One of the most common obstacles to understanding is the stubborn clinging to
a belief that is outdated and now incorrect, or a belief that is current but
was never correct in the first place.|
Our fundamental beliefs and
assumptions serve as filters through which we process new information. This
filtering is necessary, but it is quite often counterproductive.
How we engage our basic assumptions determines how much of our brain we
will use. For most people, this is not good news.
You may have noticed that people are increasingly surrendering use of
their "higher order" brain parts. You may have noticed the trend, over the
past few years, of replacing articulation with rudeness or "righteous
This is often accompanied by threats and insults, rather than anything
that actually motivates the other person.
Such behavior appears stupid and
boorish. In this case, appearances are not deceiving. Those behaviors
originate in the "lower order" brain parts and they are, in fact, stupid.
When you hear someone say another person "acts like a reptile," you are
probably hearing an observation that is extremely accurate.
This reptilian behavior has manifested itself repeatedly in our Western
We all know that we stand on the shoulders of giants. Today's technology
exists only because of breakthroughs made by others through the centuries.
But (in the Western culture), the enforced clinging to official dogma caused
a delay of scientific and technological progress. And that delay lasted more
than 1,000 years.
Delays on a meta scale like this happen all the time. In fact, we can see
this same effect on the meta level in Kansas today--with the "debate" over
the life sciences and stem cell research. Just to point out how absurd this
"debate" is, consider that a stem cell is about the size of the period at
the end of this sentence. To avoid emotional labels, let's call one side of
the debate A and the other side B.
- "A" says that stem cell is a living being that has the same "right
to life" as an adult human being. Therefore, it is wrong to destroy that
cell in the hopes of curing an adult human being of a life-threatening
- "B" says that stem cell is not a human being, and it therefore has
rights on par with other non-human organisms.
If you look closely at the position "A" takes, you find enormous
inconsistencies. "A" holds that killing stem cells is abortion and murder.
If we accept this premise as fact, then necessarily fertility clinics are
engaging in murder routinely. That's because they make 1,000s of stem cells
to develop one viable, fertilized egg. Because they do this knowing that
1,000s of cells will die, they are repeatedly creating a cell death
situation on a massive scale. "A" conveniently forgets that there are no
"stem cell" nursing homes where we have staffers keeping thousands of unused
stem cells fed and reading bed time stories to them. Do any of the people in
the "A" crowd even think about starting such an institution?
The "A" crowd also invokes God as being on their side. But at the same
time, their position (that killing various forms of human cells is murder) necessarily makes God a murderer, simply because the
natural reproductive processes also shed many cells that are, by the
definition provided by" A," living beings. This includes the millions of
sperm cells shed by men each day. But it also includes fertilized eggs
routinely shed by women without their knowledge. In fact, there are all
sorts of "human life" that, apparently by design, are killed off on a
routine basis. God, therefore, is pro-abortion by the very definitions
provided by the "A" crowd.
"A" further stands for Absurdity because you can do only one of two
things with a cell grown for in vitro fertilization (and that's where
researchers get stem cells):
- Use it for research.
- Destroy it.
"A" necessarily has the position that you must destroy a stem cell rather
than use it, because of you use it, you may destroy it. By this "logic,"
everyone needs to kill their family so their loved ones don't die from an
accident or natural causes. I think we can all agree that "A" is simply
using "reptilian reasoning" instead of human brain cells. Theirs
is an emotional position, not a rational one.
I'm not supporting or attacking abortion, in vitro fertilization, or stem cell research. I'm
merely showing that a particular group of people who've latched onto a
particular opinion can hold that opinion only by taking several conflicting
positions at once, and therefore not holding any position that is
supportable to a thinking person.
What has happened in this case is the same thing that happens all the
time. People hold to a fundamentally flawed position and use flawed logic
and incorrect assumptions to bolster that position. The result then becomes
an intensely emotional defense of that position, accompanied by a total
inability to look at anything related to it with any rationality whatsoever.
This puts the issue in the reptilian part of the brain, rather than in the
frontal lobes. The frontal lobes comprise the largest portion of the brain
and this is where that thing we call "intelligence" takes place.
Unfortunately, there's a widespread tendency to "lock out" this portion of
Locking out the frontal lobes is obviously going the opposite
direction from making use of your brainpower. It literally makes a person
stupid. In fact, an ordinary monkey has a higher IQ than a human functioning
in this mode. Those cartoons that show evolution happening in reverse are
making an astute observation. But if you make the correct choices, that
observation doesn't need to be about you.
Frontal lobe lockout: Don't let it happen to you.
One of the key figures in scientific history is Galileo. You may recall that
the Catholic Church imprisoned Galileo and forced him to recant his belief
that the earth revolved around the sun. He was luckier than some others who
were burned alive for saying the same thing (yes, they had their own version
of the IRS in those days). What drove this lunacy? A suppression of the
"higher order" brain parts, in an effort to cling to incorrect assumptions
that gave a privileged few their power and comfort.
