|THE THREE WORLDS|
A child's ability to refer to itself, its desires and the social pressures of its environment requires little, if any, syntactic ability. Yet this basic function of language has profound effects. The mastery of language to express feelings and to encode socially desirable and undesirable behaviors to oneself, provides the source of motivation for advancing to more elaborate usages of language - usages that do require syntax. There are special areas of the cerebral cortex concerned with language that make this possible. But this would not happen either, were it not for the developing consciousness of the child in its struggle for self-realization and self-expression.
Reality encompasses all existence and all experiences; this may be divided into three worlds. The Objective Reality is the world of physical objects and states, including the human organism. The second world is that of subjective experiences or states of consciousness. The word 'thought' refers to a mental experience in a world of its own, a Personally Constructed Reality. In contrast there is a third world, the world of human creativity and shared subjective experience, the products of thought processes combined - the Socially Constructed Reality. In linguistic expression, subjective thought processes achieve an objective status - this is the man-made world of knowledge and of culture including language.
The external world is perceived through the outer senses; the inner consciousness interprets and manipulates this information and encodes communication to others through language and behavior; this then becomes part of the shared world. Through this cyclic interaction our world view develops. Through identification and enculturation, much of this becomes an automated, mechanical system, with the mindful Self largely asleep or obscured; to raise our society to a higher level of spiritual intelligence, we need to reawaken consciousness in ourselves of a higher Self that is our mind's caretaker.
An appealing analogy, but no more than an analogy, is to regard the body and brain as a superb computer built by genetic coding as an inbuilt operating system, and which has been created by the process of biological evolution. The conscious mind is the programmer of the computer. Each of us as a programmer is born with our computer in its initial embryonic state. We develop it throughout life, influenced greatly by our upbringing and culture. It is our lifelong companion in all transactions. It inputs from and outputs to the world, which includes other body-minds. To the extent that the body-mind is objective to the functioning of its own mind, i.e. mindful, it may recognize and develop the function of meta-programming, so the higher Self plays a conscious role in further evolution of the mind.
Non-verbal thought may exist at a high level, but anyone who writes knows that having to put one's ideas into words - to evaluate, classify and organize them - can sharpen thought. Language is the outstanding distinctive mark of human thought and behavior.
Objective & Subjective Realities
Reality is the corner stone of communication. Without a shared reality, there is no basis for empathy, and without empathy there can be no communication. This tenet is fully understood by a good salesman. He will strive for agreement with his prospects. Often he will strive for agreement on many things unrelated to the product or service, he is selling. He is asking questions with the intention of getting a yes answer. He will continue to seek agreement, until the maximum possible level of empathy has been generated between the prospect and himself. Then and only then, will he try to close the sale.
It can be shown that television-mediated social reality, television's fictional worlds, and the spectators' own personally constructed reality, are cognitively processed as three separate areas of the brain. Based on this research, Weick (1983) proposed a model consisting of: (a) Personally Constructed Reality (what each person thinks), (b) Socially Constructed Reality (meaning shared by the group), and (c) Objective Reality (events in the environment). Weick had the idea that wisdom may be more to do with a person's attitude than with a body of thought or fixed knowledge base. This implies that people can improve their capability for wise action by improving their Personally Constructed Reality, learning from the Socially Constructed Reality, all the while reality-testing information and beliefs with the Objective Reality.
There are three realities: an Objective Reality, a Socially Constructed Reality (shared illusion) and a Personally Constructed Reality (a private delusion). Our knowledge of the perceived Universe is a mixture of the 'Real Universe' i.e. Objective Reality (what actually is) and our own 'Subjective Universe' - which in turn is a composite of a shared Socially Constructed Reality (held in common with the culture) and our personal construct: the Personal Subjective Reality.
A workable model of Reality is described by the diagram below:
The circle stands for Objective Reality.
The square represents the Socially Constructed Reality, the cultural subjective reality or 'group-think', an aggregate of opinions, judgments and evaluations held generally by a particular cultural grouping. These notions are known as Norms.
The triangle represents a particular individual's Personally Constructed Reality. This will contain elements of Objective Reality, the generally held Socially Constructed Reality and our Personal Cognitive Biases (indicated by question marks) which are either creative insights about Objective Reality, or fantastic or crazy ideas which exist in no reality at all and have their origin in the unconscious mind.
