March 20, 2022

On Realization

Lately, I’ve found myself thinking, perhaps more often than I should, about realization in a general sense.

We are all aware of those scenes in movies where the protagonist comes to a sudden and unexpected realization (”unexpected” in the frame of reference of the protagonist, not the viewer).

You’ve seen what I mean. The expression on their face is indicative of some epiphany.

A GIF showing Sherlock (Bennedict Cumberbatch) coming to a sudden realization.

This is, in fact, very normal; but I don’t have to tell you this. You’ve probably come to a sudden realization or two on your own.

The reason I am writing this is because I think, with our attention shifted towards these sudden realizations, we’ve all ignored the other half of the spectrum.

Differentiation

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. As such, I think an image will help to illustrate the differences between two types of realization.

Two waves. The top one is a single wave with a high amplitude and peak. The bottom on displays many waves with a smaller amplutide, but more frequent peaks.

(Forgive the crudity of this model. I didn’t have time to build it to scale or to paint it.)

The peaks denote realizations. The amplitude denotes the importance or relevance or magnitude of each realization (aka: the taller it is, the “bigger” the realization). The frequency or distance between each peak is, understandably, the frequency to which you realize something.

A Single Train of Thought

Since I was born, it feels like I’ve only been on this single train of thought—a constant branching of ideas and thoughts that is never removed from memory (if you’ll allow the abstraction to define similarity between a computer and a brain). In other words, it has never shut down.

The metaphor of a “train of thought” is quite applicable in this context. You see, each carriage can be labeled as a “thought.” In this way, each train is not just one thought in and of itself, but an array of multiple related thoughts.

Perhaps it’s just how my mind works, but I very rarely come to these “huge” realizations in the manner that is well-known. I don’t suddenly stop and realize something monumental out of nowhere.

Nay. Instead, I see them coming. This continual and elongated train of thought of mine is a gateway into prediction. If I’m always thinking with the same train of thought, I’ll keep coming to much smaller and more frequent realizations.

That is, it doesn’t “surprise” me or leave me speechless when I come to a realization. Instead, I take a second to look back and see how my train got here. The path it took is apparent, and from that I can determine my location.

Let me expand upon that.

The Map

Let’s say I’m on an island—an island of my mind, specifically. There are thousands of destination points, with railways leading to each and every one of them.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I’ve got a map of each destination point. It’s an older map, though, and it doesn’t show me the rail system. I can only see the destinations.

Well, as I’m riding along the train on the island of my mind, I can predict roughly where I’ll be headed, given the knowledge of my current location (given to me by the starting point, clearly).

In this way, each new destination is not some massive shock: “how on earth did I arrive here?” That is, because I saw it coming.


The way I describe this in a predictive sense (”saw it coming”) is a nod to a quote I very much like:

If you anticipate the coming of troubles, you take away their power when they arrive. - Seneca

Identification

The way I look at the world differs, I think, from most other people. There are a few obvious indications, but this topic deserves its own article.

In short, I instinctively aim to extract principles and truth from that which I observe.

This habit allows (and often necessitates) me to look deeper and identify patterns and hidden structures in my life.

One of those is about realization, clearly.

I bring this up because it implicitly question’s our ability to even identify much smaller and more frequent realizations.


The New Oxford American Dictionary defines “realization” as:

an act of becoming fully aware of something as a fact

Notice “fully.”

The Point

As with most of my informative writings, there’s no inherent “point” to this. The only point is to hopefully make you think about your own realizations. Understand them. It may help.

Food for thought.

Thanks for reading.

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