The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley
as some Scottish chap put it.
If you bought the hard copy of the book and you were quick off the mark, there may be an issue. The first five copies shipped with (minor) errors. If you bought one, I would be happy to send you the final version without demanding any further investment.
Just leave me a comment below, that way I’ll have your email address and we can work it out. What can I say? Sorry – my megacorp only has the one employee and God help the chap, he’s somewhat hindered – apart from the ocular deafness.
The five days of Christmas.
It’s that time of the year again, of course it’s always Christmas somewhere because of the time zones. Nonetheless, I am offering free ebooks throughout the holiday season (12:00 AM PDT on Sunday, August 14th until Thursday, August 18 at 11:59 PM PDT). Just click the link or the book cover below. Ho ho ho!
hours minutes seconds
No more free ebooks (or the last day of Christmas: I’m not psychic).
Here’s the opening section of my first book.
As far as I’m aware, many people who were definitely more educated and arguably more intelligent than I am, have struggled to describe the nature of perception since at least 500 BC. Oddly, it appears they kind of missed the point. It’s actually not very complicated and there’s a good chance that you are at least partially aware of much of it already.
This next bit is interactive: a thrilling ride into the world of AR (actual reality), so strap in and hang on tight. Here we go.
Hold an object in your hand. Look at it. Really look at it for a few seconds. Seriously, this only works if you actually do it – it’s interactive, remember? Stop reading for a moment. Find an object in your immediate surroundings that you can hold in your hand. Now actually look at it for five seconds and then come back to me. When you’ve done that, put the object down somewhere you can’t see it. Now think about the object. You can focus on it; you can feel it in your head, right? If you can’t, then either you didn’t do the interactive bit or you have severe short term memory loss. If you can, the next question is: what is that thing in your head?
I have tested this notion on a number of people and some of the responses I got were “a thought”, “a memory”, “a phone” (perhaps coincidentally, the last answer was only ever offered on occasions where I had held up a phone to illustrate the point I am attempting to make here). These labels are adequate for many situations, but if you’ll indulge me I’d like to plod through an occasion where I flaunted a phone.
Here’s how it went down as I see it: I held up my phone and made the sound of the word “phone”. At this point the subject focused on it for a moment and their senses provided them visual and auditory stimuli. Shortly afterward, their mind went “Oh! Stimuli! I know what to do with that” (not literally in my judgement, but you get the idea) and it went zing, bang, wallop, DING! And it created a discrete mental object from the input. So even when I put the phone back in my pocket, it could still be focused on by its former viewer. I call this object an abstract concept because abstraction is the process of taking information from a source and distilling it to create a representation of that source. I could have just called it a concept because concepts are abstract by definition, but I want to emphasise the necessary processing that occurs before something is perceived.
This is the foundation of perception. This is how we perceive everything: indirectly. This is what happened when you observed the object earlier (if you didn’t step through the exercise, please do: it’s not a ton of work and it is helpful to observe the process and feel it in action). This is how you perceive the words you are reading, the weight of gravity in your body, every tree, dog and building you encounter, every scent and sound.
Close your eyes for a couple of seconds. The universe doesn’t disappear while your eyes are closed. There is no discernible shift in your perceived reality because the concepts persist although the items that they were created from no longer provide stimuli.
There is no new information here: this idea is thousands of years old, but let’s take a closer look at concepts. If I mention the concept of multiple infinite universes, it’s easy to get most people to realise that this is simply too big for the human mind to parse from a subatomic to an emotional, to an astrological level.
Now try this: pick up a leaf and look at it. As you indirectly perceive its abstract concept, consider that the concept of the leaf contains the concepts of biology, chemistry, physics, growth, systems, evolution, nature etc. Here are seven concepts inside the concept of the leaf, each of which you could spend lifetimes researching and never run out of new avenues to explore. Of course I could continue expanding the list at that level, or I could start drilling down into the concepts contained within e.g. nature and so on, but I think that’s enough to make the point, which is that the concept of the leaf is exactly the same size as the concept of multiple infinite universes.
