A lot of ground has been covered in this section. We addressed the origins of civilized objectivity in antiquity’s philosophy, emphasizing ancient Greek culture’s influence upon Europe’s epistemic foundations. Conditions of both material and conceptual kinds distinguished European empiricism’s decline in the 1st millennium C.E. from its permanent presence starting in the Middle Ages. Strict orthodoxy that dominated for much of the Medieval period gave way during the Renaissance to more progressive philosophy and education, which began to revolutionize the continent’s worldview, making rationality and empirical activity of an innovative, systematic form more widespread, engendering a shift from regarding the cosmos’ causality as imposed by supracognitive fate towards an outlook conceiving human minds as the locus of our world’s apparent structure and reason the keystone of civilization’s future.
The 18th century European quest for general principles by which to understand social organization amongst diverse subcultures gave birth to a paradigm of historical analysis in academia, apexing as evolutionary theories of ontology, nature, economy and culture, a seminal Hegelianism soon followed by Darwinist naturalism, Marxist politics, and Nietzscheanesque analysis of the memetic psyche, together with many peers throughout the realms of Western intellectualism. At the turn of the 20th century, philosophical thought in the West began to crystallize and expand into system-based civilization, including accelerated theoretical and technological progress, more finely crafted discovery procedures, and a grand synthesis of rationalist and empiricist strands of investigation, altogether generating the enormous edifice of analytical science centered around quantitative modeling, distributed worldwide and capable of reconstituting our planet’s future. Humanity is still trying to tame the transformative social and ecological consequences of these rapid developments, seeking to optimize modern collectivism while averting imprisonment in a maladaptive nightmare of our own creation as well as destruction from misuse of this technical potency.
We discussed naturalistic, technological and cultural fact within various domains behavioral function. This included scientific theory, history and institutions of medical treatment, nutrition, violent combat and reproduction. It was shown that close linkage exists between the development of language and theoretical thinking. Knowledge of perception in both humans and the rest of nature can be assembled such that penetrating revelations are possible, with clear implications for biological, neurological and social research. All of the intuitions and approaches emergent from various fields of inquiry combine in such a way that we can derive solid indications of how the human psyche within its cultural and natural environments has changed in the past as well as where it is headed, allowing us to understand motivation on deep levels and fashion a pragmatic foundation for ethics in contemporary, institution-based society.
Direct examination of causality itself revealed that categories we utilize to parse and organize observations as well as higher concepts are largely arbitrary, and uncertainty has thus far been intrinsic to knowledge. From both current and historical perspectives, the episteme is manifestly provisional, a work in progress. Applying these theoretical insights about theory itself to a phenomenon such as emotion, the topic with which we began this section, leads to doubting the likelihood of reaching finality, but our wide-ranging facts and speculations nevertheless give analysis strategic form.
First, we select a sphere of interest with importance, such as reproduction for instance. We consider all the relevance our knowledge of emotion has within the bounds of this generality, in terms of nature, history, culture, phenomenology, qualitative subjectivity, or rationale. We commit to additional areas of interest, whether it be healthcare, nutrition, conflict, or something more technical like physiology or evolutionary selection pressure. Once the body of fact falling into our classes is satisfactorily broad and detailed, we begin to amalgamate, looking for novel associations that break down our neat and tidy, compartmentalized workspaces of thought, and these hybridizations give rise to more synthetic intuitions and concepts, platforming intercategory and eventually interdisciplinary analyzing such as in our uniting of quantum physics with biochemistry, and both of these with physiology of perception as well as the necessary and sufficient conditions for evolutionary selection of psychical traits, ultimately begetting holistic narratives of truth supplying anchorage to all kinds of further study, in essence recollectivizing divergent strands of knowledge formation.
This metaorganizing of theoretical thought’s content consists in two general processes: perception and conception. As we attempt to comprehend the world, empirical efforts branch out into new areas of observation, then draw the patterns we experience together into a single mass of adjacencies of which human minds are the hub. Coordinating with these perceptual acquisitions is a generalizing of patterns, ordering that reaches out to cerebrally grasp psychical material and integrate it structurally, as a body of actual and potential associations. This diversifying collection of desiderata and convergent unification, at base perceptual pattern and conceptual generalization, give rise to the heterogeneity of systematic truth, existing as a mental phenomenon while also inhering in environments, as sense-perceptual impressions, particular objects, intentional agents and memetic encodings in their innumerable forms.
Then what ramifications does this elaboration of our episteme have for the inquiry as to whether emotion is spontaneous or deterministic? Does a 21st century cognizance of objective fact informed by familiarity with contemporary empiricism reconstitute the issue, as was intimated? This is a famous antinomy stretching all the way back to 18th century Kantian critique of metaphysics; we cannot yet make a decision either way, and the degree of certainty that would produce resolution may even be impossible, but if we pry deeper it is tempting to consider in what sense the dilemma of emotion even exists.
