Monday, June 8, 2020

Tap view vs map view of controlling one’s thoughts

“How do I control my thoughts?” That’s one of the commonly asked questions in my mindfulness workshop. The question comes from a deep-rooted belief that I should be able to control life situations which include my thoughts. That comes from the tap view – Once I can find the right tap, I can turn off the flow of unwanted thoughts. It is a matter of finding the right tap. And the hope is that mindfulness would help one discover the tap.

The map view is different. When we navigate our car with the help of a map, we are not trying to control either the flow of traffic or the road crossing pedestrians. We are just trying to navigate our way as smoothly as we can with as little delay as possible. The motivation here is not that of control but more of hassle-free navigation in the given situation.

Which metaphor is more useful for navigating through our life, tap view or map view? It depends on the context. If you are trying to control the output of a plant or trying to discover a drug for a disease, tap view may be helpful. Identifying and optimizing the exact control parameters may increase the plant yield and discovering the right molecule may create an effective drug which in turn would arrest the proliferation of disease. However, when it comes to controlling thoughts, tap view is not helpful, at least not yet. I don’t know of any tap that can switch the flow of thoughts off without harmful side effects. This is where the map view comes handy.
Map view suggests that each of us carries a map of the world in our brain. Using this map, the brain predicts the causes of its sensorium and the consequences of its actions. Map view comes with the following implications:

Map is not territory: Map is a representation of the world. But the map is not the world itself. In fact, a cyclist’s map could look very different from a truck driver’s map. The by-lanes which are most suitable for a cyclist are useless for the truck driver. Map is neither true nor false. It is either useful or not useful. It is useful when it helps you navigate the world. When the prediction of a map fails repeatedly, it needs updating.

No map is final: When can we declare that a map is complete? Never. Map needs constant updating based on the changing situation. When a major event like the COVID pandemic happens, a number of things that used to work before don’t work anymore. For example, you can’t shake hands, can’t go to the office or even stand close to another person. This makes it necessary to update the map. Instead, if we say that the world needs to change and go back to what it was, it may not work. That doesn’t mean you don’t try to change the world. It is just that the world may or may not work according to your map.

Re-routing is important:  When you feel you are stuck, you could re-route the journey. This may mean changing the destination, perhaps go back to where you came from or chill in the same area for some time by parking the car.  Or you could find another route to the same destination. Instead, if we keep cursing the traffic jam or driver’s mistakes, it won’t serve any useful purpose. This recognition is sufficient to reduce the flow of wasteful thoughts. This readiness to re-route any moment is an important aspect of mindfulness.

In short, map view is more helpful than tap view when it comes to the flow of thoughts. Rather than trying to control thoughts like a tap, we can learn to update the map or re-routing the journey. We should also learn to recognize the meaninglessness of cursing the situation or past actions or future accidents.

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  1. Map view is working with the help of a device. What is the device to use map view in case of mindfulness?

    1. Good question, Rajat. My understanding is this - The map making device is called "the brain". When we perceive the world, what we see is the map created by this device. We misperceive it as reality. We treat the map as the territory. Thought presents representation as perception. It is as if we have begun to navigate our vehicle using only the Google street view and start treating it as the real view. Mindfulness suggests that we use attention or awareness to see this process of perception while in action.