Why one is Needed and How it might be Derived

НазваниеWhy one is Needed and How it might be Derived
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The following points are important to this book.

* The brain receives, stores (in temporary as well as permanent locations), and uses information to direct activities that support the body's welfare. These responses are mostly "hardwired," the result of millions of years of evolution, and do not involve what we call "thinking."

* The mind develops as meaningful relationships between stored information (memories) and incoming sensory perceptions are discovered. Mental activities include becoming aware (first-level thinking), noting relationships (second-level thinking), and consciously manipulating information using words and a language.

* Sentient species think (to the extent that this is possible for their species) and act rationally most of the time. To do otherwise reduces the species' chances of survival because their home (the universe) is rationally (i.e., causally) constructed.

A dropped larynx, vocal chords, time, imagination, and much practice, have changed grunts into sonnets, and caves into space stations. Languages have allowed us to name, record and even tell friends on the other side of the world about the neural-link-forming relationships we discover everywhere we bother to look.

The universe's causality binds thinking, language and intelligence together. Applying what we have discovered through investigating causality's consequences enables us to solve problems and make decisions proficiently. Rational thought helps us to survive; it gifts us with understanding and confers a degree of control over objects and events.

Additional layers of mental ability will doubtless accrue as life continues to evolve: heightened empathy, intuitive-like jumps in comprehension, telepathy perhaps; capabilities unimaginable today, as some of our current capabilities would have been unimaginable a few thousand years ago. Life's rise from bacteria to cephalopod to humankind--as we can trace on this planet alone--provides reason enough to expect more intellectual aptitude to come in the future.

The future of humans as a species is much less predictable. It depends so much on our willingness to think and act rationally. Solving problems and making decisions, both practical and moral, in a manner that respects the universe's causality, are the activities that will determine humanity's future.

It is time to examine how we actually perform these tasks.

"Consciousness and Conscience" is a postscript to this chapter.


Humans excel at solving problems. (Pinker actually states that the mind has evolved simply to outsmart the competition by being able to solve problems.59) Humans living and working in space is possibly one of the best examples of how successful we have become in problem solving, but examples can be found in all fields of endeavour, from discovering how genes work, to creating an emotional demand for a new product.

Problems come in two flavours, tangible and abstract. Or, if you like, practical and metaphysical. The difference between these two types can be illustrated by discussing the kinds of problems that interest mathematicians and scientists. Chapter Two provides some examples, then explores how we all typically go about solving everyday problems. This approach will show why moral problems are often difficult to solve, what humans have done to reduce this difficulty, and prepares the way for later suggesting what might be done to facilitate moral problem solving in the future.

1. Mathematical Problems

Mathematics is an edifice, built from the ground up, assembled, definition by definition, from scratch. Those of you who studied geometry in school will remember its never-ending series of theorem proofs. Geometry, we were told, is one of the oldest branches of mathematics, taught by Pythagoras in the sixth century BCE, and used by the Pharaohs' surveyors to restore field boundaries each time the Nile flooded. Geometry starts with the very simplest statement, a definition of a point, a line or a circle, then looks for the extensions and connections that are logically implicit within these definitions. The whole process is repeated each time a new definition (that of a parallelogram, for instance) is introduced.

Mathematicians have been adding new definitions to geometry for centuries. At the same time, they have been busy constructing other branches of mathematics: algebra, calculus, trigonometry, topology, set theory, and so on. Each function, each definition, and each statement in every branch has to be very carefully assessed for logical consistency when introduced, then again every time it is used to link to something newly added, and once more whenever it is put to theoretical or practical use. This is done, because each newly added feature introduces more relationships, and it is these relationships that determine if the whole assembly makes sense. Mathematics, then, is held together just as precisely as the universe itself seems to be held together.60

Through these means, mathematics is created to be internally sound and rational, self sufficient to the extent of possessing its own reality, dependent upon the real world only in as much as it is built from a language defined in the real world, and connected to the real world in meaning only if we choose to make such a connection. By itself, mathematics is abstract, pure and complete; it does not need to be given any link to the universe (other than that necessarily implicit in its nomenclature). In fact, it is not uncommon for mathematicians to explore the properties of creations such as multidimensional space or imaginary numbers--fancies which no one has experienced first hand.

