From an excellent Natalie Angier article ("Blind to Change, Even as it Stares Us in the Face") in yesterday's NYT Science section:
Visual attentiveness is born of limited resources. “The basic problem is that far more information lands on your eyes than you can possibly analyze and still end up with a reasonable sized brain,” Dr. Wolfe said. Hence, the brain has evolved mechanisms for combating data overload, allowing large rivers of data to pass along optical and cortical corridors almost entirely unassimilated, and peeling off selected data for a close, careful view.
Which brings me to an observation that struck me whilst smoking pot back in the early 1980s: Pot-smokers don't forget what they're talking about in the middle of a sentence because pot makes them stupid, they forget because pot seems to take down the filters that keep sensory input at bay. They're distracted because it's almost impossible to concentrate when there's that much sensory noise.
It isn't just visual input, either. We are awash in more raw sensory input than our sober minds can imagine, yet we actively perceive only a small portion of it. My 1980s observation was that focused intelligence comes at a price: We give up portions of beauty, pleasure and pain and in exchange we gain the ability to reason and act in coherent ways.
As the "winner" in this internal fight, reason earned the right to define "normal." Which is another reason why the 1960s were such a culturally important decade: Mind-altering drugs were available to the masses, and whether they were consciously aware of it or not, drug users were learning that there was more to human experience -- to the experience of being fully human -- than reason wished to acknowledge.
That's one aspect of the culture war: People who accept that wholistic truths are messy and often look illogical versus people who believe that valid truths can only be derived by excluding "non-valid" inputs.
Reductionary truths, therefore, appear cohesive to their adherents because they understand the exclusionary rules by which the truths were validated. Yet reductionary truth is always, by definition, an incomplete picture. It doesn't fully account for the beautiful, terrifying, uncontrollable chaos that is life.
This post, by the way, isn't an argument for one over the other. It's an acknowledgment that both ways of seeing and knowing and doing are part of being human.
But it's also to say this: There is a reason why people who only believe in "fundamental truths" often fail to see the change that is right in front of them. You cannot see what you cannot imagine, and you cannot imagine what you will not allow.