Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Map and the Terrain

Yesterday afternoon I sat at a sidewalk cafe and had a beautiful salad, a glass of wine, and a frigging amazing piece of chocolate cake... by myself. I sat under palm trees watching the sun fall across the buildings as it sunk low in the sky. The colors of the buildings changed as time passed. The people walking or driving by changed, the taste of the salad changed with each bite, and the thoughts changed with each sip of wine.

At least that was the interpretation.

I began reading this article right then, at the table, and saw clearly, experientially that it was all an unbelievable and completely indescribable experience once I separated it from the map. It was all just incredibly beautiful in my version. And I looked at the people walking by in groups (it's a tourist town)... many of them completely involved in stories, bumping into other passers-by as they talked about past or future events, seemingly blinded to the actual terrain. And as the article pointed out, it was true!... They had no concept of the map exactly as I'd constructed it. Their entire worlds were other than "mine".

The waiter stopped by and we chatted. We didn't talk about the article specifically, but he "got it". Got that there was just this whole world of reality in front of our eyes, and that it's possible to miss it or rewrite it entirely when relying on the maps in our heads.

It follows that even while being aware of the reality of the experience, and of seeing it without words, each of us still went home with concepts of the events, with separately mapped worlds. It's impossible to take the actual terrain with you. as it's completely gone once the experience has passed. All that's ever left is the constructed model with all of its subjective attributes, none of which are wrong unless they are mistaken for the reality.

And that's when I really appreciated the fundamental difference... the true EXPERIENCE of the terrain as it is, when it IS, Reality separated from the conceptual. It's incredibly more open and free than the map can ever convey.

photo credit: James Stark