What About This?

By Wayne William Cipriano

We are spending a lot of time recently thinking about our responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. And a lot of space in the Douglas County Herald has been dedicated to it as well. 

Several opinions, no, thousands of opinions surround us, not supplanting each other with a more and more refined and sophisticated view of reality, but so many in direct opposition to so many others. How can rational persons have such dramatically opposed opinions? In most cases, I’d say its a situation of predisposing beliefs. The reality that we construct in our minds, based on all our previous experiments, lays the framework within which we place new information. Information that enhances our individual view of reality is accepted by us far more readily and then becomes further proof of the accuracy of our perception of reality. Information that challenges of negates our perception of reality is frequently, sometimes invariably dismissed.

Is this a good way to determine what is around us? Maybe not good, but certainly usual. And we should note here that such attitude, such an approach to information has elevated human beings to the preeminent position on earth (along with opposable thumbs). As quickly as might otherwise have occurred, certainly not – recall all the times our civilization has tumbled backwards-  but from living in trees to living on the moon in, say, 50,000 year, when other species have altered the length of their fur or the color of their tailfeathers is quite an evolution. 

Just like the march towards civilization that we are taking, and the wide variation of opinions we note in the Herald, we are dependent on the information we receive. So it  naturally becomes a simples question of how correct is the information we receive upon which persons base their opinions and behavior. May be not that simple a question, after all.

What information can we really trust? What information is not manipulated toward one position or another? What information is “pure”?

I can only attest to any information that originates from my own experience. The color of a flower I see, the presence of a wind I feel, the memory of a technique I used, all true unless, of course, there was a magic trick involved, or an “honestly” misperceived experience, or a chemically induced perversion of some real phenomenon. Or something else. 

So, if we cannot rely on what others communicate to us, and we cannot completely rely upon our own perceptions, how we are ever to make up our minds about anything at all? Pretty good question, wouldn’t you say?

Philosophers and blacksmiths and lots of other folk have struggled with this question for thousands of years. Probably since prehistoric cave dwellers wondered why they were they hiding from thunder and lightning, ventured our in a storm, were struck by lightning, and found out why. 

As I return to the beginning of this piece and consider again all this Covid-19 stuff, I see how imperative it is to base an opinion on fact like the red of a flower, the pressure of a breeze, the accuracy of a memory – and then consider questions like: what is red? What is pressure? How to communicate a memory?

Maybe the answers are pragmatic? What works is true? But how do we establish that? Based on what? For how long? For whom? And then… what?

Good discussion fun in the Student Union when studying for finals has cooked your mind, but really important when this stuff effects me and mine. And to make us safe, we need whatever facts we can garner, in which we can trust. Not opinions, not “alternative” facts, but the facts of reality. The facts as best we gather, knowing that our comfort even our lives are dependent on the veracity of those facts. Sooner or later we have to decide how to collect those facts. Where they come from is often just as important as the facts themselves. 

If we get the facts, not trimmed for our minuscule attention span nor modulated to fit within an existing constellation of belief, but simple stand-alone, facts we have start. 

Then, if we approach each of these facts as if it were alone in the universe, or as alone as possible, and subject it to whatever rationality we can bring to bear, we are on our way. Some people may call this process “common sense.”

How do we sequester new information, new credible facts from becoming “tainted” by our previously constructed personal reality? And, even more important, what do we do when that information, those facts, conflict with that reality, those previously held opinions and beliefs? We wade  through  that confusing swamp using our intelligence. The more we are able to do that, the quicker our personal reality aligns with life. The less able we are to withstand the threats to our personal reality that conflicting truth embody, the less reliable our perception of life becomes.

But, isn’t is just a whole lot easier to completely believe in on person, one ideology, one orientation and thus avoid all that tension about what is really true? So much easier! And a lot friendlier, too. 

By the way, I’ve noticed over a fairly long life that the more uncomfortable a new piece of information of a new fact seems to be, the more important it is to attend to it. My personal reality may suggest that it is pure barnyard but if it makes me uncomfortable, I ought to think about it a little bit more. 

You ever notice that?