William James, the ‘father’ of American psychology, tells of meeting an old lady who told him the Earth rested on the back of a huge turtle.
“But, my dear lady,” Professor James asked, as politely as possible, “what holds up the turtle?”
“Ah,” she said, “that’s easy. He is standing on the back of another turtle.”
“Oh, I see,” said Professor James, still being polite. “But would you be so good as to tell me what holds up the second turtle?”
“It’s no use, Professor,” said the old lady, realizing he was trying to lead her into a logical trap. “It’s turtles-turtles-turtles, all the way!”
Don’t be too quick to laugh at this little old lady. All human minds work on fundamentally similar principles. Her universe was a little bit weirder than most but it was built up on the same mental principles as every other universe people have believed in. As Dr. Leonard Orr has noted, the human mind behaves as if it were divided into two parts, the Thinker and the Prover. The Thinker can think about virtually anything. History shows that it can think the earth is suspended on the backs of infinite turtles or that the Earth is hollow, or that the Earth is floating in space comparative religion and philosophy show that the Thinker can regard itself as mortal, as immortal, as both mortal and immortal (the reincarnation model) or even as nonexistent (Buddhism). It can think itself into living in a Christian universe, a Marxist universe, a scientific-relativistic universe, or a Nazi universe—among many possibilities.
As psychiatrists and psychologists have often observed (much to the chagrin of their medical colleagues), the Thinker can think itself sick, and can even think itself well again. The Prover is a much simpler mechanism. It operates on one law only: Whatever the Thinker thinks, the Prover proves. To cite a notorious example which unleashed incredible horrors earlier in this century, if the Thinker thinks that all Jews are rich, the Prover will prove it. It will find evidence that the poorest Jew in the most run-down ghetto has hidden money somewhere. Similarly, Feminists are able to believe that all men, including the starving wretches who live and sleep on the streets, are exploiting all women, including the Queen of England.
If the Thinker thinks that the sun moves around the earth, the Prover will obligingly organize all perceptions to fit that thought; if the Thinker changes its mind and decides the earth moves around the sun, the Prover will reorganize the evidence. If the Thinker thinks “holy water” from Lourdes will cure its lumbago, the Prover will skillfully orchestrate all signals from the glands, muscles, organs etc. until they have organized themselves into good health again
Of course, it is fairly easy to see that other people’s minds operate this way; it is comparatively much harder to become aware that one’s own mind is working that way also.
It is believed, for instance, that some men are more ”objective” than others. (One seldom hears this about women…)
Businessmen are allegedly hard-nosed, pragmatic and “objective” in this sense. A brief examination of the dingbat politics most businessmen endorse will quickly correct that impression.
Scientists, however, are still believed to be objective. No study of the lives of the great scientists will confirm this. They were as passionate, and hence as prejudiced, as any assembly of great painters or great musicians. It was not just the Church but also the established astronomers of the time who condemned Galileo. The majority of physicists rejected Einstein’s Special Relativity Theory in 1905. Einstein himself would not accept anything in quantum theory after 1920 no matter how many experiments supported it. Edison’s commitment to direct current (DC) electrical generators led him to insist alternating current (AC) generators were unsafe for years after their safety had been proven to everyone else.
Science achieves, or approximates, objectivity not because the individual scientist is immune from the psychological laws that govern the rest of us, but because scientific method—a group creation—eventually overrides individual prejudices, in the long run.
To take a notorious example from the 1960s, there was a point when three research groups had “proven” that LSD causes chromosome damage, while three other groups had “proven” that LSD has no effect on the chromosomes. In each case, the Prover had proved what the Thinker thought. Right now, there are, in physics, 7 experiments that confirm a very controversial concept known as Bell’s Theorem, and two experiments that refute Bell’s Theorem. In the area of extra-sensory perception, the results are uniform after more than a century: everybody who sets out to prove that ESP exists succeeds, and everybody who sets out to prove that ESP does not exist also succeeds.
“Truth” or relative truth emerges only after decades of experiments by thousands of groups all over the world.
Think you have a higher “objectivity quotient” than either of them, why haven’t you been nominated for a Nobel prize?
In the long run, we are hopefully approximating closer and closer to “objective Truth” over the centuries.
In the short run, Orr’s law always holds: Whatever the Thinker thinks, the Prover will prove.’
And if the Thinker thinks passionately enough, the Prover will prove the thought so conclusively that you will never talk a person out of such a belief, even if it is something as remarkable as the notion that there is a gaseous vertebrate of astronomical heft (“GOD”) who will spend all eternity torturing people who do not believe in his religion.
Sad as it is to say, you never understand anything by merely reading a book about it. That’s why every science course includes laboratory experiments, and why every consciousness liberation movement demands practice of yoga, meditations, confrontation techniques, etc. in which the ideas are tested in the laboratory of your own nervous system.
To explore the Thinker and the Prover, try the following:
- Visualize a quarter vividly, and imagine vividly that you are going to find the quarter on the street. Then, look for the quarter every time you take a walk, meanwhile continuing to visualize it.See how long it takes you to find the quarter.
- Explain the above experiment by the hypothesis of “selective attention”—that is, believe there are lots of lost quarters everywhere and you were bound to find one by continually looking. Go looking for a second quarter.
- Explain the experiment by the alternative “mystical” hypothesis that “mind controls everything.” Believe that you made the quarter manifest in this universe. Go looking for a second quarter.
- Compare the time it takes to find the second quarter using the first hypothesis (attention) with the time it takes using the second hypothesis (mind-over-matter).
- With your own ingenuity, invent similar experiments and each time compare the two theories—”selective attention” (coincidence) vs. “mind controls everything” (psychokinesis).
- Avoid coming to any strong conclusions prematurely. At the end of a month, re-read this, think it over again, and still postpone coming to any dogmatic conclusion. Believe it possible that you do not know everything yet, and that you might have something still to learn.
- Convince yourself (if you are not already convinced) that you are ugly, unattractive and dull. Go to a party in that frame of mind. Observe how people treat you.
- Convince yourself (if you are not already convinced) that you are handsome, irresistible and witty. Go to a party in that frame of mind. Observe how people treat you.
- This is the hardest of all exercizes and comes in two parts. First, observe closely and dispassionately two dear friends and two relative strangers. Try to figure out what their Thinkers think, and how their Provers methodically set about proving it. Second, apply the same exercize to yourself. If you think you have learned the lessons of these exercizes in less than six months, you haven’t really been working at them. With real work, in six months you should be just beginning to realize how little you know about everything.
- Believe it possible that you can float off the ground and fly by merely willing it. See what happens. If this exercize proves as disappointing to you as it has to me, try number 11 below, which is never disappointing.
- Believe that you can exceed all your previous ambitions and hopes in all areas of your life.
‘Believe’ or ‘convince yourself’ mean to do what an actor does: pretend until the pretense begins to feel real. Or, as jazz musicians say: fake it until you make it.