Put simply, absolutely everything that a human being is capable of perceiving (or conceptualising) is literally infinitely complex.
Also: everything you perceive is a concept that only exists inside your mind.
There is an arm of philosophy known as Solipsism which propounds the theory that nothing exists outside the mind. To afford this hypothesis the consideration and academic attention it deserves, I propose the following counter argument: dude! Seriously?
Ok, with apologies to Gorgias et al. let’s move on. Imagine yourself looking at a red apple (or, if you prefer and can afford the elaborate setup, actually look at one). Of course there are millions of colours in the apple, but it is mostly reddish. Now imagine that I am standing next to you looking at the same apple. We would most likely agree that it is indeed a red apple (depending on how argumentative you are). However, I have no way of telling what colours you are seeing. What is certain is that what I see cannot be the same. Our eyes are as unique as our fingerprints, the nerves that carry signal to brain are similarly unique, the mind that creates the abstract concept (which is what is actually perceived) is also one of a kind. What I see as red might be a different shade in your mind. It might be what you would call purple or blue or any other colour, but this creates no confusion because of the analogous nature of language. Every time I see e.g. purple I know that the name of this colour is “red” and purple is consistently referred to as red by everyone I encounter.
Right: nothing Earth-shattering there either, but these perceptual discrepancies affect every single aspect of every single thing you perceive. This cannot be overstated.
Picture yourself standing in front of a tree, looking at it. Imagine I am standing next to you again, also looking. Something is there: something we both call a tree. The thing is though that the tree itself and its generated concepts are necessarily disparate. The tree I see is a different colour to the one you see, it has a different number of leaves and branches, the pattern on its bark is different, it is a different size and shape, if I touch it it feels different than it does for you, if I chew on a piece of its wood the taste, texture and aroma is different and so on.
We are looking at the same thing, but what we perceive could be slightly or radically different. What is certain is that no aspect of any element of the tree can appear the same to both of us.
In danger of labouring the point, I’m going to give you one more example of universal differences. Think about someone you have known for a very long time. They do not exist in their universe, only in yours. The indirectly experienced thing (the abstract concept of them) that you perceive is not their concept of self. Just like the tree, (s)he looks, feels, smells (and tastes) distinct to both of you, but as well as those discrepancies, the mind in them is experiencing an invisible universe in which you do not exist.
Wherever you are, have a look around. Nothing you happen upon has ever been seen by another living creature and it never will be. Nothing in your perceived universe exists anywhere except inside your mind.
We do not perceive what is, but rather what is not, because our universes comprise unique concepts, undetectable to anyone but ourselves. I can point at a chair and say “chair” and I can have you sit in it, but the object generates different concepts in your mind than it does in mine, so I cannot show you my experience of it.
Another thing about an infinite system which took me some time to viscerally understand is that within it, everything happens only once.
How many times must you light a cigarette before you see the pattern of smoke repeat? The deformations caused by air and gravity on the surface of every raindrop are unique to each drop that has ever fallen or ever will and each one contains a different amount of water. Atomic clocks are astonishingly accurate timekeepers, but even on these devices the length of time between one second and the next is always peculiar: the only question is how accurately you can measure the intervals. I imagine that if you could measure them to the thousandth decimal place you would see dramatic differences on the right hand side of the numbers. Every grain of sand is a different size, shape and colour. Even a loop inside a computer programme (which is about the most repetitive thing I can think of) creates a new scope for every one of its iterations and the length of time it takes each iteration to execute is different every time it runs. Do I need to mention snowflakes?
So what’s going on when things appear to repeat? It’s just pattern recognition. And what’s pattern recognition? You guessed it: a concept. How does it work? Its name is an almost complete explanation of how it works, but to prevent you from immediately discovering how lazy I am, I’ll take a stab at a few analogies.
