Don’t believe a word

Posted by on Jun 18, 2008 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

For some time now, I've been arguing that it's not possible for any individual to be a reliable witness to their own lives, to explain how and why they do what they do. However plausible the evidence and however sensitive the analysis.

Here's a nice description from an old debate in the letters pages of NS about Free Will that explains why:

'…If "I" equals my conscious self – let's call her the "brat" – my free will must be limited, because most of what goes on in my brain isn't directly available to the brat. The brat is full of herself, likes to think she's the whole story. From the point of view of the rest of the brain, the brat may be a party trick that got out of hand.

The brat disrespects the rest of my brain. It's where the grunge comes from. If it makes a good call, it's "just instinct". (The brat is selective in claiming responsibility, and frequently confuses labels with explanations.)

If "I" am my total self – body, brain and yes, brat – I probably do have some measure of free will. If the brat would calm down and try listening, perhaps she could get a better idea of how decisions are really made round here' (Marianne Vespry)

And of course the brat don't know – is in denial, maybe? – about the influence of others, so asking an individual about that is not going to be as much help as it seems either. 


  1. Alan
    June 18, 2008

    In only considering the “conscious self” and the “total self”, Marianne Vespry overlooks the real “Self” that sages and spiritual teachers have, throughout millennia, implored us to awaken. And far from saying: “it’s not possible for any individual to be a reliable witness to their own lives”, these widely admired and respected teachers have said it is indeed possible and have taught exactly how to reliably witness one’s own life. And to prove it to yourself, you can activate the “witness” right now…
    Simply pay attention to the shapes and colours in your peripheral vision.
    …The only Free Will you have is to make the choice to do this — everything else is conditioned behavior. But the choice to witness your field of vision — to be aware of yourself looking — is an unconditioned and Willful choice. (You’ll notice how much Will you need to practice it when you begin!)
    But will “the brat” allow the practice to even begin? …”the brat don’t know – is in denial, maybe?” But if you go beyond “the brat” and be curious and sincere about the practice, you’ll soon discover something quite extraordinary within yourself.
    This perennial teaching and practice comes to us via various traditions and translations, e.g. Gurdjieff’s “Self remember”, the Buddha’s “Be mindful”, the Bible’s “Watch”, F.M.Alexander’s “Stop and observe”, E.Tolle’s “Be Self-aware”, and the anonymous “Know thyself”, etc.
    And artists have portrayed the practice of this “inward looking” (from which “insight” comes) as shown in these examples:

  2. Alan
    June 19, 2008

    Following on from my comment above, here’s a powerful video indictment by photographer Chris Jordan on the negative consequences of Herd behavior — the behaviors we all engage in unconsciously on a collective level:
    And in support of my first comment above, at Chris’ website he writes: “I do know that when we reflect on a difficult question in the absence of an answer, our attention can turn inward, and in that space may exist the possibility of some evolution of thought or action. (…) I have heard it said that in risking self-awareness, at least we know that we are awake.”
    …As I’ve noted before, a simple way to “turn inward” is to practice paying attention to one’s peripheral vision. And only from taking that “risk” of self-awareness will come the real evolution — from sleepy Herd Man (polluting his environment with consumerism) to Awakened Man.