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August 17th, 2018

What is a realization?


The root of this word is so clearly obvious, it begs against looking up, but it’s rarely a bad idea to dive a little deeper.



It comes from French in the first decade of the 17th century and means “bring into existence”


But what exactly is coming into existence?  Do things cease to exist simply because we do not acknowledge or sense them?  This seems like a recipe for disaster.  This definition makes reality sound like a dream that we can create at whim. 


Since we’ve all experienced those painful wakeup calls when reality smacks us in the face, we can rest assured there is something more going on here.


The word derives form the adjective ‘real’ from early 14th century, and there’s no surprise here, it means “actually existing or true”.


Tracing the outline of the obvious here, we circle back and ask: what exactly is coming into existence when a realization occurs?


We have to differentiate between two things here: reality and our MENTAL MAP of that reality.


Reality is a semi-negotiable territory.  We can have an effect upon reality and rearrange it, but only in accordance to some non-negotiable rules. 


Every realization is an instance when we change our MENTAL MAP based on some new information from reality.


A realization is essentially an attempt to make our MENTAL MAP of the world more real.


Every map is inevitably a simplification of the territory….



But what is of even greater importance is identifying the mistakes we’ve made while labelling non-negotiable rules.




This is at the core of first-principles thinking in physics: identifying the few non-negotiable rules and working up from there.


The important mistake is labelling something as a non-negotiable rule when in fact it is not.


Culture is replete with rules for behavior that are effectively arbitrary at their core that we perceive as non-negotiable.


For example, gravity is a non-negotiable rule of reality, while keeping the grass cut short in front of a house is a cultural rule which has no intrinsic meaning outside of it’s cultural context.  The culture can easily change and we could all start planting gardens instead, whereas no change in culture is going to affect gravity.


This is why we have slogans such as:


“Think outside of the box”


“Don’t be a square”


“Free your mind”


All of these are referencing how we behave within the confines of rules that we have mistakenly labelled as non-negotiable.


The point of such slogans is to forget these arbitrary rules in order to have a greater agency, a more expansive effect on the reality we inhabit. 


Any realization suddenly might fall into one of two categories, and we might ask:


Is this a realization about the non-negotiable rules of reality?


Or is this a realization about culture?


Indeed, culture is a part of reality, but the difference is that we can change one.


Any realization about the way we behave and interact as people should be tempered with a pending sense of expiration: 


The way we behave and interact changes, and it can change fast, especially as a group.


Perhaps the only realization here – the one that accords to reality, is that we can have an effect on the way that change goes,


if only we think outside of that arbitrary-cultural box and take action.



This episode references Episode 123: Mental Map.  If you’d like to fully explore the reference, please check out that episode next.

Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

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Podcast Ep. 124: Realization

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