What I am about to say may seem basic and obvious to some people, but some people may benefit from hearing it. I think the failure to understand the principle below leads to a great many needless divisions and conflicts – particularly in religion and philosophy.
What is knowledge? It is a collection of mental maps expressed in words and pictures that describe reality. These maps are not the realities themselves, but only the mental representations of it. Even the very idea I’m putting forward to you now – that knowledge is a collection of maps – is itself only one of many imperfect maps attempting to describe the reality of knowledge experienced by us all.
Reality is multidimensional. Maps are two-dimensional. What happens when you try to make a 2D map of a 3D object? You get distortion and erroneous information. Certain parts of the map are more accurate than other parts. Usually there is the most distortion around the edges. This does NOT make the map useless or invalid. Certain parts of it are more useful than other parts. Sometimes it helps to compare different kinds of maps of the same thing in order to get a more complete understanding. Each of us has our own “worldview” or paradigm or belief system built around our accumulated knowledge – our maps. Our maps have distortions and imperfections. They are usually the most distorted when we approach the edges – the boundaries of our understanding. Since our mental maps make up our “worldview” let’s use some maps of the world as an example.
The mercator projection is accurate at small scales, and near the equator but great distortions are apparent at the top and bottom of large scale maps of the earth. For example, Greenland appears to be larger than Africa, but in reality, Africa covers an area 14 times larger. Anyone who did not know the earth is a sphere might erroneously assume the Earth has four corners and edges over which one might fall. It wouldn’t be obvious that if you traveled in one direction long enough that you’d wind up where you started. It wouldn’t be obvious that the shortest distance between New York and London is an arc, not a line.
The Goode Homolosine Projection attempts to reconcile some of the distortions of the Mercator, but obviously it also fails to accurately represent the 3D spherical planet Earth. Someone who had only seen this kind of map and had no concept of a spherical earth might erroneously assume that travel from Australia to Argentina requires a couple of dips above the equator to avoid falling off the edge.
The Mollweide projection is an ellipsoidal projection that presents some things more accurately than the previous two projections, but again, it is still far from perfect. I have shown only three projections here, but there are over 50 different map projections listed on the wiki article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_map_projections
When we begin to see our own knowledge as a collection of maps of reality rather than the reality itself, we begin to become more open minded and more tolerant of the worldviews of others. Perhaps by comparing many different “2D” worldviews we can begin to approach a more accurate understanding of the higher dimensional reality in which we live. We are all voyagers and explorers in a fantastic magical realm deep within the infinite mind of God. We are all cartographers trying to map it out and share our maps with each other. This is good as long as our goal is to help one another and to seek a clearer understanding of the absolute reality that lies beyond maps and words and knowledge. But when we fail to recognize that our maps are not the realities themselves, and when we become overly attached to our maps and fail to recognize the boundaries and distortions inherent in them, and when we insist that all others throw away their maps and use ours instead, then we are arrogant and create needless division. This is not to say that some maps aren’t better than other maps. Your map may be better than mine or mine may be better than yours. Or your map might describe certain things more accurately than mine and mine may describe certain things better than yours. You may have ventured places I’ve never been or vice versa.
Many arguments over words and dogmas and definitions could be avoided if we recognized that we are trying to press higher dimensional truths into 2D words. Take for example the endless arguments over free will, Calvinism, Armenianism, materialism, ghosts in the machine, etc. A completely sovereign God who rules the hearts of men is one kind of map. Human free will is another map. Non-duality is another map. Randomness is another map. All of these maps are valid, but each in its own way and each has its own particular distortions and errors when taken too far. When we look at them as 2D truths it is impossible to see how they can meet anywhere in our higher dimensional consensual reality. They seem mutually exclusive. They seem nonsensical. But at one time it seemed like nonsense to believe you could sail far enough west of Spain and end up in India because common knowledge lacked a higher dimensional understanding of the spherical nature of the Earth.
I believe that there are many things like this. Sometimes fear of the unknown keeps us from exploring and plotting out our own maps. Sometimes fear of rejection by our peers and the need for group identity keeps us firmly secured to one particularly common kind of map to the exclusion of all others. How do we test the validity and accuracy of various maps? We compare them against one another using various reference points. I believe the most important reference point is Love. God is Love and the Source of reality, and every valid map will teach us about Love. Love is what we all need and desire. Love elevates our souls and unveils reality in ways that nothing else can. What kind of maps compose your worldview? What can they teach us about love and life and this fantastic magical realm we inhabit? 🙂