That man is me. Thrice in the last month I’ve stumbled headlong into subjects where my ignorance left me grasping in the dark for a ledge or foothold lest I be swept into a maelstrom of confusion by someone’s claims. This sensation is not unfamiliar, but it’s usually easy to beat back. Whereas I possess multiple areas of expertise and as an autodidact am constantly absorbing information, I nonetheless recognize that even in areas where I consider myself qualified to act and/or opine confidently, others possess authority and expertise far greater than mine. Accordingly, I’ve always considered myself a generalist. (A jack of all trades is not quite the same thing IMO, but I decline to draw that distinction here.)

Decisions must inevitably be made on insufficient information. That’s true because more information can always be added on top, which leads to paralysis or infinite regress if one doesn’t simply draw an arbitrary line and stop dithering. This is also why I aver periodically that consciousness is based on sufficiency, meaning “good enough.” A paradox exists between a decision being good enough to proceed despite the obvious incompleteness of information that allows for full, balanced analysis, if fullness can even be achieved. Knowledge is thus sufficient and insufficient at the same time. Banal, everyday purchasing decisions at the grocery store are low risk. Accepting a job offer, moving to a new city, and proposing marriage carry significant risks but are still decisions made on insufficient information precisely because they’re prospective. No way of knowing with certainty how things will turn out.

The first time I fell woefully short and floated unmoored, buffeted by claims I couldn’t refute, was in response to a sales pitch for hydrogen water. I’m highly skeptical of arrant claims directed toward supplements, herbs, vitamins, essential oils, and other substances and treatments promising beneficial health effects. The term snake oil applies to quite a lot of that. So when I heard “hydrogen water is a good way to get hydrogen and oxygen into the body,” I launched immediately (in my mind, at least) into a series of questions I didn’t know how to answer. Isn’t drinking plain tap water getting hydrogen and oxygen into the body? Does the body need hydrogen it’s not otherwise getting? Doesn’t the body extract oxygen through respiration rather than ingestion? Further investigation under the guidance of a chemist clouded my thinking even further. Flavorless, odorless hydrogen gas (H2) can indeed be dissolved into pressurized water, not unlike carbon dioxide gas (CO2) added to soft drinks. The amount is surprisingly small, but that may not be a bar to observable effect. However, the gas escapes easily, thus posing a containment problem, purportedly from the small molecular size of the hydrogen potentially flowing through the sides of the pouches in which H water is sold or from under the cap. Pour the water into a glass, releasing all but atmospheric pressure, and all bets are off. Claims of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits (among others) are just that: largely untested and unverified claims. The recommendation of the chemist I consulted was to try H water myself and see. Haven’t yet done that, so this expedition into the unknown is inconclusive.

The second time relates to opinions I formed regarding modern architectural styles, which is the subject of this blog post. After a workout, a fellow struck up a conversation with me regarding the poor design of the men’s locker room, parts of which were retrofitted as a result of wear and tear. Discussion flowed in the direction of my blog post still fresh in mind (not unusual for me), at which point another fellow intervened to offer his expertise as a professional architect. Gawd … It became another consultation, with me asking questions I didn’t know how to answer in an area where I had already well-formed opinions (and multiple blog posts). My concerns have always been mostly functional and aesthetic (such as here); the architect’s concerns were almost entirely regulatory, economic, and technical, all of which inform what gets built. Of particular interest was how we built buildings as little as 70 years ago, with wide lawns and setbacks from the street, as well as formidable and durable materials. Efficient land use in crowded cities now dictates building right up to the sidewalks, robbing most buildings of dignified approach and appearance from a modest distance. Moreover, use of glass curtain walls and veneers instead of masonry undermines the sense of solidity. The pro clearly supported modern architectural styles, even offering at one point “we don’t build buildings like we did 2,000 years ago in the Classical Era.” Well, duh; that was unhelpful. It was a friendly conversation but also inconclusive.

The third time was having received my mail-in ballot for the Illinois Democratic primary election coming up on March 17. The ballot contains 13 presidential candidates, 18 delegate candidates to the National Nominating Convention (each associated with a presidential candidate but no explanation whether this constitutes further votes for presidential candidates), multiple local offices (some running unopposed), and most frustratingly, 48 candidates for different judicial posts. How am I supposed to have fully informed opinions about all these candidates, especially the judges with whom I have absolutely no contact? Even periodic jury duty provides nothing useful. It’s preposterous, even for a relatively engaged fellow like me. Voting, too, is based on insufficient information, and in the case of presidential candidates, a surfeit of rhetoric, reckless claims, and baseless attacks, little of which is to be believed, fails to provide actionable information. Recent history further demonstrates that candidates will offer whatever focus-grouped platitudes and promises are needed to get elected but then ignore their own campaign policies or at least fail to deliver. Hope and change? Not hardly. Make America Great Again? Drain the swamp? Build the wall? Lock her up? Pshaw.

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