One thing that I have learned is that no one, including myself, knows what we are talking about. Throughout my life, I have heard that everyone should maintain a positive attitude about everything. Self-help books, other forms of media, and in fact society at large will tell us that there is no need for pessimism, and that if we all just had a good attitude, we could make the world a better place.
But I have heard of a neuroscientist that says that we are too optimistic: for example, smokers underestimate their likelihood of getting cancer, or people that ride motorcycles underestimate the likelihood that they will be killed.
This neuroscientist (whom Morgan Freemen agrees with, for what that’s worth), says that we are too optimistic, and don’t understand reality. This is, what I have discovered to be, one of the fundamental problems of human nature. Although I believe that God reveals truths to us, it can be almost impossible for us to ascertain what any particular truth is at any particular moment. This is what I believe the function is of the human belief function.
Humans are hard-wired to want to know the truth. This is how we were created. “Does he really love me?” “Will this actually help me lose weight?” “Can we really cure this disease?” It is within our DNA to want to understand the truth.
And this makes things difficult.
What is truth?
And how do we determine what is truth and what isn’t?
This is a question that has been swimming around in my head for probably a couple of years now.
One theory that I have skated around with is the belief that everything, or at least most things, are subjective. Let me be clear: I recognize that there is an objective reality.
There really is grass on the ground (at least most theoretical physicists believe this to be true) but this apparent objectivity leads to a whole new realm of subjectivity, which I believe to be more important.
What does it mean that this tree is here?
Does it mean nothing?
Does it represent that nature is beautiful?
Does it represent that man is inherently cruel for ever chopping down any tree?
What does it mean that this tree is here?
I know that I have already lost most of my readers here, because they are not philosophers such as myself.
I know for a fact (a subjective fact) that most readers will say “It means nothing. It’s just a tree.”
But do trees mean nothing?
Does this mean that we are nothing because we breathe the oxygen that comes from this nothing?
Does this mean that the birds that live in this tree live in nothing, therefore, nothing is required for their sustenance, and they are, therefore, nothing?
If a tree is nothing, then is the fruit that it bears nothing?
The glucose that it provides us is nothing, therefore the energy that we exert is actually nothing?
Doesn’t nothing inevitably lead to nothing?
Hopefully, you see why ask of the question “What is this tree?”
I realize that most will dismiss me as a heady crackpot, so I will ask more sinister questions to appeal to the inevitable philosopher that will arise amid tragedy.
Why did 9/11 happen?
Surely, you would not want me to say “It’s just 9/11: it means nothing” in the same response to which some, and probably most, would respond to the lowly tree.
Surely you would ask “Why?” when a loved one is killed, and would ask “What does it mean?”, and “Nothing” would hardly be an answer that you would believe.
If you were asked “Why are we here?” perhaps “For no reason at all” would be a sufficient answer.
But perhaps not.
So I go back to my question: what does the tree in my yard mean?
Does it mean oxygen?
A place for kids to play?
Surely it means something.
Is the answer purely objective? Only to produce oxygen?
Why do my kids like to climb in it?
Why do I find beauty when its leaves die?
And this leads me back to my ultimate point: none of us really know what we were talking about.
What does it mean if someone believes a tree to be nothing? One may argue that it just means that he is wrong, which I would agree with. But what would it mean if I found a sunset beautiful? What would it mean if someone else responded differently to the sunset than I did? What do these two events occurring within the same spacetime fabric mean? I believe that subjectivity will provide the answer.
Sure, I do not dismiss objectivity. But can you correctly define that objectivity? And if so, do you believe that it has any meaning or no? Do you want it to have some meaning? The only philosophical answer that I have formulated to this, as well as other philosophical questions, is that none of us really know what we are talking about, but subjectivity will provide most of the answers that we are looking for, and it is of my subjective belief that our collective subjectivities do not, in fact, mean nothing.
So you may say the tree has no meaning while I argue otherwise, but I do not think that either of us know what we are talking about if we are talking about knowledge on some sort of objective level, which is usually the case.
It is of my subjective belief that some things can be understood in terms of an objective level, but I do not think that any of us really understand anything at all. Perhaps we do, but in the realm of the infinite that we don’t know, I don’t think that what we do know means nothing, but I don’t know what it truly means.
August 15, 2013.