Dichotomy

zenos-dichotomy-e1515427608294
" … it's subsequent sortings all the way from every here to every there, to the end of every line"

With his Dichotomy (illustrated above) the Ancient Greek Mathematician Zeno proved long before any of us were born, the logical impossibility of moving between any here and any there. While his logic was sound, his conclusion, curiously, was not, as I just demonstrated by walking all the way downstairs AND BACK! Logic works like this sometimes.

IIn my youth, I took a job as a bull hand dancer in an asparagus factory. My job involved performing the first sort on freshly blanched asparagus passing along a conveyor belt. Lift truck drivers in blue hard hats would dump huge steaming bins of the stuff replete with everything from chunks of fence post to freshly steamed snake and mouse carcasses which needed to be removed from the stream, and not only because they wouldn't fit into the little white containers which would later be flash frozen, labeled, and rushed to the frozen food section of local grocery stores. The first sort was rough, nothing like fine finish work. I'd yank out the obviously awful and line up as many spears as I could given the conveyor's speed. A long line of secondary sorters beneath my position on the conveyor performed ever finer sorts, resulting in containers capable of passing the quality control inspector's gimlet eye at the far end of the line.

Dichotomy works like this.
The first sort roughly segregates this from that, with many expected shortcomings, for as I learned on that sorting line, while the white hard-hatted supervisors marched around screaming, "Get those white butts," identifying which butts qualified as white enough to qualify as culls, sometimes required finer judgement than first pass dichotomy allowed. Subsequent sortings more finely segregated to produce desired results. Humans tend to be good at performing first pass dichotomizing. We seem to do this intuitively. It might be that we cannot not do this. We consider insane those who cannot properly distinguish between us and them, here and there, and up from down, though these choices require considerable judgement because these differences aren't quite as clear cut as superficial scrutiny might suggest and might, as Zeno showed, even defy first-pass logic. For the screaming white hard-hat wearing supervisors, who never had to make the distinctions, the choices seem straightforward. For those making split-second decisions while a conveyor belt zips by, many shades of grey appear.

It might be true that no first pass dichotomy could ever hold up to finer scrutiny and therefore holds little credibility. A chunk of fencepost or a freshly blanched snake clearly never belongs anywhere but the cull line, but a mediocre defense attorney, even a pimply-faced kid working a seasonal shift, could deliver a reasonably convincing argument for or against almost any individual spear. Ultimately, there was no judge or jury beyond the individual judgements of the pimply-faced seasonal workers, so their judgements ruled. As the chief hand dancer, my effort simply reduced the variety the following hand dancers faced. Though I received steaming mountains of "product", I passed on partially sorted and aligned spears which needed finer eyes than mine to finally pass muster. By the end of the line, seemingly perfect little packages were packed, labeled, frozen, and shipped.

I think of my life as existing somewhere along that line, more toward the front than the end of it. I make my distinctions, though they seem to be gross ones. I only think I can finely distinguish between us and them, for instance. Were I able to walk down closer to the end of the line, I would see my many errors of judgement, but given the speed of the conveyor, not to mention the white hat's distractingly echoed catechism, I cull my share of white butts. I'm reasonably confident that had production speed allowed, I could have delved more deeply into most every spear to learn their story of how they happened to be there. I might have developed too much empathy to efficiently fulfill my role, fumbling more than sorting, saving some that might prove to be tough chews to the ultimate consumer.

I color altogether too much of my world in bold blacks and whites. I tend to be less than adventurous when investigating grey areas, and almost chicken when considering broader color ranges. I know too well where I belong, what I've liked before, and where I'm supposed to go, when I could not possibly know these things at all beyond a grosser first pass dichotomy. I think of myself as a tough nut to crack, stuck in my ways, defensive when challenged to expand my boundaries. I think myself safe within and insecure without. My dichotomies, unimproved by much subsequent sorting, leave me an especially shallow sort of cluelessness, the kind that feels as though it's mastered its first pass understanding without acknowledging subsequent sortings all the way from every here to every there, to the end of every line, regardless of what Zeno concluded.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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