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Moving and Self-Hosting

Hello everyone, I have made the decision to move lifeweavings.org to a self-hosting service. As one consequence, many of the post links no longer work. However, all of the material you’ve come to enjoy is still available at the website. In fact, it’s all new and improved including the introduction of my podcast, Humanity’s Values, being embedded in the site itself. As I hope you do, if you want to continue receiving updates about new posts, please sign-up at the new site. Also, if you feel like dropping a note my way, you can do that as well.

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The red pill of moral psychology

Musings about morality typically involve the assumption of a particular social/individual story. This narrative cuts out pieces of a broader reality to provide support for itself and perpetuate its assumed truth. This is where labels come in, a form of cognitive short-hand that hides a great deal of questions and the answers to them which are only at times fully explored by someone.

Are we primarily individualistic or social? Does morality require relationships to function properly? Which Values are the most important and who gets to decide?

Whether conservative or liberal, alt-right or progressive, the answers to these and other questions rarely reach the level of dialogue and reflective inquiry. Actively engaging in differing perspectives helps flesh out our own ideas even as doing so will showcase where we have room to grow and change.

Pragmatic Education

Reading moral psychology, in particular Jonathan Haidt’s works The Righteous Mind, The Happiness Hypothesis and Heterodox Academy, is mind-opening.

happiness

In The Matrix, Neo has a choice: take a red pill, disconnect from the Matrix and dissolve the illusion, or take the blue pill, and return to his comforting delusions. Moral psychology is a red pill. It teaches us that many worldviews exist, and helps us see other moral matrices from our own.

blueredpillThe matrix differs in the west and the east

Haidt proposes that all cultures construct their moral matrices on shared cognitive foundations. He suggests that six shared moral ‘receptors’ are care, fairness, liberty, authority, loyalty and sanctity. Haidt suggests that progressives tend to value care, fairness and liberty over authority, loyalty and tradition, and that this is the progressive narrative:

Once, humans suffered from oppression, inequality and exploitation. But people struggled for autonomy, equality and…

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Moving Past the Limitation of Sin

Being lost is not seeing the paths all around because of looking for the ‘right’ one. We encourage freedom of imagination in our kids because we want them to not get locked into bad habits. We entreat each other to think outside the box when confronted with adversity and seemingly insurmountable struggles. Corporations hire coaches and gurus to help make the stagnant, movable again. Our very existence as a species is due to the variations possible within the seeming limitations of genetics. Life changes, expands and manifests in new ways precisely because it is not caught in a singular way of being.

As in life, so then in each and every human being. Living is ever-expansive because our potential is not limited by any single identity or story of who we are. Being trapped, stagnant, and confined is what occurs when we get locked into a narrow way of visioning who we are and therefore what we are capable of achieving. This is true of ourselves and, given the interconnectedness of relational reality, of those we look upon.

Sin, within the framework of conservative fundamentalist religious traditions, is a way of framing humanity within a restricted vision. It is a declaration that the wholeness of humanity is found within a story of depraved, immoral and inherently self-serving boundaries. It removes intent and will, replacing it with an assumed knowledge of what lies beneath or at the core of a person. Behavior ceases to be a window into the multiplicity of human rationale, of the varied reasons, thoughts and stories of justification, and becomes an empty expanse unworthy of exploration. Why did the person do what they did? Well, we can look at what they say, but really it’s this thing called sin, the insurmountable evil at the heart of humanity.

The problem of sin is not simply that it’s a false idea, but that it separates us from looking at our potential. Our varied lives of layered thought and emotion become lies and obfuscations hiding us from our ‘true selves.’ This process of singular-visioning inexorably leads to shame and doubt, shame of who we are and doubt about our capacity for change and growth. Unfortunately this process is not limited to the notion of sin, it occurs any time we select a rationale for our behavior, separate it from the interactional and reciprocal reality of our relational lives, and make it the unalterable core of who we are.

library-of-knowledgeHow often have any of us faced failure and in the midst of defeat, callously declared “I’m just a loser” or “this is just who I am” or “I’m only ever going to be this way”? We may not be thinking of sin, but we are most certainly embarking on a similar path of limitation. Similarly, when we break someone else’s behavior down to a singular reason, we are artificially limiting our understanding of their humanity.

