Our Maps and Territory

Each voice, all words, all life, all space,
this breath we now here breathe
appear inside our thoughts, the place
where they all interweave.

Let’s now see thoughts themselves, explore
our thoughtfulness within.
Let’s breathe as easy as before
and easily begin.

We all know well the snap of joy
of figuring things out,
when understanding we deploy
resolves some puzzling doubt.

Let’s turn our thoughts on thought itself,
on wonders worked therein,
that built the skills that built the wealth
we’re meditating in.

Our eyes are closed, but still we know
the shape of where we are,
the sky above, the earth below,
the planet and its star.

But there is much at work between
the world that we conceive
and things directly heard or seen
as ears and eyes perceive.

Together with our nose and skin,
they constantly report
to clever structures further in
that notice, learn and sort.

We notice far from everything,
since most that’s going on
around us needs no noticing
and nothing to be done.

The world looms large, but we are small
and must prioritize
among the vastness of it all
what’s crucial, and surprise.

Too many details make a mess
of too much stuff to sort.
To oversee things, we compress
sensations into thought.

Like here, this floor in front of us
has bits it’s been made of
that do not matter. Knowing just
“the floor” is good enough.

Before we even recognize
these very words we hear,
our brains already itemize
the sounds so they’re more clear.

Words recognized relate into
the present circumstance
that’s thought as well: our overview
of our experience.

From ears that hear just moving air,
and eyes that see just light,
we learn that something’s really there,
a world in place outside.

All sights and sounds articulate
surroundings that enwrap
us here for us to navigate,
a territory to map.

Our memories hold maps of where
we’ve been, in homes and schools,
and wider maps we studied there,
that came with names and rules.

Such maps keep track of paths we know
through territory they’re of,
compose the many facts below
in one view from above.

And they include abstractions not
found in the territory,
including value things have got,
and names and property.

For we can map ideas too,
relate them so they turn
into a worldview whereinto
we fit what else we learn.

Our maps are not the territory!
They’re quite a different game.
But still they help, to the degree
they’re structured much the same.

They’re always wrong, they’re always just
a chancy summary,
but we decide how much to trust
and use them, flexibly.

We gauge the probability
a thought’s reliable:
a guess, a claim, a certainty?
Or not applicable?

They make predictions we can test.
In new terrain, they must
predict what we will see there, lest
they rightly lose our trust.

That’s most important when maps come
with an included sense
of things to do that will have some
predicted consequence.

Like if we jumped from somewhere high,
our maps say we would die
and that’s a truth worth living by
we do not need to try.

Of course that’s wonderfully good!
It means we’re not destroyed
by things we can predict we should
prefer to just avoid.

Good maps of consequence confer
the strange ability
to seek out futures we prefer
from possibility.

For that, we’ve used maps inside us
describing outside truth
before these human forms, as just
small monkeys or as shrews.

We shrewdly mapped where there was food,
where might be predators,
who were our friends, or in the mood,
who were competitors.

Since then, we’ve played with fire and
grown big and playful brains
with thoughts no beast can understand.
That’s how our species reigns.

To know what’s true is far from all.
We are creative too!
That’s great – although some dangers call
when handling thoughts untrue.

Our brains are eager to propose
new links that might belong
between thoughts – some are right, some close,
but most of them are wrong.

As good maps guide our way ahead,
bad maps lead us astray.
We need to learn which maps are bad
to better find our way.

So we seek incongruity
and laugh when we can find
thoughts wrong or contradictory,
like most thoughts on “the mind”.

Our thoughts are quick and more complex
than maps they can contain.
They hardly can keep track of tracks
they take across a brain.

So when we know ourselves, we don’t
know each thought separately,
but just a summary that won’t
exceed capacity.

So we are prone to simplify
all thoughts into a kind
of monolithic thing that we
proceed to call “the mind”.

Like voices in a choir choose
to melt into one voice,
our many thoughts seem to produce
one mind that makes its choice.

Up close, the “minds” we’re looking at
are not big solid things,
but rather lots of small things that
are busy happening.

So most we now can tell apart
we’ve only learned about
since scholars of the mind worked hard
to map the details out.

