The Idiot Opposite Me

Posted Feb. 8, 2011 by MarcusTAnthony in Open

commented on Feb. 8, 2011
by frequencytuner



The human mind tends to work in binaries: good/bad, this/that, me/her, us/them, is/is not and so on. Bart Kosko wrote a book quite some time ago called Fuzzy Logic, where he pointed out that this black and white thinking of the human mind creates distortions in the way we perceive the world. Being aware of the same problem, lateral thinking guru Edward de Bono invented a new word, “po”, to help move us beyond ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

The older we get, the more we tend to label the world and life’s experiences according to pre-assigned rigid categories. The world then loses its novelty, and we also forgo the opportunity to see things anew, or from the perspective of another. I developed a process called Harmonic Circles to assist people in moving beyond these kinds of binaries.

However, today, I am going to provide you with a piece of wisdom that a spiritual teacher of mine, whom I refer to as Jessica, once told me. She said that when she sat in a circle or group of people, she always took careful note of the person sitting opposite her, because that person represented a polarity that she needed to acknowledge. Ironically, the very first time I ever met Jessica, she was sitting directly opposite me in a large circle of people (and, no, she didn’t mention this idea at that time, but much later). I mentioned the amazing synchronicity that occurred as a result of that meeting in a previous post. As soon as Jessica saw me, she related precisely the same image that I’d had in a dream just a few hours before, where I’d seen my hands covered in blood. That synchronicity helped me to come to terms with an issue I had, related to sexuality.

It is often the people that we push away at a personal or intellectual level that have the most to teach us. The simple process of allowing yourself to look at the person opposite you, and ask, “What is it about this person that I need to acknowledge?”, can produce a great deal of insight. You can also take this in a metaphorical sense and ask the same question about a person whom you see as an intellectual or spiritual rival. Many people on the IONS site have a spiritual perspective. “We” (if I may allow myself to place us in a group) often feel threat and hostility from sceptics and those critical of spiritual discourses and mystical experience. You can probably think of one such person or group right now. Is there something that you can learn from them? Is it possible for you to receive them without emotional judgment?

Note here the distinction between ‘judgment’ and 'discernment’. Judgment is laden with emotionality, while discernment is a nonattached perspective. You can still discern a perceived error in another’s thinking without taking it personally, or needing to change or destroy it. Judgment typically contains an element of destruction – there is an often unconscious desire to annihilate the object of judgment.

I would like now to recount a significant event in my life which helped me to understand this issue at a deeper level. It occurred in 2005, when I attended a Futures Studies conference at Tamkang University in Taiwan. I wrote about this in an essay for The Journal of Futures Studies the following year. Here’s a part of what I wrote there. It involves an somewhat uncomfortable encounter with Michio Kaku, the well-known physicist and author of the books "Visions" and "Hyper Space".


In 2003 I wrote a critique of Kaku's highly successful book "Visions", where I unpacked his representation of the future and found that it lacked "depth." In particular I criticised its techno-utopianism and its lack of integral, spiritual and non-Western perspectives on the futures of humankind. I also wrote a rather unflattering review of it on Amazon. com, which was not well received by Kaku fans! It was therefore with a little nervousness that I anticipated the conference, knowing that Kaku would be there, even though I knew that it was extremely unlikely that Kaku had ever heard of me or my article in JFS.

The first defining moment at the Tamkang conference came on the first morning of the conference when one of our colleagues was giving her presentation. Kaku had already completed his presentation. With some degree of dexterity I had managed up till that point to avoid a personal meeting with the physicist, which may well havebeen due to my own cowardice. Kaku was sitting with his partner near the front of the auditorium, and - as luck would have it - I was sitting just a few seats behind him. This was a perfect position to observe him. The presentation in progress incorporated a considerable smattering of Integral Futures and Wilberian theory. I was particularly interested to note what Kaku's reaction might be to such ideas. At first Kaku seemed interested, but soon began to take an unusually strong interest in the conference flyers, and began chatting with his partner. A little later he and his partner got up and snuck out of the room, well before the presentation had ended. It seemed that Integral Futures does not quite resonate with modern physics.

The second notable event occurred later that evening at the conference dinner, which was held at the university. All guests were seated at round tables with a dozen or so people at each table. There were scores of tables and hundreds of guests, because the dinner was a celebration of a special anniversary of the university, not merely for the futures conference. I recalled that a spiritual teacher once told me that you should always note who is seated directly opposite you when sitting in a circle, for that person mirrors an aspect of your own psyche that you have not fully acknowledged. According to my teacher, the opposite person represents a polarity of yourself; a cosmic synchronicity for the singular purpose of bringing something into your awareness.