By selecting merely one potential rationale for our decision-making, we have cut ourselves off from the complexity that is our story-making, the formation of our identities. Instead of the multiple interconnected layers of a full life, we are crushed beneath the weight of simplicity and the desire to forge a clear direction forward. This process is not concerned with health, well-being or truth; it is a means of razing the trees to the ground to save the perceived forest.

Every one of us makes decisions based on a variety of factors, explicit and implicit, historical and future-projected, conscious and unconscious. Further, none of us are immune to prejudice, bias, appeal to authority and the myriad of other emotive-logical cognitive failings. To be called out for one stone out of place and have the whole of our identity-structures or personal narratives defined by it is to place the need for righteous judgment above and beyond that of humanistic understanding.

The determination of right and wrong does not occur starting from the assumed superiority of a singular position. This is where culture wars and the relationship fights we later feel ashamed for having gotten into, begin from. An understanding of ourselves and others begins where morality does, within the relational network that is our humanity. Individual actions can still be judged, but they need not overshadow the whole of that person, nor should they become the main or only lens through which we see ourselves and one another.We do not walk the path of understanding those around us if we begin and end with what we disagree with. Separation only furthers itself, it does not rejoin what was sundered.

Growth along the scale of human progress is a waltz between what we believe ourselves capable of being and the depth and quality of the relationships we live our lives through, it is not a sprint to a pre-determined goal. Dwelling in the space of potential means identifying the infliction of pain and move to reduce it by stretching the bounds of our empathy through touching the strands that bind us together.

 

© David Teachout

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Identity Trumps Decency

America’s most powerful social product may very well be that of the politicized identity. Pick a label, shove the entirety of a person into it, then use this narrow caricature to condemn,  belittle, dismiss, celebrate and worship, depending on whether you like or don’t like said label. Any attempt at bringing up dialogue, suggesting that a person is more than any singular act or name, is met with varying degrees of disgust and declarations of not being a true ‘x.’ What that ‘x’ is inevitably centers upon the easiest and quickest way to differentiate that person as other, as different. Don’t agree with me? Well, it must mean you’re not a true Christian, Atheist, Liberal, Conservative, Democrat, Republican, Jew, Muslim, etc. The result of this slicing up of our humanity is a bloody floor littered with the ruins of potential conversations, personal growth and democracy.

Disagreement is inevitable, vilification is not. For every person who has an opinion that is inaccurate, that very same person has one that is/was true. Every person who has lied, cheated, or said something foul, that very same person has likely loved, cherished and said something supportive. We are amazingly capable of calling out our own moral failures as blips on the channel of our right-ness and dismissing the other person’s moral failings as intrinsic and unchanging qualities of their programming. Our humanity, the shared reality of what it is to be a human being, provides us the space to be both liar and saint, villain and hero, often within the same episode of our lives. The focus on one over another is not a sign of progress, it is promoting the myth of self-righteous authoritarianism.

What each of us cares about is not so different than anyone else. Our Values are universal, the behavior we use to manifest them is most certainly not. How a person gets from a Value to a Behavior is through their perspective/worldview. Simplistic labeling moves us right past what we have in common as human beings and places the entirety of our emphasis on a single sliver of behavior among the vast panoply of human life.

Labeling and calling names is empowering, it’s why we do it. If we can define the entirety of a person by a single biological fact, behavior, or idea then that person no longer has the power to step outside, in our eyes, of what we have proscribed for them. By this limitation we need never consider what role any of our actions may have had in their life or humbly submit ourselves to the realization that had our own lives been different we may be acting or voicing the opinions which we are currently condemning.

Beginning with what we have in common is not about dismissing the very real harm done through bigotry, hate and fear. What it does is remove the automatic association between what we care about and our behavior. Doing so recognizes that all of us act on our interests and for the promotion of what we care about, while also allowing for disagreement on the means. This keeps open the potential for change, for even the subtlest of shifts in worldview, because if two or more people care about the same thing and show it differently, then there is undoubtedly more ways of doing so, ways that are less destructive and more communal. A focus on what we do not have in common leads only to continued separation and various forms of open warfare.

Our shared humanity does not call us to agree about everything or to ignore pain and suffering. What it does is remind us that we are still connected to one another despite our disagreements and that one person’s pain and suffering can exist even as another’s does as well. Our growth as individuals and as a species will be based not on who is ‘true’ to a label, but upon whether we’re able to break free of the constraints such names make upon our behavior.

