Mapping the Medium, Episode 3: Do You Hear What I Hear?

two irregular text bubbles on pink background

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán

 

(INTRO MUSIC)

Welcome back, and thank you for joining me again. It does mean a lot to me that you are here, and it’s also very important to me that you find each episode interesting and valuable. .. So I’d like to mention to you that if you’re just now joining in as a listener, and you’ve not yet heard any of the previous episodes, you might not fully recognize all the references as we go forward. So I hope you’ll consider listening to this podcast in order of the release dates. That way you can get the most out of it. You’ll also be more likely to answer the questions that I regularly pose in my opening comments. …Today’s question about a previous episode ‘flows’ perfectly into our next subject matter. Listen to this sound, and think of how it relates to episode #1, ‘A Place to Begin’. Once you’ve determined what the sound is, then think about the name of the group associated with it, and whether or not you might read anything else into that name. Please leave your comments under this episode listing on mappingthemedium.com. .. OK. Here’s the sound. … (STREAM) …….. It sounds like a nice place to be, doesn’t it?  …. In addition to mappingthemedium.com, where I can read your comments and we can correspond dialogically, I also have a blog site, where I will soon be posting all of the transcripts from this podcast. You can find it at culturalmetapatterns (that’s all one word, no dots or underscores), culturalmetapatterns.com. You’re welcome to post your comments there as well. I do hope you’ll check it out. . …. Ok. Now let’s move on to ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’.

(MUSIC)

Here now is another sound for us to consider….

(HORSE HOOVES)

Ah… If you listened to episode #2, ‘The Traveler and The Road’, you probably recognize my reference and reason for using this sound. We know it as the traveler leaving the scene, after no one responded to his ‘keeping his word’. So in this sound of ‘plunging hooves’, we might hear resolve, perhaps frustration, or even determination, to get past it and move forward. …. We can understand this sound reference only because we associate it with the last episode of this podcast. But what if we considered this same sound under a different context? Such as the American Indian Wars, the Scottish Border Reivers during the 16th century, or even ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’? Whether it’s a sound, a smell, a color, a pattern, or the combination of all of these wrapped up into human being’s spoken or written shorthand, that being a word,… (For instance, the word ‘sizzle’ immediately makes most people think of the sound, sight, smell, and color of frying bacon). … This all leads us to ask the question, “What is it in our perception that elicits an immediate understanding and cognitive ‘mapping’ of the meaning that lies behind these separate or combined stimuli?

To understand and answer this question, we need to explore the work of a fascinating individual. … Charles Sanders Peirce. For ease of your research, his last name is spelled P-e-i-r-c-e, but pronounced ‘Purse’, like a lady’s handbag. He was a brilliant and deeply profound American philosopher, scientist, mathematician, and first and foremost, an astounding logician, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Because he was so far ahead of his time, and his insights were not easily understood by the academic culture of his day, his ability to obtain tenured employment was severely hindered, resulting in a very difficult life of poverty in his older years. In spite of that, he continued to spend his time working on his system of thought, documenting his insights, lecturing when he could, and submitting papers to philosophical and scientific journals. We are very fortunate that his wife saved his extensive volumes of work, later donating them to academia. Even though Peirce was overshadowed during his lifetime and little known for many years following his death, many scholars today regard him as America’s most brilliant logician and one of the world’s greatest philosophers. If you are not familiar with him, I strongly encourage to learn more about this brilliant man’s mind. Of his many contributions, and there are so many that scholars around the world are finding extremely valuable, one of his most well-known is ‘semiotics’, which is the ‘philosophical study of signs’. The term derives from the Greek version of the word meaning “observant of signs”, and it was first used in English prior to 1676 by physician, writer, and scholar, Henry Stubbes, to denote the branch of medical science relating to the interpretation of signs. English philosopher and physician, John Locke, later used the term in book 4 chapter 21 of ‘An Essay Concerning Human Understanding”. .. Charles Peirce’s work on semiotics, however, proposed extensive definitions of the signs, and he understood them as the building blocks of inference. Stop for just a moment here and think about how you ‘inferred’ the meanings behind the sounds of the stream and the horse hooves as you associated them with previous episodes of this podcast. .. We will certainly explore in more depth Peirce’s definitions and the building blocks of inference as further opportunities arise in this podcast’s future, but for now we will just start with understanding these three types of how a sign stands for its denoted object; whether as an icon, an index, or a symbol, and how these might be considered in relation to sounds that cause us to ‘infer’ and reach conclusions that map our understanding as we interact with others and the world around us.   … An icon is a sign that refers through similarity to its object. Some examples of an icon are a portrait, or a diagram, such as a portrait of Jesus or a diagram of a human heart.   … An index is a sign that refers through factual connection to its object. For example, where there’s smoke there’s fire, or footprints in the sand indicating that a person had been there. .  … And a symbol is a sign that refers to its object through interpretive habit or norm. Some examples of a symbol would be a crucifix, the Star of David, or a peace sign. If you were an alien from outer space, a crucifix, Star of David, or a peace sign might only look to you like lines drawn in a particular arrangement. The meanings they hold are relative only to cultural conventions.

