Is Possession A Deception?


Robleh Wais

In all the previous explorations in the philosophy of Existentialism we found many of the common notions we believe are false. Meaning in existence is one overriding idea in Existentialism that is rejected. But, there are many more and we've looked at several throughout these articles.We have found that beauty, perfection and even love outside our subjective experiences have no place in the objective reality. So, now we come to possession. A real tantamount human idea. It is expressed in the socio-economic structure of most human societies. Even in cultures that most anthropologists believe to lack a sense of possession, like non-European cultures around the world.This is not true. For the notion possession I'm considering goes beyond owning things, land, or intellectual property. It is anything we interact with that we feel is somehow a part of our individual existence and we are its owner and to some degree controller. We feel this about our children at birth until they mature. We certainly feel this about our creations through our physical expressions. For instance, a singer feels his/her singing is own by him or her. I've said in previous articles that I can identify with writings I've created. But, I've never said I own them. I don't if we expand our view and see I'm going to die one day and then who owns my writings. The same can be said of any writer now or in the past. I don't mean who might profit from them. I mean on a scale of time, anything written belongs to no one. Consider this; there are surviving documents of ancient civilizations, whose authors are unknown, who owns them? Who would be the owner of such works? No one obviously. In 100 billion years who would possess anything any human being has ever written? Possession is again chimera. We do, possess things, ideas, objects of creation, etc, temporarily. Yet, on the scale of timeless existence this temporal possession loses all meaning. The irony is that possession is what causes so much killing, suffering, fighting and strife.Human beings are at war or in some form of conflict over what is only temporarily under their ownership. The very thing that causes bloodshed is itself elusive. The source of a many a court case is only a mirage. You want an example with dramatic image? Europeans arrived in the western hemisphere, pillaged and plundered their way from the Northern landmass (they named America) through the Southern one, all to take possession of the native peoples' lands. Today, those lands are no more owned by the invaders than they were by the natives. In fact, the natives appear to have always understood that. Yet, these very lands remain unpossessed. In fact, along the San Andreas fault line in the state of California, the inhabitants could very soon see just how much they don't own that land. These same invaders fought among themselves for control of the European peninsula. Today, it is no more under their control than it was as it split away from the African landmass. Possession is impermanent if it exists at all. We can see this is true by examining how the land, time and time again upsets and casts its inhabitants into turmoil, disaster and threatens their continued existence.The earthquake in Italy in 2017 is a good example. Possession is necessarily associated with control. You control that which you possess.And people surely struggle to control the natural environment in which they live. But, no matter how seemingly complete that control appears, invariably events like hurricane X or natural mishap Y occur to show no such control really exists. Yet, the wrong-headed deceptive notion persists! When I see the devastating results of huge natural events like hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, it almost makes me laugh to think of how human beings have come to have this notion that the land and the environment surrounding it belongs to them.To give names to the places, and build infrastructures, or change it in extraordinary ways with artificial alterations like dams, canals, bridges, etc all in the belief that the land is as much our possessions as our arms, legs, sexual organs, eyes, noses and mouths are.


Do We Own Thoughts?

Well now if we accept what is said above about possession, what if I go further and wonder if we possess our thoughts and the feelings that are part of them? Now come on right, come on of course we own those objects of our minds?

The issue is really two-fold. Possession implies two things: ownership and control. If we own something, that is we control it, we possess it. See how the two ideas are combined? You may control something you don't own, but never own something you don't control. Or is that so? Does ownership imply control? I own stock, which I surely don't control, not one damn bit, I might add emphatically. While possession may appear to be about ownership and control these concepts are both as elusive as possession. So, do we possess our thoughts? The answer I give is no. We certainly experience our thoughts, but we don't own them. A self-testing and dramatic way to recognize this is to ask yourself this: Can I stop thinking? Unless you're willing to knock yourself out or have someone else do it, you can't. If you can't control your thoughts, it would seem to follow you can't own them either. Owning thoughts must be distinguished from owning ideas or authorship of ideas, concepts and creative endeavors. The latter one can possess, and the former one cannot.To experience a thought is to have a very complex set of electro-chemical configurations occur in your brain. We don't own that process. It is not even well understood. We don't control that process either. Thoughts occur in a streaming process which appear quite random to us, and if we did have a sense of controlling the procession of our thought experience, we'd not feel like ourselves ironically. Just imagine if you had a perspective in your personal thoughts that you'd decide the way, order and succession of your thoughts?I can scarcely imagine what a such a person would be mentally. It is clear from this reflection we don't have such an experience. In this respect, we don't possess our thoughts, we simply perceive them. And this process is without a designer.This is the process that gives rise to our sense of free will. But, it like most ideas I've examined in these essays, is colored with paradoxical results. The very thing that most defines us as individuals, escapes our control.

If not being in control of our thoughts is not enough of a surprise, add to this, the fact that nothing or no one owns them. Thoughts are human states of mind, and all that occur within them have no owners, no controllers and aren't in the realm of possession. While it might seem strange to deny that you, me or any of us own our thoughts, what is really strange is the idea of possession itself. As with all the concepts we discussed from an existentialist perspective, this one too is a contrived artificial notion. There is no possession that occurs in the objective world. Possession is an imposition upon the external world.

Let's add this one to all the others we've examined in the Existentialism series. Possession is another meaningless concept that we human beings have foisted upon the world at large.