Philosophy is important in everyday life. Why?
Underneath each person’s way of living lies our own unique philosophy about life, the universe and the ‘meaning of it all,’ whether we realise it or not. While we may not have any formal education in philosophy, we pick up our own unique blend of assumptions from the surrounding culture.
All philosophies depend on a particular philosopher’s starting assumptions about reality. Possibly the most well-known philosophical assumption of the modern era is “I think, therefore I am,” made in the 17th century by Rene Descartes, a French mathematician and philosopher. Descartes assumed that human thinking (with its limitations) was at the center of his philosophy. His position has gradually evolved into a much broader (and more limiting) scientific statement about human thinking, summarised by Daniel Dennet, the Director for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University:
“Of course our minds are our brains, and hence are just stupendously complex ‘machines’; the difference between us and other animals is one of huge degree, not metaphysical kind . . .if human minds are nonmiraculous products of evolution, then they are artefacts and all their powers must have an ultimately ‘mechanical’ explanation.” (1)
I will henceforth call this assumption the “Brain-Centric” assumption or stance about human knowing. In the Brain-centric assumption, human thinking and ideas and truth are separate from reality. Ideas are “inside” the human mind and reality is “outside”. How does one link the images and concepts in our minds with the reality that may or may not exist outside our minds? There has never been a satisfactory answer to this philosophical question in the Brain-centric stance, starting with Descartes right up to the present.
Another assumption about reality
Descartes statement and science’s assertion based on it may be widely known today, but actually it is just one possible assumption about reality. Another assumption is “Things including me exist; therefore I think.” Aristotle and others assumed that reality (“what is”), including being itself, is at the center of their philosophy. The human “intellect” is equipped to directly know the cosmos’s reality, at least to some degree, not only through science but in many other ways as well. As I have stated previously, however, even though reality exists external to us, we still need to test that our personal imagination, insights and ideas “fit” with that reality. I will discuss how we accomplish that a bit later. I call this other philosophical stance the “Reality-centric” assumption.
At the heart of every person’s search for authenticity lies their own (probably implicit) fundamental assumption about reality. Generally speaking, in our modern period, many people hold the assumption that “Truth is only what I decide it is, in my own mind.” That is a very different assumption than the truth about “what is” lies outside oneself—and that one must engage in a serious “quest for truth.” It seems important to understand the implications of these two different assumptions if a person seeks to be authentic and true to herself.
In Imagining Rama, I take the “Reality-centric” stance, and encourage my readers to discover new ways to know what’s out there. This opens up possibilities that we may miss when we take Descartes’ “Brain-centric” stance — as many people do in the modern era. That stance starts from the assumption that mankind’s ability to know is limited by the human mind’s innate characteristics — as Descartes, Kant and most modern philosophers conclude. This obviously puts a boundary around what we can know. I provide ways for you to explore what might lie beyond your accustomed “horizon” of knowing. My hope is to awaken a desire in my readers to journey further into the unknown and decide for themselves what is real.
(1) Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea; Evolution and the Meanings of Life (New York, NY, Simon & Schuster, 1995), p 370 – 371