What all of these types of signs have in common is that they are all relative to a person’s experience, and how those building blocks of inference have shaped the cognitive mapping in an individual’s mind as an ‘extension’ of the person’s culture. To reference Gregory Bateson again, you may think you’re thinking your own thoughts, but you’re not. You’re thinking your culture’s thoughts. Biology and the understanding of emergence, process, and relational dynamics is quite clear on the matter of ‘thought and extension’. There is no detached individual, and it is through our observance of ‘otherness’ that we develop a sense of ‘self’ in relation to that which is ‘not self’. Sign observance is inference processing of the otherness that is the medium we are navigating, and it is how we orient what we know of ‘self’, and recognize that among others we too are alive. It is the mechanism by which everything is born, interacts, grows, and dies. In essence it is biological dialogue… that begins simply and develops into more complex systems. In human beings it has reach the level of complexity that has become language. This being the reason dialogue is so crucial to a healthy society. … And by written word, one human being can express and communicate to another human being the types of signs that are icon, index, and symbol into a quick to communicate package consisting of only a few letters. The power in that can have much more impact than we often realize, and can be either nurturing or destructive.  … So it was that, in the beginning, there really was the Word, as in ‘sign’, and creation cannot exist without semiotics. It is an innate aspect of our being. Charles Peirce held that “The entire universe is perfused with signsif it is not composed exclusively of signs.” Semiotic causality is what we cognitively experience as the flowing, universal momentum of cause and effect determinism. And as Mikhail Bakhtin said, “The better a person understands his determinism (his thingness), the closer he is to understanding and realizing his true freedom.”   … When we realize that what we ‘think’ is our individual mind when we hear, read, or encounter something with our senses, is actually inferences we make based on cognitive, semiotic cause and effect scaffolding within our own mind (and that of other minds that by way of extension we have incorporated into our own), we can better understand how our expressions and reactions are then received by others, ultimately creating a more responsible culture.

So as we once again listen to the horse hooves as the traveler rides away, think about what you infer from this sound from your current perspective placement in the universal extension of thought. Can you recognize the influence of others in your thoughts about the sound? Can you separate the sound from all that you are inferring, making it purely sound with no meaning at all? You can’t, can you? Practice doing this a few times each day with something you see, read, or hear. Your world will soon seem bigger, more colorful, and much more dynamic. And with all of that, your perspective on the challenges we face today will change as well, and you’ll soon find that your input is much more effective, especially when you can find others who are doing the same.

(HORSE HOOVES)

Thank you for listening to this episode of Mapping the Medium. I hope you will consider sharing it with others. If you have interest in being a guest on this podcast, or would like to share your thoughts or show your support by donating or sponsoring, please visit www.mappingthemedium.com.

Until next time, be well, be safe, be alert, dialogue with others of different perspectives, and always watch out for those signs.

(MUSIC)

© 2019 Catherine Tyrrell All Rights Reserved

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Mapping the Medium, Episode 2: The Traveler and The Road

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetPhoto by Irina Iriser

(INTRO MUSIC)

Welcome back, and thank you for tuning in to episode number 2. As I promised in the first episode, I’m going to start off by giving you a little insight into what this next one is about. But before I do that, I want to share an idea with you that I came up with as a way to get your feedback and involve more listeners in dialogue. .. At the beginning of each episode, look for me to ask you a question about a previous one, where there might have been a hidden clue, or a meaning that you may have overlooked. Let’s have fun with it, and see what you and others come up with. It’s very possible that you have a perspective that I hadn’t thought of before. This will give you a way to participate in how this podcast grows and develops, and I’d like that. Ok, here’s my first question:

In episode number 1, what is the significance of the Proposer giving precisely 15 minutes to the participants to talk among themselves and come up with a descriptive name for their group? You can reply on whichever app you are listening through, or you can submit your comment on mappingthemedium.com. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

Now for a bit about this new episode… We are going take a look at two different written works, both published in the same decade but across the big pond from each other, and both expressing how humans might view the ‘footprints’ that we each leave on the ‘Medium’ in which we all travel.

