Rebirth of Reason

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Saturday, July 15, 2006 - 11:14amSanction this postReply

Others might want to gather more information on Tolle and The Power of Now on Joshua Zader's forum:


Joshua is well known in Objectivist circles and has founded The Atlasphere.



Post 1

Saturday, July 15, 2006 - 4:09pmSanction this postReply
Luke writes: "[Eckhart Tolle's] thesis that 'mind identification' serves as the source for all strife in the world stands squarely at odds with reason as man's only means of knowing and his method of survival."

Actually, this is not true. To explain why, we have to look at what mind identification consists of, and what the alternatives would be in everyday life.

First, here's a working definition: 'Mind identification' is an unconscious process by which you imbue some transitory aspect of your experience -- a thought, sensation, emotion, etc. -- with your sense of self.

To identify means to 'make same' -- and when you are in a mind-identified state of consciousness, you unconsciously treat many aspects of your experience as though they constitute your self (i.e., you make them the same as your self).

When I say it is an 'unconscious' process, I mean something that you do automatically, perhaps out of habit, perhaps because you've done it enough times that your body and mind now do it for you without requiring you to actually think about what you are doing.

Here are some examples:

1. You meet someone for the first time, and the thought flashes through your mind "He doesn't like me" -- and, before looking at the thought as just a thought, you begin acting as though it were an unquestionable truth.

2. You're supposed to work on your master's thesis today, but you wake up yet again with a vague feeling like "I just don't feel like working on it today" -- and, before looking at the feeling as just a feeling, you proceed to act as though it's just who you are, and, sure enough, you find that you just don't have the motivation to work today.

3. You feel a headache come on. It's been happening a lot lately. Automatically, before looking at the sensation as just a sensation, you begin to tense up against the sensation. This extra tension actually makes the pain worse, which causes you to tense up more, which ultimately results in a terrible headache.

In the first example, you identify with the thought (unconsciously associate your self with it), and proceed to act as though it were true. In the second example, you identify with the emotion (unconsciously associate your self with it), and proceed to experience yourself through the filter of that emotion. In the third example, you identify with the sensation (unconsciously associate your self with it), and your body takes over, causing you to tense up, seemingly without conscious control.

In general terms, this process is similar to the ways in which we project our sense of self onto a movie. When the characters in the movie have a scary encounter, we feel scared. When they achieve an important goal, we feel exalted.

In a movie theater, of course, you can look around you, see the seats, remember that it's a theater, and shake off the emotion. You can dis-identify from the movie.

In the same way, it is possible to dis-identify from thoughts and feelings and emotions. You can have a thought and observe "That's just a thought, it may or may not be true," or an emotion and observe "That's just an emotion, it doesn't mean that's who I am," or a sensation and say "That's a strong unpleasant sensation -- but I don't have to start reacting before my conscious mind arrives on the scene."

Note that this dis-identification doesn't mean you have to dissociate from the experience. Dissociation means shutting the experience out of your awareness; it's the equivalent of getting up and leaving the movie theater.

In dissociation, you move away from your experience. In dis-identification, you move toward the experience. But you can only move toward an experience this way if you have some "you" -- some capacity of an observing awareness -- that is essentially separate from the particular experience in question.

In this way, you can be much more consciously aware of something -- whether a thought or emotion or sensation -- if you are not unconsciously identified with it.

For example, I can be much more rational in responding to a transitory thought if I don't automatically assume it's true. I can deal much more constructively with an emotion if I don't act like it's the sum total of who I am in this moment. And I have much more control over how I react to pain if I become aware of it as a sensation per se, rather than as a de facto home for my sense of self.

As these examples show, it is easier to behave rationally -- to behave as though your "mind is your means of survival" -- if you don't allow unconscious identifications to run your personal life. And that's what breaking mind identification consists of: breaking unconscious identification with individual aspects of your experience.

You may be thinking, "Why does Tolle call this 'mind identification' when it's really unconscious identification? The unconscious has more to do with the body than with the mind."

The short answer is that Tolle (like many people with experience in meditative disciplines) makes a distinction between intensely wakeful awareness (which he calls "presence") and the automatic thoughts and emotions that are spun off automatically by the mind (which he calls "mind stuff").

Tolle encourages us to strengthen our capacity to silently observe our experience, with a high degree of consciousness, in every moment. On a temporary basis, this might mean that you stop "thinking" for a short while, so you can devote more attention to simply observing what's going on. You can come back to thinking later, when your thoughts will be much more clear and incisive, because they're not clouded by mind identification.

Many people find that it is easier to cultivate this kind of conscious presence if you also adopt a meditation practice, in which you deliberately strengthen your ability to observe your experience closely without getting lost in thought.

