Dear Prof. Ariely:
I came across your work when I saw your recent interview on Amanpour & Co. It turns out my husband, who is also from Israel, was familiar with you from reports in the Israeli news he reads.
We watched your film (Dis)Honesty and were riveted in amazement and pleasure at what was reported and how.
One such pleasure for me was completely mundane. Vicariously visiting Duke University again. I was born in Durham, at the School of Math and Science, which at one time was a progressive hospital, at least when it came to childbirth. Though I grew up mostly in Charlotte, as an adult I returned to Durham and even worked at Duke for five years after graduating from UNC-CH as well as as a temp in various departments for the two years before. My mother and father recently told me an intriguing story of participating in a civil rights protest there, before I was born. When it turned violent they fled and came across Duke's president weeping in a recess somewhere. They felt strangely moved to console him.
Watching (Dis)Honesty felt relevant in the here and now as well, particularly because my husband Ido, a former Israeli army commander turned pacifist, is currently on the cusp of US citizenship and wrestling intensely with the personal ethics of the oath that says one is willing to “take up arms” on behalf of the US. He now works in IT and studies music and various yogic philosophies.
I am contacting you because I am a little known savant with insights capable of propelling humanity out of its disorienting down-spiral of disinformation. I appeal to you as a person of some influence, to gauge potential willingness to facilitate me out of said obscurity. My wild wishlist includes a letter or words of support... personal referral to funding sources or business development initiatives... referral to a publisher and book preface by you to accompany it.
In a phrase, I attribute the down-spiral to existential dissonance, but alas that means little to most. One aspect of it is immature biases in our conceptions of possibility (mediated largely through counterfactuality and theory of mind), which bind the holistic qualities we might otherwise experience more consistently both individually and collectively. Immature counterfactuality, a process through which binding paradoxes arise, cultivates grounds for stalemates in personal, social and global experiences. I see this as not due to a general and inevitable condition (as one might say of "human nature") but rather because systematic, predictable, and necessarily irrational processes must arise when a coherent reality is repeatedly and unknowingly undermined.
A coherent - mature, if you will - model elucidates said condition, slowly but steadily removing people's and society's unconscious formative processes. With that, creative potential is unleased anew. Most recently I compiled a systematic analysis in a collection I call The Language of Earth-Walking. The text-based introduction is here. The figure-based eBook is here [password = blunderbuss]. Both are drafts at this point.
Free paradoxes are their own fascinating species. Elsewhere I have asked: Why do paradoxes exist? And I answer myself, using general terms that have more precise meanings in relation to my work: The reason paradoxes exist is that the fundamental ordering of existence — such that it is characterized by complex, layered embedding of self in systems and systems in selves — means that existence owes its richness of meanings to the arts of hiding context and changing focus. To the degree that shared meanings are accepted, paradoxes disappear (within the context being focused on). Paradoxes that are fundamental to the connections among systems and selves necessarily remain, though they do not vex us beyond the realm of idealizations.
Notice, with this, a natural parity between my own work, which deals in part with predictable though complex changes in context and focus, and what I heard articulated in (Dis)Honesty as the social factors affecting behavioral dynamics such as in truth-telling, or lack thereof, about lies. My own perspective reveals to me that my work deals with the "meta" of context in a way that is easily swallowed by the term "social". For the record, I see conflation of meanings as not always bad or avoidable. It's by the same process that metaphor and analogy are such timeless ways of relating meanings.
Still, conflation is a perpetual challenge to my own work. I started saying a couple of years ago "My work is not 'like nothing you've seen before!' It's 'not unlike anything.'" In articulating as I do, for instance, about "relational meanings," people's compulsion to interpret the term relational as referring to collections of people (except in a strict computer programming context) strains communication. What I need to be able to communicate is that meanings come down to existential dynamics and from there are necessarily co-defined and tied to experience in a way that is consistent and thus predicable regardless of context. The conceptual profundity of this "Tower of Babel" remedy ironically gets lost in people's projected wishes for "relating" better as individuals to others.
Everyone I meet is either irrationally frightened by my theories or disoriented by them. It’s quite fascinating really, as it looks to me like a reflection of how intensely humanity is locked in its self-aggrandizing worship of cognition. The moment, when listening to me, that they get the point that existence and meaning are not necessarily the self-centered and flawed, yet reassuringly faithful, processes we experience them as, they think they are seeing a ghost.
A splendid metaphor to it is the conflict that develops between the oldest and youngest sisters in C.S. Lewis's final novel Till We Have Faces (a worthwhile read), a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. Find a relevant excerpt as well as link to the full text here.
I see my work as, primarily, begging explicit organization and shared missions. That takes people willing to take me seriously despite the challenges to comprehending the dynamic possibilities as thoroughly as I do. The promise of coherent products and applications that catalyze new creative potentials is real and necessary. In the interest of a variety of stakeholders and participants being able to relate to the source of these needs, I have been creating materials with the goal of making it conceptually robust and digestible, if not always simple.
I share this substantial though roughshod appeal because I imagine you positively intrigued by the irrational wonders lying wait on the other side of binding paradoxes and the coherent-self negating reliance of humanity on its own capacity for rational cognition to solve problems it created in its immature, problem-oriented forms. In that meta-bind is a seed ready to sprout into a new shared vision.