Saturday, April 01, 2006

Cognitive Dissonance as a Defense against Truth

Under the title of this article you will find a link to some information on Cognitive Dissonance, at a site called I will quote the salient opening paragraph:

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon which refers to the discomfort felt at a discrepancy between what you already know or believe, and new information or interpretation. It therefore occurs when there is a need to accommodate new ideas, and it may be necessary for it to develop so that we become "open" to them. Neighbour (1992) makes the generation of appropriate dissonance into a major feature of tutorial (and other) teaching: he shows how to drive this kind of intellectual wedge between learners' current beliefs and "reality."

Throughout the Course Jesus uses cognitive dissonance in the active sense of the second half of the paragraph above as a constructive educational tool, while the ego uses it as a defense against what he is teaching in the sense of the first part of the paragraph above, quite along the lines of the original observations of Leon Feistinger.

The ego uses cognitive dissonance in the same way as the cult members in Leon Feistingers original research, i.e. to reinterpret contradictory information in such a way as to validate its model of reality. The "ego" of course in that sense is just such a cult, devoted to the untruth of the separation. Ken Wapnick in seminars and in his books has given the example of lucid dreaming where we half hear the real phone ringing in our room, but cope with it in our dream with an episode that involves a ringing phone, so that we never wake up and pickup the actual phone. In this sense then Christianity in making Jesus into a figure in the dream, and validating the world of duality, of time and space is the ego's way of explaining Jesus away. The use of cognitive dissonance in the Course is designed to show us how untenable that position is, through experience (non-dualistic), not through argument (dualistic), as the ego would have us do.

The many ways in which Jesus uses cognitive dissonance is by using familiar theological idiom from the Christian tradition in non-"traditional" ways, suggesting that he actually meant something else. Secondly he addresses us as "you," and we all start out studying the Course thinking that he is talking to us as individuals. Slowly however the dissonance grows because it is clear in various places such as the "Dreamer of the Dream," that he is not, and thus it begins to dawn on us that he is addressing us as what we are, the Son of God, or more precisely he is addressing our ability to change our mind (meta-noia) and choose the "present" memory of who we are over the seeming reality of who we think we are (ego/individuality), which then leads to increasing dissonance and discomfort in our lives as we resist this realization, and try to hang on to who we thought we were instead of who we really are, as Jesus is making us realize.

One of the most salient examples perhaps of how this works comes up in people's experiences with lessons such as Lesson 94, "I am as God created me." If one attempts to do those lessons at all we soon see the ego squirming and hollering it must be a lie, when the entire point of the lesson is that we start to shift our understanding, and our identification from the false self of individual existense, to our true selves as sons of God, and once we change our mind about that the lesson also starts to make sense.

Along the way we come up with many defenses, from the ridiculous to the sublime, including such things as teaching others ACIM, which is an excellent defense against learning it ourselves, and a huge temptation to make ourselves important in other ways. We can become influential teachers of the Course and other such nonsense. Or we can develop a special relationship with the Holy Spirit, and become HS groupies, hearing voices and telling others what to do, when evidently the central concept in the Course is that a messenger should realize that the teaching is meant first for himself, not to mention that it is never about behavior in the world. The point here is always that from the standpoint of individual consciousness we must project what we deny, and in this case this can take the form of denying that our own choice for the ego is a problem (and one that can be fixed, since the solution is also present in our mind), and attacking others for their choices for the ego is a perfect way of doing that, and the Course makes a handy weapon. It used to be even better when it was in three volumes.

Teaching the Course is clearly meant to be doing what it says, and therefore teaching by example, and teaching it in the formal sense is a side show from that point of view. The Course needs neither defense, nor explanation, it is complete in itself. Obviously however many of us can get help along the way from various teachers who may be a little more advanced in their understanding of the Course, and there is nothing wrong with that either. As the Course itself implies when the memory of who we are comes back to us, both the Course, its worldly teachers, as well as the Inner Teacher from the introduction (Jesus) become irrelevant, for in remembering that we are the Son of God, we will realize that Jesus was merely there as a symbol, as one who remembered before we did, and who could therefore lead us on the way home.

In the world, one of the many forms the teaching activity takes is the doing of translations, and this has happened under the leadership of Ken Wapnick, and of necessity -- since he does not and could not know all these languages -- his effort must focus on helping the translators with their understanding. Content comes first, and is then expressed in another medium, in this case a language. Approaching translation purely as transformation of one language into another without regard to content would lead to hilarious errors. However to the extent that translation is de facto impossible, and always limited in its ability to duplicate an exact parallel of the original, including all the word plays, etc., this is an endeavor that must be approached with a great deal of humility. And we should take the outcome with a grain of salt, and direct our attention to content, not form in our attempts to learn the material in another language.

My attention was recently drawn (again) to some issues in the Dutch translation, which I can appreciate, since Dutch is my native language. Harmen Kooremen is doing a lot of work on the semantic structure of the Course and has an interesting way of documenting that, which very much looks into the consistencies and inconsistencies in the usage in the Course. As a result of his work he has also been documenting tendencies in the translation to be excessively creative in Dutch, and thus sometimes lose the fact of the deliberate use of words in the original. Some of his comments are very interesting, and while it would not serve here to discuss the details, it occurred to me, as I was reading some of his articles recently on a Dutch ACIM list (ACIMNed on yahoo), that the issues he raises are equally important in English, because they are a reflection of our own difficulty in hearing what the Course says, and that the message really is as simple as it is. The temptation in teaching the Course in the formal sense is always in thinking that our understanding is a powerful contribution to the truth, or in this case that our translation would be such.

The way of the Holy Spirit would be to realize that we as individuals do neither teach nor translate, but perhaps we may be channels for the sonship to remember who we are. That is the only attitude which can, should, and undoubtedly would guide the process towards a successful translation, but it would not surprise me if some of the translators in Dutch or any other language, would over time see a need to revise the language as the appreciation for the semantic and didactic purpose of the original English text becomes clearer and clearer in their own minds. The only sane advice to any reader ould be to try and read the English text at least some of the time, if you can at all.

In some other way, in reflecting on this whole process, I also found a lot of help in my work in translating Mark from the Greek, which has prompted a lot of reflection of how translations happen. It is in essence of course the "opening of the understanding," as related in Luke 24:45 which the risen Christ performs to the Eleven which is the shift from form to content which occurs in us if we truly follow Jesus in leaving the world of duality and form, and starting to "know" (gnosis!) the non-dualistic reality which he teaches us. And it is only from this standpoint of content, not form, that there is any hope for any sort of translating or teaching in the world, in which we could be of service to others.

Copyright, © 2006 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.
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