Let’s consider two hypotheses—both of which pertain to the relationship between (1) the subtle, internal and generally private realm of thoughts/feelings, and (2) perceptions of a presumably shared “external world.”
Taken individually, each of these hypotheses makes sense to me: my inclination is to agree with them both. Yet when they’re placed side by side, they seem to contradict one another: my sense is that they can’t both be true. So I’m inspired to explore a bit more deeply, to see if I can resolve this apparent paradox …
Here are the two hypotheses:
Hypothesis #1—How the world appears is (at least to some degree) a reflection of my beliefs and assumptions about it, i.e. how I think and feel about it.
For instance: If I believe (think and feel) the world to be unfriendly, then that’s the face the world shows me, e.g. struggle, strife, scarcity. While if I believe the world to be friendly, then that’ s the face the world shows me, e.g. comfort, ease, abundance.
Hypothesis #2—Desires/intentions rooted in wisdom tend to manifest; while desires/intentions based in ignorance tend not to manifest.
For instance: If I’m standing on a footstool and intend to step off of the footstool onto the floor—this intention (in alignment with the laws of physics) is likely to manifest. But if I’m standing on a footstool and intend to step off of the footstool and fly around the room—this intention (at odds with the laws of physics) is not likely to manifest.
What’s at stake here, primarily, is the causal potency of wisdom vs. ignorance. Are ignorant thoughts/feelings just as powerful as wise thoughts/feelings, in determining the quality of our experience?
And is our answer to this question the same when considering physical laws/truths as it is when considering metaphysical/spiritual laws/truths?
Let’s now take a closer look at each of these hypotheses, in turn.
The Neutral Potency Of Thoughts
Hypothesis #1—How the world appears is (at least to some degree) a reflection of my beliefs and assumptions about it.
As mentioned above, the most general example of such a hypothesis is: If we believe the world to be basically unfriendly, then that’s how the world manifests in our experience, e.g. as being filled with struggle, strife, scarcity. While if we believe the world to be a basically friendly place, then that’ s how the world manifests, e.g. characterized by comfort, ease, abundance.
We could consider this a near cousin to The Golden Rule of what goes around, comes around. But instead of it relating solely to actions—viz. how what we do to our neighbor affects how our neighbor behaves toward us—it’s more about the relationship between thoughts/beliefs and events in the so-called external world. So, in terms of our same example: what we believe about our neighbor affects how we perceive or interpret our neighbor’s behavior toward us.
This hypothesis also aligns with the insight of nondual spiritual traditions regarding the cause of suffering: namely that ignorant view is the root cause of suffering. A mistaken belief/assumption (in a separate self) is what causes psychological suffering.
It also bears similarity to “law of attraction” teachings which maintain that skillfully generated thoughts and/or emotions are what allow us to “create our own reality.” Now whether this “new reality” is primarily psychological, or includes tangible transformations of our material circumstances, determines the degree of similarity.
It’s also worth mentioning that a correlation between thought-patterns and perceptions of the external world can also be explained scientifically in terms of how perception works: For instance, how perceptual material is selectively filtered in accordance with our beliefs and expectations. Or how specific emotions alter the body’s biochemistry, e.g. with the creation of “feel-good” endorphins.
In other words, there’s scientific backing to the anecdotal accounts of, say, how new lovers tend to “see the world through rose-colored glasses”—while someone who has a scrooge mentality tends to notice only what’s wrong.
And this is a core assumption of this first hypothesis: That there’s a causal link or at least a strong correlation between the subtle or “internal” phenomena of thoughts and feelings, and the external world or our perception of it.
Furthermore, these causal mechanisms are assumed to be neutral, in the sense that they don’t favor true or false beliefs; or negative or positive emotions. In other words, the universe doesn’t necessarily reward wisdom over ignorance—it simply appears in accordance with how we’re thinking/feeling about it.
There is no single “objective world” that appears equally to all sentient beings (or even all human beings)—and hence no “one truth” with which our beliefs align or do not align with. How the world appears depends upon one’s orientation to it—our mental-emotional frame of reference, one could say.