Mind must first experience physical reality, to construct within itself replicas of the world, i.e. mental reality. Mind can then manipulate these forms more easily than the physical world, designing new artifacts in a subjective way, as a computer-aided designer now manipulates graphics on his VDU-screen. Mind first adjusts to reality, with the ultimate objective of adjusting and adapting reality to its own purposes.
For thousands of years, philosophers have been asking two questions: 'Are things real only when we see them?' or just 'Are things real?' In other words, is there any reality? I am not arrogant enough to give you an absolute and final answer to these questions. I can, however, give you a workable definition of objective reality. A definition which works within the framework of Mind Development. A definition, which permits our students to be more effective in life, after completing the courses.
There is an objective reality. Anyone who has been shot, stabbed, or punched in the nose can attest to its existence. Babies soon learn this when they try to walk and find the ground is solid, painfully so. And yet still, some like to argue the point... Ibn Sina, the Persian philosopher, responds:
Anyone who denies [the existence of objective truth] should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned.Sane people agree that there are desks and chairs, people and things. They have a very solid agreement about reality; they recognize that things are real. Insane people have hallucinations, which they think are real - they cannot differentiate between the Objective and Subjective universes. As ideas are not composed of matter, energy, space and time, there can be disagreement about ideas, but there can only be agreement upon the reality of the physical universe. Objective Reality is an agreement, not necessarily with other people, but with the reality of the physical universe.
When we are talking about reality, or we are in communication with someone within an agreed reality, we are using words as an equivalence for reality. Objective reality may be regarded, in this context, as an Absolute, whereas the words being used may be regarded as a map of the territory being communicated about. The words that we use represent an abstraction, removed from the actual objective physical reality being discussed.
When we are talking about reality, or we are in communication with someone within an agreed reality, we are using words as an equivalence for reality. Objective reality may be regarded, in this context, as an Absolute, whereas the words being used may be regarded as a map of the territory being communicated about. The words that we use represent an abstraction, two or more steps removed from the actual objective physical reality being discussed.
Many confusions occur when two people communicate, although an apparency of an agreed reality exists between them. This confusion occurs, because words are being used as equivalent, when in fact, they are at different level of abstraction. John Wilson, in his book 'Thinking with Concepts', states that we can most easily grasp the nature of this problem by looking at certain types of questions. Considering the following pairs of questions:
- Is a whale able to sink a 15,000 ton liner?
- Is a whale a fish?
Misunderstanding will occur unless the dimension of abstraction is taken into account. Alfred Korzybski, the author of 'General Semantics', postulates 9 levels of abstraction. The 0 Level, prior to abstraction, is the Unspeakable Level. This is the level of the actual things or events of discourse. As these consist of atoms and molecules, such as the paper that I am writing on, and possess a spatial/temporal location, they are in essence unrecordable, unspeakable - as to do so would violate the first condition of existence (their very creation). If the first level of abstraction could be duplicated perfectly, it would cease (at least for the duplicator) to exist.
At the next level, we come to the thing our senses tell us about. This is different from the world of the real; the world of space-time events. This is the world that we call real - the common-sense world, however it is still a partial world - a perceptual abstraction. This is the first level of abstraction, as far as any language is concerned. Near perfect duplication, at this level, would be a drawing of photographic quality, or the skilled use of tools.
The next level of abstraction, the third level, is the first level of abstraction in spoken language. This lowest level of semantic abstraction would be a proper name. For example, the proper name may stand for a particular cow. There are, however, many facts in different contexts relating to the cow, that cannot be derived from the name 'Daisy'. These other facts could be only be derived by using language at higher levels of abstraction. 'Daisy', indeed stands for the same cow to the farmer's wife who reared her and to the butcher, but the content or significance of the name would be different to these two people.
At the second level of linguistic abstraction, we could have the word 'cow', meaning the class of animals we refer to as 'cow'. Here all the individual characteristics that mark 'Daisy' apart from any other cow, are left out. At this level, we have abstracted the characteristics common to all cows.
