So the mind is attracted to puzzles, especially ones that involve the self. We turn those later sorts of puzzles into problems, insofar as we create and hold in tension various possible interpretations of the available puzzle-data. This holding-in-tension tends to expand and deepen, until it takes over as much of our mental life as we can sustain. It becomes a chronic and systemic feature of our existence.
You could almost think of it like disease, but if you do, it’s important what kind of disease you think of it as being. Based on our previous considerations, it seems not so much something that needs to be cut out or eradicated, like a tumor, or an infection, but rather like a sort of syndrome, a carpal tunnel syndrome of the mind, almost, an over-use or misalignment of our natural processes and activities.
If so, it seems like we could alleviate that syndrome in many ways. We could get better at tolerating tension, we could better at not generating as much, or we could get better at discharging it.
…but what does ‘better’ mean, in this sense? Is there some objective standard of superiority at this, or are we just looking to get better than we were? At what point are we enlightened, or are we just becoming more enlightened relative to what we were?
If tension is part of a process of adaptation to ambiguous circumstances, then it seems like, if we are just getting better and better at managing our mental tension, then we are also becoming more adaptive to ambiguous circumstances.
After all, the only reason tension is an issue at all is because we are averse to it. If problems produced in us a sensation of immediate bliss, we wouldn’t be having this conversation now. We would seek out problems, not avoid them or attempt to quickly resolve them, and then only when we had no other choice. We would seek out paradoxes and ambiguities in the mind, not recoil from or avoid them, and wall them off when we had no other option. We would grow towards the uncertainty, not contract from it. We wouldn’t need to create a subjective illusion of moving away from thoughts we were not yet adapted to handle.
So the question here is a simple one: does it seem, at least in an open world, full of ever-changing and evolving circumstances, we could ever be fully enlightened? Wouldn’t that, in some sense, sound as odd as saying we are fully adapted to the world?
Maybe mind and the world are really in a never-ending process of becoming adapted to each other, and ‘we’ inevitably find ‘ourselves’ in the middle of that.