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Concerning Discernment and Difference

Martin LeFevre:  As a philosopher and writer, some sentences instantly strike me as true, and some sentences instantly strike me as false.  How can one be sure one is seeing the true as true, and the false as false?

After all, as a famous physicist once cracked, “Don’t fool yourself. And you are the easiest person to fool.” One can’t be completely sure one is seeing things as they are, within and without, but if one questions oneself, one has to trust one’s discernment.

Which is to say, as long as one is skeptically self-knowing, and doubting oneself to the right degree, one can and must have confidence in one’s discernment to perceive what is false and true.

With respect to doubt, as a sage once said, “Doubt is like having a dog on a leash; one has to know when to let the dog run, and when to put it back on the leash.”

That said, here’s a sentence that struck me today as deeply true: “To discover something new there has to be a period, even temporarily, when thought is not in movement, when it is in abeyance.”

The meanings and implications of that sentence are enormous, but suffice to say that it pertains to a rare but essential psychological potential and phenomenon – the complete quieting of the mind.

There is no method to bring about a still mind, since all methods of meditation, contemplation or prayer are devices of thought that are meant to trick or hypnotize the movement of thought into stillness. Intense, passive, self-knowing watchfulness, especially in the mirror of nature, is all that’s required for attention to gather and the mind to fall spontaneously silent.

Without learning this art, we humans are like the artificial thought machines we have created in our image. It’s vital to set aside a period every day to passively observe thought sufficiently for the mind- as-thought to cease operating and be in abeyance. That is what will differentiate the human being from artificial thought now and in the future.

Discovering something new refers not only to insights into life and oneself, or to scientific knowledge, but to a state of almost inexpressible insight beyond knowledge and known.

Conversely, here’s an example of the kind of sentence that immediately strikes me as false: “Brains can be seen as prediction engines, constantly calculating what is most likely to happen next and whether it will be beneficial or harmful.”

The brain is not a “prediction engine.” Rather, the self is the engine of images, memories and identifications spinning forth from the domination of thought in the human brain. A calculating brain is a shallow and reactive mind. Viewing the human brain as a calculating prediction engine reinforces the darkness that rules the human mind, consciousness and society.

Avoiding the uniqueness of man’s destructiveness has literally reached dizzying heights. In an absurd attempt to blur the distinction between how humans operate on Earth and how the rest of nature operates in ecological niches, scientists are studying how our closest primate cousins – gorillas, chimps and bonobos – like to spin in circles, like children and some adults do.

Though usually observed in captivity, Catherine Hobaiter, a primatologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland also notes that based on her observations in the field that “wild apes love to spin.”

The conclusions scientists draw from these observations are head-spinning. Marc Bekoff, an emeritus behavioral ecologist and cognitive ethologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said researching such behavior was valuable “because there’s no a priori reason to think we’re the only animals who engage in behaviors that intentionally produce altered states of consciousness.” He added, “Systematic research will help us learn more about the taxonomy of getting high and not run around thinking we’re all that unique.”

It appears that the more destructive and anomalous man becomes, the more the hidden scientific agenda of conflating human behavior with indications of shared traits with other animals becomes the order of the day. That makes for both bad science and bad philosophy.

Of course scientists aren’t immune from the very human trait of trying to have things both ways. On one hand, they take enormous pride in man’s scientific and technological capabilities, and on the other they evince false humility by preaching against “running around thinking we’re all that unique.”

Drawing childish parallels between spinning apes and “intentionally produced altered states of consciousness” does nothing to understand why man alone on this planet has fragmented the Earth to the breaking point. It’s as superficial as explaining away human destructiveness by seriously suggesting the cause is our opposable thumbs.

The human brain is unique in its complexity and power for amassing knowledge, for its inventiveness, and for its increasing destructiveness to the planet on which it evolved. However, rather than honestly investigating why man, using ‘higher thought,’ is so uniquely detrimental to the Earth, many scientists are indulging in a disingenuous philosophical project meant to erase man’s incongruity.


Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue.

Published with permission of the author. All copyright remains with the author.