Citizen Action Monitor

Why is it that what we think we know for sure just ain’t so? Nate Hagens explains

We engage mostly in common talk that just doesn’t capture the entangled reality of our modern complex societies. —

No 2770 by fw, August 19, 2021 —

“Our minds deal in stories. We remember stories far better than we remember strings of unrelated information. Indeed, much of “thinking” is the creation of coherent-seeming stories out of disparate sensory inputs and information that flows from other people. Our own personal storylines are important to us, and our cultural stories define the way we think about ourselves in relation to others. Stories are in large part how we arrange the world in our minds. … Humans like cultural stories that are simple and easy to communicate, yet our society today has grown into one of enormous complexity fractionated into hundreds or thousands of disparate areas of expertise. We say that the stock market dropped or rose due to this or that factor, but in reality, we have no idea why. … Humans favor poor and incomplete explanations because really good explanations about states of a complex system tend to be impossible to understand and describe. Poor and incomplete explanations are arguably better than nothing, as long as we realize their limitations; but when we treat them as though they are true, they lead us astray.”Nate Hagens, D.J. White, Reality Blind

The above passage is excerpted from the concise opening segment of Section 1, How to Think About Reality, which appears in a new, 345-page book, “Reality Blind: Vol. 1: Integrating the Systems Science Underpinning Our Collective Futures”, co-authored by Nate Hagens and DJ White.

In my July 25, 2021 repost, I presented salient parts of the opening pages of this new book — the INTRODUCTION (2 pages); the TaaL (stands for Through an alien Lens) (2 pages); and the Table of Contents (6 pages).

In today’s repost, I share the opening, short segment of SECTION 1 of the Nate Hagens, DJ White book, Realty Blind, a segment titled “What If What We Know Just Ain’t So??” As mentioned, the above passage is taken from this opening segment.

*****

Before turning to the repost, three housekeeping matters:

1/ A word about “TaaL”, an acronym for “Through an alien Lens”. The term refers to “… our alien observer who has volunteered to give an uncensored opinion. I’ve been asked to contribute my perspectives to this project and am happy to oblige. Indeed, I’m obliged to oblige, because such requests must be honored under the treaty which gives my species galactic intellectual property rights to jokes about humans, which are a currently popular interstellar trade medium. So, from your point of view I’m a space alien, and from my point of view you are space aliens, except of course I know that you physically exist, and you think I’m a journalistic device.

2/ About the co-authors: Nate Hagens is the Co-Founder and Director of The Institute for the Study of Energy & Our Future (ISEOF) where he works with the world’s leading ecologists, energy experts, and systems thinkers to assemble a cohesive description and road-map of where we’re headed and what to do about it. DJ (Don) White directs the organization Earth Trust, which he founded in 1976 to intervene in ecological crisis situations, and is a director of Greenpeace Foundation and other NGO’s. Originally an oil industry geophysicist, he changed course in the early 70’s to protect the environment and threatened species, with a particular focus on whales and dolphins. Since that time he has created a number of successful organizations, movements, and global campaigns.

3/ To download a free PDF copy of the book “Reality Blind”, click on https://read.realityblind.world/view/975731937/i/, go to the black border at the bottom of your open window, just below the book, and click on the download icon to the right of the printer icon.

*****

Below is my repost of “What If What We Know Just Ain’t So??” which is the opening segment on pages 7-8 of SECTION 1 – HOW TO THINK ABOUT REALITY. Alternatively, to read this opening piece in the “Reality Blind” book itself, click on the following linked title.

**********

What If What We Know Just Ain’t So?? by Nate Hagens, DJ White, Reality Blind, 2021, SECTION 1, pp 7-8

Our minds deal in stories; stories are how we arrange the world in our minds

Our minds deal in stories. We remember stories far better than we remember strings of unrelated information. Indeed, much of “thinking” is the creation of coherent-seeming stories out of disparate sensory inputs and information that flows from other people. Our own personal storylines are important to us, and our cultural stories define the way we think about ourselves in relation to others. Stories are in large part how we arrange the world in our minds.

