Summarizing damage control…

Posted on January 13, 2011


If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.” Clint Eastwood.

Professor Wiggly: ” We’ve covered a lot of stuff – let me try to summarize.

1. We used to think that we had big enough brains to solve any problem, big enough to discover  all of REALITY! But now it seems that  the best they can  do is provide us with incomplete bits and pieces, with incomplete and distorted samples of sensations from that reality.  From these bits of the grand puzzle our brains construct or invent pictures or models of our world that we accept as real. Physicists tell us that the world is made of  invisible bits and pieces – molecules, electrons, strings – but we see rocks and chickens, and microscopes ‘see’ moving specs, cats see, smell and hear things we can’t get. Different REALITIES emerge depending  on whose looking and what they’re looking through. (For more information Google: Plato’s Cave, Herb Simon’s bounded rationality, Don Campbell’s doubt/trust ratio, Hawkings model dependent realism.)

2. The future is uncertain – it’s beyond the reach of our sensors. So we have no choice but to travel there on imaginary bridges built out of our models of reality – our beliefs, biases, hopes and fears. Unless those models or beliefs or hopes are strong our bridges into the future are  flimsy, wobbly, shaky – no wonder we’re often anxious, no wonder we often grasp at straws – booze, pills, gobbledygook from TV snake oil salesmen, from bigoted leaders who promise us solid bridges to glorious futures – even as their own lives unravel.

3. Even though our models of reality our flimsy and flawed we must trust most of them, whether they’re our own or we buy or borrow them from others – friends, family, ‘experts.’ If we don’t trust most of them we procrastinate and/or get sick.

4. Where do we find trusted models of reality?  Some we get from our genes, Darwin’s theory of evolution is the most popular scientific explanation of how that works. Through trial and error over millions of years our genes have built trusted models of reality enabling us to survive, to ‘fit’ our environment. And unless our environment changes significantly our genes provide us with trusted bridges into our future physical and biological environment. One of our evolved genetic models of reality presumes that if you can see through it you can walk through it. Which was a valid assumption for thousands of years until… the invention of glass. That’s why when were distracted we crash into glass doors.

4. Whereas our genes provide many models of reality for navigating our physical environment, and operating our biology it’s our beliefs and biases that provide our models for navigating much of our psychological and social environment. During our formative years our particular culture and family program us – teach us their trusted models of reality: bugs taste good or bugs taste yucky, Muslims good, Christians bad (or visa versa), Scotch are stingy, Irish are drunks, Republicans are hard-hearted, Democrats are soft headed, you can be anything you want – the American Dream, guns don’t kill… people do, etc. These cultural models or beliefs and biases become our ‘realities’.

4. Because of our bounded rationality and because we can’t ‘see’ the future some of our models, beliefs and biases about our world are bound to be incomplete or dysfunctional. Some of our bridges into the uncertain future are built on those faulty beliefs and assumptions and won’t carry much weight – some collapse. So we need a repertoire of damage control methods or resources in reserve to keep us from falling into the canyon of uncertainty.

5. Damage control – A CEO of a large corporation has access to more damage control resources than a single mother. When one of  his corporate or personal bridges into the future wobbles he can delegate or hire resources to help him repair it or provide parachutes. Whereas a single mother is typically multitasked  to the limit of her physical, emotional, intellectual and financial resources just to survive – adding yet another wobbly or collapsing bridge is a disaster. Unless….

6. A disaster unless… Unless she has access to psychological or social resources, to damage control resources that, like genes, have evolved over the centuries. They consist of various forms of faith-based reasoning ranging from primitive tribal rituals performed by medicine men, to mystical societies, to formal religions, to personal forms of spiritualism or naturalism or scientism.

7. Just as insurance companies, food storage facilities, fire and police departments, and the military have evolved as institutionalized forms of damage control, various formal and informal ‘isims’ such as spiritualism, naturalism, Catholicism, Protestantism, etc., have evolved that increase our trust in the future, and provide support in times of  stress. They provide trusted bridges into the future that rationality and science cannot provide. They provide support for the young mother cradling her dead child the victim of super-bugs (science out of control). They provide emotional, social and material support for the poor, the ailing, the aged and the lonely. They there when government agencies are closed for the weekend or holidays. They provide fallible but trusted bridges into futures that we must travel but that rationality and science cannot reach.

Posted in: Sciencing