One of my all time favorite experiments dealt with visual perception. I’m recalling this from memory of a book I read long ago, but maybe someone can let me know the original source. In this experiment scientists raised two batches of kittens in different controlled environments. Half the kittens were raised in a room with no vertical lines and the other half brought up in a place with no horizontal lines. After six months they let the kittens out into the normal world. The kittens who were raised without horizontal lines would not jump up onto a flat chair seat or shelves, and kittens raised without vertical lines would walk into chair legs.
When I read this I wondered what was missing from my vision because of my limited upbringing. This current election makes me think of that experiment, because the Republicans are shouting at the Democrats, “Hey, Liberals, can’t you see the vertical lines, they’re right in front of your face!” And the Democrats are yelling back, “Dudes, can’t you see those horizontal surfaces, they’re right there!”
Global warming deniers are making me wonder if there’s two different species of human beings living side by side. Their absolute refusal to see the problem is so adamant that I have to wonder if it’s a matter of failed perception. I don’t know what to say to them. They clutch their false out-of-date data like it was handed down from God on stone tablets and they refuse to look at any new data because they think it’s from false prophets. No matter how much information I’m willing to provide, they deny that it’s valid or that it really exists. They are like the kittens raised without vertical lines that can’t see chair legs.
But the implications are far greater than this. The division of the two species divide other issues like politics and religion. How can we as a nation solve our problems, especially big problems, if we’re always polarized? I wonder if the deniers have an innate sense of the cat in the quantum box, knowing at an unconscious level that as long as they don’t look inside the box the cat will be okay? Will a global warming denier even understand what I just said?
To me the issue has gone beyond global warming. I’m starting to worry that there is an even more dangerous problem than climate change, and that’s this division of perception that polarizes the population. Is it like a law-of-nature barrier that keeps anything from going faster than light. What if the average intelligence of the human race limits how far we can progress as a species? We’re seeing more and more big problems that will require us to work cooperatively if civilization is to survive, but we’ve reach a total impasse on communication, refusing to do anything because we can’t agree.
Let’s avoid the global warming issue for the moment since it’s such a touchy issue. Many of the climate change deniers scoff at climate predictions because various scientists have made predictions in the past that have apparently turned out not to be true. Or appeared that way for awhile. Two books, The Population Bomb (1968) and The Limits of Growth (1972) are often used as examples of failed predictions. The trouble is, these deniers didn’t wait long enough to give the forecasts time to unfold.
Forty years later, many people think the world is just fine with 6.7 billion people and figure we can grow much larger, and they don’t think our rich lifestyles show any limits. Perception is everything, but we’re on a roller coaster that’s climbing to the peak of the Kingka Ka, because we haven’t started the blazing ride down yet. Now that China and India have taken up our American consumer habits, and resources are starting to be fought over, and hundreds of little stories tell me that The Limits of Growth is about to come online, I’m getting the feeling that we’ll arrive at the peak of the climb soon. Hold on for the ride down.
The people with rose colored corneas, obviously don’t watch a lot of documentaries, or keep up with diverse science magazines. Conservative news shows tend to focus on the same old tired issues while ignoring the little stories that shows a whole lot of different barometers are all falling. It’s funny that millions welcome the Christian apocalypse, but can’t see the world possibly ending in some other way. The trouble is, the world doesn’t end, we just end up in a big mess that we’ve got to clean up.
It worries me that so many people enjoy the end-of-days stories that are so popular. Why is it so easy to believe that an imaginary superior being will destroy us, but so hard to believe that we can destroy ourselves through pursuing those same old seven deadly sins that that same superior being warned us against? You can not drive a SUV through the eye of a needle to get to your destination.
Maybe it’s a matter of language, and science is not the language to use to communicate across the gap that divides us. I’ve been listening to the Bible this past year, on my iPod. I know it’s an odd thing for an atheist to do, but I consider it learning a language. I find it fascinating that all the things that the New Testament teaches are the things we need to do to change ourselves to avoid problems like global warming, over population and dwindling resources.
I have been thinking for days on how to reply to global warming deniers, and it is now occurring to me that I can’t recommend studying science. That isn’t their language. My reply to them is to buy an iPod and get a good audio edition of the Bible and really listen to it. Listening is far superior to reading, and start at the beginning. Pay attention to what’s happening chapter by chapter. I know you conservatives don’t like the word “evolution” but the Bible shows an evolution of spirit. Pay particular attention to the transition between the Old and New Testament. Fundamental thinking is based in Old Testament philosophy. It teaches about nation building. The New Testament teaches about soul building. For the people of the Earth to survive climate change will require a lot of soul building.
It is my belief that climate change deniers are worried that changing the world requires changing themselves, and they just don’t want to change.