Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


Um, Maybe . . . Kinda . . . I Dunno: Or, Ambiguity

The Time Has Come to View Ignorance as Regular Rather than Deviant

Quotes from books and recent articles on a related topic, plus a few random ones that recently intrigued me

You won’t understand life and death until you’re ready to set aside any hope of understanding life and death and just live your life until you die.

The Bad Things That Happen When People Can’t Deal With Ambiguous Situations

"We’re programmed to get rid of ambiguity, and yet if we engage with it we can make better decisions, we can be more creative, and we can even be a little more empathetic,” Holmes told Science of Us. . . .

But it’s the other side of the ledger that feels a bit more urgent: history, recent and otherwise, is replete with examples of catastrophic blunders made as a result of leaders’ inability to deal with ambiguity. As Holmes explains in Nonsense, it’s when we’re stressed out — and particularly when we’re faced with what we feel are existential threats — that our resistance to ambiguity grows strongest. . . .

It’s one thing to identify the problems posed by humanity’s distaste for ambiguity, Holmes writes in Nonsense, but it’s another to actually overcome these hurdles. At the organization level, there are some (in theory) simple fixes. “Beyond hiring more people like Noesner,” writes Holmes, “organizations can … also create a culture that respects ambiguity” by, among other things, “underscor[ing] the consequences of bad decisions” and, in times of crisis, making sure everyone envisions a wide range of responses and outcomes rather than quickly narrowing the scope of discussion. What all these recommendations have in common is that they will help prevent the sort of black-or-white thinking that so often leads to bad decisions, particularly during periods of heightened fear or more general emotional arousal.

Nudging people away from poor, need-for-closure-driven decisions at the individual level is tougher, but Holmes had some some suggestions there as well. One is to simply be deliberate in your decision-making, not just writing down, say, pros and cons, but listing as many potential consequences of different decisions as possible. It’s also important to realize that your need for closure can vary depending on the circumstances at the time. “You can kind of have a rough self-check — what is my need for closure today, this week? Have I been under a lot of pressure? Is there a lot of uncertainty in my life?”

Finally, there are a couple of broader options for people who want to better handle ambiguity, although Holmes admits they’re a bit less practical. One is to simply read fiction: “Reading fiction has been shown to lower people’s need for closure. I think that’s partially because it’s safe, and you go into this other world, and it’s kind of broadening our categories because we’re thinking about how other people make decisions.” And the other is “positive multicultural experiences,” which appear to have the effect of lowering need for closure for similar reasons.

There is nothing more terrifying than the absoluteness of one who believes he's right.

― Libba Bray, The Diviners

The Case for Teaching Ignorance

Eventually, the American Medical Association funded the class, which students would fondly remember as “Ignorance 101.”

Classes like hers remain rare, but in recent years scholars have made a convincing case that focusing on uncertainty can foster latent curiosity, while emphasizing clarity can convey a warped understanding of knowledge.

In 2006, a Columbia University neuroscientist, Stuart J. Firestein, began teaching a course on scientific ignorance after realizing, to his horror, that many of his students might have believed that we understand nearly everything about the brain. . . .

The study of ignorance — or agnotology, a term popularized by Robert N. Proctor, a historian of science at Stanford — is in its infancy. This emerging field of inquiry is fragmented because of its relative novelty and cross-disciplinary nature (as illustrated by a new book, “Routledge International Handbook of Ignorance Studies”). But giving due emphasis to unknowns, highlighting case studies that illustrate the fertile interplay between questions and answers, and exploring the psychology of ambiguity are essential. Educators should also devote time to the relationship between ignorance and creativity and the strategic manufacturing of uncertainty.

The time has come to “view ignorance as ‘regular’ rather than deviant,” the sociologists Matthias Gross and Linsey McGoey have boldly argued. Our students will be more curious — and more intelligently so — if, in addition to facts, they were equipped with theories of ignorance as well as theories of knowledge.

The single most important thing [you can do] is to shift [your] internal stance from "I understand" to "Help me understand." Everything else follows from that. . . .

Remind yourself that if you think you already understand how someone feels or what they are trying to say, it is a delusion. Remember a time when you were sure you were right and then discovered one little fact that changed everything. There is always more to learn.

How to Spark Curiosity in Children Through Embracing Uncertainty

 . . . If students can be made to feel comfortable with uncertainty — if they’re learning in an environment where ambiguity is welcome and they are encouraged to question facts — then they are more apt to be curious and innovative in their thinking.

Approaching knowledge this way is difficult for students and teachers, however, because ambiguity spurs unpleasant feelings. Indeed, studies show that the typical response to uncertainty is a rush for resolution, often prematurely, and heightened emotions.

“Our minds crave closure, but when we latch onto it prematurely we miss beautiful and important moments along the way,” Holmes said, including the opportunity to explore new ideas or consider novel interpretations. And teachers have additional challenges in presenting facts as fluid: appearing less than certain about their field of expertise can feel risky in a classroom of merciless teenagers.

But teachers who hope to inspire curiosity in their students, and to encourage tolerance for ambiguity, can take steps to introduce uncertainty into the classroom. Holmes offers several recommendations. . . .