However, we can, and very often do, link our mathematical understandings to the real world. We do this, for instance, when demonstrating to children that three fingers plus two fingers equals five fingers. Remarkably, it is becoming more and more certain that the mentally constructed world of abstract mathematics contains the ability to describe, explain and predict the very concrete behaviour of the real universe we inhabit.61 Pythagoras showed this over two and a half thousand years ago, when he described mathematically a property of two dimensional space (the relationship between squares formed on the sides of a right-angled triangle). Newton demonstrated the same connection between mathematics and reality over four hundred years ago, when he showed mathematically that the force holding planets in orbit is related to the involved masses and distances between them. Einstein confirmed this connection when he discovered and proved, again mathematically, that the properties of the four (space-plus-time) dimensions prohibit matter from moving faster than the speed of light. Mathematicians continually push the boundaries and today routinely use complex number theories to define the properties of multidimensional space, a reality which some think may actually exist (perhaps within black holes, or defining fundamental "superstring"62 properties, or building a universe external to our own).

Because mathematics has been rigorously and logically constructed to be an abstract entity, mathematicians think that its various domains will be considered to be as true in a million years time as they would have been a million years ago, long before they could have been understood by any sentient being living upon this planet. (Moreover, because scientists can use mathematics to predict and explain events occurring billions of light-years distant,63 they also consider that these mathematical statements hold true in other galaxies, and are therefore discoverable by life forms living upon planets in those regions.) To pure mathematicians, it is often a subsequent (and, possibly, less important) finding that the mathematical properties they uncover have meaning in the real world. They prefer to solve problems within the bounded beauty of a fully discoverable, self-consistent, abstract world. Be this as it may, the many connections between abstract mathematics and the practical realities of the real world have allowed us to solve countless complex problems, and have led to a multitude of discoveries in arenas as diverse as economics, sociology, epidemiology, space flight, nuclear physics, genetics, cosmology and medicine, to name just a few.

That logically generated mathematics describes and defines the universe so accurately reinforces a fact that has already been stated: the universe must be causal and rational, for, if it were not, the intrinsic fit between mathematics and the universe's functioning would not exist.

2. Scientific Problems

Scientists are a similar breed of specialists to mathematicians. They also deduce relationships, but their work typically starts from, and is grounded in, the concrete world (for example, in the field or in the laboratory), rather than the abstract world.64 Scientists aim to uncover the causal and connective relationships that exist between "real" events and "real" things. They strive to explain and understand reality.

We might say that science began when humans started to wonder about the nature of their surroundings in some kind of organized manner; when individuals first asked what might be causing the sun and stars to appear to move, or thunder to deafen, or animals to be so similar inside yet so outwardly different. Middleton, in his 1963 discourse on the scientific revolution, realized that this occurred many centuries ago. He noted that Thales of Miletus (who lived from 640-546 BCE) wanted to explain the universe. In other words, Thales understood that there is a causal reason for each tiny piece of the universe to be the way it is. This, stated Middleton, marked the birth of science.65

Slowly, by careful observation, control of variables, measurement, accurate records, repetition and a great deal of thought, scientists began to understand why nature behaves as it does. Understanding grew in leaps and bounds once scientists learned to extend their senses' abilities by building instruments: first measuring sticks, balances and graduated containers, then micrometers, microscopes and telescopes. They found that precision and knowledge go hand-in-hand.66 Accurate measurements allowed Copernicus and Galileo to place the sun, rather than the Earth, at the centre of our collection of planets.67 Newton carefully observed moving objects (some say a falling apple), then wrote the gravitational formula that explains how the universe is held together. Wallace and Darwin recorded fine details of life's species, then deduced the mechanism of evolution. Einstein employed acutely crafted thought-experiments about relativity, then extended the significance and value of Newton's work.

