Ring Around the "R"


John Wright


Now let’s see … is this a children’s game or a very naughty game for demented adults? Hmm … the answer could be a derivative of my social history … or I may just be pulling your "social response" chain. I have been programmed to think of the title in a binary way. It is good or it is bad. I think, "Why binary?" Why do any of us reduce what we read, see, hear or even think about into good or bad? No, this article is not about relativism. It is about rigidly confined, or alternatively empty, and therefore silly, thinking. The title isn’t even explicit, so how strong should anyone’s visceral response be?

I relate all apparently new things that I encounter to all things that I think I have successfully catalogued earlier in my life. Everything fits somewhere, doesn’t it? And that is the rub. Nothing new necessarily fits anything I knew before unless it just happens to be an instance or very close variant of what my catalogued past encompasses. If it isn’t, I am totally off base associating my latest experience with my past. Yet, how can I know? The most simple and accurate answer is that I cannot know for certain. If I am given to reflection, I "try it on for size" and see if it makes sense. If it does, I assume it is just another instance of my catalogued past. If it doesn’t, I may in fact have encountered something outside my previous experience and possibly new and exciting … or scary … or immoral … or in need of interpretation by those smarter or more learned than me (whomever they may be)! No matter what I do to lend respect to my personal musings, if I draw a conclusion too early, in absence of acquiring sufficient related and relevant new facts, I will likely be wrong.

I may trip myself by paying too much attention to some characteristic of a new phenomenon or other potential learning experience. That my elementary school teacher is pretty and is wearing a pink skirt is totally irrelevant opposite her request to pay attention and learn the process of subtraction. That my mugger’s gun is the finest chrome plated weapon I have ever seen had best not cause me to ignore more immediate requirements for my survival. Yet all I have to do is concentrate on the wrong aspect of a new experience … or "ask the wrong questions" … and I will fail to learn the most important facts.

So, I find myself asking, "Just exactly how have I received any apparently new phenomenon in my past?" Now, I can back off to as early an age as anyone might want with the exception that I cannot effectively address time before my first memories… but it makes no difference. I find that I am caught in the process of always trying to relate the apparently new with the catalogued or "artificially inseminated thoughts derived from earlier humans" of my past or older. And then I think, "At what point of difference do I recognize something new instead of force-fitting what I encounter into some prior mold/concept/whatever?" And I do not know the answer. It differs based on my perception of reality at the given moment in time. Thus, you now understand the difficult challenge for all of us as individuals. I must admit, though, the first few minutes in certain higher mathematics courses did cause me to recognize that I was far into the unknown.

Just what is a truly valid reason for us to jump into our "comfortable" past as opposed to recognizing a real unknown and trying to understand it in it’s own right? The first and most obvious consideration is that we all differ in our respective pasts and in our abilities to understand anything potentially new. This means we have great difficulty, if we are honest, in assuming self-sufficiency in categorizing anything beyond the mundane. Yes, the egocentric part of us places all possibly new things under review, based on our established reality. We also may have no reason to believe perceptions or rationalizations of other people! Just who do you trust, and, why? Is it because they know somewhat more than you do in some subject areas? Is their argument tricky or amusingly persuasive? Gee, that is sort of scary. Is not your/our intent to discover the truth, such that we can harness any potentially new knowledge with certainty, to our advantage? Does anyone in your immediate social circle have the requisite experience and competence to speak intelligently and objectively about something new?

To be fair, it is quite human for us to look to our "equals" or our "superiors" to see what they believe about anything, old or new. Heaven forbid that we look to those below us (on some sillyass scale) for answers to "important" questions! Okay, I admit that I don’t call my favorite baseball player for questions about linear induction, but hey, he doesn’t call me about game strategy either! The point is that we seldom look to ourselves as fully responsible to research and to learn/understand anything apparently new. We go to our learned folk … sometimes to our regret, if we are even moderately perceptive.

You see, we can have a problem with learned folks as some of them become caught up in role playing instead of being open to new learning. Hence scientists and engineers of the nineteenth century argued against the possibility of developing airplanes. They had created a religion surrounding the known scientific information up to their time in history, assuming they knew so much that all they had to do to be good scientists was to protect the temple from wild and crazy new ideas! At this time in history, our politicians and religious leaders are pandering to general public fear and ignorance to justify holding back research and use of genetic engineering, e.g. stem cell research. Is it not interesting that those who seek total control always interfere with progress?

I am rather obviously leading you to a straightforward conclusion of consequence … you must do your own original research, even to the point of rediscovering what others have found, if you are to validly respect your own intuition and your own conclusions when you come upon something new. You simply cannot accept anyone’s explanations without doing some of your own experiments and taking your own observations and drawing your own conclusions. That is the only path to true knowledge that can be used for creative growth, and the only way to be knowledgeably objective about anything. Anybody can be a "Paul Parrot." Anyone can reduce any poorly understood experience, stupidly, to "the will of Allah or any other chosen divinity!" Those are anti-knowledge postures and behaviors.

How do any of us stack up when we are measured by our rigor in doing our own research and original (at least for us) thinking? I fear the likely typical answer to the point of wanting to weep. To a very great extent, we are now in a period of history where originality and strong individualism outside of trivial entertainment activities are looked upon as aberrant. Instead, we are pretty much taught to be docile, obedient, easily led socialists, by those who are certainly not socialists. Those above us or within our group who fight individualism and personal liberties are the truly aberrant people among us. But, alas, that problem aside we are still too busy in our jobs to back off and do original thinking. You might want to wonder why that is so. Is it not clear that your birthright as a member of Homo Sapiens is to be original and self-motivated? Do you exist for someone else’s pleasure or their definition of reality or their wealth, or does the Universe exist for you to understand, enjoy and, when necessary, conquer? Are you willing and able to work hard and smart for right answers and eventually to get them, then later to use the results for your benefit? Or, do you give up and take the easy way out?

You have the answers within you. Going back to the article title … how about "Ring Around the Realist or Ring Around the Researcher?" To be well rounded and deep in your knowledge you must face existence squarely and work to learn all that you can. Own your 24 hours and use them to your benefit. Scoff only at those who refuse to learn or who by anti-learning behaviors attempt to hold you back from your own development.