Concepts are layered things. I strongly suspect that the hierarchical structure of information in computer operating systems is a reflection of how information is stored in the mind (albeit a dim and clunky reflection). Whatever the actual differences in information architecture between the mind and Linux, the nested folder analogy provides an extremely effective metaphor for consciously traversing your concepts. Put your boots on, we’re going back to the woods.
Have a peep at your Tree concept (not an actual tree). Now double click it and take a (shallow) look inside. One level down you will find other “folders”: sycamore, beech, ash, Japanese maple etc. And within each of these you will find more concepts: Leaf Shape, Size, Colour etcetera, etcetera ad infinitum. If you go back up to the level of tree types you’ll notice that all the tree variety concepts are inside the concept of Tree. This is pattern recognition. The fact that two or more concepts which exist at a similar level in the informational hierarchy have the same parent is what constitutes a pattern. And every pattern happens only once.
I wanted to provide a list of repetitive things here. This is what I came up with:
- walking on a treadmill,
- road markings,
- rows of houses,
- digital movies,
- blades of grass,
- subatomic particles,
- that story your mother always tells at Christmas.
Unfortunately, even a superficial glance at any of them instantly reveals clear differences between one occurrence and the next. I am literally out of ideas.
There is no repetition in life, but there is rhythm, which is a kind of pattern. If the big bang metaphor is a reasonable one (which it might be), then I don’t see it as a beginning, but rather a pulse; a fleeting universal heartbeat as tiny and fragile as anything else when compared with infinity; as important as any other concept. One cool thing about Infinity is that even though it’s easy to use in a sentence, it is instantly mind-blowingly inconceivable if you try to feel or appreciate it as opposed to just reading the label.
Some time ago while I was walking my dogs, I stopped on a low bridge in a park to examine my concept of concepts. I looked at my hand, then I looked at the canal that passed under the bridge. I saw a construction crane in the distance. I noticed the sun emerging from behind a cloud. One of the dogs wandered over to me looking for some attention, so I gave him a rub and some doggy-talk. As I was doing so, I had an epiphany. Everything is in the same place: my hand, the canal, the bridge, the crane, the dog, the cloud and the sun. The physical location of each object is only a nested concept. At the risk of being repetitive ;-) all of them were (and are) nowhere except inside my mind, regardless of the geographical site of the objects from which they were created.
That is almost everything useful there is to know about human perception. I told you it wasn’t complicated. The main point boils down to three words: everything is analogous.
It’s highly likely that all the brilliant minds who have applied themselves to this question got to where we just went in no time flat, but then they took one step too far and started cracking open nested concept after nested concept in the endless pursuit of knowledge.
This leads us rather neatly to the next logical question: if everything is infinitely complex (which it obviously is) then what is knowledge?
Here’s another topic that has caused all sorts of confusion and shenanigans for quite some time. Maybe you should sit down for this: it is shockingly simple.
I don’t want to turn this into a workbook, but this part is also interactive.
I would like to bully you into answering a question. I would like you to actually answer it instead of only reading it and continuing, but even a bully like me can’t force you. OK, ready? Here it comes: what is your name?
What just happened? I asked you a question and (I hope) you came up with an answer. But what happened between my asking the question and the return of the answer? Your mind began searching a concept for a specific piece of information. After a shortish period of time the search stopped and your name was brought into focus.
That is the complete mechanism of human knowledge: the search of a concept beginning and then coming to an end. If the search doesn’t stop, you don’t know the answer.
You used to know that Santa and the tooth fairy (or whatever equivalents exist in your culture) were real. So did I. Thousands of people alive today know that this planet is around six thousand years old (others know it is older). Flat Earth subscribers have a heterodox opinion on planetary shape. Neither information nor experience is required in order to know something. All that needs to happen is for the search of a concept to start and then stop. My metaphor for concepts is huge spheres inside which are millions of slots and the search is a mechanical selector like you find in a vintage jukebox, or the actuator arm of an old-school hard drive, moving over slot after slot until it finds the right one.