[He] had the soul of a poet, and because of this, he liked very much to consider questions that had no answers.

― Kate DiCamillo, The Magician's Elephant

So Tired of Being Called "Negative"

For the past few years I've had a fascinating and fun journey working my way through a good collection of titles about how thinking works; more specifically, about how thinking doesn't work the way we think it works. That we are constantly lying to, misleading, and deluding ourselves. That our knowledge, perceptions, beliefs, memories, and actions aren't nearly as rational and reasonable as we like to think. That many of our decisions, both the little, daily ones and the big, life-changing ones aren't as sound and carefully reasoned as we believe. . . .

While there have been times the reading has left me feeling cynical and dispirited--that there is no point trying to communicate or connect with others since their assumptions and biases will confound my efforts anyway--for the most part it has been a helpful, healthy process of improving my self-awareness and interpersonal/emotional intelligence. They've made me a better listener, less sure of my own strident opinions in discussions and more likely to assume a generous "AND" stance instead of a combative "EITHER-OR" one.

Something they all have in common, for the most part, is that they spend the bulk of their time sharing the findings of recent research and studies in order to dispel our common-sense assumptions . . .

It disturbed me that he saw things in such black-and-white tones. I sure didn't. For me, the world was a confusion of color.

― Dia Reeves, Bleeding Violet

INTJ Personal Growth

People with the INTJ personality type are serious, analytical and perfectionistic. They look at a problem or idea from multiple perspectives and systematically analyze it with objective logic, discarding things that turn out to be problematic, and evolving their own understanding of something when new information turns out to be useful. There is no other personality type who does this as naturally as the INTJ. They are natural scientists and mathematicians. Once given an idea, they are driven to understand it as thoroughly as possible. They usually have very high standards for their own understanding and accomplishments, and generally will only value and consider other individuals who have shown that they meet or surpass the INTJ's own understanding on a given issue. INTJs value clarity and conciseness, and have little esteem for behaviors and attitudes that are purely social. Social "niceties" often seem unnecessary and perhaps even ungenuine to the INTJ, who is always seeking to improve their substantive understanding. INTJ's highly value social interaction that is centered around the meaningful exchange of ideas, but they usually dismiss the importance of being friendly or likeable in other social contexts, and they are likely to be uncomfortable with interactions that are primarily emotional, rather than logical. INTJs value structure, order, knowledge, competence, and logic. Above all, they value their own ideas and intuitions about the world. An INTJ's feeling of success depends primarily upon their own level of understanding and accomplishment, but also depends upon the level of structure in their life, and their ability to respect the intelligence and competence of those who share their life. . . .

To grow as an individual, the INTJ needs to focus on applying their judgment to things only after they have gone through their intuition. In other words, the INTJ needs to consciously try not to use their judgment to dismiss ideas prematurely. Rather, they should use their judgment against their own ideas. One cannot effectively judge something that they don't understand. The INTJ needs to take things entirely into their intuition in order to understand them. It may be neccesary to give your intuition enough time to work through the new information so that it can rebuild its global framework of understanding. INTJs need to focus on using their judgment not to dismiss ideas, but rather to support their intuitive framework.

An INTJ who is concerned with personal growth will pay close attention to the subject of their judgments, and their motivation for making judgments. Are they judging something external to themself, or are they judging something that they have sifted through their intuition? Is the motivation for judging something to be able to understand its usefulness in the world, or to dismiss it? Too often, an INTJ will judge something without properly understanding it, and with the intention of dismissing it. Seek first to understand, then to judge. . . .

Some INTJs have difficulty fitting into our society. Their problems are generally associated with not knowing (or caring) how they come across to others, with having unreasonable expectations for others' behaviors, and with not putting forth effort to meet others' emotional needs. These issues stem primarily from the common INTJ habit of using Extraverted Thinking to find fault externally, rather than internally, and therefore diminish the importance of the external world, and increase the importance of the INTJ's own internal world. INTJs who recognize that their knowledge and understanding (and therefore general happiness and feeling of success) can be enriched by the synergy of other people's knowledge and understanding will find that they can be committed to their rich internal worlds and still have satisfying relationships with others. In order to accomplish this, the INTJ needs to recognize the importance of extraversion, and develop their highest extraverted function, Extraverted Thinking.

An INTJ who uses Extraverted Thinking to find fault externally rather than internally may become so strongly opinionated that they form rigid and unreasonable expectations for others. Their hyper-vigilant judgments about the rationality and competence of others may be a very effective way of keeping themselves at an emotional distance from others. This will preserve the sanctity of the INTJ's inner world of ideas, but will reduce a lot of valuable input, arrest the development of their social character, and stagnate the development of the INTJ's rich structural framework of understanding. In extreme cases, the INTJ may find himself or herself quite alone and lonely.

