Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, August 22, 2016


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter

When you are smart enough that your original research in anti-matter will probably win you the next Nobel Prize, but you’re only 17, and Russian, how do you get old people to listen to you? That is Yuri Strelnikov’s dilemma.

When an asteroid is hurtling toward earth, ready to destroy at least Los Angeles, and maybe a lot more when it hits, how do you avoid that catastrophe? Yuri knows how. But even though the older physicists at NASA have asked for his help, they still won’t listen to him. [1]

It’s not because they are either stupid or perverse. Their own virtual realities keep them “inside the box.”

Child development scholars note that each of us, from an early age, creates our own internal virtual reality in our brains. [2] The world contains so many stimuli and messages, and our brains are so complex, that we have to create that personal virtual reality or we would be overwhelmed and not able to function at all. [3]

So we don’t really react to the reality that is. We react to the virtual reality through which we see the real reality. That’s why we often shake our heads and say, “How could she possibly think that?” It’s because she really does have a different “reality.”

The virtual reality prisms of mature experienced old people contains this: I know more about how to deal with a crisis than does a teen-ager who speaks a foreign language, even if that kid is really smart.

The real dilemma there is: we’d rather let the asteroid hit and destroy Los Angeles than change our virtual reality. Or put another way: we don’t know how to get out of our virtual reality well enough to avoid destruction, even if we’d like to. Either way, we are so completely enmeshed in our own virtual reality we can’t even entertain notions that are not included in it.

Although he’s slightly younger than most Millennials, Yuri has the Generation Y dilemma: their virtual reality is different from that of people in the Baby Boomer generation, which contains Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Importantly, the Millennials, the GenYs, are now a larger demographic than the Baby Boomers.

I recently saw an article that said “Millennials are deserting Trump in droves,” and later saw an interview with an analyst who was asked why this is true. He said, “It’s simpler than we can even imagine. They don’t like meanness, and they perceive Trump as mean.”

Despite political rhetoric and programs of all kinds, all of us vote on the basis of emotion, and that emotion is the main part of our virtual reality.

There is a continuum of emotion, of course.

Some folks vote only on the basis of emotion, 100%, what makes me feel best right now, with no consideration of consequences. “I want to stick a finger in Obama’s eye.” “I want a woman president, regardless of who she is.”

Others come close to total rationality, although no one votes entirely rationally, completely devoid of emotion. “Taking into account every conceivable possibility, the only rational solution is to elect that chess-playing robot, or that red M&M.”

Most of us are somewhere in between. We take consequences into consideration, but only through our personal virtual reality. I know folks who say, “If Trump is elected, he will blow up the world with nuclear weapons.” I know others who say, “If Clinton is elected, she’ll require us to get abortions the way the Chinese do because they gave her foundation secret money.” Reality? No, virtual reality. Put too simply: we believe what we want to believe.

Maybe Yuri’s dilemma is actually Donald’s and Hillary’s dilemma.

Here’s my reality: I think the world will be a better place if we old folks learn from Yuri about how to save the world, by expanding our virtual reality to include the Millennial perspective: Meanness is bad.


I tweet as yooper1721.

1] Katie Kennedy, Learning to Swear in America {Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling} Buy this book!

2] See for instance, Margaret Donaldson, Children’s Minds

3] See Malcom Gladwell, Blink, for how the brain uses shortcuts to handle the mass of incoming information.

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