SOMETIMES IT DOESN'T MATTER HOW SMART YOU ARE

True story.

I have this acquaintence. A professional man with a career of an intellectual nature. He thinks of himself as a thinking man, a man of science and reason, and I'm sure that on standardized tests he scores pretty well. These tests are supposed to measure the taker's ability to learn, but that ability can be dismantled so that you deliberately don't learn things that you could learn.

Myself, this acquaintence and another guy went to a Razorback game. Razorbacks won in the drizzling rain, but that's not the story. The story takes place in the car on the way to the game. He was in the passenger seat. Third man sat in the back seat. Acquaintence had a radio headphone set. He was hoping to listen to the play by play from the stands and was trying to tune in the proper station, but he couldn't get his radio to work.

I told him not to worry about it, that sometimes radios don't work in my car. As soon as he gets out of the car, his radio would work again.

He wasn't going to hear that. He proposed that there was a short in his set. Maybe the battery was old.

I told him to sit tight. I never bought a radio for my car and this is the reason. Something about my car just periodically interfere's with radio signals. I've got lots of experience trying various portable radios in the car and sometimes they just won't work.

He puts the set in the glove compartment and we drive on and the three way conversation starts to form around me believing that my car was being bombarded by beams from brain-stealing laser monkeys. There were lots of X-files references.

Mind you, all I said to start this was that sometimes radios don't work in my car.

So we find a parking space and we get out and I remind Acquaintence to take his radio. He says no, it's broken, leave it in the car. I say take it a few feet from the car and try it again. He declines. I insist. He refuses. Finally I nag him into it and it works.

It took a long time and a lot of effort to get him to try it. He felt intensely threatened by the notion of some kind of radio interference, and he STILL insisted that the problems might be due to a short circuit or an old battery.

I said great, let's test the hypothesis. Sit down in the car and try it again. He declined. I insisted. He refused. I insisted again. He refused. I tried reasoning with him, although I knew that this wasn't likely to work. It'd take ten seconds to prove one of us right and one of us wrong. Then we can go watch the game. No way. He'd have none of it. This was dumb and I was paranoid to think that secret rogue government agents were following me with black helicopters in an attempt to suck the purity of essence from my cerebral cortex.

Mind you I never proposed any cause for the phenomenon, not even secret rogue government agents following me with black helicopters, although I did say things in jest like, "Afraid to check it out? Afraid of what you might find, Scully?"

He became so anxious about it that finally I gave up and went to the game. The three of us walked to the stadium and Third Man pointed to the helicopter in the sky. "The black helicopters are coming for you," he said.

Mind you, all I put forward was that sometimes radios don't work in my car.

These two guys had come up with some well-worn paranoid delusions and attributed them to me and refused multiple times to do a ten second test that would have proven me either right or wrong. Acquaintence must have thought it very important for me to be wrong.

Arkansas won big. Acquaintence listened to the whole thing on his radio.

After the game as we approached the car I told him to check his radio before we got to the car. He didn't say anything and he didn't check his radio. When he got into the car he very quickly put his radio in the glove compartment. When I dropped him off I decided against asking him again to try the test. He became agitated and tight-jawed at the mention of the subject.

As long as we didn't do a controlled test, and we never did, he didn't have to believe what I had said. I could have been wrong but he urgently refused to find out.

Your ability to learn is limited by the questions you allow yourself to ask. If you can't bring yourself to test your reality or consider answers that make you uncomfortable, then you're limited by your paradigm. You can an IQ of 160 and still be a flat-earther if you are determined to be a flat-earther.

SECOND STORY

I have this acquaintence, oddly enough the same acquaintence in the story above. We were canoeing on the Big Maumelle River. He was a novice and it was a cool day in the winter so I decided to teach him the J-stroke.

The J-stroke is a technique for paddling your canoe from one side only. You hook your stroke like a J at the end such that the tail of the stroke flips the stern back to compensate for the tendency of the canoe to turn to the side opposite of your paddling.

So after an hour or so we switch ends and he sits in the back. That's the seat that's in control of the canoe. He mentions the cold weather and that he'll try not to get the boat full of water. That's always been a problem for him, he says. Oddly enough, that's why I taught him the J-stroke, so he wouldn't have to switch sides every other stroke and drop by drop fill the canoe with water. I suggested that he try the fancy new stroke I had jus shown him.

I guess my tone of voice must have been condescending or had otherwise struck a nerve. He told me fairly firmly to mind my own business and let him enjoy the outdoors in his own way. I should just paddle the front and let him do the steering.

I thought I'd teach him a lesson. He's about twenty pounds heaver than me, so I just moved all my stuff into the nose of the boat. Up there, my stuff would remain dry while he added water to his end teaspoon by teaspoon every time he shifted sides. In order to increase the number of times he'd have to swich his stroke, I paddled in a way that would exaggerate the normal meander of a canoe. I hoped that this would illustrate the value of learning the J-stroke.

After a couple of hours my stuff was dry. His stuff was wet. The educational plan went perfectly and I don't think he learned a thing. I'm not exactly sure what was blinding him; but he was deliberately, if unconsciously, deciding not to learn the thing that I was trying to teach him, despite the obvious and immediate value of keeping one's gear dry in the winter.

THIRD STORY

Same acquaintence. Same canoe. Buffalo River. Summertime. I'm in the stern, he's in the bow. I'm fishing as we're drifting down a pool. There's a stump on the left side and we're drifting toward it. I point this out to Acquaintence and he's going to try to guide the canoe around the stump.

You already know what happened. I wouldn't be telling this story if he hadn't paddled us right into it.

He had learned canoeing at summer camp when he was a kid, and he was taught to paddle on the left if you want to go right and vice versa. I suppose in his mind he "knew" the rules of canoe navigation, predigested and simplified into two equal, opposite, inviolate and universal principles.

The thing he had not learned as a child was that the guy paddling in the front isn't steering at all if he just strokes straight down the gunwales. So he paddled urgently on the right and then more urgently on the left and then froze for a second or two as the bow of the canoe slowly rammed the stump. I had a good laugh trying to imagine how his face must have looked as he thought the laws of physics had been suspended just to play this joke on him. He said, "I paddled on the left. I paddled on the right. What else could I do?"

Without telling him the names of the strokes I showed him a draw and a pry and then I showed him the "Arkansas Solution" where the canoeist pushes off on the stump with the paddle.

I guess that's what they call thinking inside the box. People learn up until the point where they think they know the subject matter and then they pinch it off into a self-contained conceptual sausage. It probably looks like I'm picking on this one guy, but it just happens that I have three good examples of common brain derailments from this one source. He's really not much more of a dope than the rest of us, and if you think you're not doing this kind of thing, think again.

All three stories have in common a deliberate, selective blindness. The subject is unaware that any fault exists and seems deliberately to avoid any course that would expose or correct that fault. I see this happening all day every day, everywhere I look. I've never met anybody who didn't do it. I have to assume I'm doing it, too.

If you've ever spent time around a creative genius, there's a trait that sets him apart. These guys will lose their keys, find them again, and then keep looking. They will examine questions long after they have found the answer. They want as many solutions as possible. Most people looking for a solution will take the FIRST answer that works and decide that's THE answer and then they'll stop looking for the answer and move on. This is one of the things that makes religions so popular. A book full of answers is a big time saver in life.

RTJ--01/10/2005


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