Human thought and religion is confounded by our susceptibility to cognitive thinking errors, and traditional world religions have employed every method possible to suppress free thought. It has always been the figure of Satan that has stood up and questioned god, revealed truth, and challenged religious dogma and Human wishful thinking. Satan represents doubt, the questioning of all things.
I know that things exist that I haven't experienced, and I know that some things I've experienced are not actually true. Sometimes our senses can delude us, or our minds, so that we experience things that are not real, and sometimes I know we overlook experiences that we have had. I can't trust my own memory. Only logic reigns supreme. Logic overrides experience. If I can recall clearly setting my alarm clock, but in the morning I have found it is not set, it is logic that dictates that my memory is delusional. And this, I accept.
“We all suffer from systematic cognitive dysfunctions; they infuse the very way we notice and analyse data, and distort our forming of conclusions. Emotional and societal factors influence our thinking much more than we like to admit. Our expectations and recent experiences change the way we recall memories. Even our very perceptions are effected by pre-conscious cognitive factors; what we see, feel, taste and hear are all subject to interpretation before we are even aware of them. Our brains were never meant to be the cool, rational, mathematical-logical computers that we like to sometimes pretend them to be.
- People easily misperceive random events as evidence that backs up their beliefs.
- We attribute causes to events based on our beliefs even when we don't know we're doing it.
- Physiological causes can lay behind even profound supernatural experiences.
- Our perception of reality is distorted by our expectations and beliefs.
- Our experiences are not objective, but are informed by our mindset and culture.
We can take preventative steps. Learning to think skeptically and carefully and to recognize that our very experiences and perceptions can be coloured by societal and subconscious factors should help us to maintain our cool. Beliefs should not be taken lightly, and evidence should be cross-checked. This especially applies to "common-sense" facts that we learn from others by word of mouth and traditional knowledge. Above all, however, our most important tool is knowing what types of cognitive errors we, as a species, are prone to making.”
We see things through self referential spectacles, we see only what we expect to see. We experience things according to our own wishes, this clouding of our vision by ourselves is problematic when it comes to the search for truth. We feel that without our glasses, our assumptions that make the world easy to understand, we will be blind but in reality we will see more clearly without them! We just need to train ourselves to doubt established truth, to see without our glasses, to see clearly even when in the dark.
I don't always try to understand my own motives, I'm one to wonder around the streets of London not knowing where I'm going, for the sake of watching and looking. I find a romantic interest even in the most boring aspects of life sometimes. I dance for many hours to repetitive music for the same reason, I enjoy simple things! And I like "mindless searching". Looking deeply all around me. Sometimes not really going anywhere but simply being there, looking deeply and slowly around..
There is a Buddhist story about four monks1, three of whom spend all their time in intellectual pursuits, debating and talking about enlightenment and trying to attain it... and the fourth is a simpleton who is content to sweep the floors of the temple. When the inevitable happens the intellectual monks ask their mentor how come the simpleton found enlightenment first. He responds, "When he was sweeping the temple floor, he was also sweeping the corners of his mind". When I dance and when I wonder mindlessly, I am training my mind to be open to anything it might find.
There is another Buddhist story... this one isn't so famous, but I have a photo to accompany it. We were wondering around the British Museum. We knew that there was a huge Thai Amida Buddha (Amitthaba Buddha) and wanted to see it. We couldn't find it though! We checked all three floors in the correct section. Finally we gave up! The Buddhist scholar and I rested on the stair well and as we talked, I went silent because I had realized something. As she leant on the banister, in front of me, I saw that behind her was a massive statue in the middle of the stairwell, three stories high, of this Buddha... I laughed! We had walked up and down that stairwell for an hour. I have a photo of one third of that statue with my amused sweetheart in front of it. The search for truth is like a search for a pair of glasses... it's very hard to find, but always in the most obvious place! But until you have calmed yourself, your frantic searching is blurry minded. The more emotional we are about the truth, the more our cognitive dysfunctions come to the fore.
When you KNOW what you are looking for, when you are SURE, then that knowledge actually gets in the way of your finding truth, but when you are simply wondering around, you can find anything... if you have your mind set on something in particular, you are limited in your search. The romantic, wondering searcher with an open mind: that is the mystic, the simpleton, the minimalist. Then there is the knowledge-gatherer, the debater, the intellectual who is the fundamentalist, the legalist, the person who is choking in their own knowledge and least likely to find release.
Unfortunately, frequently as a scientifically and logically minded person all too often I fall into the latter category: One who compiles "truth", rather than one who opens his mind to it. But I like to think that through art, human exploring and experience I make up by embracing simpleness, emptiness and seeking out random events, random people, and solitude.
Nietzsche writes of the latter type of person, the hunter of knowledge, who is ugly because he cannot humour his own knowledge and has no romance or beauty: For him all is a serious hunt for knowledge, like those who search for their glasses in all the normal places and fail to find the clarity they seek:
Not yet had he learned laughter and beauty. Frowning this hunter returned from the forests of knowledge.
