Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Shades of grey

Many people believe in absolute truths. Killing is wrong, God exists, Picasso is beautiful, Frenchmen are more romantic, what goes up must come down. I think that people are learning to believe these through inductive learning. All around them are either examples of these with no exceptions or people telling them these, again with no exception or contradiction.

Later in life, these people may come into contact with realities that contradict their conceived laws of nature; war, atheists, art critics, Italians (only kidding), NASA. If they have lived too long in their bubble, they will twist and contort what they are witnessing to fit their beliefs. Other people are wrong. Argument and hostility may break out. Others less deep will modify their rules, ever adding exceptions. Killing is wrong. Unless God orders it. Whatever goes up must come down. Unless it's a rocket.

Spend too long without these ‘laws’ challenged, it becomes easy to fall into a trap. Subscription to increased doses of absolute truth. Smaller and smaller trends are deemed truths, with heavier and heavier bias. Scrutiny is met with hostility. Life becomes a set of rules too easily created with too many appendices.

An open mind (minds seem to be better opened earlier than later) realises that in an inductive system, an exception breaks the rule, rather than being added to the rule. When confronted with an exception, the open mind attempts to understand what is really going on and rewrites the rules in their entirety in order to maintain stronger congruence.

Under closer scrutiny, the world is much greyer than we assume. It’s all too easy to label things black and white without thinking about it too much. Sometimes it takes one person to come along and shake the box a bit.

Think of sexuality. First there was just heterosexuality. Then homosexuality came out of the closet and we were forced to change the rules. Now a person can be gay or straight. Then bisexuality came along. There is still misunderstanding and hostility towards this even now (remember second and third paragraphs). Some people more open minded have changed the rules to gay, straight or bi. Then more contradictions came along in the form of asexuality and trans-sexuality. Alfred Kinsey came along and shook the box. He told us to stop thinking in terms of absolutes. Don’t categorise when no categories exist.

The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories... The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.
- Alfred Kinsey 1948

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