This story is about how humans know things. It is here for a number of reasons, sort of how biology functions. What humans know and believe determines their survival. There are a number of ways to know things. This is written mostly to describe a few things. The first is how many different ways there are to know things. The second is to make the point that in the future we are going to need to be smarter than we needed to be in the past. We will need to use all the tools we can and self development is going to be more important. Some of these tools are not well known such as instincts and unconscious processing, but a person should be aware of them as tools of understanding. Another reason and really where this started was that of all the ways we think and know, perhaps the most important is the oldest, most limited, and one of the most difficult to understand, our moral instincts. It is important for a person to know and develop the different ways humans have of knowing, but in terms of a strategy of survival that this book is about, understanding that we solve moral problems a certain way is extremely important. You really need to understand and be aware of moral instincts and moral systems.
We have basically three ways of knowing. Personal experience, including what we are told of other's experiences as well as the sciences. The logic and reason known as Critical Thinking. The knowledge in our instincts, especially moral knowledge.
The commonest ways we know things is by personal experience or by other people's experiences. That includes science and media. The mind has powerful pattern recognition capability based on the neural net functionality of the brain. It is where our understandings start. Our unconscious mind does a lot of thinking that can and should be accessed. We use libraries of knowledge that are called philosophy. such as Stoic Philosophy that are based on wisdom, even if they are not the Philosophy Libraries that have foundations of unbroken chains of logic. Another way we know things is by the reason and logic of philosophy known as Critical Thinking. Also we use the bodies of knowledge included in philosophy that have been evaluated using deductive and inductive logic as well those based on experience.We have knowledge that comes from natural drives, emotion and instinct, especially moral instincts. These are harder to describe and understand, but are important to know especially for some of the discussion in this book.
It seems that an uneducated person in an unsophisticated culture tends to think that what exists and what happens are a consequence of conscious will or desire. Such as the world exists because of some being's creation of it by personal power. Unfortunate events such as disease or accidents are usually ascribed to evil thoughts or spirits. My guess is that before agriculture, many tribes had more sophisticated knowledge than that as part of their culture, but at the root, human thinking is non-causal. We have to learn to look for the logical causes of things.
Moving forward I'll use a term from computer science here for shorthand. That is "library". Human knowledge has become so vast that it must be organized into libraries separated by function, relatedness or for some other purpose. Science does this by defining subjects. Medicine does it by defining practices. Philosophy has schools of thought. All complicated disciples do it to manage complexity and allow communication of complicated subjects by shorthand symbols.
The commonest way to learn something is by experience, personal or someone else's. Wise is the one who can learn from other's experiences. This also includes science, because it is a form of experience. Science even has its own ways of verifying truth including repeatability and predictability. Science excels at ontogeny and organization of knowledge. Science is vast, containing huge bodies of knowledge it defines in libraries such as phylogeny in biology; organic, physical and nuclear chemistry; or mechanics, magnetism, electricity, light and others. In strategic terms, a person should have at least a basic knowledge of biology, evolution, and psychology, because those are required for an understanding of self and the society a person lives in. This basic knowledge probably also includes some politics and economics as well as they too are part of a person's world or "ecology".
While science has great importance in so many ways, personal survival often relates to experiences far closer to the individual. The value of that though may be what the person understands of their experiences and what they tell them about the physical world around them or even more importantly the social world they exist in. That leads to the next topic of knowing, the topic of knowing known as philosophy. If science is a vast body of knowledge related to the physical and biological world, philosophy is as vast a body of knowledge about the human and world and our beliefs.
