Thrawn Rickle 84
Through a Glass Darkly
© 2004 Williscroft
Carl Jung, the influential psychologist from the mid-20th century, called it
the “Aha Experience.”
It’s happened to you several times in your life: that defining moment when you look up from a difficult problem and discover the solution … that indescribable feeling of “Aha … I’ve got it!”
Young scientists often describe that the first time they develop a significant insight, there is an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction, almost a feeling of power that accompanies the discovery. Often they spend the remainder of their lives trying to re-experience this intellectual high. It becomes addictive like a runner’s adrenaline rush or a heroin user’s drug-induced ecstasy.
This experience, of course, is not limited to science. In one way or another we all experience the high of “getting it,” of solving a problem or gaining an insight that carries us forward.
There is a curious aspect to this experience, however, that is not at all obvious at first blush. In the aftermath of the 2004 presidential election in the United States, we see a country that appears to be divided. These are people who speak a common language (for the most part), who have a common heritage (for the most part), who share a culture that is homogeneous beyond anything in our previous human experience. Our all-pervading media – television, movies, magazines, music, the World Wide Web – and our profit-driven big business mindset, have given us a cultural baseline that is virtually identical everywhere.
Drive across the country, and listen to local radio stations. You will discover no discernable difference between what you hear in San Diego and Cape Cod, or Seattle and Miami. Stop at shopping malls during your trip. They will all have a familiar “look and feel.” You will discover several basic themes, and several persistent groupings of the same shops and stores. Subway serves Pepsi, and McDonald serves Coke – after a while you’ll see the pattern.
And yet, despite this nearly universal sameness, half the people see in President Bush the man of the hour, while the other half see in him evil personified. Half see him as an honest man without guile, while the other half believes he is a disingenuous liar.
These points of view obviously are mutually exclusive – they cannot both be correct. It’s even possible, of course, that neither is correct, that President Bush – while fundamentally an honest guy – does sometimes stretch the truth or even tell a lie. Or even, although fundamentally evil, that he sometimes actually tells it like it is.
What is happening here? Americans are educated (for the most part), and clearly they have examined the political picture, or at least are aware of what is going on. And yet half the population seems completely unable to wrap itself around what the other half clearly sees.
I find myself looking at the President, and seeing a man of significant personal faith, which guides many of his actions. I see consistency, perseverance, and above everything else, a simple, direct honesty. I have done my homework, my due diligence, and have verified that my observations closely reflect reality. I am convinced that no matter how many times a person does what I have done, no matter how many ways a person approaches the subject, my conclusions are inevitable. They derive from easily and clearly verifiable fact.
So, why doesn’t the other half see this?
I’ve run into this before, of course. I don’t mean the case where a person simply doesn’t see what’s happening or where a person doesn’t pay sufficient attention to get the point. I’m addressing the situation where two people seem to be on completely different wavelengths, as if they were speaking a completely different language.
Dr. John Gray addressed a particular aspect of this situation in his book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. He wrote that the difference between male and female was significantly more than the differences in our bodies. He suggested that men and women perceived the world differently, that we are hard-wired in significantly different ways.
In a 1966 study, The Voices of Time, edited by J.T. Fraser, perception takes center stage. Children were asked to view a situation and then comment on what they saw. The situation consisted of a model train layout with several tunnels and two parallel train tracks. Two tunnels of unequal length were set up so trains would enter both tunnels simultaneously. If the trains were traveling the same speed, of course, one would appear before the other. When asked whether the trains were going the same speed or different speeds, young children invariably concluded that the train that passed through the shorter tunnel was traveling faster, even though it was completely obvious to the adults that both trains were traveling together at the same speed around the track. Similarly, when presented with two trains moving at different speeds through the tunnels so that they entered and emerged simultaneously, young children invariably concluded that the trains were traveling at the same speed. No amount of argument could convince the younger children of the truth. To them it was completely obvious that the train that emerged first was the faster train, and that if they emerged together, they were traveling the same speed.
It’s a matter of perception. With time, a child’s perception changes as its experience with the real world expands until it comes into alignment with mainstream perceptions of the world around us.
But somewhere between that point and adulthood something else happens. We all live in the same world and see the same facts.
Some of us, on the other hand, somehow see these facts as supporting a mental construct they obviously carry around with them, a construct against which they apparently measure everything they see. It appears to me that these folks validate facts that find a place within their construct, and reject those that don’t.
For these folks it isn’t a case of adapting their construct to the observable facts, but of adapting their perception of reality to fit this construct.
A glaring example of this thought process from recent history is the mindset of adherents to Marxism. When the Soviet Union collapsed, demonstrating Socialism’s complete inability to govern the workings of society, die-hard socialists continued down their path toward economic oblivion. Their mental construct prevailed, not the facts.
We can identify this mindset with the reaction of those on the political left.
Scientists frequently are part of this mindset as well. At first glance, one might believe that someone who relies upon facts for a living would think differently. Actually, a scientist relies on the scientific method, which – at least theoretically – attempts to fit hypothesis to observable facts. In reality, however, most scientists will reject observed “facts” that seem to conflict with accepted hypothesis – their mental construct.
Breakthrough discoveries happen when observed facts force a researcher to reexamine his mental construct. This doesn’t happen very often. Most scientists deal with every day life in the same way, and so their politics are typically to the left. This is why for every Prof. Edward Teller (renowned “father of the Hydrogen Bomb”) there a slew of Einsteins and Oppenheimers (well-known scientists who were instrumental in developing nuclear weapons, but who later opposed them adamantly) lending their considerable influence to the political left.
Engineers, on the other hand, are constrained by what they do to adjust their mental constructs to what they actually observe in the real world.
When the theory of flight predicts that a bumblebee cannot fly, an engineer observes the obvious fact that bumblebees do fly, and figures out why. Engineers are rarely to the political left.
It is important to understand, however, that the mindset I am discussing here is not limited to the political left. The shoe fits any time ideology drives human perception, so that the observer adjusts his observations to fit a mental construct.
This article contains an obvious bias. I have made it abundantly clear that I believe life is better when we adjust our preconceptions to fit what we observe. And this seems to be the great divide between “us” and “them.”
When the “other guys” run the show, everything gets out of kilter, because they are constantly adjusting what is to make it fit what should be. There’s a lot of truth to the old saw that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” They do a lot of fixin’.
In a democracy, inevitably “they” will gain control from time to time. The longer they run the show, the further from reality things will get, until eventually, the population will grow sick and tired of the way things are, and will vote them out of office. Or the economy will finally collapse and things will get chaotic for a while, as they did in the former Soviet Union.
I don’t have a solution, except to urge that when you vote, to vote for men and women who are willing to adjust their perceptions to fit reality, instead of giving control to the ideologues of the left or right. The world is sufficiently challenging as it comes to us without our having to deal with the consequences of those who constantly try to force reality into their particular view of how things should be.