It’s easy to understand why I titled this episode ‘The Traveler and The Road’.

(MUSIC)

 

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,

Knocking on the moonlit door;

And his horse in the silence champed the grasses

Of the forest’s ferny floor:

And a bird flew up out of the turret,

Above the Traveller’s head:

And he smote upon the door again a second time;

‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.

But no one descended to the Traveller;

No head from the leaf-fringed sill

Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,

Where he stood perplexed and still.

But only a host of phantom listeners

That dwelt in the lone house then

Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight

To that voice from the world of men:

Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,

That goes down to the empty hall,

Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken

By the lonely Traveller’s call.

And he felt in his heart their strangeness,

Their stillness answering his cry,

While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,

’Neath the starred and leafy sky;

For he suddenly smote on the door, even

Louder, and lifted his head:—

‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,

That I kept my word,’ he said.

Never the least stir made the listeners,

Though every word he spake

Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house

From the one man left awake:

Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,

And the sound of iron on stone,

And how the silence surged softly backward,

When the plunging hoofs were gone.

 

This haunting, early 20th century poem, written by British poet, short story writer, and novelist, Walter de la Mare, strikingly depicts man’s perplexity with his place in the universe and what the great unknown expectations of humanity may be, if any. How many of us actually travel this medium with purpose and intent, keeping our word, as the poem so brilliantly illustrates, .. That we will arrive, and knock, prepared to meet what lies behind that door? Some might question what choice they had in being here to begin with, blurring in their minds the lines between free will and intention, and choosing to not be burden with responsibility for their actions. But in their darkest hours of reflection, could it be that they do still knock? That they do still ask who is listening. …. Do the phantoms of an eternal consciousness still bend an ear to each traveler’s words, however impotent they may be in meaning or however tragically they’ve been reduced by our culture to no more than a mere echo? … And what of the horse? It may bring us there, but how much time do we devote to that effort of knocking before we ride away. Our level of sincerity and intention seems to be either a deficiency or an innate quality of how our footsteps travel the Medium, and how our choices impress against the journey’s momentum, even when the choice is not to make one at all, sometimes having violent consequences.  The horse is only a means of placement, just as the four corners were in this podcast’s previous episode. It’s how we respond as we meet each event on the road that either nurtures or scars the potential. …. Future potential lies before us in every moment of every day, but as only one traveler the story of an individual life will always be a ‘less traveled road’ because no one else has compiled the same genetic history, and the combination of that with events and experiences, always molding and eliciting unique responses by the individual to the medium. … So, what of ‘choices’? In today’s complicated world, trying to stay alert in an atmosphere of constant distractions, trying to discern truth, and trying to choose the least harmful directions for self, let alone society, can seem like such a daunting challenge.  But perhaps this is a self-inflicted paradox. .. Many try to ease this mental burden by pointing out the deficiencies in others in order to point that same finger away from the mirror of self, but this is circular reasoning. If everyone is doing that, nothing gets accomplished. Whereas, we might actually find a different perspective, one that generates real momentum, through an exercise in humility.

This next written work is probably familiar to you, but there’s a very strong possibility that you completely misunderstand it. …..

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

This poem titled ‘The Road Not Taken’, written by Robert Frost and published only 4 years later than our first poem, ‘The Listeners’, interestingly points to a real difference in the way Western culture was escalating in America in comparison to the slower resistance to it in Europe. What I am referring to is a seed of thought that developed in the 14th century and sprouted the ontological individualism that I referred to in episode one.

As specific topic opportunities arise, we will explore more of those details in the future. And like a sleuth, we can uncover interesting human activities that clearly exhibit it. And they are, not surprisingly, everywhere!

For instance, in the first stanza of ‘The Road Not Taken’, we find a traveler examining a choice. He wishes he could explore the future of those choices before actually choosing one and going down that path. In the second stanza, it’s made clear that there really is no discernable difference in the paths. And in stanza number three, he just picks a path for no specific reason, and plans to remember the other to travel for another day. But ‘knowing how way leads onto way’ (stop for a moment here and think about our biological mapping that I referred to in episode one), he doubted he should ever come back. .. And then in the last stanza, we are presented with the ‘pride’ that he professed later in life when he attributes his success to having been special in that he chose a road supposedly less traveled, and that it made all the difference, when there was definitely no discernable difference in those roads at the time. … As I mentioned before, any road traveled by an individual is a ‘less traveled road’. …but Robert Frost actually wrote this in a spirit of sarcasm and jest, that his friend carried his ontological individualism like a medal. And this poem has been incorrectly used as a source of pride in graduation speeches, car commercials, and other such displays for many many years. Our culture is so submersed in ontological individualism, and the addiction to how it pats our individual selves on the back at every turn, that we are pathologically and pathetically blind to the problem, even when it’s right there in front of us, in such places as a poem that everyone knows.

