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truth and elephants

Opening new windows in the mind does not need to involve actually giving up our own views or accepting another person's views. It means first recognizing that what we think of as reality is not actually reality as such, but is just our understanding of reality, our view of reality.

We "see" the world with our minds. Our mind interprets everything we observe and think about. It interprets all of that by means of culturally specific mental maps in the context of which we have been socialized, that we have learned, that we have come to accept as the truth.

There is no such thing as objective reality. Or rather, if there is objective reality, the individual human mind, which can only be aware of a limited section of that reality, is not capable of comprehending objective reality. So, in terms of the human mind, there can be no objectively comprehensible objective reality.

Everything we "know" about the worlds of things and of thoughts is a construct of the mind, fitting what we hear, feel, see, taste, and think into a mental framework. What it is possible for any one person to know is limited by time, temperament, the culture or cultures in which they have been socialized, the language/ languages they speak, the social subgroups with which they identify, and a hundred and one other factors.

Recognizing our own windows, knowing that what we "see" of reality is conditioned and limited by who we are, allows us to recognize the windows of others. It's no longer an issue of the "Truth" of my views vs. the "untruth" of your views. It provides the realization that my "truth" is specific to the particular parameters that my life has made available to me and your "truth" is specific to the conditions of your life.

Can different views both be true? Since any view of reality is limited, there is the clear possibility for many different views to be true. We are just not able to see the connections that tie them together.

Even views which appear, from our limited perspective, to be incompatible, or even contradictory, can actually both be true.

Remember the story of the blind friends and the elephant? There were five blind friends who became curious to know what everyone meant when they talked about “elephants”. So they asked to be taken to an elephant which they each explored with their hands to perceive what it was.

“Ah” said the first one who was feeling the ears “I see that an elephant is very much like a large fan”. You are insane” said the one who was feeling the tail, “it is clearly like a rope”. “You are both stupid and ignorant said the third, who was feeling the leg, “it is obviously like a huge tree”. “I don’t know what the rest of you are possibly feeling” said the fourth who was feeling the trunk, “an elephant is nothing like any of those things, it is like a snake”. The fifth blind friend, who was feeling the side of the elephant, then burst out, “but I don’t know what you are talking about, an elephant is like a great solid wall”

And all the blind friends left arguing with one another about the truth of the elephant.

The limitations of our ability to perceive the whole of reality constitutes an inherent and necessary blindness which restricts our ability to comprehend the complete truth or reality of the portion of that reality which we do perceive.

This does not prohibit our ability to understand the truth or reality of our corner of the physical and mental worlds, it just means that our truth is always going to be partial and conditional.

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"mysteries of the elephant"


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