Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Inside Ben Carson

So imagine you've had neurological damage and your brain simply cannot recognize your own  left arm as a part of your body.  You're sitting in the doctor's office and you can sees the arm just fine, but the part of the brain that answers the question, "What is this?" is misfiring and it keeps coming back with the response "It's someone else's arm."  You can't consciously understand that the brain is misinterpreting your perceptions, and so you blindly accept that it is, in fact, someone else's arm - it doesn't seem any stranger or odder to you than seeing an arm attached to another person and understanding that as someone else's arm.  When challenged and presented with evidence that it might be you own arm,. you answer the hard question of whose arm is it, whose arm looks just like yours and is holding it out next to you, with the only available logical conclusion you can reach - that it must be your mother's.

It sounds crazy, but it's actually a logical resolution to the mis-wired signals you're getting from the brain.

Paul Waldman presents a similar example in The Week,
So imagine it's 1970 or so, and you're young Ben Carson, sitting in a biology class at Yale University. With your sharp mind and strong study habits, you don't have much problem understanding the material, grasping the copious evidence underlying the theory of evolution, all the fossils going back millions of years, how it all fits together in an endless process that affects everything from a towering redwood down to a microscopic virus. And yet, the whole thing sounds like an attack on the beliefs about the universe you were taught your whole life from your family and your church. How can you resolve this contradiction? 
The resolution came somewhere along the way for Carson: Satan. Evolution is Satan's doing.
Ben Carson famously said, "I personally believe that this theory that Darwin came up with was something that was encouraged by the adversary," meaning El Diablo, the Devil, Satan.  While it's hard for most of us to understand how a brilliant and accomplished neurosurgeon can come to such a superstitious and pre-scientific conclusion, we need to realize that based on the wiring inside Carson's mind, it's a completely logical and apparent resolution.  If you firmly, deeply and unquestioningly believe that "God created everything," and that "Satan tries to turn man from God,"  then evidence that suggests that God didn't create everything (or at least didn't create everything in seven days and in the order suggested by the Bible), then it's only logical to conclude that Satan must be behind that evidence.

It's a different mental model of the world.  It's a different mental map, a different schema.  The Buddha called these maps and models samskara.

Ben Carson isn't stupid, nor is he smart about some things and stupid about others.  He just has a different schema than most other scientists, and to Carson, other scientists' schema must seem as illogical and unintelligible as his does to us.

One of the great conundrums I keep facing living in the Red State American South is how so many people I know can be so smart about some things and yet so dumb about politics.  Understanding samskara helps me see that they're not, in fact, dumb, nor am I being dumb as they accuse me, but we simply have acquired different frames of reference and different mental maps of the world, which leads us to different conclusions.  And each of our conclusions sounds to us as logical and thoughtful as the conclusions of others sound childish and uninformed. 

No comments: