kinds of seemingly incoherent human behaviour. The common, consensus view of people in is that they are, essentially, thinking and feeling machines. Machines of logic and feeling, that these are the two 'sides' to people, the two poles of human mental activity.
Except – what if both of them are fictional? And that the brain itself is not there primarily to process, but instead, primarily, to project?
And in fact, I think it's fair to say that the human mind does not behave like a mind. It behaves like the display of one. And invested with colour, vibrance and distinctive flavour, the illusion is not just one of dry rational process, but of a vivid, fascinating, fully formed character. The human self - which is utterly illusory.
This is bad news for all those seeking some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card in the workings of the right hemisphere. It is up to its neck in all this. The right hemisphere does indeed have a more immediate relationship to reality, but it is totally in the thrall of the left hemisphere, and is more than happy to remain so.
Because while all this might well be very interesting (or not) from an academic point of view, the results of it are not quite so academic.
Because there's one more piece to this puzzle. Pain.
The Agony Of Self
Something interesting that MacGilchrist points out is that the two hemispheres both, in their own way, tend toward pain. That the dominant pain of the left hemisphere is anger, and the dominant pain of the right is sorrow.
Melancholy, depression, loneliness, anxiety, regret – these things are works of the right hemisphere, which fleshes them out, makes them vivid and real. Anger, hate, fury – these are the works of the left hemisphere, dividing the world into stark certainties that lead to conflict and hatred, which can be focused toward others, or even toward an individual's own self.
Why? And all this is a big question for psychologists, a question that coalesces around the issue of clinical depression. Depression is not just 'feeling down' – it's something altogether different, far more vicious and extreme. Clinical depression is where the feelings of sorrow, anguish or self-hate have become so potent that they have essentially crippled the individual.
Depression becomes clinical when feelings of extreme suffering become so intense that a person is effectively rendered unable to operate in society. That's very extreme suffering.
But then of course, you have a far, far larger number of people, who live with low-level pain as a way of life. People who always complain about things because their whole lives are generally disappointing. People who live grasping and hungry for the next fix of consumer product, or clothing.
And the interesting thing is this – sure, most people aren't actually crippled by suffering. But it's always there, in the background, and can (and will) sometimes flare up, explosively. In relationships, in friendships, in career. Whether sorrow or rage, the results are always predictable – the poisoning, or the destruction, of some part of life.
Why is this? If the human mind is what it appears to be – a rational processor – then these things are catastrophic dysfunctions. And it is very strange that they still exist in something that has evolved.
Evolution is very, very good at weeding out dysfunction. And yet if we take the general view of the mind (as a normal processor) then we have to come to the conclusion that it's left a few kinks in the machine.
But if we instead look at this from the perspective of the mind as a display, we find that actually, all this can be brought into crystal focus.
Firstly, the mind didn't evolve – a display of the mind evolved. And as a display, it has the agenda of a display. To be seen. To be striking. To make noise, to instigate drama, sorrow and conflict for no other reason but that such things make it more vivid as a display.
An interesting possibility arises – that human suffering is, in large part, needless. It has no purpose other than to perpetuate more pain, for the purposes of making the self more striking and vivid, for the purpose of display.
This is a new way of looking at pain, of understanding the depths of despair, the heights of rage, and the frustration of powerlessness and boredom that bedevil and blight so much of our lives. A fresh, clear way to look at all the pain we suffer - and all the pain we create.
Pain always seems rational, whether it is rage or sorrow. It always comes cloaked in reasons, rationales. I am angry because, I am sad because. But then of course, that rationality might not be quite as rational as it appears.
And that 'because' is where this whole thing takes on a new dimension – because what we're looking at, at least potentially, is that all those reasons are essentially untrue. That they are 'cobbled together' after the fact to rationalise the existence of pain that exists only for the sake of loud and noisy display.
This is obviously a process that would be somewhat tricky (but not impossible, and we'll get to why that is later) to see in one's self. But it can be seen very clearly in others. The irrationality of rage. The irrationality of sorrow. That such things sustain themselves in other people way beyond any reason presented.
But then, most of life, for most people is not lived in these extremes. But no-one is immune to destructive outbursts, or poisonous paranoia, or sorrow, or relentless dissatisfaction that poisons relationships, friendships, people, lives, and the larger world in which we live.
All ancient wisdom traditions that survive from antiquity speak of a genuine resolution to this issue. That there is a way to live free of pain. A way to live free of rage and sorrow. Of the blindness that both bring, of the monstrosity that rage makes of humans, and the pathetic, wasted shadow that sorrow can twist a person into.
Some are currently living in deep, vicious anger or terrible, weeping sadness. Most are holding life together, to a degree. Keeping everything in place, keeping ourselves distracted with new toys and new clothes, new parties, new obsessions, new relationships, new this and new that. Feed the beast with novelty for one more day.
Because we all know what happens when it isn't fed. If you don't get your novelty, if you don't get your new project, new distraction, new relationship. Then it has nothing to do but feed upon itself, and it will, and it will hurt.
And this, for most, is what it means to be alive. We are happy as children, but over time this process stifles that, strangles that joy, and as we age, as we grow, so our suffering grows. But because we now see things from a new angle, this isn't what life has to mean. There is now another way. Because overwhelmingly, the pain and the sorrow are fictions spun for pain and sorrow's purpose alone – and that purpose is not to heal. That purpose is to grow, to dominate, to stifle life in sorrow and regret.
In fact, because suffering is the fundamental go-to fuel for the human self, many people balk at the idea of ending pain, or even reducing it. Who would I be if I wasn't suffering? Who would I be without my fury? Who would I be without my special pain, the pain that makes me, me?
Well, for those brave souls ready to find out, and for those sorry souls who have had more than their fill, perhaps it is possible to find a way to defuse this pain right down in the heart, and be free, and live free, with eyes wide open. Who would you be when the pain falls away?
Perhaps it's time to find out.
But in order to really open this up, we're going to have to leave hemispheres behind for a second, and look at something else.
Part 2: The God Of Small Things
The first thing to understand about Quantum Mechanics is that it was invented backward.
Normally a physicist will devise a theory of what is going on, and then work to test that theory, and see if it fits. If it doesn't, they try to come up with a better theory. The goal is to refine the theory to such precision that it can be expressed mathematically, in clear equations that successfully predicts what happens in experiments.
With Quantum Mechanics, however, the equations came first. No theory existed to suggest them. No theory has yet been proposed that makes sense of them.
A physicist known as Niels Bohr stitched together parts of two different equations to try to make sense of some strange results he'd gotten from one specific experiment.
The result was a set of equations that have literally never failed to predict the exact outcome of any experiment in which they have been tested.
Now, let's just put that into context a little. It's a bit like losing the combination to your bicycle's padlock, and then coming up with a new combination made up of half the number for your bank card, and half the combination for your luggage, and then finding that this new code not only opened your bicycle lock, but opens every combination lock of any kind that could ever exist, even in theory.
Niels Bohr had the magic code, but no idea of why it worked. Just the code, just mathematics. And from that day till this, physicists have struggled, with varying degrees of success, to work out why it is that these equations are so extremely powerful. What do they actually describe?
