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The Tinkered Mind
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January 26th, 2019
This episode was inspired by an exchange with @mudandfire1. Follow them on Twitter.
An illusive vision might be more succinctly stated as a plain old illusion. But the word ‘illusion’ is not something we legitimately ascribe to our own perceptions. Illusions are things that other people suffer from and misguided understandings that we are selves used to operate with but do no longer.
Much of our thinking and perception during any given moment is laced with a steadfast drip of self-assuring validity. Our thoughts and perceptions might be thought of as a tightly collaged set of categories that arise from certain givens or axioms. A plain example would be that when we stand up and walk around we do so with the underlying given regarding gravity and the fact that it will be present. Whereas when we walk down the steps into a pool our actions are predicated on the axiom that gravity will lessen in it’s apparent effect and we will begin to float.
These axioms about the physical world are non-negotiable, but we also operate with many superficial axioms. The largest set of examples for this are words. We can hear, see, read and think the word ‘chair’ and have an instant reliable understanding of what is being communicated. But there is no underlying non-negotiable axiom that links the word ‘chair’ as a sound we make or a graphical representation of letters to the actual thing that we can sit on. It’s an arbitrary link that is useful because so many other people operate with the same axiomatic association.
Notice the important difference between the case with gravity and the case with the chair. Gravity is non-negotiable when it comes to the raw movements of our bodies. Whereas the concept of a ‘chair’ has many many names in many different languages, whereas we cannot choose a different kind of gravity, nor can we ignore it or be ignorant of it in the way that we can be ignorant of word in a different language that has no translation in our own.
This infinite flexibility of language is at the core of it’s utility but this attribute is double-edged. Because language can spin off so far from the hard axioms of physical reality, we have the ability to create an endless variety and gradient of mental illusions.
One rather negative manifestation of this is referred to in psychology as ‘rumination’. The word derives from the action of a cow chewing, or ruminating. For us, rumination is when we mull over something over and over in our minds in a sort of rut. Such a state is a hallmark of depression and often perpetuates inaction. When we are caught in such a state we are existing at the whim of a whirlwind of nearly pure conception. Like being lost in a trance or staring at an optical illusion, we figuratively and perhaps quite literally lose sight of the world. This is perhaps the most relatable form of illusive vision: we believe we are thinking productively about the matters and circumstances of our life, manipulating a model of our life in an imaginary space in order to figure out some best course of action, to form some plan. The imagined world we are trying to manipulate in our mind though, is a very simplified version of the real one. It lacks a gargantuan amount of data. This is why action is so much more effective than thinking. Action yields missing data, and if our action is well designed it can extract the exact sort of missing data needed to help illuminate our next step.
This is where the word vision comes in as such a healthy counter point to illusion. We might wonder about the difference between ‘having a vision for the future’ and ‘operating with an illusion.’ A vision for the future implicitly communicates that it does not yet exist. The vision could very well be an illusion if it does not prove to be physically possible. It’s perhaps a random piece of chance that the word vision as a noun is also the same word for our ability to see. Our vision as a faculty is the channel through which we literally see a way forward. Having a vision for the future is an abstraction from the literal case. The concept of visibility determines whether we are chasing a practical vision for the future or whether we are chasing an illusion. If for example we find ourselves in a space that is pitch black and has no light, we do not stay still and try to imagine what the space looks like; we start to catalyze other means for seeing. We carefully reach out and move our feet forward slowly in order to register any possible obstacles. As we slowly explore our immediate space, our visibility increases even if we cannot actually see anything.
Having good vision on a wide spectrum of living simply means having a realistic and accurate understanding of the way reality functions. In order to achieve this we need to constantly update our understanding by interacting with it.
We need good vision in order to have a vision for the future. And having a realistic vision for the future is what we should all strive for.
A poor understanding of reality, on the other hand, makes us more prone to chasing an illusion instead.