All Your Friends Are Imaginary

All Your Friends Are Imaginary

There’s an old philosophical idea that what we think is reality doesn’t exist. Reality, whatever it is, has to exist on some level. It might be a computer simulation, the dream of a mad child, a deep well of mysteries or simple laws acting on simple elements.

Are these ideas true? I don’t know. I also don’t care. Some people get excited and shout, “the universe is a computer simulation and I can prove it!”

To which I can’t help but ask okay, so what?

Reality influences your life, but knowing its true nature wouldn’t change much. You’d still wake up, kiss your loved ones and go to work.

But put aside the physical universe for a second. Psychologically, there’s a lot we can say about reality:

It’s all an illusion.

The human senses only capture a tiny fragment of the world. We’re blind to almost all electromagnetic radiation. We’re deaf to most frequencies (and volumes) of sound. Our chemical senses are sophisticated, but limited.

What we experience is a tiny fragment of what’s there.

And then our brains get involved. They take those snippets and impose meaning on them. We extract not just words, but meaning, from squiggles on a page or sounds in the air. We see emotions and intentions even in inanimate objects.

Things get messy with other humans. The reality fragments show lips curling one way – that’s enough to tell us what they’re thinking. Slightly different curves distinguish happy from sad, or anger from contempt.

Our brains extrapolate personalities from a few simple remarks. Part of your unconscious automatically models other people, guessing how they think, calculating the best thing to say or do. You don’t have to know intellectually that insulting your friend will make them mad. You simulate them, insult the simulation and notice the results.

It isn’t perfect, but it’s darn good. And it’s automatic. It happens mid-conversation, otherwise good conversations would be impossible.

What all this tells us is that, while people exist out there in the real world, you only know them through your mind. You hallucinate a model of a person out of snippets of information. You never truly see the world – it’s all reassembled in your mind – and that applies to people, too.

If you doubt me, I have evidence.

And if you wonder what the point is, I’m getting there.

My evidence and my point are thus:

Think of someone who looks down on other people. As far as they are concerned, they’re the best. No one is as smart, virtuous or worthwhile as they are. They live surrounded by flawed, petty people.

How happy is someone like that?

Now think of someone who sees the good in others. They are noble and selfless. They see the good, beauty and virtue in everyone around them. Everyone has talents, dreams and inherent value.

Someone like this is going to be much happier than any curmudgeon.

And if you think of other people as being your brain’s hallucinations, you can see why.

Other people are part of you. Even strangers and celebrities. If you can think of them, some part of you models them. They exist in the real world, yes, but you only see them in your mind.

Which means if you judge others, you are only judging yourself. How you treat people is literally how you treat yourself.

There’s no escaping it.

If you try to tear other people down, you never rise. If you celebrate other people, you learn to appreciate yourself.

So here’s your takeaway lesson:

Be selfish. Seek to do good, for no reason. Learn to see the genius and beauty in others. Celebrate every success you come across. Abandon jealousy, pettiness and anger.

Treat other people the way you want to treat yourself. In the end, there’s no difference.

If you struggle with this, that’s fine. For many people it’s a different way of thinking.

So practice it.

And the best way is to find a community and work with them. People who are new and different. People who can challenge you to be a better version of yourself.

Don’t mistake this for some fluffy, hippy philosophy. It takes hard work to master, to find folk who’ll push you to your limits. And then some.

Photo by Joanna Nix on Unsplash