You know the feeling when you wake up in the morning, get dressed and start your day where you do what you normally do and as you go through all your daily actions you get an incipient feeling of disconnect? It’s as if the world we used to consider normal disappeared during a moment we weren’t looking and what’s in its place is a number of set pieces that defy norms and undermine cohesion.
In scientific terms that’s called fragmentalism. As you guessed it is the exact opposite of tackling reality as a holistic entity and it runs the same risks of “getting lost in the weeds” as reductionist science. That’s not to say it’s not without merit; but it does have limitations.
In her book Reality is Broken Jane McGonigal, somewhat ahead of her time, suggests that the world we live in lacks in something and offers the connectedness of gameplay as a scenario that points towards a solution.
McGonigal wants us to play more games (which I’m no antithetical to incidentally) her suggestion however points to a much deeper, more human need than entertainment or even a sense of control. When we are challenged to discern what’s really real. When we are not even able, at times, to understand how deep feelings, such as love, should work. When our perception of the reality that exists around us becomes a series of disconnected tableaus, we struggle to piece together in any kind of sensible way. Then the brain’s natural defense is to shut down, to turn away, to look to minimize the stress it feels and turn towards the comforting, the familiar, the seemingly safe options afforded to it.
At times of great historical stress this leads us towards leaders whose words transform us. We can then do amazing things we would have never, otherwise, been capable of. At other times we turn towards those who we think best represent our feelings in the hope that somehow they will provide the rational answers (and the attendant sense of safety) we crave.
In Childhood’s End Arthur C. Clarke who foresaw the advent of satellite communication and the internet argues that our coming of age will signal a shift in our thinking and understanding of things that will break with the past.
This is a tall order to say the least. Everything we are and everything we become is a natural progression of who we have been and what we have evolved into. The self we feel as “us” is the result of a journey that’s reflected in the narrative we build. We are, in many words, a story that has a beginning, middle and an end and that story has a development arc that builds on everything that’s past in order to make sense.
Can it be changed, rewired, somehow sufficiently augmented to leapfrog its linear progression and allow us a radical change of perspective? Arguably yes, but not without effort and we are hardwired to avoid effort. Or, at the very least, move away from it unless there is a really good reason to engage in it.
Finding that reason, creating that alignment is a dual-purpose task. It requires us, as individuals, to step up and take responsibility for who we are, what we become and the effect we have. At the same time it needs us to acknowledge our own inherent frailty. Our inability to be “enough” without other people’s help.
Whether we actually understand it or not we do everything through other people. It’s time we actively internalized this thought. Understood that our superpower is the ability to connect and transform. And worked to make that connection the best it can possibly be. Only then can we hope that the complexity we sense will be reduced to answers that make sense, through the efforts of more people than just the single entity we feel is our own, individual self.
I know you’ve resisted the sense of fragmentation you feel in the world long enough to make coherent personal choices. This means you have coffee and croissants, donuts and cookies and maybe, even some chocolate cake.
Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.