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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Choose Where You Blossom

One of the models for personal development that I enjoy is the 8-Circuit model of consciousness as originated by Timothy Leary, and further developed by my hero, Robert Anton Wilson. I find it a very useful framework for tracking where I am, and what I can use improvement on. (There’s a lot.)

Another model I find quite useful is the Jewish Mysticism system of Kabbalah. I don’t pretend to have anywhere near the knowledge of Kabbalah that I do of the 8-Circuit model, but there are some components that have helped me out a great deal. There is a place where the 8-circuit model and an important concept from the Kabbalah tradition intersect. I’d like to share that with you today.

First up, the 8-Circuit model. The idea here is that there are eight systems or circuits, that human development moves through. The first four are common to the bulk of humanity. They are settled enough into the regular course of human that pretty much everyone develops them during their life. The second four are those that represent the possibilities that human beings can access, given the opportunity, intention, training, and/or a bit of luck.

Circuit one is the bio-survival circuit. This is the circuit concerned with physical safety, comfort, basic survival, eating, and touch. The basic tactic here is moving towards that which nurtures, and away from that which harms.

Next up is the emotional-territorial circuit. This has to do with learning your place in the local pecking order. Domination and submission. Territoriality. Basic hierarchies. Aggressive versus cooperative behavior.

Next, we have the neuro-semantic circuit. This is the introduction and mastery of language. Also the creation of mental maps for dealing with the territory of reality and society. This is also where you learn more manual dexterity, and start the construction and manipulation of your personal environment. This is the “time-binding” circuit pointed out by Alfred Korzybski. That unique thing about being human that lets us efficiently, and easily pass our acquired knowledge from one generation to the next.

Then we get to the socio-sexual sexual circuit. Here we get morals and socially acceptable methods for reproduction, sexual interaction, and care of the young. This is where we work up social networks and work out our place in the “social contract.”

This is as far as most people get and is essentially the “center of gravity” for current evolution of the species. Each of the first four circuits have enough depth, and nuance for any person to explore and grow in got a whole lifetime.

If the individual continues their development, probably facilitated by some deep insight, or paradigm break, they will move on to the next available circuit, the neurosomatic circuit. These breaks with accepted reality can be conjured by the use of some sort of boundary dissolving compound, such as hallucinogenics. This is the bliss circuit. Deep consciousness of the body. This circuit allows for intentional somatic reprogramming, the willful re-casting of our relationship to the soma, the body.

The sixth circuit is the neuro-electric, or metaprogramming circuit. This is where the nervous system becomes aware of itself. With this opening, it becomes possible to re-imprint and re-program the earlier circuits in accordance with your own conscious design. Got a hang up around transgender dressing? No worries, you can adjust so that your comfort is no longer compromised by someone else dressing in accordance with a gender that doesn’t match their current biology (or, more honestly your own expectations).

Next up we have the neuro-genetic circuit. This is where you open up the genetic record of your own being too conscious inspection. This allows access to racial, and evolutionary collective knowledge. Ancestral contact, access to the DNA-RNA feedback dance, past lives, reincarnation, and intimations of how one would deal with immortality.

The final (as far as we know) circuit is the quantum non-local circuit. Here we are talking about awareness of a non-local variety. Global space-time consciousness not bound by the speed of light. Here come images of Indira’s Net of Buddhism. The vast knowing of the near death experience.

The first four circuits are those most easily available to the “run of the mill” humanity of today. Indeed, it’s these first four circuits that each of us is pushed through in order to be fully qualified as members of acceptable society.

The next four seem to be available options open to any human who will but take the appropriate steps to access them. We have evidence, increasingly anecdotal as you progress up the circuits, of humans who have accessed these capacities. Advanced yogis, and meditators plainly have access to the neurosomatic circuit and can intentionally move into states of bliss and oceanic consciousness.

As we move up the circuits we have to come to terms, more and more, with things like constantly available clarity of the source of our own thoughts, clairvoyance, telepathy, reading of the Akashic records, trance medium conversation with the deceased, and so on. Whether you decide to give these reports credence, or not, they do exist. We do not seem to be able to get away from these stories, so (I would submit) that there is something going on there.

Okay, so what does all of this have to do with Kabbalah? Glad you asked.

One of the ideas nurtured in the Kabbalah system is that of conceiving of yourself as a plant, of a kind, and has to do with the garden you are situated in. They use this analogy to analyze the level of agency one can have over the direction of their own life.

Before you are born, the bloodlines of your making came together and decided to have an offspring. You have nothing to say about that (in this model.)

Then you are born into a family situation dictated by your parents and their family of choosing. Again, you have no choice there.

Next, you get your pre-school education, care, and training. These are at the discretion of your caretakers. You have very little choice here.

