Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Map Is Not the Territory

The map is not the territory, Alfred Korzybski wrote in 1922. We know this, but forget. The words--the maps we use are not the same as the feelings, facts and phenomena we want them to represent. As I wrote yesterday, words are but symbols of symbols, maps that are only rough approximations of the territory we want them to represent. We know this. Yet we still act as if the map is the territory, that our words are accurate descriptors.


We also know that meanings are in people, that the thing you see when you see the word ‘table’ is probably not the thing I see when I hear the word table. These two phenomena: the map is not the territory and meanings are in people, create a lot of our human conflicts, ineffectiveness and inefficiencies.  If we could stay aware of these two phenomena, be more careful and precise with our choice of words, then we would have less conflict, and be more effective and efficient.


One way to do this is to treat our beliefs and words as theories and hypotheses the way scientists understand theories and hypotheses as “more or less informed assumptions or inferences we make about what’s going on” both within and outside us, not as facts, not as Truth, but merely our perceptions and ideas about Truth, perceptions and ideas colored by our biases – cultural, religious, political and familial. “You are never upset for the reason you think,” The Course says.


Accepting our beliefs and words as theories and hypotheses about what’s going on internally and externally, means we are more open to corrections, more prepared to make adjustments in the light of new information. We are not as devastated and disappointed when our plans and expectations are not met.  When our theories and hypotheses are not confirmed we can build new ones more aligned with what’s really going on internally and externally. Accepting our beliefs and words as theories and hypotheses means we don’t always have to be right and can avoid the stress of always having to be right. We can allow life and love to flow thru us as they will, showing us wonders our limited thinking denied and kept from us. We can be expansive, creative and innovative, and experience much less fear, lack and limitation.


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