An essay on the arrogance inherent to the human condition
When one claims to understand the world, there comes a certain confidence with that statement. How is it possible to have a belief someone doesn’t actually believe in? By definition it is a contradictory statement. So, each individual has certain beliefs which they have total confidence in. The sum of all individual beliefs of an individual form the worldview through which one perceives the world.This worldview, in turn, influences every single decision one makes. This is better understood with an example.
When one uses the word ‘sun’, it is pretty clear what one means. One is nearly always referring to the star around which our planet revolves. On the surface, it seems obvious. How can anyone think of anything else when you use the word ‘sun’? However, there is a difference between the denotation and the connotation of the word. For each individual on the planet, there is a different connotation behind the word. That is due to the fact that no two people are the same. It does not matter if people are brought up with the same values, the same family, or even very similar genetics in the case of twins. The word will always have a different connotation for each person, noticeable in some instances and not noticeable in others. For example, one person from a hotter part of the world might associate the word with feelings of nostalgia, while people coming from freezing climates could associate it with desire. The point being, this can be done for every single objective concept, thought, word. Hence, we have no choice but to believe that while there does exist an objective world we all share, there is also a perception of the world which is different for each person. Hence, the world loses all objectivity. Who am I to claim the sky is blue when to a colour blind person it is grey? It is easy to claim the colour blind person in this example is wrong, but why is the real question. Are they wrong because we can claim with certainty the sky is blue, or is it because to most people the sky is blue, and hence that is the truth.
At that stage, it becomes a point of the masses subjugating the minority. To the colour blind person, the sky is grey. That is an absolute truth based on the observations that person made about the world, the same way a person without colour blindness makes a statement regarding the colour of the sky. So, how can we claim that the sky is blue? We claim that because the majority of the people in the world are not colour blind, and hence to the majority of people the sky is blue, the sky must be blue. Then it becomes a topic of what the masses believe to be true, not what is true. When one looks around at the world surrounding us, it is easy to draw the same conclusion on other factors. Truth, for lack of a better word, is just the majority imposing their will on the minority, deeming them outcasts if they dare rebel. So then, what is being right but just having the greater numbers on your side? We are all aware of the old adage 'history is written by the victors’, but we make the mistake of only applying it to major global events. Everything is history, and hence the loudest voice becomes misinterpreted as the voice of reason in our day to day workings. The point being, this concept of individual truth is an indisputable fact of life. The sky IS grey for this hypothetical colourblind person, there is no satisfactory alternative. This individual truth is different for each person, but at the same time its validity cannot be disputed. This is better understood by looking at the world through the lens of a camera. One can click an infinite number of different pictures of a single vase. Each camera has different settings, be it the zoom, the focus, the ISO or saturation. The angles one chooses to click the picture add even further variables to the equation.Even though the vase remains the same, the picture of the vase will be specific to the camera and its settings. Replace the vase with the world, the picture with understanding and the camera with human beings; voila we have individual truth.
This concept of the individual can be applied to the universal of the human condition as well. Just like it is impossible for an individual to imagine how the other thinks, it is impossible for a human to imagine a world that is not human. This is because the only way the world makes 3 sense is when it is reduced to the human. We cannot imagine a world that exists outside the ambit of human experience, and hence our understanding of the world will forever be incomplete.
“The truism ‘All thought is anthropomorphic’ has no other meaning. Likewise, the mind that aims to understand reality can consider itself satisfied only by reducing it to terms of thought. “(Camus, Le Mythe de Sisyphe, 6)
ON THE CERTAINTY OF BELIEFS
Since we have now established that the number of worlds that exist are the number of people present in the world plus one, it becomes a matter of understanding its implications. Every person has a specific worldview to them, a worldview which they believe to be true. How else could one live life being unsure of what they believe in? Now, what happens when one worldview comes in direct opposition to another? On one hand, since it is the sum of all experiences that a person has lived up until that point in time, there is no denying the existence of a personal truth. However, at the same time, you cannot deny the fact that the sun rises every morning for every person. We all share a common objective world from which we derive individual meaning.
This idea of personal worlds we have complete faith in reminds one of the Socratic ideal that claimed that nobody does wrong things intentionally. To understand this better,let's take a look at one of the most villainous characters in modem history: Adolf Hitler. He is the closest we can come to unanimously agreeing on the existence of objective evil. However, if it was clear to him that what he was doing was wrong, would he have done it? To him, every belief and ideal he had was foolproof. In his mind, he was right and anyone opposing him was wrong. In his mind, he was not evil. He had a specific worldview, as mentioned above, which was a culmination of every single external and internal stimuli around him, and the relationships that they produced. So, if in his mind he was right but deemed wrong, then how can a person have any claim on the objectivity of what they claim to be right? I think I understand the world, and I have utmost confidence in what I believe to be true, but so does everyone else. But if others have worldviews in direct opposition to mine, then there is but one implication: It is possible for me to be wrong. This is a very fascinating statement, as on one hand reading it written down makes it seem obvious. But remove it from writing, and suddenly the concept seems much more difficult to visualise.
This arrogance in regards to the absolute certainty of one's beliefs has always been present and can also, at times, be hidden behind institutions. I concede that it is impossible for me to be right about everything, and so I look to the people around me and derive my conclusions from them. If everyone believes something to be true, then there must be some truth to it. This fallacious thought has occurred in every person's mind at least once in their life, and is the root cause of false prophets and messiahs. It becomes then a matter of hiding the individual behind the collective, of claiming that while personally one does not have a full understanding of the world, there are groups that do have this understanding. At that point, it becomes a question of agreeing with authority. However ask yourself this: what entity, in the history of mankind, has ever given definite proof of any meaning to life? When one turns from the objective to the speculative, one opens Pandora's box of infinite possibilities. If there is no way to be one hundred percent, without a doubt, sure of something, can you claim to understand anything?
Let's look at something fundamental that everyone has experienced in their life: gravity. Every single person, no matter if you believe in gravity or not, is under its influence. Isaac Newton observed the world around him, and from there derived the laws which we still follow to this day. But that is not the question. Observing is not the same as understanding. It should be noted that this is in no way to discredit the scientific advancements that human society has made over the years, but rather the assumptions we have behind these advancements. Let's take a look at a hypothetical experiment to better understand. A group of scientists place a group of people in a cage, and put a mechanical spoon on the other end. Each time this spoon is pressed, it releases a different kind of food. It is possible that these people could figure out different combinations of pressing the same spoon, to produce different results. Press it once, get ice cream. Press it twice with two different people, and get steak. The people in the cage, after a certain time, will claim to have a complete understanding of the spoon. They can create all sorts of foods with various combinations of pressing the spoon. But do they understand why the spoon was placed there in the first place? There is a spoon, and that spoon has certain characteristics. Observing those characteristics and the relationship these characteristics have with the people in the cage is one thing, but to know why is the unanswerable question. Under these assumptions, the people in the cage have no idea the futility of their own life. If it were revealed to them that they are part of an experiment and the true purpose of the spoon revealed, the world as they know it would collapse around them. We are not so different from these hypothetical prisoners. We have our spoon, which are the fundamental beliefs we hold to be true about the universe. We build our life around them, base our beliefs and ideas of God around them, but actually have no idea of why they happen.
This is something that is not acceptable to the human mind. As Albert Camus argues relentlessly in his works, every human mind shares one common characteristic, the need for unity. The need for the world to make sense, the need for understanding and meaning. However, when it becomes apparent that the world cannot answer these questions for us, we look for alternatives. The ancient ideas of religion have taken on a new garb of science, but their intention is the same. To make sense of the world, to provide any sort of answer and clarity to soothe the existential dread that is existence. It is in this regard that science and religion both coincide in intention, however it is in their methods that they differ. Religion, just like science, is an answer to the question of the meaning of life. For it, faith is the most important aspect. It doesn’t matter what is true, all that matters is what you believe to be true.Science takes a different approach to the same question. For science, proof becomes more important. If I can prove, using the scientific method, that x is responsible for y, then that is the truth. However, the answer becomes muddier when we start looking at ideas that are beyond our current understanding. When one takes a look at concepts that are not so easy to prove with the current resources we have, one redises that science, just like the religion it claims superiority to, reverts back to ideas of faith. When one looks at the impossibility of the universe, one realises that there is only so much that one can prove. Rest is all speculation.
However, this is not what the common opinion is of science. People misinterpret science to be an explanation when it is in fact observation. Since a lot of the things in our world are based around and proved by science, we create a false belief that there is nothing that science cannot explain. That is a lie. This is not to claim the existence of ghosts and spirits but rather to just look at the world around us and make peace with the fact that it is beyond our understanding.