The Problems of Human Reasoning

I want to talk about the problems of human reasoning and the human perspective on intellectual issues. Firstly, there is a problem of rigidity which is by definition a lack of flexibility. This is with regards to aligning oneself with a particular belief or opinion or thought and becoming rigid in presupposing it before engaging in any given possible human pursuit. Secondly, there is the problem of being too narrow in our classification and categorization efforts. That is to say that every time we develop a method of categorization, we are effectively cleaving gulfs between potentially unified entities and serious problems ensue.

The first problem can be seen as a problem of closed-mindedness. This is an affliction which many among us believe they have defeated. Many would whole-heartedly proclaim and display proudly their valued virtues of “open-mindedness”. However, the issue I am referring to is not simply this common form of mental rigidity. Rather, I am referring to a more basic more fundamental rigidity implicit within the very nature of our intellectual processes. Firstly, we all take several things for granted, such as our existence and our natures, and presuppose them before even entering into any intellectual exercises. “Cogito, Ergo Sum,” famously proclaimed by Descartes is now an irrevocable truth to most among us. Few if not none would truthfully express doubt at the veracity of such a statement. But why should we take it for granted? Does a mere thought constitute bedrock solid proof of my existence? Why a thought more so than an emotion, or a bodily sensation? This statement, “I think, therefore, I am”, is at the foundation of the modern human being’s collection of memes that constitute his/her carefully constructed castle of “logic” and “reasoning”. However, I would make the claim that this statement in and of itself is not an axiomatic one. It is neither self-evident nor coherent. It presupposes a quite uncertain definition of the crucial word “I”. It is taken that the “I” is the thinking “I”, and that the volitional agent which directs thoughts is the agent which comprises this evanescent notion of a “self”. And nowhere is this assumption questioned. What happens is that these beliefs, or memes, are developed and then assumed to be true always and critical questioning regarding their veracity is deferred. And this represents a substantial mental inflexibility that prevents reasoning from achieving its hailed levels of integrity and credibility. I would have logic presuppose nothing whatsoever in its attempts to determine truths. Assume nothing and exempt nothing from the honorable practices of doubt and questioning. Any statement, such as “I am”, must undergo rigorous examination in an effort to ascertain essential logical axioms. This simple statement, “I am”, already contains within itself two incredibly subtle and sometimes undefined or undetermined concepts: self and existence. What is self? What is it to “exist”? What is Being? Effectively, the heart of this complaint is relating to the necessary ambiguity of words due to their intrinsically abstract nature. There are tricky issues relating to the many levels of nuances present in any attempt to pin down exact definitions of words. Words are by nature contextual and develop their meanings through the various other ideas they become associated with in their relevant contexts. So, to disentangle this web would require an almost impossibly detailed understanding of the all human brains mapped out semantically in a large interconnected web of ideas. But, really, the reason there exists such a problem is our over-valuation of thoughts and, more specifically, words. It all stems from Descartes’ poisonous implication that thoughts constitute the essential essence of self. And this is exactly the mental rigidity which I was referring to: the inflexible belief in an imaginary inability to cogitate without involving these dubious words with their inaccuracy and ambiguity and inherent limitations. They are, by design, simply abstract representations. They cannot possibly satisfactorily substitute for the real thing, whatever it is we are attempting to cogitate. I make the claim that the brain is capable of conceptualizing the world not only through words, but through a direct apprehension of it – and this will necessarily involve a minor contribution from words. Linguistically-bound thoughts are not the only way to cogitate and this should be shown by individual self-experiment. It is not in any way acceptable that people should automatically assume that “no language, no consciousness”.

The second point I wish to consider here is the intellectual process of categorization. And by this I don’t mean simple biological categorization of animals based on various blatant differences between them in order to obtain an ordered catalog indexing these animals in a simple manner. This is really just an extension of an early survival tool humanity developed to be able to quickly process its environment. What I am referring to is a more subtle genre of categorization and it is the categorization of individuals based on their acquired memes and then further categorizing the perception of reality based on one’s own acquired memes. “Are you a dualist or a materialist?” or “are you a believer or an atheist?” or “are you Lebanese or are you American?” are all examples of the sorts of questions which attempt to place people in variously sized and previously judged boxes. If you are an atheist then you automatically get routed to the “atheist box” and then treated as per the “acceptable” ways to treat an atheist. This manner of classification is cutting a deep cleft right in the middle of a united whole, namely human beings split into atheists and believers. These are just memes that have parasitically infected human minds causing them to “believe” certain inconsequential things. Why is it so hard to transcend the domineering effects of our long-founded internal encyclopedia of memes? Further than this, objects get classified according to memes as well. There are myriad ideas in circulation throughout the human population dividing opinion between what constitutes a “good” book versus a “bad” book or a “nice” car or a “fun” activity, etc… However, an even more subtle point I would like to make is the following: even our supposedly strictly utilitarian categories of objects has a negative cognitive effect. This is to say that, for example, when we see particularly arranged group of particles, we call them a “car”. This is the category of all particles arranged in this manner. But it must be obvious to all on an intellectual level that this is artificial; it is just a label. The trouble comes not on the intellectual level, though; here, the trouble is when the categories are believed in and this takes place on a very subtle and almost, if not fully, unconscious level. This means that these particles are then believed to be a car not just called a car for the sake of making life easier. A book is strictly seen as a book and the idea of “book” is simply inseparable from the raw perceptual apprehension of the object. Note that even the word “particles” itself is just a category as well, a human construct designed in order to aid with the quick processing of stimuli. These categories are no more than labels really. But what plagues humanity is the subliminal belief in these labels as though there was something, independently of human efforts and labeling, that exists as a “book” or “car” or “chair” or “table” or “person” or…I could go on.

So to draw this all together, I am making the claim here that human reasoning is afflicted by a most monstrous disease which eats away at the credibility and integrity that are demanded of it. The first of these afflictions is an inflexibility of mind with regards to questioning and examining. This, as I explained, is due to strong underlying assumptions that are frequently unshakable in their rigidity. This mental rigidity attaches human thought too closely to those uncertain human creations known as “words”. The second affliction is a separation of the perceived world into various different and localized phenomena which are then believed to be inherently true and naturally-occurring – here naturally implies disregarding human effects. And this can also sometimes stem from the odious seduction of word-thoughts and their magnificently hypnotic power. If humans could learn to simply integrate all of their perceptions and unify all of existence together in one coherent and contiguous ONE, the troubles of human reasoning would disappear and there would be no failures of logic possible. Instead, we have human reasoning concentrating solely on the differentiating of world objects and entities as per their relevant categories and viewing everything through the lens of word-thoughts, ignoring as we do this the myriad possible ways our brain might apprehend the world without the use of language whatsoever. I am in no way discrediting the absolutely enormous benefits of language and words; I am simply identifying that in using words we have become enslaved by words and we have forgotten what it was like to live in the world before we learned language, and this disregarding of a crucial aspect of the human brain is seriously detrimental to our intellectual efforts as a rational animal trying to reason its way to truth in a dizzyingly intricate world.

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