I have been reading the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. He came up with this awkward acronym (he freely admits this awkwardness). It stands for:
What You See Is All There Is
Kahneman speaks of two Systems of Thinking— System 1 and System 2. System 1 is intuitive and unconscious (Fast). System 2 is thought-laden and conscious (Slow). Both processes are lazy (or efficient if you prefer). Both like to operate heuristically, utilizing mental short-cuts or thumb rules— especially System 1.
One of those mental short-cuts is WYSIATI. Often this is a bad short-cut. An example of this is in magic tricks. I remember watching a show on TV where a magician with assistants put up a screen in the middle of a big field. The narrator talks for a bit and then when the screen was removed there was a tank (as in very large military vehicle). It did seem quite amazing until they showed things from a different angle. From a camera angle from higher up where the screen was not blocking the view, we see that as soon the screen is in place, at the very far end of the long field an object begins to move. It is the tank. It slowly lumbers across the field until it is quite close to the screen. Then the screen is removed and there it is. Once one sees how it is done, one is struck by, “Why in the world did I find this amazing?” The answer is that, unless we make a conscious effort otherwise, we make the mental short-cut, WYSIATI. Before the screen is in place we see a vacant field. When the screen is in place, the camera doesn’t change its position, and the sound is muted except for the voice-over from the narrator. The mind just assumes things are as they were— what we saw is all there is.
As Christians we are sometimes quick to complain about scientists who seem to follow this perspective Many embrace a form of Empiricism or Naturalism that at its worst boils down to WYSIATI.
But we can fall into the same trap. Perhaps in Evangelical circles this can be especially true. It does seem like in Evangelical theology we don’t like to honor the idea of Mystery. Far too often rather than accepting there is much out there that we know nothing about, we try to make up answers based on our own ignorance. It is like a Jehovah’s Witness lady who was a friend of a friend many years ago. She claimed to understand fully everything in the Bible. It is a great way to preserve one’s beliefs and biases. I know everything— there is nothing more to learn. Sometimes the catchphrase used by some, “Sufficiency of Scripture” is a mental shortcut for assuming that there is nothing more out there.
This is rather strange. After all, we often look with great fondness, even with applause, those scientists and great thinkers in history who saw exploration of the created world as a way of studying God (if the universe is a creation of God, it is then a revelation of God).
This greatly contrasts with Charles Hodge, 19th century theologian, who (if his own words accurately describe himself) decided that early Reformed theologians got it all right, and so his job was to pass along that body of knowledge to the next generation without any corrections or improvements. In essence, he was to be an indoctrinater rather than an educator– or a theologian.
This is a mental short-cut of the same form. Whatever they found is all there is. No mystery, no exploration, no uncertainty.
I think we can do better. Kahneman notes that we can consciously avoid WYSIATI. The key point is that it is conscious— with intent. Centuries ago, may thought that the universe was small and simple. Lights shining through holes in the dark sky and a few roving lights above a flat or curved land. But eventually we were able to see further out, and further in, to discover that the world of God’s making is vastly greater and more magnificent than we could ever have imagined. But as incomprehensible is this universe we are in and the One who created it, it is no less incomprehensible than those Christians who seek to make the Universe small—- closing their minds off to the possibility that there is more than their eyes behold.