One of my coaching clients who had begun to read “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari, after coming to know about it through my online newsletter in Japanese, recently sent me an email, saying that she was not able to finish the whole book because the general tone of the author’s claims was too materialistic to her and because she couldn’t find any “perspective of God” in the book, which she believed was indispensable in a book about the human history.
I replied to her in the following way:
While I may be able to agree to your comments about the book, I personally have been literally flabbergasted by Harari’s claim that the “cognitive expansionism” (this is my own terminology) of modern Western empires has enabled the humanity to continually get out of their own boxes and to expand their own consciousness on a perpetual basis, thus making it possible for them to discover the unknown continent of America, go as far as California during the Gold Rush period, invent electric bulbs, cars, airplanes, telephone, radio, television, nuclear weapons, spaceships including Apollo 11, and so on. This cognitive expansionism further later enabled modern Americans to discover and explore “the unknown territory of altered states of consciousness” during the sixties’ Counter-culture revolution, as well as “the unknown territory of Cyberspace” to start various revolutions in the fields of IT, VR, AI, genetic engineering, molecular biology, etc., from the late nineties.
Am I the only person who can see, and be astounded by, the fact that there is the single invisible thread tying all the above-mentioned examples of the unknown territories having been discovered and explored by the Western imperialists since 1492 until the present time?
This consistent thread may be said to be the “cognitive expansionism a la modern Western empires,” and, of course, I can admit that this particular interpretation of the modern human history a la Harari may not be prevented from being heavily biased, but still I have never encountered such a worldview as his, which I can consider to be probably the very best “model of the world” currently available for coherently explaining what has been happening to the human history at least since the discovery of the New Continent of America made by Columbus in 1492.
Also, although modern Japanese people have been (unconsciously) enjoying round the clock, virtually without any exceptions, the phenomenal (i.e., superficial) manifestations of the philosophy implied in the cognitive expansionism, as newly discovered and explored both real and pseudo-real territories or products, such as cars, airplanes, radios, televisions, mobile telephones, the Internet, worldwide travels, modern medical care, and so on – as if they were incurable heavy addicts of these staffs – it is nothing but amazing to dare to point out that none of these discoveries and inventions has historically been made by a Japanese, and that such innovators as can make “epoch-making” discoveries and/or inventions of this caliber can never be produced in Japan, where cognitive expansionism cannot be taken root structure-wise.
If fact, I had more or less intuitively had this epistemological conclusion before I came back to Japan in 2001 after my stay in Europe for some 20 years, but have come to be able to begin to tangibly and unmistakably feel that it is indeed the case, during my actually living in Japan in the middle of Japanese people for the last 15 years; for me, my recently happening to read Harari’s “Sapiens” and “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” and discovering (that is, coining) the term “cognitive expansionism,” were “the last straw that breaks the camel’s back” that made me come to the very final verdict about the matter.
It is fabulously, or ridiculously, interesting that such a conclusion about the Japanese nation, which I believe may rather be taken for granted in the international community, may not be universally supported in Japan, and that an “inconvenient truth” revealed by such a non-authoritative person as myself (laughs) simply tends to be completely silenced and/or to fall on deaf ears in this community.
As I indicated in the above quotation, Harari’s claim in “Sapiens” that it was the modern Western empires’ “cognitive expansionism” that has started in 1492 the discoveries and explorations of a series of “unknown virgin territories” in the modern human history may be heavily biased, though I believe that he has provided us with the most relevant model of the world currently available for making sense of what has been happening in the modern human history, in the sense that such modern products as cars, mobile phones and the Internet may have already become “must” items for people living not only in Japan but also in the savannas of Africa, which means that the modern imperialism and/or capitalism has virtually held hegemony in the whole world, after having wiped communism out from the surface of the earth (this fact may not be denied by any intellectually sensible person).
Further, Harari made an interesting contention in his second book “Homo Deus” that there is a clear distinction between consciousness and intelligence, and that, while they used to be nearly entirely overlapped with each other in human beings, in the recent years, the intelligence decoupled from consciousness has begun to be taken care of by the AI (artificial intelligence), like in such cases as the chess game where computers can now beat the top level players, automated manufacturing factory systems, autonomous cars, medical diagnosis, etc.
