Posted by: dannyjwkim | October 22, 2007

“Platonic” relationship?

Remember back in high school or middle school when people would become boyfriends/girlfriends with one another only for the “relationship” to end in about a week or so. Then you judged the parties involved (because of course you yourself were never that dumb) for their idiocy and eventually learned to never take much stock in whatever romantic escapade they found themselves in next.

Well, feel free to judge me because I fell into that very sophomoric situation and she’s the only thing that has been on my mind over the past week, but all is well because my head has cleared and I am publicly declaring a formal end to my relationship with her.

I found out that she’s been whoring herself around the entire internet causing shakiness in relationships that were otherwise doing just fine until she came along with her voluptuous self.

“She’s spinning clockwise!!! I don’t see how she could be spinning any other way.”

“What?! Are you out of your mind?!?! She’s spinning counter-clockwise.”

“You guys are both nuts, this thing is a trick. She obviously switches directions every 10 seconds or so.”

All right, now that I’ve Simpsonsed you with a lead-in that has nothing to do with what this episode is actually about, I do mean it when I say that the spinning dancer really has taught/reminded me of a valuable lesson on perception and how people can be so passionately and sincerely right and wrong all at the same glorious time. (or should I say “right-ish” and “wrong-ish”?)

This optical illusion was initially released a couple of weeks ago as a purported test for right-brain/left-brain tendencies. It’s not. Or at least it’s not that simple. I’ve asked a bunch of people who are conventionally left-brained and right-brained and there seems to be no worthwhile correlation. But because it was presented as such, people are willing to buy into the validity of the test and then will come up with an explanation as to why they are seeing it the way they are.

It was referenced in the NYTimes Freakanomics blog section and here is just one comment that beautifully incites what I’m getting at:

“The light in the picture is brightest at the bottom middle, just in front of the dancer. Using this and the shadow pattern, you can infer that the light source is behind the dancer. Keeping this in mind, watch the shadow pattern. If the dancer was actually in three dimensions, she would be moving counter clockwise. Maybe this is why science and engineering types see it CCW. We see the picture and imagine it as it would be if it was real. Anything else is .. illogical?”

I don’t care about the specific argument he is making, but I’m fascinated that he’s making it at all. Think about all the “trouble” he’s going through to subtly affirm why his way of seeing it is “better”. He is fully accepting of the possibility of the other side’s viewpoint, but he just happens to think that a clockwise spin is more logical, or more “true”.

We do this ALL THE TIME. We are so good at being “polite” or “respectful” but we always find ways to slip in thoughts/comments about why we are the ones who are “really” right.

Now, much of how I want to connect the Dancer and perception has already been mostly said by at least one person here, so instead of forcing me to plagiarize please just read that first before continuing on.

Did you read or at least skim it?

Suffice it to say – people will always overestimate how right they think they are. And it is amazing just how far they are willing to go to convince others of their side and then allow for non-essentials to get mixed in with clear thinking so as to muddle the general journey towards truth. One can only understand truth to the point that their very experience and perception allows it. Some people will see the dancer as spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise and can’t see it any other way even while fully recognizing that it is possible to see it the other way. And for those people I offer this lifesaver.

When you break it down frame by frame you’ll see that you can visually toggle between both directions if you force yourself to look at it from the other’s point of view. If you naturally see the dancer going clockwise then the raised leg will be her right leg. So, instead choose to see her raised leg as her left leg and then follow that left leg as it goes in a counter-clockwise direction in slow-motion.

At full speed you might still only see the dancer spinning in a clockwise direction but at least you are better off having gone through the experience of the counter-clockwisers.

So here is what I propose – instead of always passionately looking for more reasons for why you are right, if you could fight just as ferociously to figure out why the other person thinks they are right I bet eventually you’ll be able to look at something in enough of a “frame by frame” manner to at least begin to see why the other person thinks what they think.

And isn’t that a better place to start a dialogue? Won’t that be better for a more complete truth that allows for nuance and real dialogue BETWEEN people versus people merely talking AT one another.

Now with all that said, I offer a disclaimer by way of explaining my username. Asimptote is supposed to invoke the calculus image of a curved line that is approaching another line but never quite reaching it. And that is exactly how I envision our endeavor to be at this blog. Even though we can all be subjectively “right” I do believe that we all have an obligation to grow in how “right” we are and hope to approach truth without being discouraged by the fact that we’ll never reach an actual platonic truth line.

So how do I reconcile the image of asymptotic lines and “merging lanes”? None needs to happen. I believe both images can inform and highlight what we’re doing here. Thus “both/and”, not “either/or”.

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Responses

  1. random question… probably not having anything to do with your post… but why is one of your tags obama?

