Preface (2) – The Apprehension of Reality

One person’s truth seems to be another person’s lie. People can be so contrarian in what they believe. Who can judge the truth? Does only God know the truth? Individuals seem unreliable when making suppositions about truth.

In order to know the truth and speak the truth, people must be autonomous beings. Without freedom a person can not make what seeming is the right choice. To be “truthful” is a very human endeavor. The question continually comes up about whose truth has merit, which truth is reliable. The problem with an assumption of truth is even more complex than people might think.

In order to hold a truth people must think freely. People often assume that they think freely and are fully conscious beings. Unfortunately studies show that people can act upon impulses not associated with conscious thought1 . There seems to be a discongruity between those behaviors that are innate, and those that are freely chosen. It seems even more so that one can be blind to this difference.

It is critical to know what constitutes our instincts, and what comprises our free will. If not, how is one to know when they think in an objective manner? If one does not think freely, then they cannot claim to live a completely autonomous life. Without these attributes of  reliably free cognitions, one might cease to be fully human, and must be no longer inerrantly an ethical beings. To be an ethical being one must be able to choose what the right choices are. Without autonomy, one may not be immoral, but one must be “amoral”.

A more practical reason why one would want the human specie to act freely, is that one can have a well ordered society, based on good principles of behavior. Without autonomy one cannot have this. On a larger scale, not only must autonomy be beneficial for the individual, but it is necessary for a well ordered society, and hopefully someday a world at peace.

It is clear that peace must be a goal of all peoples, even with the great distrust that exists between peoples. While in a more enlightened age, one country might not covet the resources of another, but rather share them, an autonomous being could (if they so chose) make such a thing reality. While this might be dismissed as claptrap, it is important to remember the fate of rulers in the past who have ignored the “other” after which the ground shook from unrest.

Identifying one’s dogmas are vitally important for social cohesion. From evolutionary theory, one knows that when traits that are passed on, they can survive into successive generations. This innate nature of Homo Sapiens, and all life, may be biased to enhance one’s survival, even to the detriment of others. This orientation may have worked well in agrarian societies, but in our large urban centers our instincts can often get us into trouble. One only needs to look at the prison statistics in the USA for example.

While it may be a tall, and perhaps an even impossible order, one must endeavor to understand one’s innate nature that hovers right behind their consciousness. In order to identify one’s dogma, one must be critically aware, not only of themselves, but how one understands the world. For the way one views the world (i.e., Weltanschauung) can tell us how individuals understand themselves.

In order to change the way one looks at the world then, one must look intimately at the way the individual looks at themselves. Most people are confident they are “good people”, that is they are morally upright, and act according to principle; although one may be marginally conscious, if at all, of how self-serving this principle could be when based on an innate need.

How can one remedy this situation in which people find themselves? If there is no immutable truth, then how can one decide if one is right or wrong? Unfortunately different people attach different meanings to truth. For example, it might be true that the Democratic Party goals are more aligned with the working people. It might be true that the Republican goals ultimately enable others in society to thrive if they so choose. It may be true that the Socialist believes that all wealth should be more equitably distributed, for a more stable society. Or it might be true that the Libertarian values liberty over all others.

How is one to decide what is the most desirable of all goals? How is one to decide what belief system one adheres to for a firm foundation and growth? In order for people to find what is wrong about the world, people must know first what is wrong with their own way of understanding this world. People often have different views, and may even change radically their views over a lifetime. Understanding is necessary to examine these dogmas.

In order to examine dogmas one must suspend one’s beliefs. If one is interested in stamp collecting, and they are reading this, this person will likely move on. Or if one wants to understand the Hubble Constant, one will not look here, but will look into the discipline of Astronomy or Cosmology. Yet, when one considers; the stamp collector and the astronomer both have a stake in what is said here. The stamp collector might dismiss this missive because it has nothing to do with commerce. The astronomer might dismiss it because it has nothing to do with science. The stamp collector and the astronomer can both benefit from this appeal, being subject to the human condition. Dogma enters all lives. Bias manifests based in class, status, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, species and so many other innumerable ways that touch all.

