Nov 25

Duality and Human Nature

The following short essay is a point of view on a secular spirituality. Absent the familiar words that surround the spiritual journey, we are left with an understanding that is secular in nature.

The Wholistic View vs. The Detail View

How we relate to the world around us is very telling. The latest brain research suggests that the “normal” manner of relating to the world is for us to see a wholistic view first, followed by parsing the details into concepts and labels, and then a reintegration of both the wholistic and detail views. This sequence allows us to be more reality-bound since the wholistic view is largely sensory and automatic without the filtering of cognition, and is not subject to opinion and influence prior to cognition. It is also telling that most of the world does not abide by this seemingly natural sequence but rather looks to concepts and labels as primary with the sensory view as supporting evidence for the conceptual view.

The following images illustrate these two modes of apprehending reality using Google Maps as an example.

Wholistic view of the world

This first image shows a satellite image (the wholistic view). Everything is shown as one would see it if peering down from a higher elevation. In the absence of identifying labels one would need to recognize a landmark in order to determine location. For most, a view without identifying labels is only bare experience.

Map View

This second image shows a bare map of the same general vicinity with little reference to the visual elements one would see if looking. In other words, it is like a paper map that one would have in a glove compartment. This map is largely conceptual using a diagram with labels. This is the concept/label/detail view and is comprised of labels derived from consensus.

Integrated View

This third image is an integration of the two such that one could recognize a location not only by label (street name, building name, house address) but by visual confirmation.

Taking this duality a little further, it can said that the wholistic view and the detail view represent our normal human nature with the wholistic view always occurring first, followed by details, labels and concepts. A brief discussion will follow that will hopefully prime the reader to investigate a little further to see how this orientation works in their lives.

The wholistic/sensory view is our personal connection to the world; it is the world as experienced from moment to moment; it is living in the present. The wholistic view is not concerned with labels as the “now” is transient and cannot be frozen in time. The wholistic view occurs in virtually all human beings since details cannot be parsed unless there is a view to parse them from.

The conceptual/detail mode seemingly connects us to the larger community using shared meanings of words. The infrastructure of society is understood by overlaying common meanings and understanding on top of the wholistic view (just as Google Maps has done). This overlay process makes social intercourse much smoother as it reduces conflicts regarding the identification of the world around us. We all understand how to operate our motor vehicle and to comprehend the rules of the road along with road signage and the legal limits. Without this common understanding (and many others) there would be chaos.

The conceptual/detail mode often becomes our roadmap to life if we accept it as primary. The difficulty with this view as primary is that its understanding is supplied to us by consensus which gives us only the view that is currently accepted. While it seems like a simple way to live, we miss much of life by placing our understanding of the world primarily in the roadmap. Think of it in yet another way: If we view the map of life with labels and consider the map as supreme, we miss everything not accounted for by the labels. Life goes on in areas not accounted for by concepts and labels. The joy of discovering those unaccounted spaces is what makes life exciting and worth living.

The next time you take a long drive to an unfamiliar but scenic place, you might realize that without explicit labels, you are able to discover and appreciate the beauty that is all around you. It is not necessary to know what kind of tree you are looking at or the species of bird that are flying above. Discovery can occur when the labels are dropped and one connects to life as it happens. The driving example clearly illustrates the transient nature of experience since the current view will remain only for a few seconds. But all of one’s life can be a scenic drive where discovery is waiting behind every corner and concealed place.

The question implicit in all of this is: Do you want to be tethered to the map or can you disregard it until absolutely necessary?

Questions to ponder:

Do you understand that the wholistic view is always present, even if not attended to?

Can I attend to the wholistic view until thought is needed?

Could I live a life where the wholistic view is primary?


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