1. On Reflection
“[...] the diversity of our opinions, consequently, does not arise from some being endowed with a larger share of reason than others, but solely from this, that we conduct our thoughts along different ways, and do not fix our attention on the same objects. For to be possessed of a vigorous mind is not enough; the prime requisite is rightly to apply it. The greatest minds, as they are capable of the highest excellences, are open likewise to the greatest aberrations; and those who travel very slowly may yet make far greater progress, provided they keep always to the straight road, than those who, while they run, forsake it.” (Descartes' “Method”, Part I, Incipit)
I once was riding my bike and fell from it. Apparently, the obstacle I hit was right in front of me; and yet, I did not see it. Perhaps my eyes did see it, though not my mind. Perception had not been followed by apperception, and I paid the price of my mistake by breaking an arm and some teeth.
I am the first to admit it — I erred. Though I am painfully aware of my error. And from the moment I erred, I started trying as much as I could not to forsake my ability to reason by consciously or unconsciously denying the facts that gather in front of me ever again.
The opposite error is also possible — as we all know full well. Certain elements of our physical experience are perceived as “larger than life”, to the point that we consider them as undeniable truths.
In retrospection, the way human beings process information is very much based on filtering mechanisms: possibly because of the overwhelming amount of facts our minds have to process, consciously or unconsciously we classify facts into predefined classes. Certain elements are simply sifted out; others are marked as of low-relevance. Others, on the contrary, end up into high-relevance “bins” and are regarded as nearly self-evident. What is both surprising and appalling is that the Method used to classify elements of our experience often has nothing to do with a rational and unprejudiced assessment of all the elements at our disposal.
And yet, one great gift has been granted to all of us: doubt. First and foremost, self-doubt: are we sifting out certain elements? Why? Are we over-weighing certain other elements? Why? What happens to my current mental construction if I allow all the elements to be equalized? And what happens if I slowly change my “inner” classification of facts? As in image processing, by highlighting certain “bands” I can highlight certain properties; in some cases, those properties might correspond to physical truths — for instance, it is possible to detect the presence of clouds in a satellite image by carefully adjusting bands. Descartes was possibly the first to put on the foreground the importance of this wonderful gift.
The evil within is more difficult to see than the evil without, they use to say. And yet seeing evil and recognizing it as such — after a healthy application of self-doubt — is very important if we want to promptly act against it for the common good, be it one's inner evil or the one that we encounter in our daily lives. Therefore, I cannot conceal a worrisome phenomenon that I clearly perceive in front of me even after a reiterated application of the self-doubt principle. What I see is a systematic abandoning of those very principles I have been referring to in the present discussion. I see a humanity that takes decisions by the very same predefined classifications of what is “right” and therefore “true”. I see color-blind minds — minds of people who have no doubts.
And I'm very scared of this.
By Eidon (Eidon@tutanota.com), 2021-07-05.
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