I am reposting this article with permission from My Life Yoga blog on the ego and our illusion of reality, enjoy!
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Pettry amzanig huh?
The above paragraph illustrates that we do not read by assembling letters into words from left to right. Instead we use forecasting to predict what a jumble of letters means. This allows us to read fast and correct for errors.
The key idea here is that forecasting is central to how we function. This is not limited to just reading but pretty much everything we do. The central aspect of forecasting is that it needs a model. A model is an idea of how something works. Once the model is in place we can input a limited number of details and simulate the rest. When we read the words in the first paragraph we are able to simulate the words in the original sentence through the model of English Language in our head. Somebody who is not a native English speaker may find it hard to read the first paragraph because the English model in his head may not be very good.
When sight is restored to somebody who has been blind since birth, he does not immediately begin to “see”. All he sees is fuzzy formless light. It may take months, if not years before normal seeing commences. This is because the person has no model for vision. Only once this is built can normal sight work. When we look around the room we do not scan every part of the room starting with the top left corner zigzagging down. Instead we take in the details of a few spots and simulate the rest using our in-built model for sight.
So here are some details of the models in our head:
1. Our models may not be perfect but they work.
2. Our models may work but they are not complete.
Some philosophers have suggested that since our perception of reality is based on simulation of imperfect models that all reality that we perceive is merely illusory. This may be not be an appropriate way of interpreting this discussion. The models in our head are pretty good because they work and reliably allow us to navigate the world.
However, we must not go to the other extreme. Just because these models work, in the current context, we must not assume that these model represent reality completely. These models are just good enough for our species to survive and get by. For example we do not see in the ultra-violet or infrared spectrum. We are completely oblivious to that portion of reality. In fact the model of reality in our head is like the tip of the iceberg. What we know and perceive is vastly undermined by what we are ignorant and oblivious of. For example, who knows how a whale percieves the world?
Similar to the models of the external world we also have a model of our internal selves. This model of ourselves is termed as an ego. Just like we think that the model of external reality is complete we are fooled into believing that we are our egos.
Our ego is not our complete self. It is at best a very incomplete model of ourselves in our head. The journey of yoga is a journey into a deeper dive into ourselves. It is a journey of discovery of that portion of us that lies beyond the ego. In fact the root of most of our problems lies in the subtle belief that we are our ego and the interest of our ego and our deeper selves is the same. We spend every moment of our conscious experience as captives of our ego-identity. We think, emote, and act on behalf of our ego, little knowing that we are spending our lives at the service of a wrong master.
The journey of discovery of our identity beyond our ego is not an easy one but it may be the most important journey we may undertake. After all who wants to spend a lifetime as a slave of something only to realize that it was all in vain?