It Isn’t What It Is


Yay for distinctions! Here’s another one I love!

One of the things I was taught early on were the names for the things in my world. I was taught, “This is my bed”, “This is my foot”, “This is the door to my room”, and so on.

I was told what everything is. Each item given an identity within my personal reality map.

I was convinced that the names equaled the thing in question.

This lead to some funny, and confusing conclusions early on.

It was explained to me that the TV carried a signal coming from the filming of actors in a show that was then displayed on my screen. When it was on, the signal was displayed for my viewing pleasure. What wasn’t really explained was what happened when my TV was turned off. To my reality map, the TV being on was the signal for the shows to be displayed. That meant that they should not be going when the TV was turned off. For a couple of years I was presented with a mystery. I would watch some TV in the morning while getting ready for school. When I got home my shows would not be where I left them. When I asked my Mom who had been watching the TV when I was gone she had no answer. It was a couple of years of this before she got what I was asking. Then she had to explain recording and broadcasting and the idea that everyone was watching the same shows so they had to run in case anyone was watching.

I was laboring under what Alfred Korzybski call the “is of identity.” We human beings have a wonderful capacity for identification. This affords us a tremendous evolutionary advantage. The problem comes when we go from holding an identification for some thing, to assigning it an identity. In that way we give the thing a certain permanency. The trouble with that is that it’s not true. Nothing has that kind of permanency. No thing is identical to any thing else, nor is any thing identical to itself, moment to moment. So, any “is of identity” that we hold about things (either external objects and forces, or internal emotions, sensations, or thoughts) becomes inaccurate the moment after we assign it. We have a view on reality that becomes what Korzybski calls, “false to facts.”

Ancient Buddhism and Taoism, along with modern Physics, confirm the above assertion. No thing has an identity in the sense of a permanent set of characteristics or relations.

Living contrary to the ever changing reality we occupy does not seem a very skillful method at all.

The issue there stems from the deep roots such assigning of an “is of identity” has in us, in terms of our habitual language and thinking. The way out of this trap lies in the same way the trap was created; we can consciously grind in new habits that eliminate the “is of identity” from our thinking and language.

My spiritual uncle, Robert Anton Wilson, outlined a bunch of sample ways to restructure sentences that embrace this notion.

  • The photon is a wave.
    The photon behaves as a wave when constrained by certain instruments.
  • The photon is a particle.
    The photon appears as a particle when constrained by other instruments.
  • John is unhappy and grouchy.
    John appears unhappy and grouchy in the office.
  • John is bright and cheerful.
    John appears bright and cheerful on holiday at the beach.
  • The car involved in the hit-and-run accident was a blue Ford.
    In memory, I think I recall the car involved in the hit-and-run accident as a blue Ford.
  • That is a fascist idea.
    That seems like a fascist idea to me.
  • Beethoven is better than Mozart.
    In my present mixed state of musical education and ignorance Beethoven seems better than Mozart to me.
  • Lady Chatterly’s lover is a pornographic novel.
    Lady Chatterly’s lover seems like a pornographic novel to me.
  • Grass is green.
    Grass registers as green to most human eyes.
  • The first man stabbed the second man with a knife.
    I think I saw the first man stab the second man with a knife.

By assiduously, and purposefully working these versions into our language (in writing and speaking) we can re-wire our linguistic habits so they become our norm. This, in turn, will re-wire our thinking. Eventually the “is of identity” can be totally removed from our processing of our realities.

Without the “is of identity” our life once again becomes a dance of change and possibility, no longer caged by certainty, or fixed labeling. Our words, and our view, goes from becoming “false to facts” to “true to facts.” We will always be working with abstractions of reality, but at least we will be using abstractions that a more in line with what is actually occurring.

As Uncle Bob has said, we find ourselves, “In a world where no two fingerprints appear identical, and no two brains appear identical, and an electron does not even seem identical to itself from one nanosecond to another…”

Laboring Under The Curse of Greyface


“Messes are opportunities for creative expression, for delight and discovery, and for pleasure and celebration. Messes are real. They are how we live. And they can be beautiful.” – Amy George Rush

This distinction comes from the Principia Discordia, the “bible” for what is either a religion disguised as a joke, or a joke disguised as a religion. Depending on your point of view, of course.

The distinction is called the Curse of Greyface, and it goes a little something like this. There are two axis you can measure the rightness of your actions along. (There are many more than two, of course, but these two are what you need to get this distinction.)

One is the axis of order versus disorder.

The other is creativity versus destruction.

At some point in our past, particularly in the West, right around when the Greeks were going strong a cultural axiom was created that declared that the main measure of rightness should be along the order/disorder line. In other words, and action was more righteous if it was based in order, and less righteous, or even evil if it was couched in disorder. This meant that whether an action was creative, or destructive, it was okay as long as it was orderly.

