In the last article I introduced the idea that the commonplace, generally accepted and promoted scientific way of apprehending the world as a machine causes problems for people. The premise of this is our biological biases, and the emergent phenomena that we experience because of our biases, are things that you must completely discard to reason correctly about the world. We must always mind our biases.
This is a way of disconnecting yourself from yourself. You become unmoored, floating about in a sea of information with no way of parsing it all. In truth, thinking beyond our own experience in order to gain the clarity of thought we seek can and should be a discrete activity.
This is all pertinent but it is abstract. To really see how ridiculous our belief in our ability to understand the world mechanistically is, we merely need to look at how ridiculous our attempts to understand ourselves are. People have dedicated their entire lives to studying not just humans in general, but in absolute specificity.
We as a species study human society and social behavior, we study the things we say and write, we study our bodies and what we eat, and most of all we study our minds. We separate these things out into various specialized fields of research, and then we attempt to draw conclusions from it all. And what do we know? What strides have we made in understanding ourselves comprehensively?
Knowledge of Ourselves
If we’re being honest, we know almost nothing. Our many experts in our many fields of specialized research into what exactly it is the apes who have taken over the world and call themselves humans are, have mostly produced more questions rather than answers. Take the human body. We have learned a lot about it. We know what it’s made of, and we know many of the processes that allow it to function.
We know so much regarding the infrastructure and contents, but we can’t answer a ‘simple’ question like “what is the optimal diet for a human being?” As it turns out, that question becomes very complicated very quickly. Some people can consume milk easily, others can’t.
Some people do well on vegetarian and vegan diets, others find that they are much healthier when they switch back to consuming meat. Some even find that they can consume nothing but meat for indefinite periods of time. If anything, all we can really say is that an “optimal diet” is a concept that only applies at the individual level. Even people related by blood can have wildly different dietary needs.
The human brain is more complicated than the human digestive system, complicated as that is. I have even heard the claim that the human brain is the most complicated object in the known universe. I don’t know if that’s true, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Is it really a shock then, that we understand even less about how our minds work than about how to feed ourselves? I think it is here that it is most obvious how our mechanistic worldview fails us. When we look in at the mind from the outside, all we can see are things that the mind does, and perhaps where it happens in the brain. We do not know how it does it. These things aren’t useless, but at the end of the day, they are observable phenomena.
However, we are not deterred. Despite it all, we push forward searching for mechanisms, and we draw conclusions with what we have. We look at what we can see, and we think, and then we look, and then we think some more. Theories are developed, hypotheses tested, and corporations sold on scientifically grounded practices to improve productivity. Yet, despite all that thinking, no cohesive understanding has emerged. And that was before the replicability crisis. We have even less we can be confident in now. All that thinking ostensibly gone to waste.
Over-Intellectualizing The Map
A problem I have noticed in myself and others in this rising young generation is a tendency to try and think our way through problems that ultimately can’t be thought through. A good example is with women. When I was inexperienced in this area, I had all sorts of ideas about women and how I would conduct myself.
Some proved to be true, but the majority were not merely wrong, but so disconnected from the reality of what it is to be a young man who is sexually and romantically involved with members of the fairer sex that I’ve completely forgotten about them. Exactly none of it helped me meet and talk to girls I was interested in. In fact, it actively interfered with this, because I was so divorced from my own actual experience of talking to a girl, I didn’t even know when I was attracted to one. My over-intellectualizing had created a distortion in my energy.
The pattern I’ve noticed with this in general is that these problems tend to be ones that involve important parts of our lives that we have yet to have any real experience in. Romance is a common one, but it extends far beyond that. Oftentimes, once you get started over-intellectualizing one problem, you start doing it with others. What’s really going on is that you are lost, a natural part of being young, but instead of recognizing that you’re lost you insist on trying to figure out where you are by following a map, and you never once look up at what’s around you.
This map represents an intellectualised set of directions. And at some point, you become convinced that the map is in fact the territory. Looking around is unnecessary. It’s at this point I’m convinced that you don’t even know who you really are anymore, but in fact what you should be.
Looking at the map, you make all sorts of plans about what you’ll do when you get to a place, but at some point you have to put down the map and actually start exploring your surroundings. You need to talk to the people you find there. You’ll quickly find that your plans don’t really match up with what you actually end up doing at all. I know I did. And that will be difficult to come to terms with. It was for me.
As you walk through the world, a story will begin to emerge. Your story. And that gives you something real to work with as you try to understand yourself. We believe we can know things about ourselves just by thinking about them, but when it comes down to it that’s not how it works. You have to go see what’s out there. See what emerges when you go looking. By discovering the world, you will discover yourself.
Find Hayden on Twitter.