It’s time we stop this addiction and neediness and get back to acts of a more humble and focused nature. ….. Here is one resource that I have found to be helpful when contemplating these things.

Mikhail Bakhtin was a profound philosopher, literary critic, and semiotician in early 20th century Russia. His work was suppressed by the Russian government until he was rediscovered by scholars in the 1960s. One of his first manuscripts, written between 1919 and 1922, titled ‘Toward a Philosophy of the Act’, was actually rescued in 1972 from an old storeroom full of rats and seeping water. This work was the “heart of the heart” of Bakhtin, in which he raises issues of cultural relativity, responsibility, self and other, the moral significance of outsidedness, participatory thinking, and the implications of the individual having “no alibi in existence”. … No one else can do or be what we each need to be as life is laid before us, and as we travel and map our journey, we are constantly presented with choices that Bakhtin called a ‘once occurrent ought’. .. How can we be better aware of this ‘ought’, as the traveler clearly was in our first poem. We are so busy patting our own individual selves on the back, and encouraging a façade of accomplishments that are less and less real as we play out our narcissistic fantasies in a screen infested, techy world. …

I’ve come to the conclusion that in ‘The Road Not Taken’, Robert Frost wants us to think about how we approach a ‘choice path’. Do we think of it as Bakhtin’s “obligatory ought”, knowing that each step along the way impacts the medium as a whole, or do we just follow along distractedly and then profess claim or blame in hindsight down the road?  The point seems to be that our individual journey (way leads on to way) can only ever be taken by one traveler. But if hundreds, thousands, or millions each understood that because of our individual relations to the whole, how strongly small choices can influence other events, how no one else is standing at that particular place in existence and can do what can only be done by the one traveler, and then actually realize those ‘obligatory oughts’, .. That’s exactly how we will leave those side by side footprints of intention, and then purposefully make all of the difference.

Thank you for listening to this episode of Mapping the Medium. I hope you will consider sharing it with others. If you have interest in being a guest on this podcast, or would like to share your thoughts or show your support by donating or sponsoring, please visit www.mappingthemedium.com.

Until next time, be well, be safe, be hopeful, dialogue with others of different perspectives, and always be on the lookout for those side by side footprints.

(MUSIC)

© 2019 Catherine Tyrrell All Rights Reserved

Mapping the Medium Introduction, Episode 1: A Place To Begin

Canva - Stream in a Forest With Grey Rocks

 

 
Photo by Matt Wolf

 
(MUSIC)

Thank you for joining me on this very first episode of ‘Mapping the Medium’. .. Before I grab your hand, and your attention, to take you down this rabbit hole with me, I’d like to tell you a little bit about the overall format of this podcast so that you may better understand what to expect…… At the beginning of each episode, I will do my very best to include a short outline to help you get a better idea of what the episode is about. .. And as you come to know me better, you’ll discover that there may be subtle, and perhaps even not so subtle, ‘meanings’ in my choices of titles, topics, and content that may only be revealed to you by listening to the episodes in their entirety. It is my sincere hope that you will find value and entertainment in the hidden treasures that we uncover together. .. I say ‘together’ because I do appreciate your feedback, and I encourage you to comment, and potentially start a dialogue that may find its way into future episodes. .. At the end of each one, I will always remind you of the website address at http://www.mappingthemedium.com, where you can easily share your thoughts and offer your support for the podcast. … In addition, to assist you in researching the topics before you comment, I will always do my best to provide scholar names and sources to any information that I have cited. ..… It is also in my plans to have guest participation, and I warmly extend an invitation to any interested parties having the appropriate knowledge of the topics as listed on the website, and who view our world and humanity in a spirit that is compatible with this podcast. ….. Okay, let’s move on and get started with ‘A Place to Begin’.

