Analyzing to the Death

I’ve always wanted to understand, and worked at developing my own abilities to do that whether the subject happened to be technological, historical, political, or otherwise in nature. One of the many things I’ve learned through these exercises is that while I may think I understand something, there’s always more to be learned… but there comes a point where additional knowledge adds little to understanding. Likewise, understanding is only the first step in resolving problems, and far too many individuals seem to believe that if they just “understand” the situation or problem, it can be solved or resolved.

Years and years ago, A.E. van Vogt wrote about non-Aristotlian [Null-A] thinking, presenting it as rejection of “single-valued” or straight-line logic or thinking and suggesting that a multi-valued/perspective logic structure was better for dealing with problems. That kind of approach sounded good on paper – as a good author can often make something sound – but I had a feeling that there was something inherently flawed with the idea.

Recent interactions have brought to mind that feeling, and I realized exactly what van Vogt had missed. While his proposed Null-A thinking may well work better in solving technological and physical problems, it’s limited, and often useless, in dealing with people problems, because the overwhelming majority of people don’t think that way… and don’t want to. Every individual has his or her own value system, in most cases differing slightly from that of others in his or her society, but those systems are essentially based on “either-or” assumptions. Either something is “good” or it’s not, and when something goes wrong, or is not to their liking, their default feeling is that someone else or something else is wrong or the problem.

Sometimes, that may be largely the problem, but usually, from what I’ve observed, most problems, especially human problems, have multiple causes and contributing factors, and most people reject their own contributing factors and insist that the problem is caused by other people or other factors.

Now… you can analyze this to death and come up with and list all the factors. You can point out all the psychological impediments those involved with or concerned with the problem have. But all that analysis does nothing to solve the problem – because those involved have emotional anchors to their point of view, and a number of studies, some of them quite recent, have indicated, those emotional anchors are far more powerful than either facts or logic. Only an emotional impact of some sort will change those views.

And all the analyses and data don’t seem able to change that. Likewise, bashing those who observe that this is in fact an accurate observation of current human nature doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of human beings are governed by emotionally-based, either-or feelings and decision-making.

4 thoughts on “Analyzing to the Death”

  1. Tim says:

    A good case in point is the recent British referendum on remaining as a member of the European Union.

    Discussions with friends often came down to emotion regardless of any evidence cited from either side.

    There was a lot of manipulative bullying from both sides during the campaign but mostly that only strengthened and reinforced a marginal feeling for one way or the other.

    Facts and predictions became rather distorted and emotionally delivered that no-one believed most of them. Your President did not help by the way.

    The people have spoken though, and so we are leaving.

  2. Daze says:

    A related example is the vaunted ‘wisdom of the crowd’. I watched a TED talk by a guru of this explaining how she was going to take her experience of how much better groups were than individuals in solving complex problems in Warcraft, and build websites for crowdsourcing the answers to the world’s biggest problems.

    It turned out that by then the TED talk had been around for a while, so the website existed and had a track record. The number one good idea (out of many thousands) generated in the first year for solving climate change: put gardens on building roofs.

    It would seem that the wisdom of crowds is usefully employed where there is one or a set of right answers in a constrained domain like a game, but much less so in an open chaotic domain like the real world. One of the impacts of the game domain constraints is that every person in the crowd has the same understanding of how the world works and what are the consequences of taking actions in it. As LEM says, this is very much not the case in the world outside the game. As a secondary constraint, it is actually possible for some of the crowd to be true and trusted experts who essentially all of the others will listen to when they say “but that’s not possible” when someone daft proposes building a wall.

  3. John Prigent says:

    ‘The intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.’ I think Terry Pratchett hit the mark there.

  4. darcherd says:

    My father, a career science teacher, had a humorous sign on the wall of his classroom that read simply, “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts.”

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