  2. Bravo. I don’t want to be a pundit for any one perspective, although I find myself most comfortable in being one. So much for loving tension.

    I cannot help but make this a relevant prophetic statement in regards to my personal journey towards and understanding of truth/Truth and the global perspective of truth/Truth.

    True faithfulness as is marked by a postmodern worldview implies the very thing you ask: an embracing of different truths of the VERY SAME THING! in the end, it’s all the same thing we look at. Now I’m not advocating religious pluralism in that all religions are salvific. I cannot come to believe in religious pluralism. That is a truth that I wish to uphold in my life.

    But what I’m drawing from your post is the embrace of local contextual understandings same thing throughout the world, which to me personally, is the power and love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, son of God, God the son, and Savior of the world.

    Thank you for this prophetic post.

  3. to worinld, i tagged obama because of the linked reader’s article to andrew sullivan’s website. my contention is that obama most authentically understands that on any given issue a both/and ambiguity might have to be assumed rather than the oversimplified dichotomies of “either/or” or “us vs. them”.

    i really believe that he is the one who is most able to genuinely respect the perspective of the “other” and then build a consensus from that intellectual empathy to actually get things done.

    the recent comments that went back and forth on our very own blog all too illustrates what typically happens between two sides who just think that the other side has zero merit.

    most of the time, no one is ever willfully being useless. the harder work is to try to understand how the heck the “other” can be so moronic instead of just calling them a moron and dismissing them. but i’ll also admit that one must pick their battles.

  4. True that asimptote. I recently met a Wing Tsun champion who could probably say a few words about this. Wing Tsun is a martial arts form developed by women that uses simple, fluid movements to leverage an attacker in close combat. One of the main techniques used in Wing Tsun is “softness,” or, not allowing yourself to get tense as you fight, because rigidity limits punching speed, wastes energy and provides your enemy with a tense limb to grab onto and push or pull with.

    Likewise, when we approach rhetorical arguments with a close-minded, rigid perspective, we limit the extent of our dialogue and open ourselves up to a righteous ass-whipping.

  5. I have two points. They are twisting my own brain even as I write them, so please brace yourself a little. I apologize if what follows is inarticulate.

    1. One thing that’s interesting is the entire idea of looking at the image of a girl spinning to begin with, and the optical illusion that it entails.

    Someone made that picture. That girl doesn’t actually exist. It’s the creation of a person who sought to boggle our minds, and boggle them it has.

    In the same way, I’d say that in some areas, pluralistic views on what is real exists almost entirely in the “second order”. In the epistemology that constitutes politics, philosophy, and other human reflections, there IS no singular truth to begin with. The subject matter is the product of human opinion. That’s why I agree that Obama is special: he understands the reality of a democratic plurality that has no authoritative right or wrong.

    So that’s ONE thing: the dancer represents a creative meeting point where a diversity of views, none of which are absolutely correct (or even a little more correct than the other). Embracing another’s view is vital here, as noted in the comments above, otherwise we run the risk of maintaining stunted views and ultimately, willfully clinging to ignorance.

    2. But a separate and distinct point is when there IS an underlying truth to the diverging point. These are areas like science, and for me, theology.

    Say the illusion-maker did not create the illusion as a fiction, but asked a graceful dancer to come into his nerdy computer cubicle and spin around for a while so he could capture her movements. Even though our perception of the abstraction could go either way, the actual girl on which this illusion was based… she was REALLY spinning one way or the other.

    In THIS situation, where there IS a first-order actual truth that is obscured by a plurality of perceptions, the question might become not a matter of “living in tension”, but an argument whose perception more accurately approximates the underlying TRUTH of what’s going on. And in the 21st century, while still shaking off the artifacts of modernity and the exaltation of reason, we’re confronted with the question of the rules of the game. Should we use foundationalist, constructionist thinking to lay out proofs of what is? If not, then what? Consensus? The consensus in the world for the vast majority of human history was that the world was not round but flat. Consensus can certainly be wrong.

    So how do we proceed?

    My very uncomfortable answer: I don’t know, and I’m not sure I care. In this situation, where there is an underlying truth as opposed to a matter of opinion, I’m not sure that the “rules” change at all.

    The phenomenon of diverging perception, whether girded by the underpinnings of fact or whether the product of human thought, REQUIRES embracing the views of others in either event.

    ________________

    (jeez it’s getting long, considering it’s just a comment, so i thought i’d put a divider in there)

    I remember a dialog with John Franke in his Christian Faith I class at Biblical about millennialism. He noted that in the era when Christians faced tough times and persecution, premillennialism was more prevalent, and it was a theology that helped those generations of Christians engage with the reality of God. “Jesus needed to return in order to establish the Kingdom”, they cried, because the Christian world seemed so hopeless. They’d endure their persecution in the hope of the next Coming.