While we look at Galileo as a giant because he was instrumental in
bringing about the age of discovery, there's a twist to his story. Everything he knew was merely an approximation. Indeed, all of "classic
physics" is merely an approximation. None of the "laws" postulated by
classic physics work at the atomic or subatomic scale. This is similar to
the way none of our laws apply to members of Congress. :)
It's interesting to note that, at the start of the 20th Century, the
postulates of classic physics were called laws. The results of precise
physics--those derived from mathematical equations, ala Einstein, et al--are
all called "theories." But that doesn't mean "theory" as in "probably not
true." In fact, all of classic physics is a special case (large objects)
that is a subset of mathematically-derived physics. You may have heard of
In over 80 years of extensive testing and experimentation, nobody have
ever proved a single postulation of quantum physics wrong. What we call "laws of
physics" really are not laws. What we call "theories" are. actually
laws. It makes you think about driving your car on the parkway and parking
it in the driveway, doesn't it? You can probably name a few of these
"theories" right off the bat. Relativity, for example.
I bring up this law vs. theory thing to illustrate the need to challenge
our own assumptions. Don't let existing views prevent you from understanding other viewpoints.
Considering other viewpoints is how we grow into much brainier people.
Many people have a hard time accepting new information, because it
appears to conflict with their previously held beliefs. We have an example
of this with classic and quantum physics. There really is no conflict, if
you understand that classic is merely an approximation and a subset of
Most people with opposing viewpoints have more in common than they do in
conflict. This is a key fact experienced negotiators know. People have
similar wants and needs--they just express them differently. For example,
everyone wants to be loved (well, almost everyone).
- To some people, the way to express this is to show kindness,
compassion, and courtesy to others.
- To some people, the way to express this is to show cruelty,
coldness, and hostility toward others.
How can these opposites both be expressions of the need to be
loved? Well, they are. The second one is commonly expressed toward others
who are not a member of one's group, so as to be "normed" within one's own
group or to win approval.
We see this behavior in gang wars, wars between nations, and even in
shopping lines during the Christmas season. Sometimes, the costs and
consequences are widespread and severe.
For example, American Taliban employees assume all American citizens are
criminals who are something less than human. This presumption of guilt until
proven innocent is a huge burden for the accused. AT employees, in their
zeal to please their bosses, see nothing wrong with their backwards
perspective. Thus, we have extremely brutal actions carried out innocent
people on a regular basis every single day of the year except for federal
holidays and weekends. With no remorse at all, AT employees
will annihilate a business or put a family out on the street with nothing to
live on but the charity of strangers.
Osama Bin Laden (may he soon rot in hell rather than in a cave packed
with dialysis machines) is an example of someone who has taken this to
extremes. And how did I just express my feelings toward him? That says
something about me as well as about him. I just expressed cruelty, coldness,
and hostility. What was your reaction? Approval? If I had expressed
affection for this person, what would your reaction be? This helps
illustrate just how complex we humans can be. We can be hateful and loving
at the same time.
In most situations (cave-dwelling Arab terrorists excluded), a thinking
person can look beyond this "us vs. them" mentality and ask, "What do
I have in common with those other people?" The answer will usually help
us engender cordiality and cooperation. This is true, even if you are talking politics and
religion. Unless, of course, that other person has a habit of blowing up
things like the USS Cole and the World Trade Center and sending out
videotapes of people being beheaded.
But even among "normal people," most of us cannot discuss politics or
religion with people whose views differ from our own, because we fail to see
what we have in common and thus we give up the opportunity to talk where
there is no discord. Instead, we immediately zero in on the differences and
In the case of OA, mentioned above, he is all about differences and zero
common ground. He's a good illustration of this problem when it's greatly
magnified in an individual. We can also look at such narrow "thinkers" as
the current Head Wingnut of Iran and the "Great Headcase" of North
Korea. Of course, we have many more examples closer to home.
We can think much better, when we can avoid these "colliding" reactions
to new information and instead:
- Accept that others form their views from other perspectives and know
things we don't.
- Accept that we are working with information others do not or may not
have--instead of considering them stupid, provide information in a
- Look for what's common, rather than immediately zeroing in on "what's
wrong." There may be nothing wrong.
- Allow for the fact that we may not exactly understand what's being
conveyed. Ask for clarification, but not in a condescending or
At the same time, we do need to guard against BS. Have your BS detector
on at all times. It is neither necessary nor desirable to fit everyone
else's view and any new information into some Master Theory. Some things are
simply either/or. And there is no law requiring you to debate or justify
People make claims about things all the time--for example, in religion
and politics. They may be very sincere, but 99% of people who strongly
hold a view cannot support it in a debate (following the rules of evidence
and argument in formal debating). They may still be right--they just can't
articulate why. Or maybe they aren't right. Either way, a high level of
confidence in a view does not make it right or even supportable. Conversely,
the inability of someone to convince you does not make that view wrong or
unsupportable. Don't confuse the container with the contents.
People are entitled to their opinions. You do not have to agree or
disagree. A contest of opinions has no winners. But when people differ and
explore a topic by sharing new information and presenting logical arguments,
then you have a discussion in which both parties benefit--even if they part
with differing views..
To weigh the accuracy of information, look at such things as:
- The qualifications of the party making the claim.
- The references (if any) cited.
- The logic supporting the claim.
- The internal consistency of the claim.
- External consistencies and inconsistencies with the claim.
It's not necessary to conclusively support or refute any given
information or opinion. Sometimes, doing so simply isn't possible. What is
of benefit is that you remember to avoid letting new information immediately
collide with your existing beliefs. You may find a change in perspective