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Supplement to Lecture 1:
Adam Blatner

September 29, 2013
In 2005 I gave a summer talk on the topic of illusion, posted here, and with a supplement here. This is a further supplement to the introduction to a class at Senior University Georgetown in the Fall of 2013, a class on “Thinking about Thinking.” Risking being redundant, here are some of the more common illusions:

1. The most common illusion, the first one to be noted, is a belief that what one thinks and perceives is not an illusion!  “But I saw it with my own eyes!” Much of science in the last several hundred years has countered illusions of what seemed to be so—that the Earth is flat, that the heavenly bodies go around the Earth, that there aren’t germs because we can’t see them, etc.

2..The second most common is the illusion that the interpretations we give to our sensations are objectively true. We really see it, but don't appreciate what it is we see---or hear, touch, etc. People integrate some perceptions and what to them seems plausible, but they are in fact mistaken in these interpretations. Recognizing that this can happen is uncommon. "I see what I see and that's what it is." There's no awareness that what I think I see has a major layer of interpretations. The realization that interpretation is going on takes time to get registered, and more time to sink in. This lack of awareness that the interpretations of perceptions, while seemingly plausible, are often mistaken and this double mistake leads to sometimes tragic consequences.

3. The mind is most prone to over-generalization. We meet one mean dog and we react to all dogs as if they’re mean. If you behave in a way that I take to be a disrespectful snub, I assume you meant it. (The illusion here is that people mean what they do and there are no unintentionally bothersome acts.)

3. There is not-knowing, which I call ignorance. Then there is the assumption that what one knows is sufficient—which is never true. Variations are that what is not known is not worth knowing. Those who seem to know are just putting on airs. The word is not out that what seems to be so may not be so, so it’s a bit like selling people on germs or worlds beyond our medieval solar system.

4. Many people feel something like this: "I am mainly conscious and I allow that there may be some unconsciousness going on, but not if I can help it." However, the truth is that most of what goes on in the mind includes not only emotions, semi-fantasies, half-thought images, intuitions, but also a great deal of what has been called unconscious processes. Your breathing, for example, can become conscious and controlled, but most of the time it breathes for you. Thus, I view the mind as the little thin membrane that forms at the top of a bowl of chocolate pudding as it cools; or the biosphere, all life, which is in relationship to the size of the earth as a thin membrane on its surface. This “surface” is of course a very important component, but it also tends to be taken as the whole. And the ordinary mind—get this---disguises the more fluid-like middle, the greater bulk of the unconscious.

Until a few hundred years ago people had no ideas about how deep was the ocean or, deeper, the crust of the earth.  And similarly, the unconscious wasn’t just a graveyard of what we didn’t want to acknowledge, as Freud hinted, but a vast service field that often worked for us faster and more cleverly than we could ever begin to do for ourselves.

2. The analogy is weak insofar as the processes of moving back and forth from unconscious to conscious is much more dynamic and capable of being facilitated by insight. What this class is about is to note that the first step in insight is the notion that there’s anything there to look at or to consider more deeply. “You mean there’s more to my thinking than I think there is?” Yes.

3. The problem is that people are deeply uncomfortable about a lot of the stuff they think about, as if they would be better people if they didn’t have such thoughts. In the late 19th century this was dealt with by turning your mind towards the positive. But the events of the First World War and related events showed how savage people could be and that simply pushing what we thought of as bad stuff away was too simplistic. The challenge is to learn about and re-channel the thoughts and feelings that are inclined to be bad. It’s not an easy challenge at all, and I think it hasn’t really begun until around now. This class is a tiny beginning, among other efforts.

4. The mind is quite capable of pretending something isn’t there and then going on to pretend that this act of pretending never happened; it didn’t need to, because that something really never was there.
    The first pretending is a little more conscious, at first, and more adult. It is called “suppression” and it involves deciding that x doesn’t need to be thought about right now, or that it’s unnecessarily negative and it would be better to step away from x.
    The problem is that on occasion it really is better to pay attention to x. So what is needed is a meta-program that asks, “Is this okay to suppress, procrastinate, put off, avoid, or is it really important for me to pay attention, indeed, give it heightened attention?