The seating was all pre-arranged, so there was no chance of my choosing my own seat. So after I walkedin I searched for my name tag, and sat down. Of all the hundreds of possible combinations of people who could have assumed the position at my table opposite me, can you guess who was sitting at 180 degrees from me?

If you guessed Michio Kaku, you are correct.

I spent the entire evening chatting with my futures colleagues immediately beside me, while nervously avoiding dialogue with Kaku. Yet as the evening progressed, I could not help but notice that I was not the only one at fault. After a time Michio and his partner were left sitting by themselves. I did not notice anybody approaching them or initiating conversation with them. And much to my shame, I count myself amongst those people. The night came and went and in the end the reality is that I – a man who likes to consider himself a multi-disciplinarian – sat opposite one of the world’s most notable physicists and I could not be bothered to raise a single word with him. I would like to present some elaborate excuse as to why I failed to talk to him, but there is none.

So Kaku came and went and somewhere in between he and I (and most of the other futurists present) seemed to have missed each other. In my defense I did make a rather belated attempt to right the wrong. On the afternoon of the second day of the conference, realising that I was a complete coward, I rushed up to Michio just as I was about to board the bus for the after-function excursion. Michio was not going on the bus, so I knew that this would probably be the final opportunity to say something to him. I introduced myself a little nervously. Much to my surprise the expected karate chop to the forehead never came. Michio smiled politely and returned the greeting, and then I jumped on the bus.

What can we make of this seeming division between Kaku and many of the other futurists? What was the barrier? Surely if we call ourselves integral futurists we must also embrace Kaku's vision – even if we consider it limited – not simply discard it without so much as pausing to listen. One explanation might be that Kaku was irrelevant to the conference. Conversation about Kaku's presentation amongst my colleagues that I was personally witness to tended to be critical. They said it was dated, utopian, and dare I say "shallow". Kaku had found a niche and was milking the market for some extra cash, said another colleague.

While I am in agreement with certain parts of these analyses, my belief is that we (largely) ignored Kaku predominantly out of our own arrogance. Secondly, we have not fully integrated or embraced Kaku's preferred domains of enquiry. Many of the futurists at the conference presented papers with a heavy emphasis upon Wilber's upper-left (the intentional, first person). In particular there was a heavy emphasis upon spirituality and consciousness evolution. Notably, this is the very domain which Wilber has been accused of privileging himself. Others incorporated strong cultural and social perspectives, consistent with Wilber's lower-right and lowerleft quadrants. Besides Kaku, few of the presentations I observed embraced the upper right (empirical).

Let us be reminded of what Slaughter has suggested about the methods of Integral

Integral Futures work therefore reaches across previously separate realms. It regards developments in the LR with the "eye" of perception that it consciously adopts in the UL. It will participate in shared social processes in the LL and take due note of the interobjective realities in the UR. In other words the invitation to consider Integral Futures work is an invitation to move and act in a deeper, richer and infinitely more subtly interconnected world. (Slaughter 2003. Italics added.).

By such standards, we failed to live up to the tenets of our own philosophy. There is not much chance of our being truly integral if we do not even have the "integrity" to so much as talk to the out-of-field guests we invite to our futures conferences. The question must be asked: why not? After all he was arguably the most famous and prominent presenter at the conference, and his research knowledge in Visions was gleaned via interviews with around a hundred of the world's most prominent scientists and thinkers.

If we are to achieve integrality it must be a genuine integrality, not a token or "shallow" integrality. At the Tamkang conference we had one of the world's great physicists as a guest, and many of us effectively snubbed him. And that remains a source of some remorse for me as a Futures practitioner.


The entire affair suggests that synchronicities may be a more common than we think - perhaps as close as the person sitting opposite us. Today, take a look at someone opposite you. Note if you are resisting something about them. See if you can own that concept within yourself, and receive it without judgment. You may just find it growth experience.