Emotion seems to be an informal interpretation of our own and others’ experiences as well as a formal concept of how certain material, biological, physiological, phenomenological, subjective, even spiritual events happen, but if we were to pinpoint its very essence, it is fundamentally and simply a symbol. Emotion is the verbal symbol “emotion”, which participates in inducing a vast range of ideas as we perform acts of speech and writing. The more we communicate about emotion, the richer our image of associated phenomena becomes as we riff around the term, assembling facts by stimulating perceptions, memories and concepts in our own and other human minds, often including an analytical dimension which gives concretions under consideration inferentially logical structure, a clearer and distincter form as interrelationships provisional of explicitness. Symbolism of all expressive types is arranged, rearranged, combined and distinguished so as to grant reality more than mere existence, but also implicatory meaning focused into definite purposes within the context of thought and behavior, guiding our practices in particular directions to the exclusion of alternatives. The term “emotion” and all linguistic symbolism is a way of pointing, assistance in gathering up diverse experiences and then aiming the whole mass at specific goals, as more coalescent cognition. Language assists in synthesizing experienced phenomena into the intentionality of an executive function within the psyche which we call ‘self’, a binding process which is the core of reasoned agency.
Once we acknowledge “emotion” as a symbolic auxiliary of the thought process, with a functional effect quite disjuncted from causality it is employed to describe, what remains as direct and immediate truth, residing beyond our acts of expression, the intrinsicality of phenomena themselves which we would regard as reality’s substance? Essentially, we are left with multifarious appearances, manifest to a morphing frame of reference we can loosely refer to as the ‘psyche’ while it engages in perspective-taking exacted by its executive function experienced as our ‘self’. When we arbitrarily pluck the term “emotion” out of this mix, dispensing with all the networked exigencies of meaning with which it is laden, we see a dazzling array of causes awaiting our decision-making, some almost automatic, some reflexive, some irrational, rational, technical, theoretical, some we would consider scientific, with no necessity besides their relevance to our own minds, bodies, behaviors and lives. Our worlds do not revolve around us, yet the form of existence depends on our own frame of reference, including the perspectives we willfully choose to entertain and pursue. Reality fluxes independent of our awareness, as a thus far immeasurable kaleidoscope of impressions arising from causes that are largely veiled, but at the same time requires our participation in grasping and shaping it.
So there is no inherent quandary in regards to emotion besides the impact of manifold causality upon our priorities and the onus of selecting apt courses of action. But what about the notion of causality itself: are dynamics of our world deterministic, with choice an illusion, or nondeterministic, with apparent order essentially a spontaneous, unconditioned interpretation? Again, we can venture to vacate the term “determinism” from the premises, along with all its baggage of meaning, and assess the remainder. What we then similarly have is a vast conglomerate of particular causes, simultaneous and coordinated but also individual, with some appearing to be determined by antecedents with relative certainty, and some connected to their apparent environments in more unspecifiable ways, relatively undetermined, but all existing in parallel, not opposed, contradicting, clashing in any way surpassing what emerges from an experiencing of demands they place on the psyche together with affirmation or negation of their importance by the intentional self.
If emotion and determinism are “emotion” and “determinism”, mere symbolic tools for identifying particular elements in our fundamentally synthetic, noncontradictory reality, set apart from perceptual structure, how does cognizing which falls within the purview of these and other terms bring about an experience of paradox, the clash of equally logical but seemingly opposed viewpoints? An intuitive instance is provided by the dichotomy between emotion and reason.
The word “emotion” is a symbol directed at many perceptions, but its quintessential usage is as an approximate label for physiological states of strong affect, deeply ingrained in the process of acquiring concepts of feeling and behavior as we imbibe teaching and example. We accumulate many experiences in consort with which the word is used, and this growing body of experiential moments leads to conceptual generalization, an interpretive orientation that is not of course based upon overtly recognizing our total background of perceptions, and even less so the overall causality concerned, but rather on a history of conditioning instantiated as the components in a huge and intricate agglomeration of substances we are made of, biological processes which reorder and abbreviate existence in the service of function. The entirety is inconceivable to naked thought, and thus far also beyond the scope of theory and technology, but we can for present purposes convey what is meant by appealing to some general categories of modularity: immediate perception and conception; etchings of the environment into substrates like our bodies, cognition, memories, or presentational mediums such as speech and writing, representations which are often regarded as ‘information’; our homeostatic state; the efficient discharge of behavior; all loosely tangented by the verbal symbol. “Reason” is likewise directed at a large variety of experiences related to the type of thoughtfulness focused on solving problems or figuring out ways to meet goals. We are conditioned by much observation of reasoning activity in all kinds of circumstances to reach generalizations that employment of the word “reason” proximates, getting us in the ballpark.
