Mind

100 Self-Evident Truths

What truths do you hold as self-evident? As you navigate life, this article suggests periodically updating your views, the “obvious” things you know to be true, with the currently best available information.

The first stop on our 100 self-evident truths tour is that 1) we humans, as a group, know things today which, for the rest of our thousands of years of recorded history, we did not. Experiments, discoveries and inventions have given us a better understanding of the universe and of ourselves in the present than we had in the past.

A second simple foundational truth is that 2) knowledge is passed on in different ways and at different speeds, and with differing reliability. While we learn new information as a group through time, not every individual knows what the group, as a whole, knows. There are years, decades and even centuries of lag time for the majority of humans to “get up to speed” with what is currently best known.

Considering the first two self-evident truths, we encounter a third, that 3) disagreements result from different access to and use of relevant information. The parable of the blind men and the elephant illustrates this point. We can “know” too narrowly and we at times discount other’s experiences when we should not.

A fourth self-evident truth is that we, species-wide, believe many things due to selection-bias. 4) Humans omit, ignore and may even attack real data which does not fit with our preexisting beliefs. Everyone has biases, tendencies to prefer some things over others, based on past experience. Preconceptions may be correct, but when they are wrong, this can cause us problems.

Our fifth truth is that 5) we generalize in order to deal with large amounts of sensory and memory information. When walking through a forest, we do not stop to carefully examine every tree. This would be a waste of time. At a glance, even peripherally, we quickly classify things using pattern matching. This ability is extraordinarily useful as it allows us to navigate complex dynamic environments.

Number six is that, 6) we sometimes overgeneralize and this is prejudice; we are built to prejudge new information (objects, persons, situations, etc.) based on our past experiences but this results in some errors. Our ability to categorize things is quite good, but it fails at times. Sometimes we are wrong. Thus, we like things that generally conform to norms, that is, things, people and situations that are only a little bit different than what we already know. Encountering a creature that was equal thirds lion, elephant and human would be very disturbing to our senses because it would require more processing, simply more brain power, to know how we should react.

A seventh truth is that 7) people differ in their abilities to process information. Information processing involves integration of sensory input with memory of past events. There are differences in what individuals know (the facts carried around), in ability to hold information in consciously accessible memory (working memory), and in ability for long-term memory recall. With the ability to hold more information, reading comprehension increases as one can assemble and integrate new information better. [Source: encyclopedia] This explains why IQ tests include reading comprehension tests.

Intelligence is a collection of different information processing abilities. Types of intelligence people have considered as separate include linguistic, musical, mathematical and logic, spatial (for example, the ability to manipulate three dimensional objects mentally), body (e.g. coordination, dance, dexterity), interpersonal (relationships), intra-personal (understanding and being in tune with one’s self, one’s own emotions, etc.), sensory and presence (e.g. absolute pitch, super tasters, ability to reproduce an image from memory, keen powers of observation), existential (the nature of being) and others. In fact, each academic discipline in a university major catalog might be arguably seen as a separate domain of intelligence, depending on where you want to draw the lines. This gives us philosophical, religious studies, and physics intelligence. Each trade, similarly, could be seen as a set of skills that form a domain of intelligence: banking, carpentry, automotive, gardening, pluming, and so on. 8) Intelligence is the ability to learn, recall and utilize information in adaptive ways.

How do we square the fact that people differ in different aspects intelligence with the foundational view, for example, that all people are created equal? Consider the opening words from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

Although it was voted as passed by all 12 states on July 2nd, 1776, and dated July 4, 1776, it was not signed until August 2, 1776, but not everyone signed then. “Two important officials passed up the chance to sign and others were added later.” [Source: NatGeo]

In the year 1776, genetics was unknown. (See truth #1 above.) There was, at that time, no knowledge of genes. DNA was only discovered in the late 1860s and its role in determining genetic inheritance was not known until 1943, about 75 years after that. English philosopher and physician, John Locke, who had a great influence on the founding fathers of the USA, believed the blank slate theory, that everyone starts from the same equal and empty state as a child. Locke was wrong about this. He was unaware of genetics, that the interplay of genetics and environment is what gives people varying abilities later in life. For example, we know now that about 1 in 1000 babies born has a third copy of chromosome 21 resulting in Down Syndrome and that these individuals have, statistically, notably lower IQ scores. Something else we know now from twin studies is that there is a higher correlation between identical twins in IQ than between fraternal twins, even when identical twins reared apart. Thus, it is a significant truth that 9) there is a genetic component to intelligence. 

Intelligence is highly heritable and predicts important educational, occupational and health outcomes better than any other trait. Recent genome-wide association studies have successfully identified inherited genome sequence differences that account for 20% of the 50% heritability of intelligence. –  The new genetics of intelligence (2018)

It has been claimed that Thomas Jefferson intended not to say that all individuals are created equally, but rather, in context, only that the group of colonists (the “all men” part) were equal to England in their ability to form and govern a nation.

Number ten on our list is that 10) our language is imperfect and people misunderstand each other frequently. There are many reasons for misunderstandings including people having different definitions for the same words, having different access to information and having differing abilities to process information.

For example, 11) people with lower mental functioning have more difficulty understanding metaphor, irony and sarcasm. Some information processing differences make it more likely for an individual take everything literally.

“To create or decode sarcasm,” Gino says, “both the expressers and recipients of sarcasm need to overcome the contradiction (i.e., psychological distance) between the literal and actual meanings of the sarcastic expressions. This is a process that activates and is facilitated by abstraction, which in turn promotes creative thinking,” – Go ahead, be sarcastic (2015)

Is better information processing ability being required to understand abstraction actually a self-evident truth, though? From a literal vantage point, there is no self-evident truth because truth’s do not have a “self.” What is meant by this metaphorical phrase “self-evident truth” is most likely that “everyone knows it” or “obviously.” The phrase points out a common fallacy, that 12) we tend to mistakenly believe that things we know, “self-evident truths,” are also known by everyone else.  This is also a callback to “self-evident” truth #1 because many misunderstandings today come from the view that things we know now must have been known in the past as well. Huge rashes of online fights on social media, flabbergasted people calling each other stupid, and probably even wars have resulted from this truth. People (stupidly) think others are “stupid” because they should have had the same experiences they did.

Another self-evident truth is that 13) while there are similarities, no two people will ever have exactly the same life experience, as this is physically impossible. This is true even for conjoined twins.

Hmm. That’s only 13? I was going to come up with 100, which is why the title says 100 Self-Evident Truths. Here are a few more from my desire to just quit here and hit the [Publish] button.

14) We can’t always do what we say we will, despite attempts and intentions.

15) Sometimes writers use click-bait titles on web sites.

16) Other times, writers just get tired of writing, so they push [Publish] kidding themselves that they will finish the remaining 84% of the intended article later.

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