Class #

Study Guide and Commentary

ACIM® Text, Chapter 7, Section VIII

The Unbelievable Belief

blue text = Material from ACIM 3rd edition (FIP)
bold blue text = words emphasized in all caps in Urtext
red text = alternate or omitted material from the Urtext
light blue text = editorial comments
strikethrough blue text = Not in Urtext, in FIP edition

Overview of the Section

The "unbelievable belief" of the section title is the ego's belief in separation and attack (7:1–3). The chapter keeps emphasizing that the mind is immune to attack and incapable of attacking (see T-7.VI.8:2, and 4:3 in the current section),  that mind cannot be changed (T‑7.V.7:7–9), and that the Kingdom is a unified totality (T-7.VII.10:6–10) that cannot be separated. To be sinful or truly unloving, we would have to change the nature God imparted to our mind when He created it—which we cannot do. Attacking God and changing God's creation is impossible, and the belief that we could do so is untenable.

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1.  1We have said that without projection there can be no anger [see 6.In.1:2], but it is also true that without extension [projection] there can be no love. 2These reflect [Projection is] a fundamental law of the mind, and therefore one that always operates. 3It is the law by which you create and were created. 4It is the law that unifies the Kingdom, and keeps it in the Mind of God. 5To the ego, the law is perceived as a means of getting rid of something it does not want. 6To the Holy Spirit, it is the fundamental law of sharing, by which you give what you value in order to keep it in your [own] mind[s]. 7To the Holy Spirit it [projection] is the law of extension. 8To the ego it is the law of deprivation. 9It therefore produces abundance or scarcity, depending on how you choose to apply it. 10This choice is up to you, but it is not up to you to decide whether or not you will utilize the law [projection]. 11Every mind must project or extend, because that is how it lives, and every mind is life.

• Study Question •

1.     To gain a better sense of what extension is, try practicing the exercise from Lesson 108, paragraphs 8 and 9.

Projection and extension are two sides of the same coin. We've been told that anger arises only when our minds perceive their own self-attack as originating in someone else, someone outside of themselves (T-6.In.1:2; T-6.II.3:5–6). For instance, we reject ourselves, and imagine that someone else is rejecting us. Without such projection, anger could never arise because there would be no reason for it. Such projection, however, is simply the ego's distortion of extension. Just as anger and projection go hand in hand, extension also goes hand in hand with love. In order for love to occur, our minds must extend themselves (1:1). We must transcend ego and see our brothers and sisters as parts of ourselves rather than as enemies.

When God created us, He extended His Mind as us (1:3; see also T-6.II.8:1). Mind operates by expanding outside itself (1:2), whether the sense of the operation is the positive use by the Holy Spirit (which the Course refers to as extension) or the negative use by the ego (called projection). Mind is doing one or the other all the time (1:11). The primary difference between extension and projection is that in extension the mind is radiating something valuable in order to increase it by sharing it with other minds. Conversely, in projection the mind is attempting to rid itself of something undesirable by relocating it outside of the mind, usually in another person (1:5–6). In extension you are adding to the person you extend to; in projection you are "giving" the person something negative, so you are depriving them of their wholeness. One is an act of love; the other is an attack (1:7–9).

Your mind will constantly radiate something to the minds of those around you because that is the nature of mind. You have no choice about that. Your only choice is what you will radiate: scarcity or abundance, love or attack (1:9-11).

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2.  1The ego's use of projection must be fully understood before the inevitable association between projection and anger can be finally undone [UNmade]. 2The ego always tries to preserve conflict. 3It is very ingenious in devising ways that seem to diminish conflict, because it does not want you to find conflict [to find it {the ego}] so intolerable that you will insist on giving it up. 4The ego therefore tries to persuade you that it can free you of conflict, lest you give the ego [give it] up and free yourself. 5Using its own warped version of the laws of God, the ego utilizes the power of the mind only to defeat the mind's real purpose. 6It projects conflict from your mind to other minds, in an attempt to persuade you that you have gotten rid of the problem [rid of it {conflict}].