When we are using the word 'cow', there are at least three more levels of objective abstraction. These may be denoted successively by the terms 'farm assets', 'assets', and 'wealth'. Each of these levels of abstraction may include the word 'Daisy'. Our communicator may use the word 'Daisy' or 'cow', yet may be communicating from one of these higher levels of abstraction. Each of these higher levels may include Daisy, but more and more remotely. Unless you are aware of the level of abstraction a speaker is using as a frame of reference, there will be a break in reality.
Note: this type of reality-break frequently occurs when we are communicating with a person with a radically different religious or political viewpoint. E.g. a recent student stated: 'Economics forms no part of my reality'.
There is one further level of abstraction. This is the usage in which the words appear to refer to the thing they name, but do not in fact do so. E.g. in the sentence: 'What a horrible beast that ugly cow is'; this may appear to be a statement about cows, but it is in fact a statement about the person who is speaking. He is saying: 'That cow produces in me, the feeling I have, whenever I see something that I consider ugly'. This is an evaluation forming part of either a person's subjective reality or their personal reality.
Let us look at the possible levels of abstraction, with regard to the word 'rose':
- The first level of abstraction (the perceptual level), would be 'that rose' indicated by pointing.
- The first linguistic level would be any particular rose that you could name.
- The second linguistic level would be 'rose', as the larger class of flowers.
- The third linguistic level would be 'rose', as the larger class of plants.
- The fourth linguistic level would be 'rose', as the yet larger class of living things.
- The fifth linguistic level would be 'rose' as part of the larger class of 'wealth': the rose growing industry.
- The sixth linguistic level would be 'rose' as a thing, i.e. as part of the physical universe.
- The seventh level would be 'rose' in the sense of the statement 'a beautiful thing'.
- We could postulate one more level, in which the word 'rose' is used, and there is no rose to refer to in the Objective Reality.
The quality of an individual's relationship to Objective Reality and the quality of a communication between two or more individuals is influenced vastly, by understanding the principle of Levels of Abstraction.
An abstraction must be compared to the Universe to which it applies, and brought into the categories of things which can be sensed, measured or experienced in that Universe, before such an abstraction can be fully understood.
Correspondence Truth & Coherence Truth
Confidence in our belief is obtained by subjecting experience to two tests: correspondence (viewing reality as objectively as possible to see if it corresponds with the belief) and coherence (determining whether our beliefs make sense theoretically).
Correspondence and coherence are associated with (but not limited to) the right and left cerebral hemispheres, respectively. Reality-testing relies heavily on concrete empiricism and the senses while theorizing relies heavily on deduction and abstract reason. Correspondence and coherence are essential elements that must work convincingly together in order to invest a belief or idea with 'truth.'
To truly "see" something, it must pass through multiple filters - the qualities of our senses, our developed habits, and finally to our highest levels of awareness and inspection. Early in development these filters are "inexperienced" and weak, later they may be "habit-bound" and almost impenetrable. Only the most urgent or novel concern will penetrate to the highest level of conscious awareness.
The constraints of biology limits the aspects of reality that we can assimilate, retain and process in our brains. A fragmentary reality is the best we can do. We weld these fragments into an apparent continuous whole, and our consequent actions are based on this internally created perception. Creating this internal picture or map involves extensive extrapolating from areas of confidence to those we lack knowledge of. In this way, we attempt to fill in the blanks so the overall picture appears seamless - our subjective reality is felt to be equivalent to the objective reality, and we forget that the filtering and extrapolation was needed in the process of creating this correspondence.
We live immersed in a real world of which we have at best a fragmentary idea. The picture we create from these fragments has to be "true enough." To be a successful species, our knowledge and beliefs don't have to exactly correspond with reality; they only have to represent our needs well enough to serve our competence to survive and thrive. Such a "truth" is a belief in which we have very high confidence.
We are faced with problems to resolve daily, so we have to be able to determine cause and effect in the objective reality. We have a curiosity and sometimes an urgent need to know the truth that corresponds closely to the real world, in order to understand what is going on, to grasp the causes of our situation and the consequences of our actions.
Correspondence and its associated reality-testing, alongside coherence and its associated theorizing, are essential elements that must work together in order to invest a belief or idea with "truth" upon which we can base our understanding. Either alone is not enough: an apparent correspondence that does not stand up to any kind of reason; or a sensible hypothesis that fails the test of corresponding to reality - these may both lead to false conclusions.
