Four Secrets I Should Have Known In My Twenties
#4 We’re Different In More Ways Than We Think
Our late teens and twenties are crucial times in life. It is during this period that you begin to have a view of the world and your place in it.
The information I consumed during my twenties has shaped the way I see the world.
Some of that information has not been particularly useful as it has failed to translate into knowledge.
Here are four little secrets I wish I knew in my twenties to better develop a filter of the flood of (mis)information we’re drowned in today.
- We Are Evolved Creatures
This may seem obvious, the study of evolution is actually underrated in our schools. Not much emphasis is placed on its importance.
It’s very hard to understand other people if one does not look at humans through the lens of evolution. Nothing about human nature makes sense except through the eyes of evolution.
This does not mean we have some sort of hardware upon which we run that cannot be changed; it means that our minds are in constant interaction with our environment and culture.
Survival and reproduction are primary concerns of our evolved brains. Truth is a secondary concern, if that. Our senses have evolved to capture that which enhances our survival.
Picture this, science tells us the earth goes round the sun but every human being alive today will see the sun going round the earth. If we were to rely only on our senses, the truth would be that the sun goes round the earth.
Part of the reason we’ve evolved that way is to think everything centers around humans, like the ancients thought. Galileo was famously placed under house arrest for championing heliocentrism and Copernicanism.
What is important here is to recognize that what we think,touch, smell, hear, see, and taste is far from the objective truth.
You’ll probably get to hear people pontificating past each other about right and wrong, good and evil, fake news and the truth. These dichotomies are relevant for our survival. But Mother Nature knows none of that.
A lion may eat me up today. To my children, it may be a bad thing. From Mother Nature’s perspective, it’s neither good nor bad. That’s just the way things are.
Does it mean the truth does not exist? The truth does exist, but not to be detected by our sense organs. This brings us to the second secret I wish I knew in my twenties…
2. Physical Reality Is The Objective Truth
To get the objective truth, we need some tools. Scientific Materialism is a good start. It will get you close to what is real. What is real in the universe is manifested in the laws of physics. I do appreciate the creativity of Dostoyevsky and Stephen King. The first time I read Pet Semetary by Stephen King, I was so scared that I had nightmares. But of course that had nothing to do with objective truth, it was my mind doing its thing, purely psychological phenomena.
This is not to say only physics has access to the truth. Stephen’s King’s fiction, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Titanic or the Bible have some element of the truth, but they would have to be converted into the laws of physics to be tested against reality. This is no easy task, but once it’s done, impurities can be pruned from the fiction and start approaching infinity. Then we start getting closer to the truth.
3. Stories Set Us Apart From The Rest Of The Animals
Before stories, we were out there battling it out with the lions and snakes in the forest.
Then something happened, something drastic, something that has changed the course of our species forever. It’s not clear what happened, but some say some mutation in our voice box caused us to start speaking coherent narratives, others say we were kicked out of the Garden of Eden.
Whatever it may be gave us supreme cooperative powers to change the world. Our cousins such as the Chimpanzees and Bonobos can cooperate. But not in large numbers like us. Most importantly, with language and stories, we could now abstract; assign first order, second order, third order effects to phenomena.
We could attribute the movement of leaves on a tree to a dead ancestor; that was a good starting point to our journey to calculus and space programs. Not a single civilization was built was on science alone.
It is with stories that we’ve managed to interpret the complex universe into gods, ghosts, money, human rights and good and evil.
What is important to remember is that stories are very new in our evolutionary history. So our stories are incredibly limited even to translate that which we feel. We can’t take what people say at face value. A politician may say he’ll make health care affordable for the whole world; its really at your own risk if you believe such a language claim.
You’re safer if you not only listen to what people say, but pay attention to what they don’t say. Read between the words. Actions speak louder than words. Maxims stand the test of time for a reason.
4. People Are Different
The inquisitors obsessively held on to their opinion that the sun goes round the earth. We all get incredibly attached to our opinions. As we’ve seen our opinions only represent part of the truth.
It follows that we have to respect other’s perspective. They may know something you don’t. We’re different in the way we interpret the world. Truth means different things to different people.
Siblings brought up in the same house have different life outcomes. Hell, monozygotic twins with, arguably, similar genetic material have different outcomes. We don’t have the same thoughts.
What is a cliche to you may be novel to me. What’s personal to me may have little significance to you. What you figured out ten years ago may be hidden to me.
What I envy may be your inspiration. Your careful attention to detail may be a sign of obsessive paranoia to me. You may believe in agency and free will while I think there could never be free will as long as someone cannot choose their birthday.
I may believe wealth is a product of distribution; from the billionaires to the poor through government taxation. You may believe poverty is due to lack of production for whatever reasons.
I should have placed this one as my first. Most of the grief in my life has been because of my failure to understand that people inhabit an astonishingly different world in their head. This means that I do not always understand people as well as I may think.
This is no life changing epiphany, but it serves me well to remember everyday because every time I stop thinking about this fact, I fall into the self-serving game of judgement without context of where the other person is coming from.