• Study Question •

2.     Why does the ego cause us to project conflict from our minds onto other people?

Our mind seems to be locked into a pattern that produces anger by displacing the source of pain on something outside of itself. Psychiatry defines displacement as, "A defense mechanism in which there is an unconscious shift of emotions, affect, or desires from the original object to a more acceptable or immediate substitute" (American Heritage Dictionary). We displace our guilt onto others quite unconsciously (T-13.X.1:1–2). It is our own thoughts that hurt us (W‑pII.281.1:5), but we blame something else, and then "react" with anger toward that something else. Before we can break this pattern we have to understand it (2:1).

It's a little tricky, actually. The ego shows us one apparent motive for projection, but its true motive is the exact opposite. It seems as though projecting the mind's conflict onto others gets rid of the conflict; actually, it preserves the conflict by concealing its origin, which is within the mind. The ego wants to keep us in conflict (the opposite of peace) because the ego lives on conflict, especially our belief in our conflict with God, so it has to keep the conflict going. On the other hand, conflict is unpleasant. If we realized that the ego is actually fostering conflict, we'd tell the ego to take a hike! So it disguises its motives, and uses projection to make it appear as though it is ridding our minds of conflict by displacing the conflict onto others (2:2–6).

This is precisely why it is so important for us to understand the ego's tactics. When we realize that the ego's goal is to keep our minds in turmoil and to keep peace as far away as possible, we will "insist on giving it up" (2:3) and becoming free (2:4). That recognition, however, entails what I call "the withdrawal of projection." Simply put, that means no longer blaming our unhappiness on people, events and situations outside ourselves. Even more, since the mind is always going out to others in some way, if we stop projecting anger we will immediately begin extending love. We will not simply refrain from blaming other people; we will actively love and bless them.

To love and to bless is, in fact, the mind's true purpose. Since the ego is the thought of separation, it cannot allow the mind to fulfill its natural purpose of loving, which brings about union. That would be the death of the ego. Therefore, the ego cleverly commandeers the mind's ability to extend and uses it to project conflict, thus keeping the mind from the very purpose for which extension was intended (2:5).

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3.  1There are two major errors involved in this attempt [This has a number of fallacies which may not be so apparent]. 2First, strictly speaking, conflict cannot be projected [in the sense of "extended"] [precisely] because it cannot be [fully] shared. 3Any attempt to keep part of it and get rid of another part does not really mean anything. 4Remember that a conflicted teacher is a poor teacher and a poor learner. 5His lessons are confused, and their transfer value is [severely] limited by his confusion. 6The second error [fallacy] is the idea that you can get rid of something you do not want by giving it away. 7Giving it is how you keep it. 8The belief that by seeing it outside [by giving it out] you have excluded it from within is a complete distortion of the power of extension. 9That is why those who project [from the ego] are vigilant for their own safety. 10They are afraid that their projections will return and hurt them. 11Believing they [they do believe they] have blotted their projections from their own minds, [but] they also believe their projections are trying to creep back in [into them]. 12Since [This is because] the projections have not left their minds, they are forced [and this, in turn, forces them] to engage in constant [compulsive] activity in order not to recognize this.

• Study Question •

3.     When you project conflict onto other minds, what is the effect this has on you?

The ego's attempt to deal with conflict by ejecting it from the mind cannot possibly succeed. In the first place, "conflict…cannot be shared" (3:2). This assertion needs some explanation. A bit earlier (T-5.IV.3:1–8), the Course explained that only loving thoughts can be shared; attack thoughts are the antithesis of sharing; they try to give and to get at the same time. Because they have opposing elements they cannot be fully shared. The mind's conflict is by nature something divided and confused. A confused teacher imparts confused lessons, resulting in a failure to share ("transfer") anything (3:3–5). So, the mind's attempt to project conflict onto others has to fail.

We attempt to project onto others the responsibility for our conflict, so that we see the ego in others attacking the "good" in us. That, I think is what is meant by attempting to keep part of the conflict (the good side) and get rid of the other part (the bad side). As 3:3 says, such an attempt "does not really mean anything."

Second, the attempt will fail because giving something away is not the way to make it go away; "giving it is how you keep it" (3:7).

Because projection simply does not work the way the ego wants it to, our minds are forced into a state of constant defense against imaginary enemies. We thrust something out of our mind onto someone else, but within our mind, there is always a muffled, worried voice telling us the problem isn't gone at all. The ego tries to keep us constantly busy so we never look at what is going on within our minds (3:8–12).

