Looking at the world through coloured glasses!

What are the basic assumptions we need in order to experience our world?

In everything we do, whether on a mundane level or at a higher level, is based on assumptions which we may, or may not be aware of. Assumptions which are not based on fact, but are part of our way of experiencing.

Crudely, a salesman is trying to get you to buy a product, an investigating policeman is wondering if you are guilty, the doctor is wondering what is wrong with you, even if in all these cases the individuals appear to be friends and rapt in interest with what we are saying, they may have their own agenda. I have said this as 'crudely' because in truth, the salesman might be more interested in being a friend and not bothered to sell, the doctor and the policeman might genuinely be interested in you. The point is that there are assumptions which underlie what we are doing, thinking, etc which we and others might, or might not be consciously aware.

Similarly, scientists use assumptions when they evaluate the theories and information they get from the physical universe. Assumptions that might be wildly wrong and lead them into ignorance and bigotry.

For example, for a long time scientists denied that thinking could affect bodily health because there was no known mechanism whereby brain activity could change the body. However, after a little more careful anatomy, scientists discovered that the conscious brain is in contact even with the immune system. While this assumption existed any suggestion that thinking could affect the body was dismissed as unscientific.

At one time, in philosophy and psychology, the existence of mind was denied! Leading Koestler to suggest that 'Psychology first lost its soul, and now has gone out of its mind!'

Action at a distance has also been denied by scientists (because there is no mechanism whereby it can occur). Yet experiments in quantum physics have demonstrated action at a distance and instantaneous communication (violating relativity theory). Again, while these assumptions were held, scientists dismissed research in these areas.

When our assumptions do not meet our perceptions then we are plunged into turmoil and confusion, often expressing emotions such as sadness, anger and laughter!

It could be said we are the assumptions. And what we are is often something we are completely unaware of because these assumptions are the spectacles we use to view the world. (If we look at the spectacles or think about them self-consciously we cannot see the world!) We have got so used to these assumptions that we are no longer aware of them.

People within a Nation group are unaware of their peculiarities. Although people the world over are really much the same, there are certain National characteristics that lead us to identify members of that group. The Americans think that are open, democratic and honest. The British think their word is their bond. The Japanese think they are kind. The Germans rational and correct. Those not members of these nations view them differently, perhaps in the opposite way!

If we are able to identify the assumptions of ourselves, another person, something, and the universe, we are more able to bring about wanted change, or at least to behave correctly in relation to that person object or process.

If we are looking for trouble, we will find it. If we are looking for peace, we will find it. If we are looking for opportunities we will find them. Our personal assumptions govern what our world is like, and the assumptions of the universe govern what it is like!

Many of these assumptions cannot be discovered as facts in the universe. They have to be intuited. Although they can be supported or not by experience, demonstration and experiment.

The logical positivists claimed that only empirical statements are valid. The rest are nonsense. This denies religion and much of philosophy. But it is an assumption. You cannot empirically verify 'Only empirical statements are valid'. There are no tests for this. So it is an assumption. And as it is not empirical, it is, according to its own statement, nonsense!

A few thousand years ago, the ancient Greek, Euclid formulated his geometry, reasoning from a few assumptions to explain many facts in the world. From intuited assumptions, he reasoned to explain the world in a way useful to builders, navigators and other practical people. In recent years, we have learned that Euclid is not the geometry, but only one of many geometries. Why it works has been a puzzle to thinkers ever since.

In ancient times, how could a few assumptions lead to an understanding - with absolute certainty - of everything a builder would want to know about designing things? How could they enable a surveyor  to measure the circumference of the Earth, or its distance from the moon? Yet they did!

We are taught in modern times that only science can answer such questions, not reasoning! Using Euclid, one doesn't have to go and look and carry out experiments. One has to work out the answers on a piece of paper. The very opposite of science!

The philosopher Benedict Spinoza used a few basic assumptions to reason about human nature. Although his results are less certain or provable, they do show the power of reasoning from a few basic assumptions.

I have used the word 'assumptions' to refer to the concept involved. This concept is also referred to as axioms, basic postulates, categories, classifications, self-evident-truths, immediate perception, intuitions, etc. And thinkers in the East and the West have wrestled with this question: What are the basic assumptions of people, processes, subjects, the universe.

This is an extremely valuable subject which can be used to:

  • Determine Truth

  • Understand the true nature of the universe and ourselves

  • Evaluate activities to improve them

  • Improve our psychological wellbeing

Rather extreme claims, but I believe they can be substantiated.

These very basic assumptions are sometimes called categories in philosophy. And various philosophers have tried to enumerate and describe them. Aristotle was, perhaps, one of the first.

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Last modified on: 27-Sep-98.
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