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April 24th, 2020
Our most difficult task at all times is to look at reality and determine what is possible, and what is not. As powerful and essential as our imagination is, it leads us astray much of the time. Imagination often fails to pay heed to some true laws of nature and pays too much heed to imaginary customs, invented by people, fake laws, if you will.
It’s well known that you can teach a gorilla sign language. But strangely enough, even though you can ask a gorilla a question and it will answer, such animals don’t ask questions.
This might give a clue as to why our species has been able to accomplish so many outrageous things. There aren’t any fish or caterpillars, whales or giraffes that have been able to send any of their kind to the moon.
Clearly our imagination plays a huge role in our success, and at the core of our imagination may be the ability to form and ask a question.
Questions are the product of imagination. Answers are a product of observation.
A question reorients your perspective on the world. The question makes you curious, and somewhat suspicious of reality, as though it’s hiding something that you can discover.
The process is fairly straight forward, and it’s a lot like the scientific method: you ask a question, and you poke reality in a way that hopefully answers your question. Sometimes you get the sort of response you’re looking for, sometimes you get something totally surprising, and often you get no answer at all. This process repeats. Based on the feedback, we ask another question that’s been informed by our first experiment. Eventually, we end up rephrasing our initial question until the framing of the question creates a perspective on reality where the answer emerges.
The art of the question is the art of rephrasing, and doing so until the question phrases the parameters of that unknown answer so well that the question actually begins to describe the answer.
It’s never just one question and one answer. It’s a game that volleys between reality and our imagination.
This whole space is indeterminate. It’s uncertain, and while it can feel as though it lacks the order that accompanies certainty, it’s a fluid process that has a method and a logic of it’s own, the way two people dancing together don’t know what the next few moves are going to be, but they operate on heuristics that allow them to move gracefully through that improvisation.
The analogy of volley goes even further. Just as it only takes one ball to play a game of tennis with two people, the volley of questions and answers has one thing at its core: our perspective. It’s the way we view things and understand the situation that is getting volleyed between reality and our imagination. It’s important to realize the difference between our perspective and our imagination. Our perspective is an understanding, whereas imagination is this chaos machine that we have somewhat separately from our perspective. We understand the world to be a certain way, but still have some confusion, and our imagination supplies us with these odd ways of looking at the world, seeing connections that aren’t explicit when we just look at the parts, and from that warp of imagination we then question reality. The answer we get isn’t somehow a raw piece of reality, it’s just another influence that shapes our perception. We then go back to the imagination with this new understanding, and with luck, we get another question.
The true power of the imagination is that it allows us to wonder if reality isn’t as it seems. It allows us to wonder if there is a secret mechanism that is making things work and behave the way they are. Essentially, the imagination allows us to see a different reality. It’s messy, and clearly the imagination can be disorienting, but this is why it’s so important to try and pin down reality with the points of those questions. The way to stay grounded is to actually try and find the ground, the bedrock of reality, that waits for us to see it as it really is.
This episode references 739: Fake Laws