Saturday, September 14, 2013

Connection to the Abstract

Our connection with the abstract pretty much forms all manner of internal dynamics we have come to know as our personality.  How much what we know we don't know impacts our internal processes--further, how much we conceive of the "unknown unknowns" as thick and extremely large, or small and insignificant, also plays a very specific role in shaping all of our interactions.

If that seems abstract, bear with me as I lay it out for a moment in two purposefully extreme examples.

1.  Known Parameters and Embedded Comfort.

Folks in this realm don't know what they don't know and they don't care that much that they don't know.  "I'm not a math person," for instance, so such a person simply looks the other way when math comes up, ceding authority to others.  When faced with unknown specialty fields, people in this group can look the other way, like our non-math person, or they can dive in and sort of "pretend" to know a field, which can be useful to some extent and in short bursts, at least until things stop making sense.

Let me back up.

These people are people who are generally comfortable.  They aren't really intimidated by status or by complex thoughts, and they aren't extremely worried about how different cultures might live or how a sense of what is normal might be relative or itinerant.  Their sense of themselves is centered and they speak with relative confidence.  They have comfort because the sense that they are small, or insignificant, or that their conception of the world could be startingly wrong, are all sort of absent notions.

2.  A Sense of Much Larger Abstractness and Paralysis.

Then there are those people with a deep sense of humility because they have a sense of the magnitude of stuff they don't understand.  They won't purport to just "get" things like taxes, or Bayesian theorems, or the incompleteness theorem, because they know that "truly" getting stuff takes years, even lifetimes, or is even impossible.  They get that they can't see the whole picture on anything, even more mundane stuff like politics and policy, and they won't purport to do so.  Only experts can proffer opinions, and being an expert is a serious thing that we should defer to.


Obviously, nobody is just one or the other, and both have their attributes and drawbacks.  But my point is that this continuum, of how we view that which we don't know, our relationship to uncertainty, forms/informs much of how we treat everything else.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm deeply drawn to the description of people you provide,and experience the same tendency to reivew the way others get through time. perhaps am desperate to figure out the way to do so without pain. Saying goodbye to several previous methods of time wasting, excuse me time passing [not baseball], cause even deeper jaunts into philosophically tedious realms. others seem sometimes not to have the curse of this constant intro- and outro- [haha] spection. Do i wish i was one of them?