Though it's aesthetically horrendous, as all PowerPoint presentations are, there's something terrifically valuable to be taken from Liron Shapira's "You Are a Brain". The slides point the way to a more elegant restatement of what I said in a past post to which I often refer: roughly, that you shouldn't confuse your imagination's information-starved projections for reality. Shapira displays a map within a brain and states that understanding consists in "having an accurate map of the territory inside you. Yes, physically inside you." That our brains operate from something like a map of reality comes as no surprise, but the upshot a few slides later is what struck me as so incisive: "You can only see your map. But you feel like your map of reality is reality. This is what it feels like to be a brain."
I'm no big transhumanist; I assume none of us will live to see our own mental capacity jacked up to the degree that our brain's maps can enter shouting distance of a resemblance to reality. The only hope I can see is to recognize, recognize hard and never for one second forget that the world in all its intricate, variegated complexity is always and everywhere mediated by our own shoddily-constructed inner representation of it. We can try to compensate for our biases and actively seek information to incorporate into our maps, but the first and most necessary step would seem to be conceding their inherent sketchiness. Think of the junior high kids whose maps display little more than school, home and the mall. No wonder each and every bit of miniscule nonsense that goes on in their classrooms, families or tiny social circles resonates so earthshakingly with them; the maps lack a realistic scale. (Hell, think of the salarymen of every nationality whose inner worlds comprise home, the office, the commute and the mistress' apartment. Same deal.)
Your own mental map, no matter how detailed, fails to capture a literally unimaginable amount of stuff. It doesn't even comprehend the sheer variety of the stuff it's missing. It can't even grok the second-order variety, the variety of the variety of the stuff outside its range. A environment — natural, architectural, social, or some combination thereof — spectacularly conducive to your current manner of thought and living in which you could perform your most interesting, unexpected work exists somewhere off your map. A book that, read, will substantially and irrevocably alter your mindset for the better sits on a shelf somewhere off your map. The models you can observe and combine to create a unique career and/or life of which you don't yet have the slightest inkling is possible live somewhere off your map. A work of art that, viewed, will forever expand your idea of the possibilities of its medium and the possibilities of all other media to which its concepts are transposed is on display somewhere off your map. A foreign culture that reboots the components of your brain that have lain dormant due to the deadening, by-now-even-undetected repetition of the norms, mores and clichés of the one you happen to have been born in is native to a land somewhere off your map. Music that thrills you both aesthetically and intellectually, stoking within your own insatiable drive to create, is somewhere off your map. For that matter, a person who thrills you both aesthetically and intellectually, stoking within you an entirely different sort of drive, is somewhere off your map. And if you already have any of the foregoing, they were once off your map, so imagine what else lies out there in terra incognita.
The map, as we live in perpetual danger of forgetting — if indeed we ever realized it — is not the land. Perhaps you can't much increase its resolution, but you can expand it to cover more territory. Why reach the end of your life with vast swathes of it left blank but for the dire words "Here be dragons"?