5. When parts of the unconscious say, “Naw, it’s okay,” the attentive mind is aware that this part may not be worth obeying. The 21st century intelligent minds says, “Why?” It doesn’t just give in.

6. But the lazy and 20th century trusting mind says, “Okay.” And so suppression becomes repression. “Let’s just pretend this conversation never happened.” “Okay.” And the mind pretends that it is not pretending. This double whammy is pretty common and it takes many forms.

7. One reaction is to become indignant or huffy if anyone even implies that one is not thinking clearly, as if one is entitled to the benefit of the doubt, as if this is a mark of disrespect. In fact, one both senses but also often does not know that indeed one is not questioning assumptions. One is obviously thinking, but really this is maneuvering within a game within which the assumption to play the game has been forgotten. It’s no longer “just a game” but an occasion for serious anger. That tends to drive off probing inquiries.

But it’s true: There are many different kinds of thinking, and one can feel that one is indeed thinking when in fact all that’s happening is that one is considering strategies as to how to make it plausible that one is not digging deeper and questioning assumptions. That could be considered a kind of thinking, yes. There’s an alertness demanded in fending off interrogation. One kind of thinking can fend off attempts to encourage deeper thinking. But it feels like thinking.

8. Okay, now we get to the key point. The mind fools itself. And it doubles this by convincing the self that it is not fooling itself. It’s just thinking. More will be said about this further on: there are scores of ways mind fools itself.

9. As a corollary, when it serves deeper purposes, the mind ends to be quite open to being willingly fooled by others. The boundary between being willingly fooled—“yes, I want to believe that,”—and unwillingly fooled—“No, even a bit of reflection would lead me towards suspicion about both your motives and the possibility that what you propose is definitely NOT good for me, if not positively bad!—is, in fact, fuzzy. Indeed, playing on that fuzzy boundary are a host of parasites in the form of political demagogues, advertisers, scam artists, con men, seducers, family members you may have known, and other manipulators.

10. This gets complicated! It’s complicated not because I make it so, but because there are scores of major moves and hundreds of minor moves and all sorts of combinations. It’s complicated also because sometimes the moves are subtle, an adjustment between half and three-quarters, or something like that—not all or nothing.

11. Oddly enough, the complexity of self-deception is particularly human. Monkeys can engage in self-deception, this should be noted—more so with those with more complex brains. But humans can do it with far greater subtlety.

I’m a psychiatrist who went into the field because it was the most humanistic of the medical professions, and by humanistic I mean that it dealt with qualities evinced only by human beings—but not rats and monkeys. Qualities such as more complex ways of loving and caring about others. But because of this very complexity, humans have worked out ways of generating a number of illusions and forms of self-deception and other-deception that are vastly more subtle than a few of the tricks some animals play on each other.

12. Most of the tricks are being done not by the conscious mind, but by the unconscious. Yes, there are stage magicians and con men who really learn what works in tricking others, but most people do this automatically. The unconscious mind is in fact many times more clever than the conscious mind. You can fool others and yourself and go along with being fooled and the conscious part of you has no idea this is going on. This is very important.

13. If you’re accused of manipulating and you don’t know you are doing it, it seems sincere and right for you to be hurt and offended and defensive. What most folks don’t know—they really don’t—is that they can slip into manipulations without meaning to!

14. All this is compounded by the fact that those—everyone, really—who fool themselves also convince themselves not only that they’re not doing this—how could they when they don’t mean to?—but indeed they are well-meaning! How could I be bad or foolish when I think I’m trying to be good and wise? It does not compute. But if we recognize how powerful and devious the unconscious mind is, it begins to.

I was a bit neurotic this way. I sort of believed that all my teachers and family and parents were telling the truth and I just didn’t get it because I was stupid. Well, gradually, I discovered several things.
    A. Even though they—most—were sincere, they fooled others as they fooled themselves.
    B. Many of their deceits were widely known cliches, common sense, or seemed that way. They seemed able to overlook the way these popular social norms didn’t work. It was as if they could both say, as did the Wizard of Oz, “Don’t pay any attention to that little man behind the curtain.” But people then believed it.
    C. There were really crazy people and normal people who were clearly not crazy, but I was confused, because some of the things normal people spouted seemed as irrational as the stuff crazy people said.

