Concepts: Models of Reality

Print This Post Print This Post August 8, 2012 on 6:39 pm | In Diet, Emotional, Exercise, Mental, Nutrition | Comments Off on Concepts: Models of Reality

“The map is not the territory.”

– Alfred Korzybski

This post is about both the power and limitations of concepts – the mental models we create in order to understand and relate to the world around us.  My intent is for this to be a relatively brief post, as what I want to share is fairly straightforward – the fact that our mental models of reality are not reality, despite the fact that we often act is if they are.

In pursuing various goals, I have tended to group them into categories that relate to various facets of my life.  Some examples of the types of categories I have used (and continue to use) include physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual goals.  For example, one of my spiritual goals is to establish a more consistent prayer and meditation practice, and one of my physical goals is to improve my physique and level of physical fitness.  Now there is nothing wrong with grouping goals into convenient categories such as these as long as you keep in mind that these categories are more or less arbitrary conveniences we use to organize our thinking, and do not have any independent reality except as mental models.

The problem occurs when you confuse the categorization process with reality, and this was really brought home when I first attempted to improve my physique earlier this year.  Since this was a “physical” goal – “only” involving my body – all of my focus and effort were on the observable, physical aspects of my life.  For this particular goal, that meant focusing on my diet, and in particular the nutritional aspects of my diet, as well as on exercise and discipline.  From a common sense standpoint, this seems like a reasonable approach . . . but there is one small problem with this type of approach: it is based on a grossly oversimplified model of reality.  Well, actually there is one more problem with this approach: it’s stupid!

The oversimplification arises from the fact that there is no physical “me” that exists in isolation from the other aspects of who and what I am.  Whatever it is that “I” am, it is clearly much more than an animated pile of flesh and bones that puts food in one end and eliminates waste products at the other end!  The entire purpose of such concepts as our physical dimension, or our emotional dimension, or any other aspect we wish to focus on, is to emphasize certains aspects of our total being by suppressing all of the other aspects.  But clearly none of these aspects exist in isolation.  For this reason, plans that fail to take into account the multi-dimensional nature of our being are doomed to fail because they necessarily leave out important aspects of who/what we are.

Sure, for a while you can use shear will power and discipline to control your “self” in terms of both diet and exercise – and you will achieve a degree of success for a period of time.  But as I have experienced (and I bet you have as well), strategies based strictly on will power and discipline are almost impossible to maintain in the long run – precisely because they are predicated on an incomplete understanding of the totality of what we are.  In addition to being physical beings we are also emotional, mental, social, and spiritual beings (amongst others), and we cannot ignore and suppress these other aspects of our total being for long without creating extreme imbalance and tension in our lives.

It often turns out that these other dimensions we have ignored are at least as important as the dimension we have emphasized – and often times even more so.  In my case, controlling my diet through shear will power and discipline worked great at first – but at a certain point I had had enough of disciplining and controlling myself and rebelled by over-indulging in comfort food and beverages (think pasta and wine, and you have a very clear picture of what I am talking about).  This “failure” was not due to the fact that I am an undisciplined, lazy slob – it was simply a reflection of the fact that prolonged deprivation of the foods and beverages I truly enjoy left me emotionally starved.  It was not hunger or thirst that drove me to eat and drink – rather it was a primarly emotional need that impelled me to over-indulge, simply to redress the gross imbalance in my emotional life that left me severely depleted of both comfort and pleasure.

The point?  Don’t confuse the map with the territory.  Concepts are fine for organizing and structuring our understanding of the world around us, but they are not the world itself!

 

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