This is a wonderful reminder by David Cain that there’s value in retraining our childlike ability to zoom in on the myriad details in life. Not in terms of leaves and details in the physical world around us, but in terms of ideas, too.
Zooming in and out is, I guess, the essence of curiosity. As an adult, with a million things to get done, it’s easy to stay zoomed-out so that we have the bigger picture. But it ends up being a shallow life, and one susceptible to further flattening via the social media outrage machine.
If you were instructed to draw a leaf, you might draw a green, vaguely eye-shaped thing with a stem. But when you study a real leaf, say an elm leaf, it’s got much more going on than that drawing. It has rounded serrations along its edges, and the tip of each serration is the end of a raised vein, which runs from the stem in the middle. Tiny ripples span the channels between the veins, and small capillaries divide each segment into little “counties” with irregular borders. I could go on for pages.
Kids spend a lot of their time zooming their attention in like that, hunting for new details. Adults tend to stay fairly zoomed out, habitually attuned to wider patterns so they can get stuff done. The endless detail contained within the common elm leaf isn’t particularly important when you’re raking thousands of them into a bag and you still have to mow the lawn after.
Playing with resolution applies to ideas too. The higher the resolution at which you explore a topic, the more surprising and idiosyncratic it becomes. If you’ve ever made a good-faith effort to “get to the bottom” of a contentious question — Is drug prohibition justifiable? Was Napoleon an admirable figure? — you probably discovered that it’s endlessly complicated. Your original question keeps splitting into more questions. Things can be learned, and you can summarize your findings at any point, but there is no bottom.
The Information Age is clearly pushing us towards low-res conclusions on questions that warrant deep, long, high-res consideration. Consider our poor hominid brains, trying to form a coherent worldview out of monetized feeds made of low-resolution takes on the most complex topics imaginable — economic systems, climate, disease, race, sex and gender. Unsurprisingly, amidst the incredible volume of information coming at us, there’s been a surge in low-res, ideologically-driven views: the world is like this, those people are like that, X is good, Y is bad, A causes B. Not complicated, bro.
For better or worse, everything is infinitely complicated, especially those things. The conclusion-resistant nature of reality is annoying to a certain part of the adult human brain, the part that craves quick and expedient summaries. (Social media seems designed to feed, and feed on, this part.)
Source: The Truth is Always Made of Details | Raptitude