“Understanding diversity can reward us with more unity, peace, freedom and security. Intellectual uniformity, depending on the forces of authority, brings us division and conflict.”

History suggests our FEW old, competing historical narratives of existence are ready to be replaced by ONE that more closely reflects reality. A new narrative that states that no two narratives are identical, rather each of us exists with a different reality and truth. Individual, social or communitarian narratives can be widely divergent or contradictory despite an underlying tendency towards a common theme. A theme guided by what we might call human nature, as bequeathed to us by Mother Nature.

A new narrative must accept the facts of our existence in which there will always be contradictions at play:

– The one true narrative is that each of us has their own highly original narrative, sometimes widely divergent or contradictory, but there is an underlying tendency toward a common theme. Therein lies a contradiction.
– The common theme narrative contradicts itself because it can not be described in words by any single human being. This deals with the issue of ineffability.
– Diversity and radical difference coexist with widely accepted ethical and moral rules. Few, if any, of these rules are universal. A universally accepted rule would be non-controversial, by definition.
– We see ourselves as enclosed, independent, self-directing individuals containing a private idioverse, yet we atrophy and disintegrate when we become totally isolated. Complete sensory deprivation is a form of torture. (An idioverse is composed of all of your personal psychological experiences which include your interactions with self, others and the world.)
– Each one of us is genetically unique; no two genomes are alike except for twins. Yet our genome contains large portions that are identical with the entire human race, and even with other species. Our one common feature is that we are all different.
– Opposing personality types are contradictory of each other and probably are largely genetically determined.
– Multiple intelligence types may be contradictory of each other and probably are largely genetically determined.
– We are certain the external world is as it appears to us until we start analyzing it. Then we realize the opposite is mostly true.
– We believe the experience of our internal world, consciousness, is the same for everyone until we start analyzing it. Then we realize the opposite may be more likely.

This is at odds with the commonly assumed goal of philosophy: a single foundational idea (maybe a few), an essence, that can be used to regulate our understanding of just about everything.

First amongst our errors may be the idea that consciousness, what we think and feel, is the most authoritative, reliable and defining feature of human beings and that it is equally shared by everyone. ‘Cogito ergo sum’ is probably the most famous expression of this pervasive belief. Consciousness may even be of a single divine spirit infecting us all. The problem with this article of faith is that it puts the cart before the horse. ‘I think therefore I am’ is intuitively brilliant but ontogenically backwards. Clearly there was a primordial me in utero, a dependent me in the crib. However, and this is the surprising part, a ‘learning’ me came into existence right from the moment of conception! As physicists and mathematicians are wont to say, I started ‘processing information’ immediately after my father’s intrepid spermatozoon knocked on the door of my mother’s willing ovum. (Exactly when the I became a me is a question awaiting adjudication in the battlefield of our culture wars. It is not an interesting question from an empirical point of view.) Looking back, this is all overwhelming and confusing, but all that one can do is try to make sense of it – something that consciousness is extremely useful for, absolutely necessary, really. But the mind, the brain and the whole person operate on very many different levels, including instincts, intuitions and emotions, all of which are beyond our intellectual grasp. The unsympathetic hegemonic theory of human consciousness as our essence does not square with reality and is a likely source of our manifold problems. The truth is that you were real before you became conscious. You were before you started ‘thinking’ in a conscious way. ‘I am therefore I think’ is a little more accurate, but it is only part of the story.

First, at that momentous beginning, that primordial microscopic me had to read my own private DNA message, transcribe it, make proteins to grow and develop, sort through floods of signals from my rapidly differentiating and specializing parts, learn to unleash a lusty wail when a need requires attention, to identify shapes like my mother’s face, recognize words like love, start speaking, control my reflexes, and around the age of 3 create my first memory of conscious activity. I am therefore I become by processing! – and so many other incredible things! All the events gathered in consciousness over time, utterly and stupendously marvelous as they are, represent only a very small part of the googols of bits of information that we process. What a magnificent piece of work is man, yet so small and vulnerable!

Our identity at the beginning is synonymous with and inseparable from our DNA. There is no mind body division and there is no subsequent stage in development that is not completely derived from, and explained by, what was before. There is no split, nor is there a deus ex machina to suggest that we are less of a single whole as an adult than what we were as a single-cell embryo or a 32-cell morula. Rapidly we become so much more than our DNA. Reality changes and evolves, and soon we begin to exist in the minds of others due to the presence of fetal movements or a positive pregnancy test. A few years later we exist in our own minds with the advent of consciousness. Herein another contradiction: you change, evolve, grow, yet you are the same person.

To get off this never-ending treadmill of contradiction, we must resist defining ourselves by latching on to clever definitions or striking features. As individuals, to ourselves we are what we are, a whole being. ‘Sum ergo sum’. To others we are what we do, a homo sapiens or ludens or ridens or necans or sanguinis or metaphysicus or whatever, but always less than what we really are. In the brains of other human beings we are recognized by what strikes them as our most salient features. This cannot be anything but a reductionist cartoon based on superficial features. This is made possible by our lack of awareness of our own complexities and those of others. Consciousness likes to simplify matters so that they are easier to deal with. Experience teaches that existence is extremely complicated, while the substrate of all of this, reality, is almost completely ineffable. Yet another small contradiction within a paradox.

But here is the ultimate conundrum: Magnificent Mother Nature has given us wonderful talents of observation, logic, reason, analysis and perseverance, yet they are clearly inadequate for obtaining a true understanding of very much – at least so far. Gathering empirical data is slow and cumbersome. Mathematics and philosophy are abstractions and create much confusion. Religion for most is nothing more than an opiate. Still we march on because Mother Nature has a plan, a destination in mind, an end-game of sorts, maybe.

If only some oracle could give us a few clues! Actually some have and many now regret believing these revelatory sources. All their claims have been severely challenged by the evidence. It seems that the only path forward is the one we are on. We are learning with small steps through fits and starts, and there is progress, just not the kind that Progressives believe in.

In the end we must confront Hamlet’s question “To be, or not to be?” Shall we set forth and meet existence head on, perchance see a glimpse of the eternal mystery, and then go gently into that night, or not.