Brain in a box

We put our brains in a box when we adopt a limited view of any subject.

Once we adopt a limited view, it tends to self-propagate, to attract secondary and tertiary views as if the box were a magnet.

This is why so many subjects—both public and private–are polarized. You have this religion, therefore… You have this political belief or personality, therefore…

Rather than converse about the many nuances of any view or topic, most people tend strongly to categorize people, ideas, beliefs, emotions, and so on. That is, put them in a box.

We all do this, but like anything we all do, we are also capable of seeing through it.

An excellent large-scale example of this principle was reported today: Japan very nearly lost Tokyo.

The whole article, which is not long, is super worth reading because of what it says about the Fukushima disaster and also because of what it says about our tendency to put reality in boxes and talk about them rather than reality itself.

From the article:

Dramatic CCTV footage from the plant showed a skeleton staff – the Fukushima 50 – struggling to read emergency manuals by torchlight and battling with contradictory, confusing instructions from their superiors at Tepco. Total disaster was averted when seawater was pumped into the reactors, but the plant manager, Masao Yoshida, later said he considered committing hara-kiri, ritual suicide.

If readers recall, at the time the two main boxes in currency were:

  • the politically-approved box: “it’s serious but not to worry” and “the alarmists are crazy and also anti-nuclear and thus anti-science.”
  • and the alarmist box: “could mean the evacuation of Tokyo” and “nuclear power can never be safe.”

Turns out the second box—the “alarmists”—were closer to the truth. And worse, the important information and discussion of what was in-between those boxes was largely neglected or kept out of sight.

Additionally, the linked article reveals that incompetent officials were in charge of the plant, and that as the disaster unfolded few had any idea what to do.

That’s another box or a symptom of boxes. You donated to me or supported me or are my friend, how about being Japan’s nuclear safety advisor? Sure why not?

This is why:

…”very shocked” by the performance of Nobuaki Terasaka, his government’s nuclear safety adviser.

“We asked him, ‘Do you know anything about nuclear issues?’

“And he said, ‘No, I majored in economics’.”

If you look around, you will see boxes everywhere. A box that was first applied to anyone who questioned the JFK assassination story—“conspiracy theorist”—is one of the most long-lived.

“Alarmist,” “tin-foil hat,” “nut-job,” “kook,” “anti-science,” “anti-religion,” “racist,” “anti-racist,” and so on are other examples.

We should have gotten all the facts about Fukushima at the time, just as we should have gotten all the facts about WMD in Iraq before that war, which may have been caused by acts of treason.

If you asked for the facts, though, you would have been put in a box, your voice silenced.

If you can see these kinds of boxes in large events, they should also be findable in the smaller boxes of your life.

The small boxes of interpersonal communication and individual psychology are things like set views on personalities (yours or theirs), using “signs” about what someone thinks or believes without actually asking them in-depth, being intolerant of nuanced views or not even being able to hear them, categorizing people based on generalities, having a complex view of yourself but simple ones of others, or the other way around, etc.

In many cases, we do need to use boxes. They allow us to function easily in many situations, but boxes only describe boxed reality and in that prevent complex communication and understanding.

 

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