It seems that the leading edges of science agree with the wise fool “Nasrudin” who appears in Sufi teaching tales making illogical observations, like “If I hadn’t believed it, I wouldn’t have seen it with my own eyes.”
Though conventional wisdom insists that seeing is believing, scientific evidence
suggests it is likely the other way around. We might feel certain that we know what is
“out there” in the physical world, but our conclusions are primarily an interpretation of
Central to the teachings of all the wisdom traditions I am familiar with is a recognition
that the universe is essentially a mental phenomenon. This is considered a keystone to
understanding the nature of life. It is further understood that the universe conspires with
our beliefs—whatever they are.
The other day I listened to a radio interview with psychologist James Hogan plugging
his new book, I’m Right and You’re and Idiot, which discusses the epidemic lack of
civility in social and political discourse these days. Among other things, this book
points to a major impediment to most people’s ability to achieve happiness and expanded
awareness: our insatiable appetite for certainty.
The Certainty Principle is an odd polarity to Heisenberg’s familiar Uncertainty
Principle, a central plank of modern science, which points to the virtual impossibility of
being absolutely certain of anything, no matter how hard we try or how fervent our
belief. The Certainty Principle, on the other hand is based on the observation that most
people, when given a choice between a certainty likely to be painful or an uncertainty
likely to be pleasurable, will invariably choose certainty.
It is ironic that many of us would rather be right than happy! We all know someone
who seems unable to accept that their perceptions and beliefs might be flawed or might
interfere with their understanding; but this tendency plagues all of us.
It is wise not to believe everything you perceive… or everything you think.
Most of us subscribe to the popular illusion that what we experience as the sights and
sounds of the outside world constitute reality; however, as with many cherished
assumptions, considerable research evidence suggests otherwise. However, most of us
also prefer the familiar (certainty) and continually strive to maintain and replicate it as
though it were hard-wired into the brain.
It is well known that the brain has the ability to over-ride our senses, which it often
does, constructing what we perceives based on experiences that have calcified into
beliefs and expectations. The brain has a strong tendency to reflect what you are feeling
even when it is not true or does not reflect what really happened! Feelings are an entirely
subjective reality. As neuroscientist Dr. Michael Posner of the University of Oregon
points out, “the idea that perception can be manipulated by expectations is fundamental
to the study of cognition.”
While we often insist that our view of the world and events is an objective reflection
of what is “real,” the truth is that complete objectivity is a delusion. We may do our best
to be objective but, as Heisenberg demonstrated, it is basically unachievable.
I have often been compelled to remind couples that their personal truth is their
enemy when it comes to having a successful and fulfilling relationship. It is the enemy
of understanding. It is also the enemy of enlightenment. We are comfortable with the
familiar, but it is our “Achilles heal.”
Everything we perceive is to a certain degree an illusion. Not in the sense that it is not
there, but in the sense that it is not entirely as we perceive it to be. What we insist is
real and true is a projection of our own beliefs and expectations, which blocks us from
perceiving truths that are outside the realm of our own experience. It is also apparent
that our brains have trouble distinguishing between memory and fantasy.
Our beliefs are derived from the meaning we assign to our experiences. These
perceived meanings are encoded in familiar mental and emotional states based on prior
experiences that actually become our biology—neural networks that determine our
Did you know that there is considerably more capacity for information exchange
from our brains to our senses, than the other way around? Neural bundles that send
information from our brains to our sensory organs are ten times more prevalent than
nerve bundles coming from our senses to our brains.
This surprising discovery should give us pause to wonder and reason to celebrate.
Understanding the way we are wired opens new possibilities for personal empowerment
and higher intentionality.
There is considerable evidence that we can literally create our own reality by recreating
our brains— our neural pathways—by design. This is not just a “new age”
wishful notion. In fact, numerous practical tools are emerging from the field of
epigenetic medicine that have proven quite effective in accomplishing such
The more we see the world in a certain way, the more our experience of it conforms to
that belief. And the more calcified our beliefs become, the more it seems to us that our
beliefs and the perceptions are the only true reality. Repetition does not make it so.
To empower ourselves to create the life we want, we must stop rewriting our stories
from our wounds and disappointments and learn to develop flexible perception.
Perceptual flexibility is your ticket to happiness, fulfillment….and wisdom.