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mastering multiple mountains...

I was thinking in the shower today, ( a common practice) and I began to recall an experience I have had in the past when having a discussion or debate with individuals who express views vastly different from my own in areas that are considered controversial. This particular topic was about the king of controversial topics , religion. In the past I've gotten into quite heated exchanges when discussing this topic, I have a very low tolerance for individuals that think improperly. Let me explain what I mean by improper thinking, it is the tendency to draw conclusions that do not directly derive from a given line of reasoning or evidence, people do this constantly and I would be lying if I said I haven't performed it myself now and again without knowing it. The point is, when it is pointed out that ones logic is broken, individuals in the heat of discussion would rather belabor the point in the effort of appearing to be right ...rather than concede the point and analyze their methods of conclusion to rectify the issue. In my life, I've found that being able to admit when I was wrong was the most expeditious way for me to get on the right path. What matters most to me is being aligned with what is true, not appearing to be right. Ultimately, truth is what persists, the perceptions of what is right soon fall by the way side as the unstoppable persistence of truth wears away all objections to its existence. Take the case of the round Earth, through out history the knowledge of the spherical nature of the Earth has come , and gone and come again , to different regions of the world, to different cultures. Today there are scant groups of people in the world that would deny that the Earth is a large , roughly spherical ball of water, rock and air but even this truth may still find variety of views. Take for example the inhabitants of the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean. The Andaman Islanders are a group of people said to derive from an ancient stock of humanity (modern humans) that left Africa around the time that homo sapiens sapiens began his trek into Europe. The Andaman Islanders share genetics and morphology of several small groups in many Asian countries. They are similar to bands in South East Asia (Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Malaysia), the Philippines and form the stock from which modern New Guinea and Australian Aboriginal populations are derived from. Here is a photograph of an Andaman Islander:

The interesting thing about these "negrito" people is that , to this day, many of them have strongly rejected the contact attempts of other humans. From the days of European colonial expansion into the region, to the modern governance of the Islands as a possession of India, the people on some of these Islands have rarely accepted visitation from modern people. This being the case, some of the islands have not been subjected to the conquer and conversion methods employed by colonial forces and thus maintain the practices and beliefs of their past to this day. Surely to an Andaman Islander, the modern individual is a conundrum, a mystical people with weird skin and eyes and weirder food and clothing practices. We don't question the fact that these people will likely have no conception of the fact that the planet we live on is an orb spinning about a nuclear furnace in the sun. Their understanding of the world is limited by their vantage point, they have one mountain top from which they are seeing the world and to them, that world is all there is and all that needs to be The comfort that they have with their way of life manifests directly from their restricted knowledge and view of the world, so is it true with all areas of knowledge. Our perspective of the landscape (here used metaphorically) that defines any area of knowledge that we analyze is dictated by how much of that landscape we are able to "see", in this case experience or relate to existing facts gathered about the world.

I think this difference in perspective as necessarily created by differences in the acquired levels of knowledge that we have of different areas of knowledge is what leads to such strong arguments on subjects such as religion. The reason is that as the subject moves more and more from the ability to be tested empirically and locally, it becomes more likely to be explained in terms of the metaphysical or the non empirical "solutions" that have been good enough to explain our survival in the world up to this point. The fact that the Andamanese still exist today and still on some Islands practice and retain their native beliefs oblivious to the existence of other forms of belief, is a testament to the fact that all that is needed to survive and indeed substantiate the efficacy of a form of belief is that it promotes survival. Even if those beliefs only indirectly promote it , for example, the rituals that many cultures practice to ward away disease or inclement weather or ensure bountiful yields are associated with survival even if they don't succeed in correlating with it 100%. People have an amazingly tenuous set of reasons to accept something as effective, one event of correspondence with a belief is enough to give it reason to be held even in the face of dozens of subsequent failures.

This takes us back to the idea of the mountain of perspective, the Andamanese resist modern culture so strongly precisely because they are incapable of seeing anything else, incapable of comprehending anything else. The remote location of their islands ensures that the benefits of modern life that has spread to most large continents are still mostly absent in their islands. Similar persistence of ancient beliefs exist to lesser degrees in the remote South Pacific Melanesian Islands. If ones view of the world is sufficient to explain their survival then there is no need to supplant those beliefs with anything else, there is also no need to investigate other perspectives. This gets back to the arguments of religion, the key reason that I have such vehement arguments with such individuals lies not in the fact that we both want to be right in the argument , and to a degree we do, but it is more so tied to the fact that we both believe that our "facts" on the subject are sufficient to show we are right..ignorant of the true fact that we both have different mountains of evidence and data from which we are drawing our argument. That being said, the truth can be approximated only by mastering multiple mountains of knowledge that touch at their disparate edges. It is through this act that we lift our vantage point from the certainty of a restricted dogma based on "what has worked in the past" to a more expansive understanding of what is true. In religion the main differences in the argument I've noticed boil down to a few things:

  1. Difference in the knowledge of history between those in conversation.
  2. Differences in the use and meaning of words.
  3. Failure to refrain from generalized statements or qualify statements properly.
  4. Differences in the knowledge of areas of investigation that invalidate otherwise "obvious" beliefs that are wrong. (For example we know the Earth is round despite the fact that it looks as if it is not from most vantage points.)
  5. The habit of people to want to appear right in the argument rather than actually put forward truth.

I have found that by discussing topics dispassionately and with the 5 points presented above in mind I have been far more effective in getting those I have discussions with to consider my argument by standing on my multiple mountains of information vicariously. I do this by posing questions that can only be answered by fully understanding those other areas of knowledge. Nothing gives a speaker pause than to realize that there is so much about so many things that he or she is ignorant of. What is important is the presentation of the data in a manner that is not considered offensive (especially in a public debate) to the individual. I must admit this is vastly easier said than done! A humble presentation of data , and an insistence on the part of the listener to go research and confirm that data themselves, is all that is needed to put the seeds of interest in most people. Some times, the gulf of knowledge between the individuals is so great that this seems impossible, but patience and an appeal to acquiring knowledge from multiple areas can erode this gulf and thus allow a competent discussion to be had. By introducing the idea of multiple mountains of knowledge to individuals that formerly believed there was only one, we expand their world view and allow them to ascend the ladder of truth while escaping the bit of empirically devoid but effective in spurring survival, belief.

You can read about the Andaman Islanders here:


Manuel Delaflor said…
Great post, congrats. I think more or less about the same, but I don't call them mountains, I see some people have a more encompassing point of view than others, so, in other words, their mountains are way higher and thus they can see more.

Now, I only have to reject the "truth" you talk about. For me, "truth" is a myth that comes from the idea that we have models, or maps and that there is a "real territory".

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