Limiting Perceptions and Broadening Horizons
If you live in modern society I'm sure at some point in your life you've sat in a window seat of an airplane looking down at the fluffy blanket of clouds and thought to yourself, 'Wow, it's so big and flat, fluffy and soft, I wonder what it would feel like to lay down on that super-soft mattress.' Well, think about what Socrates, Lao Tsu, Confucius, Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Moses or Mohammed would have thought if they saw the same sight that we pretty much take for granted as 'normality'. Last night I watched a show on TV entitled, "Limits of Perception" that showed our newly discovered microcosms and macrocosms of life with photography from atomic force microscopes up to the Hubble telescope that looks out into the vast Universe. We can now see below the level of atom, creatures one-tenth of a millimeter long that resemble the monsters of our dreams, and thousands of galaxies grouped together in super-clusters (each galaxy containing billions of stars like our own Sun).
As I watched this show I had to wonder about the way our human society has evolved. I mean, why wasn't this show seen by every person in our world? Imagine how much ignorance and beliefs to do with why people think they are different from each other would change in an instant. We would all know that we are each made of thirty trillion cells, the same kinds of cells as everyone else, made from the same kind of energy. Wouldn't this affect the way we treated each other, knowing we are all intrinsically made of the same essence, not to mention that we all come from the same one small home in an infinite Universe of worlds? Wouldn't this help us from feeling like an isolated species, knowing that every species on Earth is made of the same elements and DNA, and that we are really not alone in space as we are actually surrounded by trillions and trillions of life creating fireball stars?
The funny thing is that I stumbled upon this TV show accidentally, unless of course you believe in destiny rather than random coincidence. TV is full of violence and crime these days, as we seem to have a real curiosity about the darker side of our natures. But the truth is there are people out there who are making TV shows like this one with really positive perspectives, isn't it strange that most people won't have known it was even on? It was shown at 11:00 p.m. at night. Have we relegated the magic of life to not-so-prime-time? It's hard to imagine what the great minds of our ancestors would have thought and done with the information that we seem to take for granted. However, maybe there is a simple reason and subsequent solution to this issue that if we implement could really have huge positive impacts on our society and environment.
Recently a friend of mine gave me an abstract from the website www.getAbstract.com from a book called "The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life" written by an economist Paul Seabright. Let me tell you that I've always been a little skeptical about economics, except for when I was ten years old and greedily dreamed of being an accountant counting other people's money and subsequently counting my own. But things changed and I started to believe that all of the degradation of our morality and environment had to do with economic policies and that greed that I knew all too well. Now I try not to look at things so black and white and realize that economics is just a natural process and although it has hurt our world when it has been abused, it has also helped humanity greatly when used responsibly. Today happiness and a high quality of life are being lived by many human beings, yet I think we still need to try and balance the scales by helping the unfortunate people to become more productive.
I've gone on a tangent as I often do in conversations but all things are connected and move in circles so I'll now come back around to the main topic. In Seabright's book he talks about "tunnel vision". Tunnel vision is how people in our world get things done. Individuals don't usually focus on the big picture; rather, they find one specific area of expertise to specialize in. When thousands and thousands of people do their small part the functions of society as a whole get completed. This is the same as all of the cells in our bodies doing their specific tasks to keep the whole machine functioning. Seabright discusses the positive and negative results of this new style of thinking (people in the past were usually more in the vein of 'Jack of all trades" having multiple skills in many areas of life). One of the great things about this tunnel vision focus that we use in our everyday life besides the obvious attainment of our social needs, is the fact that we now trust strangers more than ever before. We have faith that other people we've never actually met will do their specific job properly, as in the case when we put our own physical health in the hands of doctors when we got to the hospital.
The other side of the coin in the case of tunnel vision is the one I spoke of before. We lose the larger perspectives on life that logically bring us all together. People start to think that because they are of a certain religion, nationality, or so-called 'race' that they can't connect with others. The irony is that we all are connecting anyway even if it is unbeknownst to many. Seabright uses an excellent example of the shirt you wear on your back. "Say the cotton came from India, grown with seeds bred in the U.S.A., artificial fiber from Portugal, collar linings from Brazil, and dyes from half a dozen other countries augment the shirt, which was sewn in Malaysia on German machinery. Thus a simple shirt represents a veritable symphony of economic and industrial forces, the likes of which no one person possibly could coordinate."
So the answer to our dilemma is relatively simple. We need to implement a new perspective that is more balanced between our necessary tunnel vision that gets the job done, and a wider point of view that appreciates both the vastness and minuteness of reality. If we can connect with each other with this more balanced, informed and aware perspective, many of the conflicts and perceived differences between humans could diminish greatly. One might also predict that this new view would also bring about a global advance in consciousness and spirituality as a result of our knowledge of the 'oneness' and connectedness of all that exists in the Universe. This would also definitely affect the ways in which we respect and treat the immediate environs around us in terms of nature preservation and treatment of animals and resources.
Jesse S. Somer
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