Saturday, December 01, 2012

Stories We Tell Ourselves

Scientists wrestle with the question of whether the universe would exist without an observer. There are over 6 billion observers on this planet which means there are over 6 billion realities. We take in all of the stimuli and data through our senses and over a lifetime our brains create the reality we live in. Reality for some people is a brittle shell they’ve built around themselves and must continually patch and reinforce to keep it from caving in. There are humans whose concept of God was formed as a child in Sunday School and they would feel threatened by the idea of a deity that wasn’t a kindly old gentleman that sits on a throne in the sky and grants them their every wish, or who vote for a political party that panders to their limited world view and allow no information into their mind that might undermine that view, or those who found a vocation early in life and define themselves by it, whether it be butcher, baker or candle stick maker. Their universe must be nailed down and unchanging for them to feel secure.

Change is a mystery. Although this universe is held together and operates by certain physical laws which should keep things constant, there is an element of entropy or chaos that results in things never being quite the same as they were at an earlier point in time and space.

It is a characteristic of human nature that we both resist change and yet crave it. Washington Irving said, “There is certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found in traveling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one's position, and be bruised in a new place”

I have a lovely and devoted wife, two beautiful daughters, and six grand children that think I'm the cat's pajamas. Losing the love and affection of my family through death or alienation is a change that I fear. I heard a preacher say that we should expect to lose our loved ones. It happens to every one of us eventually. We should prepare ourselves for it. Each life change; each loss or gain is an element in a chain reaction that echoes through the years. Deep within our psyches change in who we are is the response to change in our environment.

Now, here’s the metaphysical rub.

There are people whose sense of reality is fluid and evolving. They discard old concepts as they learn new ones. Ideologies and creeds must actually work in their daily lives for them to embrace them. They belong to many tribes whose memberships overlap and blend.

We take in all the information our senses perceive over a lifetime and build our own reality or world view from it. But, there are forces that attempt to manipulate our world view; political ideology, religious dogma, the latest scientific theory, the evening news, even popular psychology and culture. There’s a Bible verse that I like that says, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its own mold”. That’s good advice. We need to become logical thinkers and filter the information we receive through a healthy skepticism.

In regard to unexpected happenings, we write the narrative of our own reality. For most of us this narrative must contain certainty. We don’t like to think that we could be undone by improbable events. I read a book by Nassim Taleb titled “The Black Swan - The Impact of the Highly Improbable” In it he tells the story of a turkey who lives for 1000 days and is comfortable and well fed. All he has learned in his life indicates that the comfort will continue indefinitely. Then one day the farmer shows up with an axe. We would like to think that we have control and then when something extreme happens, whether it’s being blindsided by a truck or winning the lottery, we have to create an explanation that makes it appear less random.

We are all living a story that we tell ourselves.



Steven Dunn said...

Yes, we are...well stated.

Rain Trueax said...

Interesting thoughts. I have also thought how some people go through a lifetime changing nothing of their life view where I've changed a lot of times in my 69 years. I don't have an answer for why they stay with what they originally were told or figured out and I've shifted around several times in major ways.