A user on Social Galactic asked for a guide on binary thinking, and I think the representational bias angle is a solid one to take on it.
And I sat pondering it a bit, and I realized that we can start with an even simpler example, given away by the title of course: Unary Thinking.
The meaning should be obvious from the term… binary thinking is thinking about everything in the world through the lens of two categories, so unary thinking is thinking about everything in the world through one category.
Binary thinking is very common, especially along the Us vs. Them axis. Unary thinking is not. It is only available through mental illness or very intense, focused training. But it exists and I can show some examples.
Mental Illness Unary Thinking
Now, while this blog’s front page shows that I fit into what the mainstream would call a “conspiracy theorist”, I would distinguish between at least two types:
- The one who works in probabilities, and acknowledges that in the end they don’t really know what’s going on.
- The one who find some particular theory and believe it solves everything. Everything is explained in terms of this theory. Everything wrong with the world is the result of not understanding this theory.
Such a theory need not be total; unary thinking can be limited to a domain. Physics is a particularly common one; one may have a physics theory that explains everything, but this doesn’t spill out into rest of the world.
Though it is possible for mental illness can lead to totalizing theories. One internet-famous one is the time cube theory, a theory of everything from how the universe works to why people don’t like the creator.
A characteristic of this sort of theory, about which more in a future post, is the simplicity of these theories. There’s often little more behind these theories than the words themselves. Everything in the world is explained by “Time Cube”. Time Cube is not a theory that makes predictions. It is not a theory that helps you build machines or lead a happy life… it is almost literally just the phonemes “t ai em k oo b”, applied to everything, with no depth. One could not imagine a “Time Cube Studies” course, because what it is fits entirely into a paragraph. Consider the contrast with a theory like Newtonian Physics, where even if you can absorb the basic laws in a paragraph, the application can be the study of a lifetime.
Another example of this extreme that some mentally ill people can have is blaming everything on aliens. The greys are why the sun rises, and why the sun sets. The greys made the weather bad today to annoy me and prevent me from uncovering their plot. I can’t find my car keys because the greys took them. The government is crazy because the greys control it. The greys send me personal mocking messages in my TV.
Even if the readers of this blog might also entertain the theory that this person is being tormented by demons rather than an entirely physical mental illness, their totalizing unary-thinking theory of the world is still wrong. It’s not all demons/aliens/etc.
The strongest form of this isn’t terribly common. Even on the internet I don’t encounter this very often. I bring this up mostly for didactic reasons, as a clear example of the problem. The unary thinker is unable to represent in their minds an explanation other than the one explanation they’ve latched on to. It is not just that they won’t entertain other possibilities, or that they are considering many options and consistently picking this one… it is that they are incapable of thinking anything else, due to their mental illness.
The boundary of the thoughts we are capable of thinking is a very important one, and this provides a clear example of someone whose boundaries are extremely small and tight.
Trained Unary Thinking
A person can also be trained into unary thinking. To train someone in unary thinking, the training must be very nearly the only intellectual stimulus a person receives. In our society, the only two structures that can pull this off are academia and cults. The cults that push totalize unary thinking tend to isolate, but academia has managed the tricky task of creating unary thinkers and an environment where they can express themselves in common society. So we should not be surprised that the dominant unary thinkers we encounter are academics, and thus, the dominant unary thinking paradigms are the ones favored by academics.
So the academically-trained unary thinkers I’ve encountered are people who have so deeply integrated Marxist power structure thinking that they can no longer see the world in any other terms.
These are the people who generate the news articles about how math is racist. These are the people generating the articles about how everything is white supremacist, and not in some restricted sense of the term “everything” but literally everything. The night sky needs to be decolonialized. My landlord’s demanding for rent is white supremacist. People need to consider a feminist model of biology. Etc.
These people are not just fictional media constructs. I’ve had the misfortune of encountering them, and the even deeper misfortune of seeing people I know in the larval phase of this transformation, as well as seeing former friends choosing the wrong side of the Great Divorce slowly but surely sliding into this mindset.
A Terminal Philosophical State
Binary thinking is dangerous, sure.
But unary thinking is even worse. In its fullest manifestation, it is the end of a person’s philosophy, as postmodernism’s approach to truth is the end of philosophical inquiry.
Once a single thing is the underlying reason for everything, once other possibilities literally can no longer be thought, it is beyond human ability to communicate anything other truth to such a person. Any attempt to shake them of their belief that Marxist power imbalance is the answer to everything is itself simply you attempting to assert power over them. Any attempt to explain that the greys aren’t behind anything is merely the greys trying to fool them. And so on.
A binary thinker may still be shown a way in which their binary categories are inadequate to explain something, because neither the black nor the white side can explain something. An unary thinker has no such escape hatch. There is no thought that can cross their minds any more than contradicts their world view and forces them to reconsider. The entire universe is a single undifferentiated point, and no contradictory evidence can ever be presented from that point that contradicts that point, because there is nothing but that one point. There are probably people in Hell who believe that it is nothing more than the ultimate expression of a Marxian power imbalance between them and the God of the Universe, and they are nothing more than the ultimate victim, and somehow the Marxist bend of history will someday vindicate them.
The good news is that this is not something you just stumble into. It takes either mental illness or years if not decades of strong training. So it is not common. When I interact with real people, this is not an explanation I reach rapidly for, nor do I find I need it very often.
But it is a thing that happens in the real world. If you are sending a kid to college, I would suggest directly warning them about this; it is when they are in the greatest danger from it.
If you are unfortunate enough to encounter someone like this, your only human option is prayer that God will soften their heart and open their eyes. There is not much you can do.
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