 

© David Teachout

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A Need to Connect

“‘I want to help people’ is an easy answer when asked about pursuing a career in counseling, but masks an underlying uncertainty as to what is in store for that journey. It’s often accompanied by some fairy-tale vision of deep conversations with clients, plumbing the depths of the human psyche and through the sheer power of active listening and providing a safe space, revelations will occur with immediately powerful behavioral changes. Please trust me when I say that the previous sentence is not meant as sarcastic. Rather, it is an acknowledgement of the very real and very raw emotional need of the calling to therapy. Fantasy is not always about avoidance, sometimes it is a representation of a primal desire. For the counselor/therapist, that need/desire is to search out and explore the myriad examples of a shared humanity.”

For more, check out ACA Blog

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Suppressing Sexuality to Appease Authority

Richard Feynman is reported to have stated: “Science is a lot like sex. Sometimes something useful comes of it, but that’s not the reason we’re doing it.” If we reverse the relationship a bit and see sex as rather like science, then sex becomes this powerful force behind much of humanity’s progress, a process full of testing, exploration and anxious inquiry, with a great many people passionately attempting to define just what is and is not appropriate within its boundaries.

The difficulty with determining the boundaries of human sexuality is, like many questions of deep social impact, an issue concerned with where one begins to ask. Is there an open curiosity, based on the humility of uncertain knowledge and the acknowledgement that our species and the societies it has created are a constantly evolving organism? Or is there a demand for rigidity, of appealing to a set standard assumed from the start so that even the questions about sexuality become constrained?

 

Respect My Authority

The demand for rigidity is an attempt at avoiding chaos. Certainly, what constitutes chaos is a personal and/or group determination, but the desire to have answers, to have a direction for one’s behavior, is a deep need nobody is ever fully removed from. Only the degree of that need changes. In every decision made there is an empowering sense of having done the right thing, our minds providing a sense of personal authority to avoid the sometimes debilitating practice of skepticism and doubt. That process is the same for authoritarianism, just writ large into the foundation of a worldview.

To explore further, we can look at the definition provided by Peterson and Zurbriggen (2010):

“Those scoring high on authoritarianism (1) adhere strongly to conventional moral values, (2) are submissive to established authorities, and (3) are willing to aggress against others if they are perceived as unconventional or threatening.”
When people talk of tribalism, it is authoritarianism that is often what is in mind. Differences are substantially focused upon because only in determining difference can the boundaries of what is right and wrong be kept rigid so that authority can direct its wrath against the unfaithful. While what makes a difference worth focusing on is in the eye of the beholder, some are easier to locate than others, particularly when they seem to intuitively possess inherent lines of separation. Like biology.
“Biological sex is a commonly used way to categorize people into two primary groups: women and men, or girls and boys (Hare-Mustin& Marecek, 1988). Definitions of female and male are often organized around gender-specific mutually exclusive characteristics for women (e.g., submissive, emotional, and dependent) and men (e.g., dominant, stoic, and independent). This kind of rigidity in categorization and the creation of distinctions are characteristic of authoritarian thinking.” (Peterson & Zurbriggen, 2010)
Love's_PassingThis tendency to use biology to ascribe immutable social characteristics does not belong to only one ideology. Every time we hear “boys will be boys” or “that’s not lady-like,” the basis is an authoritarian view based on biology. However, also we hear it when the phrase is “he/she had no choice in which gender they’re attracted to” and/or “you can’t judge them for their behavior, they don’t share our education or values.” The basis for both is an authoritarian declaration based on the supposed inevitable and simplistic causal relationship between biology and action.
Once rigidity occurs in thought, it’s food for authority to latch on and create boundaries, with those who belong on one side and those who don’t on the other. Unfortunately, with the human tendency to combine every belief with a feeling of rightness, one side will only use examples from the other to condemn and dismiss, instead of exploring the universal problem that both are perpetuating.

Blaming Religion Is Unhelpful and Too Simple

Religion is an easy scapegoat for any particular or global problem because of its ubiquity. Everywhere one looks there’s some behavior, in word and/or deed, being connected to religious ideology of some kind. For those looking for a simple relationship, there’s no need to go further, and therefore no need to question why everyone who declares themselves an adherent of a particular religion doesn’t act in exactly the same way. Thankfully some researchers have recognized the limitation of using ‘religion’ as a catch-all term and have begun parsing out the variations in affiliation to find the nuances of connecting belief and behavioral tendencies.

