Friday, April 24, 2015

Fifty shades of gray

Has it ever struck you as unusual that we humans tend to approach topics in a "its one thing" or "the other" way of thinking?

Is it just a natural 'thing' to simplify our perceptions? – Is it written in our genetic code to think this way? Some philosphers and psychologists think so...My first idea was to look at other see if people in other times and other environments do the same.  I find that while there is some variability,  generally most all of us humans tend to think this way… How did we come to invent the 2 choice system: “It is good or it is bad”? “It is black or it is white”… “It is right or wrong”…”it is wet or it is dry”…


Consider the Yin and Yang of Asian cultures (representing male/female) (creation/destruction), a number of religions recognize two moral forces at work in the world (good and evil), Traditional Christian belief recognizes a duality between the goodness of God and the corrupted nature of the natural world.  Descartes the French philosopher spoke of the separation of humans into mind/body. 

There is a branch of perception theory,  that says that what we think we know about any object or event is only a 'model' of the 'real' physical object or event.   Different people looking at the same object can reach different conclusions about the same phenomenon. Not everything we think we see is necessarily a part of the 'real' physical object or event...sometimes we add or subtract details based on our own mind.  We need to constantly be aware that what we think we see and interpret is not a full accurate understanding  of the object or event.  We humans often get into big time misunderstandings because we trust our conclusions or observations...without realizing that its only our perception of the reality.  (This idea is called "Epistemological Dualism")

Qualities of Yang: Male, Warm, Dry, Day, Summer, Light
Yin: Female, Cool, Moist, Night, Winter, Dark
The idea is that all thinks are somewhat include both extremes 

However in the real world - In the world in which we live – reality is a lot more indistinct.
*  It is a bit cloudy today
*  "I bend the truth, just a little,  when I tell my golf score" 
*  It just drizzled so I got damp – (but not really wet)
*  The painting is pretty good – but not a masterpiece
*  Brackish water has varying amounts of sea salt in it.

'Two' is not the way most of the natural world works – look at the twigs on a tree, look at the way the wind blows, the gradual progression of dawn coming on, the colors in a rainbow…

Some situations are close to being definite: - one or the other
*  Humans are either male or female – (even here there can be exceptions)
*  My car starts in the morning or it doesn't
*  She is pregnant or she isn’t
*  In a genetic cross between red and white roses, the resulting new plants produce only the dominant color in the first generation.(RED)
Genetic cross between 2 rose plants - One parent is red, the other white, the resulting offspring are all red because they each carry at least one dominant gene
Perhaps part of all this  is how we set up our “systems” of thought.
*  If I take a calculus class in a pass - fail setting
*  I tend to interpret political issues through liberal or conservative points of view ( also we have essentially a two party political system)
*  I can believe in something or not: climate change, the existence of “Big Foot”, or evolution of life on Earth or I don't.
*  In a court of law you are innocent or guilty

What would it look like if we had a culture based on more a scale of 1-10? My doctor sometimes asks – “How would you rate the pain in your leg on a scale from 1-10… where ten is the worst pain you have experienced?
How many of you understand the instructions of todays lab...raise 1 to 5 fingers on your hand to show me
"Black" and "White" ( but not really)

Think how the symbolic attributions that result from our dualism                                                          
For many in our culture light is clarity and good; but dark represents confusion or bad... which transfers to the way many in America feel about different racial or ethnic groups.  A professional Muslim friend of mine says that he has learned that many view him as dark and dangerous.

"Shall I be angry or shall I be free?"
Consider the different worldviews of those who thought that the created world was an embodiment of sin and corruption and those who think of the created world as the work of a loving God, there are cultures that believe that human females are less capable than males. In the Bible it speaks of dividing the sheep from the goats – If it had been written in Peru perhaps it would have  spoken of dividing the sheep, goats, llamas, and alpacas...

Can you see beyond dualisms?

What started my thinking on all this was considering how polarized America has become on political and religious matters.  It is difficult to have a conversation on certain issues because both I and the other person tend to pigeon-hole ‘the other’ … and say – “Oh he is such a left wing democrat” “or right wing republican”  … to make matters worse we tend to go to news sources, with which we already agree!  We fan the flames of our own duality… How did this come about – it is the result of profit driven companies trying to hold an audience for their own reasons (ratings, advertisement audience)?   Is it manipulation by money-rich candidates or donors buying the news?    Has it become a self-feeding monster driven by its own forces? You tell me.
Don't get hung up on the past, dont worry about the future, you are here now - love in it...

Various religions tell us that getting trapped into pondering the past and preparing for the future can rob us of real life. Real life is what happens in the ever present "now".  That is what Mother Teresa meant, it is what Jesus meant when he spoke of the "Lilies of the field" and "Birds of the air"... of course we must learn from the past and make plans for the future... but we dont dwell there,,,