Monday, May 25, 2009


I laughed out loud when I read that the pleasure chemicals of the brain were stimulated by rejecting information that didn’t fit one’s worldview. We protect our image of how it all works, like the cell membrane protects the cell. Invasions of non-self are attacked as enemies and we feel pleasure in the act of defense, protecting the boundary to keep the inner world stable. But like other aspects of the brain that are pliable, we could probably learn to use other views to extend our own and gain a better understanding of the world. Knowledge about the mind shows us it’s potential to evolve. Just like over time, we try new foods and enrich the scope of tastes we appreciate, it’s time to develop a taste for ideas and perspectives that will expand our way of seeing. Nobel laureate, Ilya Prigogine wrote, ”Reality is a construction in which we actively participate.” He pointed out that when the complexity of information grows too great for the existing way of organizing it to manage, a living system will reorganize to accommodate it, or fall apart. We have to enlarge our construction with better organizing images if we’re to cope with the complexity of our world.
We need better images for differences than duality. What breaks the spectrum of life into poles, republican/democrat, right/wrong, authorized/unauthorized, black/white, don’t account for the multiplicity and richness of the human species. Maybe we might try thinking of different perspectives as views of a landscape. The canyon is not opposed to the meadow. They are two realities of the whole, full of endless variations. Definitions of intelligence include being able to hold more in the mind at once, tolerance for contradiction and ambiguity, involvement and curiosity about what’s unfamiliar. All of these qualities can be cultivated.
Curiosity is damped by fear, something that begins to show even in young children. In strange situations they cling to their mothers, burying their heads in her body. With enough fear inside already, it’s hard to take in more stimuli. We protect the membrane enclosing the known. In fear, adults cling to a static view that won’t allow anything to disrupt a hard-to-maintain inner equilibrium. Boundaries are automatically defended until the defense and the fear behind it are recognized. As Frederick Perls used to say, “Before a thing can change it must become what it is.” Understanding what resistance to change means about our own inner dynamic is the first condition to opening our minds to the new.
The model of thinking based on dividing the flow of existence into categories ultimately allows the definition of the category to take the place of the complex interacting system that any individual really is. It creates mental walls. Once we’ve labeled something, our previous judgments about what we’ve labeled rush in and cloud our perception. Ideologies are mental cages. We can rattle the bars, hooting and screeching, and still stay safe inside. The educational system puts too much attention on being right, instead of the art of acquiring and organizing new information.
Every life story shows the evolution of a point of view that has it’s own context of relevance and offers important knowledge about the big picture. Think of knowledge as rhizomatic rather than a dualistic. Each node is hub to many outgrowths connecting in multiple directions. It expands and grows in power and knowledge as more perspectives are accumulated, rather than making judgments about ideas and dismissing the ones that threaten a fortified worldview. If we don’t cling to one version of reality as truth, but entertain a viewpoint as a flexible hypothesis, we can more readily absorb what contradicts it and our perspective grows.
We are part of the intricate organism of life, connected to other humans like neurons in the brain, supported by the other processes in the cosmos like the systems of the body. When we use labels and definitions to separate, we are ourselves separated. If we can deflect our tendency to judge and categorize, then we can really see, and observation builds real knowledge. The attitude toward difference can be one of discovery, happening upon an unknown part of the landscape that changes our inner map and values the new for the benefits it brings.

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