Posts Tagged ‘filters

09
Feb
09

From Where Do You Seek Knowledge

Too often, I fail to acknowledge how lucky I am to know everything I do. I have access to resources that even 50 years ago weren’t readily available in local libraries let alone in the comfort of my home via computer. Beyond easy access, there’s the sheer volume of knowledge that’s accumulated over the years. With every passing year, we learn something about the world and about the people who inhabit it. However, I’ve noticed a worrisome trend in the way we’re gaining our knowledge—we’re doing it secondhand.

From Knowledge Comes Beliefs

Using the things we learn we form opinions and ideas that support a certain line of thought. Sometimes these opinions and ideas harden into beliefs that stick with us for years. Over time, I’ve come to realize that few of us extend the effort to go to the source, but rather listen to others who have.

I’ve defined the source as Authorities. These individuals include scientists and others who ask a particular question and then pursue activities in an effort to answer said question. Then, there are the Filters. These individuals include politicians, pundits, activists, and the like who analyze ideas generated by the Authorities and promote them to like-minded constituencies.

A significant portion of our knowledge comes from these two categories. It makes sense that we seek after the knowledge of people with the experience versus repeating everything ourselves. This reliance places us in a position of trusting that what we’re hearing is a truth, at least of sorts.

Too Much Faith

In recent years, I believe we’ve become far too reliant on the interpretation of knowledge promoted by Filters and ignored the original source to our detriment. I see this reliance in multiple public discussions where either side is equally vehement in its defense of a particular position:

  • Global Warming
  • Abortion
  • Big vs. Small Government
  • Foreign Policy

The list could go on for pages, but I suspect that within an instant you could easily call up multiple ideas and opinions related to these debates, both in support of your position and against it.

Now that you’re thinking of the reasons why you believe what you do, where did your knowledge come from? Perhaps I assume to much, but I hypothesize that much of what we know comes through Filters.

Authorities Require Extra Effort

Going to Authorities for our knowledge is a challenge. Sometimes the answers we’re seeking are buried under statistics and confusing prose that make our eyes feel heavy. Sometimes the obscurity of an Authority makes it difficult to return to the original work, particularly if a much easier book written by a Filter sits on the shelf or holds forth on the television. But we often miss something when we seek our knowledge via Filters—the original purpose of the Authority.

Filters Have Their Own Purpose

Filters have their own goals to fulfill, and whether those goals align with the original intent of the Authority can be secondary. Often, in order to answer a question, an Authority seeks to understand an opposing viewpoint to the answer pursued. The same does not happen as often with Filters. We’re left to weigh for ourselves the intent behind the knowledge the Filter chooses to put forth, sometimes with mixed results.

Debating with Filtered Knowledge

Consider our current circumstances. For many of us, what we know about the stimulus package being tossed around in Congress is based on what we’ve heard on the news or read online. (Note: If you’ve read the full bill, I’d love to hear your take on the situation.) We hear about Republicans fighting with Democrats, President Obama chastising reluctant politicians, and ominous declarations of what will happen if Congress fails to act. We hear very little about the actual details of the package itself, unless they’re controversial, like Representative Waxman’s addition of contraceptive funding. Why is that?

We’re talking about spending $800+ billion (that’s EIGHT zeros). It feels like we’ve abdicated our right to go to the source and instead rely on the Filters for what comes next. The same things has happened with multiple public debates. I’m not advocating that we swear off using Filters, but I do wonder what our world would look like if we were a little less reliant on them.

Filters make it easy to block out opposing viewpoints, putting us at individual risk. Sun Tzu said,

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

In our pursuit of evermore knowledge we owe it to ourselves to return to the source, to wade through the difficult, to challenge the interpretation presented by the Filters. Otherwise, we risk knowing neither ourselves nor our enemies.

28
Jan
08

The Danger of Sure Things

Spin that wheel, take your chanceHow many times have you given into the lure of the “sure thing?” Maybe you placed a bet, accepted a job, or went on a date because you believed it a sure thing. Sure things are dangerous because they lower your shields, raise your expectations, and leave you open to disappointment.