It is through this understanding, through our perception, that the world can prevail as it is. Some think of the human race as sheep, choosing whatever path the leaders choose. The call to arms, the making of treaties, the resumption of ties, all happen while one lives their lives, make their decisions – whether good or bad – and after, if one is so fortunate, take themselves safely to their graves.

The goal of this book then is to pierce beneath the facade, to ennoble those among us that can search for the truth. This is for those who will take up the mantle of Socrates and more. For whether one finds the truth or not, nor is even able to do so, that is better than not knowing the truth, but being deluded. If there is no truth to be known, how can one know this if one is not willing to search for it?

Introduction (2) The Apprehension of Reality

Living this life, with all its foibles and pitfalls, results in a greater understanding of ones’ self and the world. When we are a new born babe, any event surprises us, because without experience we know not what to expect. With experience we know what to expect whether it be another days toil, or a holiday, or even a sedentary moment.

While even as one ages, one finds that one can take nothing as certain. There is that one day where the check did not arrive on time, or a day where ones love did not arrive. Experience is a great teacher and individuals and society as well benefits greatly by knowing what to expect. Knowledge depends on the understanding, and one can only acquire understanding through experience. Most feel confident that experience is what can be relied on, and it is that experience that has enabled the human species to survive.

Although it is possible of course, for example, for a species to be an excellent predator and because of this has been able to thrive, but later finds itself without food because of the extinction of the species it feeds on. Nowadays the world has excelled in the production of increasingly destructive weapons, and have been able to exterminate those less well armed. But now the nations that have triumphed face each other in hardened befuddlement. What are we to do now their leaders might wonder? One possible outcome, hopefully, is an age of cooperation.

While we know experience is vital for species survival, being the nurture in the nature/nurture distinction, the role of nature is less clear. Like a driving force which leads one to act beyond or without ones understanding, this force evades consciousness, and therefore, like bias itself, is beyond comprehension. Socrates claimed that the only knowledge one can have is the knowledge that we don’t know. One cannot really know for certain the true motives for ones actions. It might be thought by an individual that they acted out of love, or perhaps justice, but actually acted primally as our genetic ancestry dictates. The scope of consciousness must be necessarily unknown, because our genetic inspired drives do not rise to consciousness. How much is a true self-conscious motive is forever a mystery.

If we cannot know the extent of our conscious motives, we cannot really feel secure in these motives determining behavior at all. This is not to claim that the two, nature and nurture, cannot act hand in hand in the quest to survive. The relationship between these two is a very contemporary enterprise examined largely by science and philosophy and is especially poignant in the writings of Sigmund Freud.

While it seems to be true that our consciousness is limited to some degree, this does not rule out the usefulness of the human intellect. Certainly great skyscrapers, elaborate mathematical theories, and human cunning, is unrivaled in the animal kingdom, points to a conscious determinate existence. When looking more closely at Socrates’ dictum it becomes clear that his is a call to skepticism, a call to avoid dogma. We are indeed thinking beings with the ability to scrutinize and hypothesize as shown by Descartes’ Cogito “I think therefore I am.” One can find a sense of comfort with this assertion. It seems we must live meaningful and robust lives. For if we are able to think, we must exist, and be a thinking thing at that, a free independent consciousness.

When one scrutinizes the nature/nurture distinction, only one can be confused about what is reliable, what can be known, but when looking at assurances that at least to some degree one is a truly free thinker all trepidation recedes. Many would find it depressing if this great mind which humans possess only served ancestral animal instincts. We are then, at least to some degree thinking free beings, but the question may arise, as Rodney King after being beaten by the police, most famously stated during the subsequent rioting in Los Angeles, California in 1992,  “Can we all get along?”.