Scientists and mathematicians follow similar methodologies; they seek and uncover facts, then try to discover any relationships that may exist between these facts, or between these and other known facts or theories. Both professions are delving deeper and deeper into the nature of the universe, and the two, seemingly distinct, knowledge domains are converging. Scientists routinely use mathematics to obtain precision and to extend their discipline's utility. Mathematicians use their skills to describe what is happening in the centre of stars, and to reconstruct what must have happened moments after the universe began. The abstract explains the concrete; the concrete adds flesh to the abstract.

3. Problem Environments

Of course we all, scientists, mathematicians or laypersons, solve many problems every day. While most of these are addressed and resolved routinely and efficiently, the speed and accuracy of our problem solving depends almost entirely upon one factor--how well we understand the background situation, i.e., the "environment" (examples discussed below will shortly clarify and extend this term) that contains and presents the problem we are trying to solve. Everyday problems are solved very quickly, often without realizing a problem is being addressed, because we generally know a lot about the various environments we inhabit. On the other hand, scientific and mathematical problems not infrequently take a long time to solve; this is usually because those working on the problem do not yet have sufficient information about their problem's environment.

To correctly solve any problem then, we must correctly understand its "environment." This is because a problem is only properly solved when its solution can be used within (or is accepted by) the relevant environment, without causing additional problems. Luckily, each problem's environment also invariably contains the criteria which the problem's solution must satisfy.

It is important to understand the meaning of the term "environment" when used in the current context. The word is used here to identify the physical, social, occupational, political, economic, religious, cultural, or other context (or an often complex combination of several such contexts) that contain the problem that confronts us. Recognizing that problems exist within one or more environments is key to understanding how problems (particularly moral ones) are solved.

Thinking about a few everyday situations may help to clarify this discussion. Consider dressing, cutting the lawn, and cooking a meal. The choices to be made in each case can be thought of as being minor problems to be solved, and we'll review each in turn.

When we select something to wear from a choice of clothes, we refer to the occasion or situation for which we are dressing in order to decide what to wear. This is so whether we are dressing for work, to go on a trip, climb a mountain, or just lounge in the house. We choose clothes by considering what's available (e.g., clean, comfortable, appropriate, etc.) and the circumstances pertaining when wearing the clothes (e.g., temperature, weather, others present, etc.), although for routine occasions this may happen so quickly that we don't notice that we are solving little problems. The criteria or standards that determine the success of the eventual choice made is clearly located in the environment that presents the problem--in some of the situations just mentioned, the work, social, local, or home environments. (Furthermore, note that the environment also determines what kind of goal can be achieved successfully; for instance, it is not possible to receive praise for being fashionably dressed if no one else will be present when lounging in the house. More about this in Chapter Three.)

Consider the second example. I look out of the window and notice that the grass needs cutting, perhaps just a small problem now but one that will grow if neglected. So I make the decision to mow the grass later in the afternoon. In this case, note that I appear to be driven to meet some standard of lawn appearance, and that this standard has been set by my external environment--the society and culture in which I live. If I had earlier decided to ignore society's conventions, or if I lived in a place where people did not bother about such matters, then long grass would not be seen as a problem, and I may not even notice how tall the grass had become. Note, again, that when there is a problem, it is an external environment that both thrusts the problem upon me, and that holds the standards or criteria to be met when correcting the problem. Living in town, I would probably have to mow the grass weekly; living in the country, once or twice a month might suffice.

Now the third example: imagine preparing a meal. When I am in this situation I find that before I can choose a menu or select a method of cooking I must first think about who will be eating the meal, what food is available, where I might have to go to buy missing ingredients, what might be nice to eat today, what has been recently eaten by those attending, other goals I might want to achieve with these particular guests, and so on. All of these thoughts relate to my environment (the physical, social, nutritional and emotional elements mostly, in this case) and this environment limits what I can do if I want to cook and serve a successful meal.

Note that, besides referring to external environments we also refer to what's inside our minds, our "internal environment," because a great deal of relevant information has been stored there and some of it is used in making any decision. For example, our mind tells us what cooking skills we have, whether or not the lawn mower is in working condition, when a particular suit was last worn, etc. But, in all cases, our mind is only providing previously acquired information relevant to the situation we are in, and this information always comes from some knowledge of external environments of one kind or another.

