Sunday, November 18, 2012

Reality Testing

Reality Testing is one of the Four Pillars of Triology.

Reality is the universe outside your own consciousness that existed before you arrived and will persist after you leave. Reality consists of all the objects and processes of Planet Earth, the behavior of others and even the processes of your own mind and body, which don't always behave as you expect them to. To get what you want out of life, you have to actively explore, dissect and monitor reality to determine how it really works. Theory alone is not enough and is bound to lead you astray if you don't constantly test it in the field.

A central tenet of Triology is that you have to aggressively explore reality, using it to continuously hone your theories. Even if you don't know what to do with your life, exploring reality is a useful endeavor in itself that might eventually lead to a mission. Whenever possible, you should step out of your comfort zone, travel, conduct experiments and personally dissect things that don't match your expectations. Get your fingers dirty. Don't think you understand something because you read a book about it or researched it on the internet. Those are only uncorrelated facts. You understand how the facts fit together only by having direct personal experience in the environment in question.

This all may sound obvious, but humans have a built-in bias against reality. The usually prefer self-serving theories that don't match the facts. They would rather stay at home than explore. They prefer facile political theories over actual experience. Reality testing is an acquired skill that we have to consciously cultivate in ourselves. It doesn't always come naturally.

Our preference for fantasy started in our childhood, which was an artificial world created by our parents for our own protection. If we were lucky, our childhood universe seemed to truly care about us. When we wished for something (and expressed our wishes to our parents) those wishes often came true. There was a semblance of justice in our world: rewards when we were good and punishments when we were bad. We didn't have to worry much about real-world economics—like where our food and shelter was coming from—because our parents took care of that. We were benevolently protected from the harsher realities of the world so we had a chance to grow. The inevitable downside, however, is we were poorly prepared for "real" reality outside the fantasy bubble.

The unprotected reality of the outside world is radically different than our childhood universe. The brutal fact is, reality doesn't care about us. It follows its own rules and goes its own way regardless of how we feel about it or what our wishes are. Take gravity. It obeys a set of laws that you have no personal influence over. You can either learn how gravity works and work within its restrictions, or you can flaunt gravity and insist that it conform to your own desires. If believe with all your heart that you can fly, you may climb to the top of a tall building and jump off, but who do you suppose is going to win—you or gravity? The belief in your heart doesn't change the laws of gravity. The sad fact is, gravity doesn't care about your plans or dreams. It's not going to modify itself one iota for you. There is no justice to gravity, no karma or spiritual link between us and it. Gravity does whatever it is already programmed for, and it is your job to figure out the program or suffer the consequences.

All of reality is like that. It has a structure of its own which is indifferent to your needs. You can sometimes get gravity to do what you want, but only by taking the initiative to explore and understand it then adjust your own behavior accordingly. Don't expect reality to coddle you like your parents did. You have to coddle it.

Of course, reality could be an illusion, some sort of virtual-reality projection pumped directly into our brain, like in The Matrix. Indeed, we don't know for a fact that reality is real, but for now it is the best reality we have, so we might as well work with it. If you defy gravity and fall flat on your face, it sure seems to hurt, and that's all we need to know to respect it. Even if reality is an illusion, it's a damn good one, far better than any computer stimulation. You can spend your whole life exploring reality—as some of us do—and still only scratch the surface of its many avenues and nuances. The most amazing thing about reality is that no matter what bizarre new thing you discover, it always turns out of be consistent with the rest of reality—an advanced feature you won't find in any other software program.

Reality is big, really big, much bigger than you can possibly hold in your head. Instead of trying to process it all at once, we construct theories about reality and use those theories to guide our behavior. Theories are handy little pocket-size maps of reality that lack detail but give you an overview of the big picture. Reality is all the roads, alleys, buildings and details of a city. A theory of reality is a map showing you just the main streets. The map helps you get from Point A to Point B by distilling certain aspects of reality into a compact and useful form.

Life is the process of constructing theories, exercising them, then reaping the consequences. Whenever you take an action in the real world, you are exercising a theory, a certain set of assumptions about what you want and what the world can give you. Reality then responds to your action by giving you what you expect or something different. If reality gives you something unexpected, it's a good sign you need to modify your theory. This is part of a healthy scientific cycle: create a theory, test it, then discard or fine-tune your theory based on the results. Follow this simple formula, and you should construct better theories over time, ones that yield more of the results you want and fewer surprises.

Where humans go wrong is they become invested in their theories and refuse to change them when reality doesn't cooperate. They ignore the feedback reality is sending them (denial) or find some other way or evade the information, perhaps by withdrawing from reality altogether.

Let's say you believe you can fly. That's your theory, based on a childish wish. You test your theory by jumping off a small ledge while waving your arms frantically, but of course you crash to earth. Your pain suggests the theory isn't working, and an intelligent person might conclude that the theory needs to be scrapped altogether, but that's not always the way people work. Some might conclude that the fault lies in the ledge. It's not high enough! These people try higher cliffs and get hurt even worse, but they still won't give up their theory. They refuse to modify their theory in the natural way in response to reality's messages.

Why would anyone engage in such counterproductive and self-destructive behavior? The simple answer: investment. If you have already announced to everyone that you can fly, have planned your future on it and even sold tickets to your future flying demonstrations, you are emotionally invested in your theory and won't give it up easily. If you accept the message reality is sending you, then you also have to accept the loss of your past investment. You would have to endure some form of regret or damage to ego, which are the hardest things for humans to accept.

There is no end to the psychological gymnastics people will engage in to avoid regret or loss of face. In one form or another, this usually involves suppressing the messages reality is sending us. We would all prefer to kill the messenger rather than receiving an unpleasant message that threatens our invested theories.

Reality testing is a pact with yourself that you are not going to let your theories stand in the way of data. We need theories to survive, but reality is the ultimate authority and must be respected. To avoid becoming trapped in self-destructive theories, we must aggressively pursue reality. Instead of turning away from potentially disturbing data, we must turn toward it and track it down. Whenever you have some free time, you should be actively exploring the world, especially into territory that initially makes you uncomfortable. Don't retread the same old ground you already feel comfortable in, because that won't teach you anything.

Or you can just stay home. Frankly, this is the default human condition. People like to repeat the same behavior over and over because this makes it harder for bad news to intrude. If you never explore the outside world, or do it only in a predetermined way, there is less opportunity for your theories to be disproved.

Avoiding reality's messages feels more comfortable in the short term, but it sets you up for disaster in the long run, because one way or another reality always wins.

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