This point matters, especially if you want to understanding the unique position Quantum Mechanics occupies - that even now, well over half a century after the devising of these equations, there is no conclusive theory of what is really going on in reality to make these equations work.
Something clearly is. You don't just stitch together numbers like magic incantations and produce results like that. Whatever the Quantum equations are describing has to be very fundamental.
And this is because there are some extremely strange results to account for. Deep down at the level of atoms and electrons, things don't behave at all like they should.
There have, of course, been several attempts to interpret the results. Some are highly abstract. One famously involves multiple universes. The most widely accepted one, however, is what's called the "Copenhagen Interpretation". It was named after the city where Niels Bohr and his colleague Werner Heisenberg put it together. It was their attempt to make sense of the experiments, of what the equations meant. And the Copenhagen Interpretation is useful because it really zeroes in on the strangeness revealed by the experiments.
It's also important to look at it here, because we need to see clearly how this whole thing is understood, so we can go deeper, and look at what's happening from a fresh angle, and for the first time see a new way that sense can be made of all this.
At its heart, the Copenhagen Interpretation isn't really that hard to understand, so much as it is strange. It's far more of a strange thing, than a complex thing. And of course something to always, always remember is that reality doesn't care about how strange we think it is. It does not tip-toe around our expectations of it.
Rejecting or sidelining ideas just because they are intellectually wrenching, or confound our assumptions, is, almost every time it occurs, a step backward, and almost always taken in fear. So let's put our science hats on, and take a look at what the Copenhagen Interpretation has to say for itself.
Inside atoms, electrons spin around and around. They spin around the core of the atom, which is called the nucleus (which is, for some reason, is Latin for "nut"). Now, a classical understanding of this looks something a little like a small solar system, with the electrons spinning around like planets around the sun, and that's not a bad place to start.
It's not that hard to understand, or to picture, that electrons and nuclei are doing the same, or a very similar kind of thing, to what planets and suns do. Just spinning around a central point.
But that's not actually what's happening. And to get some sense of what is happening, we're going to look at a simple, experimental issue.
Electrons are very, very small, even by the standards of subatomic particles. This makes them, for want of a better way of putting it, quite delicate.
Now, say the lights go out in your house, and you need to find your way through it in the dark to the fusebox, you might light up a candle, or pick up a torch. What that candle or torch is doing is (obviously enough) emitting light. The light bounces off your surroundings, comes back to your eyes, and you can see where things are.
If you shine a light onto an electron, the particles of light (photons) will smack into the electron, bounce off, and you can (basically) see what the electron's up to. But the electron is so small that the energy of the photon melds with the electron, and energises it.
And because it now energised, it cannot exist in the state in which it was, when you were looking for it. And so it vanishes from that place.
So it's a little bit of a problem. You can't discover the properties of an electron without changing those properties.
Still, okay, just a technical annoyance. Something to annoy experimenters. No major problem here, nothing big, nothing too strange.
Now, of course, you can guesstimate where that electron would be without shining a light on it. You can expand that guess and refine it, and chart the probability of where the electron might be, and how it might be moving. You'll never fix its position and speed entirely, but you can get an idea. You can narrow the field of possibility, and you can chart that field on a graph.
You can say - "Ok, well, there's about a 40% chance that it's spinning in this position, and a 30% chance it's spinning at this speed. And it's less likely to be over here, and more likely to be over there. And you can draw the probability of it like a curve – the high point of the curve is the place where it's most likely to be, the low point of the curve is the place where it's less likely to be.
Simple enough. Just dealing with curves and experiments and such. No big strangeness with any of this, not really.
Of course, once you actually get your sleeves rolled up and "go in there" to find what this electron is actually doing, you energise it, and it's not doing that anymore.
But's it's ok, you've found out what it was doing. So you go back to the graph. You don't need to have that curved line charting where the probabilities lie. You know exactly where it was, so there's no need for them now.
So what you can do is get an eraser, rub out that curve on the graph, and just mark specifically what the electron was doing. Your graph looks a lot neater now. It's just a point, and you can mark it very accurately.
The actual electron of course, is now gone. More energy has been added to it by the photon, so it's not doing what it was doing.
This make sense?
We're just talking about a graph, remember. You can just draw on a graph a curve that represents where the electron probably is, and then once you know exactly, you rub out the line, and put in a little dot. Except to get the information to put that dot in the right place, you have to disrupt the electron.
Nothing too complex, nothing too taxing, nothing too strange.
And if all it were was just a graph, it would just be one of those things, were it not for the fact that...
It's Not Just A Graph
The strangeness of Quantum Mechanics, the central howling strangeness, is that what it suggest is that all this stuff about probability curves is actually happening in reality.
We're not just dealing with the problem of not being able to map the electron's specific position and speed.
It doesn't actually have a specific position. It doesn't actually have a specific speed.
It actually exists as a probability. The electron exist as a probability curve, and when an interaction happens, this probability collapses, through a moment of infinity where the electron is both everywhere and nowhere at once, and then it vanishes.
So before it is interfered with, the electron actually exists as a probability of an electron. When disrupted, a kind of catastrophic probability collapse is triggered. The probability curve vanishes – because you now know exactly where the electron was.
But then, it's not there anymore... because you stuck a photon into it, and the added energy makes it leap to a different position, where it can 'fit' the extra energy in - this is the famed Quantum Leap. But then - you're back to square one - because the speed and position of where it leaps to exists again, as a probability.
So like I said, it's not so much complex (although, yes, there's a certain level of complexity to it) as it is strange. The strangeness of it.
This is really what the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics is saying, as I understand it. It's not incredibly simple, but it's not incredibly complex either – what it is, is incredibly weird.
Now, there are many things about this idea that are strange, but I've saved the strangest of all till last. Because the thing is that all observation is a form of interference. You can't get any information on something without, in some way, interacting with it. And because these particles are so very tiny, this is a very pronounced effect.
It's not just that this is weird because of the jumping around of the electron, or the "existing as a probability" issue. It's weird because this gets triggered every time someone's watching. Every time a measurement is taken, the probability collapses. If someone's watching, it happens. Every time, like clockwork, in the world's weirdest clock.
It is very strange that the electron exists only as a probability. Strange, but ok, fine, we can accept that, because reality is what it is. If it wants to be a probability, fine. Say the electron then wants to vanish, then burst back into existence at some random point along that probability curve?
Ok, if that's how electrons work, that's how they work.
It's strange, but not really that much more strange than the idea of atoms as mini-solar-systems. Once you get to a certain depth, it all looks pretty unusual. But then you add the problem of the observer.
This is the key problem of the Copenhagen interpretation, and revolves around a very famous fictional cat, belonging to Irwin Schrodinger. That when a measurement is taken, the probability collapses, and something becomes real.
If you put a cat in a box, and put a small bomb next to it (laughing evilly as you do, presumably) and then hook the detonator up to a computer that's measuring the random decay of an unstable atom?
The decay of that atom exists in the state of probability - this much probability that it has decayed, this much that it hasn't. When it gets measured, then the probability resolves itself into coherence, into reality. Simply put, it happens.
