Welcome to the Machine

This is the part of the post where I struggle to come up with an opening line.

Okay, let’s go with this.  As I type these words, there are around 152 million blogs in cyberspace.  How do I know that?  The first hit from a Google search said so, and everything you read on the Internet is true, especially the first hit.

Fortunately, that number could be way off, and it wouldn’t change the point: there are a lot of blogs, and somehow I need to make this one stand out.  Meanwhile, you are going to be the judge of whether this blog stands out.  So unless you’re one of the few hundred Facebook friends I’ve invited to read this, we haven’t even met, and you already have the upper hand in our relationship.  In the past, I’ve always needed to meet someone to create that situation, so I’m going to claim progress.

So what will this blog be about?  How about dangling participles?  Wait, I’ve got an even better idea: this blog will be about perspective.  

This is the part of the post where I explain how I came up with the name “Parallax Machine”.  

You may or may not know what parallax is.  If you already know, please forgive my feeble attempt to define it for everyone else: parallax is the effect by which something looks different depending on your perspective.  It usually applies to optics, but I’m going to hijack it to apply to the way we form our opinions and beliefs.

Far too often, and increasingly so, we are polarized into one of two camps on any given issue in the world.  Entire nations routinely operate in that mode, and it is a tragic waste of our potential to solve our biggest problems.  The ability to truly understand, much less solve, a problem depends entirely on the ability to see that problem from multiple perspectives.  Black and white must give way to varying shades of gray – and yes, sometimes even fifty or more.

I am a highly flawed human being, a completely unshocking statement to those who know me.  I will not pretend I know answers.  Frankly, the frequency with which I see people exhibit 100 percent confidence in their own points of view is alarming.  It’s a symptom of a closed mind, which in turn has little capacity for meaningful dialogue and growth.  We will never break down the barriers between us unless we understand where each of us is standing relative to those barriers.  Hence this blog’s tagline:  where you stand depends on where you are standing.

This is the part of the post where I vastly overstate the impact this blog will have on the world.

Humanity is at a crossroads.  We must decide whether we will give in to our most basic biological urge, or seize upon our ability to grow beyond that urge.  Our most basic biological urge is to protect ourselves, and maybe to extend that courtesy to those who look and sound like us.  If we do not evolve beyond that, we will likely not survive as a species.  The specific reason – nuclear war, squandering of our resources, or failure to expand beyond our world when some inevitable cataclysm hits us from the depths of space – is almost unimportant.  What is important is that what made us the dominant species on Earth won’t keep us there.

Not every entry on this blog is going to speak at that grandiose level.  Often I’m going to talk about things that seem (and probably are) completely unimportant by comparison.  But the common theme will always be there:  challenge yourself to think beyond your own perspective.  Picture yourself standing somewhere you haven’t stood before.  I find myself doing that every single day.  It is a nice way to avoid getting things done.

Let’s end this inaugural post with a picture, accompanied by somewhat less than the proverbial thousand words.

I took this picture a little over a week ago, on the shore of Estonia.  Momentary digression: Estonia is a beautiful country with resilient and thoughtful people; you should definitely visit if you get the time.  End digression.

Look first at the boats.  They look like they’re converging, so that if you kept adding more and more to each row they’d eventually collide.  But those rows were in fact parallel to each other, which would be painfully clear if you were floating overhead.  An isolated perspective can skew the world.  Look next at the water.  You can see the ripples from the wind.  But if you were floating overhead from a great height, you would see larger ripples that follow broader wind patterns.  And if you were a few inches above the water, you’d see smaller ripples and maybe even Don Ho’s tiny bubbles.  An isolated perspective can simultaneously miss both the details and the bigger picture.  Look next at the trees in the distance.  They look tiny (like bubbles) compared to the boats, but they are really much larger.  An isolated perspective can make big things seem small and small things seem big.  And finally, look at the sky.  It looks blue overhead, but different colors as you approach the horizon, as though the air itself is changing.  But it’s all the same atmosphere, it’s just that sunlight gets more scattered the farther it has to travel through the atmosphere to your eyes, and that changes the colors you see.  An isolated perspective can lead to entirely the wrong conclusions.

And speaking of conclusions, this is the part of the post where it ends.

Talk to you again soon.