Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Problems with solidification

Why plugging all your cracks with drywall mud may be the wrong kind of sealing ordinance

Sitting down after spending a few hours mudding my drywall, I found a few minutes to again pick up Stages of Faith. While fairly tangential, a short passage got me thinking back to how as children we seem quite adept at accepting answers that can only be partially understood, and only partially comprehended. Perhaps it was just me, but at four, when asking why the sky was blue, Rayleigh scattering seems something one needs to file away for future use. However, while specifics of an answer may be unintelligible, I suspect that such things just "keep the doors open" until background connections are able to mesh with the perceived depth of response.

From page 132 in Stages of Faith, quoting Bettelheim,
A young child's mind contains a rapidly expanding collection of often ill assorted and only partially integrated impressions: some correctly seen aspects of reality, but many more elements completely dominated by fantasy.

Like Fowler, I suspect that children's fantasy may have a much closer correlation to reality than some superficial judgments may imply. After all, how accurate can answers be when the thought process is not only completely novel, but the language available is vague and imprecise. For those who have dived into a foreign language, imagine trying to explain a novel discovery without access to mental translations and without pauses or breaks. With unformed schemas and fewer rote connections to draw on, when pressed for answers, fantasical ideas may, in large part, be the result of badly described and poorly sorted reality. I still remember how confused I would get when I couldn't call all grown adults daddy. Looking back the idea of subsets was probably what baffled me.

Ruminations aside, I wonder if our youthful ability to deal with and file vague concepts is more of a positive than a negative. It certainly seems to correspond to periods of great growth and change. World outlooks can change on a dime, and processing routines seem better able to reconnect to new ideas. When one thinks about it, having so many concepts in limbo, waiting as it were for filing, such conditions of flexibility are required. Of course as we age, standard procedures become more refined, and thought patterns coalesce. While this is obviously very beneficial, I wonder if one can run into problems assuming that complete concretization is appropriate. In other words solidifying our view of reality towards those things on our current experience, while useful at the moment, may be limiting. This would mainly be contingent upon future change. Of course, the type of change required seems dependent upon some other things as well.

1. The solidification towards absolutes is difficult to undue. From a mormon perspective, (alma 34:34) the influence our physicality has on us, may be hard to undo without it. In one of my last posts I was trying to get at the same idea from more of a cognitive stance.
2. Change may involve alternate ways of looking at present constructs. I suspect if we were to encounter something completely novel, we wouldn't have a hard time reorganizing ways to deal with it. If however, things are only visible from more open perspectives, the more ingrained our outlook becomes, the less likely we are to see novelty.
3. Maintaining an ability to deal with vagueness implies that absolutes may be functionally impossible, or at least well out of reach. (this isn't to say that some absolutes don't exist, gravity for example, only that the world around us, including personal interactions, can't be broken down into a summation of absolutes)

These points seem quite feasible in mormon theology, or at least my version of it. The ups and downs of the scriptures make absolutism a hard case to argue. Post mortal progression and growth seems to imply an ever changing environment. While we like to think of this life as a short step away from final judgment, it may be a bit presumptuous to think we are at the final rung of progression. If this isn't the case, this life may be much more preparatory than judgmental. The divine use of religion as a source of tension and re-evaluation instead of a source of absolutes and scientific knowledge implies that a discovery of absolutes is less important than maintaining flexibility (well that is one possibility at least). Perhaps Jesus' injunction to be humble like little children means more than we think. Perhaps there is also a reason why religion encourages tension. We like to turn everything into a rut that leads to definitiy when it perhaps we should be following a path that leads to an unexpected type of divinity.

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