Awareness – Reality Modelling – Empiricism

Friday, July 17th, 2009 at 8:00 am.
by pre.

You’ve seen that all your experience comes filtered and processed, a “virtual reality” rather than some direct experience of an actual event in space-time. You’ve examined a few of the common blind alleys which forgetting this fact can lead you down.

These bind alleys can leave you open to advertising and other manipulations, including self deception. Which begs the question:

How do you avoid those blind alleys?

How do you avoid falling prey to these self deceptions? To the advertising and other manipulations in your life? All you have are your senses and your evolved instincts, and those are summarising and abridging when they’re not actively deceiving.

Philosophy spent more than two thousand years floundering around looking for answers to this problem. From before the time Socrates tried to teach that our experience is just a shadow puppet show of a greater reality right up until the beginning of the modern age, nobody ever really seemed to find a good answer.

However, a good answer has been found in the form of empiricism. David Hume set forth a skeptical, naturalistic, empirical philosophy in which he emphasised what we have come to know as the scientific method.

The method can be summarised in a brief instruction: Doubt things. Check stuff.

Doubt things.

Philosophical scepticism. It’s right to adopt a pragmatic doubtful initial position on any new idea or perception. The number of true ideas is infinitesimally smaller than the number of false ideas. Any given idea, perception or indication is more likely to be mistaken than true.

However, scepticism is not closed mindedness. There is a way to improve the odds that a given perception or interpretation is true.

Check Stuff.

This is to double check. Triple check. Then check again. Make sure the interpretation or idea matches up well with everything else you have learned. Test it against your other perceptions. Importantly: Look for exceptions rather than confirmations. You’ll see many ‘confirmations’ even for a false idea. Confirmation, proof, is practically impossible. Whereas just one exception makes an idea untrue, at least inaccurate.

You live in a model

Your experiences, every one, have been of your senses and instincts. These are not reality itself, but a model of reality, a map. You can’t sit in a room and build an accurate model of something outside that room that you have never seen, never experienced. The only way to make an accurate model is to go outside and look at the thing you’re modeling. When you see a mismatch, it’s your model that is wrong. Reality can’t be wrong. By definition.

Language, Symbolism

Languages have evolved to match the structure of your thoughts. The words you use bare only symbolic relations to the things that they represent. As such, language can get in the way of thinking. Korzybski suggested that you learn to think without words, to allow instinct and intuitions to guide you but in truth this is just one way of reducing your reliance on language, your instinct to trust words.

As well as trying to keep words out of your thought processes, to think intuitively, you can also simply restrict the use of words which have developed in languages to reflect known cognitive biases.

E-Prime is an attempt to do this. It’s the same as natural English, but with all forms of the verb “to be” removed.

In E-Prime it’s impossible to say “Joe is a banker”, because this is a form of the verb “To Be”. Instead you’re forced to say “Joe works as a banker” or “Joe’s job is banking”.

This is a form of thinking which bans breaking the “Null-I” idea. That two things are identical. No two things are in fact identical. Joe is not identical to all bankers. No two bankers are in fact alike.

Rather than thinking of a “Joe” who has the property “Banker” you should think of a relationship between the job of “Banking” and “Joe”. In general E-Prime encourages you to think in terms of relationships rather than properties.

Brain States

Trying to use just a subset of natural languages is just one example of a brain state which may improve the recognition that all our experience is of a constructed cognitive model of a world rather than that world itself.

Last week we listed three cognitive mistakes which Korzybski’s General Semantics identified. “Null-A”, “Null-I” and “Null-E”. These are essentially prompts from Korzybski to try to always keep in mind that the world is not Aristotelian, not black and white. There is no identicality, no two things are the same. It is not Euclidean, there isn’t really any flat space.

Trying to maintain a brain-state in which all these things are ‘kept in mind’ will encourage you to always (or at least more often) have in mind the idea that your interpretation should fit these criteria, for this criteria have been shown to be essentially always true even though your brain has evolved to disbelieve them.

Increasing Awareness

The aim here is to increase your day to day awareness of how information gets deleted and distorted during the conversion to sensory data and especially the linguistic and other representations you use internally and between individuals in a group. You need to keep these common errors in mind at all times. Make it a matter of reflex to consider these things. In this way you will avoid some of the more common mistakes listed last week.

The Meditation

In this month’s meditation, to be played as you dream, you’ll be encouraged to notice that the world around you is pure model, your brain unconstrained by sensory perception. You’ll learn to reflexively wonder about “Null-A”, “Null-I” and “Null-E”, about how your experience differs from the actual physical structure of reality.