CHAPTER 2 - In Search of a Rational World
Updated: May 13, 2022
IN SEARCH OF A RATIONAL WORLD
There are plenty of definitions of intelligence and the arguments about them are continual. I suggest that the common denominator, and the most straightforward definition is simply, the ability to reason. Of course there are also hundreds more definitions of what constitutes the ability to reason, and again I suggest that the common denominator is, the ability to use all known and valid information, experience and scientific facts to determine a logical and supportable conclusion. While unsupportable factors like intuition, imagination and faith can be used to suggest a possible logical and supportable conclusion; they cannot form part of the ultimate conclusion, (unless proven true) because they are unsupportable by themselves. Your intuitive solution must be proven through logic and/or science to be considered valid; otherwise it is just a theory. Darwin's Theory of Evolution represented an intuitive concept by Darwin supported by a considerable volume of scientific evidence and logical reasoning. However, it was still referred to as a theory because there were many unsupported elements in his conclusions. Science and discovery have since added immensely to the factual aspects of his theory, and the logic behind it is far more supportable, so his theory of evolution is rapidly approaching the point at which it is no longer theory but fact. This is a prime example of initially limited scientific evidence fuelled by intuition and fed by logic, science and reasoning to turn an imaginative thought into a supportable, logical and valid conclusion.
This ability to reason, reflecting human intelligence, combined with some physical attributes like an opposable thumb and the ability to walk erect, amongst others, is what has set the human species far above its closest rivals. While other animals display rudimentary intelligence and effective but different physical attributes such as enhanced hearing, smell, sight, speed, strength and so on, none have developed the advanced degree of integration of all these physical and mental attributes to anywhere near the same degree as humans. Only humans build machines that fly, computers, complex cities and buildings and create books, music, great art and on and on. We are different because we have more of the necessary tools for survival and progress, even though individual animals may be better at some things than us. The most important element that sets us far beyond our closest competitor is our intelligence, our ability to reason. Some animals are displaying rudimentary forms of intelligence such as the use of tools. They are either learning from us or building on their own intelligence. Regardless, there is some catching up going on.
When we make important decisions - about anything - reason and science must be the fundamental elements in making that decision. Because, if reason is abandoned, the conclusion arrived at is unsupportable and so cannot be trusted to be correct. To reiterate, there are three components to answering a question and/or solving a problem. Science, Reason, and Spirituality. Science provides the facts, reason interprets those facts, and our spirituality, or personal beliefs, helps us to decide whether to implement the valid conclusion we have reached. So, a valid conclusion must be supported by proven science and irrefutable logic and reasoning. Faith begins where reason and science end. If we all followed these precepts, we would end up with a rational world instead of the confused, dysfunctional and likely terminal mess we have created up until now.
By Spirituality, or Humanism, I mean human emotions, like love, compassion, conscience, empathy and amicability, or negative emotions like anger, hatred, bigotry and fear. These emotions are what we use to make most of our spontaneous decisions that determine our actions, other than those determined through habit and conditioning. They are highly important, not in arriving at our conclusions where they are invalid, but in deciding whether our scientifically and rationally arrived at valid conclusions may be acted upon.
A truly valid and supportable model for human decision-making and subsequent action is the use of science and reason to determine a valid solution, modified by human emotions, spirituality, to make the conclusion acceptable. Just because we can prove a conclusion to be true doesn't mean we can act on that conclusion without tempering it with those human emotions that make us truly human. Abstract territory I know, and very subjective, but that is why we enjoy such a variety of possible outcomes.
Hitler's acceptance of eugenics as a logical, rational way of improving the human race by breeding physically and mentally superior specimens to produce super humans, while weeding out and sterilizing "degenerative" specimens makes perfect scientific and logical sense. The conclusions were valid. But, and it is a huge but, the conclusion was completely unacceptable to everyone except his sycophants. That the conclusion was true is evident by the way we universally practice eugenics in animal husbandry. We breed the best tasting, maximum producing, biggest, strongest or whatever attributes we are seeking, into our cattle, poultry, work animals, dogs, cats and so on. But we acknowledge that elements like love and compassion, freedom of choice and that holy of holies, personal liberty, forever prohibits us as compassionate, civilized human beings from enforcing that practice on ourselves. So just because our conclusion is valid does not mean we should automatically put it into practice. The converse is also equally true though. Just because our emotions suggest we act on a conclusion supported by our beliefs, hopes, aspirations and faith we should not do so unless that conclusion is supported by science and reason to prove it valid. Science plus reason modified by spirituality equals the rational solution.
My intention is to investigate many aspects of human life to ascertain whether we are acting in concert with our superior abilities of science and reason to make important decisions and take far reaching actions, or ignoring those abilities and relying on hope and faith, or bigotry and fear.