Sometimes, our own bodies may present a problem to the mind (a craving for salty food, for instance), in which case it is our body's feelings or standards of well-being that have to be included in the problem-solving process. This is still an example of a problem stemming from an environment external to the mind (the organs or systems that are calling for salt are external to the mind. Problems that arise solely within the mind are special situations, and will be discussed in section four.)

We should mention here that dressing or cooking to suit nothing other than our own current feelings is also, like the salt-craving example, an attempt to satisfy a mood biochemically caused by some agent (dopamine or serotonin, perhaps) within our body or brain, i.e., it emanates from a source that is again external to our mind. We choose the solution that best satisfies our desires. In cases like these, we might say we "go with the flow." (A few of us may try to do this much of the time--living in the "here and now" was popular a few decades ago and is still a desired behaviour for some.) However, simply responding to biochemical desires is an emotional, not reasoned, response to a situation, and not of much pertinence to the current discussion.

To recapitulate and summarize this section: problems can never be solved without reference to the particular environment that presents them. This will always be true, for several reasons. First, we have to know, understand and explore the properties of a problem's environment to determine what is causing a problem. Second, each environment contains the criteria that must be met if a problem is to be solved without causing additional problems. And, third, we must know what the environment will permit us to achieve before we can select an achievement to strive for. Only once we understand what is causing the problem, what can or can't be done about it, what end-results are achievable (and desirable to us--more about this in Chapter Three), can we then solve the problem. In short; to succeed, we must know what we want and can do.

Well, that is probably enough about how we solve practical problems; now we are ready to investigate what we do to solve moral problems.

4. Moral Problems

Moral problems can emerge from any environment--home, family, business, social, medical, and so on, and many may look just like any other kind of problem. None come with a flag that states, "Beware-Moral Problem!" So, the mind cranks up the same problem-solving routine it has been using since second-level thinking began. It gathers details about the situation that presents the problem and quickly formulates several solutions. It then has to decide which solution is the most appropriate. And this is where difficulties may arise, as a simple example might illustrate.

Imagine that someone in a store takes an item to the checkout counter and the clerk rings up the wrong price. If the checkout price is higher than it should be, most people would question it and ask for a correction. But, if it were lower, some might speak up while others might say nothing. This kind of situation, most would say, is a moral one, and the action taken would be the result of making a moral decision. The problem of which choice to make (speak up and pay more, or say nothing and save) can be simple for some. Many might invariably be "honest" and speak up; others might always choose to maximize their personal gain and would say nothing. People in either of these categories might not even notice that there is a choice; for them there is no problem to be solved, their mind-set automatically provides just one solution and they act upon the decision their mind presents without questioning it.

However, some would see that they are being asked to make a moral decision, and this is where difficulties can arise. To understand why, we have to discuss what's happening in a little more detail.

Moral problems are actually very similar to mathematical problems. Like math problems (which have their origins in the abstract mathematical environment that defines them), moral problems arise from their own abstract moral environment. And we must understand the true nature of this environment in order to find satisfactory solutions. Moreover, the more difficult the problem is, the more we have to understand about its environment.

Moral problems ask the mind to decide which solutions are "right" rather than "wrong," and which behaviours might be deemed to be "good" rather than "bad." Now, as we have seen, the criteria needed to select the right answers for practical problems are found by examining the environment that presents the problem. But what environment actually presents moral problems? From where do they stem? This would be the rightful place to find the criteria sought, but this presents a dilemma: the universe contains no practical, concrete, "real" or verifiable moral environment waiting to be found and consulted.

Moral problems arise solely within the mind, and it is therefore the mind itself that both defines the moral environment and contains the criteria that solutions must meet to be deemed satisfactory. Everything that makes some particular concern a "moral problem" to a person is contained wholly within that person's mind. Thus, it is the mind-set of the customer at the checkout counter that determines if being undercharged presents a moral problem, and it is this mind-set that provides the frame of reference that is drawn upon when the decision to speak up or remain silent is made.

