Been studying Richard Dixey’s new book, “Searcher Reaches Land’s Limits”, in which he provides a running, penetrating commentary on the book, “Revelations of Mind”, by Tarthang Tulku. Dixey discusses in intricate detail, among other things, what transpires in the process of perception, from the subconscious initial sense impressions to conscious information processing. Paraphrasing here… In terms of micro-seconds, the perception process begins well before we are even self-aware or conscious of what is happening. Perception begins with sense inputs that we process subconsciously or subliminally, at levels before ‘I’, as an identified and positioned ‘self’, is even established. When we look back and remember what happened, [a key point] we only recall from the point at which the ‘I’ appeared, when the ‘self’ arrived on the scene and assumed ownership of the experience by naming and judging events.
Dixey writes: “All knowledge we have is mediated through our mind… the transparent mediator of experience itself. Objects are perceived through differences, the edges they make with their background… mind is so clear we can’t even see it… from our sense inputs, the display that results could be understood as a readout… All this [subliminal] processing is hidden from us. Layer upon layer of unnoticed processing goes on in every aspect of our experience.” p. 2-4
Dixey explains, in order to understand what is happening: “A fundamental consideration is the role language plays in formulating expressions of, and insights about, the nature of our experience. Grammatical construction requires a knower and a known: in this case, ‘I’ and ‘mind’… A key point is that the ‘I’ is the grammatical subject in the sentence, ‘I did this’ or ‘I was there.’ In describing any aspect of experience, the grammatical subject must always be present. The mind organizes information around the narrator or actor ‘I’; it is inevitably going to be utilized any time information is displayed, remembered, organized, or communicated.” p.13
So the ‘I’ or subject plays a key role in organizing experience: “One could use the adjective heroic to point out this important element of our mental structure. We live our lives with this hero who is called ‘me’. Somehow, it’s ‘me’ against the world. Here a second feature of the ego structure becomes apparent. The ego ‘I’ is embedded within a story of ‘me’; it’s the story of our life.” p. 16 And because the ego ‘I’ is clothed in meaning, it is also cast within a story line as the central actor… called the heroic ego… “the figure at the center of being who is what it’s like to be me… This structure is always operating… the hero is the person around which everything else revolves. The person who is making sense of it all.” p.19
“The mind itself is like a thin consommé, shimmering in the background; it’s just the beginnings of a soup. But gradually, as ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’ appear, the conceptual categories added to this shimmering consommé begin to thicken it. Then it is enriched by language and associations, the soup thickening and thickening and thickening, until eventually we have a really dense experience, which we call ‘reality’.”
“We only get to experience the soup as a completed event, as a readout. We only get the thick soup; we never get to see how the soup was made. We are like the customers in a restaurant who are served the soup, but we don’t see what was going on in the kitchen. Nevertheless, our mission is to understand how that soup is made. We need to know that because when we are happy or sad, when we are satisfied or dissatisfied, when we feel free or trapped—all of that is part of the soup, the readout in which we live our lives. If we don’t understand how that readout is made, we are just going to have to live with the results, whether we like them or not.” p.52-3
Reactivity has a lot to do with the ‘thickening’ of the ‘soup of mind’. Anger for instance, Dixey uses an example of driving along and suddenly being cut off by another driver as you instantly jam on the brakes. An emotional reaction is instantly triggered… like all negative emotions, “triggered by the ASSOCIATIONS triggered by an arising event, not the arising event itself… and once that happens we lose our freedom.” And at levels we aren’t even aware of associations are made. “Those actions leave residues that get recorded in memory as impressions waiting to be associated with a future event.” p. 61 [emphasis added] An unconscious predisposition is created waiting to be activated.
In light of the preceding, in the following Dixey interestingly describes how people, often triggered by subliminal associations and ‘predispositions‘, get caught in a bubble of their own opinions…
“We should consider this and realize that our much-vaunted freedom is in fact quite constrained. We are tethered as if by a peg in the ground: we can only graze in a circle. We can graze to the edge of the circle, but we can’t go any farther because that peg in the ground limits our responses. Everything is stuck there.
PAGE 29, PARAGRAPH 1 [of ‘Revelations’]: At some point, individuals identify themselves with particular products of mind, in much the same way that people are drawn to certain brands of products that support their self-image. They may shape their fantasies and desires accordingly, or identify with certain kinds of music, or take up concepts or forms of language that enhance characteristics they admire. Doing this can provide a sense of personal empowerment. Accepting the products of minds as their own, they become strongly convinced of the reality of whatever it is they identify with. ‘This is the way it is, this is the way I am, this is the way I should be.’
“One of the most common ways you see this kind of ‘branding’ is in political affiliation. People have very strongly held views about matters that are not really their own, views they have adopted and then made personal. ‘This is the way it is, and this is the way I am, so this is the way it should be.’
When you meet people who hold these sorts of positions, they are very hard to argue with, because their affiliation is completely tied up with their sense of self. This is why people go to war over beliefs, more than over anything else. What one side thinks is the case is different from the other, and they both get locked together in a temple of righteousness. You get this absurd situation in which two sides are clashing, and both are praying to God. They may even be praying to the same God!” p.65-6
“Imagine you are in [a political] argument. Whatever you say, your partner hears it as something else. We have all had this experience… You quickly realize that communication is really, really difficult. This is because the other person is receiving an echo of what you are saying, lensed through his or her own conceptual apparatus.”
“This is happening all the time to a greater or lesser extent. [Not only with political positions.] That’s where confusions and misinterpretations are rooted. And often it’s really, really difficult to break through to actually communicate anything at all. The phenomenon is just a symptom of a far more general issue, which is that we live in a bubble, a casket of concepts, a box made up of concepts which we call the world. This box is both temporally and experientially behind the curve of events. Experientially it limits our capacity to react in a spontaneous way. It’s colored, conditioned, and limited by preconceptions, judgments, memories—the entire retinue. The efficiency of this kind of automation has limited our range of responses.” p. 86