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The Wisdom of Introspection

It is very autumnal today in my corner of the Black Forest. Half the golden leaves are already mouldering and awaiting my thrifty rake. In my selected isolation I view the happenings of the globe through a lens of my own creation, polished sharper through the years and with a restless accumulation of wisdom to aid my discrimination.

Most people I know from my past remain true to the ideals they have held for the decades of their lives. One can praise such loyalty or condemn it as one chooses but to evaluate and revise it is far more valuable. Unfortunately for the world, there are conflicting factors in our human construct which makes doing so a rare thing.

The roots of our beliefs tend to be dimmed if not thoroughly obscured with the passage of time and the greater the span of time the greater the corruption. A central principle of organisation of our belief system is based on an extremely practical idiosyncrasy which all humans share is that, once we have learned something new, and accepted it as a fact, we rarely revisit it to check its veracity or validity agains the ever changing background of our experience. This is very practical as a simple survival mechanism. Try to imagine how uncertain life would be if we had to evaluate things like the solidity of floors every time we arise in the morning. Or whether coffee is poisonous. Or almost every thing else you see as belonging to this world.

Most of the data to which we ascribe the attribute of accepted or experiential knowledge gets a pass in the revisioning process for the above mentioned reason. First of all, the lions share of most concepts we believe in are running subconciously. It is easily understood that unless special effort is engaged to investigate the specificities we generally don’t notice them at all. Our subconcious mind does not make a deep dive into the rational structure of each accepted concept but simply uses the stored generalized concepts we have already accepted to support a generally more specific and higher level one. While a necessary feature of our relationship with the world, the obvious downside is that this tendency leads away from wisdom and toward generalization or ignorance. It is only by directed investigation into the foundations of specific beliefs that we can hope to combat our instinctual drift toward stubborn or blind belief.

While “normal life” would quickly come to a standstill for each of us if we could not rely on accepted experience it does not necessarily follow that we cannot update our worldview. Fortunately we are all given a very malleable pile of grey matter to experiment on. It is completely open to revision as anyone knows who has successfully taken up a new hobby or rediscovered a taste for something completely new well knows. Since, without a driving reason, we are generally loathe to even want to alter our settled opinions about almost anything, it should not be surprising that politics and our opinions would fall outside of that realm.

Political opinions belong to very highest level of human concepts. Unlike the physical states of hunger, pain, lust etc. our political ideas are the capstone of a conceptual pyramid with many, many layers of supporting concepts. These supporting concepts can have their roots in direct knowledge accepted from an authority such as a parent, sibling or teacher. It may come from a deductive process which itself is leaning on other concepts. It can possibly come from direct experience and live on a as a self-discovered foundational concept.

We all have built our pyramids of belief with blocks of knowledge, whether inherited or self-hewn, and are responsible for their inception and their upkeep.

Those who inspect their beliefs, care for their consistency, internal and external, and revise them when they no longer serve, are called wise.

One Comment

  1. Stephen Meyer Stephen Meyer November 12, 2020

    This is profound Tom. Thank you for these thoughts.

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