We should stop here to consider what this means, and what we typically do about it. If a person is a practising member of a religion, then they almost certainly possess an appropriate mental environment which they can consult when contemplating moral issues, and usually nothing stops the problem-solving process for them at this point. The most important function of any religion is to build such a mental environment, to teach followers what to believe and how to behave (that is, to provide solutions that resolve various kinds of moral problems). The "religious environment," the neural networks constituting memories that those following a religion have spent time building within their minds, is available for exactly these occasions. It is rare (although perhaps now becoming more common) to encounter a moral problem that has not been already solved by others within the doctrine, but, if ever this does occur, then the adherent is expected to think about what has been written in religious texts, taught by their religious teachers, or said by a religious leader. The devout likely solve most of the moral problems they encounter by referring to one or more of these sources. More complicated issues might involve talking to a theologian or other respected authority. But there exists, for people following a religion, a relevant environment to consult, in which can be found the criteria to judge which solutions are acceptable, as well as the valued purpose that provides reasons for making the "correct" choice.

(However, it may be that many moral problems are not actually solved this way today, even by the devout. Perhaps some, or even most, everyday "moral" problems are in fact solved by recourse to the individual's social or cultural environment.68 In other words, perhaps when a person wants to know the "right thing to do," they [possibly quite subconsciously] might think along these lines; "now, what does society sanction?" Or, "what would my group expect of me?" They might even think, "what can I get away with?" Or, "how far can I go without being caught?" The last two examples might be a little extreme, but they serve to make a point: that in many situations today we may actually be obtaining our values, our standards, the criteria we use to judge which solutions are morally acceptable, from the social sub-set we inhabit, not from our religion.69 I suspect that, to the extent that this may be true, it is mostly so because our religions are failing to keep up with the changing times.70)

So be it for those who have a religion to follow, or those who can be satisfied by adopting their society's criteria of what a "good person" should do. People with these ideologies can make decisions (and feel or be certain that they have behaved morally) by consulting their knowledge of these constructed environments. But, what about those who have no mental religious environment to guide their decisions and disdain the vagaries of social standards? How can these people solve moral problems? Admittedly, there may be relatively few such people today, but there must have been many pondering such dilemmas before religions became common features of social life. Since we will shortly be investigating the emergence of religions, it is particularly important to explore what such people might do.

Presumably, some who have thought about such issues will have worked out their own value system, perhaps one based upon standards drawn piecemeal from one or more existing religions or societies they know about, but personalized in some manner. Others might just "play things by ear," letting their emotions and feelings tell them how to behave as each situation unfolds. But a few, surely, would not be satisfied by such methods, and would want to work out solutions in a careful and rational manner. Where are these individuals to obtain the criteria they need to make moral choices? The physical environment holds none. The social environment has been ruled insignificant. Every religious source has been deemed artificial or irrelevant. And, they lack an appropriate internal, or mental, environment. How can such individuals solve moral issues rationally, and make decisions they can live with?

We are not quite ready to answer such questions yet but will do so in Chapter Three, where we explore how decisions are made. Before then, there are a couple of other issues that should be addressed. The first has to do with what people consider to be moral problems; the second asks why such problems arise.

It is difficult to provide examples of moral problems because what may be a concern for some, may not be so for others. But I will propose a few that may illustrate the point to be noted.

Consider a woman who has learned that the fetus she is carrying has a life-threatening defect. Some may see this situation as a moral issue, others may see it as a practical one. However, the point is, for this discussion, a religious person might have fewer options regarding the fetus than others; for example, abortion may be out of the question for those of certain faiths, and the woman may have no choice at all regarding her situation. Those without such a religion may have a greater number of options, but may lack guidelines of any kind; they would likely find it very difficult to make a decision about the fetus.

Another example: consider someone whose spouse is terminally ill, in considerable pain, and who expresses a wish to die. May the healthy spouse act to fulfil such a desire? How does a non-religious person make this kind of decision, if they see it as a moral issue? How do they justify the choice they make? (And, is this justification likely to be acceptable in law, or to society?)

An example that shows the global nature of moral dilemmas today: what criteria should nations use to determine if intervening in another country's affairs is justified? Is committing genocide a moral problem? By what criteria is this decided? What "environment" defines the situation as a moral, rather than a practical, one? What "greater purpose" is there to be achieved that permits overriding the tradition of respecting another nation's autonomy?

