I’ve outlined before the myriad ways human adults, as a rule, do not live in actual reality. We live in a type of augmented reality; which is to say reality, refracted through a distorted lens of beliefs, experience, bias and more.
This is a threatening concept for many, confronting the fact that the world one lives in is not the real world. Very Matrix-y. And it can be a tough concept to understand, particularly if you haven’t looked at your thinking through meditation (or another introspective analysis tool).
Michael Pollen describes how this happens in practical terms, in his book How to Change Your Mind, which may help to demystify the process:
“over time, we tend to optimize and conventionalize our responses to whatever life brings. Each of us develops our shorthand ways of slotting and processing everyday experiences and solving problems, and while this is no doubt adaptive—it helps us get the job done with a minimum of fuss—eventually it becomes rote. It dulls us. The muscles of attention atrophy.
Habits are undeniably useful tools, relieving us of the need to run a complex mental operation every time we’re confronted with a new task or situation. Yet they also relieve us of the need to stay awake to the world: to attend, feel, think, and then act in a deliberate manner. (That is, from freedom rather than compulsion.)
If you need to be reminded how completely mental habit blinds us to experience, just take a trip to an unfamiliar country. Suddenly you wake up! And the algorithms of everyday life all but start over, as if from scratch.
The efficiencies of the adult mind, useful as they are, blind us to the present moment. We’re constantly jumping ahead to the next thing. We approach experience much as an artificial intelligence (AI) program does, with our brains continually translating the data of the present into the terms of the past, reaching back in time for the relevant experience, and then using that to make its best guess as to how to predict and navigate the future.”
That description may be sufficient to overcome the mental hurdle and gain ontological humility. For me, straightforward logic helps me understand intellectually, but often I find that to be very different from really getting something in my gut. For that, I usually need to see the dynamic in action.
Luckily this is possible, too. Actually, experiencing how inaccurately we perceive reality for ourselves is pretty straightforward.
The GIF below depicts a rotating mask.
It is rotating, not popping out, but because our mental machinery has been conditioned over our whole lives to assume any face is convex, it is nearly impossible to see the concave mask for what it is. We see clearly, but what we see clearly is 100% false (interesting that very small children can sometimes see the concave face, as their machinery has not yet locked in that particular default).
It’s so easy to think that the way we see the world is the way the world is. But like Mark Twain said, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”
I will try to remember this the next time I am sure I’m right.
(Title image: By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45522095 )