(MUSIC)

There’s really no better place to start than at a beginning, and to properly begin this podcast journey, it is very important that we all understand the meaning behind the title ‘Mapping the Medium’. .. Since the word ‘Medium’ is the noun in our title, and will be the subject of what we are ‘Mapping’, it only makes sense that I begin this explanation by exploring the meaning of the word ‘Medium’. .. There are many meanings of this word, as defined in most online sources that very well illustrate why it has made its way into the title. The primary meaning that seems to stand out is usually listed as the ‘second’ definition in most dictionaries. ….. Here it is …“the ‘intervening substance’ through which impressions are conveyed to the senses or a force acts on objects at a distance” …. Some commonly listed synonyms (or other words with similar meaning) are habitat, element, environment, surroundings, conditions, circumstances, and atmosphere …
And a great example of usage is found in the following sentence “these organisms were growing in their natural medium”. …
Humans, being the biological creatures that we are, and this podcast, being focused on human perspective, ‘clearly’ THIS is the meaning that makes so much sense, and the main one we will use as our foundation. …. Now, the ‘first’ most common definition of ‘medium’ found in most dictionaries is this one “an agency or means of doing something”, which also includes a ‘mode’ of expression, … a means by which something is communicated … We are all certainly familiar with the impact the ‘media’ has had on our world today …. But Medium can also mean the actual ‘material’ or ‘form’ used by an artist, composer, or writer. …. This definition also includes ‘language’, as a medium for communication. …. Another noteworthy meaning includes this one “a solution used to mix paint colors”. .. Hmm, it’s interesting to think about how all of these are related. … Yes, these ‘other’ definitions can also be applied as a strong foundation for our purposes. ….. Finally, I think I should also point out one last crucial definition. …Here it is, “the middle quality or state between two extremes; a reasonable balance”. …Hmm… I think I’ll just ask that you hold this definition in the back of your mind for now, and perhaps at a later date we can consider how it relates to all that we’ve explored.

Now that we’re clear on our meaning of the word ‘medium’, it’s time to move on and explain the verb in our title; ‘Mapping’.

For the purposes of this podcast, the term ‘mapping’ is used to refer to ‘cognitive mapping’. .. “A ’cognitive map (sometimes called a mental map or mental mode) is a type of mental representation that serves an individual in acquiring, coding, storing, recalling, and decoding information about the relative locations and attributes of phenomena in their everyday or ‘metaphorical’ spatial environment”. You can easily research ‘cognitive map’ online by entering that term into your browser search engine. There is also an article located on Nature.com explaining more about this. You will find it at http://www.nature.com/articles/nn.4656 . In the article, scholars discuss how three basic elements of cognitive ‘map based navigation’, that is… spatial coding, landmark anchoring, and route planning, might also be applied to ‘non-spatial’ domains, providing the building blocks for many core elements of human thought. … My point here being that what I previously mentioned about the ‘medium’ in which we all live, and impressions on us being made through our senses, including the impressions of our ‘environment’, ‘conditions’, and ‘circumstances’, ‘is’ the momentum for the brain mapping process in our individual minds,… a ‘perceived’ model of the world,… starting as early as the very first impressions our senses pick up while still in our mother’s womb. … I won’t delve into this right now, preferring to explore it in a future episode, but research in the field of epigenetics is potentially indicating that some of the brain modeling that takes place may actually have to do with regulatory information affecting gene expression that is genetically handed down from previous generations. Could it be that we inherit some of our fears, prejudices, and other such traits, from our ancestors? This would certainly seem to make sense for the survival of any primitive animal species born into a jungle full of predators. .. Another question resulting from this might be whether or not the ‘mapping’ of our ‘perceived’ world is fully encased in an ‘individual’ mind. … Is your mind fully your own? Or did it have, and could it still have, some existence outside of your individual body? … We will explore these questions more in future episodes, when we delve further into linguistics, semiotics, religion, the biological sciences, and other such relevant topics, but for right now we will stay focused on the developing brain of a child.