So what about the cat? The cat's life is tied to the state of the atom, and the atom's state isn't set until it gets measured. So is the cat alive or dead? Is it both at once?
And from the Copenhagen interpretation, the answer is, basically yes. Yes, it's alive and dead at the same time, and doesn't resolve itself into reality until that box gets opened, and you see either a delightful little kitty, or a godawful mess.
This is the beating heart of the mad weirdness of Quantum Mechanics. How can human consciousness, being produced by the brain, have anything like this effect? And what an effect - to 'split' reality into two?
And yet this is what follows from the most popular interpretation we have of the results of the experiments themselves.
No-one's tried with the cat, as far as I can tell, or at least, if they have, they're not going public with it. But every experiment ever done backs up this strange implication, an implication so strange that it cannot possibly be.
That for all the world it appears as if observation causes the collapse of probability into the real.
Because of this, the most widely used interpretation of Quantum Mechanics exists, itself, in a kind of weird state. Everyone knows it can't be right, but how else to make sense of things?
How else indeed? Because what that means is that we could find a simple way to understand the actual reality of what we're looking at. Something that isn't magic, or kooky, or contain any of the howling paradoxes. Something that could light up the meaning of Quantum Mechanics from a new angle, and bring new light to the questions involving both human observation and perhaps a new way to bridge the disconnect between small-scale and large-scale physics.
Niels Bohr came up with the Copenhagen Interpretation, but he was never comfortable with it. He never settled on it, because it is so very strange. Einstein was appalled at another aspect of the Interpretation - that it seems that when probability collapses into reality, the place where it collapses is totally random. What does that even mean? How can something resolve itself into reality in a way that is random? How can all the order of the universe sit on abject chaos? This is what he was complaining about when he said that he can't believe that God would play dice with the universe.
These can seem really esoteric issues, but they're really not. We have a total and ongoing failure to come to any kind of coherent understanding of the universe in which we live, in a way that raises some weird questions about the universe and physics - but also human life and the nature of consciousness.
They're all linked, all tied together. Making clear sense of one part of this - really clear sense - might well shed some light on the other.
Ok, so let's dive in at what I at least think is the weirdest part of all this. While it's easy (ish) to understand that the interference in a system can change it, what about observation? What about consciousness? How can observation, or even potential observation, change what's going on?
Or we can come at this from a totally different angle. Perhaps we should consider if consciousness is something very different to what we think it is. And from there, we might be able to see something else - that the weirdness of Quantum Mechanics isn't confined to the very small, but may well underlie the physics of what happens on a large scale too, and in human life.
Because there is a way of interpreting what we're seeing in these experiments that doesn't have the weird implications, that doesn't require consciousness to have some magic property. That sidesteps the whole issue that gives rise to the idea of multiple universes, and makes sense of things in a new way that could, potentially, have deep implications for the link between small-scale and large-scale physics... and the nature of the phenomenon that we presumptuously label 'consciousness' itself.
Does Size Matter?
Let's start with the issue of scale.
Ok, so the electron exists as probability, the photons that hit it – they exist as a probability as well. This is the standard way of looking at it, the heart of the Copenhagen interpretation. But in the new interpretation of Quantum Mechanics that's we're putting together, we're going to run with a very fruity idea.
Instead of seeing Schrodinger's cat as a problem, let's use it as a starting point for a second, and see where it takes us.
So, ok. Something exists as potential. Then that potential collapses into reality, it 'resolves' itself.
And the first big breakthrough that this opens up is that if you take this process as literally happening, in real life, there is a way to clearly bridge the gap between the Quantum world, and our own, in a way that has never been seen before.
More than this, it opens up a new angle on actual human experience. Real life, the day-to-day. Something seismic that undercuts one of the most profound assumptions of human life.
That angle is time.
Our assumption of how time operates (and how it is understood to operate from the view of classical physics) is that it is essentially a linear progression of events strung together by cause and effect. One thing follows another. Just the basic view of time that we all share
Now, if you look at time in the abstract, cause and effect, one thing following another like tick follows tock on a clockface, nothing like probability collapsing into existence can be seen to occur.
But there is another perspective from which you can look at time. Something different, and so far, hidden.
The future is, in a very real way for us, a mass of probabilities. The future has not yet made itself manifest as reality. It exists as a sea of possibility, but it does exist. The actual future, real, here, and now, as the possibilities of things that can be.
The possibility of you going to work next Monday, or calling in sick. The probability of you reading a book tonight, or watching a film with your friends next Friday. The probability of you scratching your head in the next 20 minutes, of a meteorite hitting the Earth, of a long-lost acquaintance getting back in touch, of a relationship continuing, or being broken, or a new one starting.
These things do exist as probabilities, always, right here. They are all very real possibilities, although some are extremely unlikely. But together, they form a kind of sea of probability that we directly, and in a very real way, experience as the future.
But there's something else as well. Something we can take from our experience of time, and feed back into our understanding of the Quantum world, and make much stronger sense of both.
That thing is coherence. The coherence of the moment, of the now, of the present moment. The present moment is not divided, it has no fault lines. Everything that is happening, is happening all at once, at the same time, with no contradiction of any kind.
The present moment never breaks, it never conflicts with itself. It just is, and continues to be. And more than this - any possibility that actually becomes real can only ever do so if it is coherent with the rest of reality.
This is critical. That probability itself may be random - but how it actually becomes real is not. Any possibility that becomes real won't create a conflict inside reality. The present moment won't break, it's big enough to take it all. And if it's not coherent with the rest of reality for a possibility to become real, it doesn't become real.
So you'll never look down at the end of your garden and see a group of winged fairies dancing around a circle of mushrooms. That's not coherent with the rest of reality, with all the probabilities which have already collapsed, already become real.
And if you do see a group of fairies dancing at the bottom of your garden, what you will find on investigation is that you are either extremely drunk, or someone is playing a trick on you. One way or another, they're not real. Why? Because it's incoherent with the rest of the real.
So those possibilities never collapse, and will never collapse - because there is something that makes them impossible. And it's this - that all of reality has to make sense, it all has to happen at the same time - the now - and have no paradox, no division, no fault line.
All that becomes real must be coherent with all that already is.
And so actually, although we do have the future as probability, how it actually collapses into reality is not random. Einstein was right. God does not play dice.
Now we can take this back to the Quantum world (and start eroding the barriers between it, and our own) if we look at the seemingly random collapse of probability waves, when observed. In this new interpretation, it's not random - any electron, or decaying atom, or anything, can only move to another state that is coherent. Coherent with all the energy, the structure of the atom, the structure of reality itself.
Of course, you can always say "Well, obviously it does." But the new interpretation states that this isn't happening by chance. That all possibilties that become real are beholden. Beholden to be coherent with all other possibilities that have ever become real.
No more magic. No more fairies. No more unicorns, or metaphysics, or supernatural things. Reality is coherent. This is rule one, the iron rule, and it never breaks. There is no division in reality. There are no paradoxes in reality. Reality is coherent, and must be, and will always be, and this will never change.
This is a very powerful perspective, and opens up a lot of new approaches to old problems. For instance - from this point of view, the quality of 'fixity' that physical laws have can be accounted for. Why are they the same through all time and space? Because they have to be, because reality must be coherent.
