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by Rafa
Rated: E · Essay · Philosophy · #2322391
A short essay describing my general beliefs. A rather dry read.

The intent of this short essay is not to prove or promote a particular philosophy
but merely to explore a predilection, a point of view. It is simply an attempt to
articulate that particular way in which I view the world and our place in it. It is not
particularly surprising, nor elegant in its expression. It will have to do.
The Outside Box
Without wishing to prejudice, at the beginning, just exactly what kind of beings
we are, I begin with the assumption that our sense of reality, our experiences, are
basically interpretations, and that they are, in many cases at least, simplifications.
The idea is that reality is extraordinarily complex and that the various sentient beings
learn to interpret and experience this complexity in various ways, to varying degrees,
depending on their needs. By way of a trivial example, the color "red" is an
interpretation and a simplification of a range of frequencies. By "red" is not intended
the concept of "red", but the experience of "red". Our sense of color is an
interpretation1 of light frequencies.
That our interpretations are generally consistent is suggested by the fact that we
can share our sense of reality with others of our species. That our interpretations are
generally good interpretations is suggested by the fact that we, as a species, are still
here. Presumably these "models" we build of our world, our experiences of reality,
are constructed by mechanisms, evolutionary processes, and have been developed and
refined over vast eons, such that the means of our interpreting the world has
developed along side our means of survival from the first amoeba on up. In like
manner, the interpretative means available to a mayfly though minuscule from our
point of view, are suited to its modus vivendi.
Just as a mayfly can not understand the sense of reality, including the social life and
imperatives of a dog, so can a dog not understand, for example, the purpose or
contents of a book. On the other hand, if a book should somehow get lost in the
bush, the dog may be better equipped to find it than a human, given his superior
sense of scent. As well, there are enough similarities between the modus vivendi of a
dog and that of a human that we are able to form meaningful bonds with dogs, as with
many other animals.
1 The word "interpretation" is used in two senses in this essay. In this first case, it is meant to
refer to the virtually instantaneous interpretation of our surrounds at a biological level, more
commonly called perception. The idea here is that perception is interpretation.

Just as there are things which are beyond the capacity of mayflies, and of dogs, a
basic humility strongly suggests that there are things that are beyond the capability of
our species to comprehend or even experience. Such things are outside the "outside
What are these things? It is not possible to know; therefore, with regard to things
which are, be definition, outside the outside box, we must maintain a steadfast
agnosticism: we do not know, and we can not know. There is one group of things
which are by definition outside the outside box, the prime example of which is the
concept of a transcendent god.
To be clear then, the outside box is a conceptual artifact to make clear the
consequences of the idea that we, like other species, have limitations, things we can
not know, which are beyond us. That is not to say that this outer box may not
change,may not grow as we develop further as a species, assuming in these dire times
that we give ourselves the opportunity to do so. Indeed this outer box has already
grown and expanded in ways hitherto unimaginable. Our primordial ancestors were
once themselves but amoeba, or mayflies, or some such. It has been more than some
millenniums, indeed eons, but we have come a long way, driven and molded first and
foremost by forces of necessity, and latter perhaps by the consequences of the
changing means of social life and the ways in which we have learned to provide for
ourselves. How, for example, might our adoption of agrarian means of production
affected the evolution of our species?
We have become a species that can read and write, that can reason, that can
imagine, that can lie to ourselves and others, entertain fictions, that can think things
hitherto never thought, that can create fantasies but also perspicacious notions,
theories, understandings, that can create exceedingly complex forms of social
organization, both useful and dystopian.
Of course this view can be overturned by the simple assertion that we are not
animals, or that we are not just animals. We have souls! Lacking any commonly agreed
upon means for determining that we do indeed have souls, and even what they may
be like, this assertion is tantamount to the assertion that a transcendent god exists.

Inside the Outside Box
Inside the outside box represents all that we, being such as we are, can know. It is
the world within which we find ourselves, experiencing and understanding it with
whatever means we have at our disposal.
There is also an inside box. The inside box represents all those things which we
know or think we know, all those things which can only be known by inference. It is
the rich world of the sciences, and philosophies, among other more mundane
understandings. It is in this space where we develop and construct our intellectual
models of the world or parts thereof.
There are a host of interesting questions about what it is to know, how we can
know, and under what conditions we take our models of the world to be true, or at
least reliable and sufficiently consistent. However this essay is not directly concerned
with questions of epistemology, or the philosophies of science, beyond making a few
broad and not terribly deep observations.
The first point to be made here is that a person's experience, and their
interpretation of that experience are two quite different things. The interpretation
that follows on from an experience very often springs to mind quickly, almost
instantaneously after the experience, and spontaneously. The experience and the
interpretation appear as one. But they are not one.
Assuming we regard the person relating an experience as trustworthy, the
experience itself can not be questioned. Nevertheless, the interpretation of that
experience, which may seem to be inextricably part of the experience, is subject to
question. We interpret our experience, often seamlessly, or almost seamlessly, and yet
these interpretations are colored by our thought processes, emotional states, beliefs,
cultural contexts, and so forth.
Mystical experiences, by way of example, are common throughout the world but
variously interpreted. When someone says they know something to be true because
they have experienced it, honor the experience but question the interpretation, or at
the very least hold judgment in reserve. Experience is the beginning of knowledge,
not the end.

