There are a lot of things in this world…perhaps brought about by humans, but nevertheless exist at least as part of our lives. They are important things, things we fight for, things we live for. I’m speaking of things like freedom, justice, love, spirituality, loyalty, equality, truth, and there are probably others that I’m not thinking of right now. These things often give rise to a lot of disagreements in terms of what they mean, they often lack a specific definition, and very much depends on one’s perspective based on the family, culture, society in which we were raised.
All of these things are core to who we are as a species and have the ability to impact our own personal happiness and sense of well-being, as well as how we treat each other and all life in general. All of these things can also be extremely frustrating because of how different we view them. Ever tried to love someone who wasn’t all that impressed with the way you did it? Ever had someone question your loyalty even when you thought your behavior expressed loyalty? Ever fought for some group’s freedom, but have the very same group question the way in which you fight for that freedom or even claim that you weren’t helping but making things worse? Ever believe something was very important to spiritual health only to be told by someone else that it was irrelevant? The truth is that that all of these things are really really complex, regardless of how simple and natural it might feel to you. These things are often very dynamic, leaving us with moral and ethical conflicts over time, sometimes changing our views slowly or rapidly as we experience new things. They are often tied strongly to our emotions and sometimes seem beyond reason, they are just how we feel. It also tends to be not very satisfying to be alone with our perspectives. We seek connection to those who share similar perspectives and points of view. I would say all this is good, and that our perspective should change over time. We should be seriously considering other points of view and striving towards some sort of universal truth about these things even if we never actually reach it in our lifetime. Because if we can nail down these things it is the benefit of all.
However there is another core part of who we are as a species. We don’t like things that are hard to define. We like to organize, we would prefer things to be simple. Simple is less costly, it gives us more time for other things. We spend less time sitting their thinking when we need to make sure we’re safe, getting resources to survive. It’s very evolutionary. When things are actually hard, when they are not quite within our grasp, that’s when the real trap springs. Our need for organization, categorization, and simplicity begins to create rules. It begins to create rituals. Rules and rituals are easy. I’m not saying that we haven’t created some convoluted rules and rituals, but they are easy because we know that when we follow them the conclusion is guaranteed. At least that’s the way we tend to think. They give us the intangible in tangible form. They turn things that are dynamic into the static. It takes things that might take a lifetime to learn into an instant discovery. For those with a penchant for defaulting to authority, it is a Godsend. Literally. And while it might be natural for us to do these things, it is a complete disservice to these lofty ideals and values we live and die for. And maybe it’s not even a bad thing that we try to create a system that fits these things, but when we reduce it to the system alone things usually turn out badly. Love has to be more than just placing a ring on someone’s finger. Justice has to be more than just an immutable punishment for an immutable law. Whenever we think we’ve reached a state of equality or discovered a truth, we must still question and test instead of resting on our laurels.
I think that we have developed a very good “way of knowing” with the scientific method. It is demonstrably the best way of knowing we have so far. It takes very little effort to look around the world and see that the best way is not only not the only way in which people come to know things, and it is often by no means obvious. I mean it’s not to say we don’t start off life as little infants constantly testing and trying to understand our world through observations, but we do often make mistakes in trying to understand the world around us. Mostly related to our tendency to find patterns that done’t exist. Our senses often deceive us because we evolved for life in a small geographic environment, with a small group of people, and that is often what matters the most. As “ways of knowing” get better and more effective, it reveals our fallibility. It tells us we aren’t as smart as we think we are, and that we might not be doing things as well as we could. Even as a scientist, who feels like I know my way of thinking is a more reliable one, it can often not feel like enough in a world with so much suffering and when so many need help quickly. It is not realistic to simply wait for people to come around to a better way of looking at things. As much as I like to philosophize “ways of knowing” we must also remember that such things are not so easily divorced from “ways of feeling”.
History tells us that change comes through slow increments like weathering and erosion and also through suddenness of revolution, yet in both cases forcing it doesn’t necessarily help matters. It’s like life is like a slope of sand which slowly over time, grain by grain is deposited on a slope until we reach some critical mass beyond the angle of repose and the weight of the sand causes a sudden change in the landscape. With no real way to predict which grain of sand will cause it all to shift and give way. It’s like we all have to really try to do better, while at the same time just watch it all happen as if we aren’t even a part of the story.
So what is the answer to seeing eye to eye on these very important values? I don’t know. I think the best we can do is accept that things change, and that nothing is settled. We can still try to create rules, as long as we are not a slave to them. We can try to make things tangible, as long we accept that those rituals are empty without a lifetime of effort. One thing we can say for certain is that life would lose far too much flavor if it all could be settled so easily. We must accept that life is hard in large part because it simply can’t be done alone. And while I might be an idealist thinking that we might someday reach at least some level of harmony among all humanity, I see no harm in striving towards that. What we have to gain, I think, is too great to just give up and say “It can never happen”. As I always say, there is much more in this world that we all have in common than what drives us apart.
15 thoughts on “You Know It Just Ain’t Easy”
This post made me think of the tribal-ness we see across the globe, or across the creek. Groups of people interpreting the world as they see fit, making their own sets of rules. (both religion and law, sometimes the two are inseparable) Inevitably we see problems when groups can’t see eye to eye on the rules.
