September 6, 2019

Get Lost

One of the best pieces of advice I have had in life was to ignore ‘the map’. The map is helpful if you need a simple tool in order to find your way, but I was warned to remember that the map is very different from the territory. 

The territory itself is always more complex than the simple lines on the map. The doing of anything is harder than the planning of it and when you are in the thick of anything the betrayal of the map – sitting there in its smug simplicity – can undermine the effort.

A map, like the floorplan of a house, provides a simple tool to rapidly acquaint yourself with the parameters of a situation. Yet to experience anything, you need to go through it. The shape, the light, the smell, the vibe, the appointment, and the aspect will all impact a ‘room’ and give it a texture and meaning beyond the straight lines on a page. 

Judgments and perceptions that we have of people or the preconceived utility we have of things is a separate notion to the thing itself. Those constructions we create about things, people, situations are not inherent and they are not objective but they are the tools we use to classify rather than experience. We do this for a variety of reasons – but one of the most fascinating is to reduce how much we need to ‘think’. 

We strive for simplicity in the same way that all things strive for order from chaos. The cognitive load – the mental labour that we need to process all of the noise that complexity brings creates temptation for us to believe to simple, over accurate. Simple and certain is easier than complex and real. 

When computers think and process information robotically, the world needs to be all or nothing – ones and zeroes – because there can be no nuance. This binary all or nothing is the freedom that allows machines to think with such great pace and speed. There is no nuance, very little quality, and no degrees. 

Binary beliefs – all or nothing thinking – in humans a strong limitation to creativity, problem-solving, and the cause of great emotional distress.  Yet the reduction of complex to simple is something the map-makers continue to strive for.

Simple will always be easier to sell and easier to believe – and therefore people will cling to an unreliable simple, certainly, over the work that comes when you embrance the volatility, the ambiguity and the confusion that ‘complex and real’ offers. In fact, every dangerous and radical belief on the planet comes down to the preference of a simple understanding rather than a more nuanced and balanced one.

That is because there is an efficiency to pre-judging everything and everyone. You never have to experience anything or be wrong and you can never get hurt. You are free to follow the straight lines on the map and you can avoid the territory if you choose to ignore it. There is an opportunity cost for all that efficiency, though. 

You could spend your life following the straight lines – but it is a far richer experience to cross them: Get messy. Get lost.