To begin:

“Differences in intercourse behavior were largely found between nonreligious women compared to women from moderate to conservative affiliations (e.g., Jewish, Monotheist Christian, and Fundamentalist participants). These findings suggest that a lack of religious belief may dispose women to engage in more unrestricted premarital intercourse behavior because they are less likely to model their sexual activity after dictates of religious doctrine. In contrast, no significant affiliation differences in any sexual behaviors were found in men.” (Farmer, Trapnell, & Meston, 2008)

Two things here. One, sexual activity is referred to as a modeling activity, a recognition that what is considered sexual is not simply a matter of biology but what has been determined by the group one belongs to. Two, while the differences existed with women, they disappeared with men, meaning regardless of the authority structures, men’s behavior was less tied to them, perhaps because they’re the ones setting up such standards.

Further:

“In women, fundamentalism and spirituality were consistently negatively correlated with multiple forms of sexual behavior, and paranormal religiosity showed a small but consistent positive correlation with female sexual behavior.” (Farmer, Trapnell, & Meston, 2008)

Again, two things. One, fundamentalism, which has a greater degree of authoritarian-like thinking, results in a reduction in the forms of sexual behavior exhibited by women. Two, for those women interested in the merely paranormal, the opposite occurred. Considering that the paranormal encompass a wide array of beliefs, it is little surprise that an authoritarian structure is reduced, leading to a more open appreciation of sexuality.

The entire study is well worth more fully exploring, but fundamentally it should be recognized that:

“One of the clearest conclusions that can be formulated from the current study is that the way in which religiosity is defined will determine how the relation between religion and sexual behavior is characterized.” (Farmer, Trapnell, & Meston, 2008)

Sexuality is More than Behavior

The relationship between authority and sexuality is not, as some would like to paint, a simple matter of societal control. Societal structures and organizations are made up of individuals. As such, the authority and sexuality is often a matter of organizing the behavioral parameters between individual sexual relationships.

“Women and men higher in authoritarianism also reported beliefs consistent with an adversarial model of sexual interactions. In romantic or sexual situations, the ‘opposite sex’ is considered almost as an enemy, one with his or her own strategies, goals, and tactics, one who should not be trusted. This is consistent with authoritarian intolerance of ambiguity.” (Peterson & Zurbriggen, 2010)

male-and-female-brains

Notice that this isn’t merely a male point of view, but a particular frame for adjusting one’s behavior and guiding perception of another’s actions. The ‘war of the sexes’ that continues to be the focus of too much media programming is a direct social result. While it’s debatable whether there’s anything inherently wrong with such thinking, there are consequences which bear being aware of.

An open, skeptical, uncertain frame based on a recognition of the evolution of self-concepts and social mores, will bring consequences of uncertainty and lack of clear boundaries when it is applied. A grounded, structured, and clearly marked authoritarian frame brings easy hierarchy to relationships and obvious (to those who adhere to this) boundaries for what behavior is acceptable. As in the starting ground for discussing sexuality, the beginning frame sets the tone of the inquiry and the parameters of the questions to be asked. However, there need not be a singular frame of reference, certainly not one that ignores social context.

Where the authoritarian frame goes awry is in ignoring the inevitable changes that occur in concepts of sexuality, a biological force that is intimately tied to the ebb and flow of shifting social practices. Where the more libertarian frame goes awry is in the attempt of ignoring the evolutionary history of a biological system millions of years in the making, years that make the thousands of human civilization a mere blip on the time scale.

We can and should explore the vast potential of human sexuality. As in any biological force, like curiosity and imagination, artificial and arbitrary boundaries serve us no good, cutting us off from potential responses to suffering and difficulties that could open up new frontiers of discovery and creation. With any push into uncertainty, however, we should never forget the pull of wanting the security of authoritarian structure. It is not a pull only some have and others have left behind. In every journey of discovery there are moments of wanting to sit and reflect without the chaos of movement. These moments should be respected, for they are just as human as the frenzy of exploration.

