Excerpt from the second chapter of The Conquest of Illusion
It is in the most familiar things of life that the deepest mystery lies hidden
J.J. Van Der Leeuw (1929)
It is in the most familiar things of life that the deepest mystery lies hidden. If there is anything about which we feel sure, with which we think ourselves fully and entirely familiar, it is this world surrounding us, the world of our daily life. Around us we are aware of this world, solid and visible, a world so real to us that it would seem madness to doubt its reality. We can see and feel that world, lift the heavy and solid objects in it, hurt ourselves against their unyielding immobility and are impressed all the time by this fundamental fact of our existence- that there, opposite us, independent and apart from us, stands a physical world, utterly and entirely real, solid and tangible.
Within ourselves we are aware of another world, equally real to us, equally accepted as a basic fact of existence. But it is a world of consciousness, of life, of awareness, a world which we associate with feelings that we are 'we'. As a rule, however, our attention is not directed towards that world within, and for most of us it remains a vague and mysterious realm, out of which thoughts and feelings, desires and impulses, flashes of inspiration and sudden ideas seem to emerge, entering into our daily existence with a compelling power that will not be denied. These strange inner happenings also we accept as facts, knowing even less about them than the solid world of 'material realities', in which we are so immersed and engrossed. We are thus faced by this strange fact- that the world of our consciousness is unfamiliar to us, even though it is our very self, and that the world outside, which we assume to be not self, seems quite familiar and well known.
Such then is the fundamental structure of our daily life- a solid, tangible, material world without and a mysterious realm of consciousness within, forming a duality which most of us never come to doubt. In this primitive dualism we live our lives and we look upon our perceptions and our actions as an interplay between those worlds- sensations coming to us from the world outside and forming perceptions in our consciousness, from which again volition and action go forth to change and influence that outer world.
This sense of duality, of an outer and an inner world, is so familiar to us, enters so much into every moment of our lives, that, whenever questions arise with regard to the problems of life, we always, in those questions, assume and presuppose this primitive duality as a fact which needs no proving, *without even being aware that we introduce it*. We unconsciously base our reasoning, yes, the very methods of our analysis and logic, on this fundamental duality which we accept because we have never thought about it. In the quest of truth, however, we must be utterly free from prejudice and ruthlessly sincere, never accepting a fact, cherished though it may be and hallowed by universal recognition, without first challenging its reality, even though such a challenge might appear superfluous. Only thus can we prevent error from entering into our very questions.
Let us then consider the two elements of our universe, the world of consciousness within and the world of appearances without, and see how we come to know of them. With regard to the consciousness or life side of our twofold universe there can be no doubt; the fact that we are, something and somehow, is the basis of all our knowledge, of all our awareness. 'Cogito, ergo sum' is still the starting point of all investigations, the very words 'I think' already imply the basic fact, 'I am'.
In ordinary consciousness all I know is an unceasing, ever flowing modification of my inner life, of my very being; my awareness, or state of consciousness, is different at every moment. I know nothing but these states of consciousness or awareness; nothing, idea or object, exists for me unless I am aware of it, that is to say, unless it is awareness in my consciousness.
It is difficult to realize this simple fact that, when we say we know a thing, whether as a sense perception or as an idea, all we do really know is a state of consciousness corresponding in some way to the object or to the idea. We live and move and have our being in the world of our consciousness and it is the only world we know directly, all else we know through it. This means that all knowledge except that of our own consciousness is derived knowledge; we experience an awareness in our consciousness and thence derive the existence of something that has produced the awareness.
Hence our relation to the appearance side of our universe, the outer world, is very different from our relation to the consciousness side of it; the last we know directly, it is our very being, the other we know only indirectly, in so far as our being is modified by it in what we call 'awareness'. Therefore, while we cannot doubt the fact that we are aware of things and that we are experiencing modifications of consciousness, we must carefully scrutinize our conclusions about an objective universe around us which produces the perceptions in our consciousness. The latter are indubitable, the former but a conclusion which we rightly or wrongly derive from them. Yet, curiously enough, we feel perfectly confident about the objective universe around us, even though it is a derived knowledge, and feel somewhat uncertain as to the world of consciousness within; the stone at our feet is ever more real to us than our consciousness within.
Yet we only know that stone in and through our consciousness. Yet we feel convinced of the objective reality of the world surrounding us, 'just as we see it,' in fact, we forget all about our consciousness as intermediary between ourselves and the object and look upon the awareness in our consciousness as identical with the object itself.
Thus, when we see a green tree, we do not doubt for a moment that the tree stands there, a hundred yards away from us, exactly as we see it, and we have gone a long way in philosophical realization when we can *realize* and not merely believe that the tree which we see is but the image produced in our consciousness by the tree which *is* and that the two are by no means identical.
With thanks for selecting this and typing it out to Leo Bartoli.