Pay attention

You may or may not have seen the following sports awareness test on YouTube. If not you can check your skills:

This video, as you see, was used for a road safety campaign. But that’s probably one of the least useful applications of what it shows – most people are at least vaguely aware of the possibility of bikes when they are driving.

But it’s actually of pretty universal significance, and in particular to at least two of the concerns I customarily write about here.

In the first place, it’s a fantastic demonstration of the philosophy of science truth, as pointed out by Thomas Kuhn and others, that science is not about nature telling us its secrets, but about our asking it very specific questions, and getting answers to those questions, but not all the others we might have asked.

So in the video, we start with a question that assumes a hypothesis: that there will be white team passes to count, and that these are what matters in the confused mass of data that the scene (representing nature’s total reality) throws at our senses. Having eventually arrived at a consistent answer, the scientist might intelligently wonder how it compares to the black team passes. But the agenda has been set by the question that was first asked.

And so, to be specifc, if we ask biology questions about how things evolved by whatever evolutionary theory we favour (Neodarwinian or Neutralist, perhaps), then nature will certainly give us some kind of answers. But the more vigorously we pursue those answers, the less open we’ll be to the possibility that there are non-evolutionary aspects lurking at the sides of our vision.

The same application can be made to the wider question of science itself, as opposed to specific theoretical inquiries. It’s just that the questions are more general: “What material efficent causes can we find to explain this phenomenon?” Lo and behold, like the white team’s passes, there is indeed a consistent train of such events to follow. But the very fact of concentrating on that blinds us to the moon-walking bear (or is it a gorilla? Were we duped even in that?). We can’t see the wealth of non-material, formal or final causes within the same phenomena, because we have trained ourselves so well to count only passes.

This, of course, impacts the way we understand alternative views of the world. Only this week I was conversing with a parent whose teenage daughter is discovering the cognitive dissonance between her literalistic understanding of Genesis 1 and the science she is learning (no doubt together with an element of didactic polarisation, in that many science teachers can’t resist contrasting “what we now know” with “what they believed then”). But this cognitive dissonance, as you’ll be aware if you’re read much on The Hump, depends on both the skeptics and the Creationists trying to count the scientific passes in the creation account, and missing the bear in the room, which is the way the author actually questioned the nature of the world, having nothing much to do with material causes, and a lot to do with the world as God’s temple.

A further area in which to consider this video’s point very seriously is the one I’ve been addressing in the last few posts – the disinformation and propaganda that has actually, after decades of persistent effort, become the culture in which we live. Just like the caption at the start of the video, the world gives us messages that set the context in which we fool ourselves we are living freely.

I first noticed this as a teenager, in TV advertising, when I realised that although I might be totally unpersuaded by the stupid housewife telling her neighbour how good her washing powder or laxatives are compared to the other’s, I don’t even notice the upgrade kitchen they’re sitting in, which over time unconsciously forms my aspirations to get a “proper” kitchen instead of my perfectly functional, but somehow inadequate one.

Nowadays it affects far more serious things: maybe I didn’t notice that the BBC was constantly criticising the UK government’s negotiating position with the EU, but seldom subjecting the EU negotiators to the same cross-examination. However, the Europeans did notice, and played their cards accordingly, knowing that the UK press was their best ally.

Maybe I don’t notice that, when a group of Muslim and Jewish parents (but not the Christian parents, who believe what they are told, it seems) withdraw their infant children from compulsory lessons on homosexual and gender-queer matters, the press does not actually speak to the parents to understand their reasons. Instead the stress is on teachers being put under stress, people feeling intimidated by demonstrators, the rule of law, and so on.

It’s actually a very clever juggling act, because somehow our attention has to be diverted from the issue – that a new, untried, morality is being imposed in contradiction of what has been the foundation of not only the civilization West, but of the whole world, until last Tuesday. What is more, that has to be done without putting any blame on Islam, which is a protected oppressed minority according to the ideology.

It’s as tricky as the simultaneous effort of the governments and press angrily to condemn Brunei’s imposition of Sharia law, whilst calling any criticism of Islam hate speech. Somehow, Sharia applied illegally to marriages in western countries is a sign of cultural diversity, whereas applied in a Muslim country it is a sign of oppression.

Perhaps it’s because these things involve such complicated sleight of hand that so many are now beginning to see the moonwalking bear in the press, in the arts, in their govermental systems, in their universities and even in their churches. And as you will know by now, once that bear is seen it can never be un-seen.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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