When I grew older I discovered that pretty normal non-crazy people could believe stuff that was pretty far from reality. It just seemed more plausible, but it was mistaken.

15. The more common mistakes involves some few principles:
   A. Take everything literally.
   B. If a little is true, more is even more true. The idea that a little was true and more might be too much, and not good—that appeared gradually.
   C. You were either good or bad, sane or crazy. But that’s not so. It took me a while, but finally I found that most folks were somewhere in-between.

16. A lot of smart people used either-or thinking, so it must be okay. Things, situations, conditions, might rightly be judged as either-or. Not so, I later discovered. Many situations were either in the middle or, more often, seemingly in the middle but actually participating in variables not on the either-or scale, other factors, things were more complex.

17. It seems impossible—remember the power of “seeming”—but you could be good, sincere, have noble aspirations—and lots of other people might validate this—and yet get caught up in seemingly good but deeply short-sighted programs or policies and as a result, you could do terribly evil things. The line, “the path to hell is lined with good intentions” has continued to find new meanings as really pretty well intentioned people—including myself on a goodly number of occasions— would do foolish things and either make trouble for others or get into trouble—or both.

18. Much that seems wise or clever at first has unintended consequences. This, too, did not become apparent until after I was a fully trained professional young adult. The education that now I think I needed was not only not available until often it was almost too late—middle adulthood—but also nowhere in the curriculum. Indeed, looking back, I doubt whether most of those designated as professors because of their evident erudition knew what I now think of as essential to coping with life—such as this list.

Cultural Illusions

19. What made this even more complex and interesting, taking off on these last few points, is that what passes for “common sense” might better be thought of,  as a comedienne lily Tomlin noted (in a play by Jane Wagner), “Reality is just a collective hunch.” Just because lots of folks, seemingly most folks, believe or think a certain way does not ensure that such thoughts are really rational or good.

Indeed, a great deal of bad thinking is just believing things that were wrong. I encountered a saying—I think it might have been attributed to Artemus Ward, a comedian in the United States over a century ago who used a folksy dialect humor, and said, pithily, “It ain’t what ya don’t know what gits ya inter trouble, it’s tha stuff ya know fer sure what ain’t so.”

It’s hard to make this transition that I think is really needed to get past the sheer self-righteousness that infests much of politics and religion. And when Oliver Cromwell wrote to the Presbyterian Elders in Scotland, saying, “By the bowels of Christ, gentlemen, think ye that ye might be mistaken?” I don’t know that he questioned himself equally.

A third caricature of this is expressed by the King of Siam, played by Yul Brinner, in a song called “Puzzlement,” in the 1950s Broadway musical show, The King and I. The key verse has this line: “There are times I almost think I am not sure of what I absolutely know.”

20. I discovered and became fascinated with this: It’s not that our oddness or quirkiness is the problem, I’ve found, except occasionally—in true mental illness. But far, far more common is the way we often take normality to extremes, we really believe or take too seriously the guidelines that lubricate society. Knowing when to make an exception and to have alternative responses is one of the hallmarks of a good surgeon, anesthesiologist, driver of a car, parent. Or saying it backwards, one who only knows how to use a hammer tends to treat everything as if it were a nail.

So part of life is developing a flexible and broad role repertoire, and they sort of teach this in many professional training programs, but rarely teach the key: Develop a flexible and broad role repertoire, roles for detecting, analyzing, responding, and knowing when to think out of the box (which I talk about in the lecture on creativity).

21. Part of the problem was that the smartest people in the culture—or so it seemed—confused the whole problem by lumping together two categories—crazy and foolish—, and I for one believed they were older, wiser, and that they knew “fer sure.” That they were deeply mistaken about even a part—a not insignificant part—about what they knew failed to occur to me. They were so confident!

22. That some people could be so confident yet mistaken fooled me for a long time. I became aware that lots of people don’t think they know what they know—they’re unsure of themselves. I was more like this, a bit timid and temperamentally inclined to give others the benefit of the doubt. The temperamental inclination was based on whether or not what you knew deeply “felt” to be accurate. Later I realized (with the help of Eric Berne’s line, “I’m okay, you’re okay,” that some people felt okay and more than okay, they felt right. They felt this because they “felt” that what they thought or perceived or interpreted was indeed the way it was. It would not have occurred to them to question this. However, not infrequently these folks were dead wrong!

