Friday, May 11, 2007

Nobody Is Immune.

People's ways of performing that process known as 'reasoning' occasionally leave me...well, let's call it 'perplexed'. I had an example the other day when discussing the Firefly series with someone who bought the DVDs recently, but then gave up on them because he basically just didn't 'get' the sci-fi/western mix, together with what is basically absurdist theater. He subsequently stated that someone else could have done better with all that money, doing a 'proper' sci-fi series, but that wouldn't have been something to please US network TV execs.

Even ignoring the typically New Zealand snobbish-arrogant dig at everything American—a favorite and embarrassing past-time in this country, as it is in many others—the statement made little sense, since it was precisely because Firefly wasn't adhering to singe-genre conventions that it was mangled and pushed and prodded by the network in question and ultimately destroyed after a mere 11 episodes shown, because these retards just didn't 'get' it either. Nonetheless, this person, who otherwise has what qualifies as a 'methodical' disposition, seemed to be unable to come to term with the process of 'reasoning' outside the context in which he usually functions quite superbly.

As often happens after one of these episodes of witnessing the limited reasoning capabilities of others—and despite knowing damn well that I shouldn't do this because it's really not a good thing!—I left the discussion feeling slightly...well, 'superior'. This kind of thing is a common human failing. Nothing to lift one's self-esteem quite like watching somebody else who otherwise appears quite competent and even superior make an ass of themselves and never knowing it. The same kind of emotional logic, if you will, underlies the glee felt—and expressed by the media around here—whenever there's additional evidence or pseudo-evidence of some aspect of the real or perceived the inferiority of a nation that I have experienced as being, by and large, the most generous and open-hearted I've lived in so far.

Knowing all this I really should have restrained even a twitch of feeling of superiority, but, alas I didn't. Bad me! Now, while usually these things go unpunished, this time...well, it was like one of those hands-of-God drawn by the artist Mordillo (here's a nice collection of cartoons by Mordillo) reaching down from the sky through a cloud and waving a big fat admonishing finger at some poor little benighted blighter standing there looking terrified.

Just a day later I came across this (PDF link) article in the latest issue of Scientific American: Mind. It gave me more than pause and indeed had me acutely embarrassed. The article is titled The Myth of the Teen Brain and it begins like this:

It’s not only in newspaper headlines—it’s even on magazine covers. TIME, U.S. News & World Report and even Scientific American Mind have all run cover stories proclaiming that an incompletely developed brain accounts for the emotional problems and irresponsible behavior of teenagers. The assertion is driven by various studies of brain activity and anatomy in teens. Imaging studies sometimes show, for example, that teens and adults use their brains somewhat differently when performing certain tasks.

And from there on it's mostly deconstruction of what the author calls a 'myth'—and if he is right, which I think he might well be, then it is a myth, and a damaging one at that. Together with a whole plethora of long-term studies of the effects, social and physiological, of people growing up, from the day of their birth and possibly before that, in environments such as those provided by the societies of the technologically developed 'West' and the consequences for our lifestyles and body and brain development of those 'consumer' technologies...

Anyway, do yourself a favor and read the article. I found it instructive in a personal sense as well, because it taught me, in one fell swoop that I, too, can become locked into what, for lack of a better term, one might call 'sciento-fashions', that being fashions of thought which apparently have scientific support, but really are just the result of—what else is new?—people asking the wrong questions about the context of whatever facts they're presented with.

I guess the lesson is that it's probably always a good time to get off the roller coaster. Thing is, it's so hard to know sometimes when one is on a roller coaster to begin with.

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