According to Harari, AI will in due course begin to hold hegemony – not unlike the Western modern imperialism – over human beings, by monopolizing the whole “algorithms” which would control not only behaviors but also feelings of human beings (Harari says that this situation has already been happening to the customers of Amazon or Facebook, who are successively shown the ads on the computer monitor to tell them what they should, or are supposed to, like and/or want to buy, after continually submitting their precious personal information to their computer algorithm systems which continue to accumulate big data so that their sets of algorithms may become more and more perfect until they eventually become, so to speak, “virtual God”). Harari arrives in his book at the rather dismal conclusion that, when algorithms begin to control human beings, they will either be exterminated as outcasts of the society like animals who have been historically dominated and/or domesticated by human beings, or constitute an elite class of “Homo Deus (divine human beings),” who will become a small number of dominators of the society, after upgrading their own mind and brains so that they may be able to cope with the “God as Algorithm.”
Harari provides his readers with this kind of doomsday scenario because he believes that we will be able to create our own future by closely investigating our past, and wants us to regard his scenario as one of many possible options, and it is amazing to know that his books are now very popular in the Western countries and that he has been lecturing for international audience, as a guest speaker, at such influential bodies as Harvard, BBC, Google, Ted, etc.
Yet, I am not sure how many Japanese people could grasp the real meanings of Harari’s alarm bells, because they don’t seem to have the habit of “cogitating;” for instance, Japanese people have begun in the recent decades to read books considerably less and less, thus throwing an alarming number of publishers out of business. They seem to want to remain within their own boxes where they let their minds controlled by an endless series of cliches and stereotyped ideas. I used to advise my students in my courses and workshops to study English – or any foreign language, for that matter – to get out of their own boxes, or to do consciousness expansion related experiments by going to the areas and countries outside Japan where the staffs used for this purpose are legalized, but have personally known in person no single Japanese individual who has followed my advice (!).
When I privately mentioned to my students the “youth culture” which I knew was current in the Western countries, I frequently was told by them who probably didn’t know the actual state of affairs abroad that what I was talking about must be what had been the case in the past, but was no more. Once one of my students told me that his breathing technique was “far out” and was beyond chemical staffs like LSD. When I asked him whether he had compared these two methods himself, he told me “How can I dare to try such a dangerous staff? I have never tried it, but SIMPLY KNOW that my technique is superior to LSD” (because perhaps some authoritative person had told him so?). Here, I personally have no qualm whatever with his stance that he never tried chemical substances – people are totally free to do or not to do anything, and it might after all turn out to be better for his mental welfare – but what I unfortunately can NEVER accept and what I think is the very cause of the “ridiculousness” of the Japanese mentality in general, is for someone to make an a priori judgements and comparisons in relation to WHAT THEY DON’T KNOW; they don’t even want to try to know what they don’t know yet in the first place.
I believe that what I described in the last paragraph above is also probably the biggest reason why Japan has historically not produced any cognitive expansionist, or any innovator of the caliber of the CEO’s of Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Tesla, for that matter.
Incidentally, Japanese people in general, who have never experimented with chemically altered states consciousness, tend to boast of their own “altered states generating products,” such as comic cartoons and computer RPG games.
It is true that I can see that Japanese people, to whom the Counter-culture revolution has not been introduced at all except for T-shirts and jeans in the sixties, historically began to go into their own “drug-free” altered states of consciousness, through cartoons and computer games, and have since become “masters” versed in these virtual reality fields, but, unfortunately, there are at least two serious epistemological problems about their situation:
One, they are really and sincerely proud of their own inner world filled with fancy cartoon heroes and figures, firmly believing that their own type of altered states of consciousness is definitely superior to, and healthier than, the “type ARTIFICIALLY induced by ‘dangerous’ chemical staffs,” while not having tried to experience them themselves, possibly except for the very creators of the cartoons and RPG games softwares that their customers naively adore (laughs).
One has the intrinsic right to make one’s own judgment, but I think that it is an “epistemological suicide,” if one makes a judgment about something one doesn’t know; in the ultimate analysis, consciousness altering substances are dangerous to Japanese people, apparently only because the government tells them so.
