Monday, July 16, 2012

Phyllis, Hayley, and Ultimate Truth (part 2)

Your Own Interpretation

I won't have to guess what was going through your mind while you were reading the story, because in a certain sense, everyone's mind works the same way. While you were reading the story from Phyllis's perspective, you were thinking, "Something is amiss here. What is going on? Why is Hayley behaving so strangely?"

Then, when you read the story from Hayley's perspective, you suddenly understood. "Oh," you probably thought. "That's why they said what they did and acted that way." It made sense. You innately knew that Hayley's version was "right" and Phyllis's version was "wrong."

Which leads to two questions:

1) What do I mean by "right" and "wrong"?


2) How did you know that?

We will address the second question first.

How did you know that? What was it that told you that Hayley's version of the story made more sense? You don't know why you know, but you just know. Something clicked. Even though I'm posting this article on a public blog available for viewing on the entire internet, I am confident that every single one of my readers will have experienced this.

The Inner Reality Meter

I would suggest you knew because there is something innate within you that, consciously or unconsciously, seeks to match things up with reality. When things match with what we already know about the world, they make sense. When things don't match up with what we know about the world, they don't make sense, and at this point, our mind starts seeking for an explanation. Sometimes we land on a reason that didn't appear obvious at the beginning, but on further reflection, it occurs to us. Other times, we are unable to think of a reason, but still can learn the reason through education. Other times, we just give up, because we can't come up with a reason. Whatever the case, a satisfactory explanation must match up with what we know (in other words, it must match up with reality), or we will be unsatisfied.

Here's an illustration of an instance where I went through this process. The first time I watched the movie Inception, I was confused at the beginning of the film. There is a scene where some guys are in a room, interrogating a man. They hear the noise of a great tumult outside. One of the guys looks out a window and sees a mob of angry people surging toward the house. He calmly turns back to the other guys and says something like, "They're coming...for us." The guys all nod calmly and carry on with their business as if nothing is going to happen. The angry crowd gets closer and closer.

As I watched this scene, I thought to myself, "This doesn't make sense. Why are these guys so calmly disregarding their impending doom?" Then my mind started clicking through possible scenarios.

Maybe the house is impregnable.
Maybe the people are not really after them, but someone or something else.
Maybe they've got an escape plan.
Maybe they're planning strategically to get captured--or killed.

But as the scene unfolded, none of these possibilities made sense, either. The house was definitely not impregnable, the mob was really after them, they didn't escape, but got engulfed in the ensuing chaos, and their intention was not to get captured or killed.

I was still confused! However, I couldn't figure it out, so I just had to wait for the movie to fit the pieces all together for me. Fortunately, it did, in a very creative and intellectually stimulating way, which made the movie an enjoyable experience to watch. I won't spoil it for you if you haven't seen the movie, but basically what they did was to involve a lot of fantasy and create an alternate reality that operated on a different set of (relatively plausible) rules.

My point is, we all have in our heads a fixed, rather inflexible notion of "what is real" and we constantly, almost unconsciously, match new incoming data against our inner notion of reality. When incoming data matches reality, things make sense to us. When they don't match, we choose one of the following options.

  1. We discard the incoming data as inaccurate or useless
  2. We alter the incoming data to match with reality
  3. We hold the incoming data in limbo as we search for or wait for additional information that will make it make sense
  4. We adjust our concept of reality to match with the data.
For instance, suppose you go over to someone's house for dinner. You meet Mr. & Mrs. Jones and their three children. Later, you're talking to a mutual friend who mentions in passing that the Joneses have two children. This bit of incoming data doesn't match up with reality, because you just went over to their house and saw their three children. So you might go through one or more of the following reactions. 
  1. Discard your friend's comment in your mind and say to yourself, "She doesn't know what she's talking about."
  2. Alter the incoming data to match with reality. Tell your friend, "No, actually, they have three children."
  3. Hold the incoming data in limbo and look for an explanation. Maybe all of those weren't really their children. Could one have been a neighbor or a friend or a niece or nephew? Or maybe my friend hasn't heard that Mrs. Jones recently had a baby. Or maybe she has only ever met two of their children and assumed that that was all. Or maybe one is adopted and she means that they only have two biological children. As you look for answers, the explanation may emerge.
  4. In rare cases, new information may cause you to have to alter your reality. Suppose it turns out that one of those children was a relative visiting the Joneses for a week. Then you would have to update your reality to correspond to the fuller picture. 
As you can see, our idea of reality may not be perfect, and in rare cases, new information can cause us to have to alter what we thought was real and true into an improved version. Every person is in this process, and all of us seek to get as perfect an understanding of reality as possible. 

Exceptions to this only occur when there are certain things we don't want to be true, and therefore suppress from our inner "reality files." We may do this for experiences that are distasteful, traumatic, or painful. This act of supression does not make the traumatic or distasteful circumstance untrue, but rather causes us to have to go through additional explaining processes with our incoming data. It may also help us to forget what is painful. While this may be a great comfort, it does not alter the truth. 

All of these facts point to the following conclusions: 
  • We all have a "reality meter," a standard by which we unconsciously check new information to see if it matches up. 
  • Our inner meter is not perfect. Inaccuracies in our reality meter can be corrected by incoming data. 
  • Barring purposeful suppression of certain facts, we all have a drive for our inner meter to be as accurate as possible--a true reflection of the reality of the world. 
Our drive to constantly improve the accuracy of our inner reality meter points to the existence of a perfect standard of reality. There is a way that things really are. There is an absolute standard to which all our inner reality meters are trying to conform. The closer we get there, the more things make sense and the less confusion we experience. 

Remember the vague puzzlement you experienced when you read Phyllis's version of the story? That's the kind of confusion that comes with being far from the absolute, perfect standard of reality. Remember how everything clicked into place when you read Hayley's version? That's the feeling of being close to the absolute, perfect standard of reality. 

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