I have attended many talks and listened to many different groups of people discuss a wide variety of issues concerning human behaviour. Some discussions progress very smoothly and all parties seem to be on the same wavelength while other discussions exhibit a more fragmentary atmosphere with hostile attitudes erupting between the participants. As a result of experiencing this so regularly, I am interested in exploring why these situations occur through discussion and what the purpose of discussion actually is – why we discuss matters of the mind at all.
To begin, we must understand the word discussion and what is implied in that word.
Discussion – the examination or consideration of a matter in speech or writing.
Discussion means to share, through speech or writing; each person is sharing his or her experience – what he or she knows about the point being discussed. In both speech and writing, we use words to convey meaning to each other and, through this, we share our knowledge. Since words are essentially the vessel through which we share knowledge, we must understand what a word is.
What is a word?
We know a word as a sound emanating from the mouth, a sound ‘in one’s head’ (one’s internal dialogue), or a symbol written on a page: these three manifestations collectively are what we refer to as the word. Words are an expression of knowledge, we express what we know through the word (or through a series of words) and, as a result of others understanding that word, they capture the meaning that we intended to convey. Words are, therefore, a representation of knowledge – a word ‘re-presents’ our knowledge. We can re-present our knowledge to another through speech or writing, or we can re-present our knowledge to ourselves through our internal dialogue (verbal thoughts).
We have understood that words are representations of knowledge, but what is knowledge?
Knowledge is the totality of one’s past perceptions. Knowledge is acquired through perception: we see something (whether it is a bird or a cloud) and through that very act of seeing the experience is recorded and becomes knowledge. Knowledge is, therefore, a representation in itself; knowledge is a representation of something we have experienced in the past. Now, follow me a little here:
Knowledge is a representation of an actual event
Word is a representation of knowledge
Therefore, from this we can understand that a word is an expression that is two steps removed from reality – a representation of a representation of reality.
Reality → Knowledge (representation) → Word (representation)
I hope that was not too confusing – a word represents knowledge, and knowledge represents a past experience. We experience, record that experience as knowledge, and then use a word to represent that knowledge. I hope this is clear.
In case there is still some confusion, let me give an example. One experiences fear, one records that experience (that record is knowledge) and then later one uses words to convey that experience to another. In this example, fear is the actual happening, knowledge is the memory of it, and words convey to another that memory.
It is very important to understand the representational nature of both knowledge and word because one must understand that, through discussion, what they are relating to is not the fact itself, but a representation of the fact. To give an example of this: we may discuss fear, but that discussion about fear is not fear itself. In discussing fear we are sharing our knowledge about fear (we are experiencing our knowledge of fear), not experiencing real fear. Thus, through discussion, we do not come into perceptive contact with real fear, only a representation of it, but why does that matter?
What is the difference between discussing something with another and seeing something for oneself?
There are many differences, but for simplicity I will give only one. Through discussion, we share our knowledge about the fact but that knowledge may be incorrect. It may be incorrect for fundamentally two reasons: (1) the person conveying his or her knowledge may be incorrect, or (2) You may misinterpret what the other is trying to convey. In any case, relating to a representation of a fact implies the possibility for one to acquire false information: for instance, a guru may tell you what it means to be religious, but he might be quite wrong. The very existence of representation acts as an intermediary between you and the fact, and it is this factor of intermediacy that gives rise to the possibility for one to acquire false information. I think this point alone is sufficient to make one proceed with caution when discussing questions of the mind, or anything else for that matter.
To negate intermediacy in its entirety in response to a question you have means to cease relating to representations and instead observe the fact itself to derive an understanding of it. To have perceptive contact with the real thing is not susceptible to falsity because there is no intermediary capable of distorting the facts. The perception of the real thing itself is the truth of itself; it cannot be anything but.
The perception of fear is real fear.
Knowledge represents fact, but fact itself is self-evident, it cannot be anything else. And so, in clear perception of fact, the fact is truthfully revealing itself through its very conscious appearance.
Through discussion, we do not come into perceptive contact with the phenomena we discuss; we come into contact only with the knowledge we hold about them. We may, therefore, state that the description of fear is not fear. This rule is also true for anything we discuss, whether it is pleasure, sorrow, or something else. Therefore, we can state the following as a law:
The description is not the described.
