The Centrality Delusion

In 1632, Galileo angered the Pope when he published a book in which he openly stated that the Earth was moving around the Sun. He was put on trial by the Inquisition in Rome, where he was found suspect of heresy, and forced to say that all of his findings were wrong. He was first imprisoned, and later confined to his house near Florence. 

This event was an early indication that debunking myths around centrality could lead to rather unpleasant consequences.  Yes, we like to think we are the center of the universe.

The trend has continued as new myths are being challenged.  Yet we humans prefer to believe that we are the reason the universe exists.  Unfortunately, evidence to the contrary would suggest otherwise.

Even though we have existed on the earth a small fraction of the earth’s life span, we cling to the delusion that we are special.  The first animals appeared on the earth over 500 million years ago.  Mammals started to evolve almost 200 million years ago.  Our homo-sapien ancestors didn’t make their first entrance until around 300 thousand years ago.

This delusion of centrality has a long history.  First we thought the earth was the center of the universe, and we still cling to the delusion that humans are special creatures on earth in spite of the fact that we have only lived on this rock in the universe about 1/10,000 of its history.

"Saturn's red band," @ Big Huge Labs | Author: rainchurch | License: CC BY-SA 2.0
“Saturn’s red band,” @ Big Huge Labs. Author: rainchurch | Source: Flickr | License: CC BY-SA 2.0

The story gets worse and more dangerous. 

As an extension of this notion of centrality, people have become so attached to their tribes, states, and nations that they kill each other to establish superiority and to reinforce their belief that they are somehow special.

Wars are fought to extend boundaries and claim rights.  Even within states, people identify with particular groups to bolster this delusion.  This over-identification gets dangerous when groups are unable to collaborate for the greater good.

The centrality delusion extends to how we view ourselves in our particular groups

There seems to be an over-riding need to stand out, to be the center of attention, to be special.  We would prefer to talk about ourselves than to inquire about others. There is a noticeable absence of demonstrating interest in and understanding of others’ lives and points of view. As a student of interpersonal relationships for over 40 years, I have plenty of “laboratory” time to support this observation.

All of this discussion is simply context to the major point.

We hold onto the delusion that “I am here now and central to my own life.”This belief is delusional and dangerous because it leads to the mistaken conclusion that we have a crystallized essence and a magnetic center that is calling the shots in our lives.

Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience suggest that we consist of multiple zombie agents that control most of our decisions. These zombie agents or habitual operating systems determine our physical, emotional, and intellectual actions, interactions, and reactions. In short, the notion that our mind controls our brain and that we are exercising free will has been largely debunked by recent scientific discoveries. The Pope may have to raise his ugly head again. After all, no one likes to go from feeling central and in control to feeling like a rather insignificant puppet under the control of zombie agents.

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Photo by Rick Bellingham

Hopefully, there is a positive side to this rather bleak story. And, we will not have to rely on the Pope to come to the rescue.  We need to accept the fact that we are a recent entry on the evolutionary time-line, and that we are largely determined by the survival instincts and habits that we needed to acquire to stay alive as long as we have. Once we accept that fact, we can make great effort to observe our three-brained operating systems and try to establish our own CEO who exercises some choice around how we manifest ourselves in this world.

As our CEO emerges and develops, we can exercise the discipline required to connect to our higher selves and to universal energy.

This means being obedient to well-defined values and to our purpose: to tap into universal energy and to bring positive influences in the world; to become one with the Universe and to seek commonality instead of centrality; to realize that we are all entwined together in a social fabric that envelops the earth; to accept the limitations of others, but not let those limitations limit us; to forgive the transgressions of centrality in others and in ourselves; to love others and to love ourselves; to do no harm to the earth.

To do otherwise is to continue on the path of destruction that we are currently paving with ever more sophisticated tools and technology.  We need to move from delusion to discipline, from centrality to commonality, from callousness to compassion.   And we need to be open to the possibility that there is an Infinite Intelligence of which we are a part that gives our lives meaning, purpose, peace, and joy.

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[…] problem comes when over-identification precludes us from 1) seeing commonalities, 2) focusing on larger issues, and 3) strengthening our ability to persuade a majority of the […]

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