    But later, during the Christian Empire and the establishment of Christianity’s Golden Age, postmillennialism became a prevalent view. “Jesus will enter the Kingdom His Body built”, they would proclaim, because the Christian world was accomplishing and creating great influence. They find great meaning in their Kingdom building because they worked with the conviction that the Kingdom was here and now.

    I asked Franke: wait one second. I see what you’re saying about the different perceptions on a doctrine, and I even believe you when you say that the Holy Spirit might be divinely inspiring those doctrines to encourage the church at different points in history. But at the end of the world, isn’t it going to be one or the other? Isn’t Jesus going to either come to establish the millennium, or to crown it? Assuming we’re not amillennialist altogether, one day in the future, the books will record that event in history as PRE or POST the millennium. Doesn’t that matter?

    I don’t remember his answer (haha), but I’ve come to learn that the redemption of human history at every stage involves a shifting of perceptions, and that more often than not, while there might be absolute facts out there, they are not accessible to us outside of our individual contexts.

    And so as this post encourages, and the comments as well, understanding the other’s view helps us appreciate the marvel of that illusion. And even in the situation where the illusion is based in fact, we can appreciate the complexity of the illusion by seeing it from different perspectives.

    So when there is truth at stake, and not only the diversity of opinion, understanding “truth” from a wealth of perspectives enables us to engage more closely with that truth. There is no “view from nowhere”; every view is from within a context. Therefore, while pure objectivity is out of our reach, one way to better grasp infinitely complex truths is to understand it from as many contexts as possible, to put ourselves in as many shoes as possible.

    If you’ve made it this far into my comment, I congratulate you. You’ve won a free cup of coffee, the next time I see you. Sorry for the overkill.

  6. before i comment, i just quickly want to apologize for provoking the debate referenced by asimptote, and i realize that this post has more than a little to do with what went on in the last post. i think i’ve learned a lesson and i’ll just leave it at that.

    given the context of this post though, i will say that i think there’s still a duality here. i think we (the people that have posted so far) all agree that we need other viewpoints in order to come closer to the truth. i’m thinking of an asimptote, the limit of x as x approaches infinity… maybe it’s some value y. y is the Truth that we all know we can’t attain, but we can approach the farther we go along x. so as we get more viewpoints and dialogue in a healthy way, we trod along x and happily approach a greater truth. yay.

    so the duality is: we are either at point y or we are not at point y. given the nature of an asimptote, we can’t both be at a point and forever be approaching some point at the same time. so a problem arises when people disagree with that premise or make claims that contradict it. maybe i’m taking this asimptote thing too far… but from my understanding of the post, the limit illustration best encapsulates the overall point (for me).

    i think ana, you address the duality “problem” in a pretty clever way… from what i understand (and please correct me if i’m wrong), you’re saying that we can appreciate any perspective, whether claiming truth or Truth or not, because we stand on ground that claims an overarching truth… that is, that premise that nobody can approach the Truth. even people who believe they have attained the Truth are subject to the properties of the asimptote, and their views are disconnected from themselves and perceived as “the views of someone who thinks he/she is at point y”.

    but then a problem i see is that it seems you’re still essentially throwing out their views if the views hinge on their claim on truth. if someone pleads, “i know the truth! i know you don’t think i know the truth, but i do!” should we in turn reply, in our minds, “it is fascinating for someone to insist that he or she knows the truth. i’ll keep that in mind.” this is an honest question.

    is this limit as we approach infinity, processing viewpoint after viewpoint, a Truth in itself? can we draw a line that divides those who are on the asimptote and those who are not? can i not say, precariously or boldly, “you really are on the asimptote”? if not… is there a higher truth? i guess these are my questions.

  7. Fascinating site, everyone. That picture really irritates me. I think I want to be smart enough to be able to see it both ways, and it’s frustrating when you can’t.

    The reason I became a religious studies major in college years ago was because I knew what I believed, and I believed very strongly, and yet other people believed differently, and still as strongly as I did. I wanted to understand why and how that could all work.

    Somewhere in the process of all of that I suppose I’ve become labeled as liberal or dangerous or heretical or just naive, but I do think it’s a process. And I don’t think we have to have it figured out completely before we can begin to talk about the process and what it looks like, either.

  8. Jason: thanks for stopping by. Good comment.

    Chris: let me address your thoughts one by one. All of them are good points.

    so the duality is: we are either at point y or we are not at point y. given the nature of an asimptote, we can’t both be at a point and forever be approaching some point at the same time. so a problem arises when people disagree with that premise or make claims that contradict it. maybe i’m taking this asimptote thing too far… but from my understanding of the post, the limit illustration best encapsulates the overall point (for me).

