The world is not black and white. Or so we tell ourselves. If, of course, we were not endowed with whatever particular function of our brain tells us we see colors, the world would be black and white indeed.
Today I decided to conduct an experiment in black-and-white. I re-processed a series of color images without the color.
It’s interesting we refer to it as black-and-white. While I suppose in the purest sense, only black ink is used on white to create the shades of gray that lurk between pure black and pure white.
I like the metaphor. Even when we have only black and white to work with, we still end up with shades of gray. I am convinced that the essence of life comes in shades of gray. It’s the shadows created by what we believe to be absolute truths that hold the real truth.
And that real truth is a paradox: there is no real truth.
Someone recently asked me what a RAW image file looks like. We cannot view the true RAW file as an image. We can only view the subset of the RAW file indicated by the camera settings recorded along with the rest of the data or the version we create when we change those settings in software.
This is because the file contains the data for many possibilities and we have to choose which possibilities we want rendered into an actual image in order to view it. The truth of the file is greater than what we are able to perceive at any given point in time. I think this is exactly how all truth works.
Take, for example, the old story of the 3 blind men, each touching a different part of an elephant. Each accurately describes the part they are touching, but each describes an elephant completely differently. Each is correct, yet they are also wrong.
Today, we have more data available with less effort than anyone imagined possible just a few decades ago. But we can only extract a small set of information based on our personal settings. Our internal filters tell us what to notice, what to agree with and what to reject. Ultimately, we come away mostly with what is consistent with everything we already believe or want to believe.
This is like using the camera settings to decide how to render an image. It’s automatic and easy. Peeking into the shadows and looking at what other possibilities we might be missing takes energy and intention.
What fascinates me is that even when I know I am uninformed, under-informed, misinformed, I rarely fail to form an opinion–usually a passionate one. And I am not alone. Without this human tendency, we would have nothing to argue about–we would all be too busy realizing we can never know who is really right.
Is it possible to decide what we think is best without believing we are right?