This group who “feel” they do know even when they don’t can present themselves as so confident that they become leaders. We tend to believe them. I tended to. And only very gradually did I discover that indeed they did not know, and worse, they did not know that they did not know, and were deeply offended if one might suggest that their knowledge was limited, much less mistaken. This certainty that they were right had me buffaloed for decades. But gradually, I came to see that they were indeed mistaken and wondered at the ability of people to be so sure of themselves.

Regarding Oliver Cromwell’s aforementioned line, when one’s status involves sincerity and belief, it’s can be gut-wrenching to question oneself or allow oneself to be questioned. That’s the paradigm that’s shifting in our lifetime, the shift between traditionalism and even modernity and post-modernism. It’s an epistemological shift—a fancy word that means that it really matters that we think about how we think we know stuff. The question is raised that the feeling of really knowing can be self-deceptive. This is radical. If you don’t know, you know it, right? Wrong? Sometimes you don’t know and you think you do! That’s what we’re talking about here—an up-tick in what intellectual humility is about, a questioning of self-righteousness.

23. To restate. Consider that humanity is as infested by misleading or partially inaccurate beliefs as it is by germs. This is still for many a startling idea! Good people, seemingly thoughtful people, continue to believe a wide variety of such beliefs. They seem true to them.

24. There are a lot of different kinds of beliefs. One kind consists of beliefs that everyone thinks, or so it seems, and are misleading. Another type are those that are a little bit true, taken in moderation, but no one says that more than a certain amount is not good. This is also known as overgeneralization. This happens, for example, when, as a young child, if a dog barked and scared you, then later  when you were two, all dogs become scary.

Some of these were a little true for when you were a baby but this was because you thought like a baby and they never were really true, like your mommy was yours in every respect and could never, should never love another. Then you had a younger sibling and that made for problems. There are a whole bunch of errors of early childish thinking that never get corrected. They get disguised, covered over, but the primary illusion—there’s still a little hope retained that there must be some way to get back to the garden of eden.

25. Some forms of folly feed on the appeal that things really are simple, and they would be simpler if it weren’t for mean other people. Things are really very complex and the appeal of that illusion can lead to terrible evils.

For example, if we only we get rid of—kill, if need by—whatever minority we are told are the ones who make the trouble. This scapegoating is a well-known tool of demagogues. It preys on the common feeling, unconscious, mostly, that the world doesn’t have to be this complicated. This leads to looking for whoever is said to be complicating the world. It also seems that we’re not mean in wanting to get rid of people who we think of as mean. This is the way the mind creates compartments of non-logic.

26. The phenomena associated with illusion depend on the tendency of people to believe what seems to be true.  

27. It seems that world isn’t complicated. This seeming is a projection onto the world of our desire for it not to be complicated. It shouldn’t be because we don’t want it to be. Therefore it isn’t. Now this is profoundly illogical, unreasonable, but it doesn’t seem that way so it isn’t. We tend to believe what we think, think what we believe. Then there’s an illusory tendency to feel what we believe, and also to believe what we feel. Clear thinking about thinking begins to uncouple these illusions. Lots of folks don’t uncouple, but we should:
   Don’t believe what you feel, nor feel what you believe. Don’t think what you believe or believe what you think—or feel. Uncouple these connections!

28. Our unconscious, our executive officer, is like ten or fifty times as smart as we are.Its various maneuvers seem compelling. Another word for this is verisimilitude, which means that it seems so real.

29. It seems that the world should be the way we want it to be and we won’t accept that it’s not. In psychoanalysis that tendency is called “infantile omnipotence:” I want my dinner and ‘poof!’ there it is. But it’s also not infantile, nor do we need to use that big word, “omnipotence.” It’s just that we confuse how much magical thinking is part of ordinary adulthood. If we say we want it then it will happen. This appeal to positive thinking was the cause of the great economic and housing crash of 2009.

