Low Resolution

When it comes to self-improvement goals and the traditional re-boot moment at midnight on New Year’s Eve, the word “resolution” refers to the notion that one will be steadfast in the pursuit of those goals. It encapsulates an idea that one will have an unshakable devotion to this pursuit. “From this point forward, nothing will obstruct or sidetrack me. I am resolute.”

Resolution, in the world of graphics, is a measure of how much information is inherent in an image. It’s a function of how many colored squares are present in a given area to collectively build an image. The smaller the squares, the more you can fit, and the more accurately you can represent the details of an image. In theory, the more information you have, the more clearly you can see the image.

Everything is the sum of its component parts. Pixels on a screen. Dots on paper. Atoms in a physical structure. Lives in half-remembered episodes. All stitched together into something meaningful by our brains. Even the images we directly see are really just a series of reactions to light as transmitted by individual photoreceptor cells. Look at a map of the distribution of cones and rods on the surface of a human retina. Each is an individual component, separate from its neighbors by a little bit of space. When all those discrete bits of information are interpreted by the brain, the gaps are filled in. The data filling the gaps is interpolated. So, in the visual world, when there is more information, there is less interpolation, and greater clarity. A truer representation. Higher resolution.

In life, however, it seems the opposite is true. The less information we have about a situation, the more clearly we believe we understand it. You may notice this is the way the least well-informed are often the most strident and vociferous in their opinions. Our brains fill in the gaps with preconceived notions and conjecture based on our limited experiences, and we think we have a clear picture. Anything we don’t know, we take on faith, and we lean heavily upon confirmation bias. It’s a substitute for knowledge. Perhaps it’s easier that way, because when we dig deeper, when we discover more details, things become murkier. With more information, the picture gets more complicated, but decidedly less clear. There are more little gaps for our brains to fill, rather than a few big ones, and we lose the illusion of clarity. Maybe that’s why they say ignorance is bliss. It’s easier. It’s easier to see in black and white. You can be more judgmental and you can claim to have all the answers.

The older I get, and the more I think I have learned, the farther away I seem to fall from any hope for clarity. Clarity is a mirage. A lovely concept, but unattainable. You think you see something, you think you understand something. But you don’t. You don’t perceive anything clearly. You just believe you do. Aha… belief. Faith. Faith emerges from the absence of clarity. Maybe faith is a word for the interpolated data that fills in the gaps. It helps us complete the picture, based upon incomplete data, again, often colored by our preconceptions and biases.

In 2020, I don’t expect to achieve any greater clarity about life. This won’t be part of my self-improvement program for the year. Because I have no confidence in my ability to make any appreciable gains in that regard. However, I do expect to add to my general knowledge base. I intend to read, observe, explore, and contemplate. The irony, is that, if my aforementioned thoughts on the matter are true, then these activities will leave me even more confused about life in general. Oh, well… so much for 20/20 vision.

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