There Is The Black Box & Then There Is The White Box

The Black Box has become legendary. We are always hearing about recovering it from the downed plane. The idea — applicable to modern society in general — is that somewhere, somehow we are able to recover all the facts & stats needed to learn what went wrong.

Applause. Applause. Surely it’s better to have Black Boxes in our lives rather than simply uninformed blackness. There’s the cliche: “Research is finding out what went wrong only after it goes wrong.”

Wouldn’t it be grand if humanity had something more than a Black Box to fathom more than simply the facts & stats? These are important of course, but like the fallen bricks to some ancient desert site, researchers can’t always be sure how the bricks once stood. Was this a temple or a bank? a jail or a brothel? Some cynics suggest 500 years from now our high school sites might be thought of us prisons, what with all their straight-line corridors, closed-in rooms, and metal-detectors.

To get a fuller picture, researchers at the sites need also to know something of the people. Their thoughts, their feelings, their fears, their gods. Hard not to recall another cliche: “Once we have all the facts, we have only part of the truth.” An arguable proposition which says the aficionados of Black Box thinking can only tell us so much about us. The rest [and perhaps best] about us and our doings depends on those sifting not only through the bricks, but imagining the buildings themselves.

Enter today’s other kind of researchers: philosophers, poets, novelists and composers. Is it not possible there is more to learn about our species — whether at the plane’s controls or lunching back in the cabin — from a Shakespeare or a Dostoevsky than from a dozen site-sifters?

While that question echoes, here’s a second. In this time of growing anti-government sentiment and voting, what has happened to that White Box which has sat under the American Christmas Tree sent by Washington? Ever since the 1930s New Deal, whenever opened it’s been the reason for both hope [social security, medicare, highways, drug control, food inspections, scholarships] and for derision [the new anti-hero Wisconsin Governor Walker].

Two boxes, two ways of opening them, maybe too little time to be sure how best to use their contents.

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  • As usual, you have gone in 3 or 4 directions at once. Maybe if this is archived in a permanent form, your white box will be preserved. But if someone crashes the server or digital doesn't otherwise prove to be permanent, that's that.

    This first reminds me of a high school reading assignment about some desolate place where there was a broken statue inscribed with "ASHING." Turns out it was of George Washington after Washington D.C. got nuked.

    The black box (which really is an orange box) usually also has the voice recorder, so everyone gets the insight of the pilot saying "oh sh---." Which they usually do.

    And then there is the government one, but we discussed that a couple of days ago. The only thing surprising is that Walker won by 2 or 3 times the margin predicted earlier, and also about twice the margin as the first time around. Wonder what that does for the white box of his opposition, which the conventional wisdom said was going to win if they just protested enough, and surely after they collected 4 times the required petition signatures.

    As one Black woman interviewed on TV said, "Walker did exactly what he said he would, which is why I didn't vote for him in the first place." That seems an honest white box.

  • In reply to jack:

    Yes, a couple directions taken here; but I had hoped the bottom line was that Black Box thinking is not nearly enough. I wish our academics, philosophers and other non-laboratory researchers would step up and demand more attention. We are more than our facts and our stats, more than simply what our scientific researchers report...but am I just wishing for yesterday>

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