Unlearning the Ego (The Curse of Knowledge)

By Anthony Gold

It is very challenging to unlearn something. Once you know it, it is difficult to remember what it was like to not know it. And nowhere is this more evident than in our ability to read.

Our reading skills have been well-honed over the years. But prior to our ability to read, our brains were very good at identifying colors.

To test that, see how quickly you can name (aloud) all the colors below.


If you are like most people, you can get through that exercise with no mistakes in about three to five seconds.

We are very quick at spotting colors and being able to name them. Except when they are intertwined with written words.

Let’s try a similar exercise – this time state aloud, as quickly as you can, the color of each word. Say the color of the text below, not the actual word that is written.


You likely made many mistakes and took much longer. The challenge is that before you can name the color, you subconsciously read the word and its meaning came pouring into your awareness.

Amazingly, this second exercise is a piece of cake for children – before learning how to read. But once you’ve learned how to read, it is very difficult to go backwards, or un-learn your conditioning.

The paradigm above is known as the Stroop effect named for psychologist John Ridley Stroop and his groundbreaking research in cognition and interference.

Such is our experience with the ego and our perceptions of what we believe is reality. After buying into the ego thought system, everything we learn “teaches” us that our world (including our life) is real and capable of serious consequences. And it is extremely difficult to unlearn that.

No one believes there really was a time when he knew nothing of a body, and could never have conceived this world as real. He would have seen at once that these ideas are one illusion, too ridiculous for anything but to be laughed away. How serious they now appear to be! (T-27.VIII.5)

The lessons you have taught yourself have been so overlearned and fixed they rise like heavy curtains to obscure the simple and the obvious. The world is an illusion. (T-31.I.3; W-pI.155.2)

Yet this learning is not immortal, and you can unlearn it by not teaching it. (T-6.III.3)

We’re so conditioned by what we’ve learned that we can’t even appreciate what it was like to know nothing of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, anger, jealousy, frustration, exhaustion, disappointment, or striving – all tools of the ego to keep us rooted in the world and the mistaken belief that we can find lasting happiness here.

Through practice, we can unlearn all the dysfunctional lessons we’ve mastered over the years and awaken to a true vision of reality – one in which happiness and joy permeate every single interaction! Join us in Monday’s class where we’ll explore the Course’s teaching on unlearning everything the ego has taught us. I look forward to seeing you then.

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