The Map Is Not The Territory

The Hermetic Qabalah assumes that the material Universe was created through an orderly evolution of increasingly substantive thought-forms (symbolized by the sephirot – Hebrew for “emanations” – on the Tree of Life diagram) that originated in the realm of pure Spirit (aka the “Mind of God”) and terminated in the mundane reality with which we interact as incarnate beings. This model is held to explain all manner of theories about how things “work” in the experiential sphere where we “live and move and have our being.” For the inquiring metaphysical mind that is unencumbered by religious baggage, there is a certain amount of “suspension of disbelief” involved in making the conceptual leap from the numinous kingdom of spirit to the concrete world of the senses. Liberal applications of “creative imagination” help.

In philosophical rather than mechanistic terms, I’ve considered the qabalistic Tree of Life to be an intellectual construct or “working model” that attempts to put order to apparent chaos in a way that is useful in understanding (and manipulating) these exalted principles at a personal level. Sort of like physics, it’s not so much a matter of “belief” in the structure as one of systematically exploring the theoretical blueprint (but, unlike scientific research, there is no “peer review,” and the landmarks and boundaries don’t always stay where we put them). I believe it was Israel Regardie who said that the Tree of Life is like a bottomless filing cabinet in which every idea imaginable finds a place from which it can then be compared with every other idea in a methodical way.

Personal reality as we filter it through our senses is true for us at the moment we experience it, but in the larger picture it could very well be a distorted image of the objective truth (if there even is such a thing). For all practical purposes, as long as we act as if something is true, we can study it, work with it, test it to see if it helps us make sense of our perceptions. Unlike religious dogmatism, beyond that initial assumption it’s not simply a question of “faith” (hmm, there must be an oxymoron somewhere in that thought, since “question” and “faith” are fundamentally incompatible terms).

I’ve always appreciated semanticist Alfred Korzybski’s observation “The map is not the territory” ever since I first encountered it in Bernard Wolfe’s futuristic novel Limbo back in the ’60s. He amplified that by saying “The only usefulness of a map depends on similarity of structure between the empirical world and the map.” Robert Anton Wilson updated those thoughts by saying “Following Korzybski, I put things in probabilities, not absolutes.” As corroborated by what we often find with divination, that empirical world can be quite elastic.

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