The Source of Dogma, Repression and Conflict

Middle Way Philosophy according to Robert M. Ellis and the Middle Way Society

23 Dimensions of Absolutization

(under construction)

In relation to insights from early Buddhism on Absolutization …mental proliferation consists of energy continually directed down the same mental and neural channels to produce repetitive thoughts and feelings. The energy applied is continually trying to remove the same obstacles to a goal, but the obstacle is part of a complex system and is not so easily removed. This proliferation is the papañca , mentioned by the Buddha, and can also be directly experienced in mindfulness practice. It connects desire and belief in maladapted patterns (Ellis, 2022, p12).

In relation to insights from early Buddhism on Absolutization …Buddhism identifies the interdependence both between craving and hatred (which is frustrated craving), and between craving and delusion, in the extremes avoided by the Middle Way. This interdependence is confirmed by neuroscientific evidence, but defies the weight of assumptions in Western thought (Ellis, 2022, p18).

In relation to insights from early Buddhism on Absolutization …the negation (in the sense of affirmation of the opposite) of an absolute belief is equally absolute, and this needs to be distinguished from a mere failure to affirm it. This point is the basis of the Middle Way in Buddhism, and can also be supported by neuroscientific and psychological evidence of the interdependence of craving, with fear in representations that support both. This is also the basis of the link between dualism and absolutization (Ellis, 2022, p23).

In relation to insights from early Buddhism on Absolutization …dualism excludes third options from consideration by restricting the framing of our judgement. The Buddhist Middle Way helps to avoid exclusion of options, but its traditional framing of the extremes to be avoided also continues to exclude options further. Greater optionality can resolve conflicts and enable adaptation, and can be applied spatially as well as conceptually. ‘Excluding the options’ is an established fallacy in critical thinking, but it involves taking dualist framing for granted rather than a logical error (Ellis, 2022, p28)

In relation to insights from Systems Theory on Absolutization …reinforcing feedback loops, whereby organisms maintain and reproduce themselves in a self-replicating process, are a background feature of all systems. However, in the human case, the capacity for imagination adds a further capacity for balancing adaptability, that can then in turn be hijacked by more specific reinforcing feedback loops of belief. These reinforcing feedback loops appear as mental proliferation, and are prone to dangerous competitive escalation. This provides a crucial standpoint for understanding absolutization (Ellis, 2022, p38).

In relation to insights from Systems Theory …Absolutization involves the assumption of the independence of an isolated cognitive system, whose representations can be considered apart from awareness of the psychological and neural process of their development. Systems theory offers no evidence of any such independent system being possible, and neuroscience gives evidence of how this assumed isolation operate so as to continually delude us (Ellis, 2022, p48).

In relation to insights from Systems Theory on Absolutization …fragility is the tendency of a system to remain stable only up to a ‘tipping point’, when the effects of the reinforcing feedback loops become incompatible with the environment. Absolutized beliefs drive human actions to such tipping points, after which the beliefs dramatically ‘flip’ to their opposites, as can be seen both in psychosis and in dramatic religious conversion. In the human system, absolutised beliefs are fragile because of t lack of antifragility or resilience – resilience which is experiences as grounded confidence and comes from testing against a breadth of experience (Ellis, 2022, p52).

The development of embodied meaning theory, which shows meaning to be based on associative neural connection in response to experience, gives a context for understanding the limitations of representationalism. Representationalism assumes that meaning consists in the relationship between propositions and the actual or potential ‘reality’ that they describe. Absolutization assumes representationalism because its propositional claims as a whole are entirely ‘semantic’ and den the variation of meaning with experience (Ellis, 2022, p61).

The application of representationalism is combined with a more general denial of most of our embodied experience through the over-dominance of the left hemisphere perspective. This denial takes the form of the substitution of a disembodied shortcut for a more adequate process based on wider experience, encourage by cultural entrenchment (Ellis, 2022, p71)

Discontinuity in space, time, and conceptual space is a feature of absolutization due to the restriction of options in space. This is maintained by the over-dominance of left hemisphere sequencing over right hemisphere sustained attention, and makes us ignore the continuity of all organic processes. Although discontinuity is needed for practical judgement, absolutization takes this discontinuity out of that practical context (Ellis, 2022, p79).

Embodiment provides a wider context to help us distinguish whether statements that are apparently absolute in content are psychologically absolutizing. The presence of conditionality, practicality, or a focus on meaning all provide contextual indications of non-absolutizing. Individual words or symbols also cannot be absolute by themselves unless they represent a belief. Nevertheless, an absolutization can in practice be identified quite clearly in many contexts (Ellis, 2022, p84).

© 2024 EduSynthesis

Centre for Mindful Educational Leadership

Tim Saunders PhD


We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.


Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?