From strife with wild beats came he home; but a wild beast looketh yet out of his seriousness - a beast that he hath not overcome!
He standeth there like a tiger, about to spring; but I love not these tense souls; these reserved ones are not to my taste. [...]
And not until he turneth from himself will he leap over his own shadow - lo! straight into his own sunshine!
Too long hath he sat in the shadow; the cheeks of the intellectual penitent have grown pale; almost he starved to death in the midst of his expectations.”
Satan represents Doubt. God did not want Adam and Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Allah did not want his creation to doubt his word. In both theologies, it was Satan, the most intelligent created being, who stood up against this enforced ignorance. Satan tells mankind: Search for knowledge, even in taboo places. Shaitan told the Djinn: Let us test God's word, let us not mindlessly believe all that God says. Although these myths are irrelevant to the modern world, the role of Satan is very much relevant to our lives and our search for knowledge. Enlightenment is the ability to look past stated truth and dogma, and Lucifer is the Crown Prince of Satan that represents our search for enlightenment.
Of those that are sure they are right, the scientists and the religionists, the scientists at least, as part of their rules of behavior, continuously test and refine their knowledge: Nothing is assumed to be true. Everything is tested, old theories are constantly re-tested whenever new knowledge comes to light. But religious fundamentalists and those who simply accept what is told to them, by a preacher or a book, these are unable to find truth or enlightenment. All they find is what they wanted: To feel sure that they're right, after all. To be safe in their knowledge. To be blissfully ignorant of doubt is an easy way out, a self-failure. Satan and the curiosity and doubt he instills upon us is certainly the enemy of fundamentalism.
“Without the wonderful element of doubt, the doorway through which truth passes would be tightly shut. [... ] For those who doubt supposed truths, this book is revelation. Then Lucifer will have risen. Now is the time for doubt! The bubble of falsehood is bursting and its sound is the roar of the world!”
This doubt is the opposite to fundamentalism and by-the-book religion. The more mystical, decentralized, liberal religions are much closer to having a functional approach to truthseeking.
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
Attributed to Jesus Christ
Gnostic Gospel of Thomas
Excluded from the Bible in 325CE
If doubt leads to the failure of standard lies, and those lies have led to stability in society, who are we to remove that stability? Without wishful thinking and fluffy religion, what happens to the untermensch? If ignorance is bliss, who are we to condemn the ignorant to a life of unhappy enlightenment? How is this dangerous truth tamed?
“When the truth is dangerous, is it more worthwhile to hide the truth? If ignorance is bliss, and those of Orwell's 1984 are truly happy, how is it that we think truth should be revealed even when they make people unhappy? Truth isn't inherent in happiness and vica versa: Who is better, they who promote truth over happiness, or happiness over truth? [...] The adoption of doubt as a central tenet causes the above questions to become mute.
Widespread acceptance of doubt makes truth not dangerous. Orwell's dystopia cannot occur if the populace continually doubt what they are told, and people cannot be happy if they know that what they believe appears to be dubious: ignorance cannot lead to bliss if doubt reigns. Neither is truth dangerous if >previous truths are continually questioned, such as in science. So who is better, they who promote truth, or happiness? Well those who promote doubt enlighten the path for both... so those who promote a particular truth, unless they also promote doubt, they are not doing good, because future truth then causes instability. Those who promote happiness, if they accidentally promote ignorance... they are also not doing good because truth then causes unhappiness. Only with an underlying theme of doubt can stable happiness be found.”
When I talk of the necessity of doubt, I mean intellectual doubt, epistemological doubt. I don't mean emotional or physical doubt. I do not mean to say that people, when they are committed to a task, should pause or slow themselves due to endless nagging doubt. When a job needs to be done or a physical task is required you need to steadfast your body against doubt. I prefer to use the word insecure for the physical doubt that causes a person to underperform or limit themselves.
If you doubt yourself too much, emotionally, you will become a wreck, a captain blinded by doubt and who has the truth obscured by doubt, not facilitated by it. Intellectual doubt and emotional steadfastness can go hand in hand: it is how I live my life. My deeper thoughts are steeped in doubts but as I am acting on what I see to be the best course of action then I purge doubt from my actions. There are times for skepticism, and times for action. When theorizing and weighing evidence, employ doubt and skepticism. And then when you act, know that you are steering a ship built on powerful foundation, and don't keep changing course. Satan represents doubt and skepticism in theory, and suredness and decisiveness in action.
"Satanism and Happiness" (2002). Accessed 2013 Jan 17.
"Errors in Thinking: Cognitive Errors, Wishful Thinking and Sacred Truths" (2008). Accessed 2013 Jan 17.
Buddhism (1995). Published as part of the TeachYourself Books series.
The Decisive Moment: How the Brain Makes Up Its Mind (2009). Hardback. Published by Canongate Books, Edinburgh.