Toby Weston
Sep 16 · 2 min read
The literal ‘Maps of Meaning’ in our heads.

I’m currently listening to Sam Harris talking to Barbara Tversky. They are dealing with the roots (or maybe routes?) of human cognition. Very interesting stuff! I’d come across the concept of Grid and Place cells before, probably during a stint of random, omnivorous, browsing.

Listening, it occurred to me that if the brain uses the same neural architecture to map concepts and meanings as it does locations and routes in physical space — which is what they are discussing in the podcast, hence the poor pun above — then perhaps this is why language fails so often to dissuade people of their existing misconceptions?

If the brain’s architecture treats ideas and physical space the same way… then once a ‘Map’ is internalized it may be very difficult to re-write?

You would have a hard time persuading me that a familiar river or mountain no-longer exists.

Things in the physical world do change, but slowly — or catastrophically for big important solid things. When these go, it tends to be in very tangible significant ways; like flood, fire, or eruption.

If this conjecture holds, it would explain why people are so reluctant to give up ideas which have become central, familiar cognitive landmarks in their lives.

Words are puny ammunition when used against solid real things like mountains.

Perhaps people need to see — or touch — their fallacies before they can learn?

On the bright side, rising waters and burning forests are both compellingly palpable events, so may prove very effective at disabusing people of their misconceptions.

See! It all turns out all right in the end! 🙂

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