This distinction is particularly important to understand because a person who has not understood that the description is not the described will falsely relate the meaning he or she acquires through discussion to the actual thing – rightly or wrongly. A large number of people appear to be caught in this trap. They derive great stimulation from intellectual discussions, which is fine, but when that pleasure inhibits them from a willingness to observe the real thing they are discussing and discover for themselves whether what they think is true is actually true, then their discussions become a factor that redirects their passion to answer questions to an avenue that perceives the representations of fact rather than the fact itself. In this instance, discussion is a danger. Also, it is salutary to note that the hostility observed in fragmentary discussions comes about as a result of people believing that they are sharing fact rather than representation. Here, in the light of contradiction, one is simply met not with the possibility that a conception they hold is incorrect, but instead that their reality is being invalidated.
When we discuss something, we are sharing our knowledge about that thing and knowledge is fundamentally a representation. Discussion may, therefore, be understood as the sharing of representations about a fact in the absence of direct contact with that fact itself. This is an important distinction because it means that what we learn through discussion is not fact, but a representation of fact. Therefore, anything that one accepts or rejects throughout a discussion is an acceptance or rejection in relation to representation and not in relation to fact. We should take a moment to understand acceptance and rejection a little more because it is these sensations that one falsely believes to be the measure of whether something is true or false.
So, what is acceptance and rejection?
To accept means to agree, but deeper than that it means ‘to consider as true’. Likewise, reject means to refuse and deeper still means ‘to consider as false’. But what determines this?
What determines whether something is accepted or rejected?
Take the statement ‘God exists’: a Christian may respond to this with acceptance (true) and an atheist may respond to this with rejection (false). Since the statement is the same in both cases, the difference in the response must be determined by the individual hearing that statement, and, more specifically, the difference in response must be determined by the knowledge each possesses. Therefore, acceptance and rejection are the response of knowledge, an inevitable knee-jerk reaction based on the knowledge one holds and not measures of truth in themselves. This implies that knowledge, through discussion, has the peculiar ability to retain its own structure: in the light of information presented that is congruent with what one currently thinks there will be a response of acceptance and in the light of contradictory information there will be a response of rejection.
So, one important factor in discussion is for one to have the ability to observe their own responses of acceptance and rejection and through this learn about themselves (learn what they think) but not take those occurrences to be undoubtedly factual. A certain freedom from acceptance and rejection is necessary, and it is an absolute necessity to observe and understand what one accepts and what one rejects because that educates one about oneself. This is a necessary factor in exploring the validity of the conditioning your society has inevitably inculcated in you while growing up.
Now, the question of discussion’s representative nature becomes important. This is important because one enters a discussion with the intention of uncovering truths, but what we are saying here is that one can only relate to representations of facts through discussion (which might or might not be correct) and experience the responses of acceptance or rejection which, in turn, determine what the brain records as true or false. Essentially, this means that what you know will bias what you learn and involved in this whole process is a great possibility for acquiring false information without your being aware that you have done so. Therefore, understanding this, we must question whether discussion has any relevance at all.
Obviously, in the context we have discussed, it does not have any relevance or, to put it another way, it is so open to falsity that it is very dangerous. It is merely the sharing of knowledge and the acquisition of knowledge that could be either correct or incorrect in total absence of perceptive contact with the fact under discussion. It has no meaning. So, is there a revolutionary way in which to discuss? A change in the attitude of the discussant that would, in turn, give discussion relevance?
Is there an attitude towards discussion that has a useful application?
We intend to discuss to acquire facts, therefore we must understand how we acquire facts.
Through what means does one acquire factual understanding?
In order to understand something actually we must have direct perceptive contact with it. As an example, take fear: in order to understand fear one must perceive fear as it is acting. Through this perception one acquires factual information about fear simply through perceiving its expression in consciousness. So, the necessity for acquiring a factual understanding is a perception of the real thing. To arouse a willingness to perceive the real thing is the real purpose of discussion. The purpose of discussion is not to take the intensity behind a question and pacify it through comforting concepts that act as a false sense of knowing, but to bring about a mind which attains a willingness to observe the real phenomenon itself. In order for this to happen, the intention of the discussion must not be to consummate or validate a theoretical construction, but instead to attain the right starting point for an observation. In order to do this, we must be willing to suspend our belief or disbelief in what we think is true or false and observe the fact itself to uncover the truth of it.
When one observes fact, there is no activity of acceptance or rejection distorting the knowledge one acquires: when one sees something for oneself, it is so, there is no medium of distortion. The real purpose of a discussion is to understand the problem better so one knows where to look and simultaneously inspire an interest in seeing the fact for oneself, not to find an answer through the discussion. The outcome of a discussion must arouse a willingness to investigate, not dissipate, that urge, and that all hinges upon whether we think we have found the answer through discussion or whether we think we have come closer to understanding where we must look in ourselves to find the answer.
To acquire an answer through discussion is to hold ashes.
The purpose of discussion is not to come upon an answer, but to attain the right starting point for a perceptive exploration of the question.