Experience guides us more than philosophy.

September 7, 2013 by Joshua
in Blog, Evolutionary Psychology, Nature

Have you noticed that people who behave wildly differently can still base their behavior on the same underlying philosophies?

Or that people who behave similarly can also base their behavior on different philosophies?

Pick a way people behave and you’ll find people saying that behavior comes from any source.

For example, among the most peaceful people some base their behavior on being religious, some on being atheist, some on not caring about religion or atheism at all.

Some of the most belligerent people base their behavior on religion. Some not. People on the left call Hitler right-wing. People on the right call him left-wing.

People who exercise say they do it to relax and feel good about their bodies. People who don’t exercise say they don’t because it’s too much work and hurts.

Vegetarians say they avoid meat out of respect for animals. Hunters say hunting animals puts them in touch with animals.

Parents who abuse their children say they do it out of love. Parents who spoil their children say they do it out of love too.

People support decreasing privacy in support of freedom. People support increasing privacy in support of freedom.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

What’s going on?

What’s going on? Don’t people’s philosophies guide their behavior?

This pattern reinforces a perspective I’ve been developing for a while.

We evolved from ancestors that learned behavior long before humans existed, or, for that matter, primates. Dogs and rats learn behavior. Probably all mammals do.

The ability to philosophize doesn’t seem so prevalent outside humans. I don’t know how other animals think or if they do, but philosophizing seems to me uniquely human or nearly so.

The parts of our brains that learned behavior came to exist before philosophy did. I don’t think philosophies guide our behaviors. I think we learn behavior patterns like other animals — in ways having nothing to do with philosophies — then shoehorn them into philosophies we learn independently of the behavior patterns we learn.

We like to claim our philosophies guide us, but I suspect our rational minds just create them to placate themselves. And to use them to try to influence others.

I’m probably separating these effects too much — that is, we learn behavior and create philosophies at the same time — but I’m tending to deprecate the role of the philosophies.

Academia holds philosophy in high regard. Society hold the works of people like Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Kant, and so on as pillars of society and culture.

I devoted years of my life to reaching the pinnacles of academic disciplines. I think of science as understanding nature, not philosophizing, but it is more intellectual than experiential.

I wonder if some of that devotion wasn’t misplaced.

I’ve shifted my life more toward experience, more base parts of life, and emotion and enjoyed the results of that shift.

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