376. Worlds in Collision

December 6, 2014

If we need proof that our minds are sustained by loops of sensory-motor engagement with the world, such proof is amply provided by how upset we get when our loops are interrupted for any reason.

“Not now! Can’t you see I’m busy?” “Go ask your mother!” “Don’t you have better things to do?” “Shut the door as you go out!” “Turn it down for God’s sake!” And a host of expletives that erupt without warning on just such occasions.

Concentration takes dedicated effort. Not only on sensory perception, but on coordinated judgment and action at the same time. Mental coherence is the issue. Voices of children and telemarketers break into our trains of thought, disrupting the flow, causing us to break stride, falter, and suffer confusion.

This is the end of world order as we know it. Distraction, interruption, competition, contradiction, opposition—we loathe them all, and do everything we can to suppress or avoid them. Physically. Violently. Repeatedly. We retreat to our rooms or cubicles and turn on soft music. Or we lash out in anger at a world that won’t let us alone. We love the worlds we create for ourselves at great personal effort and sacrifice. Our expressions, gestures, and body language warn others not to mess with what they can’t understand. Not to tread where they don’t belong.

Which is why the human world is and always has been in such turmoil. There isn’t one world out there but currently more than seven billion different worlds, each wrought to the liking of its creator and most ardent defender. Shouldn’t the right not to be offended or thwarted be one of our most fundamental freedoms?

What we fashion for ourselves within our sheltering black boxes, we cast upon the waters in which we are bathed, as if those waters were an extension of our private domains. As if Cuba were subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Ukraine subject to Putin’s dreams of glory.

If only we could put a one-way mirror in the end of our box so we could cast our gaze outward whenever we wanted to, but the seven billion couldn’t see in. All we want is freedom of thought and the right not to be bothered or thwarted. Is that asking too much? A right to maintain a personal sanctuary from which we can engage as we wish?

It’ll never happen. Engagement is a two-way street. Traffic flows both ways. Imposing our inner worlds on our outer worlds isn’t engagement at all; it is authoritarianism, tyranny, a forlorn hope. We need the world to temper our fantasies. Just as the world needs our separate inner worlds to spark the next stage of our common evolution.

Engagement is an art, not a right to have things our own way. Free speech lets us say what we want; whether anyone is listening is another matter entirely. If we are smart, we will go out of our way to balance sensory input against behavioral output, striving to learn by trial and error to steer a wise course.