‘The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt’Bertrand Russell
Most of us when we want to answers tend to avoid doing the hard work because it’s hard work. This the case I see with the big answers to life.
We often accept the answers given to us or those that seem apparent because it’s harder to accept, there’s more work has to be done.
What I see with many people (not least myself) is laziness when it comes to finding the answers they seek. Instead of putting in the time, they accept what they are told without scepticism or investigation.
We want, even expect the truth to be simple, convenient. It manifests in four criteria.
Truth has to #1 exist…. #2 be Discoverable … #3 Be Understandable … and #4 Acceptable.
That is to say, there has to be an answer, we have to be able to find it, to comprehend if it’s found and t has to be emotionally acceptable towards our values.
I would also say, two other things. It also has to be ready to grasp that, it’s discovery should not be difficult, This is related to the Streetlight Effect.
‘A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, and that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, “this is where the light is”David H. Freedman (2010). Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us
People will only search fro truth where it easiest to look, under the street light. Or it just easier to grasp at the low hanging fruit.
All these criteria merely outline that it’s not truth were after but reassurance, security. Such grasping towards certainty means we are steered by biases, lead around by our emotions, and oblivious to our limitations. What we have left are answers that are self-aggrandising and egocentric, and lead us to think we are the centre of the cosmos or at least the reason why it exists.
Convenience is the feature that defines this whole enterprise towards ultimate truth. We only accept what we can grasp.
It fails to accept we have foibles and emotional need, wants and desires. We live for our expectations and think the world, the cosmos is obliged to fulfil them.
In Freakonomics Steven Levitt writes about the economist John Kenneth Galbraith, (who coined the phrase “conventional wisdom.’)
“We associate truth with convenience,” he wrote, “with what most closely accords with self-interest and personal well-being or promises best to avoid awkward effort or unwelcome dislocation of life. We also find highly acceptable what contributes most to self-esteem.” Economic and social behaviour, Galbraith continued, “are complex, and to comprehend their character is mentally tiring. Therefore we adhere, as though to a raft, to those ideas which represent our understanding.”
…conventional wisdom in Galbraith’s view must be simple, convenient, comfortable, and comforting—though not necessarily true. It would be silly to argue that the conventional wisdom is never true. But noticing where the conventional wisdom may be false—noticing, perhaps, the contrails of sloppy or self-interested thinking—is a nice place to start asking questions.Steven Levitt on John Kenneth Galbraith
To me, this is the reason why we need sceptics. It shows up worst in the metaphysical claims about the cosmos.
Convenience is often the hallmark of truth
It’s it’s more than just comfort, sometimes what we take as truth is because fiction is more compelling than fact. Like Ninjas, history books show them more as spies, but today they are seen more as assassins. Because that’s just more awesome. The ‘Wild-west’ that wasn’t as wild. It happens today with conspiracy theories and pseudoscience theories.
Because thought is so easy, and we’re lazy we make the mistake of thinking our understanding is the same an experiences.
One of the ideas is, of course, God, and I’ve watched and read so many arguments for the existence of God. Yet none are convincing because they fail to acknowledge our limitations and the role our expectations play in the search.
To put it on the claims for/search for God terms it assumes certain things:
- That he/it exists
- That he leaves behind evidence of his existence, like ‘footprints.’
- That we are capable of detecting these footprints
- That we understand they are footprints
- That we recognise them as gods footprint’s (This can be only one god and no other).
None of this is proven.
What do we do instead? We are so desperate for answers our search and claims are coloured with our neediness. It confuses conviction for knowledge, passion for insight. We would rather have a self-aggrandising story than an unsettling truth.
Feelings are not facts, yet we seem to think that just because it feels right it must be true. It fails to address that intuition is not a perfect way to understand reality. It shows how much our needs and expectations influence in our answers.
We think the cosmos should be a certain way, when it’s not we get upset. So we shake our fist at the cosmos. But that makes us look like an idiot. So we point fingers at others. ‘They’re the reason why we’re unhappy, lost, suffering, poor etc.’
We do this because is easy. It’s avoids the responsibility for finding the causes of our suffering, and the limitations of our minds.
Reality / the cosmos cares no one jot what you think or feel about it. If you drown, the sea wasn’t trying to kill you. If you float, it’s not because the sea likes you or the ocean is morally benevolent.
What sets Buddhism as different is the awareness of our grasping nature. It’s reply to ultimate truth is to undermine our expectations not give us answers. To point out the absurdity of the questions we ask.
Our suffering is due to us, thinking our needs, wants and expectations have to be met. But the cosmos owes us nothing, not the truth, happiness, health, a job, not even life.
Taking responsibility for my suffering was one of the biggest steps I had to make. To search and eventually see that I was the cause, and also the solution to my suffering. But I had to do the work to discover this.
Our quest for truth has us twisting reality to fit our wants and needs.When reality comes in and bursts our bubble, who is to blame? The world, other people who broke our dreams, or is it us for thinking the world owes us something?
We don’t like the uncertainty and ambiguity of unanswered and unanswerable questions. So we claim they are answerable and we have the answer.
We are so desperate to avoid the fear and doubt brought up by uncertainty that we are willing to go to extreme lengths eliminate it. Latching onto any half baked idea that makes us feel better. The illusion of truth is more comforting, than truth.
We seek truth where its convenient, obvious, available, testable, measurable, calculable, understandable, acceptable. After all that we still, in our delusion, think we have an impartial truth.
Off the shelf beliefs are easy to accept, you don’t have to work it out yourself. It’s our Cognitive laziness that ends up with whats convenient and reassuring, not factual.
What I learned is that to find Truth, in the cosmic, existential sense and in a personal sense we need to be far more circumspect about claiming it and far more sceptical when looking for it.