In my own experience -- and in the experience of several of my closest friends -- this has contributed far more to my ability to be rational, to live consciously, and earn a "face without pain or fear or guilt." I invite you to try it out yourself, without prejudice, and see what you find.

Time permitting, I am happy to answer questions from anyone with genuine interest in the topic.

UPDATE: I've just posted this to my blog, in an entry called "What is Mind Identification?" I'm somewhat more likely to respond to questions over there, since many of my regular readers are interested in this kind of topic.
(Edited by Joshua Zader
on 7/15, 4:15pm)

Post 2

Saturday, July 15, 2006 - 4:27pmSanction this postReply
I read this book last December. It was pretty liberating. It's really about getting in touch with your spirit. It's also about how you focus and what you need to focus on.

Tolle's kind of mystical, but he seems pretty cool.

He has stolen some stuff from NLP. On one tape, he says that "the map is not the territory." That's an NLP line.

I think he's worth it.

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Post 3

Sunday, July 16, 2006 - 6:08amSanction this postReply
Chris Baker wrote:

He has stolen some stuff from NLP. On one tape, he says that "the map is not the territory." That's an NLP line.

I find the language of NLP much more accessible than that of Tolle.  I much prefer precise NLP terms and phrases like "disassociation" and "the map is not the territory" over Tolle's less precise language of "mind identification" and "pain body."  I have no problem using the NLP language within the bounds of Objectivism.  I cannot say the same for Tolle's, er, um, unique vocabulary.

I listened to the unabridged audio version of this book which Tolle himself narrated.  His thick "guru" accent combined with his recounting of his years on a park bench in "presence" did not exactly make me warm to his outlook.  He began with his story of how he told himself that, finally, after years of tortured inner conflict, "I could not live with myself.  What does that mean, exactly?  Am I splitting my self from ... my self?"  After an apparent nervous breakdown, he became "present" and spent years on a park bench in "presence" as he became "enlightened."  This "bum" story did not really impress me.

As for the very concept of "mind identification," I never got a clear impression that he held to a philosophy of right and wrong.  He kept ranting continuously about how "mind identification" has caused all the world's problems and brings us on the brink of global destruction unless we all become "enlightened" -- meaning "enlightened" his way.  Park bench, anyone?

He also made some rather unkind remarks about industrial civilization and referred to it as evidence of "global insanity."  In his view, only those who adhere to his variant of "enlightenment" can credibly claim the status of "sane."  These remarks leave me wondering what kind of world he would prefer to see.

The harsh truth remains that moral absolutes do exist, we can learn them through conscious reasoning and we do have justification to "identify" ourselves with those absolute truths of the mind.  I got the impression throughout the book that Tolle would condemn this attitude as "mind identification" and natter at Objectivists for living "unconsciously."  Obviously my interpretation of Tolle differs from that of Joshua Zader and others.

I agree with Ayn Rand that man is a being of self-made soul.  There is no necessary conflict between the mind and the soul.  Through proper introspection and reasoning, one can shape oneself into one's own worthy, achievable ideal -- what one "might be and ought to be."

Post 4

Sunday, July 16, 2006 - 7:24amSanction this postReply

I generally think anything that involves meditation is a waste. Personally, I need to do something active. Meditation makes you go inside your head, and that is not always a good thing.

NLP rests on the theory that you have conflicting parts. For a smoker, for example, part of the smoker wants to quit. But obviously some part of that smoker wants to keep on smoking. It's about getting agreement.

It also shows other people can play tricks on us. Look at these hilarious videos with Derren Brown.



The lost taxi driver is probably my favorite.

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Post 5

Sunday, July 16, 2006 - 7:42amSanction this postReply
I have a copy of "The Power of Now" in my mini-library. This book is really just a modern day, late 20th century version of "BE HERE NOW" by Ram Dass, less all the psychedelic bells, whistles and plainly psychotic, incoherent raving. It is worth pointing out that the core-truth which Tolle's philosophy revolves around can be referred to as what Objectivists call: Focus.
Unfortunately, since Tolle comes from such a Mystic bend, riddled with 'Primacy-of-Consciousness' premises and Neo-Platonic tones, much contradictions are abound in his philosophy and book.

However, in Tolle's defense, a major cause of conflict and suffering in reality, can certainly be attributed to a lack of focus. One of Tolle's major gripes is that people are thinking too neurotically. Neurosis is the excessive use of one's energy and time for unproductive purposes so that personal growth is hindered or stopped. Hence, it is clear that the antidote to neurosis is the combination of productivity and focus. Yet it is important to realize that being in focus, implies a purpose. Therefore, one who lives out of focus, does so because he or she has no productive, explicit purpose. This can be most simply demonstrated at once by merely tossing any object with no coherent aim, and comparing the results to the act of throwing a dart with the volitional intent, i.e., purpose to hit the bull's eye. Now apply this situation to one's entire life.

