World Parameters

The eponymous frog knows only his world and compares his experience solely to the confines of that world. His parameters are well radius, well depth, temperature, water level, the amount of light entering the well and food number density. He shits in his well and if he is lucky another frog of the same species, but opposite gender, might come along for him to mate with. So long as there are no frog eaters around, his world remains intact. His world is secure. To get out of the well will require some work against the gravitational force. He probably hasn’t gotten an A level in physics, so he may not understand this. But he knows that if he wants to explore beyond his parameters he must head up to that light thing at the top of the well. Beyond the lip of the well there is the unknown, which might be scary. He is bound by the well and if he wants to make a bound-free transition he must put some effort in. Since he has been in the well a long while he is an expert on the well, on the inside of his world. He knows nothing of the world outside, he has become institutionalised in his well.

This metaphor has wide application. The frog does not even know his world-view is limited and at first resists what the ocean frog tries to tell him. He simply cannot conceive of what the ocean frog recounts. The frog in the tale is a brave frog, so he goes exploring. He is a little too stuck in his belief system and thus when he sees the ocean his mind explodes, spattering brains everywhere.

Anything which lies sufficiently outside of our world parameters is hard to countenance. If we make the assumption that nothing does, we have become more than a little insular in our thinking. Many smart people become experts in one area, they can become institutionalised. There are some who would kill the ocean frog for suggesting that the world is different. The well frog although he may deem himself an able and fluid thinker, has yet to meet the ocean frog. The ocean frog threatens his world order.  The parameters of his well frog world are those of a local minimum, he has become trapped in a tiny part of a wider hypersurface.

As an exercise:

Is my own reality somewhat limited?

If something offers a different perspective how do I react?

What are the parameters of my world?

Are they sufficient?

Face and Self-image 2

In the limit of Buddhist thinking these are conditioned things, and unless you are a self-realised Buddha, a Pratyekabuddha as Siddhārtha was, it is unlikely you are in your final conflict with Mara. One could argue about the various “ranks” of being a Buddha if you are fond of classification. He is simply given The to go before. What follows are not definitions, nor classifications, nor exhaustive; they are illustrations only.

Face or social self-image.

This is what you present to the outer world, how you might like to be perceived, the qualities which you may or may not aspire to. It is by way of a public relations statement and one which you may go to some length to prop up and propagate. It has the in-depth veracity of something you might put on a dating site, in an author bio, in a corporate blurb, a job application or what you brag about to your mates down the pub. It is nearly always tending towards superhero and rarely balanced. It is a kind of sales pitch which you do not in fact embody. The less pleasant aspects are redacted. It is not consistent with the entirety or actuality of you.

Self-image.

This is how you perceive yourself to be. It may share some overlap with the above. Yet many have coruscating self-images. It has an often-distorted body image. One may be a superhero in own eyes though not entirely convinced. Or one may be a complete failure pretending to be a superhero. These can be both overly positive and overly negative. It is comprised of all the stories you tell yourself about yourself, good and bad. There are parts sensed but not addressed. It is propped up by the internal dialogue. “I am misunderstood”, “nobody loves me”, “why can’t these fools see?”, “I’ll never be good enough” etc. etc.

How we are perceived by others.

One never truly knows this, suffice it to say it is likely to be inconsistent with both of the above.

True nature

This is to be determined.

People will go to inordinate length to defend and protect their face or social self-image, even when they know it to be a pack of lies. In pretending to be what we are not, we introduce the fear of being found out anxiety. But this Face and social self-image has taken on a new significance in the last few decades or so, thanks to electronic and social media. Public relations are a booming business and even school children are doing bios. This outer hyped up presentation with photos, is everywhere. People photoshop their photos and photoshop their bios. This is a new phenomenon of our times. We are the architects of our own houses, the lifestyle of sales pitch living. If one was for example to put a comprehensive accurate bio on a dating site, I doubt you would get many dates. Guess what, the reality hits home soon enough if the relationship is to go past a quick knee trembler. Almost inevitably our words and our actions do not match. Until such time as they do there is fear, which is suffering.

I do not know of a way around this apparent need for self-promotion and hype if one wishes to partake of the world. People rely on what is written, even when they know that it is likely to be skewed. The shop window, does not match the goods inside. Yet we all do it, to an extent. We want to see other people’s bios. There is a strange disconnect, we read it, and kind of buy it. Subject to this we interact from our mythos with their mythos… It is a bit loony…but everyone does it.

In our bios we make some claims, which we may or may not be able to back up. This is our Face we show to the world. Hence, we have a whole book of Faces, Facebook. You can judge for yourself how imaginary some of the claims people make are.