But let's stick with what we've got so far, and not get distracted. Probability, collapsing into reality, in a moment of total unity and coherence with all that is, actually is an extremely accurate description of time, as humans experience it.
It's not an accurate description of time as humans describe it.
Here we see a left/right hemisphere issue. Talking about time is a left-hemisphere thing, and the left hemisphere casts the world into linear process. This is new way of understanding why time is almost always spoken about as a linear process, a simple line, a chain of events, this, that, this, that.
But the actual experience of time – which is a right-hemisphere thing, because the right hemisphere deals with experience and the specific contour and quality of the real – is nothing like that.
The experience of time, as human beings actually experience it, on a human scale, is exactly the same as that described by the new interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. It's not similar - it's the same.
What we experience is the probability of events collapsing into a single rolling moment (which we call the present) in which all things are united in a way that is absolute.
From this perspective, a very obvious and hitherto unrecognised property of the Quantum equations can be brought into a new focus.
Time. We're looking at time. And time is the thing that unites, for the first time, the Quantum world, and the world in which we live. A sea of possibilities, collapsing into the real.
Consciousness Causes Collapse?
At the centre of Quantum Mechanics lies a single problem that makes all the other weirdness pale into insignificance. The strangeness that consciousness – the simple act of observing – causes the collapse of probability into the real.
Consciousness causes collapse. But how? What magical property must humans have to trigger the ongoing creation of reality as such? This is a different level of strange, and far more so than any other part of this.
How can something cause reality to happen? Is consciousness standing outside reality? How can anything stand outside reality? By definition, anything outside reality isn't real, and so isn't going to have much of an impact on anything, let alone something as big as 'triggering reality's existence'.
Can you see the problem? It's a big one.
And so, in the naming convention set up by Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, I advance a new interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. It has an new, ironclad rule, rule one - that reality is coherent. It has a new perspective on time, one that brings the Quantum world in line with our own. Now let's see if we can use this to finally answer the riddle of Schrodinger's cat. How is that happening, and why?
In the Edinburgh Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, consciousness does not cause the collapse of probability into reality.
Consciousness actually is the collapse of probability into reality.
And it's not generated by the brain.
The brain is generating patterns. Patterns of concept (left-hemisphere) and quality (right-hemisphere). It is combining them to project an illusion, for the purposes of a mating display - the illusion of a human self.
What is this illusion being projected onto? Where is the illusion happening?
Or perhaps, a better question would be – when? When is the illusion happening?
Well, the answer is very simple. The illusion is happening when everything is happening. Now.
You see, it's not enough to say that there's an image. An image needs a space (or in this case, a moment) in which to be projected, in which to exist, as an image.
And all the experience of human life, the colours, the sounds, the thoughts, the feelings – all of it, exist somewhere. That somewhere is the rolling moment of total coherence that we experience as the present.
The awareness in which all experience happens is not something the brain is generating. It's something the brain works to fill. Fill with colour, fill with sound, fill with noise – fill with self.
But the actual existence of the present moment is not something that is being churned out by the brain.
And from this point of view, the central strangeness of Quantum Mechanics is immediately, and for the first time, resolved.
It's not that observation has a magical quality that makes things happen.
We're not looking at observation. We're looking at occurrence. And occurrence doesn't need a magical quality to make things happen. Occurrence actually is things happening, already.
Probability collapses into reality through a moment of occurrence that we experience as the present. And the experience of the present moment – the smooth, indivisible and real experience in which things actually occur, is exactly the same as the human experience of consciousness.
What do we mean by consciousness? Well, simply, the field of 'awareness' in which things happen. But even calling it awareness isn't really right.
At the most fundamental level, what we call consciousness is the place of happening. The place in which experience occurs, the field in which all this happens, the canvas on which all phenomenal existence is painted.
The now. Consciousness. The present. It's the same thing. And indeed – from this fresh point of view, just as we have to ditch the idea of 'awareness', it's not even really accurate to call it consciousness. That's quite the human conceit.
The actual reality of existence is not something generated by the brain, outside of the fevered fantasies of solipsists, the insane, and writers of hackneyed science fiction.
No. This is a novel way of understanding what is really going on. A way of stepping beyond the old assumptions about consciousness and awareness. What we're really looking at is occurrence, and everything that exists, occurs at the same time. That is what it means to exist. To occur. And to occur at the only time. Now.
What you are experiencing as consciousness, isn't from you. You are an image, projected within it, and it's not consciousness - it's occurrence. Reality happening, and within that, the image of you as one of the things indivisible with the coherence of all.
Now, I've had some people misunderstand what I'm saying here, so let me just be absolutely explicit.
There is no consciousness.
Consciousness does not exist.
It literally does not exist.
What there is instead is occurrence. And we call this 'consciousness' because it is the thing in which all things - including our direct experience of living - occurs.
That 'field' in which all experience occurs. It's not consciousness. Consciousness doesn't exist.
So now, armed with this new understanding, we can see that consciousness, such as we experience it, stands outside the hemispheres. This necessitates a radical reorienting of many old assumptions, but because consciousness is not being generated by either hemisphere, another element is brought into play, which breaks the deadlock.
And because of this element, the agonised suffering of the human state, with all its needless suffering, and needless pain can be opened up in a new way.
Part 3: One Song
Consciousness, not produced by the brain. Not consciousness. Occurrence.
Awareness seems like such a large part of human experience – a uniquely human thing. Human consciousness. That's what we think the field of awareness actually is. This is the old way, the old way of understanding what it is that's happening with people.
But there's a new option. Because the old assumption is wrong. What is instead happening is that existence is occurring. And into existence the brain is projecting a very interesting, and dynamic, image.
The coherent, vivid, illusion of self. A voracious illusion that grasps at everything - even existence, which it claims to be the result of it's own effort.
Now, of course, the right hemisphere does indeed map the real, as accurately and as well as it can. All the sense data comes in, and that's what the right hemisphere does with it. It is 'concerned with reality' in a way the left is not.
Which raises an interesting possibility. When you see a tree, that image of the tree is put together by the right hemisphere, projected into “consciousness”, where the image occurs.
You could of course ask – who sees the image? But that's to miss the point. No-one sees the image. No-one is needed to see the image, for the image to occur.
Images happen. Experience happens. Life happens. It's not that images are seen by someone – they just occur, as images. Occur within awareness? No. Just occur. Occur within occurrence. Experience is not experienced by anyone, it just occurs, as experience. Life is not lived by anyone. It just occurs, as life.
Jarring, yes. New, yes. But also quite simple. There's not much to understand here, but the reason why it can seem so very strange and counter-intuitive is that the whole point of what the brain exists to do is to rationalise everything in terms of the existence of self.
And so the old way of looking at the world beckons. It has its call, has its power. Anything that threatens the idea that there is a self there, watching all this, experiencing all this, living all this – that thing is sticking its head over a very dangerous parapet. An overwhelming urge can arise - shelve this. Contain this. Hold it at arm's length. Don't put it to the test.
But for those who do want to put this to the test, who do want to see if there is something that really does have juice, that really can work, in real life - there's some very interesting things to see.