To work on their self-inquiries,
they learned to meditate,
created methodologies
to self-investigate.

Thoughts are transparent, focusing
on content they think of,
but we can practice noticing
their courses well enough.

Some mindful meditations take
thoughts from the tasks they know
to states that make transparence break
and let their innards show.

Some poisons change thoughts so they stir
against transparence; this
has let us study thoughts that were
in metamorphosis.

Another subject that can give
us insight is the brain.
We’ve studied brains, beginning with
those injured or insane.

Brain imaging technology
has made us able to
still crudely but increasingly
observe the work brains do.

We’ve seen small streaks of lightning climb
through brains, embody all
our thoughts on paths through space and time.
They’re four-dimensional.

Like humans, thoughts on paths that meet,
will sometimes get aligned,
becoming something more complete
and grow through time entwined.

Thoughts meeting, if the territory
they’re mapping overlaps,
obtain an opportunity
to share and merge their maps.

When thoughts connect, their unity
is seen when neurons they
are running on find synchrony
and pulse a rhythmic way.

Thus we map out how thoughts map out
and learn and represent
the territory we learn about
from light and sound and scent.

In science, as in every brain,
what thoughts and scholars do
are similar attempts to gain
some map of what is true.

This mapping of the world goes on
in every so-called “mind”.
How human sciences are done
is merely more refined.

How science is considering
the weight of evidence
is near-exactly mirroring
how thoughts are making sense.

Through this, we cumulatively
have come to see up close
some secrets of reality
no other species knows.

No other species talks like us
and learns collectively,
collects improvements that adjust
maps to the territory.

Like grammar, thoughts recursively
encode small simple things
in higher-order structures we
use for remembering.

We even map out consequence,
cause and causality
in language, so our species tends
to think grammatically.

Thoughts’ wordlike clumsiness assures
some failings this incurs.
Our grammared thought caricatures
the wordless universe.

Nobody acts as separately
as we tend to believe,
as subjects thought grammatically.
That’s just how we conceive.

But knowledge that’s approximate
still helps, so we make do
with thoughts we hope or estimate
approximately true.

We used to think that storms proclaimed
some wrathful heaven’s king.
We know now that’s an instinct named
anthropomorphizing.

Perhaps such humanizing used
to help to some degree.
Those too were thoughts, just more confused
than those thought presently.

We err in what we think and see,
our biases are strong,
but learning from the territory,
we can become less wrong.

Like thoughts begin to resonate
when neurons get in sync,
we learn when we communicate.
Shared reason helps us link.

True maps describe one territory
and can become agreed
upon the same reality.
The truth is where we meet.

Through sharing thoughts, a kind of “mind”
can use more brains to plan
and execute, as well-aligned
as only humans can.

All truthful insight humans share
comprises something vast,
one map all humans everywhere
create to grow and last.

We fail and halt and stumble on
new paths confusion brings.
We’re first to map new paths we’ve gone.
We’re first at many things.

Through teamwork, incrementally,
our common map we’ve grown
gained secrets of reality
that waited to be known.

Sure, still it’s wrong, but less and less.
We’ll see more clearly still
as we improve its truthfulness
as fully as we will.

We yearn for knowledge, hope we’re wise,
crave taking right from wrong,
take part in one great enterprise
to which we all belong.

A single overarching map
that all of us improve
may threaten to become a trap,
mistaken for the truth.

But past all maps we comprehend,
we know reality
to inexhaustibly extend
towards infinity.

The more terrain we get to know,
the more we’re filled with awe
at everything that’s let us grow
to see its beauty more.

So much was needed to allow
our chests to rise and fall
and fuel our thoughts with which we now
appreciate it all.

For we owe every thought we think
to stardust playing games
of life and love and words to link
us up to greater aims.

From feeling the sheer magnitude
of all that made us real
arises awestruck gratitude
we’ve just begun to feel.

The gift of life our world shall spread
gives one response to this.
We’ll also map our paths ahead.
We will stay curious.

We’ll see our cosmos differently,
but every knowing self
remains a way the territory,
the cosmos knows itself.