One final example: many see acts of terrorism, when innocent bystanders, children and adults, are maimed or killed, as morally reprehensible. But an unknown number of others see such acts as a short-cut to paradise. One act-two diametrically opposite views, with seemingly no middle ground to enable reconciliation.

Clearly, by providing the otherwise non-existent but needed mental environment, religions fulfil a necessary role. Just as clearly, current religions are unable to provide a singular environment that could apply to and be adopted by all nations of the world. Consequently, humanity has no common moral authority to cite, and no collective conscience. The sudden collapse of energy giant Enron Corporation illustrates what can happen to organizations that lack moral environments. We might ask ourselves if such things as terrorism or the wealth disparity between nations (which affects maybe a billion or more people) illustrate that civilization lacks the same thing and if global collapse is a possible consequence.

The second question we should touch upon before moving on is: what prompts the appearance of "moral" problems? If individuals possess no inherent mental "religious" environment and have to be taught in order to construct one, then why would any "moral" problem have arisen in the first place? What would have prompted its appearance?

This question is easy to answer. Moral problems arise simply because the mind has the words and language that makes posing such problems possible. It is our mind's ability to manipulate words that causes it to ask, "is it right to do this?" Humans are so used to mentally seeking the best course of action to take when practical alternatives arise that it is done automatically whenever more than one choice is offered. To put it crudely, we simply daydream moralistic alternatives, and then become stuck when trying to decide, "what is the right thing to do now?"

Without the mental ability to pose and answer questions (i.e., to note and solve problems) we could not ask ourselves if anything were right or wrong. In short, we don't agonize over moral problems because we must, we do so simply because our mental ability with languages makes it possible, as the "moral" problems presented earlier in this section demonstrate. Our daily requirement to decide how to behave (together with the fact that religions have made the words "moral" and "ethical" part of most people's vocabulary) is all that is needed to prompt such inquiries.

We are now well equipped to investigate the nature of decision making. Doing so will provide answers to the questions asked earlier: how can individuals solve moral issues rationally, and make decisions they can live with, if they lack a relevant (possibly religious) mental environment?


The mind uses words, phrases and thinking patterns that have developed as a result of dealing with real world situations. Questions such as, "should I take this path?" are perfectly answerable when walking along wooded trails, for example, because we may have a map that describes the territory, and because, presumably, we know where we want to go or what we want to achieve. The very same words seem to be meaningful when asked metaphysically, but often they are not--the question can arrive without a map or a goal of any kind in mind.

Mathematicians and theoretical scientists, it must be emphasized, do have a map and a purpose in mind when they begin their explorations. They, therefore, can pose abstract questions, and are able to find meaningful answers. Every iota of their maps is connected, each to another, joined by the glue of rationality, and logical exploration of the territories they describe is practical and possible.

Theologians also have maps, but the glue holding the pieces of their maps together is faith, which, unfortunately, may bear no relationship to logic or fact. This may not have mattered in days of yore, when logical consistency was of little importance, but every aspect of modern society is driven by technology and its computers, and humans living in modern environments are beginning to demand that their religions become as rational as they themselves are being forced to become. A modern age is calling for a modern religion, a call that might be very dangerous to ignore.


Chapter Two observed that we solve problems by consulting their relevant environments, and that this is both to understand the problem and to find the criteria that an acceptable solution must satisfy. We glossed over the fact that there are frequently several solutions to each problem that will satisfy these criteria. This chapter discusses how the mind decides which solution to adopt. The answer in brief is: we make decisions in order to achieve a valued purpose.

1. Practical Decisions

Almost every problem can be solved in more ways than one. A simple example, that of going to work, for instance, illustrates this, and also the fact that we choose a solution to achieve a valued purpose. Thus, there may be several ways to travel from home to work: by bus, bike, car or by walking perhaps, and there may be a choice of several routes. The decision made is a successful one if we arrive at work, on time, and have also met any other valued purposes (such as obtaining some exercise, or buying a newspaper on the way).

Or, consider our previous dressing-for-work example. Our work environment may dictate that we dress somewhat formally, but we may be able to do so in a number of ways. Consequently, we might decide based upon what was worn yesterday, or we may let our feelings decide, simply satisfying our mood of the moment. We discussed these kinds of choices earlier, and we noted that the criteria we use to make our decision is found in an environment that is external to the mind itself.

