The greater the circle of understanding becomes, the greater is the circumference of surrounding ignorance.
~ Edwin Chargoff
As an adult, I’ve pretty much always read the newspaper daily. I’ve never been much for the evening news, but over the past few years, my wife and I have routinely watched Rachel on MSNBC. I also read emails and Facebook routinely, but usually skip all the political posts. However, it’s awfully hard not to see all the bad and potentially fatal things going on in the world, and in our country, in particular. I’m sure that each of us has our own list of the catastrophic, despicable and criminal events and worries that set us off — and we probably wouldn’t agree on many of our peeves.
That disagreement is also one of the things that disturbs me. I have difficulty understanding how so many people, at least some percentage of whom are not stupid and irrational, can believe the misrepresentations and lies swirling around these days. I know that not everyone would meet my definition of rational, and I’m sure many would question my own claim to a “balanced” approach to the issues. But I do believe, in spite of that, that there are actual facts. Not every issue has facts and alternative facts. Science has given us methods to sort fact from non-fact, and provides bases for that determination.
‘The most beautiful and profound experience is the feeling of mystery. It underlies religion as well as all deeper aspirations in art and science.’
~ Albert Einstein
Humans are both emotional and intuitive, and those traits have helped us to survive as a species. But we need to combine our knowledge of fact with our intuition to evaluate our emotional responses. When we fall in love, we rely on our emotion and intuition — facts and reality be damned. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. Human personal dramas are the basis of entertainment — books, poems, songs, movies and TV series. But in actual life, love is hard and tests your every fiber if it doesn’t quite fit.
So, I work quite hard to maintain some kind of balance between what I feel about the chaos around us, and what I think or know. Throughout my career, I managed teams of people that were diverse in background, education, gender, age and emotional maturity, and I learned to value each of their perspectives. I didn’t always agree with their views or accept their conclusions, but learned the worth of listening to their input. Inevitably, about the time I was ready to give up on someone, they would produce something unique and brilliant that moved the group up to a level that would never have been achieved without their unusual perspective.
Some of the best ideas literally came out of left field. I’d try in retrospect to piece together the logic that led to that conclusion, but most often it was just some unpredictable spark of insight — just a brain-fart. But even the most brilliant strange idea needs to land in a place it can be vetted and tested by varying perspectives to produce its true value.
These days, I try to understand what it is that makes so many people believe the obvious lies and misrepresentations delivered to us via our various screened devices. There is no alternate truth. It is possible to separate fact from opinion. I have always eyed experts skeptically, but if you look into things with some care, you find that a true expert has a basis from their opinion that is defensible. If the basis of my opinion is merely that, “I heard it somewhere” or “read it online” or it just “feels” a certain way, then I need to reconsider the value of my opinion.
“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”
~ Isaac Asimov
There is a lot going on, and much of it I don’t like. However, I know that something is not false just because I don’t like it. Conversely, if it seems right to me, it may not be true either. That’s where opinion comes in.
We can certainly — and should — differ in our opinions, but I can’t see how we can differ about facts. I have a basis for my knowledge that the Earth is round. Others believe that it is flat. I cannot credit their belief, because it isn’t supported by any verifiable information, as mine is, so I deem the roundness as ‘fact’.
A friend once told me, “Opinions and assholes; everybody has one …” He also liked to say, “… and both are often full of shit.”