Understanding is an illusion mostly created by our brains. Color has no meaning until light is processed by our eyes and is sent on as signals to our brain in the back of our heads. Smell, taste, touch, hearing, all our senses are chemical electric impulses sent through our nerves to the brain that then interprets the blast of stimulus. Add into that a mix of hormones, particular genetics, habituated experiences and other vague sensations the brain uses to make all those signals into, what we perceive to be, our own reality. Of course, none of that would make any sense without the great store of unwritten, pre-written and digested tradition standing long before that instant of awareness we call the present.
We humans, we crave simplification. Most things are just too complicated to continually trace how we came to understand a thought. We have this consciousness thing going on and it ticks along like that old Timex watch in the commercial until something stops it. Mostly, we don’t think about that. The body is as much a process as a being. We have more organisms living in and on our bodies than our own cells. Reality is not as obvious as one would think.
What good does it do to understand how we “understand”? Will it bring me riches or get my boss off my back? Well maybe? Or, maybe it will just put me in a different place. If you have a different perspective, does it change your situation? It does! As you see yourself differently you feel different priorities. You make different decisions. You interpret life differently. You become more than you were before.
Scientist, mathematicians, philosophers and many everyday people are curious and look deeply into subjects that consume them. Then, we step back to take in an overall grasp of the subject. We create shortcuts to get a handle on the bigger picture. We use simpler terms to explain our findings to our friends and others who might have a passing interest. To hold their interest or sell them on an idea, we must keep it simple. We put our understanding in story form.
To create a good story you must simplify. You have to hold someone’s attention. There’s a much smaller audience for a detailed inquisition of the minutia and detail of any subject. Almost any idea can be brought to life with exciting, but somewhat simplified, characters that we all recognize. We love the hero and often the underdog. We love to watch the lovers and manipulators in a soap opera. We spend hours in front of a TV watching the news, action and game show to see who comes out on top or root for our hero. We need a frame of reference. That frame usually comes from our experience.
A big problem that overwhelms our society is that we to easily accept oversimplification. We overindulge in so many tempting treats like sugary or salty foods and adrenaline filled spectacle. While a certain amount of simplification can be helpful to explain, overindulging in simplification it can be deceptive, even destructive. A group of people can get so wrapped up in emotional oversimplification that they mis-simplify and become a lynch mob.
We can get so wrapped up in the story that the news creates, we often fail to distinguish between certain detail and accept some or all of the mis-simplification the story form provides. The story moves and flows. The story lulls our thoughts with a sort of rhythm like a hypnotic mist. The ability to control that storyline gives some degree of control over the person or group that consumes that story.
We often accept a good story before we accept cold facts because we get wrapped up in the image and melody of the story. A well told story is very appealing. Literature is filled with great stories because they are so satisfying. They can make us cry or laugh or wonder out loud. What is this magic and where does it manifest its power?
In this blog, I try to make my own sense of the story. I like to look between the cracks of our story and see what holds it all together. I try to understand “Understanding”.