A variation of this is the idea that a king may say “make it so,” and his minions obey. The idea that the king has no clue how it should be done is unthinkable, and more, it's hard to think that really smart people don't know either. In fairy stories, by virtue of his kingship he is granted the authority to will and also the status to be believed that it can be done. Surprisingly often the unconscious in the role of the chief executive officer, the prime minister, can do it or at least make it seem that it can be or has been done! Here is a major source of folly! The one thing the unconscious doesn’t do is work well in light of a review by the conscious self asking—whoa, there, is this realistic?  Can it indeed be done? Are you just creating a Potemkin Village?

The allusion to a Potemkin village means something done that’s phony but just for show. Potemkin was the prime minister of the mid-18th century Empress Catherine the Great of Russia. She wanted to visit her country, which was in fact submerged in poverty and misery. Of course the idea of revealing the wretchedness of the queen's country was unacceptable, so Potemkin cleaned up the planned route, literally building up nice-looking villages, like little movie-set-style scenery; gave the people who would line the road nice clothes, put on a show that did not reveal the actual conditions of the country-side. It was like Disneyland, visiting countries and not having to deal with the filth and flies there. So the mind can cleverly make lies seem true and good, and we, fools that we are, have tended to believe it.

30. News reporting is becoming ever-more decentralized and scandal-mongering. You can’t get away with naughtiness even at the highest levels of power. Before the later 1960s, news media used to collude with an unwritten code of not exposing the pecadillos of important men. “Boys will be boys.” More recently, there’s been more incentive not to pull punches. But the point is that many of your parents and grandparents were raised believing the world was significantly less problematic and idealized than it in fact was.

Saying this another way, news reporters or their editors used to lie a lot. For example, most people didn’t know how deeply crippled the President Roosevelt was.  Nor did Presidents have their affairs exposed. That didn’t happen until the late 60s with the emergence of popular little newspapers that are now plentiful at most grocery store check-out stands. Not that these scandal sheets report their new impartially---they distort their stories a lot. But journalists suppressing the news before that it was perfectly ethical to do so, and we bought into it. Similarly, in this paternalistic culture, physicians often lied to patients about their prognosis---especially if it were hopeless---and that too was felt to be ethical until the late 1960s when Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross started talking about dying.

We are living in a time when truth is getting more exposure and this makes some folks quite uncomfortable. They don’t know whether they’re being lied to once again about how they were lied to before—No, it wasn’t a lie—or what! The world indeed is very complex and folks don’t like it or understand why it should be. They want a simple answer, but the reason why the world is complicated is itself a very complicated.

31. Part of the problem for our world is that humanity can think, but it cannot (on average) think a lot or think well. Any help people can get in this will advance the evolution of our species. There are a number of other illusions that block clear thinking. The following are assertions as if they were unconscious statements, attitudes towards themselves, others, life:

32. People are inclined to think: "I already know this. I think. It seems. I know enough. I don’t need to bother learning more. This that I know seems sufficient. Don’t bother me with more facts or other perspectives. It make my head hurt."

33. Also: "I don’t like that things are so complicated. So it seems to me that they’re really not complicated but that the others are making it unnecessarily complicated. Maybe they’re just trying to be mean." Less conscious is this kind of thought: "I know people can be mean this way because I sometimes play with others by messing with their minds, playing a verbal game of peek-a-boo. I don’t realize how off-puttng it is, if they don’t know what seems obvious to me as the key to the joke." Thinking that this messing with the mind is done by others is called "projection."

34. People also project their preferences, which is why the playwright George Bernard Shaw a century or so ago said, "Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you; they may not have the same tastes." (A more reliable test is the Jewish version that turns it a bit: What is hateful to you don't do to others.")
      It’s a bit of work for most people to go beyond their comfort zone and consider what others are like; or to consider that other people prefer different things, enjoy different values. The tendency is to think, "It seems that they should relate to the world as I do, because it seems that the world is the way I see it. This tastes good and that is interesting, right?  Wrong?? You mean there are other people who think this tastes bad and that is boring? Hard to imagine, inconceivable, no way, you’ve got to be kidding."
Some variations of the above might be: How can he like her when I find her unappealing? And for that matter, what does she see in him? It’s hard—not impossible, but difficult—to appreciate that folks have different tastes. It seems that what I think is good or true or beautiful really describes the world out there and is not a matter of the consciousness of the perceiver, my subjectivity.

