Sunday, January 29, 2017

Arguments Welcome! (Really!)

There have been periods over the years when this blog has been hopping. Inevitably, however, I get busy with other things, post less frequently, and my audience wanders off.

To me, the posts are far less important than the conversations that follow. In fact, most of my posts are short and concise and only meant to spark a conversation; they are not my final thought on a given subject at all.

I take no offense to people questioning my ideas.

I genuinely want to know what you think, especially if you disagree with part or all of my post.

I understand that not everyone thrives on conflict, but we all need get comfortable with conflict if we are going to effectively resist the dark days ahead in our country. Debate is invaluable for clarifying and expanding on your ideas, and for effectively communicating your principles.

I am primarily interested in debating with other liberals, or with independents. Arguing with conservatives is usually pointless, but I'll engage if the argument is thoughtful and respectful.

While I encourage readers to take issue with my posts or ideas, I am not going to engage in a discussion with someone who takes issue with me personally.

And by all means, if you want to write something for this blog, I always welcome submissions for guest posts.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Our opinion of reality.

This is a good point, but I disagree.

I mean, what is reality anyway?

It's our brain's best approximation of the world around us based on its limited ability to interpret the data it receives from our limited physical senses.

Bear in mind also, that our brain literally ignores the existence of data it can't catagorize or understand.

My point is not to say that everyone's opinion is equally valid. It's that opinions are still opinions, and not facts.

The starting point for the two characters in the above cartoon should not be to assert their own opinion as fact in the first place.

And I wouldn't even go so far as to say that one of them must be correct.

Maybe they're both wrong.

Maybe it's a lower-case g.

And if figuring out the identity of a single alphanumeric character is this complicated once you account for the fact that your own perspective is limiting the data you receive, how much more likely is it that your interpretation of politics, the economy, and the nature of the universe is anything close to the actual truth?

We are all fond of saying to other people, "you just don't understand how the world works." But if they are reasonably functional adults, they probably understand pretty well how the world works. Their world. And if you can't see the world from their prospective because you're too intrenched in your own, that doesn't really make you the expert.

A young mother on foodstamps taking the bus to three part-time jobs shouldn't be expected to understand international trade. A father laid off from his third factory job this year doesn't know how Wall Street shareholders manipulate quarterly earnings reports for leverage over business owners.

You can stack up as many facts and statistics as it takes to prove the specific point you're trying to make, and then you can get upset when the person you're talking to accuses you of being out of touch with how the "real" world works (their world), but how many times are you willing to chase your tail in circles before you throw your hands up in exasperation and walk away?

What a different world it would be if we could give up the notion of facts entirely.

If everyone could come to the table and say, "this is my perspective. This is the world from my point of view. These are things that I struggle with on a daily basis and would like to fix."

We could work together to build a system that truly benefits everyone, at least in the places where our worlds intersect.

The case of the split brain.

We all have two brains.

The right brain and the left brain are each completely separate operating systems, linked together by a band of nerves called the Corpus Callosum.

In some rare cases of severe epilepsy, patients have had their Corpus Callosum severed so that the electrical impulses of their seizures cannot spread from one side of the brain to the other, thereby mitigating some of the damage. For the most part, these people are not impaired by the procedure; they think and function quite normally.

A spoon is held up in the subject's right visual field, and the researcher asks "What is this?" 

The subject responds, "What is what?" They don't see the spoon.

The researcher then says, "Here, take this spoon," and the subject reaches out and takes it.

Here's what is happening:

The part of the brain that names things is in the left hemisphere, so when asked to name an object that is only visible in the right visual field, the person does not perceive an object at all (because the part of the brain that names things can't see the object and the two sides of the brain can no longer communicate).

But the person does see the object when they are told to take it. 

There are many other examples of this neurological phenomenon; the brain fails to perceive stimuli when it cannot process and categorize it.

So, on top of the whole spectrum of light that our eyes cannot even perceive, how much of the information our eyes do take in never registers in our consciousness because our brain can't categorize it. It's like that information doesn't exist at all.

The reality that we are able to perceive is very likely a tiny sliver of the reality that actually exists.