A huge problem, when people adopt or choose to believe in a particular religion or philosophy, is that they seem to assume that by adopting the label - Christian, Catholic, Buddhist, Moslem or whatever, they are obliged to accept and adhere to the entire package. This is also true of most other fields of thought like politics, economics, psychiatry, and science. All ideas are passed down to us by writings originated by, or attributed to, thinkers of the past. All these people were just ordinary human beings like the rest of us, who were blessed with some insight or understanding that caught other peoples' imagination and seemed - at the time - eminently reasonable, useful or even true. Some of these ideas were built upon and expanded to become schools of philosophy or whatever, and their originators assumed larger than life proportions. When big enough, or popular enough, these ideas were given names, and the names became so evocative in themselves that it was only necessary to say, "oh he's a Catholic", or "she's a Communist" to categorize and qualify everything about that person. Indeed, people themselves to this day say, "I'm a Muslim", or "I'm a Keynesian", implying that they have swallowed, lock, stock and barrel, the entire teachings or body of thought of that particular philosophy or school. It rarely seems to occur to followers, that the leader, or originator, might well have found some unique insight or truth which they developed and built into the philosophy, but that they were totally screwed up in other ideas they had. I have never met a person, or found a philosophy, that was 100% true, all the time. I use the term philosophy here to include all the schools of thought and practice. All the world's religions, beliefs and philosophies contain some truths, but none of them are ALL true. One of the main reasons that philosophies fail the tests of reason, and often science as well, is change. Much of what we believe today was written hundreds and thousands of years ago. Guess what? Things were different back then, and what was true in 300 AD is not necessarily true today. Not only has the world changed, but our understanding of what makes it all work has grown immensely, and to be valid, productive and useful, our philosophies need to change to accommodate the changes and increased knowledge that we have today.
A prime example is the Catholic church's incredibly immovable stance on population growth. Moses, who took it upon himself to be the editor of the various books of Genesis, included the command -"go forth and multiply", as apparently given to Noah after the great flood. Now, if we accept that some great natural disaster had decimated the population in Noah's neighbourhood at the time, and both people and animals were somewhat sparse, it would be reasonable and sensible to get cracking and repopulate the earth. So, regardless of the inherent truth of the story, at the time it made sense to get out there and have lots of children. Now, of course, we suffer the opposite problem, too many people. Even if we acknowledge that many of the world's problems could be resolved by reallocating our resources and cutting back on wars, we are still faced with the problem that the most inhabitable places on earth are getting overcrowded. The resulting hunger, disease, poverty and general discomfort could be alleviated if we just cut back on our "multiplying"! I know the argument is that we produce more food than is needed, and we could build more houses, and train more doctors. But we don't, and we won't. Our problem at the moment is too many people consuming too many resources and crowded into too small areas. The only practical solution, that can be applied world-wide, for now, is to stabilize and even reduce the population. Later, when we redistribute the money presently owned by the famous 1%, we might have enough to solve the problems of overcrowding, hunger and disease. But right now? Stop multiplying. The Catholic church is stuck in an idea that was written thousands of years ago by some chap who was copying it from some other guy who heard it somewhere. The Pope and his 'cabinet' don't seem to understand that they can modify or change a 2000-year-old idea to suit today's reality without destroying all the other stuff they believe in. This intractability and short sightedness is what is damaging confidence in the church - and most other religions - all over the world today. They don't understand that you can keep the good bits but dump the stuff that no longer applies or is contrary to what we have discovered since the time it was written. We may not be smarter now than we were then, but we sure know a lot more!
I personally have a leaning towards Buddhism, but I have not found one of the many "schools" of Buddhism that is 100% valid, or even really close. Each school has its weaknesses and unconvincing practices. But I like the general idea of Buddhist philosophy, and so I have cherry picked the good bits out of many of the schools, and reconstituted them into my own, personal, version of my "philosophy of life". My version also contains ideas found in Christianity, Islam, Hindu and other, mainly Pagan, religions. It seems to work out well. All those great thinkers - hampered as most of them were by lack of knowledge and science - produced a wealth of ideas that, when you dump out their dumb ideas, and those of their followers who twisted and reshaped the original ideas for their own benefit, come together as a sort of universal, coherent, and practical unity. And it doesn't have a name! Because giving it a name packages the whole thing and immediately freezes it in time. The essence of a valid philosophy is that change is continuous and so any valid, and hence useful, philosophy must be amenable to changing itself as circumstances and knowledge change.
Let's not forget that we aren't just talking about religious philosophy here. The same ideas belong to political philosophy as well. Let's cherry pick conservativism, communism, and liberalism to find a workable system. Let's clean out the economics closet and come up with a system that works for everyone, not just the very few with all the money.
Every idea, concept and practice must stand on its own merits, not on dogma, prejudice and myth, for it to be valid - and useful.
“The ability to learn, understand and make judgments or have opinions that are based on reason” Cambridge Advance Learner’s Dictionary, 2006
“: the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations: . . . the skilled use of reason (2) : the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests)” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2006
“The ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” Compact Oxford English Dictionary, 2006
“The capacity to learn, reason, and understand.” Wordsmyth Dictionary, 2006