We place a lot of stock in appearances and despite what Mr Cook says they can be misleading. We can take a mask from the ancient gallery as and when it suits.

A while back I went on holiday, but I had one business appointment whilst on holiday, so I travelled smart. It is easier than packing these things. It was to a holiday destination. On the way back, I went through border control at a regional airport and I could see the guys there looking at me. Amongst the travellers I stood out and when I have business shoes on I tend to parade around as if I own the place, a bit. I watched their faces and made a bet to myself that they were going to pull me over. This they did, and they asked me the purpose of my visit abroad. I put on my best voice and explained. My voice was consistent with my dress and whatever niggle they had in their minds was sufficiently appeased for them to let me on my way.

I have tried similar experiments with dress to see what happens. I have a Schrödinger’s cat T-shirt, a hippy shirt, many polo shirts and depending upon what I am wearing, say to visit the GPs, the response is different. The last time I went for a cancer check-up I was reading “Quantum Optics” and when I put it on the table in the consulting room, the consultant was unsure about how to proceed. For whatever reason his confidence wavered slightly. Irrespective of how I am dressed I am the same person, yet people interact differently because of my outer appearance and the preconceptions they may have.

We place a lot of stock in appearances. We tend to judge a book by its cover, even if that cover says “Quantum Optics” or “Bodhicharyavatara”. I had a nice chat with a nurse about Buddhism as a result of reading the latter. We may jump to conclusions, conclusions I might add which are never explored or verified.

Having cued this up:

Am I with Mr Cook on this one?

Am I prone to judge a duck by its cover?

Has this ever proven to be inaccurate?

What Does Knowledge Look Like?

This is an interesting question because it is possible we all have some preconceptions. If we are seeking a personal trainer, then it is unlikely we would pick a middle-aged guy with and can of Stella in one hand, a cheeseburger in the other and a fag (cigarette) in his mouth. If we are seeking to learn Asana yoga, we might expect a bendy woman in Lycra and a crop top perhaps smelling of something fragrant. If we seek to meditate we might want some dude in Buddhist robes or some Indian guru type, maybe they should have a groovy name. If we seek to learn quantum mechanics, we might imagine a boffin with wild hair and spectacles. You get the idea…

The trouble is that if the packaging and the branding is not to our taste and our preconceptions, we may not be willing to learn. We may be quite sanctimonious. We judge the book by its cover and public relations statements, we may look at the on-line reviews and star rating. We might expect some evidence of popularity and this lovely thing “success”. They would have to have some reputation and/or status.

If someone pushes our buttons, they are unlikely to be all that popular. People get angry and pissed off. You may have noticed that I bang on about smoking, this pushes people’s socially conditioned buttons. It is one of the A number one soap-box topics in our modern times. Why?

If something does not challenge our preconceptions can we learn from it? Well maybe, but what are we learning?

So here is a question for you:

What does knowledge look like and would I recognise it if I came across it?


If your life is fixated in one dimension and has boundary conditions, then you will oscillate around in that one dimension, much like a frog trapped in a well. You will not see the world outside the well and all you will know is the well. It will be the entirety of your local reality.

If you start to break down a few of your prejudices, some of your consciousness may tunnel through the barriers and you might be able to experience a little of another world beyond your well. Whilst the barriers are high, you are trapped. The tunnelling probability is vanishingly small.


Having cued this up:

Is it possible that I am trapped by my own prejudices and preconceptions?

Would the entire universe change if I softened the walls of these just a little?

The Mind of Another

If someone looks a bit like us, dresses a bit like us and talks a bit like us, there is a kind of assumption that they may think like us, well a bit anyway. The truth is we may never know what is going on in the mind of another. Many have bought a Prisoner T-shirt at Portmeirion, I am wearing one now. The extent to which the sentiment of the T-shirt is embodied, varies. I have earned this T-shirt. I did not simply buy it. We all make assumptions everyday of our lives, some are better than others. Many are “experts” on where someone else is coming from, but without knowing their influences. Needless to say, that vocalised expertise may not be all that good. When I was much younger, I was an avid watcher of Kung Fu, something which my parents scoffed at. It spoke to me and not to them, they would talk over it and this pissed me off. As it turned out, it had a hint of prophecy for me. Some of the things we are drawn to in childhood, can play out later in life, thematically if not verbatim.

It is a common “parlour game” to speculate on the motivations of others. I have, over the years, sat in many meetings and I am prepared to bet that few had little if any idea of my motivations or what was going on in Alan-world. These days my mind is largely silent so even that is unexpected. I do not try to be secretive, but to explain all the connections would take a very long time, which most people do not have. Insofar as I can tell, many is the time when people have thought that I am “on the same page” as them, when I am not in the same book or even in the same section of the library. People assume nevertheless.

“Use don’t know mind”, is the recommendation of Zen master Seung Sahn and this goes a long way to erasing preconceptions. Couple this with; “A warrior has nothing to defend” and you are on your way to understanding yourself and relating to people in a deeper more meaningful way. It takes a little time and effort. Which is better, to know it all already or to explore?