Problems arise when the stuff we think we know just ain’t so

That is part of being human. However, our attraction and susceptibility to stories means that we often latch onto explanatory stories which are illusory, incomplete, and incorrect. This results in problems. As Mark Twain is purported to have noted, it ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble; it’s the stuff you know for sure that just ain’t so.

In the Wizard of Oz, the surface story was a green wizard with the superpower to grant wishes, while the real explanation was a projection machine run by a salesman. The citizens of Oz were expecting a wizard so that seemed perfectly reasonable to them.

Common talk and simple stories don’t capture the entangled reality of our modern complex societies

Humans like cultural stories that are simple and easy to communicate, yet our society today has grown into one of enormous complexity fractionated into hundreds or thousands of disparate areas of expertise. We say that the stock market dropped or rose due to this or that factor, but in reality, we have no idea why. We say that an asteroid killed off the dinosaurs, when in reality it was an enormously complex pattern of extinction in a unique context, and this single cause explanation ignores the asteroid impacts of similar size in history which caused no extinctions whatsoever.

Humans favor simple explanations over really detailed accounts that are difficult to understand, recall and repeat

Humans favor poor and incomplete explanations because really good explanations about states of a complex system tend to be impossible to understand and describe. Poor and incomplete explanations are arguably better than nothing, as long as we realize their limitations; but when we treat them as though they are true, they lead us astray.

Moreover, why do we primarily believe only what our ingroup believes?

Why are economies around the world slowing in their growth relative to 30-40 years ago? Why do we all want higher paying jobs? Why do we primarily believe only what our ingroup believes? Why are we emitting carbon ten million times faster than it was sequestered?

Overly simplistic explanations end up explaining very little

When we look around us and see that we are approaching 8 billion humans, appropriating over 30% of our planet’s plant energy productivity from the sun, with domestic mammals now outweighing wild mammals by over 40:1, we would benefit from looking at “real” explanations because the “proximate” or surface ones end up not explaining much at all.

If we want to successfully navigate our modern complex world, we need to understand it

What we do know is that humans are part of the animal kingdom, sharing an astonishing percentage of our genes with every living thing on Earth. We are the products of ‘what worked’ during thousands of human generations and millions of pre-human generations before that. What drives us, what motivates us, as well as what differentiates us from the rest of the animal kingdom all have real explanations—ones we need to understand and take to heart if we are to navigate the coming bottlenecks facing our civilization and our world.

*****

TaaL: The problems with narrative (stories) goes deeper than this. (It’s of course ironic to point this out to you in a narrative, but when in Rome, one lights roman candles, so I’m confined here to using linear additive data with syntax* modifications.) [*syntax – rules that govern how words are combined to form phrases and sentences]

It has been noted that human minds are evolutionarily biased and crammed with routines which make no sense these days, but to that we must add the fact that narrative never adequately or “ultimately” describes anything. It is “low bandwidth” and compensates by triggering pre-existing rough associations and metaphors in a single mind. This means human minds are designed to spontaneously create new mental “realities” based on any structurally correct sentence that is heard.

This worked well enough when you existed in small tribes and all had the same histories and associations as your tribe-members, but in societies of millions or billions, this is no longer the case. This implies that nearly the entirety of human communication is of the abstract general form “why did the chicken cross the road?” (while pre-supposing rough mental models of both chickens and roads) which is perhaps why both systems understanding and synthesis are rare in your societies. Systems synthesis is a poor emotional match for the simple narrative concepts and metaphorical associations you use to communicate your physical world and its history.

You at long last have a chance to start getting that stuff right.

The Bottom Line: We conflate [blend together] the virtual stories of our minds, with the physical reality of the real world. So, much of what we know for sure just ain’t so.

**********

FAIR USE NOTICE – For details click here

NOTE: Any ads appearing on Citizen Action Monitor are put here without my knowledge, approval, or endorsement, and I receive no payment for them.

%d bloggers like this: