The Divided Mind of Human Kind
Copyright 2009, John Manimas Medeiros
Are all humans schizophrenic?
I ask this question because my lifetime of experience has been dominated by my observation that people appear to believe in or live in two realities: 1) the real physical world; and 2) a spiritual or moral world that actually has different rules from the physical world, or flexible or unknown rules that somehow make the spiritual or moral world "superior" to the physical world. This issue is one of the primary reasons why I wrote my book, The Primacy of Stewardship: The Handbook for Christians Who Believe in Democracy, in which I present the argument that the division between religion and science is lethal. Unless we reconcile religion and science, we will self-destruct.
The precision level of truth:
Left and right, right and wrong, up and down, black and white, good and bad, reason and emotional, rational and emotional, physical and spiritual, real and imaginary, reality and myth, truth and … well, what is the "opposite" of truth? In fact, the measurement of truth is similar to our measurement of the length of a line. We can be very precise if we so desire, but we can be practical, and offer an approximation that is sufficient for our purpose -- when we are measuring a length. But what about when we are measuring a truth? How far off from precisely, exactly, totally accurate does one have to be in order to avoid error, deception or falsification?
My college humanities professor, William Barker, once stated to his class, quite emphatically, that "Precision is the essence of truth." This seems to make perfect sense, instantly. But what is the meaning of that word "precision"? How precise must the precision be? Further contemplation of this philosophical and rather scientific statement suggests a linguistic problem or issue. That issue is that when we are speaking, or communicating by any means, there is a subtle but important "connotation" implied by the context of our communication and the specific circumstances of the subject matter. That important connotation, usually not consciously or overtly discussed in advance, is the level of precision that the communication is expected to achieve.
Our communications are often about some form of measurement or assessment, or about an opinion or about the quality of a product or process. For example, we daily hear that a product for sale is "the best selling" for the current year, or the "best selling" in America, or the "best selling" of high-priced variations of the particular product. We are often told we cannot get better quality for such a "low price." One can see immediately that such marketplace transactions both imply and test the unidentified level of precision in such words as "best" "low" or even "selling." The phrase "best selling" has been so overused and so thoroughly undefined that no one can make a simple statement as to what it means, or what it is supposed to mean. This same problem occurs when we discuss an evaluation or judgment of a person's character or appearance. Is he honest? Usually. What could it possibly mean to be "honest usually"? Is she pretty? Is he handsome? Here is where we resort to numbers, to "proportion," to convey quality by means of a measure of quantity, or number. We rate people -- appearance or character or performance skills, on a scale of 1 to 10, or 1 to 100. Does one ever use a scale of 1 to 1000? Probably not necessary for most situations (level of precision required by conditions of the communication), especially because 1 to 100 can add decimal points, or we can resort to the beginning of our alphabet (A, B, C, D, E, or F) and use pluses and minuses. We have therefore, in the middle of our daily lives, at home and in the workplace and in every corner of the marketplace, innumerable communications that carry with them, or convey, the acceptable level of precision that is implied, or accepted, or which is sometimes in fact used for purposes of deception or manipulation.
The field of "advertising" is obviously the worst offender in this area of manipulating the implied level of precision. Otherwise, all products of the same type would be the best, which we know is not possible. We also know that there are conflicts or tension between the alleged qualities of products such as "fast" or "easy" and "nutritious" or between "luxury" and "high mileage" or between "excellence" and "low price" and on and on. Yet, the sellers of the world persistently try to tell us that what they have to sell possesses the most obviously contradictory characteristics one can consider, the most "famous" and most overused being that "this is the best (gizmo) at the lowest price." How is it that the best product costs less than the worst?
Back to the Truth. Clearly, when people make statements or claims that imply a truth or any fact or reality, they have some level of precision in mind, either consciously or by unconscious habit. We all know that when producing a sub-assembly for a rocket or computer, "one inch" is not a sufficient level of precision to be given for the length of a part. We seem to have a common understanding that the construction of things always carries an expected or required level of precision in all measurements. This habit of ours is not absent from other human activities, but is in fact ever-present because we constantly make observations about the qualities of people as well as things. We can say that a woman is pretty, but if she is applying for a job as a model, one would use numbers and precise words for the field of "modeling" to describe her appearance: her physical measurements, her weight, her hair and skin color and "tone" and eyes and on and on, if one were attempting to describe her -- create an image with words -- to another person. This is why we like photographs. They do the describing for us.
