Human fundamentals we take for granted

Image credit: fagostudio.com

People often get so stuck up on the differences between them, we forget the values we share. I mean this not in a naive instagram quote kind of way — I mean it philosophically. Even though we all speak different languages with their own quirks, idioms and words that don’t translate, we actually aren’t that different.

There are many conceptual, pre-linguistic beliefs that every single person holds. Beliefs so bare-bones and fundamental, most don’t ever consciously consider them. The examples I’m about to run through may seem preposterously obvious, but I promise you they are valuable to consider none the less.

The assumption of bi-valence

Every statement is either true or false. This is the first thing they teach you in intro logic courses, and it may seem like redundant information, but it’s remarkably important. A great deal of contemporary logic relies on this very assumption, and in fact so do non-logicians.

Imagine you met a guy, Fred, who holds that a statement can be true or false or both. Now to you this seems crazy, so you confront him about it. You explain to Fred that we live in a world of opposites: cold ice cannot be warm, a bright sun cannot be dark, and so on. And so you conclude that a true statement cannot be false. Fred thinks about this for a second then says “well your conclusion seems true… but it could also be false.”

You retort that he’s missing the point. Your conclusion (statements are bi-valent) is true and only true. It cannot also be false. Fred says again “that’s fine. I understand that the bi-valence of statements is true. It’s just that it can also be false”. At this point the appropriate reaction is to call off the debate, because no agreement can ever certainly be reached.

Your and Fred’s logical systems are incompatible. When having a debate, you might as well be speaking different languages. Isn’t it wonderful that this world doesn’t have any Freds in it?

The statefulness of the world

Everything in the universe is in at least one state. My monitor is landscape, that book is green, and Table Mountain is flat. Alternatively you can see it as objects with properties. Remarkably, every single nameable thing has properties. No thing can exist without it at least having a name, or weight, or some attribute to speak of.

Suppose you meet a girl, Phillipa, who holds that things do not have properties. Things are just things and what we call properties are man-made non-real constructs. You immediately jump at the opportunity to put an end to this buffoonery and illustrate that for example your phone is 2cm thick, dark blue, and weighs about 200g. Those are three properties of the phone itself.

Phillipa responds “right, but what is your phone?” You name the properties you just named and say that that constitutes your phone. She responds “alright, but you just named me its properties. What is that phone really?” And you may go on to name some more properties, but Phillipa will only smirk at you because you cannot offer anything other than its properties.

For us humans things are identical to their properties, not distinct from. A world with Phillipa’s who believe in things-in-themselves would be one bound for grave miscommunications.

Imagination

Have you ever noticed how often people speak about non-real things? TV-characters, old-wives tales, the moon landing, our nightly dreams and so on. It is quite immense that we’re able to do so. I mean there’s absolutely nothing in the world that doesn’t exist. So how do we conjure them up?

The wonderful power of the mind. As many philosophers and psychologists describe, we can alter mental concepts in any number of ways. Take a quesadilla, multiply it, and bam — Mexican platter. Posit a dinosaur, colour it purple, add a smile, and wham — Barney.

The immateriality of our everyday conversations and writings are very important to being human. Imagine a person, Mark, that has no understanding of fiction. He would walk around every day missing every single metaphor, idiom, joke, and story he hears. Mark would probably be a very cold character too — like truth often is. Don’t talk to Mark.

Change

You know the saying “change is possible”? Well, the parking pay machines at my local mall know it very well. And so does every person. I don’t mean grand emotional growth — I mean the metaphysical proposition that things can change properties. The one moment you are sitting down and the next you are standing. You just changed positions.

Someone like Mark would for instance believe that change isn’t possible. You must always be sitting in that chair. Because for you to change positions is to exist sitting on a chair and then the next moment to no longer exist in that position. So the idea of you-sitting-down has ceased existing. And Mark cannot process things that don’t exist, so thus for all he cares, you didn’t move. And you’re not yelling his ears off about his incorrect views on the world either.

There are many more examples, but you get the idea. As humans we take many assumptions for granted, and it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate that we all think the same way on at least this level. And if you think these ideas are too obvious to even be called beliefs, I commend you. Because it means you’re human.

Computer Science and Philosophy double-major student. Interested in getting to grips with the problems of the universe.