We used to have an aviary for finches outside our house. It was not very big, maybe 8 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet. It was a pitiful existence for them, it seemed to me.
One day I gathered 10 or 20 little twigs and put them inside on the bottom of the cage. When I came back a day later, the sticks had been gathered and arranged in a nice little circle on the bottom of the aviary. The poor bird was trying to build a nest! She had only a few little twigs to do it, but that didn’t stop her from trying! She came up with a pitiful little nest, which was the best she could do.
The reason I bring this up is that the birdcage seems very much like the human mind.
A bird can build a nest, but only with the raw materials she has available. Likewise, the mind can think, but only with the raw materials it has available. As humans, we need to have coherence between all the things we experience, so we fit them into generalities or stories. We need to “make sense” about our experience.
It seems that is mostly what the mind does: Create stories. But, like the bird nest, our stories depend on the raw materials we have available. Some stories we make up are woefully inadequate.
This helps to explain the other political party.
As children we are way too young to think about building nests, let alone to make up plausible stories about what we are doing here in the universe. We are still picking up little sticks, little experiences, one by one. Since we have limited experience, we have limited stories. So we adopt the stories of our parents, our family, our country, our religion, our political parties. It is wonderful and scary that we do that, but, like it or not, that’s what the brain does. Its job is to create stories that coherently link new experiences, to fit them together with the old experiences and old stories that are already there.
To me this explains why a “conspiracy theory” works. We are looking for an answer to why things happen the way they do. We have to connect something new to other things we already know, or at least believe. If we don’t have enough raw materials inside our brain to come up with a new coherent story, we latch on to whatever stories we already have that best fit in the new experience.
We say: “Yep, it must have been the Martians who invaded us and who did it. That story works out!”
We don’t know that we lack enough twigs to be playing with a full nest. We don’t realize that what we have is just the pitiful beginnings of a nest. Finches, however, are not stupid. The mother bird didn’t say, “Why, that’s a fine little nest. I think I will just lay a couple of eggs in it.” She says, “That is one sad nest. It will never work.”
A viable nest, by the way, needs 52 twigs. That’s also why a deck of cards has 52 cards. You need all of them to play with a full deck.
If you have just puzzled over the last three sentences above, that is a good sign! It demonstrates your brain has good critical powers! The second major job a brain has, besides relating and assimilating new information, is also to be critical about it, to ask questions.
When I was 10 or 11 years old, I heard some other boys chanting, “Down with Truman, we want Mac!” So I went around saying it too. I am not sure I even knew that Mac referred to Gen. MacArthur.
When I asked somebody what the slogan meant, they told me that MacArthur wanted to bomb China in order to end the Korean War. I thought, “Wait a minute. That doesn’t seem like a very good idea to me!” So I stopped chanting the phrase. Truman ended up firing MacArthur.
The less we ask ourselves questions and the more we resist questions from others, the less that real learning happens. If we don’t ask questions, our current belief system more and more takes over as the gatekeeper to what new facts and information are allowed in.
The Republicans who read this are saying, “Why don’t the Democrats get this?” The Democrats are saying, “Why don’t the Republicans get this?”
What I am saying is: “That’s my story for today. Cheep, cheep.”
The author lives in Santa Barbara.