In conjunction with Objective Reality, we have the Socially Constructed Reality (notions owned by a particular culture; belief systems which we are born into) and Personally Constructed Reality.
Knowledge and people's conception of (and therefore belief regarding) what reality 'is' becomes embedded into the institutional fabric and structure of society, and social reality is therefore said to be socially constructed. Social constructs are generally understood to be the by-products (often unintended or unconscious) of countless human choices. Individuals and groups participate in the creation of their perceived social reality. Social phenomena are created, institutionalized and made into tradition by humans. Socially constructed reality is seen as an ongoing, dynamic process; there is a process of cultural evolution. The readiness of individuals to 'buy into' information presented by authority figures (parents, priest, boss, media, politician, etc) to fill a vacumum in their own understanding or to cornfirm their prejudices, has been referred to as 'cultural trance' and the results equivalent to hypnotic control or brainwashing. [See Peter Shepherd's online book, Transforming the Mind for more about cultural trance and its resolution.]
An individual's ability to perceive objective reality for themselves is limited. As a human being of limited faculties (education, resources, time, cognitive skills), your attempts to identify the complete and comprehensive truth of things will be inevitably be somewhat inaccurate and imprecise. Some limitations are physical, based on your sense organs. For example, you probably cannot read this article from 10 yards away, because your eyesight is inadequate. However, even though you can't see these words from a distance, nevertheless they are indeed written on this page. Other constraints are psychological. For example, addicts and other neurotics deny painful truths that, if accepted, would compel them to drop their compulsive habits... it is no coincidence that many of these folks embrace the theory that their subjective reality is of equal reality to that of the objective physical world, as it enables a justifying, ideosyncratic theory to be validated as "what is true for me."
George Kelly in 1955 developed his Personal Construct Theory, focusing on the study of individuals, families, and social groups, with particular emphasis on how people organize and change their views of self and world. Individuals are seen as creatively formulating constructs, or hypotheses about the apparent regularities of their lives, in an attempt to make them understandable, and to some extent, predictable. However, predictability is not pursued for its own sake, but is instead sought as a guide to practical action in concrete contexts and relationships. This implies that people engage in continuous extension, refinement, and revision of their systems of meaning as they meet with events that challenge, or invalidate their assumptions, prompting their personal theories toward greater adequacy.
Personal constructs form a private subjective reality by mentally modeling the world - each of us make our own evaluations and internal database about the reality we experience. Like scientists, people develop their constructs based on observation and experimentation. Constructs thus start as unstable conjecture, changing and stabilizing as more experience and proof is gained.
The personal constructs are a combination of observation, of reasoned judgments, evaluations and insight, but also of irrational elements emerging from the unconscious mind, with their sources in unexamined false data and traumatic experience, and the result of distorted thinking at the conscious level, including prejudices, defenses and the full range of irrationality. Constructs are often defined by words, but can also be non-verbal and hard to explain, such as the feeling you get when your football team just won the championship. When constructs are challenged or incomplete the result is emotional states such as anxiety, confusion, anger and fear.
More about personal constructs
Constructs are often polar in that they consist of range of qualities from one extreme to the other dichotomous). Thus the construct of temprature implease one pole of hot and another of cold, and hot cannot exist without the corresponding existence of cold. When poles are denied - such as when loyalty is perceived but disloyalty ignored, or vice versa - they are said to be submerged. This is a form of filtering of reality.
Constructs may be expanded to accommodate new ideas or constricted to become more specific. Some of our constructs - which represent our core values and concern our key relationships - are complex, quite firmly fixed, wide-ranging, and difficult to change; others, about things which don't matter so much, or about which we haven't much experience, are simpler, narrower, and carry less personal commitment. Constructs that are most important to the person are his core constructs, whilst others are peripheral. The Personally Constructed Reality is therefore more focused in parts, and in other parts only vaguely grasped,
Kelly stated his fundamental postulate to be that: "A person's processes are psychologically channelized by the ways in which he anticipates events."
By processes, Kelly means ways of experiencing, thinking, feeling and acting. These are determined by our efforts to anticipate the world, other people and ourselves, from moment to moment as well as day-to-day and year-to-year. We construct our anticipations using our past experience. We look for the patterns, the consistencies, in our experiences. When things do not happen the way they have in the past, we may reconstruct.
