I've got some affirmations for you that will change your life. Repeat them over and over in your mind until they seem to be part and parcel of you. Because in truth, they already are.
"I don't know."
"I have no idea what's going on."
"It's all a mystery to me."
None of us knows how we know. That's a neuroscientific fact.
One of Burton's central points, which seems as certain as anything can be (he's a neurologist), is that human awareness – including our sense of knowing – is mediated by a hidden layer of brain activity.
...What this means is that stuff we're absolutely, completely, supremely confidently sure about, we can be wrong about.
Because we only know what pops out of the hidden layer into our conscious awareness. We can't know how the incoming data were manipulated by the hidden layer.
Thus those moments of intuitive, mystical, spiritual, unitive insight, where we feel "Ah, so this is what life is all about!" – those moments also are states of knowing that pop out of the hidden layer.
Holy books, gurus, yogis, masters, soothsayers, enlightened beings -- these and other manifestations of supposed Perfect Knowing are the result of a human brain expressing an inherently imperfect feeling of This is true.
We can't trust such feelings, even though we have no choice but to trust them. This is reality, not paradox.
Burton explains how our sense of knowing is a neurological circuit breaker which allows us to act, to make decisions, rather than revolving in a endless loop of "could be this... could be that.."
For most of human history, people have had no understanding of how the brain really functions.
Now we know that the aforementioned "hidden layers" are where the important brain stuff happens, with conscious awareness being less than a tip of the neurological iceberg (I'm reading a book where the author calls such a snowball on top of an iceberg -- much smaller than a tip).
Back in my true believing days I used to host regular get-togethers at our house for other devotees of the Eastern meditation system we all practiced. After dinner usually the conversation would turn to exotic topics. Such as:
What happens after we die? How does karma operate? Is God a personal being or an impersonal force?
Most of us agreed about the general answers, but we loved to debate the details. After a lot of argumentative back and forth, someone would notice that one member of our group, Steve, hadn't been saying much.
In an attempt to draw him into the conversation, he'd be asked: "Steve, what do you think about all this?" His usual response:
I don't know. I haven't a clue.
For a few seconds everybody would be shocked into silence. I'd think, "Wow, that's so wonderfully honest." But then the spell would be broken. We'd get back to expressing what each of us knew was true.
Why? Because, um, we just knew that what we knew was true. Our brains were much more primed for "I know" rather than "I don't know," just as evolution has brought us Homo sapiens to be.
Today, I feel much more comfortable with being clueless about questions and issues for which reality leaves few, if any, clues.
I'm content with accepting that the methods of science are our best means of dealing with the limitations of individual brains. I'm happy with waking up each morning and realizing that I don't know what the day will bring, what will pop out of the hidden layers of my brain, and what surprises await me around the next corner of the space-time continuum.
I don't know has come to be a central pillar of my philosophy of life, not a scary black hole of cognitive emptiness lurking in the shadows of my mind. I don't know connects me with reality rather than distancing me.
This is how life is: mysterious, unpredictable, unfathomable. And I wouldn't want it any other way.