The other day our friends at Photon Courier pointed me to an article in American Thinker that discusses "Political Prisms." It’s actually a speech by Herbert Meyer, yes the same Herbert Meyer (but no relation!) that penned "What in the World is Going On?" a year or so ago. That article, which describes four major transformations occuring in today’s world, has created an almost cult-like allure. We discussed only a small non-political portion of it, but the whole thing is great reading.
Similarly his article in American Thinker has some significant overtones that may offend certain political persuasions (to be polite), but that’s not I’m discussing today. You can read the article if you want to either clap or be offended; I’ll stay away from the topics. But I was intrigued with his concept of "prisms" that can skew the viewpoints of even highly intelligent people. He describes the idea this way:
Imagine that tomorrow
afternoon you’re at a barbecue, telling your friends about this
evening’s dinner, when someone asks you what the speaker looked like.
Most of you would reply that the speaker was an average-looking man —
about five-feet-seven-inches tall, reasonably fit for his age, with
fair skin and blond hair going gray. One or two of you might add a few
more details: a dark cashmere sports jacket, white shirt and red tie.
You could even add more details if you chose: black shoes, and a
wristwatch with a brown leather strap.
But all your descriptions would be similar, because you’re all looking at me — and this is what I look like tonight.
imagine that half of you were looking at me through a prism – one of
those long, triangular bars of glass. A prism refracts and disperses
light, so everything you see through a prism is distorted. Those of
you looking at me through a prism might see a tall man with purple
skin. My sports jacket might look green instead of brown, and my shirt
might look red instead of white. In short, if you’re looking at me
through a prism you’ll get everything wrong.
just as there are real prisms — those long, triangular bars of glass –
there are intellectual prisms, in our minds. And if you’re looking at
the world through an intellectual prism, you’ll also get everything
There are obvious political implications, which he delves into with passion and fury, but let’s think about how "prismatic interpretation" can affect event the most intelligent businessperson.
- "I know my supply chain will be an extra few thousand miles long, longer delivery times, valuable product floating on stormy water, manufactured in a country known for stealing intellectual property, and my engineers will have to talk to people in a different language in a different time zone, but I’m sure outsourcing will save me money!"
- "My raw material lead time is two or three days, but I better keep a month or so in inventory just in case."
- "I only have a handful of customers and I can deliver their demand in a couple days, but I’m sure I need a $250,000 ERP system to keep track of it all."
Some things just don’t make sense, but yet they are accepted by a majority of smart people. Why? It must be the prism.
Michael F. Martin says
Something you may already know (but if not may find interesting) is that most of the differential equations that describe the dynamics of physical systems can be derived from principles of minimization. What Richard Feynman is perhaps most famous for among physicists is demonstrating how quantum mechanics and electrodynamics are both explained by minimization of flow, which is in turn manifest through the synchronization in time of various physical quantities (such as light and matter).
Minimization principles — such as those embraced by lean manufacturing — are quite profound.
Anyway the reason I share this in response to this post is because the behavior of light in a prism is also the consequences of a minimization principle — the principle of least time.