Then comes your primary schooling. Again, the choice of school, and therefore the environment that shapes you is under the purview of your family, and the educational bureaucracy of the city you live in.

Then you get to high-school. Still, this place of development is dictated to you by others. You get to express some of yourself at this point by choosing your electives, though that choice will probably be influenced by what your parents find acceptable.

Then comes college. Here you actually enter the picture as a decision maker. This is the turning point. Now you have some say about the “garden” you will flourish in. You get to make real choices about how you evolve and unfold.

After you are done with college (or, if you don’t go to college) you go out “into the world” to stand on your own two feet. Here you have maximal say about where you will develop. Here you become your own gardener if you choose to. Some do not choose to, and at this point just go along with the momentum and in the direction instilled in them during their earlier years when they had no choice.

Here is where I see the two models coming together. Essentially, the society and familial setting you are born into dictates to a large degree the imprinting, and conditioning, of the first four circuits.

The next four represent choice and free will. As you advance up them, you find more and more access to self-determination and direction. Moving up these circuits is something you must choose to do. Even though access to them may be opened up through outside agencies, the development of them seems to be a matter of one’s own choosing.

We are all born with certain characteristics, traits, and qualities. Those are ours to work with for all of our lives. We are also all born into a context, not of our choosing. That too is ours to work with and eventually to change should we wish too. As we grow we each have the opportunity to become the gardeners of our own development.

Where do you choose to grow? What do you choose to grow in to?

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Grok: A Lever Against Robotic Thinking

“Grok” is a great word, that I don’t think gets enough usage. I like it for a great many reasons, not the least of which is that my good friend John Sherman, the man who said the words that ‘clicked’ for me and ended my spiritual search, uses it in his talks.

Grok came to us first from the Robert A. Heinlein novel, “Stranger in a Strange Land.” In that book, the term is defined thus: “Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man.”

In modern, common use, it has come to mean something like: “We connect in understanding beyond the level of common-sense knowledge and exchange of language signals.” It means to pass understanding in a direct way. Something like the “mind-to-mind transmission of the dharma” in Zen Buddhism. Webster’s dictionary defines the term this way: “to understand profoundly and intuitively”.

I think the word fits for us because we have all had this experience at one time or another. A moment where meaning crystallizes within our being as a sudden grasp of what is now obvious. I had one of these moments when learning how arrays work in the computer programming language Basic. No matter how many times it was explained, how my teachers put it, how many examples of code I perused, I just couldn’t get it. I could make it work, and make my programs utilize this important functionality, but it made no intuitive sense. Then one day, one of my teachers used the metaphor of a dresser with a set of drawers. The whole thing gelled in my mind. I grokked arrays. They made total sense from that day forward, and I have never gotten confused around their basic structure, nor the many types of databases that depend on this concept. This grokked concept has served me quite well in my professional career.

For this type of use alone, I think the word grok is quite handy.

Another useful thing about the word is it reminds us of the limitations of our language. During normal education, it’s easy to become entrenched in the idea that language captures reality. That what can be said is real. It’s easy to loose site of the fact that language is always, and merely, an abstraction. Language only ever represents, it is not the thing spoken. As Korzybski famously said, “The map is not the territory.” Or, as Alan Watt said more wistfully, “The menu is not the meal.” A lot of work has been done in the quest for a perfect language. Ludwig Wittgenstein showed why this is impossible. In a nutshell, a perfect language would be one where communication was never flawed. There could never be any double-meanings. Every separate thing, including each and every 2007 Ford Taurus SE ever produced would have to have a separate word to designate it so that no two cars could ever be confused. Such a language would be many orders of magnitude more complex than reality itself, and no brain would be able to contain it. Whenever we use language, we must admit to a certain degree of approximation. This is especially so in English, which is, after all, not so much a language as it is an alleyway mugging of four other languages. In English it is possible to spell “fish” as “ghoti”, “gh-” as in “tough”, “o-” as in “women”, and “ti-” as in “nation.” “Ghoti” = fish. Then there are all the words that have more than one meaning, such as “chair”, “stand”, “pen”, etc. In such a language, it is good to keep reminders ready to hand that language is just a rough tool for getting across meaning.

Another great thing about the word “grok” is the type of connection it points to. The term indicates the most successful occasions of an attempt at communication. It points at those moments when two people are in exact mutual understanding, simpatico, and shared viewpoint. As social creatures, we yearn for these moments where we can say we are on the same page. When that happens, we can trust our capacity to work together and to thrive. It’s a beautiful thing.

Lastly, there is a mystery to the word “grok.” It contains a hinted at meaning that is not available in any human language. In this way, it forever holds a space we can go to beyond the limitations of all of our language. It shows us what we can strive for, beyond what we have been to date.

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