Our lives are guided by expectations and by our knowledge so it’s important look at our ideas and see how good they are.
Our idea come in many forms. From the thoughts in our head to those we capture in images, words. The codified knowledge we find in science, art, philosophy, religion. They are the maps and models that surround us.
It’s here, the relationship between our ideas and reality, and our relationship to our ideas that problems arise, and where we suffer.
It was a Polish-American Alfred Korzybski who popularised the term that the ‘map is not the territory’, the concept, the image is not the thing. But what does this mean?
Like René Magritte and his painting, The Treachery of Images. ‘This is not a pipe’ is correct. It’s not a pipe, it’s a representation of a pipe. (Just as what you see on this screen is too).
Another example is the One and Three Chairs exhibit by the artist Joseph Kosuth. The exhibit had a real chair, a photo of a chair and a dictionary definition of a chair.
They the same yet different? Because the photo and the definition are about a chair, but they’re not the chair itself. This may seem trivial, but its a key point to understand.
Our representations, whether thoughts, words or diagrams point to real things, but the are not the things themselves or are not equal to them.
It’s contrary to the belief of Naive Realsim, That our senses or ideas give us the objects as they truly are. A direct in interrupted perception of objects. This idea is also called as direct realism, common sense realism, or perceptual realism. It hold to the idea there is an objective reality we have direct unaltered access too.
Concepts label reality
It’s related to him though experiment of the ‘Ship of Theseus.’ Imagine a ship, then start to replace the parts one by one. After each replacement, is the ship still the Ship of Theseus?
‘If it is supposed that the famous ship sailed by the hero Theseus in a great battle was kept in a harbour as a museum piece, and as the years went by some of the wooden parts began to rot and were replaced by new ones; then, after a century or so, every part had been replaced. The question then is if the “restored” ship is still the same object as the original.’FROM WIKIPEDIA
If all the parts have been replaced is it still the same ship? What this shows is there’s a difference between the reality which changes, and the identity we give it, which often persists.
The Ship of Theseus is related to the Sorites Paradox or the Paradox of the heap. If you remove the grains of sand, one by one, when does it no longer constitute a heap?
If you destroy the altimeter of a plane, does the plane fall out of the sky? If I burn a map of London, does London burn?
It’s called Mereology and is about the relationship of parts to the whole. It is also about identity, what that means and how it works.
The key points is our ideas about reality are not reality but abstractions of reality. you might called it the Pixelation of reality. A pixelated image is simpler than the reality it depicts.
The issue here is when you simplify reality, errors can creep in, like compression artefacts in a digital image.
Our minds have to cut corners and use heuristics. We mistake the simple ideas and models to represent reality.
Language is not a set of things but a collection of boundaries. In language, words have definitions, and definitions are boundaries. We label a cat a cat because we can point out features that it’s not a dog.
A closer examination shows where these boundaries are.
But it gets complicated when you l closer. Is a cat still a cat if it loses one leg? Are you still you if you lose a leg?
We agree upon boundaries; they’re a consensus about what a cat is.
It’s what forms language, its structure and rules, but there are different ways we describe reality, different paces to put these rules.
For example, there is a UK system, a EU system, a US system, and others for shoe sizes.
If I were to ask what’s the size of a shoe, I could get different answers. But to ask ‘which one is truth?’ would be a meaningless question. Each one chops the reality up into different sections?
The critical point to take away here is our idea even the very thoughts we have are not reality but a mental image that’s simpler than reality.
Think of a cat, its shape or form, now think of its colour; now try to imagine every follicle of fur and muscle. It can’t be done; we can’t hold all that in our minds. The image/definition of a cat is a superficial concept of a real cat.
Think of timezones on an atlas, yet looking at the earth from orbit, where do you see these zones or political boundaries of countries? There is none.
We take this interconnected reality and chop it up into pieces. Then we mistakenly think the artificial chopped map is the original reality. This is naïve realism. The truth is the Map is but a simplified abstraction of reality not reality itself. The map point towards reality but doesn’t encompass or define it.
Our minds have limits, so we have to simplify. The big problem occurs when we forget this truth, when we forget our maps are not the territory. It can lead to the mistake of Hypostasis, of thinking our maps are reality, our ideas are accurate. Grasping for the basis or bedrock to existence, when there’s no evidence there is.