Monday, October 17, 2005

Enlightening nonsense

What happens if you stop for a minute and seriously consider something that you currently consider (and may continue to consider) absolute nonsense? Almost every day, someone professes a belief to us that strikes us as a little nuts. Sometimes more than a little.

Take a moment, and think of a situation where someone you liked and respected said something you thought was foolish or short-sighted. Now, imagine for a moment, that you believe it, too. Extend that belief out into your perceptions of different aspects of the world, and notice what changes.

McLuhan thought that any medium (a word he applied to ideas as well as other things) taken to its extreme would reverse itself. If he is right, then any nonsense pushed far enough will reverse itself into something we recognize as good sense. In finding the edges, we learn more about what we believe, and more about what other people gain from beliefs that seem wrong-headed to us.

The key, however, is knowing that we are playing; we are not obliged to change our minds. We only have to suspend judgment long enough to notice differences. If you don't notice any difference, either you didn't think it was nonsense or you haven't really suspended your judgment. Try again. It's at the edges that we find the edge we need.

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