If we were simply minds designed to assess truth, life would be easy. We could simply test and adopt the evidential heuristics and algorithms that provide the most predictive successes, apply these tools to the evidence for and against a given proposition, then simply assign a probability to the truthfulness of that proposition. There would be no default position of belief or disbelief. There would be no bivalent conclusion of belief or disbelief. Everything would be comfortably a matter of epistemological probabilities that had no bearing on our survival.
However, we find ourselves active agents in a world in which we are driven to survive and secure happiness for ourselves and those we love. We find ourselves emotional beings that are very much disturbed by uncertainty. We are driven to “know”.
This drive to “know” is what pulls us away from proper probabilistic positions on the truthfulness of claims, and compels us to claim “knowledge” that a proposition is either true or untrue. While this bivalent approach to truth destroys our credibility as effective assessors of epistemological probabilities, it is nonetheless fully human.
What is skepticism? And what value does it have? Isn’t it just something that grumpy old men do to make the world cloudy for the rest of us?
Remember that first coloring book you had? The boring black and white outlines on the pages would stare at you expressionlessly, so you would take the crayons you hadn’t yet eaten and scribble in wild abandon inside and outside the lines in an uninhibited expression of creativity…or at least I did.
This post is an elaboration of #7 from a list of things I learned early in life.
The world is full of other people who would benefit from your adoption of their worldview. And there certainly are significant synergistic benefits that arise from maintaining a common culture within a particular community. Conformity often leads to social harmony and a stress-free life.
However, the world is not entirely altruistic. There are unhappy individuals who have chosen to attempt to maximize their domain of power at the expense of the happiness of others. These people will attempt to force you to fall in obeisance to arbitrary rules of conduct that serve only their own interests. Here are some frequently-uttered phrases heard from the lips these sorry souls.
- Stop trying to be someone you’re not!
- You’re [nationality]! You should act [nationality]!
- Why don’t you act your age?
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Last night I met an intelligent and charming French girl. The conversation inevitably drifted to a stimulating exchange on personal identity and existentialism. The mental afterglow compels me to write on the topic.
When we ask “who am I?”, what are we actually saying? As we consider who we can become, what are some of the hidden assumptions that might hinder finding a content identity? Here are some things to consider.
We are not limited to one identity.
Society often packages discrete identities that it then promotes to its youth. In American high schools, you’ll often find well-defined and non-overlapping categories of identity such as jocks, geeks, preppies, dweebs, nerds and druggies. Youthful yearning for simplicity, as well as peer pressure, compels most students to choose one from among the many choices. However, as we explore life and develop competencies, the demarcation between identities blurs, and many of us learn to live several genuine, yet diverse identities without experiencing existential discomfort.
However, someone who is successfully living diverse identities may experience surprise and disapproval from others who have not yet learned to explore multiple dimensions of identity. Let me make this more tangible by listing a few identities I have lived or now comfortably live.
- Philosophical Blogger. Perhaps many of this blog’s readers know only this side of me. Don’t tell my party friends I enjoy philosophical discourse lest it destroy my playboy image.
- Computer Programmer. I can be as geeky as any other black-clad composer of code. I worked a year as a programmer in Tokyo.
- University Professor. I’m known as a rather demanding professor at my university in Tokyo. My white shirt and tie I wear quite comfortably now.
- Dancing Fool. I love to dance. I can’t help it. Once a week I try to go to a club where I’ll not bump into any friends and just dance.
- Country Boy. I used to milk cows, tend pigs, break horses and buck hay, and had the biceps to prove it. I still wear my cowboy boots from time to time.
- Mexican Fútbol Player. I lived in the mountains of Mexico 6 months, speak Spanish and was the only white boy on a Mexican soccer team for several years.
- Father. I have 3 great kids, all in university now. Being a father is tremendously satisfying, and daily warms my heart. Some find incongruity between this and my own “childish” activities.
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