How we construct our realities: # 4

Posted on October 5, 2011

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In the previous three posts we’ve explored Hawking’s proposal that since we lack direct access to ‘reality’ we construct it out of the  endless  flow of light and sound waves with the aid of models (or brain networks we call axioms,  theories, paradigms, beliefs, biases, hunches.) We described how Peter acquired two types of models: one neat and tidy and another a messy, rough and tumble. The first one  (mathematics) used to construct artificial, ‘man-made’ realities is a game played with numbers following certain rules or axioms. Since we make up the rules and the players we have high confidence in the artificial realities we create, it’s the closest we come to creating ‘truth’  – an artificial truth since we create the rules. Using the second model, the messy one – typified by history and literature – we rely upon it  to construct ‘realities’ out of perpetual flow of light and sound waves impinging on our fallible senses,  processed by our limited capacity brains. Unlike mathematics we don’t control all the rules or the players, as we do in math, so each of us create our own realities, so we end up with personal, and special interest group, and cultural realities – all cut down to mind size to fit our limited capacity brains, to fit out model, to fit our beliefs and biases. Such simplifications or tidying enables us to maintain confidence in many of our fallible decisions (e.g., political and religious biases), and fluctuating confidence in others (e.g., mates, career, economy, market, doctor, dentist, machanic, etc.)

Just as we use arithmetic, algebra and calculus as models to create mathematical realities, we use various ‘isms’ (Republicanism, feminism, communism, capitalism, Freudianism, Protestantism, Catholicism, etc.,) as models to create our stable and plastic personal  ‘realities’.

When Peter joins the navy he finds that it’s formal  rules and regulations are like mathematics, instead of dealing with brainless numbers, they presume that you’re dealing with brainless bipeds and predictable situations. The navy adopts the posture that their rules and regulations provides the novice officer with ways to manage the uncertain future with confidence. Which is helpful if your on land marching around the parade square, but not so  useful if you’re at sea, in rough weather, chasing submarines and a wallet goes missing on one of the lower decks.  Then suspicion and  uncertainty spread.  The assumption of trust that underlies the social stability of the mess deck  dissolves, the quality of performance of routine and emergency duties suffers. Senior officers berate junior officers, who berate each other and the crew.  As the uncertainty spreads old gripes are recalled and fuel further and widespread deterioration in performance. The transformation from a functional warship into a dysfunctional social network triggered by a misplaced wallet on the lower deck, which triggers to a loss  of trust in the shared model of reality of the ship’s company.

Damage-control anger

As stress spreads we see a desperate search for certainty, for trusted cognitive or behavioral simplifications ranging from prayer to rituals to temper tantrums, or failing those damage-control, certainty-generating models or ‘solutions’ we see random behavior and personal breakdowns.

Peter’s damage control models follow a sequence of anger – letting off steam – followed by action, relevant (organizing yet another search for the wallet) or otherwise ( organizing a life-boat drill or actively joining someone elses hyperactivity.)  So when familiar models fail to construct a trusted reality his usual damage control model (anger-action) takes over.

Peter discovers new models of managing uncertainty. While naval officers are not allowed to booze up at sea, many – including Peter – made up for in port. A simple method of geneating models which radically reduce complexity and generate certainty often dysfunctional certainty. Falling in love also triggers models geneating realities in which Peter had high confidence, at least for a while…..

Damage conrol anger: flickr.com/photos/pimwarnars/349420435

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Posted in: Sciencing