Out of all natural fertilizations of a human embryo, researchers estimate that approximately 60% never become properly implanted in the uterus, thereby ending the new life before the mother is ever even aware that she is pregnant.
For the fertilized egg that does implant properly, it will be approximately 22 days later that the neural tube will begin to form, with head development following quickly at about the fourth week. Neural connection development in the brain begins in the sixth week, and is near or at completion around the middle of a full term pregnancy. … Side note here, …There are many reliable online resources if you’d like to do further research, however, I do always recommend that you check the credentials of any source of your information. .. My background includes studies in prenatal and early childhood development, leading to my certification as a developmental parenting educator. The science is always improving and updating. And yes, there are many fascinating things about human development that I truly wish the general public would take more time to understand. …Now back to our topic, so it is that around the ninth week of prenatal development, the embryo is now a fetus, and this is the period that begins what we might think of as the more ‘perceptive’ changes in the brain. Neurons continue to form and ‘migrate’ to their appropriate places according to their genetic instructions. … Synapses also form, becoming the connections between the neurons that transmit information from one neuron to another, allowing the brain to process information and promote further growth and development in the domains of intellectual, social-emotional, language, and motor skills. Synapses are really quite fascinating. Although the neurons are ‘connected’ at the synapse, they are not actually ‘attached’ to each other. There is a gap between each one of them. It is the synapse that permits a neuron to engage in a dialogue of sorts, of chemical and electrical ‘signals’, in the localized neural circuit for the larger network processing, and all of this without actually touching the neighboring neuron. …. So what kind of information is a fetus processing? Science has determined that the ability to hear sound during gestation does not begin until about 18 weeks, and ‘sensitivity’ to sound isn’t really developed until closer to 24 weeks. And even then, the sounds are distorted and muted, similar to hearing under water… There ‘is’ also the mother’s rhythm and movement to consider, and even what she has consumed, but just what else is the brain of a fetus processing prior to 18 weeks of gestation? … Along with the necessary decoding of genetic information, as the neural connections in the brain of a fetus form and multiply, it is processing its environment, conditions, and circumstance. And as each neuron repeats the detection of a perception, that circuit in the brain becomes more ingrained and reinforced. .. The forming child is rapidly ‘mapping’ his ‘medium’, and this mapping will continue at a phenomenal rate until the child is six years old, when his slowed head growth will constrain further brain growth, and at which time the neural connections least useful to the child in his daily environment will be pruned back. The child has been as biologically prepared as possible for his particular environmental surroundings. Wherever, and under whatever circumstances those may be.

But how do we understand ‘mapping’ as it relates to an adult human brain, especially when we consider that the early childhood brain has been biologically prepared for one type of environment, whether nurturing or not, but adult mental health and survival in today’s world means being subjected to and navigating an environment that is a wide open medium, flooded with accurate, and inaccurate, information?

In a 1933 book titled “Science and Sanity”, Polish-American scientist and philosopher, Alfred Korzybski, elaborated further on statements he had made in a previous paper, in which he wrote “the map is not the territory” and “the word is not the thing”. Korzybski held that many people do confuse maps with territories, or models of reality with reality itself. In this same book, Korzybski did acknowledge his debt to mathematician Eric Temple Bell whose epigram “the map is not the thing mapped” appeared in his book titled “Numerology”, which also happened to be written in 1933. … I detect a difference between what Bell was talking about and Alfred Korzybski’s take on it, but I will save my thoughts on that for another episode. .. Anyway, I also find it interesting to think about Korzybski’s choice of words in describing Bell’s epigram. .. 1933 was the middle of the Great Depression, and the same year in which Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany. Perhaps we should consider the meaning of Korzybski’s usage of the word ‘territory’ in relation to the predominant mental and emotional perspectives of the time. .. Korzybski is also known for using another term, ‘abstraction’, to illustrate his view that humans filter the information content of a concept or an observable phenomenon, and select ‘only’ the aspects that are relevant for a particular ‘subjectively valued purpose’. ..Hmm… In today’s world of technology and video games, one might be inclined to think of an avatar cruising around a territory to be conquered, selecting which specific power pods to land on in order to abstract, boost, and reinforce that avatar’s ‘subjective purpose’. … The map-territory relation was also broached some years later by British-American philosopher Alan Watts when he said “the menu is not the meal”. Again, we might consider the meanings of the words ‘menu’ and ‘meal’ in relation to the then world of the 1960s, when consumerism was in high gear. In this case, our ‘avatar’ might be more likely to resemble Pac Man. …

And to more deeply expound on the relation, in a 1972 book titled ‘Steps to an Ecology of Mind’, English anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, and semiotician, Gregory Bateson, wrote this… And I quote…

”We say the map is different from the territory. But what is the territory? Operationally, somebody went out with a retina or a measuring stick and made representations which were then put on paper. What is on the paper map is a representation of what was in the retinal representation of the man who made the map; and as you push the question back, what you find is an infinite regress, an infinite series of maps. The territory never gets in at all. … Always, the process of representation will filter it out so that the mental world is only maps of maps, ad infinitum.” … End quote.

Okay, so let’s take what these noted thinkers had to say about our ‘map-medium’ relationship and revisit our developing child. … His cognitive map began prenatally, according to his perceived environment. That continued into his early childhood, mapping his place in a much larger expanse, and trying to navigate his ‘perceived’ medium accordingly. And although actual brain ‘growth’ does slow after early childhood, cognitive mapping continues. Every perception of every event, and the perception of the environmental circumstances surrounding each event, is incorporated into his already ingrained cognitive map, and attached to a previously understood, or often ‘misunderstood’, perspective, reinforcing it, and ultimately affecting the way future experiences and perceptions are processed, incorporated, and mapped. … What all of this boils down to is that the ‘true’ medium is ‘always’ cloaked, and is not ‘possibly’ accessible to any ‘one’ individual’s cognitive map. .. The way we ‘each’, as ‘individuals’, see the world, is never the actual ‘reality’ of the medium, no matter who we are, what experiences, or even what opportunities, we may have.