35. One should maintain a facade of knowing. That seems to be a hallmark of growing up. Being unsure is being too baby-ish. Be decisive. Stay cool. Being angry overwhelms being unsure and you can dominate the situation and get your way—at least for a while. If you’re not into intimidating, then at least shut up and shrink away, be shy, non-disclosing. Nowhere, it seems, is there a social norm or expectation to know what you want clearly and to ask for it nicely and be willing to negotiate.

36. People might half think to themselves, unconsciously: I don’t know how to negotiate and anyway why should I? Back to entitlement: I should get this and you should give it and my unconscious can readily figure out a justification for this stance. You owe it to me because I’ve been victimized. You have the power if only you’d use it. It’s not fair!

It’s a little painful as I write these words to consider that beneath a surface facade of chit chat I fear that many people, good people, sort of think this way because why shouldn’t they? There’s no consensus yet that these thoughts are tacky and foolish. Everyone does it and we see this level of consciousness on television all the time. Of course it leads to friction, but it seems to be just the innate folly of humans—and it’s pleasantly exaggerated so we cannot see—cannot identify clearly—what exact issues are being played with.  (I even question whether the scriptwriters see these dynamics and their underlying assumptions clearly.)

Admittedly, these folks on television let it hang out just a tad more unconsciously, boldly. This is after all part of dramatization. Most actual people I know are far more muddy, less melodramatic, and no one actually opens the hidden category of unrealistic expectations. There’s a funny collusion here: I won’t call you on your unrealistic expectations if you don’t call me on mine. I’ll continue to want to be in relationship with you without really asking you to think or to confront yourself.  Or to get clear what the actual transaction has been that we’ve found ourselves  in a funny or tragic mess. Let’s just move on, keep the action going.

Yeah, it’s like a boxing match, I get hit but I keep on keepin’ on and trying to hit back. What would happen if one stopped and shouted, “Stop that! That hurt! Don’t hurt me!” ?  Probably the other would smile and say, “What’s the matter, can’t you take it?” As if taking it were what grown ups do, this is business as usual. Coarseness of sensibility sometimes dominates if the society supports it, and it does by valorizing military values and battle.

I’m not saying that military service is inhumane: Historically, few thing are as human as war. But  it represents a lesser level of consciousness, not what we want our kids to be like. As yet, though,  peacemaking gets far less recognition or social value. Gandhi?  Sort of indulgent admiration — not the respect given to The Hulk.

37. People also masking their foolishness and compensate by
continuing to do good things. Really, people are trying to be good, loving, dutiful, kind, and such activities disguises any unconscious guilt associated with their participating in folly, because it seems that it should. And people really do a lot of good stuff, giving of themselves in many ways. For example, a slave owner might just say to his daughter, "Never you mind about them, let's just think of the dress for your birthday party." This distraction may even be unconscious on the part of the parent, modeling the appropriateness of compartmentalizing our minds.

38. Consider that for all our progress, as we enter an era when psychology is more mainstream, we as a species are only at the boundary of knowing about how very unconscious we all are, or how to fix it. My solution is not one-to-one psychoanalysis, but rather by talking about psychology openly in school, and many programs for promoting social and emotional learning (SEL).

39. It's not easy to make such acts of discrimination. I also get sucked into appreciating the good that is done. I want to accentuate the positive. But a little focusing on what yet needs to be fixed helps. The way to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions. It seems these should offset a little laziness of mind, but examining the problem objectively, it doesn’t. It’s magical thinking. It’s as if one has taken meticulous good care of the car, washed it, polished it, then it’s too much to expect that one has to keep adequate amounts of gasoline in it. Also, there's a need to weave in tactfully the virtues and pleasures in thinking about feelings and emotions and relationships. There’s a need to  envision to be the next step in social and emotional education: psychological literacy. This needs to happen at a certain critical mass, such as a thousand efforts nationwide, or four thousand efforts internationally.1. There are lots of illusions. In Hindu mythology, there is a goddess of illusion, “Maya,” and her role is to make that which is not real seem really real. The operative word here is “seem.” In that perspective, much of what humans experience is at least somewhat or illusory.

40. Death is bad, a tragedy, is a most common illusion, but were there not death, the misery of nobody dying might well be far worse.