More commonly, an INTJ's interpersonal problems will occur when they express their displeasure to those close to them in very biting and hurtful terms. Everyone needs emotional distance at one time or another, and the INTJ wants more than most types. Perhaps this is why INTJs are famous for their biting sarcasm. An INTJ's internal world is extremely important to them. They may be protecting their internal world by using sarcasm to keep others at an emotional distance, or they may be sarcastic with others because they believe that they have the more evolved and logical understanding of the issue at hand, and seek to cut off the spurious input that they're receiving. This is an important distinction to recognize. An INTJ who is seeking an emotional respite can find ways to be alone that don't require injuring feelings and damaging relationships. When distance is required, the INTJ should just "leave". If an explanation is necessary, an INTJ should use their Extraverted Thinking to explain their need rationally and objectively, rather than using Extraverted Thinking to insult the other person, and therefore prod them into leaving.

"I guess it's just another one of life's little mysteries."

"I'm tired of mysteries."

"Yeah? I think they add a kind of zest to the world. Like salt in a stew."

― Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Phobias May Be Memories Passed Down in Genes from Ancestors

Memories can be passed down to later generations through genetic switches that allow offspring to inherit the experience of their ancestors, according to new research that may explain how phobias can develop.

Scientists have long assumed that memories and learned experiences built up during a lifetime must be passed on by teaching later generations or through personal experience.

However, new research has shown that it is possible for some information to be inherited biologically through chemical changes that occur in DNA.

Researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, found that mice can pass on learned information about traumatic or stressful experiences – in this case a fear of the smell of cherry blossom – to subsequent generations.

The results may help to explain why people suffer from seemingly irrational phobias – it may be based on the inherited experiences of their ancestors. . . .

I often feel like I want to think something but I can't find the language that coincides with the thoughts, so it remains felt, not thought. Sometimes I feel like I'm thinking in Swedish without knowing Swedish.

The Myth of Welfare’s Corrupting Influence on the Poor

Few ideas are so deeply ingrained in the American popular imagination as the belief that government aid for poor people will just encourage bad behavior. . . .

And yet, to a significant degree, it is wrong. Actual experience, from the richest country in the world to some of the poorest places on the planet, suggests that cash assistance can be of enormous help for the poor. And freeing them from what President Ronald Reagan memorably termed the “spider’s web of dependency” — also known as forcing the poor to swim or sink — is not the cure-all for social ills its supporters claim. . . .

The spread of welfare aversion around the world might be an American confection. “Many governments have economic advisers with degrees from the United States who share the same ideology,” he said. “Ideology is much more pervasive than the facts.”

What is most perplexing is that the United States’ own experience with both welfare and its “reform” does not really support the charges. . . .

People always fear what they don't understand, Evangeline. History proves that.

― Libba Bray, The Diviners

The Human Brain Reacts to Guns as if They Were Spiders or Snakes

Bushman researches the psychological mechanisms behind gun violence . . .

Over the years, Bushman explains, dozens of studies have confirmed what researchers dub the "weapons effect": People act more aggressively in the presence of a weapon, especially when something angers them. . . .

The overwhelming evidence that exposure to weapons causes physical aggression is worrisome, particularly when you consider that about a third of American homes have guns.

When you choose one way out of many, all the ways you don't take are snuffed out like candles, as if they'd never existed.

― Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass

Maybe it's better not to know some things. Mysteries make us tick more than just about anything else.

― Jason Carter Eaton, The Facttracker

Knowing things is magical, if other people don't know them.

― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

I agree that two times two makes four is an excellent thing; but if we are dispensing praise, then two times two makes five is sometimes a most charming little thing as well.

― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

We always know more than we think we do. The problem is we don't always know what we know.

― Dori Hillestad Butler, The Case of the Mixed-Up Mutts

The ocean was back in the pond, and the only knowledge I was left with, as if I had woken from a dream on a summer's day, was that it had not been long ago since I had known everything.

I looked at Lettie in the moonlight. "Is that how it is for you?" I asked.

"Is what how it is for me?"

"Do you still know everything, all the time?"

She shook her head. She didn't smile. She said, "Be boring, knowing everything. You have to give all that stuff up if you're going to muck about here."

"So you used to know everything?"

She wrinkled her nose. "Everybody did. I told you. It's nothing special, knowing how things work. And you really do have to give it all up if you want to play."

"To play what?"

"This," she said. She waved at the house and the sky and the impossible full moon and the skeins and shawls and clusters of bright stars.

We’re humans. We all need to buy into belief systems on complete faith. We all need to feel some form of an “us vs them” mentality. We all want to believe that eternal happiness, salvation, utopia, enlightenment or whatever can be achieved in our lifetime. And we all have this unnerving feeling that everything we love and appreciate will one day collapse and be taken from us. . . .

Enlightenment thinkers such as Locke and Voltaire believed that, as humans, the only way to combat our inherently cultish nature was to exercise our use of reason in wide scale decision-making, and that tolerance, pluralism, and inclusion were inherently better values than the alternatives.

It’s upon these ideas that pretty much the entire modern world was founded and they have survived, despite the fact that they are consistently attacked both from within and without their own societies. . . .

The only real way out of our own self-hatred and self-destructive nature is not declaring how right we are, but rather in accepting how wrong we are. It comes in questioning those base instincts, those knee-jerk judgments. It comes in the courage to question our most closely-held beliefs and fight against the tyranny of our own certainty.

And paradoxically, it’s out of this new uncertainty that the rays of self-acceptance shine through.


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