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A Universe of Me-Centric Universes

The universe revolves around me. I perceive it with my senses. I experience it with the gut feelings of my subconscious  instincts and intuitions. I comprehend it with the rationales of my conscious reasoning. Reality, including my sense of self, my place in the universe, and my relationship with it, is created by my own mind, and mine alone.

It can’t be any other way. There’s no such thing as the Vulcan mind meld from Star Trek or Dumbledore’s pensieve from Harry Potter through which I can perceive, feel, and think with the senses, intuitions, and reasoning of another person.  I am alone in my universe.

The same is true for you, and for every other person on the planet. For each and every one of us existence itself is a private, personal fabrication of our own minds.  Humanity is a universe of parallel me-centric universes.

We use many different words to refer to the realities we create for ourselves. Depending on context we call them perspectives, outlooks, world views, ideologies, visions, moral matrices, predispositions, and more.  Within those broad categories are multiple variations to which we assign names like progressivism, liberalism, conservatism, and libertarianism.   

The point is “isms” are much more than merely sets of assumptions, principles, or tenets we rely on to frame our thinking and guide our decision making. They are actual realities, real worlds, within which we exist and of which we are a part.   

The psychological building blocks from which we construct our realities are of two basic types: 1) Moral foundations, and 2) cognitive styles. Moral foundations are evolved psychological mechanisms of social perception, subconscious intuition, and conscious reasoning. Cognitive styles are patterns of thinking; ways of connecting the dots of the information we receive through our perceptions, feelings, and reasoning.  

Moral foundations and cognitive style work together synergystically to create the emergent, coherent, greater than the sum of its parts, whole “ism” that is our reality.  Each of our personal realities is a “closed epistemic world” that “has within it everything it needs to prove itself.

This is, in a nutshell, why it can be so hard for us to get along.

When you’re arguing about social issues with a person from across the political aisle you’re not really arguing about facts, evidence, logic, and consequences.  What’s actually happening is you’re trying to convince the other person that your me-centric universe is a better representation of actual reality than their me-centric universe.  It’s as if you’re a mammal trying to convince a fish why mammal-ness is superior to fish-ness.  With rare exceptions it’s just not gonna happen.  

A good example of what’s going on is captured in the story Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions,by Edwin Abbot, in which three dimensional beings try to describe their universe to two dimensional beings.  The story is summarized as follows in The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, by Jonathan Haidt:

One day, the square is visited by a sphere from a three-dimensional world called Spaceland. When a sphere visits Flatland, however, all that is visible to Flatlanders is the part of the sphere that lies in their plane-in other words, a circle. The square is astonished that the circle is able to grow or shrink at will (by rising or sinking into the plane of Flatland) and even to disappear and reappear in a different place (by leaving the plane, and then reentering it). The sphere tries to explain the concept of the third dimension to the two-dimensional square, but the square, though skilled at two-dimensional geometry, doesn’t get it. He cannot understand what it means to have thickness in addition to height and breadth, nor can he understand that the circle came from up above him, where “up” does not mean from the north. The sphere presents analogies and geometrical demonstrations of how to move from one dimension to two, and then from two to three, but the square stilI finds the idea of moving “up” out of the plane of Flatland ridiculous.


3 thoughts on “A Universe of Me-Centric Universes

  1. Absolutely brilliant analysis and synthesis of the cutting edge research on how the human mind perceives and interacts with the world.
    I fully agree with everything you wrote above, so let’s take it to the next logical step. If one asserts that their ‘ism’ is correct, whether it is liberal, conservative, or something else, they are basically asserting that their innate inclinations and inherited cognitive style is correct and everyone else is not. In other words, ‘my closed epistemic system’ is right and those that disagree are wrong.
    That is the very definition of a narrow, one-dimensional, linear world view. However, since we know that the world is a complex system and we also know that ‘To err is human'(error and bias are part of human nature), therefore, shouldn’t we all suspend the assumptions of our respective ‘closed epistemic systems’ and actively seek the best solution by weeding our errors and biases, just as we do in every successful field of human endeavor?

    Ideologies or ‘ism’s’ of any stripe do nothing more than codify and systematize our linear, reactionary forces within our minds, and actively work against our higher cognitive functions of problem solving. The negative effects of this process is what we witness in our current political discourse every day. This is also why Jonathon Haidt has rejected the liberalism of his youth and now follows, a centrist/non-aligned path.


    Posted by Tom Rossman | July 23, 2017, 4:05 pm

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