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Life Arts    H4'ed 6/19/09

Topsy Turvy

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Originally posted:


You know that the earth revolves around the sun, right? Well, for a long time people thought the sun revolved around the earth. Why? Because from our vantage point, that’s the way it looks. The problem is one of perspective. People’s first tendency is usually to assume themselves to be in a central position and to relate everything to themselves, rather than think about where they fit in with everything else. This often leads to people getting things the wrong way around. Douglas Adams has a wonderful puddle analogy that is useful here. Imagine a sentient puddle thinking to itself, “This hole I am lying in fits me perfectly! It’s hard to believe it would have all the right contours to support me as well as it does by chance. Someone must have designed it to fit me so well.” People do this, too. People think like this in all sorts of matters. This is not unlike the child that closes its eyes to hide, thinking, “If I can’t see you, you can’t see me.”

“What a beautiful day! There must be a God. Evolution could not produce such a beautiful day.”

No. Evolution did not make the day beautiful. Evolution made you in such a way that you find the day beautiful. As a species we grew out of certain circumstances, adapted to certain circumstances, and thus find certain circumstances pleasurable as a result of how they relate to our biological condition. A polar bear would probably find the weather you think beautiful atrocious.

“Justice, compassion, and other good things tend to make a group more powerful in the long run, proving that there is a God that rewards good behavior with success.”

Things are not granted power because they are good—we regard things as being good because they grant us power. If oppression, cruelty, and other things we think of as vile tended to make groups more stable and prosperous in the long run, our moralities and feelings would proclaim those things good, and you would be proclaiming their success as proof of a God. Justice, for example, means little more than “setting things right.” If what we think of as just lead to the destruction of a society and what we think of as unjust lead to the long term prosperity and expansion of a society, we would call the former injustice and the latter justice.

These are just two examples, but there is, unfortunately, no limit to the theoretical amount of opportunities people might have to think in this manner. So the best advice is to just be on the lookout for this type of thinking. When someone reasons in this manner, see if you cannot flip the person’s reasoning on its head.

If you identify with the message of this article, please email it to people, tell your friends, even print out copies to pass around. Together we can raise awareness. Thank you.
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Ben Dench graduated valedictorian of his class from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in the Spring Semester of 2007 with a B.A. in philosophy (his graduation speech, which received high praise, is available on YouTube). He is currently (more...)
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