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Fake Solutions to Real Problems


Fake Solutions to Real Problems

Art Von Sy

What is a fake solution to a real problem? Let’s start with the problem. A problem, whether imagined or not, is experienced as real. That’s what makes it a problem. 

Problems, however, are a perception. They usually exist in the difference between the reality of our experience and the contrast of our imagination. 

Losing your pen is only a problem if you contrast that reality with an imagined one. Like the one where you are giving in to the urge of writing down an exciting idea. The problem is  that, while you can imagine the scenario, you can’t live it because you lack the pen you had just moments before.

But the problems I’m talking about are more in the realm of our concrete existence, as thinking, feeling, living, and interacting human beings. The structure, however, remains the same. The problem is the chasm of our unmet expectations. And no matter how virtual, that is imagined, our problems are, they are always real in so far as we believe that imagination.

In the area of our concrete existence, we really only have two problems. The first problem is, experiential, that of not feeling or being as we would like to. The other problem is performance related, that of not being able to access our abilities when we require them.

Abuses of Imagination

Jealousy, for instance, is primarily an experiential problem. If we didn’t have to feel the way jealousy makes us feel, we would be able to deal with the situation head on. But the inability to dissolve the self-diminishing feelings is precisely the substance of the problem. 

If we saw a lover giving someone else more attention than we would expect appropriate, the problem is the emotional burden, and not the risk of loss. As the emotional burden, if anything, restricts us from exercising our clarity of mind and action, it is bound to worsen the problem. Either because we are unwilling to accept the truth of our reality, or because we are unable to save it by putting our best foot forward.

Yet the source of, in this case, jealousy is what I call virtuality. That is the confusion of imagination with reality. When our interpretations of our surroundings and the mental objects in our minds are mistaken for reality, we lose our grounding in every understanding of the term. Imagination and virtuality are essentially the same thing, it’s the relationship we have with it that distinguishes the two.

When we observe the scene that inspires our jealousy, we are not only creating a mental image of the threat’s consequence, we live in it. What was first a chasm between our ideal expectations and an inconvenient reality becomes a virtualized catastrophe, accepted without question. Better no foundation than an imagined one.

When we are consumed by a virtuality, the effects are not always bad. In most cases they are quite pleasant. As humans, we are prone to deceive ourselves to the benefit of our primary objective: feel good. Yet feeling good at any cost bears a heavy price: truth and function. But it takes a while for the negative effects to compound sufficiently for us to notice.

Not being able to see reality as it is prevents our ability to interact with it meaningfully. Regardless of the spiritual virtues extolled by the church of present moment awareness, there are some very pragmatic ones. I don’t think that I have to spell out why living in the shadow of our prejudices, wishful thinking, blind assumptions, without a direct link to reality is undesirable.

The Con Man’s Racket

Many of the solutions that I call fake solutions replace the problem with an alternative description. They are in essence dividing the problem into components and by describing the components hope to explain the problem away. The trick works most of the time, often, I think, even fooling the writer into believing that the alternative description is a solution.  

It’s very common in the pop-science self-help genre. Neuroscientific explanations for our mental woes are all the rage. A detailed description of a few brain regions with a few dramatic physiological effects, and we’re close. Throw in some neurochemicals and we’re whole. 

For some reason the detail of the description convinces people that their problem is solved. Of what use is it to know what brain regions light up when we are afraid, or confident? Brain regions are not muscles you can flex just by thinking about them.

I found this delusion most striking when looking at popular accounts into peak states. A very popular book that claims to give us the keys to accessing flow states, is replete with such pointless descriptions. 

In an exceptionally dramatic tone, the author, tells us about the profusion of synaptic firings of neurotransmitters, brain wave patterns, and activated brain regions. He names them all, and it’s a wonderful story that reads like a thriller. But it would take meeting the author to discover that it’s just story that feels good, but not a method, nor a solution. Yet the mental picture gives us a sense of possibility, a virtuality after all.

The Proof Is in the Pudding

It is easy to cut through these types of illusions with a challenge. I’m known to ask those who profess skills on the basis of such alternative descriptions to do it. Do it. Show me. The priceless look of confusion followed by embarrassment and excuses used to satisfy me.

Now it just saddens me that my field is cheapened by writers and marketers with no skill other than that of crafting narratives for the gullible to hang their hopes on. I’m not trying to be difficult when I do that. I believe that to be the lower bar of competence for anyone in the field of personal change, mastery, insight, or transcendence. Anything  else is either charlatanry or deluded enough not to notice.

If the problem we face is borne of virtuality, then another virtuality can only offer us relief for so long. The moment we are confronted with a real requirement to solve any existential challenge, such as summoning a state of confidence or mental clarity, we are left with the bitter aftertaste of a fake solution: impotence. A solution that only works in our imagination, only in the privacy of our fantasies but not in the light of day.

Fake solutions have a lot more in common with problems than we might think. They are imaginings mistaken for reality. Fake solutions are virtual solutions. They are usually a mental images of a solution made of plausible yet impotent explanations. 

Those who sell these fake solutions will usually try to convince you of their reasoning for why the solution should work. This is done for a reason. If you don’t get the desired result, after having accepted the rationale behind the solution, there can only be one person to blame. Not the method, not the solution, nor the charlatan, but you.