However, situations are never as simple as those portrayed in the examples mentioned. Probing more deeply will show that every decision we make is affected by attempts to meet one or more psychological needs that exist entirely within the mind. For example, what we finally choose to wear may have been decided in an attempt to impress the boss, or to win our friends' admiration, or to heighten our self-concept. These goals or purposes are seldom known to others, and may be only partly known to ourselves.

We may think that some decisions can only be made objectively, and that private, subjective, or personal goals may play no part in them, but this is incorrect. As an example, imagine that we have to choose a bolt to anchor a structure we are building. We decide what size to use based upon what we know about the structure's mass and orientation, the strength of materials, type of foundation and so on. We are using our knowledge of the external physical environment, of course. But we also make this choice based on our personal desire for the structure to endure. Quite a different choice could be made if our private purpose was to sabotage the result. Whether or not our private purposes override the public purposes depends upon our psychological state of mind.

Thus, every time we make practical decisions we consult two environments. One is external to our mind and public; it contains all the facts and criteria required to select solutions that will satisfy its needs, and any suitably knowledgeable person could make an identical decision. The other environment is internal to the mind and private; it contains all the personal goals, self-chosen purposes, and maybe several (probably unrecognized) psychological needs that also influence each final decision.

However, only one environment is involved when making moral decisions--our own internal mental mind-set. It has to provide the environment, the criteria to be met, and the goals to value and seek. Thus, there may be no constraints upon what people may decide is moral or what are moral actions. Of course, religions provide environments and guidelines (i.e., criteria), but those without a religion, or who reject their society's norms, have nothing other than their own personal mental constructs71 to consult when deciding how to act. Having only one's own mental environment to guide one's actions can have significant and terrible consequences (as the activities of numerous psychopaths throughout history have demonstrated).

2. Moral Decisions

Now we are ready to return to the situation introduced in section four of the last chapter. We were imagining a person who has no religion, yet who wants to live a moral life. Consider what such a person faces--where might he or she find the valued purpose needed to guide moral decision making? The physical environment holds no purpose in the moral arena. The transitory social environment is nugatory. Religious sources are considered unreliable or even false. No external environment holds a purpose worthy of being used to make a moral decision, and the mind, when lacking any belief system, holds none.

Search as they may, individuals in this position cannot solve moral problems, for there is nowhere else to look.72

Since the mind has to know and value the attainment of some purpose before it can make any decision rationally, minds lacking relevant purposes cannot make moral decisions rationally. For some, this mental state of affairs may churn for years. Such individuals may eventually give up the search, and simply choose to abide by social customs. Others in this condition may look at various religions and find a way out by adopting one, or bits and pieces of several. For a few, neither choice is feasible, and the dilemma escalates. Every decision to be made appears to be causally related to this missing purpose. The mind's primary function of directing the body's behaviour becomes incapacitated, and its owner may sink into depression, claiming, quite correctly, that they see no purpose to life, and that without purpose life has no meaning73 and they have no reason to live. A mental breakdown can easily result.

In all of this behaviour, we must remember, the mind is being entirely rational. If a moral environment of some kind is not available, then, although everyday language allows moral problems to be posed, no satisfactory solutions can be found, because without a desired purpose decisions can't be made rationally.

Apart from insanity or death, there is only one way through this impasse. The mind has to accept a solution that it has been considering, possibly consciously, certainly subconsciously, but which has hitherto been rejected for one reason or another. Some formerly unacceptable metaphysical purpose must be reclassified as desirable. For this to happen such a purpose has to be accepted as representing the truth--it must be sanctioned by the mind itself. The mind's decision-making expertise will then be freed from its confining tangle of unacceptable choices, its state of constant stress will vanish, and it will at last find peace. This acceptance of a purpose almost always happens in a split second, occurring unexpectedly (and often appearing fully formed) to the affected individuals. They experience it as a "revelation" and may undergo a "conversion." (Chapter Five further discusses these phenomena.)

