We live in a built environment where how we act is defined by our sense of who we are in relation to the system we have collectively created. As this system is relatively constant it has a sense of normalcy enabling us to act in ways that consistently meet our expectations. For example, we turn on a faucet and water comes out. It is the nature of cognition that it requires consistent normalcy to be able to function. This functional field or map is what we call reality.
Our brains are wired to build and then work from a learned map of “reality” vs. the genetically hard-wired map of our reptilian ancestors. Having a learned map provides us with a relatively vast capacity to adapt, but also lengthens childhood development to allow us to build a working model of the world from an initially amorphous neural network (play). By the age of 8, this network – our working reality (our library of the known) imprints. How safe we feel, and how freely we operate in the world correlates tightly with how well what we experience synchronizes with our working framework of “what is real.”
Embedded in this neural network, and essential for its success, is a directive to need to trust that our sense of reality is real. This impulse to trust is so intrinsic that it is almost impossible to shake the experience of living in a “real” world. An example outside our waking experience which we commonly experience is the sensation that what we experience in a dream is real. Without this sense of reality, the processing we are undertaking by dreaming would not be effective. Without this same precept active in our waking experience we would struggle to function in our daily lives. It is logical that our minds need to operate in this manner to effectively function, but this trust in the realness of our perceptions also embeds an implicit bias.
The instinct to trust (to know) and the experience of feeling safe are tightly correlated. However, upon close examination, it becomes apparent that the known world which we are trusting, our “Operating System,” reflects our “built environment.” Not long ago, this built environment changed slowly over generations fostering stable, community-wide consensual realities. Now the pace of change of our built environment transforms so rapidly that the difference in world views between age groups separated by less than ten years is quite striking. What all of these groups have in common is their underlying belief and trust that their differing perceptions of reality are “real.”
Accepting that “reality” is arbitrary is inevitably quite distressing, and until one is ready to face this rational insight head-on, much energy is impulsively invested in reaffirming the sense of realness of one’s reality. The weirdness of our politics and consumer culture can be better understood when viewed as efforts to validate and protect the instinctual trust with which we shield our model of what we know and the threat we experience when that model is challenged. Once one settles on the idea that our experience of reality is a map which we use to navigate the built environment, we become liberated from operating exclusively within that maps limitations. The freedom that liberation enables offers new possibilities for human evolution beyond the limited options defined by one’s perceived reality.
Philosophy and religion are attempts to open a path forward from this evolutionary dead-end of self (ego) reinforcement. However, the temptation to embed these insights into a framework that establishes them as real or true, thereby making them palatable as an update for our map of reality, constrains their efficacy. By accepting that our compulsion to make and protect a map of reality is simply a powerful emotional tool enabling us to successfully navigate our surroundings (which we inherited from our Mammalian ancestors), we can transcend rational thought and directly experience the intent of the great philosophical and religious writings – unencumbered by the impulse to evaluate those insights against our library of the known.
The great mystery is the nature of The Force of Life. It is perhaps beyond our rational limitations to understand this force, even though we experience it continually through the course of our lives. However, once this force has been witnessed experientially it becomes possible to choose to act as its agent, creatively expressing its foundational mandates to live and extend. It seems likely that human evolution inevitably will move in this direction of spiritual actualization, acting as agents for our most essential quality – that we are living beings, which exist as an attribute of the community of living things that have inhabited this planet for over three billion years.