Endless caves


I’m exploring issues. Across the myriad of issues that I’m exploring, one thing remains constant:

Everything is more complex than it first appears.

I start to explore, I enter the cave. I read things. I talk to people. What I am reading and what I hear is a narrative and, by definition, a simplification. We each create boxes and stereotypes and develop strawmen, models and theories, all underpinned by assumptions. We take out the noise to highlight a specific observation or relationship and to tell a story. At our worst we create a simple (even compelling) narrative that supports our desired course of action and then fit selective facts to defend this narrative, sometimes knowing that there are competing facts that we are leaving out. At our worst, we lobby, spin and market.

Sometimes I stop at the cave mouth. Sometimes, I do not have the capacity to get further. I read “fat is bad for you” and indulge in fat-free but sugar-laden snacks. I trust the headlines, I believe what I am told. I cannot explore all the caves, not at once. At our worst, we know that most people do not have the capacity to go deep into the cave, and we exploit this. At our worst we act with this shallow knowledge, blind to the unintended consequences.

Sometimes I get deeper. I scrape away a layer thinking I know something, but I am left with patterns that are even more intricate, connected and counterintuitive, and I realise that I am left with more layers. I get to the limits of my capacity to absorb and understand. Always more layers. At our worst, we ignore the patterns and we don’t tell others of complexity, the questions we have and the challenges we see. We create systems that force each person to ignore his or her doubts and shout loudly from the rooftops of what they have seen in the cave.

I get deeper, but I can only delve so far into the cave. At some point, I realise my brains are puny, I do not have the tools and I am hungry and/or bored. I cannot cope with the complexity, with the depth, with the interconnectedness. I cannot get further in the Quantum Loop Gravity cave without mathematics and a mind that can see things that mine cannot. I cannot get further in understanding my biases without better tools for self-exploration. At our worst, we don’t want people to know that there is further to go. At our worst we want the world to stop and listen.

At this maximum depth, I am devoured by a sense of fallibility and wonder. I am surprised by how much complexity there is, even in the seemingly simple. Every cave is a black hole, an endless sea of ideas that can drown time. At my worst, I find it hard to act. I am paralysed by how much there is to know, and so I remain still as others dance around me.

Everything is more complex than it appears. Everything is an endless cave. My question to myself is how I can make my peace with this and get some shit done.

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