 

© David Teachout

 

References:

Farmer, M. A., Trapnell, P. D., & Meston, C. M. (2008). The relation between sexual behavior and religiosity subtypes: A test of the Secularization hypothesis. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38(5), 852–865. doi:10.1007/s10508-008-9407-0

Peterson, B. E., & Zurbriggen, E. L. (2010). Gender, sexuality, and the authoritarian personality. Journal of Personality, 78(6), 1801–1826. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2010.00670.x

Further Reading:

Nagoshi, J. L., Adams, K. A., Terrell, H. K., Hill, E. D., Brzuzy, S., & Nagoshi, C. T. (2008). Gender differences in Correlates of homophobia and Transphobia. Sex Roles, 59(7-8), 521–531. doi:10.1007/s11199-008-9458-7

Samuels, A. (2005, Jul). Fundamentalism-its appeal to “them” and its fascination for “us”. Tikkun, 20, 52-55. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/212296439?accountid=134574

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Why We Need to Build Community

Just how much of yourself do you need to change to belong to a community? What are you giving over when signing on that dotted line, whether it’s an actual sheet of paper, verbal declaration or taking on the community’s label? There is much talk about tribalism and the seemingly inherent problems it creates, pitting one group against another in some form of quest for supremacy. However, tribalism does not demand such conflict, nor does it require a mentality of versus, as if a contrary perspective must be viewed through a militaristic lens. Community…

“…offers the promise of belonging and calls for us to acknowledge our interdependence. To belong is to act as an investor, owner, and creator of this place. To be welcome, even if we are strangers. As if we came to the right place and are affirmed for that choice.” (Block, 2008)

This interdependence that Block discusses is in line with the relational reality at the heart of human existence. We are driven to make sense of our lives and doing so requires determining just what is true, i.e. what beliefs we are to identify with to help us derive meaning from the behavior we put into practice. It is within community that we find the means of searching for truth and what is acceptable to believe. This starts with our families and is added onto with our peers as we grow up. Eventually it gets spread out into broader categories of political parties, religious organizations and other social identifications.

Important to be remembered is just because we’ve moved on from old communities and/or expanded into others, in no way do the ideas we held previously fade away into nothing. As a consequence we never reach a point of complete objectivity, where there exists no influence upon our minds beyond our individual thoughts/emotions. These social identities are intimately linked aspects of who we are. There is no “I” without the connections that have come before and exist now. If there’s any doubt about this, remember the next time a parent knows just what button to push, an old romantic interest gets your heart racing or thoughts of experiences past inspire new behavior.

 

Do We Need Conformity?

Recognizing the innate and inevitable role that community plays in the building of our sense of self and the selection of our beliefs, leads to questions of our own autonomy and independence.  This is where the problem of social conformity rises, when the group identity has become so pervasively powerful that to question outside the proscribed ideological box is to invite ridicule, ostracism and a fragmentation of personal identity.

“James Robertson, author of American Myth, American Reality (1980), writes that myth is not only the story itself, but also unconscious attitudes extrapolated from stories and applied to real-world events. Myth is unconsciously drawn on and handed down from generation to generation as a model for understanding human nature and the world we live in (Robertson 1980: xv). Our thoughts and actions are based on sets of assumptions, often accepted without question and transmitted to friends, acquaintances, and offspring through our deeds and expressions without the slightest bit of conscious awareness. Since many of these messages are communicated non-verbally, the recipient is left with the impression that their conclusions are self-evident and require no further inspection. Opposition to these basic truths is seen as undesirable because it challenges and subordinates our sacred world-view; the illusion that ours is the only way.” (Morris, 2016)

Block (2008) mentions that a community has the feeling of having “come to the right place and are affirmed for that choice.” Morris, utilizing Jungian archetypes, explores this further with an understanding of myth. Rather than just a story, myth includes unconscious lessons that were handed down through families, and assumptions taken from within the connections of our friends and family, with the whole structure being taken as “self-evident.” This is the power of community, the ability to form a worldview and instill it within people in such a way that it is not questioned.

seeking-the-illusive-communityThus we come back to the question of conformity. It’s not so much that we need conformity and therefore seek it out, no, it’s that we’re driven to it by the very nature of our communal lives. This is not necessarily a bad situation. Structures for determining truth, the means of contemplating ethical behavior, customs, etc. are all part of what it is to live as human beings. Where these forms of conformity lead us astray is when such is no longer capable of holding enough of the ever-changing world to allow us the freedom to expand and seek out the near-infinite potential laden within humanity. We feel this pull every time we do that which we should and not what we desire, every time we ask a question and are told this is the way it is.

