While doing art classes it’s become obvious how bad I am at seeing things as they really are.
In drawing class it was so easy to draw things as I thought they were rather than as they actually were. Getting the shape wrong, the proportions wrong, the relationship to other objects wrong.
In watercolor class it was so easy to see the colors as I thought they were. Leaves are green, for heaven’s sake. In reality they were a multitude of greens and grays and blues, and some almost black as they lay in the shadow of other leaves.
Art class showed me that I see things as I think they are rather than as they actually are. The eyes take in the reality but my brain takes the reality then makes shortcuts and ignores the complexity of the reality. I then draw what my brain “knows” rather than what my eyes see.
This made me wonder how much else of what I “know” is really just a shortcut that my brain made to avoid complexity. How much of what I “know” – about the world, about economics, about politics, about relationships, about people, about possibilities and impossibilities – is really just shortcuts created by my brain to avoid dealing with the difficult complexities of reality?
How much of what I fear – making a fool of myself, failing in some way, doing some house project – is just my brain taking a shortcut to avoid reality?
Art forces me to recognize the disconnect between reality and what I “know” because I can see that my artwork bears little relationship to the thing I’m drawing or painting. The output doesn’t match the input. With skill and dedicated practice I can bring the two closer together.
But other aspects of life rarely have an output that I can compare to reality, so I’m rarely faced with the disconnect. And so I don’t know where I have a disconnect. I don’t know what skill or what dedicated practice will bring my “knowledge” closer to reality.
How do I solve this? How do you solve this?
Alec, I love the fact that you post the most interesting questions. What I have learned about the brain and what I usually remind myself about shortcuts, perceptions and reality is this. We were born with a pretty blank roladex or more accurate manilla folders. When we gain knowledge and experiences we file them into what we already know to make sense of the world. Some how we also can become a bit closed minded and believe either that our folders are either accurate or the same as others. When in fact it couldn’t be further from the truth. We forget the world and the shortcuts to reality we take really belong only to us. I personally am an expert at shortcuts and that kind of sucks. Great food for thought Alec, thanks.
I think knowing you don’t know (and that you’re never going to know) is a big step in the right direction. Most of us like to act like we know because why? it’s safer and it’s easier and we’re basically lazy maybe? Also, we are pattern makers and we have to limit input somehow, so our categorization of things into what we decide we “know” isn’t unreasonable. On some things (news, politics, research studies) I am super annoying because of the degree to which I don’t believe what I read. However, I notice that it makes me feel groundless and even a little sad when I realize how elusive the truth is and that I’m unlikely to find it.