It does not matter what this purpose is.74 Absolutely any criteria can be used to judge behaviour as "good" or "bad." (A "moral" person could even be considered an "evil monster" by another's standards.) What matters is that the mind's previous quandary has vanished, and it can once again resume its function of thinking rationally as it directs the body's functions.75

But let us return, for a moment, to the instant of reclassification--the mind's conversion from an absence, to an acceptance, of some mental environment containing both criteria and purpose. For the mind to take advantage of such a contrivance it must have already been stored in memory. Most of us have religious memories provided to us by our parents or teachers, and we all have some understanding of the beliefs in vogue in our society. This formerly discounted knowledge is often the environment grasped when the mind is under the kind of stress earlier discussed.

The newly converted typically accept unconditionally all that is contained within the religion (whether spiritual or secular) whose purpose they have suddenly adopted. Not infrequently, the intensity of emotion associated with this metamorphosis moves the converted to tell others what they have come to believe. That which, when they were non-believers, was simply "good" or "bad" behaviour, has suddenly become "right" or "wrong" behaviour to the new believer. This kind of distinction marks the transition--moral judgements have replaced value judgements for them.

Very occasionally, the straw grasped during conversion is not an existing religion but some abstraction, probably imaginatively pieced together by the mind's owner in earlier, restless, years. A new metaphysical purpose may be recognized to be valid, important and desirable. This new purpose may or may not centre around a belief in a god--but there are not many choices when it comes to inventing a purpose deemed important enough to guide moral decision making. (This is why people normally convert to existing religions; they have no alternative in mind. This book will be suggesting one later.)

A few, undergoing such a transformative mental revision, become convinced that they are another messiah, another prophet who has "seen the light." The conversion they experience is so real to them, so significant--the vision and clarity of the new truth so bright--that they cannot contain their emotions nor refrain from trying to convince others that they have found the most important manifestation in life (for, to them, it is the most important). They proselytize. And the vivacity and clarity of the words they speak attract the undecided. Cults and sects form, and eventually (as Chapter Four notes), if their followers continue to grow in number, the originators may be remembered as the founders of great religions. We will be exploring this phenomenon in Part Two.


Before moving to Part Two, it may be helpful to summarize a few of the points that have been made in the past three chapters. The following are important.

* The universe's causal construction dictates that inhabitants who think and act rationally have a greater chance of surviving, procreating and succeeding, than those who do not. This, in turn, has favoured the genetic continuation of mutations which help minds to work in this manner.

* Practical problem solving and decision making entails consulting external environments to find the criteria that acceptable solutions must meet, then consulting the mind's internal environment to find what personal purpose is sought.

* Moral problem solving and decision making entails consulting the mind's own environment to find both the criteria for acceptable solutions, and the purpose being sought. Mental environments are always invented ones (composed, as we saw in Chapter One, from linked memories of perceived events, experiences and learnings, all tinged by the choice of words used when envisioning them consciously), and have no reality outside the minds of those who subscribe to them.

* Religious environments are made real to individuals through faith or belief. Belief provides a feeling of certainty; however this exacts a price. Belief can cause us to ignore, override, or transcend some of the more substantive reality that constitutes the rational universe we inhabit. In time, this may lead us into grey pastures.

"Purpose and Meaning" is a postscript to this chapter.


What a wonderful manifestation is the mind. From its elemental beginnings when it simply helped the body to survive, the mind has become an instrument exquisite. It creates individuals of us all, and provides flights of fancy any time we care to climb aboard. Is there anything it might not do in the future?

But, does the mind do all this on its own, or does some Guiding Hand help it on its way? These flights and fancies; these revelations and beliefs--from whence have they come? Are they solely the product of a rational mind working in a rational universe, or might some of such thoughts have come from a god?

It is important to the theme of this book to determine how beliefs, in particular, come to mind, for they have greatly affected our past, are certainly affecting our present, and may well dictate our future. If we contend that certain beliefs are god-given, we might act in one manner; if we discover that all beliefs may have a more mundane origin, then we might be persuaded to think and act more circumspectly, for we would expect no saviour's help should anything go wrong. Thus, Part Two explores the origins of beliefs.

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