As we engage in studying and working with the Course, one of our most diligent enemies is going to be denial. The ego simply does not want us to recognize what is going on in our minds. It does not want us to see how we are projecting our own inner conflict, particularly our imagined conflict with God, onto other people. We are causing our own unhappiness by our thoughts, and then laying the blame for that unhappiness on the people around us. Sometimes, trying to get a handle on this behavior of the mind is like trying to catch a greased pig. When some dim realization that "I am doing this to myself" begins to dawn, we run away in terror, and frantically try to keep the "blame" from falling on us. Anything but us! As the Text says a bit later: "As the light comes nearer you will rush to darkness, shrinking from the truth, sometimes retreating to the lesser forms of fear, and sometimes to stark terror" (T-18.III.2:1). We have to resist that tendency to run away; we have to be willing to face the ego in all its ugliness. It is the ego's ugliness that, in the end, is our salvation. It is so ugly, so absurd, and so undesirable that we will simply turn away from it and let it go.

I have been in that place of resisting the truth so often! Part of my mind knows that my anger can't be justified, and that my pain is really self-inflicted. But another part of me just does not want to let the other person off the hook. "No way! You're not going to blame this on me; this is your fault!" I just don't want to bury the hatchet; I don't want to stop the argument. Well, okay, maybe I'll stop arguing in a moment, but not until I get in this one last really good zinger!

When you find yourself in that situation, realize that your ego is feeling cornered again, and let it go. Let it die. Remind yourself that you can escape from the world by giving up attack thoughts (W-pI.23).

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4.  1You cannot perpetuate an illusion about another without perpetuating it about yourself. 2There is no way out of this, because it is impossible to fragment the mind. 3To fragment is to break into pieces, and mind cannot attack or be attacked ["or be attacked" seems to have been added by the editors]. 4The belief that it can, an error [a fallacy] the ego always makes, underlies its whole use of projection. 5It does not understand what mind is, and therefore does not understand what you are. 6Yet its existence is dependent on your mind, because the ego is your belief. 7The ego is [therefore] a confusion in identification [which never had a consistent model, and never developed consistently]. 8Never having had a consistent model, it never developed consistently. 9It is the product of the misapplication of the laws of God by distorted minds that are misusing their power.

• Study Question •

4.     Explain how the mind's invulnerability to fragmentation actually makes projection, in the ego's sense of "getting rid of" something, an impossibility.

The whole scenario we envision, of something outside our mind trying to get back in, is a fantasy. The thing we have projected never leaves our mind at all! Mind is one; it cannot be split apart into separate fragments (4:2). Fragmenting the mind would be an attack on the mind, and the mind cannot do that or have that done to it. I think my mind is separate from yours, so that I can safely dump my mental garbage on you without affecting myself. But it's all my mind. Therefore, if I am projecting guilt onto you and seeing you as a sinner, I'm painting myself with the same brush (4:1). I cannot attack you without attacking myself; the unity of mind guarantees it.

The whole question of the mind's inability to attack or be attacked is an interesting one. It seems to contradict other statements made in the Course. For instance the Workbook talks about "attack thoughts," and it seems obvious that if the body seems to attack, it is the mind behind the body that is directing it. Yet, the Course is remarkably insistent on this point that minds do not attack (T-17.VII.3:4; T-18.VI.3:5; T-25.IV.1:1–2; W-pI.161.6:1). I think the explanation is really quite simple. It has to do with absolute and relative truth. The absolute truth is that mind is one. It takes at least two for there to be attack of any kind. Since there is only one mind, attack is impossible. There is nothing "else" to attack, and nothing "else" to be attacked by.

However, as the reference (mentioned above) in Chapter 18 shows, the mind can produce fantasies in which there are separate bodies attacking one another. The mind can produce dreams and in the dream, attack happens. Our experience is within the dream, within the relative reality. Here, our minds can harbor thoughts of attack on one another; here, my mind can attack my own body and make it sick. All of this is happening within the mind's own imagination, however. Like a dream, none of it is real, in the absolute sense.

