After laughing in recognition at the truth of the statement “we are all innocent by reason of insanity,” most people get quiet. They’re thinking, “What me, crazy? I don’t think so! I’m not in need of a straightjacket. I’m not a raving loony. Maybe I’ve got some problems but I’m not insane, I’m a normal, healthy-minded, rational human being.”
The truth is, no one sees reality accurately. All we see is a mind-generated virtual reality. Most of us unquestioningly believe our virtual reality is actual reality. In other words, we are deluded, and delusional is just another word for insane.
Webster’s New Universal, Unabridged Dictionary defines “delusion” as: a fixed, false belief that is resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact.
It’s easy to think of some common delusions. For example, how many of us have looked at ourselves in the mirror and been oblivious to the weight we’ve gained, seeing instead the thinner self of years past? Then when we put on a pair of pants we haven’t worn for awhile, feeling surprise when they’re tight?
Once I gained some weight and a favorite skirt was so tight I moved the buttons so it would fit better. Believe it or not, at the time I actually believed that something about the skirt had changed (I had owned it for years so there was no chance it had shrunk in the laundry). I was completely unwilling to admit the obvious fact that I had gained weight. I was seeing something not subject to objective confirmation by others. I was delusional.
Addictions—to alcohol, drugs, eating, sex, shopping, gambling—are enabled by the mind’s ability to “resist confrontation with actual fact.” Entire shelves are filled with books documenting the myriad ways people have been in denial—that is, deluded—about their addictive behavior. “I’m not an alcoholic, I just like having a drink every night because it helps me to relax.” Those of us who have experienced getting free of an addiction often look back on that time in our life and ask, “How could I have been so blind?”
How many of us have experienced being delusional in our love life? Usually our friends see our romantic relationships in a much more objective light than we do. A friend may ask, “How can you put up with your girlfriend, she’s such a boring gossip?” and we’ll just shrug it off as if we don’t see it—and we don’t, in our conscious mind. We block out negative thoughts about our lovers in an attempt to preserve the relationship, so we are oblivious to the problems our friends see. But later, when the relationship is over, we often realize we were aware of the problems all along.
Perhaps the most common delusion of all is the assumption that we know who we are. Look in a mirror and ask yourself who you really are. If you are like most people, you will find an abundance of unquestioned beliefs you hold about yourself (I’m pretty, I’m unattractive, I’m smart, I’m stupid, I’m a good person, I’m a bad person, I’m my job, I’m my history, I’m my possessions, I’m my name, etc.), which collectively comprise your identity. All of these beliefs create a mind-generated reality called “this is who I really am.” But with sufficient examination you will find that these beliefs in no way reveal the actual reality of your identity. These beliefs are simply what you have been taught and what you have come to believe about yourself.
You might ask: Am I a soul created by God that waited for a particular time and space to be born? If that’s true, where was that soul before I was born and where does it go when I die? If there is no God and no soul, am I just an arbitrary combination of genetic material? Is my life just a vehicle for self-replicating DNA to continue a mindless evolutionary progression? Or, as some physicists suggest, am I a bunch of subatomic particles randomly banging together, which means my life is just an inconsequential blip of consciousness in a completely meaningless universe?
After asking such questions it becomes clear that none of us, ultimately, has any absolute knowledge of who we are, what we are, where we are, when we are, why we are, what we’re doing, where we came from, or where we’re going.
But we go through life acting as if we know exactly who we are. Our personality is a life-long delusion. We are all insane.
Recently I was out in the yard with my cat, and watched her lift her nose to the wind. She was reading the scents of our neighborhood in a way I am completely incapable of. Often times I have seen her sniff at a bush and wished she could tell me the story of who passed by in the night. I sniff the bush and I don’t smell anything.
I see my neighbor’s dog prick up his ears: he hears something that is totally beyond my hearing. What does he know that I don’t know?
There is a world of sense experience all around me that these animals smell and hear but I am completely unaware of. What else might be right here under my nose that I can’t sense? I think I perceive all of reality as it is, but my cat and the dog show me I don’t.
A century ago a German biologist noticed this disparity in sense perception and came up with a term for an organism’s personal reality: the umwelt.
Neuroscientist David Eagleman writes about this idea in his new book, Incognito:
What you are able to experience is completely limited by your biology. This differs from the commonsense view that our eyes, ears, and fingers passively receive an objective physical world outside ourselves. As science marches forward with machines that can see what we can’t, it has become clear that our brains sample just a small bit of the surrounding physical world.