Why does the precision level of language, and of truth, play such an important role in our communications? Because every human communication contains and conveys both a rational and an emotional expression or purpose. All humans who are communicating do so in some kind of relationship, and human relationships have emotional content. Of course, we do have communications where the emotional content is expected to be reduced to zero, such as in the technical specifications for an artifact to be manufactured. Then, at the far other end of human communications, where one person tells another how they feel, such as "I hate you!" or "I love you more than I have ever loved anyone before," we know, even at the very moment when the communication is received, that an extremely high emotional content is included. In the first instance, "I hate you!" one might know immediately that the statement is not true, or that it is a true description of a feeling that will not last more than a few minutes or hours, and where the person speaking is highly self-controlled and does not act out hatred but only expresses hatred in words. In the second instance, "I love you more than I have ever loved anyone before," is both passionate and suspiciously imprecise, because the person speaking may hardly have loved anyone else before. This statement could also be a contrived formula to convey, deceptively, that the receiver is special and distinguished from all others -- at least up to this date (time or appointment). We also know, after a little life experience, that verbal expressions of love can be highly self-interested, and one might in fact learn to place little trust in "words of love," and keep one's eyes and other senses sharpened for stronger evidence of another person's true feelings. Even flowers and gifts, responses to one's implied wishes, et cetera, can all be moves in a mating dance, tactics to achieve a goal that is notoriously something less than the love that is further defined by such words as "commitment" and "fidelity." All other human communications that fall in between "specifications" and expressions of uncontrolled passion, contain some measure of reason and some measure of emotion. And this occurs because the human mind is divided, the human being has both knowledge and feelings, both knowledge and motives, both knowledge and purposes and desires and even needs or desires that are submerged or hidden by social expectations and personal expectations. Any of us can have strong personal prohibitions, strong enough such that if we ever feel a motive that our rational mind tells us is "petty" or "selfish" or "crude" or "forbidden," our talented and agile mind can hide it, "repress" our own internal experience, so that we do not suffer the shame and embarrassment of showing a bad personal quality. Then, we hide our unwanted (unwanted by the rational mind) emotions, with language, so that we will sound perfectly reasonable and good-hearted. But then again, since we are all capable of presenting our own petty and self-serving or negative feelings all dressed up in words to sound like a noble motive, we all have developed some skill in the field of decoding such language. This human behavior is so common that it is the subject of jokes. A person might hold their forefingers up to their ears and say, "See these antennae? You know what they are?"
"They are my bullshit detectors."
We are therefore condemned to live in our own divided world, divided between cold rational truth and the warmth of personal emotions, which can melt a heart, or melt steel when sufficiently motivated. We have words to suggest or imply what level of precision we intend when we speak, or write. And we have words to suggest our disbelief.
The division of reality:
If there are levels of precision in the expression of truth, then there must be levels of precision, or divisions, in our descriptions of reality. But that seems so strange. We make statements such as: "We each create our own reality," or "He lives in his own reality," or "Myth and religion are different from physical reality." We also make such statements as: "Myth is also an expression of truth," and "People need to have some mystery in life," or "I could not stand life if there were no mystery." Therefore, even though we make a distinction between "myth" and "reality" and "myth" and "truth," we still attach some element of "truth" to myth in a context that is publicly accepted yet contradictory. Is a statement true or not? We have all heard of, and taken, a test or quiz where we read statements and then designate each statement as being either "true" or "false." I have never taken or heard of a test where one is asked to designate each statement as "true" or "false" or "myth" suggesting that "myth" is a category that is both true and false. But that seems to be what is implied in common language, and that is the problem, because if a mythical statement, or story, is both true and false, then we have a third category of truth and of reality, where there is some subtle measure of both truth and not-truth that must be weighed and measured. Here we are back again at the concept of "level of precision" in a statement of truth, and we have even added a "type of truth" as a new concept in our language. Now we have the convenience of making statements that are both true and false, but in a combination that is kind of like a sauce made with herbs and spices and a set of ingredients, and ordered steps that are required to get this particular right flavor, or myth, to be taken in and enjoyed. But what part is truth? And what does it mean? And why do we do this? Could it be because we have a divided mind? Could it be because all humans are schizophrenic? Could it be because the issue of what is true is so emotionally charged for us that it makes us crazy? Maybe it makes us crazy only sometimes, when we become obsessed with the truth and we cannot tolerate even the slightest uncertainty. That would then raise the question of how long do we act crazy when we have these episodes? Four minutes, four months, or four years? Do we feel and act crazy long enough to destroy the world? Because of the truth? and the myth? and some uncertainty about reality?
Religion as a division of reality:
I have heard people say "I am religious." And I have heard people say "I am not religious." What does this mean? Everyone believes something about the real world and how it works. This is how we function. Those who act on no beliefs are in locked facilities. We each must act upon beliefs, beliefs about people and how the world works, in order to function in society. Yet we still live in a society that is filled with contradictory statements about what is real.
It has occurred to me that we probably would get very interesting results, and possibly very educational results, if people were given a "science or religion" test instead of a "true or false" test. Such a test would provide a list of statements, and the participant would be told to label each statement as being either "scientific" or "religious," with no other options. People do appear to divide the world into a scientific or physical reality and a moral or spiritual or religious reality. Although, the words "moral" and "spiritual" and "religious" do not mean precisely the same thing. However, we are still dealing with the thematic issue here as to how "level of precision" qualifies statements we make, whether they are "scientific" statements about the physical world, or "religious" statements about the spiritual world or the world of one's personal religious beliefs. We do know, or we should know, that religious beliefs present us with a problem in direct proportion to what level of precision we assigned to them. When one identifies or assigns to their personal religious beliefs, which are categorized by many as "mythical" or "secondary" to reality, the highest level of precision, then one's religious beliefs are either in conflict with science or superior to science as our description of reality, meaning reality with the highest level of certainty. It should be obvious that this kind of behavior presents us with a problem, and a very serious problem. The essence of what I have been saying here then is that this problem is of the greatest concern. It is lethal. The division of the human mind into versions of reality, between physical reality and moral or spiritual reality, is sufficient to drive the implementation of total self destruction. The human species must reconcile science and religion. My book is a carefully researched effort to show how science and religion are compatible, reconcilable. This is something that human civilization needs: treatment for the divided human mind.
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