Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #47 – Do We Live in a Matrix?

November 23rd, 2020

Do We Live in a Matrix?[1]

 

Edward Jay Epstein[2] gave me some food for thought, challenging whatever political worldview I may embrace based on the news. I gleaned this from an article he wrote in 1981 called “The Selection of Reality”[3] where he analyzed the various constraints, from the pressure of time to the demands of advertising, in accurately presenting the news. Here’s his conclusion:

 

“One question finally must be asked: Given these constraints, do the media present a picture of reality upon which rational men may make decisions? In spending over a year watching the three television networks collect, analyze, and present data in the form of news stories, I concluded that these pictures of reality were systematically distorted by organizational requirements.”

 

Professor Epstein’s analysis reaffirmed what I was already thinking based on studying the research of Johnathan Haidt[4], one of the most cited scholars on moral psychology, on the origin of political choices: that most people making political choices, whether left or right, make them based more on their conditioning than on sound reasoning, making them susceptible to unbalanced views that ultimately distort part of their worldview.

 

Of course, in reading this most people will say, “Not me, it’s the other side that lives in a fantasy world.” My experience is that people today on both sides of the aisle are much more prone to fall into tribal thinking than they realize. My aim here in quoting Epstein and mentioning Haidt is to reference the tendency to dogmatically embrace a particular vision of reality so that we can become more reflective on the causes of how we form our worldview. Another way to understand that is to look back on our life after a period of growth and reflect on just how distorted our view of the world was previously. In that sense, we have all been living, to some extent, in a reality distorted by our conditioning and misinformation.

 

I think this type of challenging, self-reflective thinking is important, because our decisions determine our fate, and our decisions are very much connected to how we see the world. Unfortunately, how we see the world is generally what we think the world actually is, despite the countless mistakes made based on our previous faulty perceptions that should have exposed our tendency to be illusioned. I am not discounting the validity of holding strong convictions based on śāstra and those who have realized it, but I am suggesting the need to be more open-minded towards others whose views and opinions are different than ours. Let me end by sharing a list I have personally made in my quest to avoid living in a matrix.

 

Avoiding the Matrix

  1. I pray to know the truth, regardless if it proves me wrong and diminishes my ego.
  2. Doubt is a sign of intelligence when it means we humbly want to understand things more deeply.
  3. While there are basic facts and śāstric principles that are the bedrock of my convictions, I am open to improve or nuance my understanding of these and anything else I may believe.
  4. I welcome having my convictions challenged.
  5. I always hear both sides of any issue.
  6. No matter how much I disagree with someone, let me understand why they think the way they do, and let me never forget their humanity.
  7. Even if I feel I have indeed realized or seen a truth deeply, I still lay that truth before trusted peers for confirmation.
  8. I stand to be corrected.

 

 

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion… Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them…he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”
― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

 

 


[1] I am using the word “matrix” to describe living in an alternative reality that is false, not an alternative reality that is in fact the actual reality, which I am told is how the movie uses the term. This is more consistent with the sociological meaning of the word, which is the way people unreflectively live their lives based on various cultural norms born from their environment.

[2] Edward Jay Epstein (born 1935) is an American investigative journalist and a former political science professor at Harvard, UCLA, and MIT.

[3] From What’s News: The Media in American Society (1981), edited by Elie Abel

[4] His seminal work is The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012)

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