If certain physical laws—e.g. gravity—remain impervious to our beliefs, assumptions or feelings about them—in countless other ways our sensory perception is shaped, influenced or determined by thought and feeling, by beliefs and assumptions.
The Weighted Potency Of Wisdom
Hypothesis #2—Desires/intentions rooted in wisdom do tend to manifest; while desires/intentions based in ignorance tend not to manifest.
This hypothesis pertains largely to thoughts and feelings of a certain kind, namely desires/intentions, i.e. impulse toward action/creation.
And here the assumption is that when our thoughts/beliefs are in alignment with truth—with how things actually are—then our desires/intentions have causal potency. On the other hand, when our thoughts/beliefs are rooted in ignorance—i.e. not in alignment with how things actually are—then our desires/intentions for the most part lack causal potency.
According to this hypothesis, then, the universe does reward wisdom over ignorance: If an intention is rooted in wisdom, it’s more likely to manifest—i.e. to transform the contours of our experience—than if it is rooted in ignorance.
If our intention is to increase the amount of light in a room, and we go about this by plugging a new floor lamp into a well-working outlet, the unimpeded electrical current will produce the desired light. This is an example of an intention rooted in (scientific) wisdom that ends up bearing fruit.
If our intention is to increase the amount of light in a room, and we go about this by turning a floor lamp on without first plugging it in; or plugging in a lamp that has faulty wiring; or plugging a lamp into a damaged outlet—then the desired light will not be produced, or will be produced at a much lower level than what we had hoped. This is an example of an intention rooted in ignorance, which fails to bear fruit.
Though electricity is equally available in both cases, an electric socket operating at full voltage vs. at low voltage; and a lamp with new wiring vs. with corroded constricted wiring—determines how much power is able to be transmitted. While ultimately drawing on the same source, distortion/constriction can limit the electricity that actually becomes light.
Or, returning to our example from above: If we intend to step down from our footstool onto the floor, this intention is in alignment with the physical law of gravity—and hence is likely to manifest. If however we intend to step off of our footstool and fly around the room for a while, this intention is not in alignment with the physical law of gravity—and hence is unlikely to manifest.
Both of these examples pertain to physical laws, acting upon everyday objects: How electricity flows (or does not flow) through a lamp to produce light; And how a human body is drawn downward toward the earth, rather than floating above it.
And if our thinking aligns with these laws, then our intentions and actions will tend to exhibit causal potency: the lamp will illuminate the room, and our feet will land (as intended) firmly on the ground.
But what about the more subtle thinking process itself, say as it is reflected in sub-atomic synaptic activity within the brain? We can all agree that thoughts, per se, are not physical objects: they don’t have (Newtonian) mass and can’t be assigned a space-time location. So are thoughts themselves subject to physical laws?
Some interesting food for thought via Ron Kreitler’s Quantum Foundations of Consciousness:
[British mathematician/physicist Roger] Penrose pointed out that since quantum collapse takes place only when an object’s mass exceeds the Plank constant (10 in the power of -5 grams), the activities of synapses and nerve cells will always be carried out in the world of potentiality. In other words, mental processes are conducted in a gravity-free realm [emphasis added].
Regardless of the credibility we may or may not assign to quantum mechanisms within the human brain; and regardless of how we parse the relationship between the subjective experience of thinking, and correlated neural activity—the possibility of thoughts not being subject to physical laws, yet somehow able to influence our experience of the world (that is presumably governed by such laws), is pretty fascinating.
In any case, this second hypothesis assumes that causal mechanisms are not entirely neutral, in relation to their potency. Rather they operate in accord with objective truth/reality that sentient beings are either knowingly aligning with, or operating in ignorance of. When we’re aligned with truth, our actions are powerful. When we’re out of alignment with truth (i.e. in ignorance of them), our actions lack causal potency.
And yet: according to nondual spiritual traditions, ignorant view is the root cause of suffering—so there must be causal potency to this extent, at least. If ignorance had no actual effects—i.e. if it had no negative impact upon our experience—there would be no motivation to overcome, dissolve, or see through it.
So, coming back to the original question: What’s the relationship between these two hypothesis? Are they mutually exclusive?
Or can we say that they’re both valid—they just apply to slightly different circumstances?
To be continued ….