Not least of all is the fact that this new understanding of the brain, the mind, the self, reality and time, opens up an unprecedented way of understanding the power of genuine human virtue.
And with that power, we'll see what we can do.
Because we need some power now, because all of this has left us in quite a compromised position, mere fictions we.
The problem is this - How can a fictional mind, a fictional self - a fictional you, to cut to the chase - ever hope to effect real change? How can you ever hope to resolve suffering, or indeed, to have any impact on anything ever, if you yourself are fake?
The Galahad Conundrum
Sir Galahad was, according to legend, the only Arthurian Knight to succeed in the quest for the holy grail.
He succeeded for one reason, and one reason alone – he was pure of heart. None of the other knights were completely pure, but he was. None of them deserved to find the grail, and so they didn't.
The conundrum is this. How can any virtue (such as honesty, for instance, or humility) have any impact on dissolving suffering (which is holy grail enough for us, I feel) when every quality that a human can have, is fake, because the human self is fake?
Try and get a good look at this problem, because it's a serious one. How can a person be honest if they are themselves a lie? How can a person be genuinely humble if they themselves are just a fiction anyway?
And even if they can be honest, or humble which is quite an 'if', why would it possibly matter?
Moreover, any virtue (such as honesty) can of course be exaggerated into a shrill, superficial, agonised display, fuelled by rage, or sorrow, or both.
What we've seen is that the left hemisphere (the dishonest one that's setting everything in terms of division, and mind) passes certainty across the corpus callosum – the connective tissue that binds the hemispheres together. The right hemisphere receives this certainty, and does what it does – which is to say, fills it in.
So the left hemisphere gets to 'set the terms' in which the right hemisphere can operate. And the fascinating thing is this – from this process you can derive a completely new understanding of virtue, and the power of genuine morality.
It's quite simple. If the left hemisphere (the mind) has a set series of beliefs that it lays claim to, it will get the right hemisphere to fill in the whole experience of life in such a way that confirms those beliefs.
The entire perception of life, from a human's point of view, is fundamentally constrained by the assumptions they refuse to question.
This is something that is highly visible in people with very extreme beliefs. You can see how they handle challenges, information that undermines their extreme positions. And they handle it by, if possible, just ignoring it, regardless of how incredibly profound the challenge is.
Ignoring problematic things is very easily done, and bears the hallmarks of left-hemisphere thinking. The easiest way to do it is to categorise. This is like that. This fits in that box, or this box. And because I've already got my opinions about that box pre-prepared, I can just roll those out, consider the case closed, and move on to the next thing.
It's quite incredible to see the overwhelming desire in many people to have things be old. To have things be 'seen before' and not new, especially ideas. To box ideas up in this bracket or that, and then blithely move past them. It's easier to see in others, and sometimes quite crude, but sometimes it is sophisticated too.
To box off things as seen and done, no matter how new, or how obviously radical, or revolutionary. This is incredibly common, and it takes an uncommon person to step back from that lazy temptation, and genuinely consider a new idea, or ideas. But then, because it is so rare, it is also so precious too, and in this lies hope for any who are serious about what's really going on, as opposed to merely working to maintain a thin facade of rationality, over a far less exalted truth.
The curious thing though is that such a mindset, which seems so locked down and rigid, is actually very fragile, especially to what other people are thinking. And if there are enough people who are genuinely interested in the truth, and aren't prepared to just cast aside insight in the name of vanity, those people who do move to the attack.
And interestingly enough, the way in which ideas are often attacked is that the person who can't ignore it anymore adopts, as a kind of mental vengeance, even more extreme beliefs (such as conspiracy theories, demonisation or what have you) about the person who is issuing the challenge.
This is the process we have discussed at work – that human beings experience life only within the boundaries of what they will allow themselves to consider, and many work very hard to box off, close off, and even attack, any breaches in their apparent understanding, regardless of the truth of things.
This is something that effects us all. It's not something that only extremists do – it's just more visible in extremists. It is instead, the fundamental lens of human perception – that our assumptions bind our experience of life into their boundaries.
That's the bad news. Here's the good. There's quite a simple way around this. Socrates' most famous quote “I know only that I know nothing” strikes right to the bone of it.
If the left hemisphere – the mind itself, the fake mind – has, as a guiding assumption, that its knowledge is incomplete, then that opens the terms in which the right hemisphere is allowed to operate.
This is why genuine honesty - even by a fictional self - has a very real effect.
If you – as a fiction – have, as part of that fiction, a genuine interest in what is actually going on, you pass that genuine interest over the corpus callosum. The right hemisphere, quite happily and very effectively, just works within the terms set for it, and gets to work. But what terms does genuine interest in the unknown set for the right hemisphere?
It sets the terms wide open. It opens the doors of perception, if you will, opens the terms in which the world can be seen. It is a looking to see what's really going on.
It's a weird thing that a genuine interest can have this effect, because of course, the self that has this interest is fictional – but the right hemisphere doesn't know that, and doesn't care. It just fills things in with contour, and quality, with shape and definition, giving accurate contour to whatever it is directed at.
Even though the self is a fiction, within that fiction, if honesty is genuine, honesty works for real.
It's also why fake interest doesn't work. It's why you can't cheat the system. You can't fake it till you make it. It has to be genuine, it has to be real.
If you try to 'fake' honesty by adopting exaggerated, extreme postures of being really honest, or caring so, so, so much about the truth, the truth, the truth... then what is being passed across the corpus callosum?
What is being sent across to the right hemisphere to fill in?
Simply that fiction of an exaggerated, utterly interested, you. And the right hemisphere fills that in, just like it always does, and makes it just one more vivid display of a striving, noble self. And so, from this new perspective, you can now see exactly why it is that fakeness and hypocrisy are the traps they are. Whatever we are genuinely doing, gets filled in with all the detail the right hemisphere can muster.
If you're genuinely just on an ego trip, the right hemisphere fills in that ego trip, and makes it powerful, vast, and all-consuming. But if you genuinely have any interest whatsoever in what's really going on, the right hemisphere field of vision is opened right up.
An amazing new way of looking at what's really happening with human virtue, human fakeness, human honesty. We all get what we're genuinely after. And if we're genuinely just after self-aggrandisement, that's what we get, and we get it in spades, to the exclusion of joy, life, and a true experience of living.
If we're genuinely after the truth, we get the truth. And this is hardwired. To use a way of looking at this from computing, this isn't software. This is hardware. This isn't the kind of thing you can hack, or get around in some way.
But - and just like a computer - if you understand the hardware, you can do a lot with the software.
The solution to the Galahad Conundrum is exactly this. Many people, following many different wisdom traditions, see 'getting the holy grail' as a direct consequence of 'being pure of heart'. As such, the focus in almost all of them, from a practical point of view, is to become Galahad. To become totally pure, extremely virtuous, utterly moral. And then, when you hit a certain 'level' of moral, you get the prize.
The problem with this should, from this new perspective, be pretty obvious, and it's this. That trying to 'become Galahad' is a totally self-focused thing. It's all focused on you, focused on your virtue, your goodness, you being moral, you being pure.
