How well do you integrate …
|what goes in ‘here’ with||what goes on ‘out there’?|
When we talk about wanting to become better critical thinkers, or more discriminating individuals, or simply more sane human beings, what we’re talking about concerns questions such as:
- How well do we ‘interface’ with the world around us?
- How appropriately do we interpret what goes on outside our skin?
- How appropriately do we interpret what goes on inside our skin?
- Do we purposely and consistently apply what we ‘know’ about what goes on ‘out there’?
- Do we purposely and consistently apply what we ‘know’ about what goes on ‘in here’?
This introductory tutorial will re-acquaint you with some notions you may find familiar, or even ‘obvious.’ Perhaps it will introduce you to some new ways of thinking about your thinking. And perhaps the resulting implications will enable you to become more critical and more discriminating.
What Happens ‘In Here’ vs. ‘Out There’
What goes on ‘in here’?We ought to be able to agree on certain facts regarding what happens inside our skin, how our nervous system responds, in response to what happens out there:
- We can’t experience everything; we abstract only those events and characteristics we can, and choose to, experience.
- As each individual is unique from anyone else, each nervous system is also different.
- It follows that each individual’s experience of what goes on will be different from everyone else’s.
- Our ‘in here’ experiences, reactions, and responses are NOT the same as what actually happens ‘out there.’
- We each react uniquely to what goes on; what goes on does not dictate or necessarily determine how we react.
What goes on ‘out there’?Regardless of race, religion, nationality, or culture, we should be able to agree on a few basic facts regarding what goes on in the world around us:
- We live in a process-oriented universe; everything is changing all the time.
- With our human limitations, we can’t experience much of what we know goes on; e.g.high frequency sounds, radio waves, infrared light, etc.
- Events happen in a certain order and in relationship to other events in a specific context or environment.
- Not only do things and events continually change, but their environments continually change as well.
- At times we aren’t aware of these changes and their implications.
What’s your orientation or world view?
Based on your own individual life experiences, which occurred in your own unique environments and contexts, you have developed what might be termed your own personal approach to things.
You might call this your orientation, or approach to life, or “world view” (in German – Weltanschauung). How you respond, or react, to what happens in your life will be determined in large part by how you view your world – your underlying premises, assumptions, beliefs, etc.
Therefore, we each need to carefully consider and become conscious of our own individual orientation towards how we approach our life experiences.
How would you define your own “world view”?
What’s your orientation, or ‘world view’?
As a start to becoming more aware of your orientation, or “world view”, how much do you agree, or disagree, with the following statements?
- You’re either for us or against us.
- It’s not so important what you believe, just as long as you believe in something.
- You can’t change human nature.
- Everything happens for a reason.
- God works in mysterious ways.
- Expect a miracle.
- Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.
- To thine own self be true.
- Everybody’s got a right to their own opinion.
- It just wasn’t meant to be.
- Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
- All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.
Consider the implications, or consequences, of these statements in terms of how you react to events in your life. If you agree, or disagree, with the statement, do you also agree, or disagree, with the logical consequences of that statement applied to your experiences?
Building Block vs. Spiral Analogy
How do you learn?
Typically, we grow up with a view of learning using the building blocks analogy. ( “Analogy” refers to those instances when we say something is like something else.)
With this view, we tend to see things in a segregated, compartmentalized structure. For example, in grade school we learned our alphabet (a block of letters), our numbers (a block of numbers), how to spell (blocks of letters), etc.
However, if we apply what we ‘know’ about what goes on around us, we can choose to use a more appropriate analogy: we tend to learn in more of a spiral pattern than simple building blocks. In this spiral nature of learning, we acknowledge:
- just as the spiral expands from the center, our learning is continual and never-ending
- as we learn about one thing, we enable ourselves to learn more about something else, from a slightly – or dramatically – different perspective
- what we learn relates to what we’ve already learned, and what we’ve yet to learn, just as the spiral connects, or relates, one region to another
- the spiral more appropriately implies the continually-changing and more complex nature of ourselves and the world around us
We often overlook, forget, or ignore the fact that much – if not most – of what we’ve learned, we’ve learned from someone else. Parents, teachers, friends, authors, composers, historians, scientists, and countless others have provided each of us with a vast array of accumulated knowledge. This continual passing of knowledge from one generation to the next has facilitated the evolution of human progress.
Alfred Korzybski used the term time-binding to refer to this unique human capacity for picking up where prior generations left off, for building on the accumulated knowledge of our parents, and their parents, and their parents, etc.
He attributed this time-binding capability to the fact that we can use, manipulate, record, document, and exchange information through language. Language serves as the tool that enables and facilitates time-binding.
Time-binding implies much more than simply the ability to communicate. After all, we know that many animals can communicate on rudimentary levels. To Korzybski, time-binding denoted the critical distinction between humans and lower forms of animals.
Based on years of research, observation, and contemplation, Korzybski concluded that for humans to most efffectively bind time, we must use more appropriate language when communicating with others, and especially when we communicate with our own selves.
More appropriate language
Earlier we discussed the need to properly integrate what happens outside of our skin with the we way we internally process, interpret and think about those happenings within our nervous systems. Similarly, it makes sense that we strive to properly integrate, or structure, our verbal language to appropriately represent the non-verbal events and happenings which are NOT words.
The map… is NOT the territory
Just as a well-drawn map depicts, represents, illustrates, symbolizes, etc., an actual geographic area, so should our language properly reflect that which it refers to – that which is NOT language. However, we often confuse the words we use with those ‘things’ the words refer to. We confuse the word with the thing; we mistake the map as the territory. We do well to remember:
- The structure of our language (the map) should be similar to the structure we find in the non-verbal world of not words (the territory)
- Language is an aspect of human behavior; language does not exist outside of the individual humans who use words, sentences, statements, questions, etc.