Conquer a neighboring nation while pillaging and destroying their culture, sure as long as you had a legal (ie, ordered) claim to the territory.

Cut down forests with no regard to environmental impact, of course, the wheels of orderly progress must keep turning!

Attempt the total decimation of a people? Well, you can sleep well at night as long as you were “just following orders.”

Our cultural measuring stick for advancement became order over disorder with no attention paid to creation or destruction.

The cure is obvious: Shift your value assessment from the line of order/disorder, to that of creative/destructive. Head for the creative, and have little care about whether your effort creates order or disorder in it’s wake. (Well, maybe have a little care. The cure for a curse is seldom to just flip the seats on the ride.)

Working under a paradigm that measures the rightness of actions based solely on the criteria of whether they are more creative, and less destructive, would be quite a thing indeed, I should think. When I start thinking about it, the lyrics for John Lennon’s “Imagine” start going through my head. I do not think this shift would fix every problem we face instantly. I do think it would deeply effect the flavor of our culture and the moorings of our value systems.

We would stop grading out children based on whether they could memorize facts and figures by rote. Instead we would grade them on the cool shit they came up with.

Laws would no longer be based on, “That’s the way it’s always been done” but would instead be guidelines for fostering, insuring, and propagating creative action and outcomes.

People would not be evaluated on how well they toed the line, but on how much they contributed.

In my personal exploration of switching the lines of evaluation, I have found life to be more inherently beautiful and expressive. By deciding the the value I assign to a thing based on it’s creative value I find that I have a lot more opportunities for joy in my life. I also steer clear of miring myself in tasks, or duties, that drain my creative potential.

For my money that is a much better way to go!

What do you think?

Tunnel Vision For The Win!


Here’s another distinction for you: Reality-Tunnels.

This idea comes from Timothy Leary, and Robert Anton Wilson.

The idea goes like this; Every view is partial. At any given time there are things in reality that you can see, and things you can’t. Likewise with the things you can hear, and the things you can’t. Same for all senses. These limitations come from the frequencies that your sensory apparatus can accept, and the location of the thing being sensed. I can’t see ultra-violet radiation, but it is constantly present on the Earth. It’s present, but outside of my available frequency of vision. There are also things that exist, and could be seen with my visual organs, but which are blocked from my view, in a direction I am not looking, or so far away that I can’t make them out. Same thing with sounds, smells, etc.

Additionally, the conditioning I have had from my culture and upbringing makes me pay less attention to some things than other things. So, while I may be perfectly able to sense them in the present moment, I ignore their presence. These are things I take for granted on one extreme, or things that are so weird and new that I don’t grok them when they do show up on the other extreme.

Let’s pretend that I go down to my favorite coffee shop. While I am there enjoying my cups, someone bursts in, yanks the tip jar and runs off. The police are called, and I am asked to describe everything I saw. As like as not I will be so focused in my memory of the moment that I will only describe the would be thief. I will probably not mention the surroundings of the coffee shop as they are so familiar to me. If the person was seven feet tall, bright blue, had four arms, and walnut for a head I also might miss some details as my brain strikes out the parts that make no sense within my conditioning.

My particular nervous system is only ever exposed to a subset of available reality. My mental conditioning and habitual frameworks also filter what gets in, and what is put aside as unnecessary, or beyond processing.

This dictates the world of experience that I live in, the world for me, and according to me.

It’s like seeing reality through tunnel vision.

This does not invalidate my reality in any way. However, it does illustrate the importance of acknowledging that it is my reality.

Robert Anton Wilson used to do an experiment when he gave his talks. He would have each person write down a description of the hall way they had passed through to get to the talk. He claimed to have done this dozens of times, with a number of participants across those talks reaching into the thousands. He never got two descriptions that completely matched.

Even something as common as walking through the same hall way, on the same day, during the same general time of day, occurs to each of us in a completely personal way.

We all go through life in our little slices of reality.

Remembering this keeps me humble. It knocks the knees out from any idea that I know “the way it is.” It also shows how important we all are for each other if we want to get a full picture of reality.

It also calls out how special each of us is. We are all the stewards of, in a very real sense, a universe on to itself. Our reality really turns out to be our reality alone. we can share the unique content of our reality with others through the stories we tell, and help build a more complete view with each other.

We are totally interdependent with each other for any attempt at describing shared reality (and to find out which parts are actually shared, and to what extent.)

Reality ain’t small. There’s a whole lot of it out there. It’s like we are all in some indescribably vast cavern. Each one of us has a flashlight. As we make our way through the darkness we can share our explorations with each other, letting everyone in on the dangers, and the treasures we might find.

I think this a great-good thing. What about you?