Of Things Unspoken

“The Map is not the Territory”

This saying was first coined by Alfred Korzybski, the man who gave us the book “Science and Sanity” in 1933 which founded General Semantic. I first encountered it in a book by Robert Anton Wilson who spent a lot of his writing expounding on this idea and providing parables and exercises designed to help those interested in getting comfortable with this stark fact of life. Ken Wilber often uses this quote as a grounding principle when discussing the Integral Model. Alan Watts had a more whimsical version, “The menu is not the meal.”

Basically, it means that our perceptions, maps, and models of reality are never reality itself. An idea about a car will not get you to the airport. The word, “water” will not quench your thirst. An understanding of how trees grow provides no shade. An orange is actually pale blue, which is the shade of light it absorbs, leaving behind the orange we see.

Our eyes only perceive a certain band of the light spectrum. Our ears only catch a limited range of tones and volumes. Our skin is not infinitely sensitive. To our tongues, some flavors don’t exist.

This is all to say that the world as we perceive it is not the world as it actually is. That doesn’t mean our approximations aren’t useful. What it does mean is that we should be careful to not be fooled by them. There is an old experiment that goes back to the time of the Greeks. Put your left hand in a bowl of cold water, and your right hand in a bowl of warm water. Wait for a minute. Then put both hands in a bowl of room temperature water. To your left hand, the room temperature water will feel warm. To your right hand, the room temperature water will feel cold. So, which is it?

Words, maps, and models are only ever good for description. They are never the thing itself. Perception is only good for a general notion. The thing perceived is never precisely what is perceived. To believe that reality is as we perceive it to be is a notion in philosophy known as Naive Realism. The Buddha refuted this view of the world 2500 years ago. At least once every century, some philosopher comes along to do it again. It seems like we need a regular reminder of this truth because the delusion that things are as they seem is so persistent.

When I was a boy I had this problem with the television in my room. Whenever I woke up and turned the set on, or came home from school to watch some TV while doing my homework, I would get upset because my shows were no longer where I had left them. I would get quite upset and yell at my brother and mother, blaming them for turning the set on while I was away. They didn’t know what to do with me. It took me many years to understand that the shows ran on their own schedule whether I watched them or not. This is one example of how the conviction of naive realism can cause us trouble. (Of course these days, with streaming video and on-demand programming I would not be such a frustrated kid.)

No matter how much we would have it otherwise, the map is not the territory. Persisting in believing otherwise leads to needless suffering.

I mentioned that Robert Anton Wilson gave out a lot of exercises in his work to deal with the persistent delusion of mistaking the menu for the meal. One simple one is this: whenever you pick up a thing to use, take a brief moment to look at it and remind yourself, “this is not what I suppose it to be.” Then go on with whatever you were going to do. Reality still works, even if we can never quite know it.

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Getting Things Moved Forward, But Not Done

It’s one of those days. I have a bit of a fever, and my head is foggy. Following one idea all the way through is just not happening. I am grateful for the awareness that this is the case. I’ve spent time today starting several really good posts, but just not being able to finish them. I get confused as I near whatever point I am trying to make. Luckily I know better than to push it and end up with posting something I will later be unhappy with.

So, today’s post is a wish of health for everyone and rest for those who aren’t quite 100%. Pass me the tissues. I’m crawling into bed. 🙂

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EVE Online: The Rabbit Hole

I have had a long time on again, off again relationship with the MMO game EVE Online for nearly as long as the game has existed. The first time I played lasted about three days. I worked my way up to a frigate, went out into a lower security system to hunt NPC pirates and got locked onto by another player in a destroyer. He started shooting my ship and sent me a chat message saying, “4 million ISK and I’ll stop shooting.” (ISK is the in-game currency.) I told him to go fuck himself, and he blew up my ship. The ship cost about 8 million to build. I rage quit on the spot and canceled my account. (At the time there was no free-play option.)

Over the years I have dipped my head back in a few times. I usually lasted about a week before leaving in head-scratching confusion. The game it very pretty, and I love the genre, but I just didn’t quite connect with the game.

A couple of days ago I decided to take a peak again. (They now have a free to play option, which increases the temptation.) This time I decided to peek at some YouTube vids about various aspects of play. Things finally clicked.

The reasons I keep getting drawn back is back have to do with my many years of playing the Traveller table-top RPG. Traveller is a game (and a fan base) that supports many styles of play. You can hunt down bad guys, be bad guys, explore strange new worlds, trade goods between worlds, etc. Over the years, the various publishers who have held rights to Produce Traveller rules and supplements have explored all of these options.

EVE Online is pretty much an open sandbox game. All of the economics are player driven, as it most of the real danger in the game. To me, it feels a lot like Traveller in that way, and that is part of the attraction for me. Another part has to do with the player driven economics. One of the things I liked doing most in Traveller was the trading and shipping of goods. I always enjoyed keep meticulous notes on systems our player group visited and figuring out where the most profit was to be made. EVE is all about that. Players mine raw materials and take them to market. Players take those raw materials and manufacture in-game items which they then take to market. Players haunt the zones where rare materials are to be found in order to ambush other players and take their hard earned loot. For the most part any “law enforcement” is done by the players as well. It’s a lawless frontier of free capitalism and blazing guns.

On YouTube, I came across a set of videos from an EVE convention in 2015. The presenters all looked like the kinds of people I recognized from going to gaming conventions over the past three decades. Not just gamers, but a specific set of gamers. Namely wargamers. That’s when the light went off for me.

One of the old school games that I enjoy is Diplomacy. Diplomacy is a game of global conquest, and there can only be one winner. There is an old adage among gamers, “Diplomacy is a great game for losing friends.” That’s because the most valid way to play is to make deals with other players and at the right time betray them. It’s cooked into the system of the game and is expected behavior. Playing Diplomacy takes a thick skin. I used to go to a convention in the Bay Area every year called Dundracon. One of the regular events was a massive version of Diplomacy. Standard Diplomacy uses a map of the Earth to play on and can support up to 7 players. The Diplomacy played at Dundracon used a map based on the Ringworld from the book of that same name by Larry Niven and could handle up to 32 players. Every year that game would fill up and the players would battle and back stab it out for the entire four-day convention.

EVE Online is not a video game in the typical sense. There are no win conditions, and the players provide most of the content. It’s more like a massive board game played out on computers. That’s the distinction I was missing, and that’s why the game can get so deep.

So, I am back to flying ships around in New Eden, and I’ve set my own win condition. I plan on making enough ISK to get my account up to paid status. After that, the stars are the only limit.