And all this does – and all this can ever, ever do – is to pass ever more shrill and extreme postures across the corpus callosum, for the right hemisphere to dutifully colour in.
It is an agonising trap – but there is a kind of justice to it as well. Even in terms of morality (in fact, especially in terms of morality) being self-centred hurts.
So, you can't just get really extreme about virtue. Big doesn't work here. What does work here, is genuine. What works is real.
Real is not like big. This strikes to the heart of the new way of looking at human life. It is such a fundamental confusion, and so rapidly picked up and used. I have to care what the truth is? Fine – I'll care massively! I'll care so much! I'll throw hatred and scorn at every part of myself that doesn't care! That'll show 'em!
The Galahad Conundrum – trying to 'be Galahad' sets terms for the right hemisphere that the right hemisphere colours in. A vivid, tortured, striving, noble you.
However. If you have genuine honesty, no matter how small, that's something that right hemisphere will fill in as well. Curiosity about the world, about life, about what is actually happening. If that's a virtue, if that's passed across the corpus callosum, the focus of attention of the right hemisphere is now no longer totally subsumed into filling in the self.
How do you make it genuine?
Well, again, it's not that hard to understand how to do this, when you understand what the brain is fundamentally doing, which is creating a display, for the benefit of others. The desire to display virtue, to do good things publicly and be recognised for them, is very strong in humanity. This is because display is, from an evolutionary point of view, what all the noise, conflict and pain of human life is about about anyway.
But it also means that private virtue, any virtue practised in private when no-one is watching, has a very different quality to it. And because publicity is the point of exaggerated, delusional displays of virtue, the degree to which any virtue is private is the degree to which it is genuine.
And now we come to another totally new way of looking at virtue. The importance of private virtue, and the destructive nature of virtue for the sake of publicity.
What do you do when no-one else is watching? When all the arguments have died down, when everyone's gone to bed, and you're just lying there in the dark, and you look back on all the divisions of the day?
Do you, in that place, have any real interest at all in what really happened? Do you ever question your own version of events? Do you ever think “let's try and see it from their point of view...”?
I certainly hope you do sometimes, because it would be sad if you didn't. But that – that's all we're really talking about here, just that simple thing. When no-one else is around, when you're on your own, do you question? Do you question your own beliefs? Do you have any real curiosity about the truth of things? Have you ever had? Do you climb, as best you can, inside the perspectives of others? Do you ever do this?
The good thing is that most people do. Most people have something genuine about them, some things that they actually do for real.
And this leads us to a fresh and far more promising perspective on the power of human virtue. No longer must it be a millstone around the neck, extreme and huge, a great weight of responsibility to be good that we carry with us. It becomes something else, something much smaller, and yet at the same time, far more powerful.
It becomes something different. A new way of understanding goodness, and the power of goodness. You don't buckle and strain anymore under the burden of your attempts to finally, finally be good enough. Good enough is any level of goodness that is real.
And then all of a sudden, a weight falls from your shoulders. You're no longer seeking to power your life by making yourself better and better, when nothing is ever good enough. Instead, you can let it go, and just keep that part of goodness that you can't let go of anyway.
We don't need to work at having genuine curiosity about the way the world is, or life, or humanity. We all had it once - as children. And it didn't go away. It just got buried under the old ways, the ways of striving and struggling, and never being good enough.
Virtue works when it's small and real, like a seed. When it's big and fake, it consumes. And from this perspective, we can start really getting clarity on the deeps of humanity itself, and look to move beyond old baggage, old wounds, old failures, old pain.
The bar is set low. You don't need to be Galahad – and it's useless and counterproductive to try. You don't need to be extremely virtuous. Any level of virtue, be it honesty, courage, curiosity - anything - that is actually genuine will do the trick, no matter how small.
Humility is another amazingly powerful asset, if real. If fake, it is easily crafted into a great show, an extreme and exaggerated posture. "I know nothing. I will never know anything. It's a fool who tries to find anything out. Nothing is possible for me, because I don't have the talent, or I'm too messed up, or too small. I'm just happy to look at others who are so amazing, and I'm so humble that I don't feel jealous. And I'm so humble that I say this."
What's really obvious to everyone else, but not to the person saying this, is that in such cases - and because of the power of the old ways of thinking, such cases are many - humility becomes just one more form of arrogance, that stifles life. And with the new perspective that we have on the brain, we can see, for the first time, exactly why this is.
All that such a person is passing across to the right hemisphere is that image, the image of them, the utterly humble. Extremely humble, amazingly humble. And this is all passed across with the force of total certainty, because that's the only way the left hemisphere knows how to communicate.
And so it gets filled in, and expanded, and made larger and more compelling. And then, a person's entire world becomes constrained by that image - by the limits that image sets. And there's something new to be seen here as well - those limits grow and grow, making that world smaller and smaller.
As the right hemisphere fleshes out the image, the left hemisphere is able to make it even more extreme. So whereas a person might start saying "I'll never be able to juggle, because I'm not that coordinated", if that person then starts making a display of that humility, something for public consumption, that display grows. The humility is made bigger, and more fake. It swallows more things inside it, as a parasite, feeding.
And in a very real way - seen clearly for the first time - it can take over a human being. And it all comes down to fakeness. Ultimately, such a person ends up paralysed. And because they're now too humble ever to try anything new, or look at anything they don't already understand, they never develop any skill, or ability, to a level that can really make an impact on the world, or their own lives.
Fake virtue is a very potent poison. Perhaps the most potent, if it's the soul we're looking at, and not the body.
But the new power of virtue works when a virtue is genuine. So let's see what happens if humility is small and genuine. level of genuine humility, no matter how small, opens up a human's experience of reality, and breaks the constraints.
It works in a very similar way to what we've just seen – if you have no humility whatsoever, or if your humility is superficial, fake, and exists only to display to others how humble you are, this is what is being passed across the corpus callosum, and so this is what gets filled in with detail – the posture, the display.
If, however, there is any level of genuineness to your humility, any level at all, then you are passing, across the corpus callosum, the idea that you do not know everything, and might well be wrong. This opens up the ability of the right hemisphere to find new connections, and break new ground in understanding what is really going on.
To learn new things. To open up new options. To see new and incredible vistas of reality. To make sense of seeming chaos, and to live a life that is always fresh, and always new. You don't need to chase novelty, because life will always be fresh and novel. And better than this, because what is seen is not unseen, and so as life continues, it gets richer, deeper, and never loses its ability to amaze.
But there's something else to see as well. Because as well as this new way of living, there's another thing that can be done as well. A way to undercut suffering at source. You need the power of genuine virtue, but if you have any level of genuine virtue at all, you can dissolve needless suffering, forever.
The Final Flip
And now we come down to it. A new way of dealing with suffering, with pain. Something much deeper than anything seen before, that undercuts the whole thing.
We've seen how real insight gets generated. But what do you do with those insights?
Because no matter how deep, fresh or accurate any insight is, it will, over time, fade. And no matter what new ways it gives you for dealing with paid, those new ways will lose power over time. This is a common problem of the old ways of thinking about life, a common problem of the conventional ways of thinking about life.
