We each have a responsibility to elevate the thinking in our industry. We can do that by questioning everything and assume nothing.
Have you ever made a decision without questioning why? Steve Jobs, Vidal Sassoon and many other inventors and pioneers questioned the status quo’s thinking within their respective industries. We become better hairdressers, salon owners, designers and individuals by questioning everything.
In a world of fabrication, intended deceit, accidental error and oblivious intellectual mediocrity, it’s certainly a daunting task convincing others of the importance of asking questions let alone finding absolute truth in amongst the contradictive chaos that is human science and morality.
We grow as individuals by learning and developing traits, habits, facts and talents based on information that has come before us. Although our genes define the initial direction of our voyage, the information of existence that has been strained through the proverbial sieve of trial and error over millennia and how we decide to interpret it, is what defines the humanity of our journey.
You have the right to question anything you feel the need to, passionately. Turning previously undisclosed and important questions into public knowledge is how we make a change.
We all possess a few pounds of cranial-based grey matter, a passion for achievement and a desire to be recognized and awarded for our abilities. The earth is not flat and yet this idea was seen as fact until proven wrong and like many other fact-interrogations throughout history we have questioning to thank for this.
Questioning why you do everything forces you to pick apart the usefulness of habitual behaviors. People get incredibly complacent and trusting in established fact and theories, therefore consider it beyond their place to question logic verified by those seen by society as being more intelligent. No matter how right you think you are, it’s important to question the opinions and theories of those that influence your own opinions.
So what does this teach us about questioning everything? It teaches us that having both the confidence to question and the modesty to accept criticism are universal behaviors outside of human ego that will inevitably offer humans the best chance at developing useful ideas that will aid mankind as efficiently as possible.
We are built out of very small stuff, which is embedded in a very large cosmos and we are not very good at understanding reality of either. It is because our brains haven’t evolved to understand the world at that scale.
Instead, we’re trapped on this very thin slice of perception right in the middle, but we’re not seeing most of the action. Take the colors of our world. Light wave electromagnetic radiation bounces off objects and it hits specialized receptors in the back of our eyes, but we’re not seeing all the waves. In fact, what we see is less than a 10 trillionth of what’s out there. Radio waves, microwaves, X-rays and gamma rays are passing through your body right now and you’re completely unaware of it because we don’t come with the proper biological receptors for picking it up.
It isn’t that these things inherently cannot be seen. Snakes include some infrared in their reality and honeybees include ultraviolet in their view of the world. We build machines in the dashboards of our cars to pick up on signals in the radio frequency range, and we built machines in hospitals to pick up on the X-ray range. But you can’t sense any of those by yourself, at least not yet, because you don’t come equipped with the proper sensors.
Our experience of reality is constrained by our biology, which goes against the common sense notion that our eyes, ears and our fingertips are just picking up the objective reality out there. Instead, our brains are sampling just a little bit of the world.
In the animal kingdom, different animals pick up on different parts of reality. In the blind and deaf world of a tick, the important signals are temperature and butyric acid; in the world of the black ghost knifefish, its sensory world is lavishly colored by electrical fields; and for the echolocating bat, its reality is constructed out of air compression waves. It is the slice of their ecosystem they can pick up on. Presumably, every animal assumes it is the entire objective reality out there, because why would you ever stop to imagine there’s something beyond what we can sense. Instead, what we all do is accept reality as it’s presented to us.
Imagine you are a bloodhound dog. Your whole world is about smell. You’ve got a long snout, which has 200 million scent receptors in it, and you have wet nostrils to attract and trap scent molecules, your nostrils even have slits so you can take in a large amount of air. Everything is about smell for you. One day, you stop in your tracks with a revelation. You look at your human owner and you think, “What is it like to have the pitiful, impoverished nose of a human? What is it like when you take a feeble little amount of air?” How can you not know there’s a cat 100 yards away, or your neighbor was on this very spot six hours ago?
Because we’re humans, we’ve never experienced their world of smell, so we don’t miss it. But the question is, do we have to be stuck there? In the future, technology will expand our senses and it is going to change the experience of being human.
We already know we can marry our technology to our biology because there are hundreds of thousands of people walking around with artificial hearing and artificial vision. The way this works is to take a microphone and digitize the signal, and you put an electrode strip directly into the inner ear. Or, with the retinal implant, you take a camera and you digitize the signal, and then you plug an electrode grid directly into the optic nerve.
Your brain is not hearing or seeing any of this. It is locked in a vault of silence and darkness inside your skull. All it ever sees are electrochemical signals coming along different data cables, and this is all it has to work with, and nothing more. The brain is really good at taking in these signals and extracting patterns and assigning meaning, so it takes this inner cosmos and puts together a story of your subjective world. Here’s the key point: Your brain doesn’t know, or care, where it receives the data. Whatever information comes in, it just figures out what to do with it. This is a very efficient kind of machine. It’s essentially a general purpose-computing device, and it just takes in everything and figures out what it’s going to do with it.