Kelly followed his fundamental postulate with eleven corollaries (as presented in Jess Feist's Theories of Personality):
- Construction: We anticipate future events according to our interpretations of recurrent themes.
- Individuality: People have different experiences and therefore construe events in different ways.
- Organization: We organize our personal contructs in a hierarchical system, with some constructs in a superordinate position and others subordinate to them. This organization allows us to minimize incompatible contructs.
- Dichotomy: All personal constructs are dichotomous, that is, we construe events in an either/or manner.
- Choice: We choose the alternative in a dichotomized construct that we see as extending our range of future choices.
- Range: Constructs are limited to a particular range of convenience, that is, they are not relevant to all situations.
- Experience: We continually revise our personal constructs as the result of experience.
- Modulation: Not all new experiences lead to a revision of personal constructs. To the extent that constructs are permeable they are subject to change through experience. Concrete or impermeable constructs resist modification regardless of our experience.
- Fragmentation: Our behavior is sometimes inconsistent because our construct system can readily admit incompatible elements.
- Commonality: To the extent that we have had experiences similar to others, our personal contructs tend to be similar to the construction systems of those people.
- Sociality: We are able to communicate with others because we can construe their constructions. We not only observe the behavior of others, but we also interpret what that behavior means to them.
Living our story
According to Jean Houston in A Mythic Life: Learning to Live our Greater Story, there are four principle aspects to our Personally Constructed Reality, that we roll together in our mind and act on as though the resulting construct is "real." Looking in retrospect at an incident in our life, the first perception is the physical reality: what happened - the who, what, where and when. The bare facts without feelings or beliefs about them, leaving out the why and how or any other interpretation.
We may then add to this picture a psychological reality: we use our well-developed skills of discernment to decide what our physical observations mean. We use whatever experience or knowledge we have to understand the meaning of the behavior we are seeing. We will ascribe meaning even when we are unsure, rather than experience the discomfort of failing to understand.
We also include a mythic reality: this is how we relate the event to the rest of our life, in particular the things in our past that the present situation reminds us of. As a result, we may generalize and consider the two examples of a situation recurring mean that it "always" happens, or two examples of something not occurring means that it "never" happens.
In addition we interpret the physical, psychological and mythical realities in the light of our essential reality: the concepts of worth, values, cultural norms and expectations that we hold close to our personal identity or essence. These are the basic beliefs about oneself and one's values, and the values that other authority figures hold, and particularly those most relevant to the situation being experienced or reviewed.
Forming a map
Subjective Reality (including personal constructs) may or may not map-over Objective Reality, either in whole or part. It forms an approximate map of Objective Reality at best, and consists of at least the following components:
- Observations and perceptions.
- Rules made by ourselves or others.
- Imaginary content and content with an origin in dreaming.
- Thoughts both analytical and reactive.
- The content of memory, learning and experience.
- Ideas considered necessary by oneself or others.
- Attitudes, emotions, feelings, sensations and pains.
- Postulates, considerations, evaluations, inferences and opinions.
- Mental content implied by any of the above categories, i.e. by secondary or weak inference.
Many South American and South Sea Island languages use the above categories as verb tenses, rather than the past, present and future that we are familiar with in European languages. By using these categories, it is immediately apparent to a listener which dimension of Subjective Reality is involved in the communication.
Subjective Reality may be described as a continuum with observation at the most objective end of the continuum, and assumption at the least. That which is imagined or dreamed may contain no objective elements whatsoever.
Therefore we are able to rank Subjective Reality on a scale of relative certainty or degree of verifiability:
reports that are obtained from someone else
inferences (reasoning based on facts)
Our subjective mental maps may be described as informative. However, these maps have the potential for misinforming ourselves and others, as a consequence of the introduction of our evaluations. An informative description may be a direct observation of Objective Reality or a judgmental evaluation may have been added.
For example 'I see the sun' may become 'What a nice sunrise!', putting the observation into an overlapping Subjective Reality. Similarly, the report 'The weather forecast is good' may be evaluated 'Forecasts are often completely wrong'. The inference 'It may be hot today' may cause the judgment 'I only need to wear a T-shirt'. The assumption 'It's summer, so the sun will stay out' may become 'It's sure to be a hot and sticky day'.
