Saturday, January 28, 2012

Doubt Is the Origin of Wisdom

Or as Descartes put it in his Meditations on First Philosophy, "Dubium sapientiae initium." The gift of doubt is something evolution rarely gets much public laud for. And doubt makes the most sense when seen in conjunction with others. Consider it in isolation, and little progress will be made.

Companionship is not always a matter of desire. It's, for most, and fundamentally, a matter of need. Of survival, really. We don't refer to it as such in public discourse because it becomes too heavy and who would want to tackle things of seriousness in broad daylight?!

Any discussion of the economics of companionship in the public forum is, at best, pushed to the side and given commercial-length attention. People have no choice when it comes to allying themselves with others. From an evolutionary perspective, there's power in numbers. Survival is found in numbers. Two or more people have a better chance when it comes to outsmarting and or vanquishing a hungry bear than one isolated person. In nuce, the bigger the pack, the better the chances of making it.

Enculturation brought with it more than just better stratagem so that better game could be caught, bigger cavernous spaces in which to prepare said game, draw such activities on the amorphous walls to record the culture of survival, and secure protection from the elements of the physical world. Enculturation brought to life the results of systematic sociality: spawn, a lot of spawn - in case bears and physical elements got to most of them - and a desire to create a narrative of living, one that is historical, that builds on previous accounts and doesn't stop at a dénouement. One that, phoenix-like, gives birth to yet another version of itself ad perpetua.

Survival, or efforts to survive, lead one to a better existence. Efforts to survive give one better tools of coping. I've long maintained this. Some humans are better at living because they're naturally good at surviving. Genetic makeup dictates many of the living choices we all irrespective of one another make. But so does sociality. While the former is devoid of choice, the latter is fully predicated on it.

From a Darwinian perspective, what makes one fitter to survive than others is their ability to decode their surroundings and make decisions that are congruent with nature. Which path to take to encounter the least amount of bears, what time of the year to go hunting, who has the kind of childbearing hips that can sustain the highest frequency of births, who to strike alliances with for the purpose of attaining the most game and the most fruitful childbearing hips, et al.

Descartes noted in his Principia philosophiae, Part I the following: "Ex nihilo nihil fit. Meaning: nothing comes out of nothing. Understanding that plurality counts, counts. A multitude of human resources will never be inconsequential to existence, good existence. It will be indispensable to good living. In sum, we don't choose to align ourselves with others out of fickleness. Most humans do so out of clean calculation. Nothing comes out of nothing. Much comes out of calculated sociality and sustained companionship.

So, next time when dinner is prepared in the kitchen, dry-cleaning is picked up, and one is accompanied to the doctor's office, think of sociality is its purely pragmatic, evolution-informed form: that it is commoditized and not the romanticized entity we're daily told it is. There's always a cui bono - i.e.: 'what's in it for me?' - attached to it. Even a simple peanut butter & jelly sandwich brings expectations with it.

Cogito ergo sum, Descartes? Also, I think, eat, engage physically, and pick up my dry-cleaning at times, therefore I am.

The picture below was taken at the airport on one of my summer trips while waiting to board the plane. The parental time spent made sense: when bored, do yoga publicly.


Dana said...

I wonder why it's easier for us to live in a world where facade reigns supreme. I guess it's too raw a confession to 'reduce' one to a list of commodities. It doesn't mean it's not true, though.
I've been craving peanut butter lately. Maybe a sandwich will be made for me. ;0)

Unknown said...

How cute is your guys' footware!!

Companionship is a necessity of life. As most necessities go, little of it is 'romantic'.
I've got to say that your take on eculturation did make me chuckle. Respectfully, of course. ;)

The lectures are missed, Dr. Bri, they're missed a lot!!

Scott said...

I get the point of the picture. It's an example of unconditional sociality, right?

The following gave me pause: "Some humans are better at living because they're naturally good at surviving."
It's one of those things that sounds weightier when read outloud rather than in silence.

What's making you revisit Descartes, btw?