Don Rogers: Oh, you think you know?
News flash: You are not reasonable, not remotely.
This most basically is what we need to know about ourselves, our politics, our whole framework of thinking, our worldview: What we know to be true almost certainly isn’t.
But me? Nah. I’m exempt, of course. I’m a thinker! You know, logical, running my thought process A to B to C, connecting all the dots, missing none.
Yes, I know at least intellectually I’m as blind and blinkered as you. It’s just impossible to believe, like the nonsense neuroscientists say about our sense of an “I” being a mirage, that we’re a collection of consciousnesses, a pool of individual functions working together to keep our bodies going and our minds fooled that they are our own.
What we see directly, right in front of us? I mean as we negotiate the living room through the kitchen down a hall and into the bathroom to do our business? We don’t even see what’s there.
Our eyes only capture a tiny band of all the light there is to see, miss almost everything for lack of acuity, pick up only what serves us in the moment. Eagles see a whole different world, as do dogs and bats and bees.
But more stunning to me: The image we do see is not what’s out there, but inside our skulls, in our brains, only a model of the reality outside. We don’t even see what we see, basically. Only a representation, our own painting.
Our imagination fills in whole swaths of blank canvas in our vision. Yep, we even make that up. Maybe this is why I can’t find my keys while my wife points out they are: Right. There.
And so we also don’t really think. Not clearly anyway.
Politics, alas, points this out all too sharply. Hang out for any length of time with Resisters or Trumpists, challenge any bit of groupthink, and you’ll see quickly how tribalism tugs so much stronger than anything else. Logic is weak gravity indeed.
Belonging matters more than thinking anything through. The truth is we don’t want to think. We want to have decided, to have chosen a side, case closed. Saves energy. We crave comfort, to believe we’re right because others believe the same things. We stick close to our pack if we can. Safer that way. This has been cooked into our beings since long before we had language, or a prefrontal cortex.
Listen for it: What sounds sweet and true, and which jars, discordant? There’s a clue. It’s got almost nothing to do with truth. That would be way, way too scary, so much out there unanswerable, an abyss.
Reality is gray, a fog, while we yearn so for black and white.
No, you’re not reasonable at all. You are an emotional being, you, me, Einstein and Spock. The psychology professor Jonathan Haidt pegged the metaphor that applies in his “The Happiness Hypothesis” with his big African elephant and little monkey rider, reason.
Where does the elephant go? Anywhere it feels like going. What’s the rider do? Make up stories trying to convince everyone he — reason — is in control. But we move to forces far stronger than our puny logic, clever as we can be in our rationalizations about where passion already swept us.
It’s not that we’re dumb, exactly. We’re sharp when it comes to unraveling some mechanical mysteries of the universe, for example. We’re pretty good at developing systems for things like education and justice, even if we’re also lousy at following them.
Alas, though, we’re downright dim about ourselves. The biblical phrase concerning the mote in another’s eye says it so well. It’s right there with the golden rule for perhaps the clearest bit of wisdom in the whole text.
Kind of makes us all the more interesting, I think, believing we see everything as it really is, just the facts. And through our eyes it all makes sense, believing we know our own minds. That we all are each an I.
Hah. God does have quite a sense of humor.
Jolene Hartline, 10, left a message for me over the weekend. The Squaw Valley girl couldn’t contain her glee. She and her dad’s game of Uno had gone an hour and 20 minutes. An hour and 20 minutes! Had to be a record. Grandpa loves the Sierra Sun. Newspapers sometimes print news of records, right? So she called the paper and left a message. Made my day. Maybe today will make hers.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.