In terms of strategy, we are even going to need to develop a more explicit knowledge of philosophical foundations of our ecology. These days the term "philosophy" can make people roll their eyes, but it is critically important. In ways philosophy is like physics. Physics is a huge thing and right now research seems focused on very advanced topics such as how to correct known weaknesses of the standard model, Spookey Actions, information flow in a black hole and other clearly esoteric subjects. I am sure that professional physicists find these topics endlessly fascinating and quite important, but I don't think most other people do. You don't need to know much about the advanced physics for your survival or daily activities, but whenever you ride a bicycle cook something, you use very practical aspects of physics. It is that way with philosophy too. I don't know what to make of most advanced philosophy, but to me, it seems as esoteric as the event horizon of a black hole. The basics of philosophy though, especially critical thinking are used every day. The most basic function of philosophy is to be able to properly use your mind to discern truth. That is critical to survival and becoming more so with the flood of disinformation we seem to be swimming in. One of the first aspects of Western Philosophy as inherited from the Greeks, was Rhetoric or persuasive speaking. It was pretty fundamental to the democratic forms they were developing then and just as common today. Not surprisingly, that quickly led to techniques to figure out what parts of the rhetoric was true... something I think we are also needing today. That method was the "second" great development of Greek thought, Critical Thinking. Unfortunately that is a very commonly misused and overused word these days. Still, basically it is the use of "language" to perform logic to examine the truth of propositions based on logic and reason (deductive reason), which are ultimately binary math of true or false. Any false condition makes the final condition false. In the past, it has always been assumed that an educated person was well read. Reading uniquely teaches critical thinking as the author tells how their character discovered a problem, the process they followed to understand it, the mistakes they make and how they recognized them, then the various steps of expressing the understanding they developed. It tells how they did the process of thinking. It sounds easy enough and obvious, but really, it represents a complex process that must be learned and rigidly followed or errors will be made. A single undetected logical error can distort a hundred correct decisions. It is a critical part of how one uses their mind. The problem though is that electronic media tends not to teach logical thinking. It expounds things, but never shows the development, the small logical details or the parts that create understanding. One can have a great deal of knowledge with minimal understanding, which is unfortunate, because without understanding, one does not know the truth of something. One could be fooled by clever rhetoric that carefully hides a single logical error and fools the person with falsehood. Only detailed critical analysis and understanding would show the truth of falseness of it.
It seems unfortunate that we have so much knowledge and it is often mistaken for understanding. Part of that is just because of laziness or maybe difficulty. Knowledge is far easier than understanding. You can watch a video on a single piece of technique or technology and you will think you understand it. When you try to use it though, you will find a tedious process of working through details, discarding paths and building an understanding. Really, in that using philosophy in terms of deductive logic to ascertain truth takes a great deal of time and effort, it is an impractical tool. There are though large libraries of deductive arguments so that a person doesn't need to repeat the long difficult process of deductively proving something. More than that, Philosophy includes many libraries of knowledge that are not so rigorously verified, but that have been evaluated for usefulness and for obvious flaws. The greatest part of Philosophy is these libraries created by an individual or school of thought. This would include the Stoicism to mention one of my favorites, including the musings of Marcus Aurelius. Existentialism is one of the few others that appeal to me. I guess I'm not smart enough for most philosophy much beyond Kant's suggestion to use reason. I'm more of a Maslow kind of person. At the same time as saying that we know a lot more than we understand, that also makes sense because we need to know an awful lot that we don't understand, but we do need to know the difference as well.
In a way, philosophy relates to science. Before there was science, philosophy was considered to be the tool to verify truth. Science, which I think must be considered a part of philosophy, developed other methods of determining truth, particularly prediction and repeatability. Really though, all too often, science is used as an end, rather than a means of reaching understanding. For someone reading science, usually it is easier to know what they read than to develop a real fine grain understanding. Science has shown a fantastic practical power to create wealth and manipulate the world. That has made it eclipse philosophy for creating understanding. Some people even think that science is the only valid source of truth, which is quite sad, because it may lead them to ignore the difficult and important questions that science cannot answer... and they are many.
I've mentioned the difference between knowledge and understanding. Understanding is something that is built, but built from what? First must come recognition of something to understand. That is what teachers and may instructional videos provide. They offer things that the student can choose to work to understand or pass on, but then where did those come from? A primary way the human mind works is by pattern recognition. The mechanism is called a "neural net". It is not something we consciously do. It is like vision. It automatically processes data and naturally picks up patterns. Once a person sees a pattern, then they can do the work to understand what it means. This pattern recognition is the foundation of what is called genius and is the starting source of most human knowledge. I discuss this mechanism further in another related book called "When Barbara Explained Genius". It describes how we convert our non-verbal thoughts into words that can be manipulated, recorded and communicated by the cultural tools of language.