If we light upon the issue of determinism, we see a similar dynamic of generalizing. Use of the word “deterministic” loosely intersects with all the conditioning exacted upon our minds by instances of effects that seem to necessarily follow upon causes, while “nondeterministic” osculates with what is experienced as indefinite in its causality. Our sense for these two concepts hovers as a massive truncation of conscious, unconscious, misapprehended, forgotten and unregistered happenings, and as we play ball cognitively and communicatively, verbal symbols are some of our equipment.
So as we are conditioned by experience, this conditioning becomes imprinted in what we are, reconstituting the substance of environments into the substance of human organisms. The process is not designed for absolute fidelity, but rather incidental to evolution, with an at least minimum suitability for the reproduction that enables subsistence beyond a single lifespan. Interpretive comportments of our makeup, in essence structures and functions of stimulus and response, exist largely because they work well enough to propagate themselves, but this practicability is a confluence of many factors: metabolic demands of growth, danger avoidance, maintenance of health, navigation of social situations, satisfaction of drives and desires, all kinds of biochemistry and physiology. An organism must not only adapt to its environment, but its parts which are differentiated into the trillions must adapt to each other, so that causality within a living being is categorically different than causality as such. Organic life interacts with the real and especially its local, similarly scaled conditions in a deeply rooted codependence, but its hybrid structures are at the same time distinct, severing substance into a multitude of natures.
Conception is no different than any organic feature insofar as its nature is established by sui generis form along with specific orientation to chemical, physiological and ecosystemic environments. What human capacity for conception and more narrowly conceptual generalization are exactly in addition to how they arose is unknown, a question for phenomenology, philosophy of mind, neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. Perhaps some dynamic of neural structuring exists that is common to all the most cognitive species, responsible for grouping particulars into kinds as a basic phenomenon, in behaviors as diverse as mate selection, social stratifying, nest-building, technological inventiveness, naming, philosophical reasoning towards essences and fundamentals, scientific classification, and theoretical modeling. Maybe the act of generalizing will one day be correlated with tissues of the cerebrum, a brain structure which is comprised of some of the most rewritable neuronal wiring and synesthesia, possibly responsible for integrating highly dispersed phenomena within cognition via processes of association-making that facilitate behavioral priming as discussed in chapter 17 of this section, “The Origins and Evolution of Perception in Organic Matter”.
Despite the nonlocal nature of matter, our bodies are a constraining factor in the structure and function of conception because, as relatively large aggregates of mass that evolved to subsist in a similarly scaled environment, their fate is largely determined by what we perceive to be relatively local spatiotemporality. Due to our bodies’ macroscopic qualities, we experience the strong instinct that possibilities for action and outcome amongst three dimensional and sequential cause and effect are of primary importance, having great value for survival, satiation of affect and social satisfaction. Phenomena analogous to our bodies influence us as an apparent flow from past towards future distributed in space, to which our cognition becomes attached as we spatiotemporally navigate and conceptually interpret environments at the macroscopic level. Thus, though humans have an awareness of distinct and indivisible self, the psyche is conditioned for responding to stimuli as if it is fused with the outer world, an experiential complex of body, objects, external and internal percepts, thoughts, memories, linguistic expressions and feelings which gives the self a sense that behaviors, meanings and beliefs are necessitated by palpable causality entangled with the corporeal in an intrinsic way.
Apparent causality as a whole is quite unconscious, inducing confusions and a perpetual train of surprises, but its intersection with intentionality of the self, that facet of awareness within which we can interpret happenings into intelligible forms via reflection, filiates three well-defined though only approximating categories of experiencing.
Affective experience is the impingement of basic drives in the psyche, manifesting as urges that seem to well up from the core of one’s being or compulsively startle, imposing upon our intentional will. In the somewhat less socialized circumstances of premodern civilization, these motivational forces more often resulted in catharsis, an impassioned discharge of affect via unrestrained behavior. In the modern psyche, which tends to be conditioned in greater measure by reasoning, it shows up as the ‘id’, visceral impulses which we usually suppress or else sublimate into behaviors with consequences condoned according to standards for appropriateness in social groups, the common rationales that normalize relationships.
Recognitional experience is made up of the elements in our psyches contributing to determination of how surroundings can consummate affect, the assimilation of situational factors into notions of action and consequence that sate our organic drives conceived as wants and needs. Its foundation for both ancients and moderns has been the act of assessing environments, predicting how causality will impact one’s personal success or failure. The range of apparent patterns in civilization has become complicated enough that reasoning our way from problems to solutions consumes much of our cognitive resources, enriched into a dense concentration of logistical effort called the ‘ego’, a persona which processes knowledge into technical, psychological and social strategies, along with fashioning consistent demeanor as an individual’s identity.
