Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Scientific Approach to the Metaphors of Life

Gravity is magic.


Wizards are sitting, high up in their towers, snickering at you, casting spells to make things go down! That is a perfectly reasonable explanation, right? Well, it is, at least until we figured out that gravity is just two objects attracted to each other at a certain speed.

force exerted between two objects
It's math!

See, we as humans have an automatic need to solve everything. As soon as the first monkey created the question mark, we have been systematically scrutinizing everything. Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? And sure, we have made mistakes. But it was the best explanation at the time.

But as science goes, we are always figuring out new theories. The one with the fewest holes at the end is the winner(Except string theory, that little bastard, it made no sense, and yet had scientists going crazy until finally, someone found at least a little logic in it).

As is the way with all explanations and theories. We hold on to them, until a better, less holy theory comes along. All fields of science are constantly expanding, even psychology.

This is the way science works: first, you ask a question. Then, you gather information. Then you experiment. You then gather information from your experiment. If your question was answered, you're done, otherwise, you go back to step 2. That is the very basics of the scientific method.

Notice something important up there: if your question went unanswered, you aren't done. A famous quote I love goes like this: "The absence of proof is not the proof of absence." For example, let's say a rhino runs through my living room. If I weren't around to witness said rhino rampaging through my living room, and it left no trace of its being there, then upon returning to my home, I would assume that no rhinos had crossed through my house. However, if instead of leaving no trace, it peed on my carpet, upon returning to my home, I would smell the rhino pee and exclaim, "A rhino has run through my house and peed on my carpet!"

This, except on a carpet. And more rhino-ish.

In the above example, a rhino ran through my house both times. However, since it left no proof of it's path the first time, I assumed that nothing happened. The fact that there is no proof, proves nothing. This is perfectly displayed with scientific tests of telekinesis, precognition, and other psychic phenomenon. Researchers have been unable to produce scientifically reputable proof of psychic powers. But, on the other side, scientists have been unable to produce proof that humans are not capable of psychic powers.

However, just because we don't know everything, that doesn't mean we don't know anything. Psychologists have figured out how mind works, to a degree. We know the right side of your brain, the one responsible for art, creativity, music, etc, it loves metaphors. It also works nearly independent of your left brain. Your left brain, on the other hand, is responsible for math, numbers, and nearly anything that requires analytical skill. Now, this is how your brain receives sensory information. First, the information is sent to the right brain. The right brain then just lumps it all together, kinda like how an artist might just slap paint up on a wall. Sounds, colors, pressure, wind, heat, it really doesn't matter. Your right brain just collects the information, and throws it all together. As your right brain throws information together, it notices patterns. Similarities. But all the real grunt-work is done by your left brain. Your left brain has the grueling task of sorting out all the right brain's crap. It has to pick out sounds, and like a jigsaw puzzle, put the world together. Your left brain is responsible, not for seeing colors, but distinguishing objects. Keyboard. Monitor. Desk. Cup. Mouse. Spider. Keys. Husband. Rhino. etc. (Damn, it's really hard not to use programming metaphors. I'd say that it's like creating classes in C++, but I doubt anybody really knows what that means.)

Okay, I think I know how to explain it. Think about a rhino. Got it? You probably visualized it. If you didn't, you will now.

Now, just imagine it peeing. On my carpet.

Big and gray, stinky, it has a huge white horn... The left brain is responsible for telling you that. "Oh, that's a rhino. I know that because it's color, shape, and characteristics, like a horn." Your left brain would access your memories, and then give you a basic average of all the rhino's you've seen. Now, the right brain has a completely different method of doing things. If you were to see a rhino, it would just hang in the background and say "Ohh hey! That skin looks rough... kinda like leather. Probably pretty coarse. Oh, hey, it is pretty big. Probably heavy too... it looks kinda like an elephant! It even has one of those big white-stabby things too! I wonder how it would fair in a fight with an elephant?"

Now, your right brain is always doing this. With all the sensory information coming at you 24/7, your right brain is always picking out similarities, and your left brain is always telling you what's around you. However, the thing nobody tells you about your subconscious, is that it's not inaccessible, or even underneath your conscious mind, as the term 'sub'-conscious implies. No, it's working right alongside your conscious mind, like a foreign friend. You might not understand him at times, but dammit, he's always there for you. And just like a real foreign language, you never really understand what he's saying, but you get glimpses every now and then. Your subconscious mind is the same way. It speaks an entirely different language than you do. And to get what's your little foreign friend is saying, you must learn his language, the language of metaphor.

And this is why we have animal totems, dream symbol dictionaries, and nearly everything else that is symbolic and mystical. It comes from your subconscious mind's metaphors. When you see animals, your analytical brain is saying, "Spider, legs, web, trash can, car, bug caught in web, spider attacking bug, ect.", but deeper, your subconscious is noting the similarities. The way the spider builds a trap, they way bugs are caught in the trap, the way the spider is not caught, and the way all that relates to everything else. And so, upon seeing a spider, your subconscious mind might finally cough up some useful metaphor. Your foreign friend might finally say something you can understand. And this is how we get animal totems.

I think you can piece together the rest.

For a great story about left brain/right brain stuff, see Jill Bolte Taylor give a lecture on the stroke she had.

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