Have a think about it, do you really and have you ever, known accurately what is going on in the mind of another? Even the people we think we know have things we are unaware of. I personally have been surprised on many occasions by the things people do and how they behave. In some cases, I have been shocked. People do change in life, sometimes for the better but not always. If you are a control junkie, you may seek to control everything, sometimes it can be better to let things evolve and have a few surprises along the way. If you want to find out, then asking is better than assuming. Any scientist knows that one needs to check data. Our detectors can need recalibrating from time to time, and noise or mind-stuff, limits their accuracy.

The only safe assumption is that we can never fully know the mind of another. This is a good place to start.

Selective Perception

Having cued up this with some quotes from Patanjali translations I am now going to turn to a favourite topic of mine. To kick off, if you do a Google or Bing image search for yoga, who will get images of young, white, lithe and perhaps attractive women in various poses. If you search for yogi, you will get images of Indian men in orange robes, yogi bear or somewhat emaciated older Indian men with beards in poses. You will not get a hefty middle aged white guy, I don’t have a groovy beard, and I cannot do any but the most basic asana. If you get my drift, even by naming the blog in the way I have done, it is in slight contrast to the search engine perceptions. There is a perception, a view of what yoga is.

According to Wiki:

“The ultimate goal of Yoga is moksha (liberation), although the exact definition of what form this takes depends on the philosophical or theological system with which it is conjugated.”

This brings things perhaps a little more in line with what I have been banging on about here.

With some inevitability, each of us carry some preconceptions. This statement is logically accurate, for all but genuinely omniscient or liberated beings. Yet most forget or act as if they have no preconceptions whatsoever. The inevitability of preconception is neglected and remains not factored in to world view or world-version. This means that because there are preconceptions, the perception is likely to be coloured by these and therefore selective. Semantically any selective perception cannot cover all the set of possible perceptions and is therefore not objective. Selective perception looks at only one part of the wider picture.

People can feel affronted if one suggests that their perception is selective and not comprehensive. It is somehow an attack on intellect or something else, maybe their self-image, in which they have sage-like neo-omniscient understanding. Maybe they are expert and erudite scholastic geniuses who are clever and smart. To be affronted at a suggestion of selective perception is to demonstrate the validity and applicability of the suggestion in the first place, Q.E.D.

I don’t believe it possible for a human being to live and not to have at least one episode of miscommunication. In this someone might say something, and we take it in an entirely different way than it was intended. We get the wrong end of the stick, so to speak. We have selected the wrong perception and maybe gotten all huffy or sad. Selective perception is all around us. And there is no guarantee whatsoever, that I am effectively communicating here, because you as the reader will select some perception or other from what I am writing. I cannot control this sat here this windy November morning.

It is not possible for the human mind to hold all possible perceptions. Even were we able to hold many, we would still have select some operative perception, in order to function. Cognitively we would have to act from a perception of the world, which if we are honest, might be our best guess as to what is transpiring. What we can do is to try to develop our accuracy and acuity of perception by being inclusive and by understanding the observational instrument, which makes the perception, ourselves. Even should we do this we will still have to select a perception from which to operate.

The more open-minded we are, the greater our self-knowledge is, the better that perception is likely to be. If you are awake you will notice that I used the word better which is slightly conditional as opposed to the less coloured, accurate. I did this to demonstrate how comparison and ranking is introduced by our cognitive and social apparatus. Who is to say what is better? Is it consensus?

Our perception is filtered not only through our preconceptions but our baggage, our emotional baggage. It is also coloured by mood. If we are anxious then a simple word can send us into fight or flight mode. If we are self-righteous we can become indignant and offended at the drop of a hat. None of which may have anything to do with what is transpiring. If there is at least some detachment, then the emotive colouration can be lessened.

Pure awareness is just seeing, itself; although pure, it usually appears to operate through the perceiving mind.

I like to think of the perceiving instrument, which is both our biological apparatus, the sum total of our experiences and our own personal predilections. Each instrument has a cognitive apparatus and an intellect, the ability and capacity of these has variance in the population. Accurate perception is the signal and everything else is the noise. To extract the signal one has to work at increasing the signal to noise ratio. How does one do that? Well by calming the mind, reducing the chitta or internal dialogue and by becoming much less attached. Strangely in being less attached one can perceive more accurately and in greater depth. If we are prone to fly of the handle, our perceptions are unlikely to have acuity. Though we may demonstrated our love of drama, sometimes for all to see.

When you buy a computer or some other device, they can go wrong. The favoured method of fixing something with software is to turn it off and reboot. This means you have one control parameter. If you can’t turn off your mind, what can you do about any wayward software running? Not a lot. But if you can silence your mind, turn it off, you at least have a chance of a reboot and the ability to treat again whatever is transpiring

When one can select, with awareness that one is doing just that, selecting, one from any number of perceptions, there is a modicum of control over how we choose to interact with the world. Choice has more freedom than Pavlovian reflex or reaction. More choice in behaviour, leads to more freedom, which will point at moksha in the fullness of time.