Cultural experience is our cognizance of constraints that communities place on behavior as the most broadly applicable norms, deliberately transmitted between many generations, which can be called core ‘customs’. This began with mores of hunter-gatherers, traditions that delineated collective meanings and practices tied to key events in the lifecycle such as coming of age, marriage, supplication of gods, and achievement of leadership positions. In modern civilization, community ritual has been wrought into complex institutional frameworks that influence criteria by which the ego’s reasoning decides on appropriate courses of action. The directives of religion, the legal system and additional institutions can condition the psyche towards responding to situations and behaviors with dutiful restraint or deep-seated feelings of scruple, our ‘conscience’ which psychology terms the ‘superego’, subordinating one’s id and ego to notions of collective consequence and obligation. Communal conceptualizations linked to the ethical consciousness instilled by large-scale collectivity, incumbent upon individual motivation, are what is generally meant by ‘morality’, systems of conscience-adjudicating rules and related beliefs existing in most if not all societies.
Since our experience of causality is in essence our reality, and our impressions of what is real are the foundation for that which we hold to be true, the foregoing threefold division affords us an opportunity to outline the fundamentals of truth. The id’s affect, provisional of being unleashed as catharsis, the ego’s recognition of ways in which to reach goals, expressed as the pursuit of gauging behavioral causes and effects with accuracy, and the superego’s submission to customs that regulate many behaviors, embodied in highly cultivated civilization as a moral conscience, combine in three general ways. Affect and recognition result in technical creativity, a spontaneous desire for working as opposed to deficient cognitive and behavioral strategies. Recognition and culture give rise to systems of rules that define behavioral accuracy or appropriateness in a social group. And culture together with affect impel the development and practice of aesthetically motivated rituals. Examples of technical creativity range all the way from prehistoric pottery to computer programming; systems of rules have taken center stage in hunter-gatherer manners, modern legal systems and everything in between; and rain dances, ancient Greek drama, Romantic operas, 20th century sports leagues and much more all place particular emphasis on aesthetic tradition. Discernment and acceptance of truth falls within the boundaries of these three categories: the true must meet demands for technical, predictive accuracy, be socially appropriate enough to avoid prohibitive irrelevance, impracticality or dangerousness, while attaining to an aesthetic medium that is appealing or precedential enough to seem of intuitive significance, altogether worthy of regard, as context the mind connects with, an inhabited conceptual and sensual space.
Modeled in this way, human truth does not seem utterly distinguishable from the rest of nature. Many thousands of animal species exercise technical ability: almost all of kingdom Animalia skillfully builds nests; some bird species have figured out how to acquire a meal by dropping shellfish while in flight; chimpanzees use reedlike leaves as a makeshift tool for drawing ants out of the apertures by which they enter and exit their nests, procuring a tasty snack. All birds and mammals that live in social groups have status criteria determining groundrules for mating, and most species demarcate territories, transgression of which prompts aggressiveness that in many cases is not dissimilar to human punitive measures. Rituals of mass migration are dependent upon the way a species’ environment feels to it, with changes in weather and temperature touching off coordinated travel on sometimes amazingly large scales. Just like humans, other species’ cognition and behavior are based on the way they experience reality, the convergence of technical, social and aesthetic causality, in a vast quantity of cases clearly involving conceptual interpretations informing choice.
All animals have their so to speak “true” realities, but huge discrepancies exists in how the most cognitive species experience the difference between true and false. With a majority, technical failure leads to trying the same strategy somewhere else, such as constructing a similar nest in a new location if the previous one has been destroyed. Violation of territorial or mating privileges, the equivalent of breaking the rules for most animal species, usually utilizes confrontation to decide who has prerogative. And for most animals, rituals motivated by aesthetic sensibility merely involve moving their bodies to a new location. For species with humanlike levels of reasoning ability, technical failure usually induces a new behavioral strategy. When social tensions exist, they are often mitigated with highly symbolic gestures of deference or affection, and if conflict cannot be resolved by demonstrative posturing, rivalries begin or socialized groups of organisms simply part ways. Aesthetic traditions in animals with the highest intelligence are typically more emotional, centered on a refined experiencing of pleasures and pains, including the feeling of power, jesting, informal play, and sometimes structured gaming, cruelty or eroticism.
We can contrast this with the modern human experience of true vs. false. Failed technical creativity results when affect undermines the carrying out, commitment to or comprehension of some train of thought, and we can fall short of noting a relevant implication as we contemplate from cerebral causes like complexity or lack of knowledge. Social error consists in an intolerability of thoughts or motives in relation to our community’s institutional standards for validity and respectability. Aesthetic rituals are insufficient when our methods for organizing information or procedure are inadequate for civic practice or productive thought.