- When we forget – or ignore – these simple facts, we inevitably create problems, stress, and misunderstandings – with others, and with ourselves.
(Some) Common language traps
- The subject/predicate grammar form misrepresents what we know goes on in the non-verbal world, e.g.“Roses are red”We have learned to think of ” red” as an attribute, or quality, in the rose itself. However, given our current understanding of how our nervous systems work, it’s more appropriate to think of ” red” as a product of our own individual eyes, brain and nervous system:”Roses appear red, to me”
- We tend to think in terms of opposites, or two-valued differences: right/wrong…black/white…good/bad…for/against…In the non-verbal world around us, however, we seldom encounter such clear-cut differences. Instead, we actually experience things, events, happenings, etc., along a spectrum, or a continuum, with lots of ‘grey area’ between the ends:<– more right ————– more wrong –>
<– more white ————– more black –>
<– more good —————– more bad –>
<– more for —————- more against–>
- We often confuse statements which sound like facts, as facts. Rather than maintain a sense of tentativeness and uncertainty, we’re quick to accept statements, comments, judgments, opinions, beliefs, etc., as facts or truth. This lack of discrimination, this disregarding of key differences, results in our acting and behaving as if we’re responding to facts, when we’re really responding based on assumptions, inferences, beliefs, etc.Professor Irving J. Lee (1909-1955) of Northwestern University, proposed a high standard for considering something as a “fact”, vs. an “inference”:
- Can be made only after an observation, experiences, etc.
- Can be made anytime, including the present and future
- Stays with what can be observed, does not speculate or presume
- Goes beyond what is observed, speculates as to intent, motivation, meaning, etc.
- As close to certainty as humanly possible – would you bet your life on it?
- Expressed in degrees of probability, potentiality, etc.
Try a simple test to see how well you distinguish facts from inferences.
- Although we would immediately deny it, most of us react to “word magic”. We believe that if there’s a name for something, or a word for something, then that something must be ‘real’. Otherwise … why would somebody have gone to the trouble to make up the word?This unrecognized, perhaps unconscious, belief in “word magic” has facilitated the continuation of myths, superstitions, hexes, curses, jinxes, etc. We talk about something as if it exists, and describe it in great detail with other words, and draw pictures of it, and then begin to act as if it exists.For example, you no doubt would say that unicorns are not real – they don’t exist. And yet – you know what one looks like, you’d clearly recognize one if you saw one. In fact, would you even be surprised if you saw one in a zoo? (There are even websites dedicated to them, like The Unicorn Friendship Center.)We also practice “word magic” when we respond to labels – especially those with political, religious, racial, ethnic or sexual implications – without regard for the context or intended meaning. Some people will immediately react with discomfort upon hearing, or reading, certain words: liberal, right-winger, pro-choice, nigger, spick, kike, Bible-thumper, faggot, dyke, mick, wop, bitch …We even respond physiologically to words. Have you ever eaten something unfamiliar, then had a negative reaction when you learned what it ‘was’?
Integrating and Summarizing Language Traps
- Language enables time-binding, allowing humans to build on the knowledge or prior generations.
- However, we need to be aware that languages are not perfect, but very imperfectly-developed human tools.
- The subject/predicate grammar form, in many cases, misrepresents what we know about the world around us.
- We tend to use either-or, two-valued terms describing polar opposites, instead of more appropriate relative terms.
- We often confuse inferences (assumptions, opinions, etc.) with facts, and create troubles when we act on inferences as if they were facts.
- Language allows us make up fantasies, yet talk about them as if they existed; we continue to pass along, and believe, superstitions, jinxes, myths, etc.
- We mistake the word as the thing, and react to the word as if it were the thing.
- We think of words themselves as having meaning, when it’s the speaker who attempts to convey meaning, and the listener who interprets and derives meaning.
A Scientific Approach to Thinking and Living
You probably don’t think of yourself as thinking like a scientist. But neither do you probably think of yourself as a Neanderthal, or even a medieval, thinker.
What’s the difference?
Scientists follow an approach, or method, which generally includes these types of behaviors:
- Observe, Collect Data
- Make a hypothesis, or assumption
- Test the hypothesis, challenge the assumptions
- Revise the hypothesis as appropriate
Repeat as necessary
The key is that, to most appropriately think and behave, according to what we know about what goes on around us at the close of the 20th century, we need to develop this scientific approach in our daily living. We need to observe before we conclude, test before we judge, challenge before we believe, and always be willing to revise our assumptions and beliefs as new observations and information warrant.
- What we perceive as what goes on ‘out there’ is not what goes on ‘out there’; we cannot perceive all of what is going on.
- What goes on ‘out there’ and what goes on ‘in here’ must be integrated as unique, ever-changing, never-repeating experiences by each individual.
- Each of us has our own ‘world view’, developed in the context of our previous experiences and environments. This ‘world view’ shapes how we react and respond to the events we encounter.
- What we ‘know’ is the result of structuring, relating, and revising our prior ‘knowledge’ with new experiences.
- Languages enable and facilitate our learning. Language is the means by which humans build on the achievements of prior generations – time-binding.
- However, language itself is not perfect; it allows structural errors which permit humans to distort and misinterpret what goes on.
- Effective language use is that which is similar in structure to the non-verbal referent to which it refers; “similar”, but not “the same as” – just as “the map is not the territory”.
- We need to become aware of and avoid: subject/predicate misrepre- sentations; either/or two-valued attitudes; mistaking inferences as facts; and “word magic”.
- We can apply a scientific approach in our daily life by continually challenging our assumptions and beliefs, and revising them as new facts and data warrant.