You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world.  You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.

Sunday, January 23, 2011



That "ignorance is bliss" is so prevalent among humans is a fascinating study in itself.  Why are we so prone to fall into this harmful trap?  The answer is obvious, though we are often too proud to admit it.  We are, in fact, simple-minded creatures.  Our brains are not very good at handling complexity, and the reality of the world is that it is incredibly complex, to the point of being beyond our comprehension.  To cope, the human brain adopts a necessary strategy -- simplify.  A common example of the kind of simplification that our brains employ is the "rule of thumb".  Rather than figure out precisely why something happens, which would require delving into impossible complexity, we look for patterns.  We select and use the most evident patterns to explain what we wish to understand.  Finding patterns is something our brains do relatively well, to the point that we often find patterns that are false and misleading.  This is the inherent danger of simplification -- it usually leads to false and misleading "rules of thumb".  The conundrum is that we are practically forced to simplify, given our feeble brainpower.

Take science as an example.  We tend to think of science as our crowning achievement.  What do humans do when they do science?  They probe the complexity of the world, look for patterns, and try to reduce the patterns into simple formulas.  If those formulas can describe the complexity that we are aware of, we cry "eureka" and claim to have the answer.  Eventually, we discover that there are patterns that we didn't recognize that the formulas can't account for, and we are forced back to the drawing board to address the additional complexity.  Either that or we simply cover up the anomalies and refocus our attention on the successes of our existing paradigm, which is more often the case, and oh so much simpler.  Newton's "law" of gravity is a classic example.  Though the average human can hardly fathom this formula, scientists marvel at its simplicity and usefulness.  Yet human understanding of gravity is woefully inadequate and primitive.  We really don't even know what gravity is.  Alien spacecraft regularly demonstrate a mastery of gravity beyond our simple "rule of thumb".  So what do we do?  We ignore it, we dismiss it, we cover it up, and we point to the successes of our understanding of gravity.  Foolish humans.

The complexity we are faced with is indeed daunting.  We don't even understand ourselves.  For as long as humans have existed, we have tried to understand how our bodies work.  All we have come up with is a progression of less and less ridiculous "rules of thumb".  The average human cannot even fathom the chemistry of the Krebs Cycle (also known as the citric acid cycle), which is only one chemical pathway in the huge symphony of chemical reactions that makes us function.  Is it any wonder that we have been so reliant in the past on the grossest simplification our brains can conceive of, the very epitome of the "ignorance is bliss" philosophy -- that "God" did it?


  1. You've written to tell smart people that stupid people exist and to explain how they are stupid.

    You're correct. You've explained adroitly.

    What am I supposed to do with these data delineating stupid people and their foibles, dear Hugh!

    Or is this a matter of not donning the shoe which doesn't fit?

  2. Leeza, I'm "simply" analyzing human behavior. There are no smart people or stupid people. There are only people that need to understand why they behave the way they do. I think you've misunderstood the purpose of this blog. It is a practical application of "know thyself."

  3. I always love your blogs Hugh, although it's been a while.

    I would disagree with you mostly symantically, since I think your point is valid; most people can fathom the production of ATP if they have been duly educated. It is in that where we misstep or fail to aspire.

    Knowing thyself is such a process in itself due to our need to simplify, and then discover or rediscover factors that were zeroed out previously which change our simple answer. The one variable that is a subjective variable in itself is emotion.

    I don't think it is a failure of the rational mind that leads us towards misunderstanding or failing to aspire, but instead an emotional need. For example, children have brilliant minds yet a thin attention span. They do not want to pursue the details since that takes time, and time to a child is perceived differently. No amount of rational understanding of the mechanical nature of time has ever been able to curb this enthusiasm/wanderlust of youth.

    When looking at our need to simplify, the emotional perspective of it also defines God differently than the way you are using it. Highly intelligent scholars and intellectuals are often "God fearing," but not because they are incapable of understanding complex systems. Rather, it seems to be a function of managing our emotions in a deferencial manner. Perhaps this is unnecessary for many, however, quantifying emotional intensity is also subjective.

    Isn't the real crux of the matter how we understand, cope and overcome or real and perceived limitations, or fail to do so?

  4. Yes Chris, I would say that is the real crux of the matter. In fact, I did say that -- we cope with our limitations by simplifying, which often prevents us from overcoming those limitations. In other words, our coping mechanism keeps us from the truth.



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