Thursday, January 16, 2014

Looking Out My Window - The Transparency Illusion

Looking out through a window (or making a 'window frame' with your hands), notice what you see through it. Now, look at the window. What do you see of the window itself? What is on the window (smudges, reflections, glare, distortions, et cetera)? Also notice some of what gets blocked out from your view through the window. Now return to look out through the window again. As you look onto the scene, can you extend your awareness to include the window as well? Can you stay aware of what is not within your view? 

Looking through my window, it can seem easy to forget, and it sometimes takes some time to realize, that I am looking through a window. It may take some effort to look at a window I am looking through and to figure out how it may be influencing what I see. 

Each one of us is looking at the world through windows, literal windows, and metaphorical ones: the 'windows' of our 'senses', the 'windows' of our language, the 'windows' of the family and the culture we were born into, the 'windows' of our profession, the 'windows' of the doctrines we hold so dear, et cetera. Windows that we do not see. 

Neurocognitive linguist Sydney Lamb calls this the transparency illusion
"A window or a pair of glasses functions best when it is as invisible as possible. The person who wants to study windows must therefore make a special effort to look at the window rather than through it." (Pathways of the brain: The neurocognitive basis of Language. Benjamins, 1999, p. 12-13)
And though we may not be able to remove all of the 'windows' or 'glasses' we look through, many of us could use a radical new prescription. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Orphans and the Inheritance: Using the Gifts of the Past

Korzybski provided us with a most precious legacy: a framework of knowledge about human knowledge, a pathway and discipline for becoming more conscious of our consciousness in useful ways for our individual development and social advancement.

However, we must provide the proper receptacle for that inheritance, as we must provide for any gift of knowledge. This gets to an important aspect of time-binding, the potential we have as humans, the capacity we have—which may or may not operate—to benefit from and apply to the present what others have learned in the past. 

Some insight into this comes from an analysis of a saying in the Jewish Pirkei Avot: "Apply yourself to the study of the Torah, for it is not your inheritance." This appears problematic and has required explanation as it seems to contradict this passage in the Hebrew Bible: "Torah is the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob." (Deut. 33:4)

A contradiction? 

In Talmudic discourse, " [Rabbi] Beis Yisrael offers a different explanation. Torah knowledge itself is an inheritance of the Jewish nation. However, one must apply himself to study the Torah, for it, [the necessary preparation one needs to acquire that precious heritage] is not yours by inheritance—one must exert himself in the preparation. This is analogous to a group of orphans who were to receive a large inheritance from their father, consisting of money and precious gems. The executor of the estate instructed them to bring luggage to carry away their shares. "What!", they exclaimed, "Such a magnificent estate and we must bring suitcases? Aren't there any among the items left to us by our father?" "No", answered the executor, "your father bequeathed you a fantastic fortune, but he didn't leave you even one basket or piece of luggage. That you must provide yourself." (Artscroll Pirkei Avot, p. 114)

This, as I hope you can see, does not just apply to Jewish Torah teachings, but to any important learning from others both living and dead. Korzybski, and others pursuing his work, have provided us with a most precious legacy. However, we must provide the proper receptacle. Without study and application—work—we cannot benefit from that inheritance.