There’s nothing really special or fundamental about our biology. It’s what we have inherited from a complex road of evolution. But it’s not what we have to stick with, and our best proof of principle of this comes from what’s called sensory substitution.
There is no end to the possibilities on the horizon for human expansion. Just imagine an astronaut being able to feel the overall health of the International Space Station, or having you feel the invisible states of your own health, like your blood sugar or having 360-degree vision, and seeing in infrared or ultraviolet.
The key is this: As we move into the future, we’re going to increasingly be able to choose our own peripheral devices. We no longer have to wait for Mother Nature’s sensory gifts on her timescales. Instead, like any good parent, she’s given us the tools so we need to go out and define our own trajectory.
The question now is, how do you want to go out and experience your universe?
We actually have no idea what the theoretical limits are of what kind of data the brain can take in. We know it is extraordinarily flexible. So when a person goes blind, what we used to call their visual cortex gets taken over by other things, by touch, by hearing and by vocabulary. What it tells us is the cortex is kind of a one-trick pony. It just runs certain kinds of computations on things. And when we look around at things like braille, people are getting information through bumps on their fingers. I don’t think we have any reason to think there’s a theoretical limit we know the edge of.
We must not be so didactic in our belief systems and question everything.
Many people will answer the question, what is beauty? With “It’s in the eye of the beholder.” “It’s whatever moves you personally.” Or, as some people prefer, “beauty is in the culturally conditioned eye of the beholder.” People agree paintings, movies or music are beautiful because their cultures determine a uniformity of aesthetic taste. Taste for both natural beauty and for the arts travel across cultures with great ease. Beethoven is adored in Japan. Peruvians love Japanese woodblock prints. Inca sculptures are regarded as treasures in British museums, while Shakespeare is translated into every major language of the Earth. There are many differences among the arts, but there are also universal, cross-cultural aesthetic pleasures and values.
How can we explain this universality? The best answer lies in trying to reconstruct a Darwinian evolutionary history of our artistic and aesthetic tastes. We need to reverse-engineer our present artistic tastes and preferences and explain how they came to be engraved in our minds by the actions of our history as humans, and also by the social situations in which we evolved. This reverse engineering can also enlist help from the human record preserved in prehistory like fossils cave paintings.
The experience of beauty, with its emotional intensity and pleasure, belongs to our evolved human psychology. It is one component in a whole series of Darwinian adaptations. Beauty is an adaptive effect, which we extend and intensify in the creation and enjoyment of works of art and entertainment. Evolution operates by two main primary mechanisms. The first of these is natural selection, that’s random mutation and selective retention, along with our basic anatomy and physiology, the evolution of the pancreas or the eye or the fingernails. Natural selection also explains revulsions, such as the smell of rotting meat, the fear of snakes or standing close to the edge of a cliff. Natural selection also explains pleasures, sexual, our liking for sweet, fat and proteins, which in turn explains a lot of popular foods.
It’s women who actually push history forward.
The other great principle of evolution is sexual selection, and it operates very differently. The peacock’s magnificent tail is the most famous example of this. It did not evolve for natural survival. In fact, it goes against natural survival. It resulted from the mating choices made by peahens. It’s women who actually push history forward. Darwin himself, by the way, had no doubts that the peacock’s tail was beautiful in the eyes of the peahen. Now, keeping these ideas firmly in mind, we can say that the experience of beauty is one of the ways that evolution has of arousing and sustaining interest or fascination, even obsession, in order to encourage us toward making the most adaptive decisions for survival and reproduction. Beauty is nature’s way of acting at a distance. Evolution’s trick is to make beauty, to exert a kind of magnetism to give you the pleasure of simply looking at them.
So the next time you pass a jewelry shop window displaying a beautifully cut teardrop-shaped stone, don’t be so sure it’s just your culture telling you that that sparkling jewel is beautiful. Your distant ancestors loved that shape and found beauty in the skill needed to make it, even before they could put their love into words. Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? No, it’s deep in our minds. It’s a gift handed down from the intelligent skills and rich emotional lives of our most ancient ancestors. Our powerful reaction to images, to the expression of emotion in art, to the beauty of music, to the night sky, will be with us for as long as the human race exists.
The most effective antidote for bad thinking is good thinking. The best way to silence crazy claims is to listen to them with a sharp brain and then ask the right questions. Con artists love finding a brain with a wide-open doorway and nobody standing guard.
By questioning everything, we are perpetually evaluating our salon’s strategic blueprint and that can only be good for our business and the beauty industry.