Obviously there is a huge chasm between nonhumanlike, intelligent, and peak human ranges of the experiential spectrum: the enculturated cognition of civilized Homo sapiens tends to be internalized, reflective, and sublimated into elaborate concepts of collective meaning, whereas simplistic cognition is concerned with assisting interaction between the organism’s body and its natural and social environment, while intelligent cognition is focused on comparatively superficial, fleeting actualizations. In short, peak human reality is not characterized merely by problem-solving and high intelligence, but also profounder psychosocial valuations. The inquiry is then into how one of the many reasoning species on this planet acquired a richer intentionality than its counterparts. Progressing scientific research has the potential to reveal greater detail than reflections based on current fact can muster, but it seems possible to make some initial speculations into what makes humanity so unique and perhaps uniquely flawed.
To begin with, we can say that mind as such functions by catalyzing experiential states during which a multiplicity of perceptual phenomena are held in particular orientations within cognition, as a qualitative contexture. This is memory’s essence: the coordination of mental processes into a holistic, prolonged representation of the environment, modulated by sensitization and habituation, ultimately serving to enhance discharge of behavior by integration of the body with a plurality of stimuli, allowing the organism to grow bigger without prohibitive sacrificing of efficient speed, and better anticipate the most mercurial causes and effects. Observing squirrels in action provides a perfect example, as they instantly abandon their rooting around, raise up and intensely scrutinize environments at the slightest hint of an unfamiliar sound, usually with no idea yet of what they are hearing. The squirrel’s mind repeatedly primes it for rapid fight-or-flight response by inducing undivided attention, startling the animal into devotion of its physiological resources towards a phenomenal representation of the relationship between body position and surroundings, which increases reaction time such that not a few squirrel lives have been saved.
The associational rudiments of an inferencing mentality consist in further aligning the perceptual phenomena of experiential states within cognition such that behaviors requiring integrated awareness can be discharged with coordination and predictiveness. This happens in conjunction with mental mapping of the environment/mind complex, orienting an organism to its circumstances. Consider a frog catching insects with its tongue: it sees the bug, feels its body, matches up these phenomena within a positional substrate, and lashes out in a rapid burst of hybridized behavior, garnering a meal before its prey even knows what happened. Returning to our squirrel, if a tasty nut of just the right size is spotted, it associates this object with its bodily emplacement and whatever memory concepts it has of food and more, all inhering in a holistic matrix of orientation, then coordinates the act of approaching and picking up the nut with its mouth. Squirrels have a strong urge to stow their prizes, perhaps we could call this an aesthetic of nuts, but are not particularly good at remembering the location. At any rate, their mental map allows them to at least accurately hone in on particular tracts of land where they should be looking some months later.
This environment/mind experiential complex evolves in three general domains. More advanced organisms such as adult mammals and birds sense their own body as the most salient aspect of the environment. If this is not quite humanlike identity in most cases, it is clearly a foundational self-awareness analogous to the sustained feeling we have of our own physiological states. Thousands of species also have awareness of others’ intentions as a foremost cause, helping them judge what all kinds of animals are likely to do in myriad situations, and often what other animals are expecting them to do as well. Many organisms also attribute a kind of selflike concept to nonintentional bodies, frequently as a possessive extension of their own intentionality.
Perception and conception, awareness of oneself, awareness of other intentional selves, and awareness of nonintentional selves function for mind/body/environment interfacing, and as this combination of reasoning and discrimination evolved, the thinking, motive, and concepts of phenomena they are addressed to transitioned into the precursor of human logic, a cognitive process of assembling mental content as frameworks of more associational complexity, with greater resemblance to the emergent structures generated by what we define as formal inferencing from evidence to conclusion, a kind of protologicality. This is a flexible architecturing that imaginatively fits perceptions together in a wider range of orientations, demonstrated most objectively by human language and birdsong, how they can organize the mind’s qualitative states as conceptual patterning manifest in expression, within generalized forms that are much more than reflexively intuitive.
As touched upon in chapter 14 of this section, “The Synergistic Function and Coevolution of Language and Theoretical Thought”, emergence of human language participated in loosening up social constraints upon the self, disjuncting acts arising out of introspective conceptualization from brute negative or positive feedback exacted in relationships between individuals when predominantly based around exteroceptive, proprioceptive, affective and interoceptive states. This liberated symbolic and abstract thinking among other cognitive traits to develop at a rapid pace, coinciding with improved technological prowess. The human mind’s heightened flexibility made our species capable of molding its own nature via thought and the construction of culture. Humans became able to manipulate phenomena in intricately socioconceptual ways as memes, which sublimated the species into greater reliance on intellectuality, more complex intentionality in general, and made subtle insights easily transmissible to the wider community. A boost in the degrees of freedom for motivation, thought and communication allowed individuals and societies to actualize themselves in psychically deeper ways, incidentally granting human collectives a surplus of proficiency at adjusting to novel conditions, with a burgeoning brain plasticity that could expeditiously adapt to every environment on Earth.