 

Effective Change

We have, then, a two-sided force focused on determining the right way to live: one that is prodding us to join and be counted, another that is wanting to be noticed from within the crowd. Neither is necessarily anti-human, only when one is ignored to the dismissal or detriment of the other does the rot of stagnation grow.

“The key to creating or transforming community, then, is to see the power in the small but important elements of being with others. The shift we seek needs to be embodied in each invitation we make, each relationship we encounter, and each meeting we attend. For at the most operational and practical level, after all the thinking about policy, strategy, mission, and milestones, it gets down to this: How are we going to be when we gather together?” (Block, 2008)

We are no more going to remove the pressure and need for community than we are going to remove completely the notion that individual voices are meaningful. Shifts in community come from a recognition that there is a coherency for a reason, to bring together disparate people in a homogenous search for a well-lived life, but that such a pressure should not quiet the voices raised in thoughtful inquiry. They too are in the same search as the rest of us and perhaps, just maybe, it will be their voice inspiring others, that together, with a newly vitalized community, will send us onto new paths of discovery.

 

© David Teachout

References:

Block, P. (2008). Community: The structure of belonging. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Morris, R. B. (2016). American cultural myth and the orphan archetype. European Journal of American Culture, 35(2), 127–145. doi:10.1386/ejac.35.2.127_1

Further Reading:

Pinkard, T. P. (1994). Hegel’s Phenomenology: The sociality of reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Living Through the Maps of Your Mind

 

Traveling usually requires directions. They may be obsessively precise or they might be confusingly opaque, but whether you’re deciding to turn down such and such a street or taking a right at the end of the fence-line, there’s still some level of guided movement involved. With GPS, the history of more broadly keeping an eye on where we’re going seems to, however, have gone away. Stories litter the Internet of people who got into accidents because they followed the GPS directions without paying attention to their surroundings. A base assumption seems to be that technology cannot fail, despite almost daily reminders of the opposite.

As it is with GPS, so it is with the mind and our mental maps of experience. Part of the assumption for GPS being wholly accurate is a likely ignorance concerning just how it works. For some people, there’s some vague notion of satellites and/or cell-towers, but even there the exact mechanisms of what is going on are as obscure as getting directions from a resident of a small-town without any road signs. Thankfully our minds, much as with GPS, work well enough that the blips in their functioning rarely cause catastrophe. Unfortunately, this means they get mostly ignored or shrugged away with little further introspection into what might be missing from our view of experience.

Let’s start with a couple declarations, in agreement with Fauconnier and Turner’s (2002) book The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities:

“…Nearly all important thinking takes place outside of consciousness and is not available on introspection…” and “…the imagination is always at work…”

If true, these starting points have a great deal of explanatory power when it comes to a broader understanding of those times when the mind makes connections we find profoundly unhelpful and/or unhealthy (obsessive thoughts and feelings) and sends us down paths that fundamentally change our notions of who we are (psychosis and other pathologies).

Just What Is A Mind-Map?

endocrinologyA typical map is a representation of the physical world and can serve multiple purposes: directions, land contours including elevation and slope, and the locations of various items, depending on need. A mind-map is much the same, a way of representing the world of our experiences to provide structure for the selection of potential behavior, the means of justifying that behavior through fundamental schemas and Values, and organizing the relationships of our lives.

As Lakoff and Johnson (1999) note:

“Living systems must categorize. Since we are neural beings, our categories are formed through our embodiment. What that means is that the categories we form are part of our experience! They are the structures that differentiate aspects of our experience into discernible kinds. Categorization is thus not a purely intellectual matter, occurring after the fact of experience. Rather, the formation and use of categories is the stuff of experience.”

Categories are more than the signs seen at a grocery aisle, they are means by which our minds differentiate the whole of our experiences into disparate parts. Fundamentally we begin with the category of Identity, as in “me and not-me.” Were we incapable of separating our bodies from everything else, we’d have a hard time determining how and whether to react to objects, indeed the very notion of “reaction” assumes the mental framing of a relationship between two objects and infers a type of cause-effect relationship as well. Also at this fundamental level there is a category of Space, as in “inside and outside,” that when connected to thoughts and emotions we describe them as happening “inside us” and their effects orchestrating reactions “outside of us.”

These categories are not simply mental constructs, they have immediate and direct effects in how we live our lives. In fact, they are the means through which we act!