Thus we can make a classification framework, which permits us to ask questions of an individual, to determine which version of Subjective Reality is being operated from:
|EVALUATION <-------------------- > INFORMATION|
Unless we know whether or not an utterance is either informative or judgemental, and whether it derives from personal observation, a report, an inference or from an assumption, we will continually get into trouble with communication and reality.
Progress is made with a student, by making the contents of his subjective reality more and more informative rather than judgmental, and deriving from objective inspection rather than second-hand reports, misinformed inferences or misconceived assumptions.
A significant part of the contents of a person's subjective reality will consist of needs, which are either expressed directly or indirectly: Physiological needs, Safety and Security needs, Acceptance and Belonging needs, Self-Esteem needs, and needs for Self-Actualisation (Self-realization or the need to express oneself in the world). These needs may be classified by Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs:
Personally Constructed Reality, for the most part, is driven by Needs, the nature of which is determined by where a person sits on Maslow's hierarchy. For the majority of persons, who are at a Concrete Operational level of cognitive development, one perceptual sense - sight, sound, touch or emotion - will tend to dominate their mental maps and so each person's map is limited. Clearly, Objective Reality is the ultimate judge of our mental maps. We face insanity if we cannot accept the view of empiricism, that we can completely trust only what can be experienced.
The Four Languages of Conscious Thought
You can consider your conscious thought processes - those which you can tune in to and observe as they happen - as being expressed in any or all of four thinking 'languages' or modalities, which are:
1. Verbal thought: speaking in your mental voice, just as if you were expressing your mental processes aloud in words, phrases and sentences - this is 'inner speech'.
2. Visual thought: seeing mental pictures, which are often fuzzy and fragmentary and which are recalled from memory or imagined.
3. Auditory thought: hearing others' speech, natural sounds and music, which are recalled from memory or imagined.
4. kinesthetic thought: experiencing bodily sensations, feelings and emotions, as reactions to a memory, immediate experience or imagined situation.
For example you can think about your friend, lover or relative by saying that person's name in your mind, by forming a mental picture of that person, or by tuning-in to the feeling response to the concept of that person. For much of your conscious thought, all four of these thinking languages come into play simultaneously. One may play a dominant role, since others may be suppressed, depending on your relationship to a particular subject (such as dislikes, fears, bad memories; or likes, compulsions, good memories).
Below the foreground of conscious thought is a continuous stream of preconscious unseen mental activity, which organizes mental contents and controls actions 'without even thinking about it', like when you turn the pages of a book. The four thinking languages are the means by which you project snapshots of the rapidly moving preconscious processes onto the 'screen' of your immediate attention.
You can capture some of these fleeting thoughts and translate them into conscious form, but the vast majority of them flow on invisibly and reliably without your conscious attention. The left-brain level of preconscious thought is quite capable of making decisions, of reasoning logically, and of directing a large share of your moment-to-moment actions, usually in the form of pre-programmed habitual patterns of behavior. The right brain aspect of the preconscious is the basis for hunches, or intuitive thought processes, which seem to tell you what to do on a gut-feeling level, but offer no well worked-out verbal reasoning processes to substantiate the proposed course of action.
The preconscious thought stream, then, is the result of the conscious verbal left hemisphere and the nonverbal but aware right hemisphere, interfacing beneath the surface with the deeper Subconscious and the still deeper unconscious processes of both hemispheres. The preconscious emerges into consciousness in the form of the four thought languages: verbal, visual, auditory and kinesthetic. The content of the deeper subconscious may also erupt into consciousness, through the medium of a fifth language: that of metaphors and symbolic representations. This occurs most of all during dreaming, and twilight states of consciousness.
Suppression of the Subconscious (and by extension, repression of the unconscious) has the effect of reducing the perception of smell and taste, because these two senses are mediated by the more primitive (sub-cortical) centers of the brain which are the seat of the unconscious.
However, for those who have developed a high level of integration between the hemispheres, integration of the Subconscious has to a significant extent begun, so a further dimension of perception becomes apparent: the thought languages may be represented by taste, smell and color, blending together in a synaesthesia. Improved integration enlarges the spotlight of the conscious mind, so that neither irrational thoughts nor useful intuitions are likely to pass by unnoticed, and the full wealth of the experience of life becomes open to view and may be appreciated.