The Shape of Reality

I’ve long used visual metaphors to try and understand the world around me. There’s one visual in particular that I’ve used for years.

I imagine life as a complex-shaped three dimensional object, a sphere with countless contours and features, or some multiform sculpture.

The better we grasp its shape, the better we understand life, reality, and the world around us. However we only have a single perspective from which to view this intricate shape.

Because we’re looking at a three dimenionsal object from a vantage point that only affords us two dimensions, we easily miss much of the nuance. We miss depth between features. We’re easily fooled by optical illusions. Whole sections are hidden from view.

Perspective comes from life experiences. The more varied the better.

We could get a better approximation of the shape if we viewed it from a new perspective. A lot of things can give us a new perspective about the world around us—taking a new job, reading a new book, learning a new skill, traveling to a new place.

But many of these only give us a slight change in perspective—we read a book with similar views to our own, our new job is still white collar and pays similarly, we move from one coastal city to another. It’s like we’re trying to understand the full shape of a vast sculpture by taking one small step to the side.

The best way to grasp life’s contours would be to gain a new perspective from a completely different angle. Some things can give us a more radical change in perspective—reading a book from an opposing viewpoint, making a new friend from a different background, traveling to a place dissimilar from our own, giving up our desk to work in a blue collar job.

Radical changes in perspective are harder to seek out and often uncomfortable, but give us a much better vantage point to view this complex object.

So perspective comes from life experiences. The more varied the better.

If we don’t constantly change our perspectives, we become comfortable and complacent in our patterns of thought. We become less interesting, our ideas less novel, our views outdated. But most importantly we’d miss an opportunity to grasp the nature of the world around us more fully.