Navigating reality: It’s all about perspective

Learn to level up your thinking on how you perceive reality.

DANIEL SCHMACHTENBERGER: Imagine that we have a cylinder. A cylinder is a very simple, three-dimensional object but imagine that we have two-dimensional creatures trying to make sense of a cylinder. It's like the flatland conversation. So a two-dimensional creature intersects the cylinder this way and they see a circle. And in a two-dimensional world a circle is a very clear object, makes perfect sense. They can describe the mathematics of it, and they can verify that empirically they really did see a circle. Of course, a two-dimensional creature that happens to be in another plane could bisect the cylinder like this and see a rectangle. And they could be very clear on that also and they're both partially true but they're also both totally wrong in that rectangle and circle are both two-dimensional objects and the thing they're encountering is a three-dimensional object that actually can't be understood in the dimensionality that they're in.

So then we can see that a debate ensues between the two-dimensional creatures in orthogonal planes, the circlers and the rectanglers, who are both utterly sure that the thing that they're seeing is what they think it is and obviously rectangle and circle are mutually exclusive descriptions of reality. One has no corners and straight lines. One is defined exclusively by corners and straight lines. So it's easy to see how one can hold a kind of reductive fundamentalist perspective without even thinking that it is that. It's just what I'm observing. And so, then they can debate. Let's imagine that one of the two-dimensional creatures was able to switch planes and see the other one and see that there was some truth in both of them. Then they could flip-flop between perspectives at different times or they could say we just need to hold paradox; it's both and neither, which mostly means give up on making sense of reality.

Or they say it's a middle path that's somewhere between the two. And a middle path in two dimensions is like a rounded rectangle where you kind of do something that's a little bit circle-ish and a little bit rectangle-ish which isn't even any true part of what a cylinder is. And the thing is that they're just at too low of a dimensional perspective to properly understand the nature of a cylinder, which is actually a very simple thing. It doesn't require holding paradox. It doesn't require a middle path in that way. And it's because when we think of middle path, oftentimes we're thinking of extremes on left or right in a gradient. But sometimes the two different perspectives aren't on a gradient on a single axis. They're orthogonal to each other. And the reason why this is kind of actually an interesting example is because perception itself, a perspective on something defined by perception is inherently a reduction of information of the thing.

My perspective of it is going to be a lot less total information than the actual thing is. So I can look at the object from the east side or the west side or the top or the north side or the inside, microscopically, telescopically. They'll all give me different information. None will give me the entirety of the information about the situation. And so there is no all-encompassing perspective that gives me all of the information about, really, almost any situation. And so what this means is that reality itself is transperspectival. It can't be captured in any perspective. So multiple perspectives have to be taken, all of which will have some part of the reality, some signal. There may also be distortion. I may be looking at the thing through a fisheye lens or through a colored lens that creates some distortion. But then let's say I'm looking at a building and the picture, the 2D picture from the east side and from the west side and from inside a particular room and the aerial view are all obviously very different pictures and it's because the 3D complex building actually can't be seen in a 2D process.

So I could take a lot of pictures and I could seam them together into a kind of video that moves through the building. Now, by having a video I added the dimension of time and I got back to kind of the right dimensionality to be able to understand the thing. But that's not a perspective. That's a lot of perspectives that we're able to put together. So why does this matter? Well, when we're looking at political processes and we think about classically political left perspectives that have more to do with the orientation of the collective and the whole, and political right that have more to do with the individual and sovereignty. On the right, do we want people who are more self-responsible and who are more sovereign and who are more empowered, and do we want to give more power to people who are doing a better job? All of that makes perfect sense. Left perspective: Do we want to create situations that actually influence the individuals in the situation to do better — social systems, education, healthcare — does the environment affect the individual?

You can really think of it as: Does the environment affect the individual while understanding evolutionary theory that individuals are really formed by their environment? Of course. With humans that are niche creators do the individuals effect their environment? Of course. If you hold either of those as the only perspective, obviously you're just missing so much which is that the individual is affecting the whole. The whole is, in turn, affecting the individuals, and how do we create systems that have virtuous cycles between empowering individuals and creating better social systems that have the effect of creating humans that are not dependent on the social systems but that are more sovereign and can, in turn, create better social systems? And whether we're thinking about a political issue like that or we're looking at a psychologic issue like the orientation of being and enjoying reality as is and accepting ourselves and others as is, and doing and becoming, which is adding to life, adding to ourselves, seeking to improve ourselves.

How do we hold these together? They don't just have to be held as paradox or holding one or flip-flopping. There's a way that, when understanding how they relate to each other – so in that example, if I understand the nature of a person as a noun that is static then it seems like accepting them the way they are, unconditionally, removes the basis for growth. But if I understand that the person is a dynamic process, that they're actually a verb that intrinsic to what they are in the moment is desire and impulse to grow and become. And like that loving someone unconditionally involves wanting for them their own self-actualization and there's no dichotomy between accepting someone ourselves as is or the world and seeking to help it grow, advance, express. So it's a very simple process of saying the ability to take multiple perspectives, to see the partial truth in them and then to be able to seam them together into something that isn't a perspective. It's a transperspective capacity to hold the relationships between many perspectives in a way that can inform our choice-making is fundamental to navigating reality.

  • Social philosopher Daniel Schmachtenberger explains why the capacity to hold the relationships between many perspectives at once can inform our choice-making and help us navigate reality.
  • Transperspectival thinking is useful in the abstract—like Schmachtenberger's example of two tribes of dimensional beings—as well as in the real world.
  • Try to recall this lesson on transperspectival thinking during your next political debate or discussion and see how it may change your reactions and the way you navigate political realities.

You can learn more from Daniel Schmactenberger at

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
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Experts are already predicting an 'active' 2020 hurricane season

It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.

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  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
  • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
  • Where's an El Niño when you need one?

Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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