One thing I like to do is pick up aging books, blow the dust off of them and see if they have anything of relevance to say about current events. One such book is New World, New Mind by Robert Ornstein and Paul Ehrlich. It very much seems to describe a problem that is still with us. That is, how we perceive news and how our perceptions may cause us to miss the most important developments in the news.
A thesis of the book is that humans tend to perceive dramatic changes very quickly. Yet it is more difficult to process change that moves more slowly overtime. A terrorist incident, though otherwise trivial in its overall importance, may gain much attention. Whereas information trickling in concerning global warming may be easily ignored or the importance unappreciated.
The book cites Albert Einstein, who sent a telegram to prominent Americans in which he stated: “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift towards unparalled catastrophe.”[i]
The book indicates that this was in a telegram to Franklin Roosevelt, though this is unlikely as Roosevelt was already deceased at the time that the telegram was sent. Still, that error is minor in comparison to the basic point being made. We are indeed trying to deal with issues and problems that challenge us to think in new ways. To ignore the need to think in new ways can very well result in catastrophe.
Einstein was writing with nuclear weapons in mind. Still, his warning is equally applicable to the problems of global warming, loss of species, and other developments related to environmental degradation. We may very well have the capacity to develop technological solutions to the problems we face, but this does us little good if we fail to mobilize resources at our disposal to address those problems. We must perceive that they are problems before we can act. If are brains are hard wired in a way that results in our avoidance of such problems, than we may need to suffer the consequences the hard way.
Einstein made his observation in May of 1946. The book by Ornstein and Ehlrich was published in 1989. It is sad that little apparent progress has been made is solving the problem identified from the time the book was published until today.