In my last post, entitled “Here’s the Thing,” I proposed that we think of the Ego in global terms.
Normally, we think of “my ego,” or “your ego.” In that personal context, the ego is usually thought of as a character defect, which we somehow have to make up for with apologies and/or resolutions to put the ego aside and thus be more present, truthful, or authentic. However, we could also consider the Ego a global phenomenon, the water we swim in, that colors or distorts everything we look at. In that case, we don’t feel the need to apologize or make up for following the ego’s dictates because we’re all in it together.
The other day I attended a meeting at which some of these ideas were discussed. My friend Brad questioned how we could consider the Ego as a common, usually unnoticed “sea” in which we’re all embedded, when human cultures are so varied. I answered him as follows.
I got excited about physics in high school, and by the time I went off to college I was what I’d call a determinist. In other words, at the time I believed that however the universe got started, it continues to evolve according to fixed laws that are always followed. Even the notion of free will comes into question when you acknowledge that our brains are made of the same stuff that obeys all those laws of physics.
However, about ten years later, I had a personal experience which threw all that into question.
I’ve told that story in a previous post, and you can listen to me talk about it here. In the span of one morning, my belief in determinism got blown out of the water and I became convinced that there are “forces” at work in our lives that we can’t see or even detect with our instruments. I’ve spent the last 40+ years trying to get as full an idea of those forces as I can.
Along the way, I studied quantum physics, and in one of those wonderful “aha!” moments I realized that what I think of as the world isn’t what it seems to be, a fixed external reality about which I really have nothing to say. As they tell students these days in freshman college physics, “…quantum theory denies the existence of a physically real world independent of its observation.” That understanding, which has continued to deepen throughout these decades of inquiry, leads me to speculate that the idea that the world doesn’t care about our beliefs and expectations, that it simply is what it is, is one of those global beliefs that all humans share, no matter what culture we are raised in.
From my perspective, then, the idea that the world is senior to us, that it remains while we come and go, provides foundation for that global “Thing.” And because the world is believed to be finite and thus limited, everybody “knows” that life must be played as a zero-sum game. In a zero-sum game, the more I get, the less you get, thus requiring competition, some (hopefully socially-acceptable) forms of aggression, and so on. Again, I think these beliefs are common to all cultures, and thus act as foundation for this “Thing” that all us humans are embedded in.
The problem for humanity is that when you have virtually the entire population of the planet looking at life through the “Thing,” we’re essentially doing its bidding. It tells us how to think about our problems, and it suggests the actions we might take in attempting to solve them. That, I think, provides the ultimate example of what Albert Einstein was referring to when he suggested that you can’t solve problems with the same type of thinking that created them in the first place.
The “Thing” will never suggest that you think outside the box that consists of what it suggests that you think about! So in order to “think outside the box,” we have to first understand that everything we think is true is whispered into our ears by the “Thing.” As I said last time,
The task is not easy, but it is simple.
You can come to know the “Thing,” to understand its behavior, and gradually even to free yourself from its hold on you. And there’s no time like right now to get started. In fact, I could say that there is no time other than right now.