The second point to be made is that the forms and general outlines of our
experience of the world and our mental life are shaped, formed and limited by being
creatures such as we are. There are things perceptual, intellectual, imaginative,
social, and personal which are perhaps given "a priori". In its most general form we
may call this "human nature". They refer not so much to the world as it is, but rather
to our interpretations of the world, remembering that there are very good reasons for
believing that our interpretations are reliable: we live and continue to do so, we
share a generally consistent view of the world, and we share this sense of the world
to some degree with other creatures. Suggestions as regards this common nature have
been made by philosophers such as Kant, psychologists such as Jung, and mythologists
such as Joseph Campbell2.
A Universal Morality
So then, there is such a thing as human nature. We are not entirely a tabula rasa.
And, as we are social beings, our morality is an expression oh that social existence.
Our morality is in part foundational, a priori so to speak. We may even be able to get
some sense at what, in broad terms, those foundational aspects of our morality are.
In an article published by the University of Chicago, entitled "Is It Good To
Cooperate? Testing the Theory of Morality-as-Cooperation in 60 Societies"3 the
authors have argued that there is a widely held agreement to a general, and to some
degree vague, set of moral principles. This study into "morality as cooperation" found
virtually universal agreement in 7 areas:
1. Family - helping family members
2. Group - helping group members
3. Reciprocity cooperation
4. Being Brave
5. Respecting Superiors
2 See for example Campbell's essay "Bios and Mythos"
3 Https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/701478.
Authors: Oliver Scott Curry. Daniel Austin Mullins, Harvey Whitehorse, the latter being the Chair
of Social Anthropology at the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of

6. Fairness, Sharing or dividing a disputed resource
7. Respecting others' property
At first glance this might appear as thinly disguised self interest, and so it is. As
social beings, we need a well functioning milieu in which to carry out our lives. It is
in our best interests to contribute to the well-being of others in our communities and
societies at large; that is, to co-operate. The 7 areas indicated above, and the items
subsumed under each general area, were identified by applying the principles of non-
zero sum game theory, in short, an analysis of best interests or outcomes in situations
in which the players have both competitive and complementary goals at the same
At first glance this approach might suggest the biblical injunction to "do unto others
as you would have them do unto you". Perhaps, but only if one sees morality as
inherent only in the acts of individuals with each other. One could argue that this
view of morality is too narrow. Co-operation can not be understood solely in terms of
relationships between individuals.
If morality is also inherent in the behavior of a community or group as a whole
then the larger community, acting at the behest of the individuals in a morally correct
way, ensures that provisions are made so that some degree of care or support is
provided to less able or fortunate individuals, under the proviso that no one is
exempt, understanding perhaps that "there but for the grace of god" (as the saying
goes) go you or I".
In small communities such expressions of communal responsibility can be easily
expressed in the behavior of individuals, or small groups, or even occasionally by the
community as a whole. In larger societies, in mass society as we know it today, such
activity must necessarily be built on extensive and complex social initiatives which
have become the responsibility of large organizations and most notably governments.
We have, therefore, things such as the social safety net, so called. Notice that this is
also an expression of self-interest. Enlightened societies recognize that it is not just
idle generosity, compassion is good for the society as a whole.
To consider an even more abstract notion of cooperation, we can see that the
good Samaritan who stops to aid a man by the roadside may not be acting merely out
of an abundance of compassion, but as if he understood that it is his responsibility as

one human to another, since, if situations were reversed, he would wish someone to
give him aid. "Do undo others as you would have them do unto you". Human beings
can feel compassion because we have evolved so, there is survival value in
The reader might well complain, in this last example, that the argument has
jumped from the consideration of morality within a group, to morality of the group to
its members, and finally to the question of morality of mankind to each other. This
brings us to the second problem with the view of morality as co-operation between
individuals (and the social structures that ensure such co-operation). The cited article
describes co-operation within groups, but does not raise the issue of co-operation
between groups, and most importantly, competing groups.
It is worthwhile noticing, first of all, that there are vast cultural differences in the
differing interpretations and implementations and indeed in some cases strenuous
disagreements about the realization of these broad principles and objectives. We are
a creative species and somewhat imaginative in our cultural expressions, given that
there is an underlying commonality.
The second thing to be noted is that these broad principles are the principles of a
group, of a society, and smaller groups within a society who compete for limited
resources. Competition and conflict are part of our nature, and when properly
managed are powerful means for ensuring well being and growth. It is much easier to
manage competition and conflict within a group than between groups. One's group is
that within which we cooperate, within which we grow together more or less.
Another group may not be one with which we see ourselves as sharing common
interests and with which we may compete for resources. Much of diplomacy consists
perhaps in the effort to find peaceful and mutually constructive means to share those
resources under contention.
Finally, it is possible to see the long history of our species as one in which we
have, slowly over millennia and with great reluctance, through processes of diplomacy
and the discovery of common goals, but also through messy and bloody travails, been
learning to see ourselves as members of ever larger groups. The end of this could be a
regime of cooperation and conflict resolution that spans the globe, if we can only
manage to survive our worst natures.

Between the Light and the Dark
So that is the best of us, cooperation, consideration, compassion, but it is by no
means all of us. We compete for resources, for the regard of others, for power, and
so forth. We are often unwise and unkind, indeed cruel and even savage in our
dealings with our fellow humans, the other beings with which we share the world,
indeed the very soil we walk on. This is also part of who we are. This is the dark to
our light.
We know, for example, the single minded avarice or lust for power that drives
many individuals regardless of the harm it may bring to others. We know also that we
form groups, tribes as it were, which compete with others we deem not to be like us,
a prime example of which is racism, basically a vicious form of economic competition
and subjugation. We know on the other hand that when a group's entitlements get
threatened, their expectations disappointed, then fear and anger makes them lash
out. Fear makes it hard for people to respond to calming influences, and anger tends
to override reason and balance.
The important questions are questions of how we can make our social, economic,
and political structures and activities, our personal and societal arrangements, such
that they encourage healthy societies in which people can live fulfilling lives together,
while at the same time conserving if not enriching the environments in which we
live. It is the major task of our times that we find answers to these questions, and
urgently, and an immense amount of thought and energy is being devoted to such
activities, as it should be.

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