What Is Outside of the Box?

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, October 9, 2015

We are constantly advised to think outside of the box. This usually comes on the job, when a breakthrough is needed because doing things the old ways are obviously no longer working. But what is outside the box? For a CPA, it might be new ways to shelter taxes, or for a NASA engineer, a completely novel way to land a rover on Mars, but for most people it means, “Try thinking other than the way you’ve always thought.”


To understand how that’s done really requires knowing what’s in the box and what’s outside the box. I like to think of the box as our skull. Our brains are inside a bone box, connected to the outer world by five sensory input ports. You can read 2,500 years of philosophy about what’s outside the box, but it essentially comes down to three things. Solipsistic thinkers believe only the self exists and there’s nothing outside the box. It’s all an illusion. Theistic thinkers believe we are souls embedded in a physical reality created by God, that obscures a greater spiritual reality . Finally, scientific thinkers believe there is a vast singular objective reality outside our heads that can be understood through gathering evidence with scientific and statistical methods using our five senses.

Each of these viewpoints can hinder the perception of what’s outside of the box through rigid adherence to beliefs about what might potentially be outside the box. Which is why we’re constantly told to think outside the box. If you believe your religion explains what’s outside the box, then why are there so many other religions? Which one explains reality? If you believe the religion you were brought up to believe, how can you know if you’re not culturally brainwashed? To think outside the box would require studying a good sampling of all religions, and then deciding which theological ontology is the most valid, if any. Any scientist who’s heard the phrase paradigm shift will understand their own potential for rigid thinking that blinds them to something new.

Inside our heads, we build the walls of our box with cultural brainwashing. Most people think the way they do because they were taught to think that way by parents and peers. We seldom escape that original packaging. Anyone who is completely confident in believing what they were taught are delusional. And even when taking on new views, it’s very easy to take on new delusions about what’s outside the box. Can we ever really know what’s exists outside our skulls?

It’s very easy to find masters of hidden wisdom who to claim to teach the ultimate secrets to what’s outside of the box. Just watch this entertaining video about thinking outside the box. It’s a come-on for the esoteric belief in hidden knowledge called Kabbalah. I highly recommend watching this video because it’s very convincing. And that’s the trouble, there’s an infinity of convincing cases made to what’s outside the box. There are plenty of other ancient systems of hidden knowledge, like Gnosticism and Pythagoreanism. Folks have been trying to figure out what’s outside the box for thousands and thousands of years. Yuval Noah Harari suggests in his book Sapiens that humans have been inventing ideas since the cognitive revolution 17,000 years ago. Homo sapiens are experts as making shit up—it might be our defining characteristic.

For the last five hundred years, science has been trying to measure data from outside the box by looking for consistent behavior. During the time it has developed an extremely statistically consistent view of what’s outside the box. It’s precise down to enough decimal places to allow scientists to send probes to Pluto billions of miles away or let giant heavy-than-air jumbo jets fly around the world.

We all live in a subjective reality created by our minds which give us delusions that we know what’s outside the box. We’d like to believe there an objective reality that is the same for all seven billion of us to perceive. Subjective reality might be too powerful to ever let us comprehend what’s outside the box. Culturally we carry the baggage of thousands of years of religious and philosophical thinking that provide no actual evidence to what’s outside the box. Zen Buddhists work to teach people to see directly with their senses and forget corrupting concepts, but few people can do that.

Often to think outside of the box requires us to stop thinking inside the box. It helps to let new concepts inside.

If you’re following the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign, so far all the candidates are rigidly thinking inside their boxes, and so are the voters. Essentially politics have become a way to form coalitions of like minded subjective thinkers, usually based on the same moldy old issues inspired by subjective desires. If there is an objective reality out there, we must work on the actual problems that we face to let us live safely in that objective reality. If it’s a solipsistic or metaphysical reality, it hardly matters. Sadly, most voters are seeking candidates that validate their delusions. Isn’t time we all start wondering what’s actually outside our boxes?


JWH #971

5 thoughts on “What Is Outside of the Box?”

  1. Much food for thought in this post. Hatari would call our systems within the box “social imaginary orders”. He would say all of our social imaginary orders are illusions (not delusions, since they can be true). Models of the world are never necessary since they are contingent on our current understanding. (It’s possible to argue for the geocentric model of the universe when given enough auxiliary hypothesises). The orders we create (based on deduction) never relate within themselves to reality. They are perfect until reality is mixed in (induction). Einstein’s self proclaimed original sin was to tie a physical clock to the speed of light thus mixing the deductive with the inductive. Theism (revealed truth) is always certain . Thus always deductive and always certain. Science is never certain but only probable. People who are certain have nothing left to learn regarding that certainty.

    The web of information connects with all the other pieces within the web and for outside of the box thinking to advance it must explain that web and allow to explain and predict other phenomena (Einstein’s Gravity replaces Newton’s).

    1. I prefer to think our desire to believe what we think we know as delusions even when there’s a degree of validity when matching our inner knowledge with the reality outside our heads. We want our beliefs to be true in a way that often is indifferent to reality. For example, we know our hormones are pushing us to mate, but we still prefer to think we are falling in love.

      Greg, you and I are content to live with uncertainty. It doesn’t bother us that we are a byproduct of random events. Most people want a story to explain their lives. I think it’s rather far out that I find myself as a self-aware being in chaotic reality. What amuses me is to wonder what will happen to Homo sapiens when they give up storytelling and decide to do something with the objective reality.

      1. Yes, ultimately what we think we know are delusions (not illusions). Discovering “there is no story to explain our lives” has been the most rewarding experience of my life. I’ll see if my wife wants to watch that Kaabalah video. I keep forgetting that you have a spiritual bent. My current book I’m reading, Master Algorithm, points toward an interesting way for the end of storytelling (science is nothing but a narrative with its own Hermeneutic) by describing a path towards solving the n np problem thru machine learning (a branch of AI). That reminds me, I see edge came out with a new book on Machine thinking. That will be my next read.

        1. I am not spiritual myself, but I find studying the history of religion and spiritual people a way to talk to theistic people. It’s like learning their language.

          How was Master Algorithm? I saw an ad for it the other day in some book review magazine, and meant to research it. I expect you’ll publish a review soon. Regarding the new Brockman book, do you like them? I’ve bought several, but never have gotten into them. They always have a great list of names contributing to the discussion, but each of their comments are on the short side. The new Best American series just came out and I’ve bought five of them. There’s lots of good reading there.

  2. After the last Brockman book, I had sworn them off. They’re like an all you can eat buffet, as you’re doing it you think it’s the greatest experience ever, but when you finish your wondering was it really worth while. But, the topic of machines becoming self aware is of immense interest to me.

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