“There’s a bit of Faust in us all, believing as we do that the more we learn about something the closer we are to it.”
Some years ago, I had a friend who I imagined was so intellectually oriented that he was capable of losing his virginity merely by studying a biology textbook on reproduction. Michael would have made a great Faust: He was always thinking he could get closer to something by learning about it. But isn’t it true, as Courtois suggests, there’s a bit of Faust in all of us?
The problem seems to be that all our learning, no matter how sophisticated, has at best the same relationship to reality that a map has to reality. Learning, knowledge, ideas, thoughts are not the things they refer to. Not anymore than a map is the territory it refers to. Consequently, we cannot actually lose our virginity by studying about sex: We only think we can.
You’d think such a point was obvious. But there is something in human nature — something seemingly arising out of our DNA and inherent in us — that wants to think magically about the world.
In magical thinking, the map is the reality. The symbol is the thing it symbolizes. A voodoo doll, for instance, is the person the doll represents. But more commonplace, our thoughts of something are the same as our experiences of something.
It easy to see how a voodoo doll is not the person that it represents. But, for most of us, it is much more difficult to weed out all the ways in which we think — in which we assume — that our thoughts about things are the things we think about.
Knowing about enlightenment does nothing to enlighten a person. Yet, magical thinking is so strong in us that we quite often believe a person who merely knows more about enlightenment than another person somehow must be closer to enlightenment than that other person. That is like saying a person who has memorized a map of Paris experiences Paris more than a person who lives there but has not memorized a map of his city. You can chant all day long that enlightenment is X or enlightenment is Y. You might even be right. But this will not enlighten you. You won’t even be getting closer to enlightenment.
Or, at least, those are my thoughts on the matter.