When the question was asked there was more than one reasonable answer: your first name; your first and last names; just your last name; your full legal name, including title and middle name if you have one; any nicknames. However, when the first contraction on your list was encountered by the strand of focus doing the searching, it brought the concept into active memory and immediately withdrew. This is what it feels like to know something.
Knowledge is fast because it circumvents thinking. Watch: what is your last name? Boom! No thinking. You had the answer before you finished reading the question.
Useful as it may be on occasion, this evasion of thought is a double edged sword. Once you know something you can no longer learn it. Welcome to the knowledge-trap.
The trap is born of conditioning and is made of logic and knowledge. I was a model prisoner for decades, lapping up knowledge wherever I could glean it. Every television quiz I saw (except for the hard ones) made me instantly competitive with anyone in the room or with myself if I was alone. I never paused to consider what I was actually doing because I was too busy competing. I garnered significant satisfaction from knowing answers that others didn’t. I also used to delight in referencing obscure knowledge in conversation and argument. Already the question arises: what’s the point? I know things that some others don’t. So does everybody else. The amount everybody doesn’t know is the same: it is infinite.
The knowledge-trap is a sticky puzzle because logic is seductive. It can feel quite gratifying to prove a piece of knowledge through logic – especially with longer and more complex logic chains. But at every step, logic simply refers to another piece of knowledge.
The deeper you go in the trap, the more rigid the knowledge becomes. I picture it as a conical, kelp-like structure projecting into a sea of consciousness. At the top there is fresh growth enriched by the current and ideas flutter and criss-cross, constantly creating new patterns which slowly calcify as the trap grows and ages. I see a forest of these living cages. As you descend a cone it narrows and the lattice becomes ever thicker, with fewer gaps. Deep in the trap is the realm of experts.
These people know many things. If you happen to raise a question challenging an expert’s knowledge or (God forbid) argue with something they know, you will be met with fierce resistance.
I have made the mistake of arguing with an expert several times. It is a frustrating business. As you step them slowly up their cage their views do become less fixed and if you keep plugging you may get them close to the top or even out of their trap and find some common ground. At this juncture (providing the original point of the conversation hasn’t been forgotten by now) the novice may believe that there is hope of modifying some of the expert’s views.
This is not what happens. What happens is that on some minor topic change, their focus finds a wisp of logic connected to the trap and like lightning they are back at the bottom of it, or maybe a different one. Fortunately, all you need to do to avoid becoming an expert is remember this: just because you know something doesn’t mean it’s true. Proving a piece of knowledge to be correct is merely an exercise in referencing other pieces of knowledge.
A scientist might suggest that demonstrated knowledge is objective. Well, not necessarily. To explain this I am going to break out the magic hammer of fictitious example as follows (sound similar to a pump-action shotgun being primed).
Imagine there is an isolated village: I’m thinking somewhere like New Guinea or Amazonian South America. This is a place which is occasionally visited by outsiders, the majority of which are anthropologists or scientists of some description. Some of the visitors have taken the time to learn what they can of the native tongue and several of the locals have a flair for language and speak middling English so communication is fair to good. On one occasion an Irish anthropologist accompanies one of the English-speaking villagers on a fishing trip. Today he is after a large and rare fish to be consumed at a banquet as part of a religious ceremony and is more than happy to explain his activities as he goes along.
The first thing he does is march into the forest to collect sprigs from three different types of tree. Then he returns to the village and sits alone at a small altar on the edge of the clearing where he constructs an elaborate woven structure from the gathered twigs. He places the structure on the altar, walks over to the fire which always burns in the centre of the village and lights an oil lamp from the flame. Then he returns to the altar where he kneels and ignites his craftwork.
He explains that without help from the river God he will never find the fish. Then he closes his eyes for thirty seconds or so, occasionally wafting some smoke toward himself. The man goes on that the river God (whose name can only be pronounced with a double-jointed tongue) is blind because he lives in the murky water and has no need for eyes. When he smells this particular blend of wood burning he knows that the villagers want to hunt (unpronounceable fish name). When the fire goes out he takes a pouch from the rope he wears around his waist and carefully sweeps some ash into it with a small brush retrieved from under the altar.
