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23 November 2007 @ 10:18 am
False Ephiphanies  
Jake (nplusm) introduced me to the concept of false epiphanies recently.

I suspect that LiveJournal is an extraordinary platform from which to discuss and have false epiphanies.

Stranger in a Strange Land: Do I grok rightly, Jubal?

I don't know whether or not it counts as a false epiphany, but I notice people having partial, if not false, epiphanies. We begin to understand, we begin to identify, but we do not grok a concept in its entirety, and more interesting is that we think they do.

This sentence from Gavin de Becker's the Gift of Fear is a great example:
"While some [occurrences] were painful and some were frightening, no experience of mine had any more impact on me than those of yours that had the greatest impact on you."

The concept that dB is presenting is that everyone's experience is contextual and personal. Molly (mollybike), Norval (norvalicious), Paul and I were actually talking about this Tuesday night. You have one woman who was raped and abused by her father, and you have another woman who is completely freaking out because her roommate refuses to do any of the chores she agreed to do when she moved in. The situations are hugely disproportionate but the emotional reactions these two women have to their situations might be similar.

I think most of us agree that one qualifies for a lot more professional help than the other.

However, one of the things I had to accept when I was younger and struggling with disproportionate situational grief, is that both people qualify for their emotions. Both of these women are allowed to feel abandoned and betrayed. That the roommate-woman has a lesser situation causing her reaction doesn't mean the impact of the situation and her reaction to it aren't real or justified. In my case, I was dealing with sexual abuse and having a very hard time engaging any sympathy and absolutely no empathy for a friend who was hysterically upset about breaking up with her boyfriend. I wanted to shout, "What do you know about pain?" but eventually the epiphany came - in her life, this was the single most heart-breaking thing that had ever happened to her. On her scale, this was it, this was the most upsetting thing to happen since she was born. Trying to judge her based on my scale of emotional turmoil was completely ridiculous, because she hadn't had my experiences. These scales are calibrated solely by our experiences. I began to grok.

When I first read the above sentence from dB, I interpreted the use of the word "greatest" to suggest that he was comparing everybody's worst experience to all of his experiences combined (or the average). I'm totally open to the idea that this is the wrong interpretation, and could make some good arguments for that, but for the moment, let's go with the assumption. This post is not here to instigate debate about the sentence's intention, but to use this particular interpretation of the sentence to demonstrate the core point I'm trying to make. Let's assume "greatest" was an unconscious word loaded with meaning.

If dB was indeed comparing the greatest (i.e. worst) experience of everyone else to his experiences combined, he is still half way to revelation, to epiphany, to grokking. He is still attached to his perspective, is still comparing. He gets that everyone is impacted by their own experiences and entitled to their reactions to those experiences, but he hasn't let go of his attachment to his experiential scale.

no experience of mine had any more impact on me than those of yours that had the greatest impact on you
no experience of mine had any more impact on me than any of yours had on you

I can feel the difference in my bones. Can you? I'm sure that I cannot succinctly explain the importance of the difference, but I can still feel the attachment to comparing situational grief with personal scale of grief in the first, and the second feels like a complete epiphany, lacking the encumbrance of id.

So, I think, if someone says the latter (last) but means the former (first), then that is a kind of false epiphany.

What I'd love to get from you is verbiage on the difference between an epiphany and a false epiphany. I feel like I understand the difference in my head, but I've been wanting to start this conversation and have felt fundamentally incapable of succinctly differentiating. How would you define them? Can you think of examples? Have you had false epiphanies? Do people get addicted to the reactions of true epiphanies and seek out same with false ones?
Current Mood: mellowmellow
Varnvarn_ix on November 23rd, 2007 07:37 pm (UTC)
I give people false epiphanies, usually by leaving out of the story a crucial detail or two. That was especially common during my teens, to my late grandmother.

