Friday, May 25, 2012

Reality Distortion Field

Is Summer really here? Not quite, but it seems like it. School is out for the kids. The weather is unseasonably warm. Cranky Old Man's grass is already turning brown despite his best efforts to keep it watered. The hot dry Kansas wind turns the yard into a virtual Gobi Desert - dry and dusty.

Summer is really a great time to pick up a book; and among the books Cranky Old Man is reading is Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs is most famously known as the creator of the Apple computer, along with Steve Wozniak. But there is a lot more to Jobs than that. Famously fired from Apple, he went on to create NeXT, fund Pixar, and then recreate Apple when it was on its death throws.

Personally, Steve Jobs came across to those he came in contact with as an arrogant assoholic. Isaacson in his biography tries to tell why. In the process Isaacson gives us a unique look at how Steve Jobs saw the world.

Steve Jobs was adopted. For most of his life he did not know his biological parents and when he did find out later in life, he had nothing to do with his father. His abandonment by his parents is the one significant psychologically factor that defines his personality.  Rejected by his biological parents, he was alone in the world. Thus, it is not surprising that he would be, at the same time, both controlling and suspicious in all his relationships.

Chapter 11 of the book is titled The Reality Distortion Field, Playing by his Own Set of Rules. Isaacson defines this through Jobs' co-workers as the ability to conform reality to your own means. One co-worker explained, "In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything. It wears off when he's not around ..."

So, what about those tinted sunglasses? If you wear a blue pair of sunglasses, does that really make the world somber and blue?

The name reality distortion field comes from a Star Trek episode in which the aliens create their own world through sheer mental force. But the idea is not unique to Star Trek's writers. Albert Einstein observed,“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”  Douglas Adams similarly speculated, “Everything you see or hear or experience in any way at all is specific to you. You create a universe by perceiving it, so everything in the universe you perceive is specific to you.” And one can go back to Socrates and Descartes for the same idea - We create the world around us. We are what we think we are, even if we aren't.

It is a confusing idea, but not if you accept it.Your perception is your reality. "I think therefore I am." Descartes says. And the Old Man would reply, I am what I think. Don't like who you are? Change your story, change your perception, change your life.

We distort reality to make the world seem a little more pleasant place in which to live. Objective reality sucks. The world is full of crime, betrayal, and misery along with the beauty, love and hope. Why not focus on the good and not the bad, the beauty and not the ugliness? Be a positive force for change and not a Negative Nancy.

Cranky Old Man likes this idea. After all, it is at the heart of all self-help books. To make something happen, you first have to believe it yourself. Then, it will come true. So whether it is a new way of making a computer, or a new health regimen, a job, or a relationship, you have to set your mind to the task and do it in spite of everyone else. Steve Jobs in 1985, fired from Apple and wondering what he was to do next in life while standing on a bridge in Paris with his girlfriend commented, "I am a reflection of what I do." The Old Man fashions himself a writer.

"The problem" Cranky Old Man thinks, "is that reality distortion can become impractical and harmful." Take schizophrenics for example, their reality is a paranoid delusion. That is hell on relationships. Instead, we need the ability to go back and forth between our personal reality field and what is really happening out there. You have to get off the bench to play in the game, but you can't see the game unless you are sitting on the sidelines.

Image is reproduced from the cover of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. It has been digitally modified to create an inverse image as background. The image is used under the Fair Use Doctrine of 17 U.S.C 107. 

How do we see the world as it really is? Or, should we say, How do we see the world as others do? The Old Man thinks this requires the empathy gene. You have got to walk in someone else's shoes, see the world through their eyes, feel their pain. Cliches, boring as hell, still help us to understand something that is outside our own reality. But most people would acknowledge that Steve Jobs was not a caring understanding soul. No something else drove him. And this was his ability to see the final end product. Success drove Steve Jobs to see what needed to be done. Success is, in a way, like the Law of Natural Selection, what works stays, failures are soon forgotten.

Maybe, the Old man thinks, reality is what works.

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