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» Adminīs Blog - October 2019

» How do you explain a rainbow to a colorblind person?

If you have a hard time wrapping your mind around questions like why do we believe that we all see red and green the same way (as opposed, for example, to my red being your green and vice-versa), or dismiss them as simply not being worth wasting time thinking about then I can tell you two things about you that you may not realize yourself:

1. You're not a philosopher.
2. You're a prime candidate for indoctrination.

Education is a finicky thing... it generally comes in two distinct flavors: things that we learned ourselves, often in "the school of hard knocks", and things taught to us by people we trust or have reason to believe know more about a particular subject than we do.

If you reflect on your school days with a little analytic reasoning - something they hopefully taught you about back then, it should be evident that at least in some subjects, mathematics and science for example, what you were taught consisted not only of the facts and figures, but also how your teachers or their predecessors arrived at those conclusions. With other words, you were given some data presented as fact, and then shown how the data could be reproduced following agreed upon methods that any rational thinking person should be able to accept as being logical and making sense.

Scientific facts can be proven and the process leading to their discovery reproduced. For example it isn't difficult to prove that an absorbent material soaks up liquid; all you have to do is dunk it in water. Conversely, one could argue that most mathematical computations can only be proven by using the same assumptions used to create them in the first place, but that is why accepted mathematical equations are called theorems and not facts. What that means is that thus far, everyone who has worked through the numbers has arrived at the same conclusion. Regardless of whether the resulting theorem is true, it is accepted as true until someone can figure out a way to prove otherwise.

Subjects like history and English involve esoteric knowledge that, instead of being based on provable facts or reproducible calculations, is based on either an account of events passed down from generation to generation, or an accepted norm similarly passed from person to person. While historic events that have occurred during the period of recorded history obviously have a provable component, it should be equally obvious that in most cases the proof is rather subjective. Recall the story of the blind men describing an elephant; the man touching the trunk and described the elephant as like a snake, while the man touching a leg described it as like a tree, the man touching an ear described it as like a leaf, and the man touching the tail described it as like a rope. They were all right, in a way, but the story graphically illustrates that without access to ALL the facts, one cannot fully understand the subject at hand.

So how do you describe a rainbow to a person who only sees shades of grey? Based on the reports of people who have tried, and of colorblind people, while the images created by the interaction of the optic nerves and the brain may differ from individual to individual, everything else is pretty much subjective, bringing us back to the question of whether we can ever be certain that what looks "green" to me also looks green to you.

But in retracing your education as I hope you have done while reading this, it should be evident that much of what we think we know is based on the assumption that when we are taught something, we learn something. I was taught that there are nine planets in our solar system, and accepted that as fact. When scientists decided that Pluto wasn't a planet after all, my brain revolted - and for good reason. Given the dearth of information I absorbed concerning the interactions of the planets, their supposed formation, and so forth, I would literally need to erase and reprogram a large part of my scientific knowledge to accept the new findings. While that is probably easy if you are a scientist working on such things, I maintain that once the bedrock of what we consider to be immutable fact has been laid and we no longer enjoy the benefits of an educational system updated with the latest facts and figures, the best we can do is add the latest information as a footnote to our knowledge.

Reflecting on how we process information, it should be apparent that at some time in our early upbringing we each create a sort of "fact vault" in our consciousness, containing the assumptions - true or false - upon which we base our thinking. Some of the "facts" in our vault, for example how we see our position in the social world, are regularly updated, others, like the things we consider to have been learned (like that Pluto is a planet), are much more difficult to change.

Consider for a moment what your views on religion are, and how they came to be. Whether you are an atheist or a devout believer in the providence of a supreme being, chances are that the facts in your fact vault would be grossly different if, for example, you were raised by Australian aborigines. My point here is simply that what we are exposed to as children shapes not only the way we think, but the building blocks we use to formulate our thoughts, throughout our entire lives, and unless conscious effort is made to alter those building blocks, that will never change.

If you look up the definition of "education", you will find that depending on the definition, it entails mental, moral or aesthetical development, training by formal instruction, or "persuasion or conditioning feel, believe or act in a desired manner". Wait - what?? Yep, says so right in the dictionary. Now the question you should be asking yourself is: what part of your education was to further your mental, moral and aesthetical development, and what part was to persuade or condition you to feel, believe or act in a desired manner?

I'm sorry, but any part of an education that does not imbue you with facts that you can use to formulate your own feeling, beliefs or actions is not education, but indoctrination. I'll take as an example from my own upbringing that it wasn't until years after I left the school system that I finally had an "aha!" moment about the teachings of Catholicism. Case in point: in religion class we were taught the ten commandments, among them being "Thou shalt not kill", while in another classroom our history teacher taught us about the inquisition, and heretics being killed BY CATHOLICS because they refused to believe as they were told to believe. Today I find it amazing that I was able to let both of these facts coexist for so long, given how diametrically opposed they are, but it points to a huge vulnerability in how we are educated.

While I truly believe that my teachers meant well in what they taught, they first of all can only teach what is in their own purview, and only what they are allowed to teach, and presumably only what they believe in. So until and unless we individually decide to explore what forms the bedrock in our fact vault, most people will never realize that there are colors in a rainbow that, unless we take it upon ourselves to look for them, we will never see.

That's the part that I find most disheartening in what passes for today's "society"; there are literal hordes of people who believe that they have transcended the bonds of their education and, by virtue of "knowledge" gleaned from mainstream media and their social media "friends", are imbued with the sum knowledge of the entire universe. I stand humbled before these mental giants... much of what I learned in school has become irrelevant, and all I can bring to the debate is my sixty-plus years of learning, mostly through trial and error, none of which can compete with the unbridled knowledge uploaded to the Internet by thirteen-year-old hackers or read from a teleprompter by people with degrees in journalism, which apparently took the place of every other course they were offered.

By Admin on December 13 2018 11:04 · 3286 Views · 0 Comments · Print · Blog index
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