So how do we address ‘fixations of beliefs’ in our current world, with people so polarized in their thinking? Their cognitive maps of their own individual truths have been reinforced, and subsequently ingrained, due to the cultural encouragement of something philosophers call ‘ontological individualism’, creating divisive societies that are every day becoming more and more void of the dialogue needed to encourage a ‘shared understanding’ of the medium in which we all live. Rather than reaching out to and dialoguing with others of different perspectives, as we desperately need to do, ontological individualism encourages people of different cognitively mapped worldviews to shut each other out. .. How do we overcome this, and move forward in a positive, rational, problem solving way? Some people may be able to understand the science of human development, and some others may even have historical knowledge of thinkers like Gregory Bateson. But how do we explain all of this to people who are not familiar with these understandings? I spend a lot of time asking myself questions like these. What I try to focus on is how to express my thoughts to those closest to me, with the hope that the ideas will radiate beyond my immediate sphere. Another method I’ve decided might be helpful, since it has been such a successful teaching tool throughout human history, is storytelling. Here now is an example of the type of story that I mean. …..

It was a beautiful spring morning in mid-April, when many of the town’s people woke up to find an anonymous post on their Facebook newsfeed. They had never seen this poster’s icon before, and there was little information to be found on the profile page, only that it was locally based. The identifying name on the account was ‘Proposer’, and many came to the conclusion that it might be a local business or a government entity. The post on the newsfeed read as follows:

“An opportunity to acquire a phenomenal prize. A treasure so wonderful that it will change your life and the life of your family for generations to come. To participate, submit by private message telling a little bit about yourself and why you are interested. There will only be twelve selected, and if chosen, you will receive further instructions.”

Well of course there was much suspicion and hesitation, but the post quickly went viral, and hundreds of people sent in messages explaining why they thought they should be selected. .. Within a few days, twelve very excited respondents received replies in their inboxes containing the detailed but still quite vague instructions. They were each told that, in order to learn more about the proposal, they would have to be at a specific latitude longitude coordinate at noon, no later, and no earlier, on the upcoming Sunday.

Well the day finally came. All of the respondents arrived in their vehicles and gathered at the head of a wooded trail leading to the destination point. With curious anticipation, they walked down the path as a group, insuring that they all arrived at the same time and precisely at noon. There at the coordinates, they discovered a kiosk, with a large microphone and speaker, mounted on a platform and holding twelve colored envelopes. Three green, three orange, three purple, and three yellow, and each bearing the name of a participant.

A voice was heard coming from the kiosk speaker. …. “Welcome, to all of you. You have each found your way here because you responded to my proposal and made a case for why you should be a recipient of a treasure that will change your life. Please find and open your personal envelope. In it you will find a survey map of this one hundred acre parcel of land of which you are currently standing directly in the middle. .. You will note that the survey shows it to be an exact square, and that it also illustrates some of the natural features of the property. At each corner of this tract, I have placed a flag of the same color as your envelope. Before hiking to the corners, please take fifteen minutes to talk with one another. And then, using the microphone, report back to me with a descriptive name for your group.”

And so the participants broke into groups according to the colors of their envelopes. It wasn’t long before each person realized how much they had in common with the other members of their same color. .. Once the fifteen minutes had gone by, they were standing ready to report their chosen names. A representative from each color stepped forward. First to speak was the color orange. … “It didn’t take us long to figure out how much we have in common,” he said. “We actually know of each other. … Although we’re not close friends, we all attended the same military boot camp, and we all belong to the same hunting club. We have all, at one time or another, hunted here, on this hundred acre parcel. And we’d like to be known as The Hunters.”…. Next to speak was the color green. ….. “It is similar with us,” she said “in that we are not close friends, but we all know of each other. We graduated in the same class from an Ivy League college, and we all pursued careers in academia. Not only are we all environmentally conscious intellectuals, but every one of us, at one time or another, has fished for trout in the river that winds through this tract of land. .. Therefore, you can refer to us as The Fishers of Trout.”… And then an older woman holding a purple envelope stepped forward. . “We also know about each other, she said, “We all come from the poor side of town, and we all belong to the same house of worship there. Our strong sense of community has helped us survive. And each of us, when we were children, at one time or another picked blackberries on this land, to sell at a fruit stand and help buy our new school clothes for the coming year. We would really like for you to call us The Berry Pickers.” … And lastly, a smiling young man bounced forward to speak. ..”All of us yellow ones can tell you story after story about the fun times we’ve had on this hundred acres. Running through the woods, climbing trees, ‘eating’ those blackberries, and swimming in the best swimming hole anywhere! So sure,” he grinned, as he turned away to high five the others, “I guess you can just call us The Swimming Holers.”… Now that everyone had had a chance to speak, the Proposer began explaining the final details of the instructions. … The participants were told that there is an unknown number of easily recognizable clues scattered throughout the hundred acres that they must find. Once they believe that they have found them all, and have marked the locations on their maps, they are to return to the kiosk and present their findings to the Proposer. If they have not found all of the clues, they will be told to continue looking. They must all be found by noon on the coming Saturday.