The ego does not believe in the mind's invulnerability. It believes the mind can attack, be attacked, and fragment. The way the ego uses projection grows out of that false belief (4:4). The ego's very existence is delusional, both in origin and in continuation. All that the ego is is a thought in your mind, your belief about yourself. Thus, your mind gives it birth and sustains it. Yet the ego fails to understand its parent (4:5–6).

When I misidentify myself as a fragment of mind, separate from you, from all the Sonship, and from God, I am confused about what mind is; I am identifying with a misconception, with something—a "fragment" of mind—that does not exist (4:7). To recover the truth of my Being, I need to let go of thoughts such as individuality and "I." I need to, not annihilate, but transcend my ego.

With such unstable beginnings, it is no wonder the ego has not grown into anything stable or consistent (4:8). It is a total aberration, produced by a twisted and sick mind (4:9). Clearly, this is not something we want to nurture and rescue! The message here, for me, is that I should be glad to leave my ego behind. It misunderstands me, it misunderstands mind, it misapplies the law of God, and misuses the mind's power. It misses completely!

All of this is describing the way the ego uses projection. The whole game we play of finding fault with one another is simply an insane mistake. It has never worked and will never work, and we need to give it up.

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5.  1Do not be afraid of the ego. 2It depends [does depend] on your mind, and as you made it by believing in it, so you can dispel it by withdrawing belief from it. 3Do not project the responsibility for your belief in it onto anyone else, or you will preserve the belief. 4When you are willing to accept sole responsibility for the ego's existence [yourself,] you will have laid aside all anger and all attack, because they come from an attempt to project responsibility for your own errors. 5But having accepted the errors as yours, do not keep them. 6Give them over quickly to the Holy Spirit to be undone completely, so that all their effects will vanish from your mind and from the Sonship as a whole.

• Study Question •

5.     5. (a) What two things should we not do in regard to the ego, and why?
    (b) When we take responsibility for our errors, what should we do with these errors, and what should we not do with them?

I love the first sentence! The Course spends a great deal of time unmasking the deceptiveness of the ego, and urging us not to underestimate its power nor to dismiss it lightly. The heavy emphasis on the "dark side" of the ego triggers, in some Course students, a nagging fear of the ego. I am glad, therefore, that the Course contains such a plain and forthright statement: "Do not be afraid of the ego" (5:1). The ego is just a case of mistaken identity (4:7); I have mistaken a tiny fragment of mind as myself, as all that I am. My acceptance of this mistake in identity is what made the ego, so I control the ego, and not vice versa. I am its maker, and I can unmake it, if I so choose. If I stop believing in the ego it will no longer exist (5:2).

You might want to ask yourself, "Am I afraid of the ego?" If the discussion in the preceding paragraphs made you uneasy, you are probably afraid of your ego. If the idea that no one else is "doing it" to you, but you are "doing it" to yourself, seems like something you'd rather not think about, you are afraid of your ego. If you find yourself wanting to skim over the passages in the Course that talk about the ego thought system, you are afraid of your ego.

I remember one time I spent five days with a group of people studying the section in Chapter 23 of the Text, "The Laws of Chaos." One of the longest sections in the Course, about 2500 words or five and a third pages, it concerns itself almost exclusively with the details of the ego's thought system, its "laws." We spent a lot of time that week examining ourselves and, often with shock or disgust, recognizing how deeply the ego's thought system was imbedded in our minds. At the end of the five days, someone suggested we should print up some T-shirts with the motto, "I Survived 'The Laws of Chaos.'" It really felt as though we'd been put through a wringer. The strength of our resistance to looking at our own egos was phenomenal. We had to struggle against depression and discouragement. At night, most of us slept like logs for more hours than usual. Why? Because we were afraid of our egos. We wanted to avoid looking at them. We were afraid that the ego was who we really were.

When I took the est training, years ago, they called this aspect of self "the person you are afraid you are." To me that perfectly describes my usual attitude toward the ego! It requires considerable effort, and a certain sang-froid, to confront the ego within myself. I can use what Jesus says here to remind myself that I don't need to be afraid, that I am in charge.