It is here interesting to note that I recently came to know about the fact that the constitutions of the Western countries presuppose and guarantee (or rather reserve) the right of the respective nations in question to OVERTURN their own governments or royal regimes. Now, I believe that this fact is simply inconceivable to Japanese people (I have not known it myself until I recently heard this discussion made in an online video by a Japanese university professor specialized in international politics).
I think that Japanese people may have been “brain-washed” (probably during the GHQ occupation period after the end of the War) to believe that democracy is based on the people delegating their own representatives to the parliament where decisions are made by a majority – which I think is no problem – and that, once these representatives decide, they need to BLINDLY and UNCONDITIONALLY follow these decisions – which I think is very dangerous – while feeling that they literally helplessly cannot do anything, because these decisions “come from above,” by which I mean that Japanese people tend to completely surrender themselves to the authorities which they regard as existing above them; they may be after all forced to believe that they should not be able to say No any more to someone, once they have already surrendered themselves to him or her (this very unfortunately reminds me of the young Kamikaze airplane pilots at the end of the War).
Two, I personally explicitly distinguish “good trance” from “bad trance;” by the former, I mean entranced states of consciousness which paradoxically assist one to eventually get out of trance (and to go to the Meta position), while by the latter, I mean those which make one continue to remain in trance.
Thus, I consider TV, daydreams, sports, gambling, etc., to be bad trances, while I consider, for instance, Vipassana like meditation to be good trance.
Now, in my own opinion, comic cartoons and computer games should be regarded as bad trance, because I can say for sure that cartoon readers and RPG game players definitely cannot help but remain in the same entranced states, but cannot imagine them becoming more aware of their behavioral and psychological patterns after finishing their reading or playing. On the other hand, in my opinion, NLP exercises can be regarded as good trance, mainly because, for instance, each time one does an NLP exercise, one becomes more aware of what one was previously doing in an unconscious way, and because it further enables its practitioner to reactivate rather at will the entranced state one has experienced in the past; unless one finds oneself out of trance, such a psychological manipulation would be simply impossible. It is for the same reason that I can consider consciousness expanding substances to be good trance.
Further, I believe that most of the “pre-NLP” hard therapies, such as Encounter, Primal, etc., tend to produce bad trance in the clients, in the sense that the clients can temporally obtain “psychic releases” after catharsis-like experiences in these therapy works, but will need to sooner or later come back to the same works again and again because they are unable to change the programmings of their behavioral patterns through these works.
In this connection, when I used to be living abroad, the only Japanese scholar I was eager to meet in person was Shinichi Yoshifuku, a well known transpersonal psychologist, and I finally managed to meet him in 2012 in two of his workshops held in Japan before his death in the following year, and was simply dumbfound to know that he had been doing therapy works, which were as hard as, even harder than, those prevailing at the Esalen Institute, etc., during the sixties, i.e., the “pre-NLP” period. Yoshifuku even intimidated me in front of his clients of the workshop, by shouting “Immediately stop teaching such a nonsensical thing as NLP!”
I couldn’t understand why he said this to me at that time, but now thinks that he had been in the opinion that what “emotionally oriented” Japanese people really need is not such “superficial” psychological manipulations as induced by NLP, but rather proper “emotion-laden” therapy work of “psychology of the depth,” where the clients can sufficiently “ground themselves,” by feeling their own inner emotions, etc.
(By the way, I now find it exceptionally interesting and dangerously paradoxical that, although I have been through my online newsletters providing my Japanese students/clients with rather highly profound (i.e., “deep”) and comprehensive expositions on how human mind works, from an epistemological and/or NLP point of view, the typical reaction I have received from them was, for instance, “Your writing is too long and complicated for me.” Yet, the very same Japanese people would categorically say that they don’t like to have “superficial” experiences, but “deep” ones. I strongly wonder if what they mean is that they would like to experience only “‘deep’ feelings,” but cannot tolerate any “‘deep’ thinking” at all?)
