Pick a side
Is the following statement true or false: “I am a liar. I always lie.”
If this is true then I am not a liar, so it must be false. If it’s false, then I am a liar, so it must be true. What!
Confused? Then welcome to a paradox and the left side of your brain.
Strange things happen here on the left side of the brain. It gets bogged down with a paradox for one thing. It just doesn’t like ambiguity. The trouble is that people today are spending too much of their time in the left side of the brain and this is a problem.
The brain is split into two distinct parts: the left and right hemisphere. The right hemisphere lives in the real world; finding patterns, seeing the whole picture, not caring about grey areas of thinking (like a paradox), having empathy. The left hemisphere lives in a world that that it creates from data given to it by the right side. It’s not the real world, but re-presentation of it. Our beliefs, opinions, judgments are stored there, black and white, clinical.
Over the last few hundred years there have been periods where one hemisphere has dominated over the other. During “The Enlightenment” (18th Century), the left hemisphere dominated. The birth of science and the analytical way of looking at everything. It even had an influence on portraits. People were painted facing left, showing their right side (controlled by the left hemisphere).
This moved onto the “The Romantic” era (19th Century) where the right hemisphere dominated. This is the era of love and poetry and all things that cannot be organised or put into a pigeonhole. The real, live world.
If you look around you, it is not hard to work out which side is in charge now. We have Google Assist, Alexa, smartphones and smart TVs to control the world we live in. We have an utter belief that all problems have an answer. All human behaviour can be solved with a formula or model.
Things are no longer alive to us, but re-presented in their iconic, unreal form. We use dating apps to find our ‘perfect partner’, matching them to us with just a few questions. We want to model all human existence, thinking that we will eventually crack the code if we just dig deep enough. We even swap real grass in our garden for fake, as it is easier to maintain. We think we can measure and control everything just as we can with the speed and cadence of a pendulum.
What we forget is that we are human; living things that refuse to be (completely) pigeonholed. We may think that this model will work out when a person will go and buy that pizza or car or holiday, but by using this model on people we are adding another pendulum onto the bottom of the first one. What we once thought was predictable, feeds back on itself and turns to chaos.
Build predictive models, see what they suggest, but don’t think they are immutable or the answer to human existence. The answer to the question “I am a liar” is, maybe.