Happy New Year 2023. It has been a great pleasure and privilege to be a featured contributor on the award-winning BizCatalyst 360° platform and to be part of the 360° Nation community. I start this year with what has been nagging me the most on New Year’s Eve. ‘Binary Thinking.’ This piece aims to explore and discover a path to evolve beyond the stigma of today’s society which has devolved into binary thinking.
THE BINARY HUMAN
There are never just two choices. That is a lie to keep you from thinking too deeply.
― Rachel Hartman, Tess of the Road
Society has gravitated towards binary today. Binary thinking has seeped into almost everybody. Driven by politicians and social media, the world has whittled its choices to two in almost everything that matters in life and society.
Binary design made sense when man designed computers. Binary was the language designed to make these machines understand, compute and answer mathematical problems. Machines have advanced today dealing with more complex decision-making like fuzzy logic. It might do well to remember that it was humans who designed these machines. It is easy because binary thinking can be adopted easily and complex logic can be built over it.
The keyword here is logic. Logic reduces thinking only based on facts. It works well with machines. Machines process data and apply logic based on algorithms and programs designed for them. If you see the construct if there is ‘no data’ or ‘less than desired data’ the algorithms and programs cannot work well. However, in most situations, programs return an error if data is not supplied.
Today’s artificial intelligence systems are more sophisticated, but the underlying fundamental remains the same. However, flexible and dynamic the algorithms become, using various training models, the underlying circuit is only binary.
But why binary for machines?
Electrons, one of the fundamental particles of an atom, exist in either two states determining whether the state is ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. Being particles with a negative charge, the excess presence of electrons over protons (which are positive particles inside the nucleus of the atom), results in a negative charge. Similarly, the deficiency in the number of electrons over protons indicates a net positive charge.
By creating these two states over a contrasting matter of silica (made from sand), electricity flows from one stratum to another. This enables electronic circuitry. Lights going on and off are one such, simple example of how such fundamental decisions work based on electronics.
Computers are programmed electronics. The programs drive the signals in various logical orders, sequences, and patterns, written by software codes called programming languages.
Without further ado, it might do well to summarize that the binary states of electronic circuitry determine the output of any electronic machine. However, complex logic – including machine learning and artificial intelligence is applied to it, the thinking is essentially binary.
Humans are also wired binary.
The human brain is no different. The cells in the human brain act like the electronic circuitry which we just talked about. Called neutrons, they generated and carry electrical signals and interact with other neurons to enable all human activities and decisions. The fundamental event, therefore, is electrical, which is again a binary event.
If humans are wired through binary events, then is it not automatically implied that humans should take only binary decisions?
Here is where the human factor comes in. While everything is fundamental chemistry – for we are made of the four elements – carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon and electronic (as we just saw), humans have fundamentally evolved before the understanding of the chemistry and electronics of human physiology emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries.
But the binary blurs…
Human decision-making is therefore a result of other factors, which are beyond chemistry and electronics. Social, cultural, geographical, demographical, climate, and similar historical-geographical-social factors have modified human evolution. Humans are social animals and are at the top of the evolution chain. They are the epitome of evolution. Two legs, a straight spine, a large brain, thumbs, and ring fingers are some of the finer adaptations over the years that mark Homo sapiens as the most adept living beings.
But other factors of evolution, social conditioning, adaptation, migration, power distribution, groups, conflicts, and other evolving factors have a major impact on the evolution of human decision-making.
The opportunity for multi-dimensional thinking…
Since the political, cultural, and social renaissance across the world and decolonization in the 1940s and 1950s, with the learnings of the two world wars, the last seventy years have been a great opportunity for humans to structure themselves to be sensitive and responsible participants in natural and social decision making.
With a strong drive in terms of education, healthcare, nutrition, and inclusion of different segments of the population and countries, this post-war period ideally should have manifested into an all-inclusive evolution of human society.
… Is missed even in the 21st century
Instead, it is not hard to notice that the world is split right in the middle, with no third option to consider. ‘You are either with us or against us’, thundered the US President in the wake of the 9/11 crisis. The response to that was the stereotypical profiling of all brown, bearded Asians. The 45th US President rallied his base of white male population under the banner of ‘Make America Great Again’, toed the binary line.
The response from the other side of the aisle was equally vitriolic. The liberal left, as they are called, today represents an aggressive culture of liberalism; they are called the ‘woke’ or the ‘cancel’ culture. Either you speak our language or you are ‘canceled’.
Such leadership that calls for binary alignments in the name of nation, religion, race, gender, caste and other diversity factors of the human species is slowly conditioning our thoughts into binary thinking.
Other countries, even democracies like the UK, the European countries, India and Brazil are being swept with binary conditioning through political options.
Society is crippled.
Even non-political fraternities are politically soaked. Science vs religion, and rational vs spiritual debates are now binary, rather than dealing with the abstract layers that we all know they contain.
When such binary thinking influences society, even education, and parenting, the starting points of the future generations are now taught binary elements. History is nothing but a biased narrative that suits one or the other side; social and political science, philosophy, arts, and humanities – all streams are now influenced by binary thinking.
The impact is that humanity has lost its liberty to exercise its free will – which starts with freedom in thinking and exchange of multilateral thoughts. The binary thinking feeds into the most dangerous element of humankind – dogma.
Dogma is the end product.
Dogmatic thinking shuts down open minds and ears. There is a code of conduct that controls human thought and behavior. This is when human society devolves into a mob or a herd of sheep, driven in circles by intelligent sheepdogs who are nothing but self-serving dogmatic leaders.
An idea stays an idea as long as it is evolved freely and remains inclusive. An idea changes to a dogma when it is controlling and restricting. Binary thinking society is fundamental to dogmatic leadership. It fuels unconditional faith and membership in such fraternities are sworn in blood. This results in, fanaticism, fascism, and militant forms of memberships, because the dogma now takes over the thinking, and the binary element comes into play.
Every dogma has its symbols. A symbol, a slogan, a flag, and a loyal following. The dogma can be a nation, state, race, language, religion, culture, or any factor that invokes diversity. The dogmatic view of diversity is ‘us vs them’.
When we blindly adopt a religion, a political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons.
― Anais Nin, the Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947
If we become followers of a dogma, any dogma, we become ‘automatons’. Automatons are nothing but binary thinkers. Computers are ‘automatons’. Dogmatic society is a breed of automatons or binary thinkers.
What can we do?
You would be surprised if I say that it is too simple. ‘Be a Human’
There is some kind of a sweet innocence in being human- in not having to be just happy or just sad- in the nature of being able to be both broken and whole, at the same time.
― C. JoyBell C.
Nobody is perfect and everybody is broken. It means everybody is human. It is understandable. This understanding makes us humble and at the same time, more understanding. Dogmatism’s aim for utopian unilateralism is debunked by humanism.
By being open and listening, more understanding, empathetic, loving, kind, and compassionate, we can overcome dogmatism, and in that sense, binary thinking. The abstract layers come into play, and it is the abstract layers that make us broken and flawed. Once we understand the abstract nature of humanity, we will evolve beyond binary thinking.
More important, it is time to reform the individual. For every reformed individual, who is open-minded and multidimensional thinking, society takes one step forward.
The progress of the world can certainly never come at all save by the modified action of the individual beings who compose the world.
― George Eliot