Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Journey called 'Life' - Parte Tertia

In that recent edition of Scientific American: Mind I've mentioned before, in the article about why it's so difficult to be happy, there is a note about the counterproductivity, if that's the world, of goal-setting and goal-achievement. Apparently, in order to be happy, or something akin to it, goals are not the way to go about that.

I suggest strongly reading the article, if you can find the magazine in hardcopy or online. But here I want to deconstruct, if you will, the mechanism of goal-setting and achievement in the light of The Journey of Life (JoL). Doing this may, I think, reveal a somewhat different perspective to the one you're used to.

The basic rules of the JoL:
  • You can only move in one direction: forward; although you may choose different branches appearing all the time in the path ahead.
  • You cannot stop and smell the roses. You have to keep moving.
  • You're walking in a permanent fog, and can't see more than a few steps past your nose. Sometimes it's a bit more, but not much.
  • All you can do to plan your path is to draw a map of some sort, which will be based on a mix of speculation, deduction, induction, conjecture and a massive dose of ignorance of what lies ahead.
The act of goal setting and achievement consists of the following elements:
  • You have to choose someplace you want to get to on your journey. That place is known as your goal.
  • You have to create a map how to get there. This map consists of a conjectured path to the goal—in essence an outline of what branches you have to take at point on the journey.
  • You have to make and continue to make decisions on going this way or that in order to 'reach' the point you wanted to reach.
  • If the map turns out to be inaccurate, as it almost invariably will because of your basic ignorance of what will be, you will have to adjust the map.
Once you've reached your goal the following are certain:
  • You will always go past it. You cannot just stay where you are, because life won't let you.
  • The consequences of having taken the decision branches you have to get there, will have precluded you from having taken a whole lot of other paths that you can never tread.
  • Because of the Law of Unintended Consequences you will find yourself in a position that conforms, to some degree to your expectations, but which will have associated with it infinitely more 'unexpecteds'.
The most important thing to remember with all the above, insofar as goal setting and achievement is concerned, is the truth about your essential ignorance of what lies in the fog surrounding you, which prevents you as much from seeing the full extent of the complexities of the present, as much as it conceals the contingencies of the future and the landscape before you.

The map you draw is always based on a much larger degree of ignorance than it is of knowledge. The map, as the General Semantics people say, is not the territory; this map even more so than usual. And the map of what happens once you go past your goal...well, that probably hasn't even been thought of in the obsession with getting to the goal. And that is a map you should really have thought about some before setting out. For, do you really want to be in the position you're going to be in once you get there? What exactly that position is likely to be, is, of course, shrouded in fog.

Something else that often gets lost in following the map and making decision to go this way rather than that, is 'perspective'. Tunnel-vision takes over. "Ah," you say, "so I've some to this point and I want to go there, so I go that way." Never a look or peek into the fog to the other branch, to see if maybe there were outlines of interesting things that might warrant one's attention.

And so on.

Remember this very physical image of your life: fog all around you; unable to stop moving; on a path with a branch every step of the journey.

That just about sums up 'life'. And if you think you're actually 'seeing clearly' in any way, think again. For you don't. You just think you do. You mistake the map of your conjecture for the territory. Usually the map is pretty accurate for short periods of time. The human brain is, after all, largely dedicated to being a prediction machine. But it's just a map, which you follow in the blind faith that it's more than a map, because you have to.

And so you step into the fog, confident that the step isn't going to take you straight over a cliff's edge, and the fog closes in behind you and opens a bit more ahead, keeping you in its bubble of ignorance all the time. I've used that image in Seladiƫnna, by the way, though I suspect that, despite a previous and fairly broad hint as to its meaning, it, too, was lost on the readers.

I think I need to be less subtle. Maybe a sledgehammer would do the job better.

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