41. There is a confusion between types of mental illness. Mental retardation is not clearly differentiated from psychosis, though in some people both may appear. The biggest problem came because Freud insufficiently differentiated between psychosis and neurosis, and other followers tried to treat psychotic conditions with psychotherapy. The problem is that there are almost always some psychological distortions in association with many types of illness—not just  psychiatric illness. But it’s pretty clear that mental illness is not mere folly. The situation is more complex, but this is not the place to go into it.

42.  A great deal of illusion is part of the social matrix—political and social myths are prevalent, and advertising has added many ideas about what is the good life, what is happiness (hint: consume more stuff!), and so forth.

43. Many general cultural illusions are actively promoted, elaborated, shaped to be even more convincing by political propagandists, publicity agents, “spin doctors,”  advertisers, sales people, etc.. Many sales people are sincere in believing their own words.

44. Much of rhetoric, the art of persuasion, includes how to appeal to the non-rational ways the mind works, such as the “bandwagon”: it must be right / good because it seems that everybody is doing / wanting / buying / thinking it.  There are many such rhetorical fallacies—things that seem plausible but if the argument or sales pitch is closely analyzed, it falls apart.

45. Many illusions are fine, benign, on the whole, don’t hurt anyone and help people to cope with life. The problem lies with not being aware of the possibility that what these illusions suggest may not always be helpful or true. An attitude of wondering with a touch of skepticism may be something you should keep in your repertoire.

46. The power of an illusion is that at first or maybe even second glance it seems true. That we are not infested with illusory thinking is itself illusory: We are indeed saturated by such notions and appearances. People with a great deal of education and habits of rigorous analysis are almost as caught up in illusion as people without that education. It’s human.

47. The illusion that we are not living in a state of illusion is primary. A variation that we know what we think and only those who are weak in their minds don’t is another illusion.  The unconscious involves all the mental operations of which we are not explicitly aware—and that’s most.

48. The fact that we can at times pay attention to or notice aspects of mind or perception gives us the feeling that we are mainly consciously thinking, but much of the time these operations don’t happen.

49. You can trim it a bit, and focus on this or that illusion, but it’s not possible to “get rid of” illusions, no matter how much psychoanalysis one undertakes, or classes in logic. It’s entirely possible to generate complex systems that are both mythic and yet pretend to be in no way irrational. But they are if you dig deeply enough.

50. Critical thinking is rarely fully taught, because to teach it thoroughly would invite questions few teachers are prepared to answer, like why is school compulsory.

51. Do not believe what you think. Your thinking may be erroneous. Check it out. Do not think what you believe or want to believe or think you must believe or are even dimly inclined to believe because there are illusions of all kinds and often you’re fooled or you fool yourself. Also, do not believe or think what you feel. Sometimes that’s the wisest way to proceed, but sometimes that’s the dumbest way to go—and how do you figure out which is which? One word, “thinking,” hints at a type of thinking that double-checks, that surveys the situation, re-thinks it. Not infrequently first impressions are fine, and not infrequently they are deeply misleading! So critical thinking is important

52. Thinking cannot be neatly separated from feeling, believing, hoping, relating, and so forth. Thinking can blur into the appreciation of art and other enjoyments—what is called “aesthetic” functions, sizing up, and so forth. And in much of life they flow as naturally as bodily functions. But early in life we learn bowel and bladder control—don’t always go whenever you feel like it.  So we learn to disconnect and compartmentalize. There are times to do this, and times not to.

53. This is annoyingly complicated: There is a common illusion that things should be simple, they really are. This is not so.  We loved that idea, but didn’t grasp that reality is in fact not able too be simplified much because it really, really is complicated. Efforts to simplify occasionally work, but more often interfere with deep exploration by pretending that the field is far simpler than had been assumed—and simplistic thinking distorts reality. It’s full of generalities only slightly more foolish than all American Indians being capriciously warlike, because they played that role in the movies of early Hollywood.

54. The illusion that science will reveal all is an illusion, too. Also that reality can be expressed as “formulas,” and there are people—scientists—who know what it means—denies the reality that the most knowing people realize they’re just at the beginning of a host of mysteries.

