Saturday, August 15, 2009

Why many prefer lies to the truth

While out for a drive today I noticed a bolt of lightning strike a few miles away (it's been a stormy several weeks with many isolated thunder storms roaming around.) This was one of those bolts that lingered a bit, and since I was looking in that direction from a place higher above the ground (driving on the crest of a bridge) I got a good look at it. That made me think of an analogy to help you to understand why so many people actually prefer lies to the truth! Here it is.

Anyone who has seen a lightning bolt, either in reality or in a cool photograph, knows that lightning usually is long and curved. Sometimes it forks, but usually (especially ground to cloud lightning), it is like a rough rope that is slightly curved.

Yet, if anyone were asked to draw lightning, what would they draw? They would draw the cartoon symbol for lightning, which is the straight zigzag. Even knowing what lightning looks like in reality, if someone were asked to draw it, most would do the zigzag.

(I'd embed images here but I remain a total tyro at using the computer and really don't know how to get it to consistently work on this blog...I almost always get error messages when I try.)

Now, if you asked the person, "Why did you draw the cartoon symbol for lightning, the vertical zigzag, rather than how it actually looks?" the person would reply, "Well, you might not be sure what it was I was drawing if I drew how it actually looks, but if I use the symbol there is no mistaking it."

This is the irony of not only how the human brain is wired, but the conventional societal attitude in communications. Often we make ourselves clearer in conveying an idea by simplifying it into total or near artificiality!

This is both a brain thing and a society thing. Brains want to work "fast" and "get to the point." Hence they are wired to "fill in the blanks" and also to respond to key stimuli. Thus a cartoon of lightning gets the point across faster, more uniformly and clearer rather than even a talented artist drawing a rough line that is slightly curved.

You can see exactly what I mean about what a "bolt" of lightning really looks like by the many fine pictures at this link.

At this lightning safety page, you can see great photos of actual lightning plus small yellow vertical zigzag symbols of lightning, so you can compare what I mean side by side, the reality and the very helpful symbol.

But if a person extracted just one lightning bolt and drew it on a piece of paper, it would not be obvious what it is. The person would probably have to explain, or draw scenery to show the context.

Yet, if a person draws a vertical zigzag, nearly everyone recognizes instantly, without context, that it is a depiction of a lightning bolt. If the zigzag is drawn horizontally, it usually indicates electricity symbolically.

So the "survival trait" part of the brain favors pithy, quick, simplified, cartoonish depictions of "reality" so that it can "get the message" and the "bottom line" in a hurry. This is true whether people are in actual danger situations or not. Why? Because the second half of the brain influence is that brains become lazy, just like their human owners. Truth requires more detail, discernment, and thought, while untruth or overly simplified reality does not require much effort to think about.

This, then, is also a societal problem. A consumer oriented society (or, to be blunt, a greedy worship the dollar and instant gratification society) favors fast pitches of their product that provide rapid stimulation. Thus, again, a consumer oriented society favors the lazy brain, one that does not think about the reality, the truth, or the implications of what is being displayed.

So this, then, is where a survival trait that is good in the brain (make great and quick leaps in understanding based on simplified information) turns into an addiction (I don't want to think about anything difficult or complicated, so I'd rather believe something easy to believe rather than something difficult to comprehend).

What is an example? Well, of course a loving, all powerful and demanding God is a complicated, mysterious, "work is required" concept to think about, to believe and to obey. Mindless entertainment and worse, many cult beliefs, such as an "evil alien invader," satisfy the over stimulated but lazy brain demand. Faith is work and even a simple symbol, such as the cross, the Star of David, or the crescent are symbols of a complicated reality. Unfortunately, modern humans have taken their God given great brains, which can process very complicated concepts, but also make great conclusions based on little information, and have turned those two abilities into an addictive thought process whereby the brain craves not reality or truth, even if they are happier and more pleasant options, and instead prefer whatever is simpler and non-thought stimulating, even if that is the sadder and more depressive option.

So you can see by my analogy that this is another example of where a "good" capability of the brain has been increasingly used for the wrong purposes, and has therefore become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

That's why I like my analogy because there is absolutely nothing wrong with using a symbol for clarity, such as the vertical zigzag for a lightning bolt, drawn with a simple stroke of the pen or pencil, rather than a person having to laboriously draw what lightning actually looks like, put it in a landscape for clarity (as in the Wikipedia photographs) and probably label it too. The problem is when the brain grows to prefer intaking only simplified symbols, including ones that are simply NOT real at all, rather than intaking reality, the truth, as it actually is.

Here's a silly example. It's like modern humans think that if they are going to get hit by a lightning bolt, that someone is going to take a piece of paper with a vertical zigzag on it and rub it on them, rather than being hit by the reality of a lightning bolt. That is how modern brains have been warped. They have taken the "talent" that the brain has and made it cross wired, so that the simplified and even the totally wrong has replaced the complicated truthful reality in many situations.

It's like the slogan problem, where people get excited over a nifty chant or slogan to express their beliefs, rather than plumb the more complicated reality that underlies the issue. It is an instinct, a helpful instinct, of the brain that has been transformed into a harmful addiction.

So I hope that this is a helpful analogy for you. This is a very serious problem and those of you who are either rediscovering your genuine faith and/or those who are leaving cults must understand why the temptation to believe the "strong but wrong" is so persistent. Modern brains in the context of an increasingly consumer oriented and very artificial society have come to favor-and even become addicted to-strong but over simplified and often totally wrong lies over truthful but more nuanced and complicated reality that takes time, effort, and some sacrifice in order to actually understand.