The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

“Construction of Reality” Chapter 3: Being Aware

This is the third chapter of my book “The Construction of Reality.” It’s first draft, so not completely edited, and is a reward for reaching a milestone in our fundraiser. The next milestone is $8,350 (a little over $2,000 from the last milestone), and will include chapters:

5. Identity and Identification (how we expand our bodies beyond our physical selves)

6. The Ritual (how we create identification)

7. Interaction ritual (how daily life creates identification and personality)

Being Aware

If you’re like most people, you have a memory which runs as follows. You left your home meaning to go somewhere, only to suddenly realize that you were actually heading to work, school or somewhere else you go often.

During the time you were travelling to the wrong place, you were conscious: your mind was preoccupied with something unrelated to where you were going.

What you weren’t, was aware of what you were doing. If you had been aware of where you were going, you wouldn’t have headed in the wrong direction. The sooner you became aware that you were going to the wrong place, the sooner you corrected.

Our bodies are automating machines. Perhaps you remember learning to tie your shoelaces? I don’t know about you, but I found it hard. Yet I don’t even think about it today. Every day I put on my shoes, and I can’t tell you which shoe I put on first, because I do it automatically.

Deliberate learning is about automating, and so is non-deliberate learning, as when we burn our hand on a stove and learn not to touch hot elements. Our bodies build it in.

The examples we’ve used so far are cases where if you want to be aware of what you’re doing, you can, but experts in how we use our body tell us that the body and brain are even more ruthless: if you aren’t using a perception, the body stops paying attention at a deeper level(x). Body-workers such as massage artists and physical therapists know that many people cannot feel parts of their body without extreme force applied and even when they can feel, it is extremely coarse.

Someone with good body sense may be able to pinpoint a pain exactly, while someone without it may simply have to say “my right upper back”. That’s all they can sense.

For them to learn to use their body in a better way, the first step is to teach them to sense the exact muscles. Thomas Hanna describes, in one example, pressing on the muscle around the shoulder blades, to bring those muscles into conscious awareness(x).

Awareness comes in grades. To really fix something, you need to not just know feel the problem, but to know the mechanics of the problem. “I tend to lean forward and hunch my shoulders.”

Until you know what you’re doing, you can’t change it. And generally, it helps to know why you’re doing something, as well.

Trying to change without awareness is as likely to make the problem worse as better.

This is just as true of what we call mental processes; of thoughts and feelings and beliefs, as it is of those we associate with the body.

We use the words emotion and feeling interchangeably because every emotion is actually a sensation in the body. It will be paired with an interpretation, which might be verbal. It’s quite possible to have a sensation and be confused. “Am I scared? Lightheaded? What is causing this feeling?” In many cases we have to learn what emotion a sensation is, and then we interpret if it’s good or bad. Desire for a carrot, good. Desire for black forest cake, maybe not so good.

Some of this is natural: a fear of heights seems wired in to humans, but most of our fears are learned. No one is born hating or fearing people with a different skin color, for example. No one is born a Muslim, Democrat, socialist or secularist.

Everything you once learned, you can change.

That doesn’t mean it is easy. It is often very hard, though there are techniques which make it easier. (If you really want to end your racism, go live where there are almost no people with your skin color or culture. Make yourself live there for a couple years, make friends with them and so on. That’ll do the trick for almost everyone.)

But before you can change something, you must be aware of it, and in most cases, to change it, you must be aware of its mechanics: of how it works now.

Humans tend to take how things are, for them or for others, as how things should be. Even when we don’t, we lack awareness of the processes which created the world we live in and which sustain it, and we lack belief that we can change those processes.

Much of this is poverty of imagination. We accept something like money as natural, though it isn’t. We accept all-day schooling of children by strangers even though the vast majority of humans never did any such thing. We are so used to buying everything we need that we can’t imagine producing it even though small groups of humans for most of human existence produced most of their own needs. If we have a religion it is almost certainly the religion of our parents, whether or not that religion would be best for us as individuals or for the world.

We… accept. And we often don’t really understand that our suffering is optional. We hate our jobs but every other job looks terrible or hard to get and we spend 40 years living for the weekends, then when we’re old, we retire and are often too sick or too used to working to enjoy the sudden influx of free time.

As individuals we have broad latitude to choose what reality we live in. The first step is being aware it is possible. The second step is being aware of how reality was created and chosen for us. The third step is a deep awareness that in most respects, the reality we live in is arbitrary. Other people live or have lived in very different ones. Ones we might like a great deal more. Why not change?

Societies are recipients of the decisions, mostly unaware decisions, of those who came before us. We are often unhappy with our societies, but when we try and change them we often fail, and when we succeed we often change society in ways that make many of us worse off.

Actual awareness of the mechanics which make our societies as they are is lacking. We don’t, as a group, really know. We flail around in the darkness “tax cuts will make the wealthy create more and better jobs!”

We try that.


We rarely ask, for example, “Should we organize our lives around jobs? Is that the best way for humans to live?”

If we wish, as societies, to create a better reality, we must understand how we create the realities we live in today.

This book, then, is about that awareness, both for individuals and groups.

Become aware of how reality is created, and you can change it. This is more true today for individuals than for society, but with enough understanding, we can make it true for society as well.

I’ll publish the next chapter on Monday or Tuesday and if we get to $8, 350, we’ll do the next three. At $10,500, there’ll be three more chapters.

9.The Ritual Masters (How rituals create different types and classes of people)

10. The Ideologues (How identity is tied into story, ideology and meaning)

11. Reign of the Ideologues (How ideology is used to create civilizations and the payoffs for ideologues)

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“The Construction of Reality” Introduction & “The Social Facts Which Rule Us”


Open Thread


  1. capelin

    1) “We accept all-day schooling of children by strangers even though the vast majority of humans never did any such thing”

    I love succinct, sweeping indictments.

    2 ) A good example of the mind automating body functions – try lifting one’s toes individually. The neural pathways/channels are there, and can be found with practice, but generally the body just groups the signalling.

    3) Hmmmn, black-forest cake…

  2. Good stuff dude, will check out next one when it’s out ✅✅✅

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