I had this idea in my early 20s that there was an equation that could define what it mean to live a fulfilling life. I had reasoned this based on what I had observed that seemed common to the well being of all people. People would generally laugh at me when I’d say something like this just as you may be doing now. To be sure when I said equation I was describing nothing so trite as x+y=3, or anything like that. This equation was look and full of many variables. Some of those variables might be simple, like having oxygen and water. Other variables could not be settled so easily and they would not have the exact same value for each person. In fact the same could be true of oxygen and water, but there were certainly variables in that equation which might be more broad and whose details might on the surface look quite different for different people. An example might be something like art. Art is important. For some it’s the doing of art, for others it’s the appreciation and enjoyment of it, for some it’s both. For some people it’s painting, for some it’s writing, for some it could be making floral arrangements. I think it’s true to say that I didn’t even have the equation worked out myself and I still don’t but it seems obvious to me that there is common ground when it comes to these variables that can be used for this equation to come up with a solution for a productive and meaningful life.
I was listening to a podcast recently where writer Andrew Sullivan was arguing with Sam Harris that reason could not form a basis for happiness. This idea was reinforced in another podcast where Russell Brand was trying to make the point on his podcast that this secular world that is edging out religion is also edging out spirituality and thus making our world bereft of meaning in some way. I would first say that I am not altogether sure that this is even true in that there is a lot of evidence to demonstrate that our world has a lot less suffering (as a percentage of the population) than we had even a 100 years ago. But let’s say that Russell Brand’s assertion is true in his more deist outlook, and I know many other theists who share similar concerns. As I look at the person I am now, I am someone who leans strongly in the direction and importance of reason. More specifically scientific reasoning. And I reflected on this claim by Sullivan. Are things like love and spirituality eroded by reason? If I hold reason, logic, empiricism, and all that stuff as guiding principles in my quest for truth, am I going to miss out on important meaning that could be present in my life? The anecdote I started with here came to my mind, an idea that came to me from beauty I saw in mathematics, but also the reasoning I had done in observance of the human condition. So I decided to write a post why I think reason is wonderful, in my humble opinion.
I will start by saying reasoning can be flawed, but not all reasoning. Saying reason has no value because reasoning can be flawed is flawed reasoning.
Reason tells us that spirituality is important to humans. Reason has shown us that you don’t need to believe in the divine to have spiritual experiences. It’s reasonable to seek spiritual experiences. When I reflect on why a certain experience was spiritual for me this helps me understand what factors might lead to more of these experiences.
Reason tells us that love is important to humans. Feelings of intense love can be spiritual, and like spiritual experiences enjoying the emotion and not thinking to much about it the moments is a good idea. Reason tells us that love is a lot like a drug, and makes act irrationally. I don’t mind this fact actually. Being aware of that though can help us think twice making a decision based solely on love, which also isn’t a bad thing. Just as one might claim that life is more than just reason, life is also more than just love. And even if love often defies reasons, we know there are reasons why humans love. When I reflect on the reasons why I love, I understand myself better and this can lead to me having more experiences where I get to have those wonderful feelings of love run through me.
Reason informs me that humans must have meaning or purpose – things that drive us to more, to live another day just for the possibility of fulfilling that purpose or experiencing that meaning. These things vary wildly among people as there are many ways to find meaning. Too many perhaps because some seem to not know what direction to go in. When I use my reasoning skills to evaluate meaning and purpose I feel like I understand how to make life more fulfilling.
Reason tells us that sometimes you have to do things for no reason at all. Perhaps a better way of putting this is that it’s reasonable to do something that you’ve never done before, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable. It means taking a risk. Fail or succeed you grow, and spending a lot of time reasoning about the possible outcomes can ruin the value you might get from taking the risk. Without risk we don’t grow. Reason tells us that when we stagnate we become apathetic and life loses meaning and purpose. Time seems to fly by as it becomes routine and this precious existence is over before we know it. So I’ve reasoned that I need to keep challenging myself, and sometimes it’s made life harder, but never dull.
Reason informs me that we all reason and by being clearer about our own reasons we can better communicate them. Conversation can help expose us to different lines of reasoning, and help evaluate what lines or reasoning are better, worse, or just different. Reason tells us that there is no right answer to the best flavor of ice cream, but there is a right answer to how to jump the battery in your car. And this may be the reason why you have to sit and have an ice cream while you wait for AAA to come and tow your car to the mechanic.
Reason informs me that there are better and worse ways of thinking about problems and that there are rules to reasoning. Reason has shown how prone to cognitive biases and delusion we are. Reason tells me that it is hard to overcome these problems and it takes being conscious of it, and takes perseverance to continue to learn and to be reflective. When we aren’t aware of how our reasoning can be flawed that’s when conversation can breakdown. And once we can no longer have conversations through shared norms of sound reasoning, when conversation fails to resolve our differences, reason tells us that violence becomes a much more likely option in resolving differences.
Reason tells me that even though emotion can often guide my reasoning, I serve my compassion better when I detach emotion from reasoning because life also isn’t all about how I feel about it. Reason tells me sometimes I have to step outside of myself so I can be more sure that reasoning isn’t flawed by my emotions.
Reason tells me that ignorance might be more blissful, but that there is nothing about life that says it is supposed to be one happy moment after another. Sometimes reasoning will make us sad, anxious or scared. But we can use that to drive us to make the world a better place and not let ourselves be paralyzed by it. If more people used this type of reasoning, reasoning would lead to less experiences of sadness, anxiety and fear.
It’s reasonable to assume that you might not agree with my reasoning, but it was important for me to demonstrate that reason doesn’t have to be the antithesis to meaning and that it can actually enhance it. It also may be that my reasoning is flawed. There is a reason why I write a blog to have conversations. There is also a reason that I keep trying to learn more, because good reasoning sometimes just requires more information. There is a reason why I love reason, and hopefully you love it a little more after reading this.