And so it was that the participants had all of the information and instructions, and each of the four colors began the trek to find the corner with their flag. As they hiked, they discussed their strategies. “Oh man, we’ve got this in the bag!” remarked one of the Hunters to his group, “Our military skills will kick in and we can pace off this hundred acres, then systematically search each quadrant. We can also build deer stands in the trees and scan the property with our rifle sights. Finding all of the clues shouldn’t take us more than a day or two, max.” He was confident. ……. And following suite, The Fishers of Trout were certain of their abilities to contemplate the locations using their focused intellectual skills, The Berry Pickers were certain of their knowledge of the topography, and the Swimming Holers were certain of their free spirit thinking and love of nature. They all had a plan.

As each day went by, more and more clues were discovered by each of the groups. The Fishers of Trout realized that some of the river rocks were broken, and would fit back together like a jigsaw puzzle, revealing a clue. They also discovered a natural sundial, and deduced a time for the sunshine to hit the reeds, revealing another clue. The Swimming Hollers found a clue inside a tire swing, and then discovered another by laying on their backs and looking up at the tree canopy. The Hunters peered through their gun sights, and were able to see isolated clues that could be overlooked by the others. And the Berry Pickers found several clues hidden underneath the bushes and between some rocks. …. As the week progressed, each group would periodically take their clues and present them at the kiosk, always being told that there were still more to find and to continue their search. As the days went by, and the groups became more frustrated, they also became more suspicious of each other, fearing that whenever they ventured close to the middle, another group might see where they were looking and claim a clue before they could, and acquire the treasure that they were sure was meant for them. On one occasion, the Hunters happened to be looking down upon the Berry Pickers, when one hunter who was peering through his gun sight remarked to the others, “From this vantage point, I could pick a few berries of my own, if you know what I mean.” .. The Berry Pickers overheard him, and one whispered to the others, “Don’t look up. We are vulnerable to them because they are above us. Just keep looking for clues. When ‘we’ get the prize, ‘they’ will be the ones looking up to us.” … But by the sixth day of looking, many of the participants were ready to give up. They were sure they had found all of the clues, and were even talking between themselves that perhaps they had been deceived, and that this whole ‘proposal’ thing was an evil game and that they were being played. They were no longer searching for clues, and they were ready to confront the Proposer.

At noon on Saturday, the frustrated participants gathered at the kiosk to demand an explanation. The Proposer welcomed them, and addressed the group. …“Gooday to all of you. It is unfortunate that the time has come to end the challenge. Each time that participants came to the kiosk to present their clues, there were still missing many from their maps. Even though every clue has been discovered, no one has been able to present a complete map marked with every location.”

“How could we?” yelled one of the participants. “You tricked us. How could we stay in our colored corner and still find all of the clues?” Plus, the other groups had skills and perspectives that we didn’t have. Your proposal was a dead end from the get go!” ….

After a long silence, the Proposer concluded with these words. . … “At no time in the instructions did I say for you to stay separated, or that you could not engage in dialogue, and share in the search for clues. … There was only one group, and there were twelve people in it. I color combined you with those you would recognize for companionship and encouragement. Then I spread you out across the land in order to cover the most terrain. .. But as for the four corners? That was just a place to begin.

Thank you for listening to this episode of ‘Mapping the Medium’. I hope you will consider sharing it with others. If you have interest in being a guest on this podcast, or would like to share your thoughts and show your support by donating or sponsoring, please visit http://www.mappingthemedium.com.

Until next time, be well, be safe, be hopeful, and always remember to ask yourself what unknown clues you’re missing from your map, and who can help you find them.

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© 2019 Catherine Tyrrell All Rights Reserved