Identity

This is how we identify ourselves. At the moment, I could say that I am an unemployed Welsh, ex-academic, who spends his time blogging and being a house-husband, for example. None of these claims are false. But this identity fails to provide an adequate description of my true nature. This thing, our identity, enables us to find a posture or a position via which we interact with the world. This sense of identity is important, it tells us how we might fit into the world, it gives us a sense of context. We can then, from it, assimilate our world-version. Without a sense of identity, we can feel all at sea. Loss of sense identity is known to cause psychological trauma. In the limit there might be no identity at all or we could take a face from the ancient gallery, as and when we need one. Redundancy, divorce and illness, can all change our identity. Shifting from I am married to I am divorced, freaks people out. It changes the whole outlook and the stories we tell others.

So, we have a Face or social self-image, an Identity, a self-image, how we are perceived by others and our True Nature. Getting to our True Nature ain’t easy. We are rarely what we claim ourselves to be.

Selective Perception

Having cued up this with some quotes from Patanjali translations I am now going to turn to a favourite topic of mine. To kick off, if you do a Google or Bing image search for yoga, who will get images of young, white, lithe and perhaps attractive women in various poses. If you search for yogi, you will get images of Indian men in orange robes, yogi bear or somewhat emaciated older Indian men with beards in poses. You will not get a hefty middle aged white guy, I don’t have a groovy beard, and I cannot do any but the most basic asana. If you get my drift, even by naming the blog in the way I have done, it is in slight contrast to the search engine perceptions. There is a perception, a view of what yoga is.

According to Wiki:

“The ultimate goal of Yoga is moksha (liberation), although the exact definition of what form this takes depends on the philosophical or theological system with which it is conjugated.”

This brings things perhaps a little more in line with what I have been banging on about here.

With some inevitability, each of us carry some preconceptions. This statement is logically accurate, for all but genuinely omniscient or liberated beings. Yet most forget or act as if they have no preconceptions whatsoever. The inevitability of preconception is neglected and remains not factored in to world view or world-version. This means that because there are preconceptions, the perception is likely to be coloured by these and therefore selective. Semantically any selective perception cannot cover all the set of possible perceptions and is therefore not objective. Selective perception looks at only one part of the wider picture.

People can feel affronted if one suggests that their perception is selective and not comprehensive. It is somehow an attack on intellect or something else, maybe their self-image, in which they have sage-like neo-omniscient understanding. Maybe they are expert and erudite scholastic geniuses who are clever and smart. To be affronted at a suggestion of selective perception is to demonstrate the validity and applicability of the suggestion in the first place, Q.E.D.

I don’t believe it possible for a human being to live and not to have at least one episode of miscommunication. In this someone might say something, and we take it in an entirely different way than it was intended. We get the wrong end of the stick, so to speak. We have selected the wrong perception and maybe gotten all huffy or sad. Selective perception is all around us. And there is no guarantee whatsoever, that I am effectively communicating here, because you as the reader will select some perception or other from what I am writing. I cannot control this sat here this windy November morning.

It is not possible for the human mind to hold all possible perceptions. Even were we able to hold many, we would still have select some operative perception, in order to function. Cognitively we would have to act from a perception of the world, which if we are honest, might be our best guess as to what is transpiring. What we can do is to try to develop our accuracy and acuity of perception by being inclusive and by understanding the observational instrument, which makes the perception, ourselves. Even should we do this we will still have to select a perception from which to operate.

The more open-minded we are, the greater our self-knowledge is, the better that perception is likely to be. If you are awake you will notice that I used the word better which is slightly conditional as opposed to the less coloured, accurate. I did this to demonstrate how comparison and ranking is introduced by our cognitive and social apparatus. Who is to say what is better? Is it consensus?

Our perception is filtered not only through our preconceptions but our baggage, our emotional baggage. It is also coloured by mood. If we are anxious then a simple word can send us into fight or flight mode. If we are self-righteous we can become indignant and offended at the drop of a hat. None of which may have anything to do with what is transpiring. If there is at least some detachment, then the emotive colouration can be lessened.

Pure awareness is just seeing, itself; although pure, it usually appears to operate through the perceiving mind.

I like to think of the perceiving instrument, which is both our biological apparatus, the sum total of our experiences and our own personal predilections. Each instrument has a cognitive apparatus and an intellect, the ability and capacity of these has variance in the population. Accurate perception is the signal and everything else is the noise. To extract the signal one has to work at increasing the signal to noise ratio. How does one do that? Well by calming the mind, reducing the chitta or internal dialogue and by becoming much less attached. Strangely in being less attached one can perceive more accurately and in greater depth. If we are prone to fly of the handle, our perceptions are unlikely to have acuity. Though we may demonstrated our love of drama, sometimes for all to see.

