Apr 262020
 

The increasingly pervasive, oft vicious exchanges that permeate our lives, whether they be in person, in the media, or on social media, can easily overwhelm. Those, on top of trying to survive a global pandemic, make daily life ever more challenging.

The human brain is a marvelous, complex and adaptive organ that enables us to observe the world through our five senses and use those inputs to create a story of the world and how it works. We use those stories to guide us as we navigate our lives. But what happens if the stories, and our interpretations, are wrong or misguided? How often do we navigate poorly?

I often misinterpret the world and find myself navigating poorly. When I do, I am thankful to discover a beacon that helps me find my way. I am captivated whenever I am presented with a story, viewpoint, or interpretation that call some belief into question and I find myself exclaiming, “If that’s true…it changes everything!”

As examples of how we often create stories that can derail our lives, I present Kanizsa’s Triangle and The Sierpinski Triangle.

Kanizsa’s Triangle (Figure 1), drawn by Gaetano Kanizsa in the 1950s, arranges six independent green shapes to make your brain believe there are two triangles where there are none. Hundreds of times each day we take disparate pieces of sensory information and turn fragments into stories that are often misinformed, or totally untrue. We make political decisions based on sound bites. We treat people differently based on first impressions. We react to loved ones based on incomplete understanding.

The Sierpinski triangle (Figure 2) can be generated by starting at the red dot in Figure 3 and following two rules: pick one of the numbered dots at random, and, move from where you are halfway to that point to make an additional dot. If you do that thousands of times, you will always get the Sierpinski Triangle…always! That is astounding and terrifying.

It is astounding that two simple rules can create such complexity and beauty. It is terrifying because, if we follow those rules, we will remain in that pattern for all of eternity. How often do we find ourselves, often unconsciously, following rules in our lives and businesses? Those rules add beauty and complexity for a while, but we seldom want to remain in those patterns for all of eternity. How many of us, because of “shelter in place” during the COVID-19 pandemic, had to change normal “rules,” and how many of us will admit we found at least some of the new patterns refreshing?

The philosopher, Paul-Michel Foucault wrote, “The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.” If today is the beginning, what will each of us do tomorrow to become someone we are not today? What might I allow myself to discover that requires me to cry, “If that’s true…it changes everything?”

  One Response to “If That’s True…It Changes Everything!”

  1. Roger, a timely point indeed. The mind will indeed construct a story from the sense experience derived from our five senses. As you said, our success or failure at life depends upon the truth or falsity of a particular story, or a repertoire of stories that serve as my compass. I often think, consider that humans are story telling mammals. Your example of how simple abstractions are formed was interesting. What we take from a story is an abstraction, a paradigm that is applied to our form of life. You allude to the challenge and the difficulty of allowing an “if that is true” to become a catalysis for a change in our lives. Change is difficult, always, and sometimes when a radical change is called for it’s painful. While one cannot be certain of the truth of a principle, something that our intuition tells us is “true” from a story, we must decide if it is worth taking the risk, of placing the weight of our one life, to allow the change.

    Being a devotee of philosophy I personally like a improvisational approach to life. Is there any better way to discover what is true, what is worthwhile? I do not know of any. Also Michelle Foucault is a favorite author. You reminded me that I have some of his work on my shelf that I have yet to read. Keep writing well! – Jerry

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