The Map Is Not The Territory

Recently, I had the pleasure of an interesting correspondence with a friend of mine, also an Aikido practitioner. During the course of our discussion, I mentioned to him my distrust of abstraction. That is to say, my distrust of that impulse to reduce our experience to theory, and to box our reality into easily accessible forms. Abstraction, I posited, limits our vision, even as it focuses our attention, as it must, on the miniature, and easily explainable. And worst of all, it promises clarity, a theory of everything, when often the opposite is true, and no explanation can be had.

On the contrary: there is, I think, a greater mystery afoot, one worthy enough for even the most jaded among us, and one certainly worth pursuing, imperfections and all. To his credit, my friend sits firmly in this camp, having come to this place by a different, although no less valid, path.

Being the person I am, my thoughts then turned to my Aikido practice. There is a phrase, coined by the scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski, that makes my point. It states, in essence, that the representation of a thing is not, in truth, the thing itself. It is a warning, cautioning us not to confuse our reality with those boxes and models we construct to explain that reality. Or as Korzybski put it: “The map is not the territory.”

Whatever it is that we’re doing when we practice Aikido, whatever the model of reality we’re constructing, whether it’s some ideal form of conflict resolution, a guide to ethical action, or even spinning planets in spinning galaxies, I think Korzybski’s admonition is apt. That thing we’re doing, is not, in truth, that thing in reality. At least, I believe this to be the case.*

In any event however, that’s not my practice now, or at least nowadays. I find that I look forward more to the company of my friends, to a well timed throw, and to good ukemi, nicely executed. I am enjoying the smaller revelations.

It’s good, I think, to have a little mystery in our lives.

*Of course, I could be completely wrong.