Navigation

map

This map was displayed in a case in the historical museum at Plaza Sto. Domingo in Cd. Oaxaca. The first thing you notice is how crude and inaccurate the depiction of the Americas is when compared with that of Europe, Africa, and Asia, where sailors had been transporting cartographers for centuries. I don’t know the date of this map, but I deduce that explorers had reached up the west coast of North America, but not to Alaska, and their landings on the northeast coast were so spotty as to make them think that Greenland was connected to what is now Canada.  The northern borders were all drawn as if they were bounded by navigable waters. A bit of wishful thinking which may now be manifested thanks to the melting of the icecaps.

Yesterday I listened to a fascinating podcast featuring Donald Hoffman, who has a intriguing theory on the nature of reality. Long story short and very simplified, our perceptions are all false, they are just the interface by which we navigate the operating system which is consciousness. It is a truly mindbending 54 minutes.  He is very good at making his theory intelligible to ordinary brains.

For 35 years I painted abstract acrylic canvases which created illusions using the brain’s ability and tendency to fill in the blanks where information is lacking. I was also a wake-n-bake weed smoker for many years.  One thing I noticed about THC is that for many people, it obscures the ability to read other people, to pick up on cues as to their thoughts, to read between the lines of their behavior.  This creates gaps, which our brain fills in.  Another effect of THC is mild paranoia, which affects the way those gaps are filled, to the detriment of interpersonal relationships. This became particularly clear to me in the 90’s, when I quit smoking and my girlfriend at the time didn’t. We didn’t last long.

Our ability to recognize patterns and to extrapolate the connections between divergent points of knowledge has been critical to our survival as a species and to the development and expansion of our understanding of the universe around us. Now Hoffman comes along and says none of it is real.  The trippy thing is that he has come to this conclusion through the lens of the same false patchwork interface that, according to him, we all use to make sense of life. He proves all of this using mathematics.  I have not seen any of the equations in question, and I doubt I would understand them, but the theory rings true.

The map above illustrates how easy it is to get things very very wrong if you don’t have enough data, and also the confidence with which humans extrapolate and draw the map of their world in the face of this lack of knowledge.

I am about to embark on a major transition.  In 8 months, I will start collecting Social Security.  During the subsequent year, I will prepare and finally move to Oaxaca to “retire.” I am taking this step based on a very small set of data.  I am sure I have drawn the map of this adventure to include a clear Northwest Passage which doesn’t exist, and that the coastlines I have drawn are woefully inaccurate.  Still, I will travel to this new world and learn its true boundaries, it’s beauties and perils.  I will live, as humans always have, refining my interface with consciousness by navigating the unknown.