Words are so noisy. They are easier, like one plus one. Language has a logical structure by nature and necessity. The mind is naturally an analog device that works by shifts in balance and subtle drives. Words are so clear that they are far easier to understand than feelings, but words are a new thing. We have so many thoughts that do not translate to the loud clarity of words. We have to listen far more closely to hear them and we need to. This includes what we think about at night. It also includes what we call sub-conscious processing. Be assured those processes are not naturally about words. There are various methods like meditation that allow one to access this knowledge. Whatever methods a person uses, sometimes they have to turn off the words and allow the thoughts to emerge that do not come from verbal data processing methods, including instincts.
Philosophy has lost a lot of respect, but one should remember that it was once the king of sciences. Its techniques include what is the most basic way of discovering and ascertaining truth. The point of bringing it up though was really to lead to another more important topic. Parts of philosophy will be critical to future human survival, but the reason to mention it is to illuminate another body of knowledge and problem solving method that is often forgotten. Now I don't think humans have a lot of instinct related to philosophy, though certainly some, but they do have a great deal of instinct related to another topic and body of knowledge as well as a natural ability to evaluate that body of knowledge. Like philosophy, its understanding and content does not really come from science. It is critically important to survival and that is Morality. It is not a well known topic and it is extremely difficult to put into words. Thinkers that have tried to describe it systematically are seemingly always bedeviled by exceptions. Still, it is so important that many people believe humanity is in a critical moral crisis right now. Our moral instincts tell us that. Well they should if we are in the dangerous situation I have described. A problem is that it is so hard to make sense of or express in words at all. We need to put things into words for any real for understanding, let alone communication. Unfortunately our moral systems come to us from history and religion, based on authority and precedence little more than "it is how it has always been done, so this is what we do". Religions have put them into words some, but they are impossible to defend currently and they just do not answer the questions that we face today. A morality is a learned survival strategy. It is how we decide right and wrong, a decision based on a complex interplay of the needs of survival of the individual, family and group. That is why have instincts related to them. We need new foundations for our moral strategies. We may not change our actions much, they have worked for a long time, but we need new foundations for our moralities based on reason and understanding or they will not be used. We need to be able to judge a course of action in a more complex and novel world. The problem solving methods and methods of understanding of philosophy are stepping stones to the problem solving methods of morality. The problem is that philosophy is always based on logic and reason, morality is not which is why philosophers examining morality can never make one that doesn't have exceptions. The foundation of morality even, survival is not logical, it is an action and choice.
How many times have you wished that you had a better idea of what was right, what was wrong, what was the right goal? How many times have you wished you had the right words to express yourself... a few minutes earlier? The clarity of understanding expressed in words can offer great power. A clarity of moral understanding could offer a far greater power, perhaps even enough to allow us to overcome the challenges of reaching a New Ecology where we can survive and grow.
Instincts are the oldest way to know things. they might be as simple as a microbe moving towards warmth or as complicated as a bird responding to weather changes. A bird does not consciously think that the temperature has dropped and the wind has changed direction. it doesn't consciously pay attention to the pressure changing a little. It doesn't know a storm is coming, It's just that at some point, a balance changes and the bird starts acting different. It looks for shelter.
Humans have instincts, though commonly that has been denied because it would imply that we are of an animal nature rather than divine. We do have them though and they are well honed. Conrad Lorenz described something about when instincts become behavior. Many animals including humans may have a "fight of flight" response to danger. More than one person has been shocked by their own response to danger. It's not something you have to learn, it comes from your genetic memory, but it is something that generally has to be "released". You are unlikely to have a "fight of flight" response without there being any danger. Something in the environment, a danger presents a need and a behavior is "released". It is an interface between nature and nurture. Without the "behavioral release", there is little chance of the behavior happening.