    For me, the decision to be “open-minded” in investigating a diversity of thinking inherently cannot be UNIVERSALLY so, for the very reason that you articulate. There will be someone who does not even want to enter that conversation. When that premise is absent, the premise of subjectivity, then a dialog actually cannot commence. Not because people are not being deferential enough, but simply because premises are required to have meaningful conversations. I can’t talk to someone about advanced differential equations if we can’t agree on the transitive property (if a=b then b=a) or that the sum of two and two is four. It is completely impossible.

    i think ana, you address the duality “problem” in a pretty clever way… from what i understand (and please correct me if i’m wrong), you’re saying that we can appreciate any perspective, whether claiming truth or Truth or not, because we stand on ground that claims an overarching truth… that is, that premise that nobody can approach the Truth. even people who believe they have attained the Truth are subject to the properties of the asimptote, and their views are disconnected from themselves and perceived as “the views of someone who thinks he/she is at point y”.

    This is essentially correct, but I think the belief and the reasoning have to be differentiated. For instance, I believe in my personal faith. I believe it so much that even though there are hundreds of other faiths out there of which I don’t even have any knowledge, I still believe my faith is right, not just for me but for the world.

    How can I believe that and still claim to be constrained to my context? Because the workings of that belief rest on the premises of subjectivity. I can believe in what’s universally true without having universal experience.

    But the lack of universal experience causes me to be humble in my belief, knowing that it is in fact belief and not a matter of logical proof. I do not appeal to a higher, objective, “view from nowhere” truth when I consider my own beliefs. But that does not prevent me from believing them to be absolutely true.

    I’d even go so far as to say that there’s a difference between “absolute” truth and “objective” truth. Razor thin line, perhaps.

    but then a problem i see is that it seems you’re still essentially throwing out their views if the views hinge on their claim on truth. if someone pleads, “i know the truth! i know you don’t think i know the truth, but i do!” should we in turn reply, in our minds, “it is fascinating for someone to insist that he or she knows the truth. i’ll keep that in mind.” this is an honest question.

    Such a response sounds arrogant, and would in fact be arrogant. But I think the right response would be, “I too have some concept of truth. Let’s see where they differ. You absolutely do not need to validate my truth; you can believe I’m totally wrong, and I you likewise. But the exercise of putting ourselves completely in the other person’s shoes, rather than interpreting the other’s perspective only from within the lens of our own, is one that will either add dimensions to our already existing concept of truth, or reaffirm our own exclusive truths.”

    is this limit as we approach infinity, processing viewpoint after viewpoint, a Truth in itself? can we draw a line that divides those who are on the asimptote and those who are not? can i not say, precariously or boldly, “you really are on the asimptote”? if not… is there a higher truth? i guess these are my questions.

    I don’t believe that we can declare onto another person whether or not they are on an asimptote, not under my concept of subjectivity coloring everything and anything. But I believe that though it may look very different, we can RECOGNIZE “truth” in someone else. Two people will know that they love one another, even if their reference points and definitions of love are interpreted radically differently, transmitted and received in distinct personalities. Personality X still recognizes love from Personality Y, even if that understanding is hazy. And wouldn’t you know it, when Personality X and Personality Y begin to get to know each other with total humility, they begin to better appreciate that yes, the other person does in fact have love for them.

    To go back to the analogy, consider an asimptote in three dimensions, not only the x-y plane. Let’s say there is, in fact, a line of x=2 and y=2. Perhaps that truth is actually an entire plane of truth, and the asimptotes are not planar but still linear. Therefore, there is an infinity of asimptotes that are approximating the x=2 and y=2 plane.

    Does that make Truth too big? Should Truth only have a single value and not be a complete plane of possibilities, a defined but infinite plane? Is it impossible to believe that we all might encounter that plane at different areas, recognize others on the same plane as us but not at all be in the same points in space?

    The somewhat postmodern (but also intuitively correct) response would be that perhaps truth is not a single melody, but rather a symphony with rich harmony and combination.

  9. Folks, I just wanted to say thanks for writing — it’s good to read and know there are others that are as crazy as I am.

    Also, though my account will tell you that my blog is here at wordpress, after a year of using it I’ve grown tired of it and decided to move to Blogger (shhhhh). I’ve kept my wordpress blog (which some of you have even commented on) for writing about everyday, simple things.

    But for the stuff that aligns more with what you all are writing here, you should check http://kidwonder.blogspot.com — I expect comments and discussions on both of our sites. 😉

    Thanks again, and keep writing!

  10. Hey, I thought you all might like to see this hack. It lifted a huge burden from my shoulders.

    http://ofb.net/~whuang/imgs/spin/

  11. lol. is it bad if i see the counterclockwise girl as spinning clockwise? =P


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