And Tolle's prescribed 'bulls eye', is being in focus on the perceptually-given, becoming "lost in the moment". Several years after having read Tolle's book, the conviction that this particular target of focus is best suitable for a certain kind of person and certain kind of situation [with an emphasis on the latter], has solidified. Take, for instance, criminals who are to be behind bars, in a prison-cell for the remainder of their lives. Certainly, they have no future, so why bother thinking about it? Certainly, they have a dark past that they'd rather not think about, so what else is there? If such a criminal had no rational answer, he or she would go insane. And here is where Tolle's kind of philosophy is most fitting, and most yielding.

On a sidenote, there was a moment sometime recently, that I was watching on Discovery, the show "The Most Dangerous Catch" or something along that title. Briefly, it is about Alaskan King Crab fishermen and their dangerous toils in the Adriatic sea. Anyway, there was a fishermen, doing a sort of soliloquy, talking about "what makes a great fisherman", and listed characteristics that pertained to a brute-ish mentality, stoic values, a willingness to deal with harsh, life-threatening conditions, and then in his own flippant manner, summarized his soliloquy by stating "..That's why they make good fisherman, because they live in the moment better". Without going into much detail, I was simply appalled.

In summary, Tolle's philosophy has a solid root of truth: focus. However, his mysticism is unpractical and unnecessary, as is the creed so commonly perpetuated by mystics that the present-moment is the holy grail of all 'bulls-eye'. Certainly, reality demands in many situations that one is focused on the "now-moment". However, if one wishes to achieve survival, flourishment and their own greatest potential, reality demands that one be in focus all the time, with an explicit, productive purpose, and in accordance with the natural laws of existence.

(Edited by Warren Chase Anspaugh on 7/16, 2:58pm)

Post 6

Sunday, July 16, 2006 - 4:17pmSanction this postReply

That was a good assessment.

Post 7

Monday, July 17, 2006 - 6:41amSanction this postReply
You said:
He has stolen some stuff from NLP. On one tape, he says that "the map is not the territory." That's an NLP line.

That phrase was first made famous by Alfred Korzybski, who was born in 1879.  NLP stole it from the creator of "General Semantics".

Post 8

Monday, July 17, 2006 - 7:29amSanction this postReply
Thanks for the clarification, Glenn.

Lots of quotes are stolen.

Post 9

Tuesday, July 18, 2006 - 4:58amSanction this postReply
I did some reading on General Semantics (GS) on a Web site dedicated to the subject years ago.  It offers a mix of good and bad.  On the good side, it encourages the use of precise language.  On the bad side, it starts with a misleading statement, "A is not A," that does not mean what Ayn Rand means.  To shock people into realizing that the map is not the territory, GS uses the phrase "A is not A" because many people attempt to equate both the map and the territory as A.  Leonard Peikoff even warns against using definitions in place of concretes in Understanding Objectivism.  So the GS contention has merit to Objectivists.

The field of GS actively encourages people to avoid all forms of the infinitive "to be" in favor of more active, descriptive verbs.  I have found this guideline helpful in making my own writing more lively and colorful.  Nevertheless, occasions do arise that demand I simply say, "It is."  I find it interesting that while GS discourages the use of all forms of "to be," their key phrases, "The map is not the territory," and, "A is not A," use it.

The bottom line: While the map is not the territory, we still need maps that accurately represent the territory in order to navigate it successfully.  A' represents A.  Switch your mind smoothly and continuously between the abstract and the concrete and you will do well.

Post 10

Tuesday, July 18, 2006 - 8:07amSanction this postReply
My first acquaintance with GS was an offspring of reading A E van Vogt's "The World of Null A". in the early sixties. I had been introduced to science fiction due to my aunt giving me several sf books which had belonged to my older cousin. They were all books which came from his previous membership in a sf book club. I was immediately hooked and although my days with comic books were not quite over,  they were well on the way out. I became immersed in sf, and  through the reading of Vogt's book I convinced myself that Aristotelean logic was not the primary way to go. Being young I made the mistake of not researching more of what he was trying to get at in GS, as well as thoroughly investigating Aristotle.


(Edited by Mr. L W Hall on 7/18, 12:19pm)

Post 11

Tuesday, July 18, 2006 - 1:23pmSanction this postReply
The day this was posted, we met with Ashley Parker Angel (my step-grandson) and he showed us this book!

But no matter, I spoke to him also about The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and told him he'd be perfect for the part of Ragnar in the upcoming AS movie:


(Edited by Rodney Rawlings on 7/18, 1:32pm)

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