Edges form definitions

There’s a visual example about perspective and perception that is often used on a number of cognitive science books to demonstrate how easy it is for the brain to trick itself. I’ll show it to you:

edges      Here’s the simply question: which line is longer?

Now, many of you may already be familiar with this. That’s okay. You know that the lines are the same size. But, be honest, your brain is telling you that obviously the line above is longer. That cognitive dissonance is irresolvable; the difference between what you know and what you know (you may choose which is the rational and which is the intuitive, the choice is immaterial) is the only thing reliable in this.  Just the difference itself.

Or maybe that statement of the choice being immaterial is a lie. Perhaps the one you choose to put the emphasis of “know” on (what you know versus what you know), either the rational or the intuitive says something important about you. Perhaps it says what type of intelligence you value more. Perhaps it says something about how you see yourself.

Well, look at that, the edges have formed the definition.

Space without a border is infinite. The “corners” of our Earth give us a boundary to stay within and to step without. The markers which form country borders, state lines, neighbourhood demarcations, and the corners of our streets – those tell us where we are (or are not).

Why should it be any different when it comes to how we define ourselves as people and how we relate to others and how our society is shaped?

We all occupy many “spaces” at once: I am part of this family, I am part of this gender, I am part of this race, I am part of this company, industry, nation, sexuality, language group, educational class, socioeconomic level ad infinitum (ha! pun intended, for spaces are infinite). As a society we struggle with the reality of that: we don’t like to believe that we are all so different.

But we are, and we need to get comfortable with that. Let me tell you why.

Because if we don’t know or acknowledge the extremes to which we will go (yours may be Doctor Who, mine may be a predilection for hazing, and someone else with an incurable itch for the white powder), then we know not what crevasses we must traverse to really open up to other people. Certain circles and spaces are never to meet, and that’s okay. They aren’t meant to come together.

However, if you know what you must do to get over to the other side, then we can decide if it’s worth it (your love of the fifth Doctor meets my fraternity paddle – can we make it work?). But let’s all stop the pretending. Perception is a reality that is real and can be managed (and reality is a perception that can be maintained).

Get off the fence.


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