Approach life as a learning process and ask yourself “What do I believe?” The result will likely be a cascade of memories highlighting actions, thoughts, and experiences fitting a particular set of Virtues, or Values-in-action. The whole of this cascade will provide the basis for a rather nice structure or Narrative that you can offer to yourself or another to express who you believe yourself to be. This process also has a rather powerful effect of providing a sense of continuity and rightness about your life.
What it is not is a means of selecting what is True and Correct as if from a bin of differentiated facts.
Senses, reflexes, and learning mechanisms – this is what we start with, and it is quite a lot when you think about it. If we lacked any of these capabilities at birth, we would probably have trouble surviving.Aeon
Ever put together a puzzle? If so, have you tried doing so with the image-side turned down so you only have the bland cardboard cutouts to work with? The latter is a lot harder and typically only done by those whose desire to self-challenge is a lot higher than my own. But why is it harder? The shape of the pieces is the same and isn’t a puzzle simply about fitting them together? Alas, no, it isn’t, or at least the process isn’t that simple. Shapes matter, but so does the image we’re creating as a whole. Without consciously being aware, we have a pre-established guide of the larger image funneling the shapes to connect.
This whole-part strategy is a mechanism for weaving together disparate pieces of information. However, it’s just that, a mechanism or strategy that doesn’t create something but has to work with what is given. Thankfully life is a whole lot bigger than any one of our perceptions, so we can create new stories quite often and even ones that are different than those of another despite having been in the same place and time.
Ever expressed a memory of childhood to a sibling and had them dispute it? Had a moment of confusion when declaring one’s view of an event only to have a spouse, friend or colleague direct attention to a different view of that same event or a piece from it that wasn’t seen? Welcome to the puzzle-making that is experience.
How does this fit with the initial “Who am I?” question. Glad you ask. We generally only talk about “life experience” once we’ve gathered a certain amount of it. As a consequence we don’t appreciate what went into creating it, taking our perception as gospel or simply the “correct” view. Not much in life feels better than being right and we go out of our way to keep that feeling alive and well.
But here is what we are not born with: information, data, rules, software, knowledge, lexicons, representations, algorithms, programs, models, memories, images, processors, subroutines, encoders, decoders, symbols, or buffers – design elements that allow digital computers to behave somewhat intelligently. Not only are we not born with such things we also don’t develop them – ever.
We don’t store words or the rules that tell us how to manipulate them. We don’t create representations of visual stimuli, store them in a short-term memory buffer, and then transfer the representation into a long-term memory device. We don’t retrieve information or images or words from memory registers. Computers do all of these things, but organisms do not.Aeon
The above list of terms and quotes has to do with a common metaphor used for describing human cognition: a computer. While we as human beings are inevitably going to use metaphors in helping us understand ourselves, like any other content of thought we can get too caught up in it, losing the trees for the forest. Further, if we don’t question the assumptions of our metaphor we can run ourselves directly into a difficulty that otherwise could have been avoided.
Rather than looking at our minds as retrieval devices, consider instead a painter. We have the canvas of our biology, social structure, and relationships working with the paints of our senses, reflexes, and learning mechanisms. Information here is not like data in a machine, a part of reality to be retrieved from within it. Rather, what we consider information/facts are the resulting images pieced together through learning processes within our own personal history.
This is not a call for a post-fact society. Nor are we getting into the swamp of declaring every opinion is equal to any other. Such is more concerned with the functions of our learning and its application within different areas of life. We’re here simply considering the basic process of how we develop a worldview. And at that level, it is little wonder we love the feeling of rightness and continuity. Where we get into the weeds/swamp of difficulty is mistaking the end result of our thinking strategy with the strategy itself and declaring our personal perspective equivalent to the whole of reality itself. Talk about ego!
A Living Canvas
Where this leads us is to consider ourselves and our beliefs about the world differently. Rather than our beliefs being reflections of the world itself, they are attempts at piecing together the varieties of information our body/mind parses from within the world. Even we ourselves can be seen as paintings on a canvas, so long as we never forget there is still paint to be used and space to be painted upon.
When we stop and rest upon a single thought/idea and think we have no more room to move, the result is fusion, stagnation, and anxiety as we attempt to keep reality molded to only one form. Further, such fusion makes us incapable of seeing how those around us, including our loved ones, are moving along the same process we are. When they see differently, when they express themselves in an alternative fashion, they are not being contrary to a singular correct reality, but instead are working within it, just from a different vantage point.
Right and wrong still matter, but judging such doesn’t have to be the first and only means of interacting with another and ourselves. The vast majority of human behavior is an honest attempt at dealing with and working within a reality that we only see a part of and yet are commonly fooled into believing we see as a whole. When we consider that we ourselves, not just those we disagree with, are operating in this same learning process, we may find there’s a lot more space to move, understand and grow than we initially thought. Embrace life as a learning process, have compassion for the journey you share with all humanity.
Aeon. “Your brain does not process information and it is not a computer – Robert Epstein | Aeon Essays.” Aeon. 18 May 2016. Web. 14 Feb. 2018. <https://aeon.co/essays/your-brain-does-not-process-information-and-it-is-not-a-computer>