Mistaking The World We’ve Made For The Real World

George Saunders
339 words, 7K views, 8 comments


We are grateful to Rupali Bhuva for offering this hand-made painting for this reading.

The instant we wake the story begins: “Here I am. In my bed. Hard worker, good dad, decent husband, a guy who always tries his best. Jeez, my back hurts. Probably from the stupid gym.”

And just like that, with our thoughts, the world gets made.

Or, anyway, a world gets made.

This world-making via thinking is natural, sane, Darwinian: we do it to survive. Is there harm in it? Well, yes, because we think in the same way that we hear or see: within a narrow, survival-enhancing range. We don’t see or hear all that might be seen or heard but only that which is helpful for us to see and hear. Our thoughts are similarly restricted and have a similarly narrow purpose: to help the thinker thrive.

All of this limited thinking has an unfortunate by-product: ego. Who is trying to survive? “I” am. The mind takes a vast unitary wholeness (the universe), selects one tiny segment of it (me), and starts narrating from that point of view. Just like that, that entity (George!) becomes real, and he is (surprise, surprise) located at the exact center of the universe, and everything is happening in his movie, so to speak; it is all, somehow, both for and about him. In this way, moral judgment arises: what is good for George is… good. What is bad for him is bad. (The bear is neither good nor bad until, looking hungry, it starts walking toward George.)

So, in every instant, a delusional gulf gets created between things as we think they are and things as they actually are. Off we go, mistaking the world we’ve made with our thoughts for the real world. Evil and dysfunction (or at least obnoxiousness) occur in proportion to how solidly a person believes that (their) projections are correct and energetically acts upon them.


Excerpted from here.