Shayne Wissler
“… to understand is, above all, to unify.” – Albert Camus

The Path to Enlightenment

October 31 2019

Most of us have the same intellectual start: the healthy infant state. In this state we are as perfect as any human will be: we have made no mistakes, we have neither psychological baggage nor intellectual confusions nor dishonesties. The price for this perfection is our complete ignorance and our complete dependence upon others.

As we climb out of this infant state we naturally must trust those who are helping us. This leads to our first intellectual barrier: having unjustified trust in authority figures past the appropriate time. Many live their whole lives unjustifiably believing the dogmas their parents taught them; they never intellectually mature. Others translate this immaturity to other authority figures, such as to their preachers, teachers, doctors, and politicians. They are acolytes. Many human beings live out their lives in this infantile, acolyte state, happily ingesting the beliefs given to them by others, just as baby birds consume the regurgitated insects provided by their mother. The rest of us retain this vestigial instinct to blindly trust and still follow it to varying degrees. It is, after all, often the path of least resistance, both psychologically and socially.

After the infant stage comes the juvenile stage: we begin to learn that authority figures aren’t all they seem to be and start trying to think for ourselves. But, we really don’t yet know how to think well, so we bumble through this, often substituting our own unanalyzed beliefs (emotions and “intuitions”) for the admonishments of authority figures. Most of these beliefs are not even original to us, but were placed there earlier by authority figures. Using our own unjustified beliefs as a replacement authority figure is a step forward (for we now have the awareness that these are our beliefs and that we have the power to change them), but to cling to this state isn’t true independence, it is a foolish rebelliousness.

As the juvenile stage begins by realizing that authority figures aren’t all they seem to be, the mature adult stage begins by realizing that unanalyzed beliefs also aren’t all they seem to be, that many of these are delusions that must be checked and corrected somehow. We learn Socratic questioning and the method of exclusively relying upon evidence and logic, and are thus able to scrutinize and correct our beliefs. Because truth is our aim and we are now well familiar with the phenomenon of being wrong and knowing it, we become more open to those who might contradict our current set of beliefs. When practicing this method over time, we become sincere, then enlightened, and perhaps eventually even becoming a sage.

In a healthy society, all organically healthy people aspire and reach the adult stage without too much difficulty. But because the current era is barbaric, we observe many instances of those who are physically adult getting mentally stuck at some mixture of the infant, juvenile, and adult stages. This explains the social chaos we observe in the world today.