Monday, March 8, 2010


In order to interact with our world, it is necessary to believe certain things. Some fundamental beliefs need not be formally structured or even articulated. Other living things interact with the world around them, exhibiting the "belief" that those things experienced in the world are real and significant. Again, not necessarily articulated.

A flea does not necessarily think about being a flea. It simply is a flea and acts accordingly.

In higher level animals there are behaviors that can easily be considered thinking. Creatures facing alternative choices do seem to ruminate. Unfortunately, none of these creatures can articulate their particular thoughts, so we are not privy to the process. None seem to doubt their own existence, however. They always behave as if their actions are in the context of a real world, and have a real outcome.

Humans have a capacity to think about and articulate their choices. This capacity seems to vary considerably from human to human, but they do have this capacity and act on it to varying degrees. Temperament can be a factor in defining presuppositions, and experiences can define and redefine presuppositions for many humans. It is a necessarily complex process in a relatively complex creature.

Presupposing one's actual existence seems intuitive and necessary. How that existence is perceived and how that perception develops over time is less intuitive and less necessary. We must accordingly absorb from our primary care givers certain assumptions about reality. This is by example, and also in the form of intentional instruction such as the telling of stories.

Children are deeply dependent upon their care givers. Structures of family, tribe and nation are presupposed by dependents such as children to be reliable sources of things needed. Not just physical necessities, but emotional and intellectual necessities as well. They do not consciously adopt these early presuppositions, but do so necessarily. An undeveloped and inexperienced human simply has no other choice.

For more advanced thinking and interaction it is often crucial to assume a presupposition or set of presuppositions prior to contemplation and discussion. For example, a student enters an institution of learning adopts the presupposition that the institution and its agents hold knowledge and shall transfer that knowledge to the student. This presupposition is more intuitive to small children and more intentional in students entering into higher levels of education.

Some institutions of learning require the assumption or adoption of prescribed presuppositions prior to gaining entry into the institution. This can be as informal as simply requiring some evidence of prior instruction in a similar institution. It can be as formal as signing a declaration of certain beliefs. Some institutions even require a prescribed garb or uniform to make the identification with prescribed presuppositions more obvious, and to reinforce the submission of the individual.

Some people may presuppose the fundamental nature of a set of interpretive rules. It can simply be the fabled rules set established by "common sense," or something more formal. The acceptance of this rules set as a sufficient foundation for observing and interpreting the world can be a personal world view, but is often entered into in concert with others.

Experientially, adopted presuppositions and their consequent observations can be so consistent as to appear self-evident. Hence, the individual and their associates perceiving the world through a similar set of experiences and adopting similar presuppositions may easily place themselves in judgement over other individuals with different world views. Everyone in the province recognizes these rules without even thinking. Any other way of thinking is wrong and probably evil.

Humans with a broader set of experiences will often adjust their presuppositions away from such a provincial attitude, becoming more accepting of people operating from different rules of interpretation. They are more "worldly." Not all humans have the same capacity to adapt, and many conflicts between people can be attributed to clashing presuppositions.

Presuppositions are the foundation of any world view, and editing them is frightening and often difficult. Conflict between any individual's world view and the new and expanded reality they might come to experience can be traumatic and even catastrophic. A defensive response is natural, and getting past such a response requires an act of the will. It is a matter of choosing  presuppositions from which to operate.

Provincial thinking is easier. It does not require any degree of examining existing presuppositions. Existing presuppositions are obviously the only rules of interpretation,  and any other way of thinking is simply wrong. Wrong, and dangerous. Sometimes sufficiently dangerous to demand fleeing or fighting.

Strong emotions can be attached to presuppositions. Fear and anger can easily surface when presuppositions are challenged, either by changes in the environment or challenges in thinking. Strong emotions do not generally contribute to objective thought, and so a reasoned adjustment of presuppositions is a rare instance. Most changes are inherently traumatic and often the consequence of trauma.

Consider your own presuppositions. What do you believe to be fundamentally true? How did you adopt this set of rules? Have you ever experienced a radical shift in your fundamental beliefs, your presuppositions? What changes did you make in your way of thinking, and why?

Wouldn't the answers to some of these questions make great material for a blog?

I look forward to reading yours. ;-)


Harvey said...


"They do not consciously adopt these early presuppositions, but do so necessarily. An undeveloped and inexperienced human simply has no other choice."
Here you are referring to human children and I think you are entirely correct. It is the necessity for our young ones to accept most of parents', teachers', and in many cases, pastors' "presuppositions" about life that has led us to be almost universally indoctrinated into some religion or another. Since religion is man-made and has developed as a "tribal" mechanism for dealing with the world, we are literally forced to accept/abide by the precepts that our tribes have chosen over time, especially if we hope to remain memebers of that tribe.
Hence, most of us have no choice but to continue to accept various presuppositions presented to us as the price for continuing to develop/expand our contacts with ever larger and more complex "tribes". As we go through this expansion, some of us come to realize that not all of these presuppostions make sense or continue to "speak" to us on either an intellectual or spiritual level. In the end, at least to the extent that all of this pertains to religion/belief in a deity, we are often faced with the difficult choice regarding remaining in the good graces of some "tribe" or openly recognizing our lack of belief with what that tribe has tried to indoctrinate us.
In my case, I was raised as a Jew and spent much of my early development years studying the Torah, Talmud, etc., to the extent that I can read Hebrew and Aramaic and have a two year certificate from Gratz College of Hebrew studies to teach Hebrew School. When I was about 17, I began to realize that I had never even considered whether or not I actually believed any of this. Over the next five years, I had the opportunity to investigate Christianity and Islam, as well as some of the Eastern religions. In the end, I realized that none of it made any logical sense and that I had never actually had any "faith" from the beginning. At age 71, I have still not found that kernel of faith, without which belief in God, let alone in any religion, one cannot accept any of this as true or real. Because I came to this understanding at a point in my life when I was no longer dependent upon my parents or "tribe" for support or well being, it was relatively painless for me to express my non-belief. Oddly enough, my parents actually owned up to the fact that they were much more "observers" of Judaism than "believers", but that at the time they were growing up it would have been much more difficult to distance themselves from their "tribe" than it was in my own youth.

mac said...

It's interesting that you note that humans are the rare animal that ponders their existence.
Huimans are also the only animal that have found a need to imagine deities
(OK, even if YOUR god is real, every other deity is imagined?)

Therein may lie my greatest shift. When I was a boy, I believed that God was real, that that god cared about what I may or may not do, that God played an active role in the affairs of the world.
As I grew into adulthood, my beliefs crumbled. This thing that was god had never presented itself to me. I failed to see where he had presented himself to anyone. For a while, I thought, "If god is real, why is the world so "F"-ed up? He must not care".
As time wore on, I began to realize that god was not real at all. The very idea of gods was simply a control device - People are flawed. We need direction. The god idea served that purpose.

The doubts were in my mind as a young teen. But, I didn't develope a clear idea until I joined the Army. I entered as a fresh-faced boy, and exited as a grizzled, jaded man. I had seen folks at their worst. And yes, a few at their best.
I saw that God had not played a role in any of it. Sure, some gave him credit - or blame. But it was the individuals that had been responsible for their own actions, their successes and their failures.

In short, I came to believe that what is, IS. There is no rhyme or reason. It simply IS.