  • frequencytuner Feb 08, 2011

    So true and well put. I like to think of this as the 'grey area' where black and white and all opposites are melded into unity. Lately I have noticed a synchronicity with this topic on this site and I will say it again because it applies here as well. It is true that most people, as they get older, tend to become more black and white in their perceptions, more fixed and polarized. This goes directly against the very nature of existence because life is only what it is because of the fluid dynamic between the poles. For example, things appear hot because we have experienced something else to call cold. This contrast is what gives us perception but is not intended to be the filter in which we view the world. This contrast is ultimately what brings balance to the universe because it encompasses all aspects of everything and keeps everything in check. An example, if religion - as it was pre-scientific revolution - had it's way what would the world look like today? Those who choose to argue this debate will come from both sides of the argument and who is to say that either is right or wrong besides their opposition?

  • frequencytuner Feb 08, 2011

    Let's talk politics now. Democracy - as an ideology - is essentially about having the input from all sides and formulating a workable solution for all. In theory this is great because it acts like the grey area, yet to be truly successful it will have to function more like socialism because - as we see everywhere - you can't make everybody happy and in no way is more money to health care instead of schools wrong, nor is the opposite wrong - except to those who oppose it. So how do you deal with this in the real world?

    I will take the example of the idiot opposite me and look at the things that bother me about that person. These things bother me because they are usually different and things that I do not like or want to accept about myself, like your teacher said. So my wife's mother who refuses to accept her responsibility in abusing her daughter is showing me - because I want her to see her faults - that I need to see my faults. I see that there is nothing I can do for her and this is what bothers me most. I want to help her, but I can't. I am unwilling to accept - like her - the truth. So here we are and I have two choices: let it bother me because I want to change something that is beyond my control or accept the fact that she is the way she is whether I like it or not. By fixing my problem, my perception, I end up fixing her problem as well because the problem I had with her was that I wanted her to change. Well in my eyes she has. I don't see her as a person who needs help anymore, I see her as she is and that is all I am ever really truly able to do. That doesn't make her a nicer person, it just means I don't have a problem with it anymore.

    This goes back to polarities. Those things that bother us are the energies we either have too much of not not enough of to be balanced. Discernment is the key. I hear people complaining that they hate rain. What if it never rained? I hear people complain about oil prices, money, war, governments, police and everything you can imagine. Do they realize their imbalances? Better question, does it matter? If they don't and are complaining and I am bothered it is because I don't realize my imbalances. It's not that the complaining stops, but I no longer get agitated by it. Eventually, once I stop fueling their desire yes it will stop - they won't complain to me because they know I don't care.

  • frequencytuner Feb 08, 2011

    Let's look at the idiot on the other end of the monitor right now - you and me. Why are we sitting here? Why am I writing this and why are you still reading this excruciatingly long thread? We are here to find the balance. Eventually the people on this site will come to a realization that some of the things we discuss on here are things beyond our control. For example, mainstream science will never be what you want them to. Science and Religion will never see eye to eye. We cannot think ourselves - the whole world - out of extinction. We cannot save the world. We cannot change the world. By saying this I need to reiterate my story about my wife's mother and clarify that I mean all of this very literally. We cannot change 6 billion people's deeply entrenched minds. All we can do is accept that and realize that their minds are closed because ours are opened: they give us contrast. Again, what if it never rained? What if the world was perfectly peaceful and every person was enlightened? Do you see what I am saying? If every day was sunny, the world would be a desert. As much as we don't like to exist with these things and want to change them, we need themas much as they need us. Think of a teeter totter or a balance scale, there has to be something on both ends or it goes lopsided. When that happens, it does not matter which way it goes, it becomes chaos.

    Spiritually speaking, this is what the Divine Feminine is. We like to think we are active creators in our realities. Yes this is true. We want so many 'good' things and have such grand aspirations and the feeling of righteousness has never been stronger. Yet there is a rub. The male polarity is all about creation, energy, movement, progress, action etc. It doesn't matter if it is going up, down left, right or backwards, the Divine Male is energy. The Divine Feminine harnesses and directs that energy to keep it in check. Think of the Yin Yang symbol. The Male is the creative force, the outward drive. The Female is the destructive force, the inward pull. This is like the Breath of God, so to say. Energy has to cycle back and forth, life and death. There is no denying this fact. Every time we see people suffering in a third world country or worry about the oil running out or 2012 or whatever apocalyptic thing you can think of we think something is wrong. Nothing is wrong. This is the cycle of nature, the pattern of life. The Divine Feminine - Kali Ma is a great example - is becoming more and more obvious because this energy is pulling us back to the womb/tomb to begin a new cycle of life and death. So nothing is wrong, nothing ever has been wrong, we only perceive it that way because our Male energy opposes - and we fear - the Female energy of death and destruction. What goes up must come down.

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