Have you ever been speaking to someone and they present their position as obvious but it makes no sense to you?
I think I’ve given this example before, but it’s the most complete one I have. I was speaking with a friend about the concept of reincarnation. One of his arguments was “that doesn’t account for the rise in population”. Utterly baffled by this, I said “noooooo, advances in medicine account for the rise in population.” It was literally YEARS after this discussion that it suddenly hit me: his base assumption was that all souls were created at one time, and that only a finite number were created. To him, that finite number had long been passed and with 6+ Billion people on the planet at the time, ‘recycling’ souls was clearly impossible. That concept was literally so foreign to me, it never entered my head. From the perspective of my own operational framework, his statement was nonsense. In his framework, my position was nonsense. Neither of us had the wherewithal to consider that perhaps the underlying assumptions for our positions were what we needed to be looking at – not the outcome or conclusion of those assumptions.
I’ve encountered this many times in my life. The whole “mind/body problem”, which apparently consumes a lot of modern metaphysics, to me is like saying “the whole left eye/right eye problem”. What?? You make no sense. Ditto with the question of why God “permits” “evil”. What a nonsense question, though at least I can sometimes actually reach and hold onto the base assumptions people have which lead them to this particular question. I have to really work to find the base assumptions for the mind/body problem, and then I can’t hold on to them. They slip away and I have to rediscover them again to address the outcome of those assumptions.
The point of this example is to remind myself that when I’m talking with someone or reading a work (most especially not a contemporary one!), to take very seriously the question of “what are the root assumptions guiding these conclusions which the speaker/author may take so for granted that they don’t bear stating?” If I’m writing a treatise, I’m not really going to bother saying something I consider to be self-evident or commonplace – ie I won’t bother stating the equivalent of “the sun rises in the east, hits the zenith in the south and sets in the west.” That is such a baseline assumption it doesn’t typically really merit being spelled out.
Keep in mind also that when these baseline assumptions get called into question, this is very threatening to most people. These assumptions are often the foundations upon which an entire world view is built; assumptions formed by the Child mind about How The World Works. For the average person, these will be defended quite vigorously – most especially those that represent the Core or the Central ideas about which everything else revolves. Try telling someone deeply religious that God does not sit in judgment of their lives, or that Heaven/Hell are just ideas, etc. Tell the devout Atheist there is in fact a God. What happens?
If someone becomes defensive, the conversation is over. If someone becomes defensive, it is solely because they FEEL as if they are under attack – regardless of my intentions. If I wish to pursue a conversation or an exploration of ideas, I MUST be cognizant of this and maneuver in such a way as to ensure my conversation partner no longer feels threatened. That’s on me. As an emotionally aware person, I have to recognize not only when I feel myself getting defensive but in that moment also diagnose exactly why. This is not easy, and most people cannot do it. If you want more on this concept, check out Crucial Conversations. This is a GOLDMINE of information. Gold. Mine.
Another VITAL part when it comes to dealing with root assumptions: never be dismissive. Almost all root assumptions were decided on by an infant to a toddler to a young child. The Child is the first foray into life every single human goes through and it’s up to the Child to very quickly assess a safe path through a dangerous world. Sometimes those conclusions don’t really reflect the larger world, but to the Childmind make 100% sense. Rare is the person who goes back to dig up these root assumptions and re-examine them through the lens of the adult mind. This is why I call the Child survival archetype The Guardian of Faith – because once the Child decides that’s How The World Works, it becomes a matter of faith that these conclusions are correct. Moving on.
To be dismissive or derogatory toward the foundations of someone else’s world view is particularly … childish. Heh. It assumes that my view is the only truly logical one, but my view is the product of my own individual life. Is my life – especially as a child – so vast and far reaching that my conclusions are the ONLY logical ones? I would argue against such a naïve position. Instead, I find it far more advantageous to attempt to set aside my own assumptions, and explore someone else’s with open questions. OPEN means just that – open, non-threatening, inviting, curious, interested, engaging, expansive. Even so, sometimes defensiveness is triggered because the assumptions within a belief system conflict with each other and haven’t been reconciled — and often there’s no interest in doing so. I also find these conversations fascinating because they help me locate my own root assumptions. I can feel them being triggered, then I plant a little mental flag in them to revisit later.
I’m setting out to read Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, written in the early part of the 16th century. Will he have root assumptions which he takes so for granted that they don’t really need to be said? Oh heck yes. Will I as the reader get more or less out of the study if I am aware of this and attempt to locate/state these assumptions? Oh heck yes. It’s this project which inspired this post, but my goal for the project is to actually do a podcast on it. I’d like to read a chapter, then discuss it. That said, I don’t consider myself a particularly strong scholar, so that will be a hindrance, though I am relatively well versed in the time frame. I expect as the project goes on and I start to dig in more, I’ll get a better grounding. That is, in fact, the purpose of this project. Besides, I happen to know a damn fine researcher/librarian I can tap for assistance if I need it. 😉