I now have come to the conclusion that, while Japanese people indeed do need to go through heavy therapy works as “pre-NLP” experiences, in order to indulge themselves in their own “emotional quagmire” BEFORE deciding to want to get out of it on the one hand, they don’t need to go back to the same bad trance, again and again, as “therapy addicts,” on the other hand, and that they can indeed get out of it through such good trance producing tools like NLP.
By the way, it is William Burroughs, one of the most influential beatniks representing the Beat Generation, that provided us with a highly insightful definition about the difference between consciousness expanding “soft” drugs and addition inducing “hard” drugs. He made the following comment in his article featured in the edited book “LSD: The consciousness-expanding drug,” published in 1964:
I will describe a simple experiment that will make the distinction between sedative and consciousness-expanding drugs more precise. So far as I know this experiment has not been carried out in detail. Here is the proposed experiment: Administer a consciousness-expanding drug together with a precise array of stimuli – music, pictures, orders, tastes – timed and recorded so that the entire battery of stimuli can be exactly repeated. Some days later when the effect of the drug are completely dissipated expose the subject to the stimuli in the same order. To what extent is the hallucinogen experience reactivated? Everyone who has used consciousness-expanding drugs knows that any one stimulus experienced under the influence of the drug can reactivate the drug experience. There is every reason to believe that the drug experience could be recaptured in detail with a precise repetition of associated stimuli.
Now try the same experiment with a morphine addict. Administer a doze of morphine together with a battery of stimuli. Wait until withdrawal symptoms occur. Now repeat the stimuli. Is any relief from withdrawal symptoms experienced? On the contrary, the associated stimuli reactivate and intensify need for the drug. The same is true of alcohol. Stimuli associated with the consumption of alcohol activate the need for alcohol and conduce to relapse in the cured alcoholic.
The use of sedative drugs leads to increased dependence on the drug used. The use of consciousness-expanding drugs could show the way to obtain the useful aspects of hallucinogen experience without any chemical agent. Anything that can be done chemically can be done in other ways, given sufficient knowledge of the mechanism involved.
I have not personally encountered such a crystal-clear definition about the topic as his to date, and believe that the same distinction can be applied to the difference between good trance and bad trance. Namely, good trance is “consciousness-expanding” and non-addictive, while bad trance is “consciousness-stagnating” and addictive.
(Incidentally, this analysis made by Burroughs serves, as far I am concerned, as the most succinct rationale available as to why NLP and my own method as its derivative can be described “as ‘in-brain drug dispensers,’ meaning that they turn out to be a purely psychological set of tools enabling their users to reactivate the same states of consciousness they have experienced in the past, by simply secreting the same natural neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, endorphin, etc., without depending on any outside substances,” as I expounded in the “Definition” page of this site.)
It is very sad that, while I think that Western people are at least intuitively amenable to Burroughs’ very intelligent definition, which would enable them to have decent and mature discussions among them about such delicate issues as drugs – I believe that this is exactly what has been happening in the Western countries in the recent decades – Japanese people who have no frame of reference whatever for discussing such a topic, are not in a position at all to discuss it in a mature and composed manner, and cannot but help showing totally knee-jerk reactions to any mere mention made about ANY drug of any nature.
Here, I may be able to make the conclusion that Asian people – or the Japanese nation, for that matter – are, in general, the people who live within the “consciousness-stagnating” paradigm and are “non-cognitive expansionists,” while Western people in general are the people who live within the “consciousness-expanding” paradigm and are “cognitive expansionists.” The former can function only within the framework where everything is known, and once they find themselves outside that framework, they get at a loss and simply don’t know what to do – they are rather very good at enlarging the size of the pie they already have – while the latter are ready to go out of the framework where everything is known, in oder to discover and explore an unknown virgin territory; they are rather good at making an epistemological quantum jump, enabling them to find another pie of an altogether different nature.
In this connection, there is an “all-revealing” illustration which compares a ship of the armada of Zheng He during China’s Ming dynasty with Columbus’ ship at:
That is, this illustration insightfully proves that, when modern Western empires based on cognitive expansionism unanimously sought to discover new virgin territories during the 15th century, Asian empires at that time, certainly with more resources than the Western counterparts, could have done the same, if they had had only the desire to do so, but in reality opted for being content with “obtaining more of the same,” i.e., trying to conquer only their neighboring countries.