The recent Australian Open, one of professional tennis’s four Grand Slam titles, makes more than one excellent case for the danger of sure things. On the women’s side, the previous year’s winner, Serena Williams, was knocked out in two straight sets. In the next round, the number one ranked woman, Justine Henin, was then beaten by the eventual winner, Maria Sharapova.

An even surer thing failed on the men’s side. Roger Federer, the number one ranked male tennis player in the world appeared unstoppable with his 12 Grand Slam titles until he met Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals. Both are skilled players, ranked high, but Federer always appeared to dominate and many thought he was on his way to an 11th STRAIGHT Grand Slam final. Djokovic proceeded to beat him in straight sets, something that hasn’t happened to Federer since 2004.

Beyond Sports

Tennis matches are only one example of a potential sure thing that can disappoint. Over time, we start to associate this sense of a sure thing with other aspects of our lives: jobs, investments, relationships, etc. Then, when someone or something upsets a sure thing, we shake our heads in bewilderment wondering how it could have happened.

You’ve seen this scenario play out during the recent weeks and months as markets have shuddered under pressure from the sub-prime mess and fears of an American recession. We were so sure that the housing market would continue to grow that the popping of the bubble was unheard by many.

Searching for Certainty

Without meaning or planning to, we search out guarantees. We want a sure thing because we believe it gives us a lodestone in all the chaos that swirls around us. We’re particularly drawn to sure things of late because of the increased sense of chaos in our world as markets shifts and countries crumble. However, as I pointed out earlier this month, there’s something to be said for chaos:

From my perspective, chaos’ attractiveness lies in its unpredictability, the sense that anything, both good and bad, is possible….I think that our current hunger for order in all the chaos for information cheats us out of what’s possible. A top 10 list and other filters that we pay attention to skip over the uncertainty of a butterfly flapping its wings and goes straight to someone else’s interpretation of the chaos. Why waste time wading through all the different thoughts if someone has been kind enough to provide you with the answers?

If you are a lover of sure things, you need to ask yourself why. And if the answer doesn’t do you or your life justice, consider the chase after a sure thing to be a part of your past instead of your future. Perhaps it goes too far in the other direction, but any time I hear the words, “It’s a sure thing,” I want to run in the opposite direction. What will be your reaction?

Comments?

(Image courtesy of Cold Cut. Some rights reserved.)

01
Jan
08

The Beauty of Chaos

The end of a year and the beginning of another brings out a predictable string of events: recaps of what happened in the previous year and predictions for what might happen in the next. Many recaps consist of “top 10” lists of the supposed best or worst of a particular subject. For all their popularity, most top 10 lists don’t last beyond the day of their publication. The thinking behind top 10 lists intrigues me though.

Butterfly EffectI propose that we’re drawn to top 10 lists because we want to create order out of chaos, particularly in our current world of information overload. However, there’s something to be said for chaos. From my perspective, chaos’ attractiveness lies in its unpredictability, the sense that anything, both good and bad, is possible. With that in mind, consider the butterfly effect, often mentioned in connection with chaos theory:

The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that ultimately cause a tornado to appear (or prevent a tornado from appearing). The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale phenomena. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different.

I think that our current hunger for order in all the chaos for information cheats us out of what’s possible. A top 10 list and other filters that we pay attention to skip over the uncertainty of a butterfly flapping its wings and goes straight to someone else’s interpretation of the chaos. Why waste time wading through all the different thoughts if someone has been kind enough to provide you with the answers?

I’m not anti-organization. Rather, I’m anti-pigeon-holing. In our rush to create order from chaos, we sometimes take the easy path, relying on the tried and true (e.g. top 10 lists) because again, we’re drawn to known quantities. For this new year, I challenge you to challenge your filters. Why do you get your information from your chosen sources? Why do you trust who you trust? Maybe 2008 becomes the year that you wait to see whether the butterfly flaps its wings.

Comments?

(Image courtesy of Gonçalo Pereira.)




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