For me, a useful terrain in which to explore this concept of yours would be the grokking of mathematical truths. (They are mostly man-made truths, for the whole of mathematics tends to be objects, relations between them, and transformations upon them. These are all created either with a purpose (cf. Hamilton's quaternions) or just for kicks, because they looked like they could be useful at some point.) I see it's a cool thing, knowing this truth, but I have no idea how it works; and then, at some point, I understand a part of it and think it the whole. Something doesn't feel right, though, and only when I am sure I have cleared all possible nooks of fog, and my subject is reflected, whole, in a bead of perspiration on my brow as I look upon it, only then will I be content.

The difference between partial epiphany and true epiphany manifests itself when you try to explain or teach the subject to someone, and you run into their "dumb" questions (which are actually questions based on wrong assumptions).

Victoria: wordsmahariel on November 23rd, 2007 07:52 pm (UTC)
First, to have this discussion, you have to define for yourself the difference between the two. Is it false because the data that went into its making is untrue, or is it false because they drew incorrect conclusions from a situation?

I think the former can't truly be called a false epiphany, because even if some of the information you have isn't correct, you can still use inferences from what you know of a person and yourself to find some truth in a situation.

The false epiphany that comes from incorrect conclusions is the dangerous one, because can often be a result of someone not wanting to realize unpleasant truths about themselves. So they can draws conclusions that will make them feel like they have solved an issue without digging into the subconscious and finding the real issues that they may not want to face.


Edited at 2007-11-23 07:52 pm (UTC)
Kburgunder on November 23rd, 2007 08:20 pm (UTC)
That second part sounds like a really good description of what I understand to be a false epiphany in psychology. Cool. Thank you, love!
interit: Harmonya_muse_d on November 23rd, 2007 08:15 pm (UTC)
no experience of mine had any more impact on me than those of yours that had the greatest impact on you

this one gives an impression that every experience is equivalent to being the greatest experience that ever occurred in the commenter's sphere of existence, which presents an impression of an inflated ego rather than an epiphany.

no experience of mine had any more impact on me than any of yours had on you

to understand the equality of each individual life form on the planet may be considered an epiphany, as it's gone beyond the nature of the individual and delved into the nature of the world as a whole.

in any case, here's what dictionary.com had to say about "epiphany":

American Heritage Dictionary - Cite This Source - Share This
e·piph·a·ny (ĭ-pĭf'ə-nē) Pronunciation Key
n. pl. e·piph·a·nies

1. Epiphany
1. A Christian feast celebrating the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi.
2. January 6, on which this feast is traditionally observed.
3. A sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something.
4. A comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization: "I experienced an epiphany, a spiritual flash that would change the way I viewed myself" (Frank Maier).
2. A revelatory manifestation of a divine being.
1. A sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something.
2. A comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization: "I experienced an epiphany, a spiritual flash that would change the way I viewed myself" (Frank Maier).

i don't think there really is such a thing as a "false epiphany". perhaps "partial epiphany" would be more appropriate.
Stray Catocicat on November 23rd, 2007 08:59 pm (UTC)
I've often said that we all have emotional scales ranging from the best thing that's ever happened to you, to the best thing that's ever happened to you. Intellectually we can know that there are higher highs and lower lows, and try to achieve or avoid those outcomes... but emotionally we only know what we've experienced.

It's interesting, but disheartening, to know that if we eliminated wars, starvation, disease, etc - there would be just as much emotional suffering out there in some sense. Because what ever ills would befall people, they would be the worst thing that ever happened to them. And that pain is an absolute, regardless of the cause.
Sarah: woodssarmonster on November 23rd, 2007 09:25 pm (UTC)
Did it change your way of thinking/behavior in the long-term?

I run across a lot of people who are REALLY excited about a new outlook they've adopted, but I run into them two weeks later and it might as well have been a drunken New Year's resolution.
The ultimate test is whether they hang onto it for more than a few hours.
Kburgunder on November 23rd, 2007 09:32 pm (UTC)
YES! That's exactly what I've been observing a lot of lately.

It might be bold of me to say, but it seems to be that it's extremely difficult to backtrack from a real epiphany. Times in my life that I feel pretty confident that epiphany happened and my life was indeed changed long-term, I actually had a hard time after it understanding my perceptions/feelings on the subject prior to the epiphany.
Varnvarn_ix on December 11th, 2007 09:55 am (UTC)