Thursday, July 26, 2012

Life as A Venn Diagram

It's all about making connections.

You read A. Several months pass. You read B. More months pass. You read C and D, and then, for kicks, you read B and A again.

Then it happnes.

Something you read in A reminds you of D, so you read it again. That brings up things you read in C and B, and you start making connections.

Those connections make you more intelligent. More informed.

The media doesn't matter -- you can read books that make connections to web articles that connect to something you saw on the television which reminded you of something you heard in conversation. What matters is that your brain collects all of the funny bits of things you read or watch or absorb and it stores them away, hoping against hope that somewhere down the line something else you consume will fire those memory neurons and help build a connection.

What's more enlightening is then to see how other people miss connections. Of course, you don't brag about it. You remain humble. Because there are others noticing the connections you miss. But it's fun, this thing called learning. Creating these little Venn diagrams in our heads.

(Thanks, XKCD)

Examples: is wailing about gun control in the light of the shootings in Aurora, Colorado. Because guns were involved, the only way to fix things is with structer gun control laws.

Slate is also shaking its head about right-wing wailing about abortion in the light of a woman who died at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Chicago as she was undergoing an abortion. That death doesn't mean abortion should be banned, Slate says.

They've missed a connection here, of course. As have the strict gun nuts who lament loss of their freedom while at the same time wishing to curtail the frrdom of others.

This brings up sticky ethical conundrums, of course. Never said noticing connections and dealing with their implcations was easy.

Another exmple: Since I work in the nuclear industry, I read a lot about its history. I'm just finishing up a biography of Albert Einstein, in which one chapter outlines Einstein's involvement with the Manhattan Project. I've also read books on the Manhattan Project by Richard Rhodes, where Einstein's involvement is also mentioned. Both authors approached their subject matter from different points of view, and because I've read both sets of books, I can see the connections between them.

One connection: Einstein is one of those Men Who Are Supposed to Know. Since he was a brilliant physicist, many, many people approached him for his opinion on sundry subjects ranging from Palestine to minor bits of scientific quackery. The author of this book points out that while Einstein was a genius in physics, he was pretty naive in other areas -- most other areas. So the connection I make here is: When you hear an opinion being offered by a prominent person, double check to make sure it's an opinion on which they're qualified to speak. Fame isn't a qualifier for everything under the sun. So I remember that when I'm tempted to comment on something on which I've developed an opinion but not the expertise.

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