Next the man leads the way to the river which is a short walk through the forest. On reaching the bank he checks his hooks and lines, unmoors his boat and hops in. He reaches a hand back to the wooden pier to steady the canoe for the Irishwoman and she climbs in. He rows upriver for about twenty minutes until they reach a spot where the bank has been gouged by the current and there is a small pool almost separate from the main body of water. Here they disembark and the man dry-docks the canoe. The silt has settled in the pool so the water is clear and little fish about six centimetres long are floating around peacefully. These fish, the man explains, are vessels for Unpronounceable, when I place the ash in the water he will enter one of them.
He sprinkles a little ash on the water. As he does so the fish become energised, darting about the pool and swimming up to the surface to inspect the slowly falling particles. To the local, Unpronounceable has entered the pool; to the anthropologist, the fish are looking for food, but she is genuinely interested in the man’s beliefs and respectfully asks how he can know which one the God inhabits. He smiles, winks and lies down at the pool’s edge, slowly plunging his hands into the water. The fish swim over to inspect his fingers, completely unperturbed by this manual invasion. He cups his hands and gently lifts a fish out of the water saying “this is the one”. Then he quickly ties it to one of his hooks and replaces it in the pool. Fastened above the tail, it flails about in the water trying to flee. This proves that Unpronounceable is ready for the hunt. Then they go back on the river and after an hour or so the sought fish is landed.
Both parties in the story are exposed to the same events but they have vastly different knowledge of what is happening. Both can prove their version by demonstration (if the anthropologist can catch one of those fish by some other means) or by referencing various parts of their respective knowledge-traps.
Another issue with knowledge is that we have little choice as to what information we are exposed to. For example: what happened in the time you spent reading only this question? Even if you’re a slow reader you read it in less than three seconds. What happened in those three seconds? Well firstly, you read the question. If your breathing rate is something like seventeen breaths per minute, you took almost a full breath. Your heart beat 3.5 times (if we assume a heart rate of 70 bpm). A woman in Uzbekistan took five footsteps. About thirty babies were born on this planet while about five people were dying. Plants grew a little. Some rain fell. Other animal, vegetable and mineral objects moved to an extent. The planet itself rotated somewhat on its axis and proceeded a little along its orbital path. Nine-trillion-and-six stars exploded in our galaxy (this number is 100% accurate: Google it if you don’t believe me).
OK: enough. What I’m getting at is that at any given moment more than five things are happening and all of them are unique events. The majority (to put it mildly) of what is going on is always invisible to us.
What did you experience yesterday? Even if you remember every word, song and sound, each bodily function, every aspect of every room you entered, every face you saw, every thought you had in your waking hours, much happened in the universe unbeknownst to you. And let’s face it: many things happen right in front of us that we miss completely. Even this “perfect” memory would retain an excruciatingly tiny fraction of the multiple aspects of infinity that you were exposed to in that time. And nobody’s memory is that good.
So our piece of knowledge starts life as an infinitesimal subset of things happening in our immediate vicinity, that we notice. Most of these slivers of information evaporate instantly but some are stored inside our concept of the past. And remember, these are shards of a reality uniquely perceptible to ourselves: everyone’s universe is an Orwellian minority of one. And the tiny memories we have of pieces just our own are the basis of our knowledge.
Some of these tenuous, mutable concepts are held by many to be absolute, true and even sacred. This kind of knowledge is an excellent recruitment tool for Taliban philately clubs and the like. To help me afford knowledge its due reverence, I like to pronounce the “k”. Try re-reading some of this section pronouncing the “k”.
But what about our cathedrals of learning? What about universities; libraries; the internet? What about tradition and culture? Don’t they have value?