The basic mental faculties of hunter-gatherers, herders and early farmers remained comparable wherever they took root, with equivalent types of thinking required to solve problems posed by any environment, in fabricating shelter and clothing, acquiring food, healing illness, or negotiating community relations. They all reasoned about the actual and potential causality of materials at their disposal, behavioral tendencies of individuals they associated with, the surrounding world generally. But cultures in different locales, with their variant milieus and genetic drifting, confronted discrepant particulars, whether those of biochemistry and physique, temperament, climate, food chains, usability of objects and resources, or demands placed upon intention by idiosyncratic norms, mores and rituals, so that the founder effect alongside unique event sequences could accentuate divergence in even reflection-linked traits such as truculence, competitiveness, or tendency towards superstition. As Homo sapiens spread to all corners of the Earth, every community had its technological methods, nutritional delicacies, medicinal palliatives, languages, manners, gods, art forms, and traditions for making decisions or resolving disputes, but some tribes were more bellicose and prone to feuding, fantasied in their cognizing of the spiritual, egalitarian or authoritarian, depending on the peculiarities of their conditions and pasts. Even though lifestyles of for instance Scottish of the Highlands, Native Americans of the Great Plains, or Arab Bedouins of the Middle East all arose from similar enough cognitive profiles that they could have easily merged in a couple generations given a sufficing social environ, and largely have in some countries such as the modernized United States, specifics of survival strategy, customs, beliefs and modes of expression in separate prehistoric populations disunited to the point of substantial incompatibility.
In consort with each culture’s mode of living, material conditions as well as individual and collective trait profiles converge in the act of perceiving and comprehending reality, which can be considered the fact-mediated facet of thought, a bottom-up style of reasoning that conceives practical consequences of interaction with the world. But with humans, surplus reasoning perspicaciousness masters the enjoinments of bare necessity without too much trouble and looks for something more, as an inspired, imaginative inquisitiveness seeking to surpass the functionally conceptual, a top-down kind of thought bestowing ordinary facts in all their diversity an intellectual coherence, exceeding the meaning of one’s immediate experiences to contemplate existence on a cosmic scale.
For most of humanity’s tenure on the planet, this facet of thought which strives to be comprehensively coherent has incarnated as three general kinds of myth. Etiological myths envision the causality of mysterious or seemingly miraculous happenings such as the weather, behaviors of animals, or pivotal events of life. Historical myths describe the origins of these causes in the unobserved past, usually as creative acts of the gods. And psychological myths use reputed exploits of both triumphant and tragic figures to portray a culture’s most important values, aspirations and interpretations of life’s meaning: love, comradery, courage, intelligence, greed, victory and defeat, fate’s inescapability, discontents such as treachery, temerity, or impiety. Mythical storytelling rose to prominence for its emotive, evocative purpose rather than as technical analysis, often recounting events unlike anything anyone had ever witnessed or in any way verified.
Prehistoric truth in its aspects as descriptive and narratory expression, fact laden with association and inference, overarching and integrative coherence, technical facility, behavioral appropriateness and aesthetic allurance drifted evolutionarily as Homo sapiens dispersed throughout the world, but at the same time many of these earliest migrations put down quite permanent roots in particular locales, so that some communities lived under similar ecological and social conditions for thousands of years. When stability of circumstance gained traction, mores, traditions of cathartic ritual, and conceptualizations of reality could indurate into lasting belief systems provisional for extreme solidarity of collective meaning, practice and purpose.
At the end of the last ice age, roughly 10,000 B.C.E., populations swelled, social groups moved about in search of more land, while humans began constructing the first large-scale settlements and infrastructures. Different ethnicities with their divergent ways of life mingled in many regions and trade volume picked up, so that society was becoming a multicultural entity. Tribes fought wars, then enforced their ways of life on those they conquered, ideas spread throughout the world in time of peace via commerce and relocation, with antiquity’s humans facing up more than anyone ever had to the contingency of their beliefs and activities. This dramatic transformation towards cultural intercourse and diversity, an adjacency of contrary perspectives, often compromised the certainty with which customs were viewed, destabilizing belief systems. In many parts of the world, immingled fact, concept and practice within rigid social orders started to discompose, the tightly wound cords of culture unraveling into sundry strands of technique, ritual, behavioral principle and myth. The human psyche was losing touch with age-old presumptions about reality, but simultaneously gained an opportunity to strike out in new directions, weaving its way towards novel forms of truth.
