Reality strikes back

I somewhat suddenly realized that several tendencies in this world can be generalized to the concept of “constructing reality”. You probably have heard of the phrase “social construct” and (less probably) have been confronted with “creators of meanings”. So let me tell you my understanding of it, and then what I think of it.

As I perceive a strain of modern philosophic thought, the observations of a human or of a group of humans are mostly meaningless. So humans create “narratives”, stories that imbue facts with coherent meanings, making the world a more sensible place to live in. This is most certainly a logically consistent viewpoint, but it yields some worrisome implications.

The most worrisome implication is the Dostoevsky-style inference “if there is no meaning, then we are free to construct any”. Practically, one is led to believe that with the right story, your facts can be interpreted in any given direction, which offers a great deal of freedom to politicians, “political technologists”, philosophers, and folks who already have a conclusion and need the right logic to come to it. This is especially popular in the “social” field where it is rather easy to rationalize practically anything.

I would go so far as to say that this idea of “constructing meanings” has prevailed. There was no real fight, rationalization has been around since forever, and the modern thought has probably found the right words to describe the phenomenon.

However, smart people have realized that rationalization and rationality don’t really have much in common. Actually, the modern rationality crowd (including, but not limited to, the Overcoming Bias and Less Wrong communities) has been popularizing the fantastic concept of map and territory, which I should explain now. The idea is that there is, at some point, a world, whatever it may be, which interacts with us by some (we don’t care which) rules. This is the territory. Now we, travellers in the world, come up with concepts how the world looks like. These are our maps. Some are accurate, some are completely bogus, but they all have in common that they are not the real territory. The beauty of this concept is that it can be applied everywhere, not only in “hard” sciences, but also in every place humans make decisions, independent of the actual subject.

And now we are somewhat faced with a problem. People try to construct realities, sometimes wilfully, as part of some greater social interaction (for example, consider a politician explaining existing issues away or a journalist trying to create an audience by making vast generalizations over rather complex groups of people). And these realities might be in conflict with the real state of things, real as in measurable in tons, dollars, meters or seconds. What happens then?

My vision of things (not empirically tested, but intuitively sensible) is that if your “construction of meanings” will conflict with the laws of Nature, Nature will strike back. Not right now, not necessarily on you personally, but the effect will be observable in historically short timespans. The more abstruse your map will be, the worse the results. If you are a parent with strange ideas about education, your children will grow up in an alien world. If you are a political elite and you ignore existing issues, the issues will become uncontrollable and possibly your personal problems. You might call it karma, but there is nothing superficial in it, this is just the way things are. You cannot and you really should not try to bargain with Nature.

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