Which as you mention brings us the best (IMO) way to understand our reality. Which is science. Oh but could we all see things clearly, understand the facts, and find ourselves in agreement with those facts, those realities. Rather than the dysfunctional bunch of wackos, extremists, fundamentalist republican, jihadis, we actually have to live with.
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A fantastic post on introspection, extrospection, perpetual RE-examination of both, and most important of all… an undercurrent of active humility! There are several points I wanted to quote, comment about, etc, but ALL OF IT is stated well enough.
Bravo Swarn! Bravo. ❤
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Thanks Professor. I feel like these musings might be tiring for my readers…glad it’s not everybody! lol
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Not all our “musings” will suit the moment or the mood of everyone. That’s okay. “Human connection” — because of feelings — can be finicky so it takes effort, sometimes a LOT of effort to remain connected even when it doesn’t suit our finicky feelings of the moment; those “dynamics” you alluded to. lol 😉
Just keep on keeping on musing Sir and I will read… and probably comment! 😛
After careful deliberation and considerable consultation, I decided it was ill advised to apply the scientific method to knowing my wife.
What do you mean by the the scientific method is demonstrably the best way of knowing we have so far?
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Actually the scientific method would also be the best way of knowing in terms of understanding how your wife works, it just wouldn’t necessarily be ethical. lol I know it’s unromantic but a lot can be derived about your wife through science. Through studies of genetics, psychology, culture, etc a lot about your wife could be predicted. Would we get it all right, probably not…but that’s not to say that you understand your wife completely either. Or that she completely understands herself for that matter. But more to the point, I’m not sure why you think you haven’t used science to try to get to know your wife. You asked her questions, you’ve studied your behavior. A number of times you’ve probably made bad guesses, and you’ve adjusted your views based on those observations. Other people might have asked the same questions you’ve asked her and got different results. Maybe she told you her favorite ice cream was chocolate because yours was, but she really prefers strawberry when asked by a friend. I’m just saying there is all sorts of science going on, and consensus on who your wife is, matters a great deal to how she sees herself and how others see her. Of course humans are dynamic and constantly changing and thus require constant investigation if understanding wants to be maintained.
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I think you are talking more about understanding than knowing. Nevertheless, given that I wish to stay married, there are limits to what kind of experiments I can devise to discover the real Christine.
I am not sure I understand (or know) the difference between the two in the context of this post. When I use the word know here I mean it as the dictionary defines “be aware of through observation, inquiry, or information”. So the scientific method as way of understanding or being aware of how something works through observation, inquiry, and information. I would submit that you do this all the time in knowing or understanding what Christine is like.
There is no understanding Christine.
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Is it necessary or even important to see eye to eye? Wouldn’t it be more utilitarian to learn to get along?
Well I would say it depends. If one put’s value in let’s say tradition over all else, but part of that tradition is female genital circumcision then I would argue that learning to just get along is not very utilitarian. As you probably know from my other posts I define moral behavior as a behavior that seeks to cause the least amount harm or suffering to life, so while perspectives are free to differ over a wide range of issues and many times that diversity is valuable, I don’t think we should tolerate a value which diminishes, or oppresses a group of people based on gender, race, sexual orientation etc. We also know the harm poverty does to children, so on no grounds should we tolerate a perspectives that says poverty is okay. We can disagree on the best way to solve the problem and this is beneficial. It is clear when you look at many of the politicians in this country who have led nothing but upper middle class lives at best, they have no idea of what it is like to live in poverty and how much harm it causes. It’s simply not acceptable to live in that bubble, when some empathy and attempting to understand people leaving in poverty might change your perspective and since the wealthy are often in a greater position of power to do something about the problem ignorance is not really something we should allow. And furthermore it maybe through the diversity of thought as we come together to solve this problem that we do come up with a “best solution” as demonstrated through the scientific method, and the evidence should speak to a course of action.
I agree with what you say, but how do you go from not tolerating unacceptable behaviour to seeing eye-to-eye? The language you use suggests that others need to share your view in order to see eye-to-eye.
Well perhaps I am, but again I’m not expounding a view that I think is all that debatable. I mean it’s like saying you expect everyone to agree with your crazy law of gravity. I am not saying anybody has to agree with my favorite flavor of ice cream. When it comes to the scientific method there is definitely a high degree of value in it, and it is gives us a way out of our cognitive biases. The other thing I am trying to convince people of the importance of is “outrospection”. Which is basically the idea of building empathy by being curious about other people’s way of life, environment, situation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BG46IwVfSu8
The idea that empathy has value to causing moral progressing is not really debatable idea either. There many studies that demonstrate the power that empathy has in leading to more moral choices. Empathy is also a very innate human quality so it makes sense that we should increase our empathy as we grow. As to how to convince people to think more critically, see the value of the scientific method, and grow their empathy for others, I honestly have no idea. But i do think it’s very important and my opinion is not based on anecdotal evidence.
L’amour. Aimer tout ce qui est vivant autour de nous. C’est toujours la réponse.
– Mais comprendre la vie c’est comprendre aussi que même dans un eclipse total de soleil “l’umbra” dois avoir ça place.
Merci pour cet écrit, merveilleux.
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Hello Danae. Merci! Unfortunately I only loosely understood your comment as I don’t remember much French from school. Fortunately a friend of mine was already coming over for dinner tonight and is from France! She translated and I thank you kindly for your comment. 🙂