In the Old World, this crisis of meaning seems to have come to a head in the mid to latter half of the first millennium B.C.E. as imperial and nomadic invasion temporarily quiesced in some areas and citizens strove to make sense of massive reconfigurations in the ethnic and class composition of societies. At first, innovative belief systems with their founders and adherents were more oriented towards cultish ritual than intellectual analysis. The Pythagoreans of ancient Greece promulged a then radical concept that the world operates according to mathematical principles, with tetrahedrons, cubes, octahedrons, dodecahedrons and icosahedrons being the essence of substance. They also maintained a vegetarian diet that strictly forbade the eating of beans, and believed in metempsychosis, transmigration of souls into a new body after death, a novel idea for antiquity’s Europe. Vardhamana of India spent twelve and a half years as an ascetic, fasting and meditating, even walking around naked in public, having renounced life, but eventually reached an epiphany of enlightenment, then commenced teaching the inhabitants of his community as Mahavira, “great hero” in Sanskrit, leading to status as a foremost prophet of the religion called Jainism still in existence today. The doctrinal movements in this brave new multicultural world as fostered by emboldened, self-defining individuals and the collectives they inspired were at first oriented mostly towards spirituality, but as civilized economies of complex division of labor and technological advancement took center stage, strains of technical thought no longer inextricably embedded in traditional rituals and mores were absorbed and recombined in the reasoning of progressive subcommunities, enriching some human belief systems and their spirituality with an enhanced intellectuality.
For hunter-gatherers, the causality invoked by beliefs, consisting in their factual truth or falsity, was relatively basic, for circumstances could remain static for hundreds of generations, a simple matter of meeting necessities of life, navigating social relationships in communal settings, and coming to a workable understanding of numinosity no more strenuous than spinning a provocative yarn in the form of folk legend together with artistic expression and ritual. Once large-scale civilization took shape, numerousness of its subcultures and professional niches, consequent increases in the complexity of relationships between both individuals and collectives, reliance on technological development and fluctuating economic systems, alongside a whole new societal tier of civic institutions with all the related mass action, disaffection and upheaval, made true and false much more difficult to ascertain. It was found that labyrinthian social arrangements and logistically challenging ecologies required intensive analysis of mere cause and effect in order to improve and thereby secure a civilization’s way of life. No doubt partly inspired by these complications, reasoning itself became a distinguishable art and then occupation undertaken as philosophy, and though not at first of the same stature as politics and religion, for we have few firsthand records of antiquity’s theorizing, it acquired a distinctive ethos which has been influential to mindsets all the way up until the present day.
Historically, whether analytical reasoning functioned as an instrument of what contemporary citizens thinks of as social conservativism or liberalism was mostly dependent on the civilized milieu it was working within. Some societies treated groundbreaking philosophy harshly or punitively, while others were more forward thinking, with much variation by time and place. If a culture was oriented towards purveying truth as authoritative doctrine rather than via egalitarian participation, its philosophical commitments were likely to take the form of decretal principles instead of provisionary discourses. Yet the blossoming value system we know as ‘rationality’ evolved some universal properties wherever it arose, as an outcome of its intrinsic role on the leading edge of collective progress, whether Confucian, Athenian or otherwise, represented by all the major schools of thought around the world, in antiquity, the Middle Ages, as well as modernity. Every civilization has had its own substantiation of rationality varying somewhat in particulars, but the Socratic ethic of Plato’s literature, which attests to his philosophical academy’s intellectual climate, provides an excellent example of the key ingredients.
Collaborativeness is paramount, for rationality justifies its impact by questing for a measure of universalizability in the fact-based truth it sets forth, giving practitioners and beneficiaries alike a broadly legitimated certainty about the courses of action to which they should commit. We see this standard of ideal communality in the way Socrates approaches philosophical issues from multiple angles, accounting for a wide range of assumptions in pursuit of syntheses that assimilate the best features in each of his interlocutor’s viewpoints while explicitly identifying and rejecting any flaws, unconstrained by reputation. Socrates’ critical-minded constructiveness never reaches finalized form, but makes the tacit supposition that such comprehensive conclusions are of the highest merit. Unadulterated rationality idolizes free thought as mutual thought, irrespective of the implications for status. From this perspective, ideas are a kind of common property most effectively elaborated when personal or subcultural identity is subordinated to a collectivity of uninhibited sharing that unveils the purest essence of truth.
Rationality has high regard for persuasiveness, the ability to articulately express one’s views. Socrates’ conversations are extremely organized, almost formal in their degree of coordination, with a stylized eloquence that had probably become the academy’s standard. This went hand in hand with a certain amount of decorum, for the tone of his exchanges, while sometimes ironic, is cordial, even-tempered, and tolerant of the speaker, whoever it happens to be; there are no bad manners, interruptions or wanton offenses.
