The danger of names

Once we name something we largely stop seeing it. We deal with the idea, concept or mental model as if it were the real thing and not a simplification, usually a very limited model of reality.

In evolutionary terms our big brains (when compared to other animals) are an expensive luxury. Our brains account for about 2% of our body weight and between 20% and 25% of our energy budget and about the same for our oxygen intake. Another interesting fact is that the brains of the modern homo sapiens (nowadays) is smaller than the brains of our ancestors 50,000 years ago. This fact for many people is counter-intuitive. What this means, nobody can definitively say.

Our brains are plastic which means that they respond and adapt to stimuli. Any significant activity that you repeat will change your brain.

There is a constant evolutionary pressure for efficiency; that is to say, to make the best possible use of resources. One example of this is our use of mental models, of perceptions. Our rational mind does not deal in direct experience of the physical world but rather it works with  our perception, our models of the physical world. The capacity of the rational mind to do this is marvellous; science, technology and industry would simply not exist if it were not for this characteristic of our brains. Neither of course would religion.

As wonderful as this capacity to conceptualise is, it is also a double-edged sword. It might be a very useful and more energy-efficient way of managing our relationship with the physical world, but there is a problem: once we name something we largely stop seeing it. We deal with the idea, concept or mental model as if it were the real thing and not a simplification, usually a very limited model of reality.

We also fall into the trap of confusing knowing the name with real understanding. Knowing the name is really a small and largely insignificant part of the whole, just the visible part of the iceberg. This can be comical in its limitations.

For young people their perception of their parents is limited to a  kind of two dimensional cardboard cut-out “mum” and “dad”. They cannot see the lives their parents have lead, their story, their road, their fear, hopes or experience; they are simply “mum” and “dad”.

Also anyone who really understands this process of our mental models can hack it, and create what the philosopher Dan Dennett called parasitic ideas.

We see this for example in politics where we stop seeing others as real people with lives, hopes, fears, histories a mixture of good and not-so-good traits. Instead, we are brainwashed with parasitic ideas to perceive “left” and “right”; good guys and bad guys. Many absurdly believe that they somehow have an exclusive right or connection to the “truth” with a capital T. Others who don’t share their view or vision view are less than them, less worthy humans or not human at all.   De-humanising is always the first step to atrocity, to justifying genocide. The reality is that we all have so much more in common than we have differences. We all want to be happy and not suffer. This is true regardless of your ethnicity, religion, nationality or politics.

If you and I want the world to be a better place for us, our children and grandchildren then we must wake up and see. We need to see the world, the people not just the names and labels which only serve to make us more stupid and more blind.

We must relate to our lives and relationships mindfully, with open curiosity, a sense of kindness, never taking ourselves too seriously. When we really see the miracle of being here, now, alive, with the capacity to appreciate, we will naturally feel gratitude. We must stop seeing things as black and white, monochrome, stop believing that somehow we or our group have an exclusive connection to the “truth”. Instead, to be able to hold any point of view lightly and be prepared to change when the evidence changes; to be guided by kindness and compassion, rather than the need to be right; to see what we have in common, which is always more than our differences; to overcome the persistent illusion of separation. Every single one of us has this capacity; we just have to align it with our intention.

I wish you peace, health and happiness from Finca las Bardas.


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