Oddly, thinking I am in charge of the ego can also be a bit distressing, because if I am in charge, it means I am responsible for it. Have you ever noticed the way you try to make other people responsible for your ego? When you get mad, it's someone else who "made" you angry. When you make a cutting remark to someone, you claim their actions "made" you do it. If you get into a fight, in your mind they probably started it. That projection of responsibility is what the Course is talking about, asserting that it does not work. Besides telling us not to be afraid, the Course also warns us against this tendency to blame others for our egos (5:3), pointing out that doing so is just another way of holding on to our belief in the ego. It's just another form of projection.

The Course is attempting to help me be willing to accept that I am the only one responsible for the ego's existence (5:4). That seems like a horrifying realization, doesn't it? It seems like taking blame for every bad thing in the universe. But responsible does not mean guilty. It's not a sin; it's a mistake. When we think that making the ego was something awful, something terrible, or something sinful, we will try to make other people responsible for it (5:4), so that they will be to blame. But there is no blame attached. We're trying to rid ourselves of guilt that we are making up. God does not blame us; why should we do so? (T-14.III.15:3)

Responsibility for the ego is not something to be dreaded; we are being asked to embrace it with thanksgiving. Why? Because if we are responsible for it, we can undo it. If we made it, we can unmake it. If we imagined it, we can let go of the illusion.

When we uncover some aspect of the ego in our minds, some shred of its thinking, we need not recoil in horror. Yes, it is a mistake, and a bad one. Yes, it is ugly. But it isn't who we are! Instead of clasping the mistake to our chest and trying to hide it, we need to bring it into the light of the Holy Spirit's presence. We need to own it and then ask Him to take it away (5:5–6). When we are willing to do that, He will erase any effects our mistakes have had on our own minds, and on "the Sonship as a whole" (5:6).

To summarize, when we threaten to become aware of some aspect of our egos, the ego will defend itself in two main ways. First, it will try to make us afraid of itself, so we will just refuse to recognize the ego's presence. "Who, me? I'm not angry!"  If it cannot keep itself out of our awareness, then it will try to get us to place the blame for its existence onto someone else. "Of course I'm angry, after what she did to me! Who wouldn't be?" Only when we get past the denial induced by false fear, and take "sole responsibility for the ego's existence" (5:4), can we get to the point at which we are able to release our errors to the Holy Spirit and be healed of their consequences. In a nutshell:

how else can one dispel illusions except by looking at them directly, without protecting them? Be not afraid, therefore, for what you will be looking at is the source of fear, and you are beginning to learn that fear is not real. (T-11.V.2:2–3)

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6.  1The Holy Spirit [He] will teach you to perceive beyond your belief, because truth is beyond belief and His perception is true. 2The ego can be completely forgotten at any time, because it is [because it was always] a totally incredible belief, and no one can keep a belief he has judged to be unbelievable. 3The more you learn about the ego, the more you realize that it cannot be believed. 4The incredible cannot be understood because it is unbelievable. 5The [utter] meaninglessness of [all] perception based on [which comes from] the unbelievable is [Ur: must be] apparent, but it may not be recognized as being [but it is not] beyond belief, because it is [was] made by belief.

• Study Question •

6.     If the ego is purely an illusion in our minds that we want to leave behind, we might think that learning about it would be a waste of time, yet the Course spends a lot of time talking about it. Why is it important for us to learn about the ego?

We believe a lie: that the ego is real and powerful, and that the ego is us. The Holy Spirit wants to show us the truth about ourselves. He wants us to turn our "eyes" past the ego to see the Christ within (6:1). Looking at the ego, then, is obviously not the end; the Holy Spirit is leading us beyond that. And yet, looking at the ego is the way to look beyond it! Once we see the ego clearly we will realize that it is nothing but a belief, and an absurd belief at that. It has no foundation, no support, and no meaning. It is "incredible" (6:2), which means "unbelievable." Once we have recognized how unsubstantial and unconvincing the idea of the ego is, we will stop believing in it. The way to let go of our belief in the ego, then, is to learn all we can about it (6:3–4). Our whole perception of the world, which is distorted beyond all meaning when it is based on a belief in the ego, will shift when that belief shifts. If we don't examine the ego, however, we won't question our belief in it, and our ego-based perception of the world will continue to seem meaningful (6:5).