Humans have lots of instincts. What is important here though are our social behaviors and instincts. Scientists study wolves, primates and other animals with social behavior to get an insight into human social behavior. We know about balances between cooperation and competition. On instincts we commonly have is following "tribal leaders", often unquestioningly. That makes sense, though is not "proven" by logic. Apparently it works though and is necessary for survival, so is proven that way. Somewhere ideas external to individuals started being treated that way by instinct, as truth. We had instincts not just to follow leaders like other species did, but also laws. We call those laws moral systems. We can't necessarily say why we do any more than we know why we feel weather is coming, but they are part of evolution and part of survival. There are various ways that a person can learn what their instincts believe are truths. Again though they are balances, so they cannot be forces into the simpler true and false we often prefer.
Our emotions, instincts and drives naturally communicated because they were common to our nature and we could recognize them in others. They were communicated before language existed and were even a form of communication. As language developed, we created words that symbolized those instincts and emotions well enough to communicate then and communicate understandings. Language offered an abstraction layer where a symbol was recognized to carry meaning. Still, instincts exist a great deal outside our conscious and verbal thought processes and do not necessarily map to them well. At the same time, a good deal about them can be consciously learned and can be described in words. That includes moral instincts. You should also learn to read the messages from your physical body. Even your sense of smell gives many important clues to the physical and social world.
There is a very important point to make here that illustrates this. We have all heard of "animal survival instinct" - an animal will chew off its leg to escape a trap. Do you know a word for this in humans? If you are from the West, you probably don't. This is because the West was been dominated by the Catholic Church for so long and their position was that humans had no instincts, because that would indicate that they were animals and not divine. We know though that humans have powerful survival instincts. They are usually very hard to kill and will cut their arm off to escape a trap or rock. Think about it though. You have no word for "human survival instinct", but there is a word. It is "faith". Faith is usually associated with religion, but don't let the word be stolen, because it is so much more. It is most often thought of as an unsupported belief, usually in a deity, but it is so much more in the moral processes of the human mind. It is the irrational belief that one should struggle to survive. A moral system is a method of survival. It is how we decide right and wrong. Faith is why we decide right and wrong. Not only are humans hard to kill because of faith, but I'm pretty sure it has been a primary focus of evolution since we started our path to a new ecology. It is what has allowed us to survive all the jarring changes that have already occurred. Notice that now you know the word, you can use it to understand and see things that your instincts saw before, but you were not so conscious of before. You can see faith in a person like you can see anger or love. You can see it in what they do. Look at the work of a cabinet maker. The beauty and artistry of their work is a reflection of moral decisions to do something right, because of their faith. You can see it all around you if your conscious mind is looking for it.
The conscious perception of faith, emotions and drives gives you information. You can also learn to recognize the decisions your instincts make. Your instincts may detect danger and prepare your body to fight or run. If you are sensitive to your instincts though, you can pick up the signals that it is picking up signs of danger long before the natural balance shifts to prepare your body to respond to the danger. This applies to far more than danger. Your instincts can give you all kinds of information. They just aren't really designed to. They are more designed to lead to a reaction than to thought and understanding, so you have to learn how read and use their messages. Most importantly and what this essay should have been restricted to, your moral instincts are for solving far more complicated problems than detecting danger. They understand social circumstances, people and far more. There is a great deal you know, because of the strategic knowledge and processing capability built into your genes from a time long before humans. It is an important way of knowing.
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In the future, humans are going to need to be smarter. This list of ways we know and can know offers knowledge that can be made into understanding. That understanding can be made into ability and growth.
Of these forms of knowledge, perhaps the most important one is to know how your moral instincts work and what they are telling you. This is partly because they are adapted to the requirements of a different ecology, the tribal ecology. You need to know when your instincts are pushing a behavior appropriate to the old ecology, most often violence or other shortsighted behavior, that is not appropriate to the civilization. Note that violence is not completely obsolete and will be discussed more later, but it is a primary danger to our life support system that is civilization even though it often worked pretty well in tribal times. We ahve reason to minimize the need or usefulness of violence in civilization. That is called law. Know that if your moral instincts are uncomfortable with an action you choose, you can actually "talk to them" and explain. Sometimes you just have find compromises between the multiple drives that life is made of.