When you buy a computer or some other device, they can go wrong. The favoured method of fixing something with software is to turn it off and reboot. This means you have one control parameter. If you can’t turn off your mind, what can you do about any wayward software running? Not a lot. But if you can silence your mind, turn it off, you at least have a chance of a reboot and the ability to treat again whatever is transpiring

When one can select, with awareness that one is doing just that, selecting, one from any number of perceptions, there is a modicum of control over how we choose to interact with the world. Choice has more freedom than Pavlovian reflex or reaction. More choice in behaviour, leads to more freedom, which will point at moksha in the fullness of time.

Other Worlds and Local Reality

Unless you are a visitor from another planet, then your home world is Earth. Yet within this planetary domain there are many different “worlds” and differing realities. Even within countries those “worlds” vary. When these “worlds” collide miscommunication, misunderstanding and prejudice are common. Although I live about forty miles from London, my world is not the same. We share a commonality of language, currency and many other things. But, out here, there is less noise, less commotion and generally lower stress levels. Although I once lived in the city I am now more bumpkin than city-folk. They have strange ways them city-folk.

Perhaps my use of “world” is a little extreme. But think about it for a while. If one grows up in a village in rural Africa, then the components of that world, its values, its beliefs, differ from metropolitan London. The whole basis of interaction is different, yes there is commonality, yet the mores and ethos are not the same. There is a tendency for people to only interpret things through the lens of their world-version. What is customary in one place is weird and strange in another. Until one has experienced the sensory onslaught of say Africa, one has no idea of how intense smells, colours and sounds can be. The word vibrancy has less meaning than it might. This sardine thinking, that everyone in the tin, should look the same and be the same, is a bit silly. There are vast differences in experience amongst our human species.  What is important to a city slicker in not so vital for a person with a large extended family for whom they are the breadwinner. The priorities diverge. The very nature of their conceptual local reality is not the same. The social devoirs are differently ordered.

Without recognising that there is likely to be a difference in outlook, it is pretty difficult to communicate effectively, and assumption is the mother of all cock ups. Just that little thing, considering that someone is coming from a different place, a different world, a different reality, can make a huge difference to the quality of communication. Until one has lived a world, one cannot know the pressures, economic and social, it has. One may read about it, but that is not the same as knowing, though many assume these equate.

If one leaves a world we have the Educating Rita situation, or the Platonic Cave thought experiment. Outside a world, things are different, when you go back into a world, there is difficulty explaining to those who never left the world what lies outside. Moving from one world to another changes you and you can no longer fit so well back into the old world. People in the old-world sense this though there is a desire for conformity to the old ways, the old world. They cannot see and rarely accept that you are different now and seek to apply the old world-rules to you, they want compliance with something that no longer fits. It is a non-sequitur that you are somehow different, and you can be berated for this. People do not like the coterie of their world-version challenged by people leaving it and then having a kind of temerity to come back. There is an assumption that the local reality of world-version pervades universally when it does not.

My function for over a decade was to be an academic, that world academia, has rules, a social hierarchy and a lot of gossip. I am no longer of that world, though it has influenced me. My academic ability has not changed though my status has. Because of this I am likely to be viewed as less able than I am, simply because I am no longer a world-member. My kudos battery is depleted and uncharged. People may even feel sorry for me because I am no longer in the club. It is a bit fucked up, but there you go.

We each of us have our own local reality which will overlap with others in the same “world” as us to an extent. We may be members of a given world. As such we need, at least in public, to subscribe to its mentality, its games and its public relations statements. These local, personal realities, are everywhere. We all have them. I know the parameters of mine fairy well. These do not coincide with what others may think they ought to be. The history does not predict the actuality of the present, my trajectory from the norm has diverged. This is conceptually difficult for people to accept, it does not make sense back in that world. I no longer share the same aspirations, which is a kind of heresy. I have my own local reality and it does not fit into the set of local realities that comprises the other world, the one to which I used to pertain.

There is a problem with worlds and world-versions in that they assume a completeness and that they are encompassing. The boundaries to world are not transparent and are perceptually adiabatic. Nothing can flow in or out of the world. World-versions can become myopic and insular. They can be defended with arms. And when world-versions or cultures interact there can be war. These world membranes need not be so concrete. Today there is at least a wider theoretical understanding of other cultures; arts and the cinema can provide some fleeting insights. Few have lived them. Anyone who has made a transition between worlds knows that there is some discomfort along the way. What one once held to be true, is no longer inviolate. New experience alters one. One hasn’t transitioned into the new world entirely yet and there is a middle ground where nothing seems to work all that well.

I have made a few illustrations of worlds, world-versions and local realities. It can be helpful to at least consider that the “reality” to which we adhere is imperfect. It is a starter for ten in trying to understand that living in sardine mind is not broad nor inclusive. There is a whole bunch of stuff that we do not know, though we may profess otherwise. I am of course talking a little about humility as opposed to an arrogant assumed omniscience.

