Friday, October 10, 2008

Shifting Illusions

“Reality is a construction in which we actively participate.”
Nobel Laureate, Ilya Prigogine
Our personal construction of reality is a working fiction that enables us to function in the world, but to think of it as anything other than a useful illusion is to trap ourselves in a box limited by our own life experience. Yet accepting it as an illusion is threatening to a stance that needs to be right, that needs to believe and cling to a particular way of thinking. William Blake wrote, “The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.” The need to defend a personal model of reality uses mental resources to twist and obscure what doesn’t fit our habitual way of seeing. To willingly sink into a cognitive rut, reflects the need for security, but doesn’t leave much room for growth.
Our cognitive powers would be better spent actually learning the valuable information offered by different life experience. On a day-to-day level, we can build our inner image of how the world works and unconsciously accept that it’s an evolving working model that we continue to revise as we get more information. Michael Hutchison, in his book MegaBrain, wrote, “The ability to create and manipulate internal imagery, called “visualization’, is one of the most powerful learning techniques at our disposal, increasing our ability to solve problems by ‘seeing’ them in a new way.” To be aware of how we think and imagine the world, and accept our constructions as useful fictions, without attachment, we step out of the box created by our previous theories. When we get too attached to our theories, fixed images we create about how things are, they can eclipse in-front-of-our-face-reality. We argue for the world to match our expectations and restrict our ability to learn from it. What doesn’t match makes us anxious because we’ve been conditioned to see in terms of right and wrong, and being wrong threatens our faith in ourselves. Real knowledge is too complex and contextual to get bogged down in codified ideas of truth. Discarding the compulsion to be right is liberating. We shift from holding an opinion to entertaining a view. We seek out what’s different in order to enlarge our view.
The illusion that anything is right or wrong completely when a profusion of ideas could offer choices according to what’s best for the situation is a shift that will allow for more comprehensive thought. The more points of view we take into account the more deeply we understand a situation.
The fallibility of our mind creates the impetus to stretch it. We watch a feat of magic that shows us we were wrong, that we misperceived, that we don’t know how it was done, and since it’s meant as entertainment, we enjoy it. Our mind rewards us for recognizing that we can be wrong. Illusion is most useful when we see it for what it is, the process of the mind making sense of the world, shifting and adjusting as needed. The treachery of illusion is not realizing the illusion is there, seeing it as the only truth, which leads to myriad insensitivities, from self-righteousness to war. Illusion is a deal we make with ourselves regarding how what we know is organized. Accepting it as our personal creation is both humbling and exhilarating, leaving behind the externally imposed values that propped up the fixed idea interfering with growth.

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