And it leaves us chasing. Always chasing. Chasing the next insight, the big one, the big hitter, the one that won't go, the one that won't fade. The one that will stay working, that will genuinely give us the new option we need, to move beyond the old rules of humanity, into a new world, where the rules of frustration, sorrow, and emptiness simply cannot apply.
Why is it that insight fades? That you can have a very deep insight into the workings of pain and suffering - if you take a genuine interest in what's really going on, that is - and for a few days, maybe a few weeks even, you can experience things in a new way.
But that power always fades with time. Life happens, drama happens, and all of sudden, we're back to square one.
So let's look at why.
Insight is a function of the right hemisphere, and like all things the right hemisphere maps, it passes any insight over to the left.
If that insight is especially fresh, and accurate, especially if it is an insight into the nature of suffering itself, it can allow you to be free of suffering, for a while. But the left hemisphere does what the left hemisphere does, which is to take that insight, and use it in a very specific way.
It uses any insight as, for want of a better word, fodder. Fodder to fill up its creation – the mind – and create the display of self.
So even with a real insight into the power of genuine human virtue, any and all insights are doomed to get passed back, over to the left hemisphere, and reworked into the same old fiction of self. Little, blind, divided - and ultimately, no matter what colours you paint your pain in, you're just the same as everyone else.
No matter how brilliant the perspective, how deep the insight, how powerful, how simple, how new or how true, the left hemisphere will use it as fodder to stuff another scarecrow.
And when it becomes a posture, it does what postures do, it starts getting rigid. Conflicted. Exaggerated. Shrill.
As such, all insights have a half-life, and quite a short one too.
Quite a lock, I'm sure you'll agree. And don't flinch the problem - look it in the eye. It's a big problem. Because unless we find a new solution, something that changes the terms of what is happening, then all virtue is doomed to be twisted into a loud and vapid parody of itself, and there is no hope.
But like any lock, it only needs to open once, and there only needs to be one way to open it, to get it open. There can be (and are) a million ways that this doesn't work. But there only needs to be one in which it does.
So let's take a look, and see if we can find one.
When you have some deep insight into the way things work with human suffering, it seems overwhelmingly obvious that this insight should be protected. Should be held on to, and built upon, to gain a deeper understanding of the truth, which we are reliably informed, will set us free.
But because of what we fundamentally are, any act of holding on to truth engages the fakeness of our natures. Grasp, we have learned, is the core nature of left-hemisphere thought, and because of this, any grasping, holding on, triggers that fiction, and the same old ways of living the same old life.
Any level of genuine virtue, whatever it is will yield insight into the nature of human suffering. But that insight will, over time, corrode, and end up as just more fodder for the old, conflicted self.
But if, instead of fighting this process, instead of trying to find a way to disrupt it, we use this process - and expand this process.
A new way of dealing with truth. Where you don't grasp it. You instead, let it go.
You can't hoard the insights anyway, no matter what you do. They will go. They will slide away over time. It doesn't matter how strong they are, how true, how potent – they will go. And probably quite soon.
And so instead of looking for the final insight, the final truth that ends all questions, we instead do something else. A final flip.
What do you do with the truth? Do you grasp it, hold it, keep it close to you, grip it tightly, so you won't lose it? Because if you do that, you're doing what everyone else is doing, and because everyone is doing it, everyone is trapped.
That grasping, that holds on to truth, is not inert. It is the core mechanism that engages the whole architecture of human delusion.
And remember - no matter how tightly you cling, you cannot hold on to any insight, it will fade over time, it will become corrupted and lost. So instead of holding on to what cannot be grasped anyway, you do something else.
You let it go.
Now remember for a second, just how amazing it can feel to see things from a new direction, a new perspective that makes sense of everything. In that moment, it seems ridiculous to do exactly that, to let it go, let it slide away, and be forgotten.
But it will go anyway, it will slide away, it will be forgotten, no matter what you do.
But it still feels like such a strange thing to do. To willingly forget, to willingly let go of something that is deep and real. If we do that, then surely we are lost? Lost because truth is such a rare and precious thing, and to let go of it such a foolish thing. If we let go of a really deep, really relevant truth, if we forget it, then what will become of us?
Will we be lost forever? Will we never fulfill the promise of that new way of looking at things?
Yes, we will be lost forever, and we will never fulfill the promise of new insight... unless.
Unless it actually is true. Things that are true have a quality about them that is unique, and it is this. Things that are true do not need to be held on to for them to stay true.
Things that are true do not need to be remembered, for them to keep being true. The real does not need our help to remain real.
Because although your idea about the truth will fade over time (and it will, whatever you do, nothing can stop that), reality isn't going anywhere. If it's real, if it's really real, it isn't changing any time soon. Let it go.
And here we see the final flip that allows a new way of living to arise. Something severed from the old, from the baggage of the past and the fear of the future.
Believing a thing in a loud and extreme way is like a clenched fist, holding tight to a core belief, and never relaxing that grip, even for a second.
Believing a thing in a small, but real way, means that you don't need to grip it, because you know that if you let it go, and it actually is true, the truth of it will not change or move.
And if you let it go, you can come back to that truth from a different angle, and see it in a whole new light. And just because you've let go of your original belief, or insight, doesn't mean that it gets erased. What is seen cannot be unseen.
And so by this process, finding, and then letting go of real and deep truth means that every time you let go, and you come back again, you come back richer, because your new understanding will include the richness of the last.
And let go of that, of even that richness, and when you come back to the truth, it will be richer still. And so on, and so on.
Not extreme and large belief, but genuine and small belief. Faith is not what you call believing in something that you hold onto through thick and thin. Faith is when you believe something is real, and because of that, are happy to let go of any belief, and have faith that reality isn't going anywhere.
So how does this work, this new way of handling truth, and how does it relate to the end of suffering?
You take an interest in what's really going on - not a massive, noisy, exaggerated interest, but a quiet and small one. Just any level of interest that is actually real into the dynamics of suffering. This opens up your ability to see what's really going on.
You humble yourself, but not in a massive, noisy, exaggerated way, but in a quiet and small way. Just any level of humility about what you already understand about humanity. This opens up your ability to reassess the beliefs you already have.
Don't just play at it. Don't fake it, or try to cheat. Don't sit there, staring into space, hoping lightning will strike. Instead, get simple, try to make some sense of what's really going on.
What you want to do is try to get a new perspective on things, see things you haven't seen before about what's really going on with you, with yourself, with your suffering. If any of the perspectives you've seen for the first time in this piece have hit you hard, you can use that, and look afresh at what's really going on with suffering, with the mind, with thought, with the self.
Take a genuine interest, have a genuine look. It's very powerful if you really do it.
And then, when you see (maybe you are already) a whole new angle on life, something that cuts right through it... look at it. See how deep it is, how real. See how much sense it makes of things. See all of this.
Then let it fade, and watch it fade. And have faith enough that if it's real, you don't need to hold on to it.
That's the process, and I don't think it's wise to reduce it further than that.
And then, all of a sudden, you've done something very strange.
You've let go of something that is actually true. This is a very interesting thing, because most people would never do this. They would let go of falsehood (of course), but letting go of truth?