Of course they do, but that’s not the point. The point is that the individual is not in possession of this knowledge. Let’s switch to finite numbers: what percentage of extant books have you read? (I don’t mean just the ones in your mother tongue). What percentage of the ones you have read do you actually remember? What fraction of the internet have you viewed? And again: how much of that is within easy recall? I’m smiling as I type the answer: you don’t know.
Once I began to appreciate the gossamer nature of knowledge it slowly dawned on me that my view of a given topic is about as valuable as an ant’s view of global politics. Notably, the amount both the ant and I don’t know (about politics or anything else) is the same.
Even though I have just typed hundreds of words railing against the evils of knowledge (I’m still pronouncing the “k”) I did concede that it is occasionally useful. Everyday life would be impossible without it. And without memory; without somewhere to store our concepts (every piece of knowledge is conceptual) there wouldn’t be any.
Human memory is constructive and not reproductive. A digital video camera’s memory is reproductive. The information it stores remains the same before, during and after playback. Human memory is not like this: it is necessarily dynamic. Every time its information is accessed it is changed. But it is not only altered when it is reviewed, it is in a constant state of flux. Its constructive nature also means that if it finds informational gaps in one of its motifs it has a tendency to fill them in with whatever it has to hand.
I’m going to take a peep at some of my own memories in an effort to explain my understanding of it.
My first day of Big School was early in the September of 1975. My older brother had started the previous year, so by the time he was entering “high infants” (I swear I’m not making this up: that is really what the second year of primary school was called in Cork city in the seventies) I had been anticipating this day for what seemed like my whole life.
The first thing I remember is standing in front of the school gate with my brother who is holding my right hand in his left. Already we’re in trouble. I see the gate and I see the wall leading from it off to my left, well I don’t really see it, but I can feel its concept and I get a flash of white stucco or “wall covering stuff” (what am I: a building contractor?).
Next I get a vision of a smooth concrete wall-cap-thing which is shaped (sort of) like a gabled roof. The trouble with this is that if I whip forward to later school memories I seem to remember that the wall is made from concrete blocks which are not stuccoed and are too wide for the capstone I’m picturing. Then I remember a wheelchair ramp with steps on one side which is also in the first memory. The trouble here is that I remember several instances of walking past the builders who made this ramp on my way into the school and watching them from my classroom window when I was in second or third class or something – WTF?
If this happened to the videos on your Johnny Japan Terrapixelcam with the image stabiliser, electric windows and sunroof you would at the very least make a mental note to stop by the establishment at which you purchased it and hurl it at some unsuspecting employee who had no hand in its manufacture and didn’t even work for the vendor when you bought it.
The memory system in our minds is central to our lives here, but when I examine the (to be polite) fucked up way it stores things it causes me no concern whatsoever. I know that you have similar issues with your memories and that you are similarly unruffled by their obvious faultiness. This leads me (perhaps like a dementia patient) to the idea that memories are not intended to be consumed in the same way as digital recordings. I can’t remember (seriously) where I read it, but someone on the internet suggested that the function of memory is to equip us to deal with new situations rather than readying us to sit around mired in nostalgia (or terror or whatever – depending on what you’ve been up to).
This to me, has the ring of truth. I think that what we remember most clearly is emotion. Even now I can almost feel the excited butterflies spiralling around my stomach when I picture myself standing on the threshold of Big School. The emotional specificity is truly stunning, especially when compared to the paint-factory explosion of physical details. I also remember exactly how I felt as I tried to play it cool so that I didn’t look like a baby in front of the big kids. Meanwhile, a concrete-block wall which (holy erections, Batman!). I just paused for a moment to try to estimate the length of the school’s perimeter wall and as I pictured it I got a vivid image of concrete blocks. I also remember that the capstones were rounded, cast concrete things and as I try to see them more clearly, different surfaces are switching with each other like a scene from a movie where someone is supposed to be hallucinating or seeing an alternate reality (or whatever).
