Saturday, June 20, 2009

Mind what you read

Have you noticed that people can be divided into categories. If you want a sense of how you might categorise people, consider the following groups:

1. Sense of reality: By that I mean people's perspective or how they relate to reality. People either have a subjective or an objective sense of reality, and this impacts on their attitudes. Consider them:
(a) Subjective: These people consider reality as a product of their consciousness, which has primacy. This means that they wish things which depart from reality, as if they had control of reality, or if their mind was divorced from reality. Examples are: The idea that what's right for you is right for you, what's right for me is right for me. This is of course a repudiation of science and objectivity, and people usually do this as a departure from judgement (external standards) or responsibility. I also note that this type of person is very selective about what they hear and read. They will only read material which agrees with their views, so this serves to keep the mirage alive. These people are people-orientated, because they would prefer to seek subjective validation from people whom they know are going to provide it, rather than validation from any achievement in fact.
(b) Objective: These people have a great respect for facts, an objective truth. They place facts above their own beliefs, which they attempt to reconcile with the facts. These people give primacy to the truth, and they have confidence in their ability to do so, so they are problem-solvers in this regard. They thus have the confidence of judging evidence from any perspective with impartiality.

People can display objectivity and subjectivity in different context as well. The reasons why people might do this are:
1. Fundamentality: People can have fundamental values which depart from more concrete premises which are difficult to refute. For this reason there can be some discomfort to attacking these if they don't reconcile with your concrete premises.
2. Compartmentalisation: Ask yourself how a politician can support competition in the private sector, but not support it in parliament. Contradiction, which they quarantine because it does not serve them.
3. Vulnerability: People will tend to be more concrete-bound, when they are in a stressful situation or feel vulnerable. This tends to pull them towards subjectivity, but it depends on the person.
4. Accountability: People who are ultimately held accountable tend to be more objective, but they can also preserve some subjectivity as well, e.g. Minimising their personal responsibility, pleading how sorry they are (insincerely), etc.

So the point I am making is that each of us has a perspective of reality that is shaped by our early experience. People build up a hierarchy of knowledge which is robust or shaky to the extent that it has firm structure, i.e. Coherence of ideas, correspondence to facts. Critical to this is clarity of definition and a great deal of evidence. We are of course born with very little evidence. We are also raised with embedded ideas derived from our parents, peers and broader society. It is not until 12 years of age, more or less, depending on our experience that we are able to challenge other people's ideas. Some people will not have a handle of their contradictions until they are in their 40s, others never learn. They instead evade being challenged or keep the company of people who similarly don't like to be challenged.

The problem is that people don't appreciate the value of challenging their embedded ideas until they do. Even then the value might not be readily apparent because they don't live in a vacuum. In a social context they can be alienated for holding a different value system. They too readily tolerant the status quo, in the process neglecting to reflect on the fact that they are affirming the status quo.

One cannot grow unless one challenges ideas. Synthesis is the basis of empiricism, but deductive reasoning requires differentiation. Unless we are prepared to differentiate ourselves from others there is limited scope for intellectual development. Instead science descends to groundless correlation, ideas are held out of context, and you end up with the modern science and parliament. In a sense, you asked for it.

Anyway, I would hope that people preserve a desire to read and analyse a broad body of literature; not just with that which they will agree with. If you read material you don't agree with, challenge it. Understand how the reader came to think that way. For instance, I am currently reading 'The Power of Now' by Eckhert Tolle. Everyone is talking about this book. It is well written, but I would suggest the book will drive you to repression, just as this type of material has done in Asia. That is not a reason to not read it...but rather to read the counter-arguments and more importantly to develop your own. Basically I don't read books anymore. My joy is in writing and pulling apart others arguments.