But then, let's just come back to the brain, for a second. The left hemisphere has no interest in true or false. It just doesn't care. But what it does care about is grasp. Holding on, grasping, grasping tighter to this idea or that, this person or that, this future or that, this life or that.
And how does this all relate to suffering? Does this allow you to let go of suffering as well?
Well, it's actually even simpler than that. Suffering is grasp. Releasing your grasp on truth undercuts suffering at the absolute core of what it fundamentally is. What is has evolved as, what it is in its nature.
This is the angle. A new way of handling truth, of reacting to it. Instead of (in the conventional, old way) grasping an idea tighter and tighter, the truer it seems, we're doing something totally different. Letting it go, the truer it seems.
And then all of a sudden, the puppet's string is cut. In letting go of real truth, because it is real, and needs no holding on to because of that fact, the right hemisphere cannot be held hostage by the left hemisphere. Cannot be hooked. Cannot be controlled, or contained, or ever again, held in thrall.
The letting go of truth, not because you've convinced yourself it isn't true, but because if it is true, you don't need to grip it for it to stay true.
Suffering, just like all things that the mind creates, has a half life, and quite a short one too. If you can let go of real truth, pain subsides. And there's no need to fight it, or beat it down, or find some clever way to get around it.
Pain is dying anyway. It's always dying. Just like insight, just like all things that are born, from the moment of their birth. The only thing that keeps it alive is the constant grasping. Release that, and you release pain.
Suffering evolved as the 'go-to' feeling for the display of self, because it lights up that display like a Christmas tree. But it is a slave to its nature, and the nature of that display is grasping. Grasp is the structure of it, the bones of the thing. Without that structure, it cannot exist.
Get real truth, then let go of real truth, and you can let go of anything. That small, simple flip of reversing your normal, old reaction to what is true opens up a whole new way of living. You don't have to suffer anymore. Nobody does.
It's not enough to simply say "let go of suffering." We all want to let go of suffering. But you can't relax your grasp on grasp itself. This is the core mechanism that makes suffering so persistent.
Instead, relax your grip on truth - on real truth - and you can live free of the vast and terrible architecture of pain and lies, and all the misery they cause.
There Is No Lock On Heaven's Door
This is more than just a general thing to do with ideas. The deeper, more compelling and more accurate the idea you let go of, the more intense the effect.
And if you can get really deep, and let go of that, you can permanently undercut, in one moment, the fundamental structure of pain itself.
The effect of this is very striking. You can't do it, and not notice that something has happened. What letting go of real truth does, from the perspective of someone who does it, is to add a quality to all thought, and all feeling. That quality is simple, and can be summed up in a single word. Impermanence.
It's not something you need to remember to do, every time pain occurs. It's different to that. From the inside, what happens is far simpler, far smaller, and far more powerful.
It's just that the quality of impermanence becomes far more strikingly apparent in all pain - and all insight. You don't need to train yourself to think in terms of impermanence, because the impermanence is always there, right there, right up front, in everything the mind is generating, and indeed, the mind itself.
What happens then? Well, as we have seen, there is something else out there (or 'in there', if you want) that is not generated by the mind, and is not the mind itself.
When grasp fades, and pain fades, what is left? Well, you could call it consciousness, or awareness, or observation - but as we've seen, that's the old way of looking at it, and from the new depth we've struck, we can see that it's not really accurate to call it any of those things.
The experience of life, of existence as such, the experience of the present moment, the aliveness of it, the endless possibilities of it, the smoothness of it, the exuberant generosity of it, flowing out, an endless fountainhead of newness, freshness, and life.
The fundamental infinity of being that we experience as the deepest love and intelligence of reality as such.
Love is how the right hemisphere (which, as we've seen, maps things in terms of quality) describes the quality of reality itself. The oneness of it, the oneness that underlies all experience. The generosity of being, of all people and things. The brotherhood and companionship of that which has no division, and can never have. That which is always pure, and always new, and always simple, and always clean.
You don't become devoid of emotion. Your life doesn't get less meaningful in the absence of needless pain, because in the absence of needless pain, something else arises, from which all meaning comes, anyway.
And yes, pain will still happen - but it won't stick, and as you cultivate this new way of handling knowledge, it will come back less and less, and be weaker and weaker when it does. Anger will also still happen, but it will pass, and no longer consume. The base level fluctuations of the display will still remain, and will remain as long as blood is being pumped into the brain. That's what it's there for. That's what it does.
But with anger, it's the difference between a torchlight and a firestorm, and with fear it's the difference between a tang of sharpness to add taste to a dish, and bathing in a bath of sulphuric acid.
With sadness, it's the difference between a song that moves you, and a heartbreak that destroys you forever.
This lets you feel deeply, and live fully, without fear of being consumed. You never have to live in a constant or extreme state of fear, sorrow, rage, despair or pain, ever again.
This is the new understanding, and the power of deep insight. How to generate it, how to handle it, and how to use all of this to live a life free of pain, frustration, sadness and fear. The deep, hidden core of the human condition, opened up, and with it, a new option, that you are, of course, free to ignore, or hold at arm's length and analyse, or shelve away.
I hope that you don't though, because you really should see what happens when the pain falls away.
The one song that is the cry of every human heart. Just to love, and be. Not shrill, or cheap, or frantic. Not forced, and not blind to the troubles of a deeply troubled world. Alive, real, and always there, waiting for you, waiting for you to stop making noise, and make the revolutionary decision to let go of what you want to believe in, and find out what's really there, all the time.
This is the one song that every wisdom tradition that has survived from antiquity has sung.
And underneath all the noise and drama, dogmas and doctrines, postures, ceremonies, rituals and roles, there is something real. Something that we have lost in our grasping, and something which, if we release our grip, can come again.
If you have found this work useful, I hope you make the decision to share it. It won't spread unless people like you decide it's important enough to spread.
And I hope you do.
Thank you for reading.
PS. I wrote you a poem.
There is no lock on Heaven's door
No stern and counting angels stand
To block the path and bar the way
With shining sword and burning hand.
Both bright and wide the lintel sits
And well-oiled hinges sweetly glide
So all you need's a tiny push
To open it, and step inside
But even so it's hard to pass
And even so few enter in
For truth itself stands nose to nose
With all your pride and all your sin.
We cannot pass the things we grasp
And selfish hearts will seek to own
For selfish hearts are what we have
And all we have, and all we've known.
Our hungry fingers lock that gate
We try to grip it, rip it free
And take it with us, back to Hell
To hate it for eternity.
There is no need for guards or locks
No need for judges in the sky
To ponder scowl and name the price
Of every little crime and lie
There is a justice, deep and real
In ruthless being it will stare
And all your sorrow, rage and tears
And will not flinch, and will not care.
So mock, or shout, or cry, or beg,
Or fake shrill love with lying heart -
You might as well pick up an axe
And try to cut the sea apart.
Reality will not be swayed.
It does not hear your weeping call.
It does not suffer when you scream.
It will not catch you when you fall.
But even though these things are true
And though the truth can never budge,
It has no cruelty, has no hate
And never, never, bears a grudge.
So stow your greed as best you can
And throw your pride upon the floor,
For whether woman, child or man,
There is no lock on Heaven's door.