What is so wrong with admitting that there are many things in life that we do not yet know or understand fully?  

Contextual Mismatches

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.

Blaise Pascal

I suspect that it is not uncommon for people to assume that others with similar educational backgrounds, similar accents, equivalent ages and roughly similar clothes have shared world-versions, broadly common aspirations and at least partially shared life experience. This is the starting point, perhaps, of communication. The context within which we may move. If someone is radically different in any of the above, we might be a little more circumspect in our assumed understanding. In the rational world this basis assumption kind of makes sense, it is where we might start. We may assume that there is a match of context according to our presumably shared world-version.

Yet within the set of people with whom we share so much, experience can diverge markedly. At first glance we do not know who has had a breakdown, cancer or a substance problem. We may not know the extremity of their political or religious viewpoints, yet. Because they look and talk like us, the presumption of some similarity goes first. It doesn’t take too much thought to see that the basis assumption will be in many cases wrong. The degree may vary. There may in fact be little common ground at all. Yet this common ground is what people seek. If it isn’t there, we bend observations so as to assimilate it.

Although there may be some erudition to what I am saying, I’ll hazard a guess that my world-version differs markedly from the norm. Though to look at me in Caffè Nero there would be no obvious sign.

To do a gedanken, a thought experiment of sorts, we might consider two scenarios. In the about section there is a very brief bio. Imagine you were, for whatever reason, to meet me.

  1. I tip up in my customary black jeans, jumper and fleece. There is a faint hint of tobacco smoke about me. I cough slightly and greet you.
  2. I tip up in full Buddhist robes, with my hair freshly cut if not fully shaved. I greet you.

By setting the scene for this all I have altered is my dress, yet this alone has set a context for our initial encounter. In this scenario I would still be me. In case 1) unless you were dressed in robes, there would be no apparent contextual mismatch a priori. In case 2) if you were dressed in civvies there would. If you have some prior knowledge of me then the sight of me in robes could cause the immediate and instantaneous birth of kittens, metaphorically speaking.

How might the conversation go in each of these scenarios? Imagine….

What I am getting at is that we may be largely unaware of how markedly world-versions differ between individuals. Yet we assume more commonality than there may be. Is it any wonder that communication, through this veil of assumption and prejudice is so poor, that there are many misunderstandings? Well not really.

Whenever there is a large contextual mismatch poor communication is rife. This is largely because we are trying to fit things into our own world-version rather than explore that of another being. The problem with open-minded exploration is that it takes time. The prize however is deep relationship and greater understanding. Virtually every being on the planet offers us something new, some new knowledge.

If we start from the hypothesis that there may be some contextual mismatch where our understanding may be imperfect and our assumptions not good, then maybe we as a species can improve and advance. If we assume that everyone has to be like us, not only will we be disappointed, but we might blame others for not fitting exactly to the parameters of our world-version. It is not their fault that our world-versions are limited and concrete. If you think about it only a little, if we were all the same the clone-world would be a very boring place to live. Contextual mismatch adds variety and spice to life.

A Little More Open-minded

I hinted at position taking in the previous post and this kind of stance has an increased prevalence in our polarised times. You are either a Brexiteer or a Remoaner, for example. For whatever reason people like to adopt a position and well, argue the toss. I remain unconvinced at to whether or not this is constructive or aids learning. This polarisation can be found on all sides. People are either an angel or a devil, depending upon their belonging to the same camp as you, or not. The idea of having an exploratory open mind seems to be vanishing.

I enjoy the social commentary of Nick Galifianakis. Take look at this image on open-minded at his web site. It takes the piss slightly but even here we sense some polarisation the wishy-washy liberal as opposed to the positioned “clear” thinker.

Many imagine themselves to be open-minded, it is a mark of intelligence aspired to. Yet like all things an open mind is a relative thing, one could say that one is relatively open minded. We all, whether we like to admit or not, have our prejudices. We have made up our mind about stuff, before we have experienced it personally. The influence of our peers and our subscription to group-mind or group think, play a part in this. Each of us has some cultural legacy which colours our thinking. We have some beliefs. The lens of mind is not without aberration, chromatic or otherwise. Our life experience provides some interpretive “reference” points to which we compare. We have our own personal dogma which is bolstered and maintained by the mantra of our speech. Our world-version and world-rules, whilst not necessarily concrete, may not be elastic either. We would not want our world-version to stretch so that it cannot snap back. Least of all we would not want that world-version to explode.

In order to learn there is a need to cultivate open-mindedness. It is by intending to be more open-minded and inclusive, that we can expand our consciousness and thinking.  In this respect age plays a part, there being a tendency to get more set in our ways as we get older.

Here are questions relating:

Might I be a little more open-minded and less judgmental?

What do I miss out on by assuming and advocating my own omniscience prematurely?