Monday, August 26, 2013
we are cognitive creatures
We are cognitive creatures... which means that we like to invent categories and then put things into them. When we encounter other people, we put the people into categories too. Common categories include "friend," "enemy," "lover," "sibling," "acquaintance." The categories we create come loaded with all of our expectations about what persons of that category should be like. Invariably, we find that a person we put into a given category does not meet all of these expectations. For example, perhaps a person in category "friend" does not always respond to her text messages promptly. Perhaps the person in category "acquaintance" tells you strangely intimate details of his life. And this often disturbs us... because we have forgotten that the categories and all of the expectations that come with them are pure inventions. We have forgotten that people do not come to us in pre-existing boxes that match the images we have in our heads, and we have forgotten that everyone's categories are different, even if we call them by the same name. So when we are forced to recognize the inevitable discrepancies between our imagined categories, and a real human being, we feel discomfort. Many times, we react by moving the person into a new category: friend becomes enemy, acquaintance becomes friend, lover becomes ex-lover. Are these new categories really better than the old ones... are they more accurate or true? Probably not, but we convince ourselves that they are. We imagine that the person who once possessed the attributes of one category now suddenly possesses the attributes of a different one, often ignoring the glaring inconsistencies. Perhaps due to a harsh remark, a friend is now an enemy, or a lover is now an acquaintance: but has the person really changed? Certainly people change over time... but rarely as rapidly as we sometimes re-categorize them. Or instead of moving people from one category to another, we may attempt to make the person conform to our expectations. So we make up rules that we think will accomplish this, and we require that people obey the rules. These rules can give us a sense of security. And many rules are quite useful... particularly those intended to prevent us from harming others or ourselves. If the rules are broken, then we are forced to confront the fact that control is an illusion. And if the rules are dogmatically obeyed, then we run the risk that opportunities pass us by in our blind devotion to other people's expectations. And while we are busy making rules and shuffling everyone in our lives between all of these boxes, we fail to get to know them as they are. So long as we are preoccupied by all of our pre-made boxes and the things we expect to be in them, we do not see the actual human beings who are before us.