In 1909, the Baltic German biologist Jacob von Uexküll began to notice that different animals in the same ecosystem pick up on different signals from their environment. In the blind and deaf world of the tick, the important signals are temperature and the odor of butyric acid. For the black ghost knifefish, it’s electrical fields. For the echolocating bat, air-compression waves. So von Uexküll introduced a new concept: the part that you are able to see is known as the umwelt (the environment, or surrounding world), and the bigger reality (if there is such a thing) is known as the umgebung. Each organism has its own umwelt, which it presumably assumes to be the entire objective reality ‘out there.’ Why would we ever stop to think that there is more beyond what we can sense?
The film "The Truman Show" is a perfect example of someone confusing his umwelt with the umgebung. Truman is raised in a giant bubble, an invented world of actors, every moment of his life filmed for the ultimate reality TV show. But Truman believes his world is reality, not a fake—it’s all he’s ever known. What could ever make him question it? Eventually he starts noticing flaws, and the film documents his slow realization that his world is, in fact, not reality. We cheer Truman’s heroic effort to break through the limits of his umwelt into the larger reality.
Dr. Eagleman quotes an interviewer asking the film’s director, “Why do you think Truman has never come close to discovering the true nature of his world?” The director replies, “We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented.”
The pertinent aspect of this concept in this context is that humans believe they are in touch with reality. We think our subjective reality is reality. The definition of insanity in this blog is “confusing our subjective opinion with objective fact.” When I sit on my porch and think I am experiencing reality I am delusional; I am only experiencing my umwelt. Recognizing this allows me to experience humility: I am aware of how little I know in any situation. My knowledge will always be limited.
Just admitting that my personal subjective reality is limited opens me up to be able to experience more of what is out there.
If you’re interested in hearing more about the tick’s umwelt, here’s a discussion of it from Wikipedia:
The umwelt is for [Jakob von Uexküll] an environment-world which is (according to Agamben), "constituted by a more or less broad series of elements [called] "carriers of significance" or "marks" which are the only things that interest the animal". Agamben goes on to paraphrase one example from Uexküll's discussion of a tick, saying,
"...this eyeless animal finds the way to her watchpoint [at the top of a tall blade of grass] with the help of only its skin’s general sensitivity to light. The approach of her prey becomes apparent to this blind and deaf bandit only through her sense of smell. The odor of butyric acid, which emanates from the sebaceous follicles of all mammals, works on the tick as a signal that causes her to abandon her post (on top of the blade of grass/bush) and fall blindly downward toward her prey. If she is fortunate enough to fall on something warm (which she perceives by means of an organ sensible to a precise temperature) then she has attained her prey, the warm-blooded animal, and thereafter needs only the help of her sense of touch to find the least hairy spot possible and embed herself up to her head in the cutaneous tissue of her prey. She can now slowly suck up a stream of warm blood."
Thus, for the tick, the umwelt is reduced to only three (biosemiotic) carriers of significance: (1) The odor of butyric acid, which emanates from the sebaceous follicles of all mammals, (2) The temperature of 37 degrees celsius (corresponding to the blood of all mammals), (3) The hairy topography of mammals.
1. Assume a state of infinite consciousness exists.
2. This state is absolutely unlimited. There are no unknowns, there are no limitations, there is no “other.” There is only One.
3. The only conceivable limitation to being absolutely unlimited is the inability to experience limitation.
4. The inability to experience limitation is a limitation and makes the unlimited limited after all—a contradiction.
5. In order to be absolutely unlimited the unlimited must be able to experience limitation.
6. The only way the unlimited can have a completely realistic experience of limitation is to temporarily forget that it is unlimited.
7. The universe is the unlimited experiencing limitation in a state of amnesia.
8. The truth is infinite consciousness. Everything else is illusion.
9. Relating to an illusion as though it is the truth is insane.
10. This is why human insanity (a delusional state) is universal. We all live our lives as though we know who we are, what we are, where we are, when we are, why we are, what we’re doing, where we came from, and where we’re going. The truth is we don’t know. We are lost in space, wandering in an amnesiac fog and our ignorance—in spite of flush toilets and particle accelerators–is almost absolute.
The metaphysics is from our first book, The Game of God: Recovering Your True Identity
. Oprah called it “A great book about God.”
Metaphysical Basis for Human Insanity