How to know you'

[From Bill Powers (960507b)]

Stefan Balke (960506.1730 CET) --

     I believe that it is possible to "go up a level" and "look down",
     but I'm not really sure, because there is no gravity or an
     altimeter inside the brain which gives direct feedback about my
     actual level. If I think about at with level I had been, I already
     changed the level, isn't it?

Yes, that seems to be a basic rule about awareness. You are never aware
OF the level FROM WHICH you are being aware. When I ask you to describe
the uncertainty that you experience in thinking about levels (or
anything else), you can't come up with a factual description until you
have examined some example of this uncertainty, and in order to do that
you must somehow find a viewpoint from which you can observe it. You may
not have an altimeter (nice idea), but you can tell you have gone up a
level because you are no longer identified with the former point of
view. You don't need an altimeter to realize that you're looking down on
the hilltop where you were standing 20 minutes ago while looking down on
a lower hilltop.

I suggest that while you are telling me about your uncertainty, you are
not uncertain at all about what you are telling me. That is, if you say
that there is an experience of uncertainty going on, you are not in any
doubt whatsoever that it is going on, or that you are remembering it
going on. Does this agree with your experience?

Suppose you think the thought (in your own language) "I could be
cheating myself, and only rationalizing that I have gone up a level."
You have reported to me that such thoughts have occurred to you. In
fact, if you want to, you can think that thought again right now, can't
you? When you think that thought, there are two ways you can deal with
it. One is to give assent to it, to think that yes, in fact, you could
be cheating yourself although you're not certain that you are doing so.
In other words, you pay attention to what the words mean, and have
another thought about this meaning which asserts that the first thought
is or might be true. But you can also simply pay attention to the
thought itself, observing that it is a thought and that it is occurring.
This has nothing to do with the meaning of the thought, or whether the
thought occurs in words, or whether you have other thoughts that agree
with it; you are just observing the existence of the thought and knowing
that it exists.

If you can do that, you can also cause other thoughts to appear: for
example, "I am quite certain that I am not cheating myself." It's easy
to think that thought, just as easy as it is to think the other one. But
now, since you are not identifying with its meaning, it is easier to see
that it is JUST a thought, and not a truth. You might notice a second
thought that says, "No, that was a false statement, because I might be
cheating myself." That is just a thought, too, which you can observe.
Now you are observing contradictory thoughts.

Under ordinary circumstances when you think, you are thinking about
something else -- a mathematical or personal relationship, a problem, a
plan, a splinter in your finger, or whatever. Your attention is on the
situation about which you're thinking, and you simply ARE the thinker.
You are, in terms of my mental model for this whole idea, occupying the
level that thinks and attends to the levels below it; you are being
aware as if from that level, but you are not aware THAT you are
identified with a process of thinking. I ask, is it better to invest
your money for the future, or to spend it now to accomplish something
useful in the present? And immediately, while you are considering that
question, your attention is on the problem, all the considerations that
enter into both sides. There are points in favor of spending the money
now, and points in favor of investing it for the future. Your attention
is on these points, and although you are thinking, you are not thinking
"I am thinking." You are thinking "Should I spend it, or save it?"

Once you see the principle here, you can step back from any thought and
realize that even before you consider whether it's true or not, you can
identify it as a thought, and refrain from _being_ that thought. Then,
perhaps, you will realize that since you don't have any money, there's
no point in worrying about all the possible solutions to this problem,
and anyway, why should you devote so much time to a problem just because
somebody else asked a question? New thoughts suddenly come up, changing
the nature of the problem and allowing you to stop thinking about it. If
that's what you want to do.

Does this mean that thought is useless, or that there is no truth? Not
at all. When you become aware of thinking, you realize that truth is a
matter of criteria. You may think "Today is Tuesday," and also think
"... and that agrees with the date on the newspaper I just bought." In
other words, the truth of the first thought depends on an observation
that lies outside the thought. There's a principle here, which treats
truth as consistency among statements and observations. Where we go
wrong in dealing with truth is in accepting thoughts as true all by
themselves, just because we thought them. We are likely to make this
mistake if we are unable to step back and see that the thought is just a
thought, and that it could just as well be replaced by another thought
with the opposite meaning. The only time this is not possible is when we
have corroborating evidence that fits one thought but not its opposite.

I don't mean to lecture on "how to think." I don't know how to do that
better than anyone else does. The point I'm trying to get across is that
you can either identify your viewpoint with the thoughts that are going
on, while attending mainly to what the thoughts are about, or you can
step back and observe the thoughts themselves, attending to them from
some point of view that is not itself a thought. When you do this, the
thoughts take on a different appearance and significance. I have picked
thoughts as the subject matter because the example you gave concerned
thoughts that you have. By asking questions about your thoughts, I
implicitly invited you to find a level from which you could observe your
thoughts and thus answer my questions. And, unless I am mistaken, you
did so, and by doing so you answered your own question by demonstrating
the answer.

···

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Best,

Bill P.

From Stefan Balke (960509.1615 CET)

Bill Powers (960507b) --

Does this mean that thought is useless, or that there is no truth? Not
at all. When you become aware of thinking, you realize that truth is a
matter of criteria. You may think "Today is Tuesday," and also think
"... and that agrees with the date on the newspaper I just bought." In
other words, the truth of the first thought depends on an observation
that lies outside the thought. There's a principle here, which treats
truth as consistency among statements and observations.

I would like to add here, that the criteria for the truth of a thought has
to lie outside the thought itself, but it could lie inside the brain and
must not necessarily be observed from outside the brain, as it is in your
newspaper example. One example for this is delivered by the level of
aspiration approach, which claims that the criterium for the question "Was
my performance a succes or a failure" is not an external one, maybe the
magnitude of the performance or the intensity of applause from the public,
but the point whether the performance or applause (the controlled perceptual
variable) exceeds or fails the actual level of aspiration (the reference
level).
In an experiment I asked the participants before playing the next trial of a
computer game (tetris) to tell me how many points they wanted to reach in
the coming trial. This was recorded as their actual aspiration level. After
finishing the trial, I asked them, whether they evaluated the actual
performance as a success or as a failure. In 94.9% of the 878 analysed
trials, the players told me that they evaluated the performance as success
when it exceeds the level of aspiration or that they evaluated it as a
failure when it did not exceed the level. The level itself was not fixed but
covaried with the success ratings of the previous trials. The classic study
in this domain was carried out by Ferdinand Hoppe in 1931.

I don't mean to lecture on "how to think." I don't know how to do that
better than anyone else does.

Bill, isn't this a clear case of self-cheating :slight_smile:

By asking questions about your thoughts, I
implicitly invited you to find a level from which you could observe your
thoughts and thus answer my questions. And, unless I am mistaken, you
did so, and by doing so you answered your own question by demonstrating
the answer.

A very elegant solution.

Thanks, Stefan