I’m doing this exercise as I type: I deliberately picked a memory which I haven’t dusted off in some time. This is one of the clearer experiences I have had of memory-gaps being filled in. Finishes of smooth concrete, concrete with embedded sandstone pebbles and brushed concrete are being constantly switched amongst one another as I “look” at the top of the wall in my mind. It feels like the switching is happening at an extremely rapid pace and that my focus is unable to keep up with the cycle speed, so the textures appear to switch relatively slowly – a bit like watching a stream of water under a strobe.
Eyewitness testimony, once held in high regard by Western courts, has been proven by many experiments and controlled studies to be extremely unreliable. It has also been demonstrated that memories can be planted in people’s minds which are indistinguishable from experienced events. These days an eyewitness account of a crime with no supporting evidence would likely not be enough to secure a conviction. The legal system, it seems, is reacting appropriately to the vagaries of knowledge and memory.
Daniel Schacter, the American psychologist, is of the opinion that constructive mnemonic operations cause errors; that gaps being filled and things changing are faults. Have a look at his “The Seven Sins of Memory”. This looks like doublethink to me. On the one hand he believes memory to be constructive and on the other he believes that when it doesn’t behave in a reproductive manner it is somehow failing. I’m not convinced that human memories behaving differently to an mpeg represents failure.
I can’t resist pointing out that this is a view of Mr. Schacter’s knowledge-trap. He knows that memory is supposed to consistently deliver static information. This is conditioned knowledge. It doesn’t occur to him that to expect this behaviour of memory contradicts his knowledge that it is constructive. He is both educated and intelligent, yet an obvious logical paradox is invisible to him. How can this happen?
Inside his concept of memory is the knowledge that memories should be accurate and intransigent. This knowledge ends the search of Function or whatever it’s labelled. Focus never enters the concepts within.
Nobody ever said to him “memory should record information accurately and reproduce it consistently”, but (I’m guessing) a life of study and academia caused him to seek this behaviour from his own memory. It’s a bit like the knowledge that you shouldn’t punch someone in the face immediately after shaking their hand. It’s a remote contingency at best that somebody expressly told you not to engage in this behaviour, but you deduced it from other experiences. The concept never draws enough focus for you to notice it unless the topic arises (perchance in a humorous context). Then you may have thoughts like “imagine doing that to X” and so on, but the prospect that the action might be deemed acceptable is never raised.
This is more of the trap’s insidious nature. Most of it is useful, socially beneficial and does not need to be addressed. Of course the knowledge it holds is only a stack of concepts that exist in nobody’s mind but yours and is infinitely mutable. But what is the point in exploring the concept e.g. that murder is wrong? You can do it. You can pop in and start looking at things like self defence or preventing harm to others etcetera. But why on Earth would you go to the extraordinary effort it would take to change this healthy core belief?
Anyhoos… back to memory. Yes: memory stores and retrieves knowledge. I believe that being able to associate current emotions with past experience prevents us in many cases from being overwhelmed by emotion in novel situations. I suspect it also has other functions, but that’s as far as we need to go down this particular rabbit hole for now.
The only thing you need to remember about memory is that it is laughably unreliable.
One purpose of “The basics” is to (hopefully) equip you with tools to clearly see and ultimately deconstruct the knowledge-trap you currently occupy; to (as Laurence Fishburne put it in “The Matrix”) free your mind.
Not only is your entire universe undetectable to anyone but yourself, but also everything you know about it is questionable at best. As well as these issues, memory is always adding, removing and changing things here and there, so it’s often difficult to be certain of details.
A great help in escaping my own knowledge-trap was reading “Black Elk: The Sacred Ways of a Lakota“. It is a window into a deeper reality from a very different perspective to most of the people reading this book. I highly recommend, but won’t bully you into reading it. I’m not really a bully: I was just kidding when I said that earlier.
Hi there. It seems that lots of you are reading this (which is great) but would it be very aggressive of me to ask that a couple more of you like it or leave a comment (dare I say it: maybe even both)?
Be as positive or negative as you like: I’m reasonably difficult to offend.
Thanks in advance,
(Oct. 12 2021)
P.S. Why not plant a tree?