Changing Reality Tunnels

Open Question: How does one cultivate the skill of evaluating our world view, assessing its strengths and weaknesses, and changing it when our situation changes?

“Every kind of ignorance in the world all results from not realizing that our perceptions are gambles. We believe what we see and then we believe our interpretation of it, we don’t even know we are making an interpretation most of the time. We think this is reality.”

—Robert Anton Wilson

“Our job is to remind us that there are more contexts than the one that we’re in — the one that we think is reality.”

—Alan Kay

Yesterday’s The Cost of the Club discussion starting me thinking about reality tunnels. Reality tunnels can shape not only how we view the world but also how we view ourselves, and vice versa.

If you identify with a political party, then how you view the world is shaped by this identification. It may be impossible to see the limitation of the field of view because you do not have a point of comparison.

Like depth perception, you have to have a slightly different frame of reference in order to see into three dimensions. Without a second frame, it can be difficult to judge certain qualities in our environment, such as distance.

And, we can extend this analogy. Add in space and time as proxies for our geography and our historical moment and we can try to adopt different frames of reference to look at our own and other times. This gives us increased flexibility in outlook, and perhaps, we can cultivate a sense of their strengths and limitations.

For example, in the current moment, we like to imagine that the mind is like a computer, subject to programming. Before computers, minds were compared to locomotives, houses, gardens, sponges and so forth. All of them provide some insight into how to think about our minds, but none of them are true. All of them have limitations.

Whatever else it is like, the mind is like a filter, taking in all the overwhelming information of our sense experience and trying to narrow it down to some desirable essence that helps us to live. This essence can change depending on our circumstances. The needs of civilians living in a town torn apart by civil war are different from the needs of military prisoners of war living in captivity. Princesses need a different way of interpreting the world than does the cook preparing her meals, even though they both ostensibly live in the same environment.

The ability to adapt to our environment and cultivate mental models that help us to survive in them is a great gift. But, it is also a great gift to be aware of their limitations and learn to be able to change them at will, when circumstances change.

How does one improve this skill? It’s a good question. I’m thinking that a good place to start might be with Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson. It seems to be part of a larger question of: how do create an environment for yourself and others that is conducive to human flourishing? The ideas of Extropianism and their principles, particularly the other books in their recommended books near the bottom of the page might be a useful place to start.

Openness & Discernment

“The undiscerning mind is like the root of the tree, it absorbs equally everything it touches, even the poison that would kill it.”

—Kung Fu (television series)

Recently, I got into an online discussion where someone was trying to convince me that I should listen to some podcast that explained some current conspiracy related to the United States government. I told them that I was not interested.

Then, they encouraged me to have an open mind and listen to both sides of the argument. They also claimed to listen to the “other” side and offered as evidence that they watched CNN.

It’s a strange perspective. The reality is that there are an infinite number of sides. Our perspective is shaped by our lives, and by virtue of that, all of them are unique. We lose this uniqueness when we try to narrow and conform our view to just two possibilities.

Of course, it is important to keep an open mind and to be open to new perspectives. But, it is equally as important to screen your influences. Obviously, if you are screening your influences to limit them to perspectives close to yours or to just two, you are creating a filter bubble (or two) and are losing out on all the variety and opportunities for growth that exist in the world.

But, on the other hand, some ideas are simply bad and do not lead to growth, except in reaction. After getting the basic idea behind notions of racial superiority and judging it bad, it is unnecessary to evaluate every instance of this phenomena. Whether it is Christian Identity in the United States, Hindu Nationalism, notions of the “Original Black Man” and so forth, these ideas are about building a sense of self-worth from one’s racial identity.

Taking pride in being a part of a race is just as much of a part of racism as being prejudiced against people because of their race. One feeds into the other, the yin/yang that perpetuates itself through the generations and forms in and out groups.

It may be that there is a place for this type of thinking in a world with a history of subjugation, such as colonialism and slavery. It may, in some instances, serve as a corrective that at some point is no longer is necessary. Like women only transportation or classrooms, once society has progressed enough these measures can be dispensed with in order to transition to full equality. Although, they can also be obstacles to this kind of progression.

“Separate but equal” systems tend to perpetuate themselves and the very systems of subordination they are trying to address. Similarly, lifting up a race by focusing on the good qualities of the “race” has a similar effect. It is a dangerous crutch, and for me personally, racial identity is not an idea that would be a good lens for viewing the world. No amount of additional information is going to change my mind on this topic. This is a kind of virus meme, and it would cause an illness of character.

It is important to find our own path in this life, and it is impossible to do that if we allow every influence into our mind. Not being discriminating about our influences turns the pure water of our unmediated experience that we can use to live a unique life of meaning into a sewer of preconceived notions. It’s another form of colonization, just of the mind.

To paraphrase the great sage, George Clinton, “You got to free your mind, and your ass will follow.” There is no greater freedom than to choose what is good for you and to limit your exposure to the bad. The trick is not to think the new or different is bad.

The Parable of Fish & Turtle

“Once there was a fish and a turtle who were friends. They had been living in the same lake together for some time. One day the turtle decided to visit the land surrounding the lake. She had a good look around and came back to tell her friend the fish of the wonders she had seen. The fish was very interested and asked the turtle what it was like on land. The turtle answered that it was very beautiful. The fish then wanted to know whether it had been transparent, cool, rippling, shiny, smooth, good for gliding, buoyant, and wet. When the turtle said it had none of these attributes, the fish said, ‘What can be beautiful about it then?'”

—Ayya Khema, “Being Nobody, Going Nowhere.” Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1987. Pg. 146.