Fri 30 Mar 2007
One of the attractions of the Monroe Institute, beyond the content of whatever course you happen to be taking, is the other participants. No matter how busy the course keeps you — and Skip and Carol certainly kept us busy enough — there is always time to talk, if only at meals or during the breaks between formal sessions. And although you might think that people sharing such an unusual common interest would tend to be all of a type, you would be wrong. Not only do people come from “all walks of life” as they say, but — or perhaps I should say therefore — all varieties of political opinion are to be met. Naturally, these opinions are not front and center during the week. Still, they come out.
One of our group was particularly into conspiracy theories, which led to interesting discussions, and so I awoke one morning having connected a couple of dots. It occurred to me that what we do in ordinary life, what we do when making sense of the world, is much the same process as what we do when remote viewing. We acquire perceptions, some or most of them accurate — and then we attach story to those perceptions. We connect the dots in ways that make sense to us, and confuse the persuasiveness of the story with the accuracy of the perceptions.
Thus it is possible — and, I now think, common — to turn accurate perception into highly misleading story. And the more acute the perception, perhaps the greater the temptation to assume that the story is correct. This would especially be true in reacting to other people’s story when their story is clearly not informed by perceptions at the same depth or breadth as yours. The paradoxical result is that the more you learn about something, the more background you get, the more connections you are able to draw that are not in the common understanding, the farther afield you may wind up going.
We are all faced with the task of making sense of the world, if only unconsciously. So we create story. Where the story overlaps, we share a point of view. Where the story diverges, we think that we know more than others do, or they know more than we do, but in any case there is an unbridgeable gap.
So we are left in the uncomfortable position of knowing that we cannot know. Perception left as a raw perception would be as meaningless as my taking notes and saying “parallel lines, parallel lines.” Yes they were parallel lines, but what did they mean? But as soon as we begin to interpret, we begin to create story.
Probably this great insight amounts merely to the fact that no one can understand the world. We can build models, and in fact in order to function we have to build models, but the map is not the territory.
This realization ought to remind us of the need for tolerance and charity in dealing with others, and of the need to cheerfully live with ambiguity in ourselves. I get the sense that at the end of our lives we may look at the record and say, “my God, the perceptions were pretty good but look at all that story I built!”