In blog comments, and in live discussions, I have noticed at times that some people seem to completely miss what I say. They respond to things I never uttered and seem to assign motives and feelings of which I have given no indication. I used to think this was just the rude and/or dim-witted behavior of someone who could not see past their own opinions, but I have come to think that there is more at play here.
I have an idea that people tend to fall into one of two primary modes of thinking: digital or analog. Digital and analog are two ways of moving electricity. If you think of it in terms of light switches, digital is a typical switch. It has two positions- on or off. Analog is like a dimmer dial; it can be either on or off, but it can also be turned to any level of light or darkness in between.
Whether we tend to be a digital or analog thinker affects how we interpret events. If an event happens that is vague, or has multiple perspectives, the analog person is able to see and understand the various gradients in the situation. However, the digital person must push the event to one side or the other. Since there is no in-between for the digital thinker, the distance to either polarity must be accounted for, and this is where distortions begin to form. The more committed the digital person is to a certain position being true, the greater the potential for distortion. If the event is closer to "off", but the digital thinker needs it to be "on", then more distance must be made up, and the perception is further skewed.
This is why I believe some debates can get so heated. If two digitals are discussing an event, and they are on the same side, there is no issue. If two analogs are discussing an event, even the most oppositional views can maintain a civil tone because the two analogs can more accurately perceive and address the other's viewpoint, even when disagreeing.
However, when digital and analog thinkers mix, there is great potential for sparks to fly. The analog thinker becomes frustrated because he feels he is not being heard. The digital thinker is frustrated because he cannot accept or understand any perspective that is not at the pole where he presently resides. Each tries in vain to get the other to see their view. The analog cannot accept the digital person's perspective because they feel it is not a true representation. The digital cannot accept the analog's perspective because that perspective between the poles cannot exist, so the analog must be pushed to the "wrong" side.
I think one of my favorite scenes from MASH can illustrate my point. In this scene, Hawkeye and BJ have drugged an overly aggressive combat Colonel to give him gastritis symptoms. By keeping him out of the fighting for a few days, they hope to save some kids that the colonel is taking into a losing battle. However, when Hawkeye finds out that the Colonel would lose his battalion altogether if he were out of combat for over 2 weeks, he decides to up the ante' and take out the Colonel's appendix.
BJ: What the hell do you think you're doing?
Hawkeye: I'm taking out that guy's appendix in there. Ya gonna get into your whites or what?
BJ: You're talking about removing a healthy organ!
Hawkeye: No, I figure his appendix is about as sick as his mind.
BJ: Doctors aren't supposed to take bodies apart, they're supposed to put them together.
Hawkeye: Why? So guys like that can take them apart again? You heard him, he's gonna take those kids up that hill tomorrow and send them back to us in pieces.
BJ: That man is crazy, but that doesn't make this right. Some things are wrong and they are always wrong!
Hawkeye: Fine, its wrong! But there are going to be a hundred boys still alive tomorrow. Go tell them how wrong it is!
BJ: Dammit! Why don't you just stab him!? Cutting into a healthy body is mutilation!
Hawkeye: Don't give me that! There aren't doctors back home who do unnecessary operations? You've never heard of that?? and for what? for a few bucks!
BJ: Alright, suppose you get him relieved of his command. What about the guy they send to replace him?
Hawkeye: He's gonna be better than this guy, he's gotta be!
BJ: But you don't know that for sure do you!?
Hawkeye: So I'll take them one at a time!! What have I got to lose?!
BJ: Just your self respect, that's all!! You are a doctor of medicine! You cut into a healthy body and you are going to hate yourself for the rest of your life!
Hawkeye: I hate myself right now! I hate me and I hate you and I hate this whole life here! And if I can keep that maniac off the line by a simple appendectomy, then I'll be able to hate myself with a clear conscience!
BJ: Alright! You wanna play God? You do it alone!
Hawkeye: Fine! If you're going to keep talking about it put a mask on! I don't want to run the slightest risk of infecting him.
Later, as Hawkeye enters their tent.
Hawkeye: It was pink and perfect... and I tossed it on the scrap bucket.
In the above scenario, I lean towards Hawkeye's perspective; but I can still understand and validate BJ's stance. I believe that both men are right. However, to a digital thinker, it is impossible for two opposing views to be right. It has to be one or the other with no movement in between. The opposite view is deemed wrong.
I suspect that digital and analog thinking can be issue specific. The more tied we are to a certain idea, the greater our tendency will be to push views to a certain side. My question at the moment is whether we are wired that way, or is it our choices that lay down these patterns over time?
Or something in-between.....