High Resolution World

We live in a high resolution world.

I’m not talking about the pixel resolutions of our displays, but about everyday objects, events or processes that can be broken down and each of the parts can trigger a recursion of inspection in a similar way. Take any object, event or a process and scratch their surface prodding them for a story. Despite their humble appearances, I suspect that a majority of them have long and complicated stories that can hopefully be dissected into independent, atomic stories eventually. It feels like reading the Arabian Nights, which, admittedly, I stopped reading at about 275 pages in the interest of preventing an overflow in my puny mind caused by interlinking and encapsulation of many stories layered many more levels deep.

Illustration 1

Let’s attempt a thought experiment for illustration. Pick a simple object around you to tickle and make it talk. I’ve chosen an apple here. The humble apple comes in many varieties – different prices, sweetness, colors and sizes. But if we are to ponder about its cultivation right away, we’d be getting way ahead of ourselves!

  • The apple gets to the aisle within a certain time from its delivery at the grocery store, subject to availability of older batches and if it came out unscathed without punches or bruises from its battles to the front line with its fellow apples.
  • Before that it travels to the store in refrigerated trucks from distribution centers which aggregate apples from various sources.
  • The refrigerated trucks bringing apples to stores are built to transport perishables, possibly preserving the apples for days on the road.
  • The distribution centers don’t just aggregate apples and re-package them, but sort them to minimize waste and maximize utilization of apples of all kinds, converting some into pulp or juice using humans and machines of various kinds in the process.
  • Before that, it was a fruit on a tree in a farm surviving birds, pests, pesticides and a myriad other adversities. The farmers job doesn’t get any simpler. They work to understand demand to control supply; buy necessary machinery, manure, pesticides and seeds accordingly; put down old trees to grow new ones; harvest and sell.

This is still quite a simplistic overview of the stories an apples could hold. What we have explored is just one slice of a stack of events. Each layer of the stack has associated events/processes buttressing the apple’s purpose. While we have superficially tried to understand some of the processes, for brevity, we’ve left unexplored, a host of other cultural, financial, economic and logistical parameters affecting every event/process at every level of the stack.

Illustration 2

The housing crisis in the San Francisco Bay Area – a controversial and nuanced issue. My wife and I segued into this topic while driving around the city, much like anyone who would imagine solving large scale social problems. (Aren’t we all experts here? 🙂 ) However, I am yet to understand enough of it to form a strong opinion. The contentious matter is that the median rents/prices of homes are outpacing the median affordability. A 500 sq. ft. studio costing $2000 a month to rent is considered a steal, probably because it is in a less than ideal neighborhood, or is so old that a few generations have already lived in it, or both. What can high resolution thinking do for us in this scenario? For an armchair activist like myself, I hope it can help in exploring the nuances.

The acronym NIMBY which stands for Not In My Back Yard is quite familiar to millenials in San Francisco. This phenomenon describes the mindset of some people’s and home owners associations’ reluctance to allow or participate in discussing new housing legislation aimed at making housing affordable by allowing high(er) density housing projects. This is so as to preserve the neighborhoods’ character. Unfortunately, such neighborhoods are, more often than not, sparsely utilized with small to mid-sized houses occupying a large plot of land. While old timers romanticize the locality, newly enriched people who bought a piece of this pie want to relish on it. This under-utilizes large swathes of sparsely populated land, thereby driving up the prices of available real estate.

Another facet to this problem is the ease of reaching areas with affordable housing from the business districts. More public transport? Wider highways? Re-aggregation of businesses and housing? No matter how we cut this cake, there will be bad blood.

  • More public transport requires investment which may not yield revenue by the time the necessary infrastructure is ready for public use. It could perhaps be because of a new government that might form in the interim, which has different ideas on solving the same problems.
  • Wider highways mean an incentive to buy cars, which require more parking, more oil and entirely new set of traffic problems because not all the roads can be widened to accommodate all the new cars.
  • Re-aggregation of businesses and housing will allow small businesses to thrive, but at the same time would require large multi-tenant housing projects to keep all the necessary man-power required for large businesses within short distances.

A Hypothesis

I can visualize the premise of this article by imagining various objects/events/processes to be various points in a 3-dimensional lattice. From each point in the lattice we can see its neighbors and their neighbors and so on, up to a certain extent. Resolution of thought can be thought of as the marriage between one’s line of sight in any direction and the depth of one’s understanding of all the points in their field of view. Inevitably, we will revisit some of these points due to new information coming to us regularly. This consequently begs us to to refine our understanding of all associated neighboring points in the light of new information. This whole process of assimilating new information in a holistic manner needs to be perennial.

Unfortunately, our long and arduous course through evolution has not (yet) refined our mental prowess adequately. A common pattern in the physiological and psychological evolution is that our consumption favors quantity over quality. An unfortunate casualty of this process is the high resolution thinking that is required for our increasingly high resolution world.

Our brains can resolve thoughts into finer details quickly and easily, but our bandwidth to communicate them and collaborate with others is severely limited – on one hand, by a language and its vocabulary, one’s grip on it, and speed of speech which could hinder us from articulating complicated ideas concisely; on the other hand, by cognitive biases that present a lot of friction to come together to solve a problem with anything but the greater good in mind. Unless carried out by dedicated people staking their careers on it, debating finer details tires us easily, perhaps because of the magnitude of digression that the process entails.

The evolution of common sense requires critical thinking and high resolution thinking to work together. The need couldn’t be more dire considering the high prevalence of deep fakes and increasing number of ways to exploit people’s gullibility.

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