Creative speculation is important to Socratic dialectic, an imaginativeness that tolerates moments of uncertainty in order to explore lines of questioning, which often lead to extemporaneous insights. Socrates initiates with hypothetical premises followed by undetermined chains of reasoning that do not shy away from arriving at logical contradictions and refutations. Socrates’ freethinking willingness to debunk precedential opinion defines his thought, as no one is immune to discredit, which is not merely a dramatic device, but one of the main themes of Plato’s literary aura and probably a core virtue of the academy. This is clear from one of Plato’s first works, The Apology, during which Socrates defends himself against accusations of impious conduct in front of the Athenian assembly, having turned down assistance in fleeing the city from out of respect for his culture’s legal institutions. He foregoes the usual emotional plea so as to rationally explain his dedication to philosophy, an attempt which tragically fails in warding off a death sentence, portraying the way intellectual courage can be misunderstood as lack of integrity, a strong statement to the effect that any borderline iconoclasms in Platonic literature should not be construed as malicious.
Rationality also holds clarity of thought in high esteem, evinced by Socrates’ pristinely lucid and efficient disquisitiveness, abetted by a question and answer format that lends his reasoning a degree of systematization. One of Socratic dialectic’s criteria for intelligibility is self-consistency: a train of thought is pursued until contradiction becomes apparent, at which time commitment to an inferential sequence is withdrawn and the topic approached from a different angle or a new hypothetical premise introduced. With purely rational deliberation, absurdity, vagueness and equivocation are problematized in pursuit of economical coherence.
These rationalist values are still very much a part of culture, perhaps even the foundation of contemporary intellectualism. Reasoned exchanges between individuals in small-scale academic settings tend to be extraordinarily egalitarian, with everyone having license to contribute as desired, taking turns sharing queries and insights. The factual foundation for this highly collectivized collaboration is a tradition of peer review at least in principle accessible to millions. When the milieu becomes too large-scale to platform unmoderated participation, human beings organize themselves into ultrastructured formats of conferencing or prolix lecturing that are extremely formal bordering on ceremonial. Scholarly environments are probably the only place humans have permission to be radically wrong, as ideas upon which professional purposes, conceptual paradigms, even whole worldviews are based suffer demolition. This is in fact an anticipated inevitability, and famous intellectuals are often discredited without sustaining any damage to their social status. Academia is not only uncommonly lenient towards intellectual risk-taking, but also to conscientious objection and civil disobedience, as universities have often inclined to be the epicenters of protest movements. Academic literature is painstakingly authored in such a way that it is as clear and concise as possible, maximally intelligible, despite the sometimes difficult nature of its subject matter as well as vulnerability of lucid language to rebuttal.
So distinctly ‘rational’ truth-seeking is set apart as more concerned with conceptual order than probably any cultural domain. Optimal precision and accuracy is demanded of its technical creativity, analysis of basic fact, and theoretical generalizations. In rational discussions and discourse, affect is highly constrained by criteria for cogency, regardable as mores of consideration for one’s audience, more than probably any other kind of interaction. And the aesthetic of rationality is one of self-control, thoughtfulness, balance of perspective, in essence sublimation of a social group into pure reasoning, channeling libido towards the self-aware mind.
When the ethos of rationality is in effect as a valuation of behavior, it exerts strong pressure on the individual psyche to become highly organized conceptually. Intentionally rational thought attempts to be more structured, its inferencing self-consciously formalized in line with standards for well-constructed, objective validity. If reflection is striving to be rational, its treatment of evidentiary facts must lead seamlessly to generalizations without any confusion of the issue, and if a reasoner has obviously failed to exercise clarity of thought in a situation where this is expected, he or she is readily perceived as in error.
Academicians began to scrutinize and classify rational thinking as early as B.C.E. times, a discipline which was called ‘logic’, seminalized most influentially by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, with improprieties in rationalizing singled out as logical fallacies. These definitions and standards of appropriate and inappropriate reasoning provide groundrules for well-formed inferential thought as the template of intellectual rhetoric.
The cardinal dilemma of logic is contradiction, for if it is asserted that both a proposition and its opposite are true, there appears to be no scenario in which a reasoner is not incorrect. For instance, if it is granted that emotion and reason are conflicting experiential influences, and both emotion and reason are claimed as the primary factor in determining a human behavior, some thinker is necessarily wrong in either one of two ways. Likewise, if we assume that reality is either fundamentally deterministic or nondeterministic, and then ponderers get around to avouching both options, it seems obvious that someone’s reasoning is mistaken. At the same time, we have shown that reality is in essence not contradictory, but rather a nonexclusional simultaneity of everything that can possibly exist. Can we find our way towards elucidating how awareness of contradiction subsists amongst the noncontradictory substance of existence?
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