“Because relations that verbal humans learn in one direction, they derive in two, they have the capacity to treat anything as a symbol for something else. The etymology of “symbol” means “to throw back as the same,” and because you are reacting to the ink on this paper symbolically, the words you just read evoked a reaction from you…” (Hayes, 2005)

Just as the words, symbols representing linguistic concepts, on a page spark reactions in us, so too do the actions we take based on our mental categories. Unfortunately these categories do not exist within the realm of experience, they are instead ways of organizing our experience. This purpose is not at all concerned with providing Truth, rather is bent towards providing a guide for the relational interactive reality of our actions.

Consider the latter category of Space and its relation to thoughts and emotions. Were this a Truth and fully accurate, then a person’s feelings and thoughts would never interact with others, thus providing justification to the idea that “I can’t make you feel something.” When we recognize that the categories are about organization instead of a fully accurate representation, then we begin to see why empathy is such a powerful experience; it is a transaction occurring at a more basic level than our categories would have us initially believe.

Categories are simply one, however basic, aspect of mind-maps. It might help to think of them as the symbols on a physical map, letting you know what is meant by the short-hand  representation. There are also schemas (relationally-bound structures like Principles) to bridge our Categories and a process like Blending (Faucconier & Turner, 2002) that allows us to take aspects of one experience and help us expand our understanding of another, as in through analogy. All of these work through the broader mapping process of building associations.

mind02

A Winding River of Relational Associations

“When we think, we arbitrarily relate events. Symbols “carry back” objects and events because they are related to these events as being “the same.” These symbols enter into a vast relational network that our mind generates and expands on over the course of our lives.” (Hayes, 2005)

Consider the fact that lines and symbols on a map do not actually exist upon the land being traversed. This may bury the needle in obviousness, but such notions are often so “obvious” that the power of their effect is ignored. Lines and symbols on a map are a form of collective agreement, as a species across varying geographic locations and forms we’ve landed on a relatively universal means of organizing our planet. However, none of these things exist or have meaning outside the contours of our minds. Earthquakes, sea-level changes, erosion, etc. all routinely shift our maps at a base physical level and the political/military changes and conflicts change them at the level of ideology. Our maps are arbitrary, and sometimes capricious, not in the sense of not having any meaning, but that the meaning is quite clearly so capable of being changed at a moment’s notice.

Our mind-maps are not much different. We connect disparate data points into lines and symbols, stretching categories into schemas, living through Principles and Values as if these things have a life outside the relational bonds we live and breath through. They don’t.

As human beings, we can and do quite often engage in behavior that is contrary to stated goals, contrary to our well-being and incompatible with the goals and well-being of others. Our mind-maps are similar enough precisely because we’re all human and therefore allow us to organize ourselves enough to create societies and come to a consensus on things like the creation of physical maps. However, the associational process that supports all this is not a simple one-to-one or uni-directional.

“Humans think relationally…” and “are able to arbitrarily relate objects in our environment, thoughts, feelings, behavioral predispositions, actions (basically anything) to other objects in our environment, thoughts, feelings (basically anything else) in virtually any possible way (e.g., same as, similar to, better than, opposite of, part of, cause of, and so on).” (Hayes, 2005)

Consider that a singular social event like a protest can be looked at in almost as many ways as there were people participating within it. We each, every one of us, utilize mind-maps to organize our understanding, come to conclusions and therefore set us on a trajectory of response. Nobody does this differently, there is only variation in the information that is selected to support conclusions, the schemas being applied and the resultant behavioral response.

What allows us the freedom to grow and change is our ability to associate multiple things with one experience and build new maps guiding us into new realms of potential behavior. A childhood considered oppressive and dominating can later be looked at as supportive if perhaps ignorant; a beggar on the street-corner can be looked at as lazy and later seen as having fallen to forces outside their control; a woman’s body considered the property of a man’s can come to be seen as the source and embodiment of their independence; and those once considered “other” and open to ridicule and mockery can eventually be seen as belonging to the same great sea of humanity we all reside within.

The journeys of our mind-maps are the lines and symbols of our interactional lives.

 

© David Teachout

References:

Fauconnier, G., & Turner, M. (2002). The Way we think: Conceptual blending and the mind’s hidden complexities. United States: Basic Books.

Hayes, Steven C.; Smith, Spencer (2005-11-01). Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (Kindle Locations 468-470). New Harbinger Publications. Kindle Edition.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to western thought. New York: Basic Books.