55. Psychology should not be overly associated with psychopathology.  That is one facet that was given excessive attention because there was money in it. But from another point it overly associated psychotherapy with psychology. Let’s note, in fact, that a great deal of psychology wonders about the minds of otherwise perfectly healthy work. Marie-Louise von Franz wrote, “The real psychology is a psychology that is for everybody. It naturally includes the problems of clinicians, but is not concentrated solely on that area.”

56. A good deal of psychology remains mysterious. It’s not absolutely clear that all mind arises from (rather than through) the brain. Could there be any sources of inspiration or creativty beyond the brain? I suspect so but it’s hard to prove. Also, the fact we know so much more than a century or two ago does not mean that we know anywhere near all that is to be known. I suspect the opposite, that we know now much more than before, but we also know there is much, much more that remains to be discovered. So humility is called for.

57. Much needs to be done to continue to make ever-finer distinctions, to notice areas of grey where we had previously thought in terms of black-and-white.

58. We must note that it’s common for many people to feel entitled to life being simple, and such folks resent all this complexity, as if those in charge could make it simple if they only would. That it really is very complicated is a truth that many people have not accepted in their heart of hearts.

59. Psychology isn’t a neat compartmentalized topic but rather an aspect of almost every other topic. Mixed with engineering, it’s called design. Books have been written on the psychology of economics, of politics, of education. They also explore these topics from the overlap of psychology and neuro-science and other fields.  Nowadays, more psychology is being brought into sales and commerce.  

60. What struck me—but I never got clear until much later—is that mental illness involves both disorders in the processing of thoughts and feelings, but also a variable amount of misleading thoughts. I half-got this when I was a teenager and I became a bit of a error-hunter. I’ve known some folks who like to hunt for mistakes in grammar and if they find their niche they become copy-editors. I know a person here who loves to find problems with computers that can be solved by deleting excessive programs or getting rid of viruses. Lots of people find their calling and something that intrigued me was that there were tons of things going on that didn’t click and I became interested in finding out what they were and how they worked.

61. There has been insufficient differentiation between mental illness and problems of daily living---"crazy" and "folly." Mental illness was thinking out of control. But some of it seemed to be more psychological, and Freud took on some of these cases. Freud was right and he was wrong. I don’t think he appreciated how much he might have been wrong, and how orthodox his organization—and he—could be in saying, “This ex-colleague’s theories are nonsense.” Freud did this, excommunicated, more than Jung and Adler—guys who were at one point next-in-line to the top, no minor thinkers. So this tendency to push for his own doctrine stamped his entire genre with a quality that’s closer to religion than science—and old-fashioned religion at that.

But that blurry area and the tendency Freud had to need and want money led him to use his method on the normal neurotics and people who wanted to be analysts in the 1920s. This wrecked the game in my opinion, because he clearly mixed the two, crazy and folly, treating crazy as just severe folly. That’s like treating smallpox as an allergic rash! Really, they are very very different things.

What struck me—but I never got clear until much later—is that a great deal of crazy is bad thinking. I half-got this when I was a teenager and I became a bit of a error-hunter. I’ve known some folks who like to hunt for mistakes in grammar and if they find their niche they become copy-editors. I know a person here who loves to find problems with computers that can be solved by deleting excessive programs or getting rid of viruses. Lots of people find their calling and something that intrigued me was that there were tons of things going on that didn’t click and I became interested in finding out what they were and how they worked.

The psychological-ization of madness was a deep error that has begun to be recognized in the last quarter century—but it’s such a mess, sociologically, economically, and there are several middle categories of trauma and addiction and the mixture. Folly is ever-present even in madness, please note, just as bacteria are always compounding a condition that might be viral in origin.

Everybody has a little folly, and part of what life is deals with correcting erroneous beliefs. I used to think all sorts of things—cats were girls and dogs were boys—that seemed pretty obvious to me for a while when I was a kid—and then I found out, gradually, that there were boy cats and girl dogs and, well, it was confusing for a while.

Now it’s harder to discover a mistaken idea if many or most people whom you respect, most people who seem more sure of themselves, agree that this or such is the way it is. Only much later you discover that it isn’t that way at all. This then brings you to questioning the basis of the character of the people you still respect: Are they dumb, crazy, arrogant, what? They don’t seem that way.

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