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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Interlude


 “I want you to know that whatever happens, the United States Navy is ready!  Every man at his post, every ship at its station... Whatever happens, the Navy is not going to be caught napping.”

--Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox on December 4, 1941 -- 3 days before Pearl Harbor


Most people do not accurately discern the future primarily because they do not accurately discern the present.  

In 1941, for example, there were multiple opportunities for U.S. high command to at least consider the possibility of an attack on Pearl Harbor (including the morning of the attack, when a huge mass of planes was spotted on Hawaii radar), but the thought quite literally never even occurred to them.  Why?  Because they were suffering from mental tunnel vision.  They believed the Japanese were preparing for an attack on a nearby (to Japan) Pacific nation, thus every sign the U.S. command saw, every clue they received, was interpreted through that lens.  

They were effectively blind to what was coming, due to this trick of their own minds.  It's worth thinking about for a moment:  What might we be similarly blind to in our own lives, or in the world around us, at this very instant?

Learning to demolish our own cherished internal viewpoints is difficult and, at times, downright painful.  For one, the ego never likes the idea that it could be wrong.  For another, humans seem to fear the uncertainty of "not knowing."  Perhaps this is because, in the wild, not knowing can expose us to all sorts of peril -- so humans often prefer to cling to a flawed model of reality over no model at all.

I suppose this approach makes sense on a grand scale -- after all, one has to have some general idea of "how things are" in order to function -- but it makes less sense when ideas are viewed piecemeal.  Maybe the fear is that if one of our ideas is proven wrong, then all of our ideas must be similarly called into question.  The thing is:  This is actually the case, and all of our ideas should be viewed as potentially suspect -- but I think many people are uncomfortable with that concept, and with good reason (because then we're back to questioning at a grand scale) and thus prefer not to consider it.

But emotional discomfort notwithstanding, I think it's necessary at times to, in essence, make a full-bore attempt to demolish a cherished opinion as if it isn't "ours" per se, but as if it is a thing outside us that has a life of its own (in truth, it does).  (Personally, I sometimes try to see "my" opinion as "an opinion" that doesn't belong to me, to attempt to circumvent any ego-self attachment.)   From there, we then attempt to throw every counterargument we can think of (plus some that others have thought of, because otherwise our own ignorance of opposing arguments will lead us right back to the exact same old conclusions) against that opinion, to see if it stands up to objective scrutiny.

Due to human psychological nature, it's a bit easier to do this if we understand one simple truth:  We can always rebuild our old viewpoint if, after thorough examination, it still proves worthy.  

So there's really no risk in doing this -- other than the risk of proving our past-selves wrong.  Is that risk worth the risk we face in not challenging our opinions?  Because I would offer that the risk we face in holding fast to wrong opinion is the risk of making our future-selves wrong.  

And that's far more dangerous.  

To draw an obvious example, let's say our past, younger selves decided that "smoking cigarettes really isn't a bad idea."  If we challenge that opinion, we may be forced to admit we were wrong in the past, and we may also be forced to alter our behavior in the present (by quitting smoking).  But if we don't challenge that old opinion, we will continue to damage ourselves long into the future.

Thus, "past-self proved wrong" is a good trade for "present self proved right and (consequently) future self in much better shape."

It's a no-brainer, really.  And yet few of us do this regularly because, despite what we want to believe about ourselves, we're not actually acting from our brains most of the time.

Hence my statement at the beginning:

"Most people do not accurately discern the future primarily because 
they do not accurately discern the present."

-- Me, just a minute ago

That is all.


4 comments:

  1. Hence, the shockingly large number of sheep in our population today. No one questions anything anymore whether it's the media, government or themselves.

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  2. Perhaps the Navy was prepared after all because the bulk of the fleet was out at sea and not destroyed during the Pearl Harbor attack. Could it be that the attack was allowed to happen to ensure a strong patriotic demand for the U.S. to enter the war? I do not know the answer, but always question what those in authority claim is true. Smoking serves as another example: wasn't it perfectly safe for the longest time?

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