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7.  1The whole purpose of this course is to teach you that the ego is unbelievable and will forever be unbelievable. 2You who made the ego by believing the unbelievable cannot make this judgment alone. 3By accepting the Atonement for yourself, you are deciding against the belief that you can be alone, thus dispelling the idea of separation and affirming your true identification with the whole Kingdom as literally part of you. 4This identification is as beyond doubt as it is beyond belief. 5Your wholeness has no limits because being is infinity [its being is in Infinity].

• Study Question •

7.     "The whole purpose of this course is to teach you that the ego is unbelievable…" (7:1). Is this something you can learn by yourself, or do you need others? Give reasons for your answer.

This is one of several places where the Course summarizes its entire purpose in a few words (7:1).[1]

 It isn't difficult to realize that they are all different ways of describing the same thing. For instance, learning that "the ego is unbelievable" (7:1) can easily be seen to be equivalent to, or rather the flip side of, rediscovering our true Self. If the ego is a false image of ourselves we have superimposed over the truth, then removing that image will uncover the truth.

As it so often does, the Course insists that transcending the ego is not something that anyone can do alone (7:2). It makes perfect sense when you think about it. If the ego is a false belief that I am a tiny fragment of mind, separate and independent from the rest of God's creation, then the obvious antidote to that belief is the recognition of my union with and equality with all my brothers and sisters. That is what the Atonement is. I am not an isolated individual, I am identified with the entire Kingdom. All that I have believed to be separate from me is, in reality, literally part of me (7:3). My identity is not separate from your identity; we share one Identity (the shared Identity of the Sonship, which is Christ (T-18.VI.10:2; T-22.IV.7:8; T-27.II.11:6; W-pII.283.2:1; W-pII.6:1:2)). Since you are part of my Self, how could I possibly remember my Self without you?

Thus, the Course always returns to the necessity of sharing, the need for extension to others. It is through giving to others that I receive. It is by forgiving my brothers and sisters, recognizing them as equal partners with God in creation, completely loving and completely worthy of my love and God's as well, that I will at last awaken to the truth of my own being, which is infinite.

Answer Key

1.   No written answer is expected.

2.   The ego wants to preserve conflict but knows that if we find conflict intolerable we will give it up, and thus give up the ego itself. So, it tries to convince us that we can get rid of conflict by projecting the conflict to other minds. The ego's apparent reason for projection is to get rid of conflict, but its true reason is to preserve conflict.

3.   When we project anger onto others, we become paranoid about defending ourselves, trying to keep the projections outside of ourselves. Since the conflicts we are projecting have never actually left our minds, this results in a kind of frantic denial.

4.   The belief that mind can attack and be attacked, or fragmented, makes the ego think that it can use projection to get rid of something from my mind by projecting it onto another mind. But mind is one, and cannot be split into separate fragments; therefore, when I project an illusion onto another, I am perpetuating the same illusion about myself. I cannot "get rid of" anything by projection.

5.   (a) 1. "Do not be afraid of the ego" (5:1). 2. Do not project responsibility for the ego onto anyone else (5:3). We don't have to fear the ego because it is the product of our own mind, and we have the power to dispel it. We should not project responsibility for it onto others because that just preserves the belief in our own minds. We need to take sole responsibility for our egos (5:4).
(b) Don't try to cover up your errors or hold on to them.
Bring them to the Holy Spirit so that He can undo them (5:6).

6.   Because the more we learn about the ego, the more we realize that it cannot be believed; that it is incredible and meaningless. Once we have realized this we will let it go.

7.   We cannot learn that the ego is unbelievable by ourselves, because the Atonement (the answer to the ego's belief) affirms our total identification with the whole Kingdom as literally part of us (7:3). Since the ego is the idea of separation, to transcend the ego must entail the inclusion of all of creation. You can't unlearn isolation by staying isolated.

[1]  Elsewhere, the Course describes its purpose as teaching us the power of our minds (T-2.VII.1:5–6), helping us to remember what we are (T-9.I.2:4 and W-'I.127.4:1), the accomplishment of miracles or of healing (T-26.VII.1:1–2), and helping us choose what we want to teach based on what we want to learn (M-In.2:5). These can be seen as different ways of saying the same thing.