Know Thyself?

13 Jul

Disclaimer:  Philosophy makes no promises and has no touchy-feely obligations.  The truth might not set you free.


There comes a point at which one may cease to interpret human behavior as being the result of ideal choice and ideal meaning.

It’s one thing to say this, and it’s quite another thing to live it.  It can be related to the old paradox of incontinence: “I know this is wrong, but I still believe it, feel it, do it, etc.”  Children can read philosophical aphorisms, but their basic assumptions are left intact in nearly every case. The same could be said for a slightly smaller majority of adults.  Assumptions are not inert things; they inform and structure our interpretations.  Behavior is affected by changes in key assumptions.

A human being is structured so as to take his perceptions and emergent thoughts & associations incredibly seriously.  Few persons will say, for example, “I am having this negative association, but perhaps it is erroneous, or perhaps even the notion of ‘erroenous’ warrants far deeper introspection.”  The inherent risk vested in this subjective absolute is rarely recognized.  Who feels dramatic emotions and interprets them as a dice roll of the Universe?  Hardly anyone.  We are encouraged to take our emotions extremely seriously; tidy up gaping inconsistencies on the way from A to B.

Another example: the staging of a creature in a perceived environment will automatically and involuntarily prime the seated agent’s brain according to past experiences.  Usually, this ambient tuning will be taken as indubitable and representative of reality.  It will be confidently acted on.  Yet it is hopelessly finite!

The truth is delivered unto the finite seer.  At least it feels that way, and that’s what really matters.  Fake it til ya make it!

One problem is the wholesale idealization of ‘knowers’ and ‘actors’ as implicitly infinite beings of divine prerogative.  It’s the Enlightenment and its bag of tricks!

So why are we in such an odd predicament?  I can’t hope to offer a full explanation, but some insight can be had.  In a distributed and competitive system of finite knowers and actors, one ends up with units of solipsism/zealotry, organization, and advocacy rather than with idealized perfect knowing.  Furthermore, nothing would ever get off the ground without some boldness.  Beyond that, there will be an evolutionary premium for the right mix of risk and conservation.  Those creatures taking too few risks will be overrun.  The bold may not have much ability to introspect or to formally justify, but they can act(a different sort of ‘justification’).  Since the bold need some degree of general awareness, coherence, and ad hoc capability, they end up with amazing cover stories and rationalizations for their overall lack of adequate understanding and justification(recall sanity’s membrane).  History remembers actors who stumbled into superior methods(read: fertile methods).  Action doesn’t require philosophic wholeness, at least simple action doesn’t, and it probably doesn’t even require consciousness.  If patterns of conditioning are locked in, then they may perpetuate themselves by habit which will rehearse itself indefinitely so long as it continues to find sustenance.

Consciousness is probably an exception to finite knowing, but perhaps not quite in the sense that might be hoped for.  In any case, it’s a critical trail to follow.  I know that something exists, and I know that the inconceivable qua human is real.  One might react to this with hope, wonder, awe, terror, and so on.  What is there to recommend one of the reactions over the others?   Is such a reaction even meaningful at all outside of its realization within a personality?

What does it mean to understand or to know?  Is it nothing but the credit of history’s epic conditioning processes culminating in moments of sophisticated reflex and binding?

It’s difficult to consider such things without feeling some respect for the daring Gnostic mood.  If we live in a reality structured to reward conscious zealots who perpetrate ever-escalating forms of self-deception as a sacrifice for relative ‘fitness’, then one has to wonder about the Universe itself.  I certainly do.



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