Perspectives: Sometimes they come in pairs.

I was heading west on highway 40 just past downtown St. Louis when ahead I saw a pickup truck pulling a trailer, veering a bit left then right then left as it traveled down the road. (An animation of this process might be posted here soon.) It was clear that the driver was aware of the problem, and figured that his job was to keep returning the truck to its own lane. This logic, as simple and impeccable in intent as it was, was alas dead wrong because the driver's response-time fit beautifully with the resonant-frequency of the weave*. Like someone kicking one's legs at exactly the right time to pump up the motion of a playground swing, the driver's logic loop repeatedly pumped energy into the weave, which got wilder and wilder until all of a sudden the truck and trailer spun out into a parked position across five lanes of traffic.

Thus a one-perspective logical loop is sometimes part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. We now move the lesson from this example to another application area. Although it might seem a metaphorical leap at best, the two types of phenomenological complementarity discussed here (coordinate/frequency above, code/excitation below) actually pop up in a bewildering range of application areas. Other concept-pairs which exhibit complementarity in this sense include structure/function and inventory/flow. If you focus too much on one member of an italicized pair, you risk missing (or possibly even messing up) what goes on with the other member and ultimately the big picture. Hence they are often best considered in parallel.

One form of complementarity between replicable codes and steady state excitations involves ideas and organisms. For example, it may be that terrorism is all about good guys & bad guys. However as with displacement from the road's center in the story above, a second perspective may be important. It's possible, with recent developments in electronic communications, that certain ideas with no regard for the well-being of humans are being repeated in epidemic fashion. Consider the idea that "associating people with certain categories makes them less than human". Those who echo this message when they hear it (even if they use different categories in hostile response) might, from the ideas' point of view, thus be propagators no less.

Let's be clear what this means. We're not talking about behavior toward others here, but about broadcasting ideas informed only to the organism's perspective. When someone says "I think you're evil and thus fair game", saying the same thing back to them from the idea's perspective is not leadership but imitation. Unfortunately this is an old and deeply-ingrained response (cf. notes by Jared Diamond in "Three Chimpanzees" on the warranted xenophobia of highland cultures in New Guinea, and notes by Konrad Lorenz in "On Aggression" about coral fish and militant enthusiasm) which provides great opportunity for idea amplification in this electronic age. We're all programmed to react emotionally when someone makes an inappropriate gesture toward us. However, if we stop thinking only from the organism's perspective we could take a big bite out of this idea in short order. For example, calling attention to the way it victimizes and/or dishonors almost every organism involved from some perspective addresses this "categorize and dehumanize" idea on its own playing field, with potential for pulling people away from such loops so that they might e.g. concentrate instead on the growing challenges as organisms that we face collectively.

In summary, there are a number of areas of inquiry where complementary perspectives are crucial to making sense of what's going on. In particular, respect for the importance of a coherent and informed relationship to idea perspectives (as distinct from organism perspectives) would cost little or nothing, might have only minor effects on policy, and could gain us a great deal if bad ideas (and not just bad guys) are a key part of the problem. For example, journalists who make a practice of covering both perspectives together could make being called a bad guy by the media seem much less, than at present, like evidence that your ideas are engaging everyone when in fact they serve no one well.


* Corollary to the argument above, careful readers might note that it's the spatial frequency of the weave (1/wavelength) that exhibits Fourier complementarity to the weave's displacement. This is also the complementarity responsible for broadening of diffraction spots due to finite crystal size. In diffraction, of course, the relation between spatial frequency and wave-vector connects this complementarity to the uncertainty relation between position and transverse momentum, where the act of correlating a system with eigenstates of one observable perturbs its correlation with eigenstates of the other member of the non-commuting pair. Planck's constant in this latter case is needed to convert momentum into reciprocal wavelength units, and therefore has nothing to do with Fourier (coordinate/frequency) complementarity in general or with the other concept-pairs mentioned above.
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