The Fox and the Hedgehog

There is the common misconception that with the influx of information there is an increase in knowledge.

We live in a world of rationalizers. I am going to tell you right here and now that openness is the remedy to a fixed mindset.  Now let me momentarily diverge to give clarity to this idea of filtered conceptualization.

Politics.  The argument can be made that the acquisition of information can be directly related to decrease in partisan bias.  But knowing more about politics doesn’t necessarily accomplish this.  Voters tend to assimilate facts that confirm what they already believe.  They think they’re evaluating candidates, but what they are actually doing is inventing or ignoring facts so they can rationalize decisions already made.

It is as if voters twirl a cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want.

This filter effect, which is so prominent in politics, extends into every aspect of our life.  We tend to look for information that already confirms what we already believe.  We edit the world to fit our ideology.  Imperative as focus is, we must make the distinction between a focused mind and a disregard for certain possibilities.

Historian Isaiah Berlin used animalistic mentalities to exemplify this very point.  While a fox knows many diverse things, a hedgehog knows one big thing.

When attacked, a hedgehog rolls itself into a ball so that its spines point outward.  A fox, on the other hand, does not rely on a single strategy.  A fox adjusts its strategy to a particular situation.  Accepting a situation as ambiguous, the fox relies on tailor-made approaches when conceptualizing possibilities.

The difference between the fox and the hedgehog is that the fox evades the seduction of certainty, while a hedgehog reassures itself with a foregone conclusion.

The fox’s abilities to think further than its preconceptions about a situation, make it a cunning and sly predator.  Foxes live in the unknown, constantly adapting to and evaluating different possibilities.

We take comfort in certainty.  Building blocks and cornerstones exist on this very premise.  The weakness of certainty is when you know you are right, you stop listening to perspectives that say you may be wrong.

Cognition is a powerful human asset. Like any muscle of the body we need to practice to strengthen it.  Foxes are notoriously cunning because they think about thinking.  They study their own decision-making process and gather information from a wide variety of sources.

It seems that the acquisition of knowledge lies in the openness of perspective.  We must be willing to entertain new thinking.  As effective as that spike defense may be, we do not want to remain complacent in certainty, satisfied with status quo.

Like the fox, we must be willing to accept ambiguity and charter the unknown.  That is where the true comprehension of knowledge spawns from, and the willingness to navigate ambivalence carries with it the potential for extraordinary possibilities.

March 19, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Awareness | No comment

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