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Sunday, 28 August 2011

On Imaginary Worlds by Greg Scott

The future doesn't exist. It is, I believe, entirely imaginary. 
   When I say the future doesn't exist I don't mean you shouldn't make plans and anticipate outcomes. It's just that these are just thoughts, not the actual thing. When the body reacts as though the actual thing is happening when it is just a thought, psychologists call this "cognitive fusion". The antidote is "cognitive diffusion".
      How do we do this? First we tell our self that it is just a thought that is scaring us, so first you have to know that you are having a thought, and then you see how that is making you feel. Effectively you split yourself so that one part of you just watches the rest. You ask yourself "what's happening now" if you feel bad, and often you'll find a thought is happening so you tell yourself " my mind is telling me I'm going to fall off the stage" .....  Really? Did you ever fall off the stage?
     The mind loves to tell stories from which we weave imaginary worlds, that we then try hard to inhabit. The kinds of stories we tell ourselves are dependent on our internal state though we tend to blame others for the way we feel. I believe we even create templates that we project on the world around us and are mood dependent. We live in imaginary worlds.
  Why templates? Because the world is an incredibly complex place and we need to make sense of it. The brain is great at focusing attention but fills in the surrounds from imagination built from experience. Magicians exploit this by misdirecting attention such that things can be done before our eyes that we don't see. Personally, with my "sad day' template in place, all I see is sad people that I can't really help. On a happy day even sad people seem to smile, and all problems seem to have a solution. For some people, with their sad day template in place they forget they even have a 'happy day' template though they've used it many times. That's why psychologists say that memories are "state dependent"
  Of course there is an objective world "out there" and it is science's job to establish this. With science we can winnow the imaginary from the real though this is a new idea and we often get it wrong. It's actually sciences' job to prove itself wrong.
 On the other hand the media is occasionally used to manipulate us with constructed delusion. Last night I watched a documentary on how the Liberal party used the media to convince us we we're being invaded by dangerous terrorists during the Tampa crisis. Directives where issued to the armed forces that in no way should the people on the boats be "Humanized". If Australians could see there were humans on the boats they would feel compassion and John Howard would be seen as less than heroic.
   Imaginary worlds are socially constructed and if you tread carefully they can be lots of fun.  I simply use my "best friend" template and doors magically spring open for me. The "real world' is there, but it is a kind of Black box" that must be constantly probed with needles to find out what's inside. There are nasty things out there and real world problems that urgently need solutions. The first stage of finding a solution is to separate the reality from the story we keep telling ourselves. John Howard's "Bogey man" didn't ever exist, but Australians' are still telling his scary stories. The World has scary stuff in it and that's as it should be because without it there would be no evolution and no Human race.
  And the future?  Enjoy the present. If God gives gifts the present is the present! Step boldly on the stage of life and enjoy imaginary Worlds but try not to forget the real world exists.


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