Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at thinking, intelligent individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

The Individuality of a Thinking Human Being

Of course, every human being is very distinguishable from anyone else. But those who think deeply and over sustained periods of time, both understand many more things and make many more judgments and choices. This increases their complexity immensely over that which they would have simply as the product of genetic code or as a result of the interaction of their genetic code with their environment to produce a biochemical system of great complexity. Even this baseline biochemical complexity is huge compared to that of engineering materials whose complexity I discussed in a previous essay. The body itself is a composite material, not with 2 or 6 chemicals in the mix as in an engineering material, but with tens of thousands of chemicals in the mix. In itself, this is nothing to make light of. Nonetheless, it is the operation of our mind that raises the level of complexity and of individuality of each thinking person to mind-boggling heights. Those of us who think are convolutions of convolutions of ideas and emotions in which the complexity grows exponentially. The more you think, the larger the time constant.

Before thinking more about the effects of thinking upon one's richness of properties, I do not want to make light of the differences that exist in our complex biochemistries. We come into the world with many differences. We generally look different. Babies immediately have different temperaments from one another. My first daughter was impatient and demanding from at least her 2nd day of life, while my second daughter was laid back and quiet from her 2nd day of life. Those character differences have not changed over the course of about 20 years. We know that some babies develop allergies to certain foods, while others do not. Some people may die from eating nuts or fish, while most of us are fine. Some people are cured by a medicine, while someone else is killed by it. Some people survive yellow fever, while others do not. Some people have the cycle cell anemia adaptation to malaria, while most do not. Some people have a great sense of smell, while others do not. Some people feel tickled easily, some do not. Some people learn best visually, some learn best aurally. Some people can cut through the complexity of much detail and see what is essential to solve a very complex problem. Others are faster than they are at solving relatively simple and well-formed problems, but they cannot solve the creative problems that require them to isolate the essentials from a complex situation. Of course, some people can leap 38 inches off the ground, while others cannot. Some are quick sprinters, some are better in marathons. Some people are incredibly flexible, while others are stiff. Some have great rhythm and others are beat-impaired. Some enjoy the complexity of a great symphony, while others enjoy a screamer with a strong beat in the foreground. Some are more the slave of pheromones than are others. There are those only attracted to the opposite sex, those attracted only to members of the same sex, and some who are attracted to members of both sexes. Some are pessimists and some are optimists. Much of this differentiation is likely to be due to the wide ranging biochemical structures of each individual's body. While the music we like is also a function of our conscious choices, it may well be partially a function of our biochemistries as well.

These biochemical differences are themselves important. By taking advantage of them, we can assemble teams of incredible athletes for football or swimming. We can figure that no matter how bad the epidemic, some part of the population will survive. Our differences may make one person better suited to be a soldier than another, one a better scientist, another a better farmer, another a better actor, et cetera. Of course, one may be better at any of these jobs with thought, but some require different temperaments than others, some quick thinking, and some deeper thinking with plenty of time. Some jobs are inherently aural, some inherently visual. Some suite a quiet person, some require someone very outgoing. Our differences rooted in our distinct biochemistries better enable us to specialize. This is somewhat analogous to building a technological society upon specialized engineering materials. You cannot build cities simply upon a single low-carbon alloy steel. It takes many specialized alloys, as well as many glasses, ceramics, semiconductors, inorganic compounds, and polymers. Similarly, we can take tremendous advantage of our biochemical differences to increase the likelihood that we can find the right person for the sales job, the bank manager job, the ladies hairdresser, the pharmacist, the teacher, the street paver, and the telephone lineman. We should not forget that many of these differences may actually have been selected by the evolutionary process because it was useful to man that there be a great range of natural abilities, temperaments, outlooks, and sexualities.

As important as our biochemical differences may be, we add to these the tremendous differences in how we utilize such capability as each of our mind's holds. As we focus our attention upon identifying the nature of reality and from that investigation select our values, we more and more develop an individual nature. Some of this individuality comes from what aspects of reality we focus our effort upon. Some comes from how rigorously we critically evaluate what we think is true. The degree to which we can think independently is a key factor. Another is how well do we learn from what others have already learned. Everyone of us could spend his lifetime simply trying to reinvent the wheel or learning how to make flint weapons, if we did not learn from others. We also benefit from recognizing the advantages of trade for acquiring goods and services from those best able to provide them.

We have to learn how to trade with others for their ideas, services, and goods, as well. This includes such complex issues as granting them the necessary freedom of conscience to develop their ideas and choose their values, so that we will have these available to us at a later time as potential trade items. Again, to make this possible, we need to extend the same sense of tolerance to them that we will need them to extend to us. We live in a complex world which we will inevitably make mistakes in trying to understand. So will our fellow man. If we are too eager to evaluate these errors as evil, then we will act to stamp out the development of new ideas, which often pick a path through errors to final enlightenment. Since the world is complex, the first person to understand something may have a hard time convincing everyone else that he does understand it. They may well react with intolerance for the heresy of the new idea, as they did when the idea that the earth was the center of the universe was challenged. They did this when bacteria were understood to cause many of the deaths previously attributed to the wise hand of God. We also benefit in our own rich mental complexity when we are cognizant that the very individuality of man causes others to sometimes irritate us, but also makes their mental efforts complementary to ours and improves the chances that they may have some ideas we may never have. Tolerance recognizes individuality. Intolerance defies that fact of reality. Tolerance aids the interactive process of learning with and from others, while intolerance is the path to dogma and ignorance.

To the extent that a man wants to maximize the richness of his mind through understanding as much as possible about our complex reality and the complexity of others and their interactions, he will value the trade of ideas with others. To the extent that he recognizes the futility of having to figure out everything without help, he will value the individuality of others. He will grant them the freedom of conscience to make their own choices and to evaluate ideas in their way, because he knows he will benefit from at least some of the ideas of others to the extent of many lifetimes of learning on his own.

Objectivists are likely to recognize this intellectual advantage given them by Ayn Rand, but they too often do not recognize that we have the advantage of many other life-enhancing ideas from many other people as well. They fail to note that if Americans did not have a very substantial commitment to tolerance, Ayn Rand's ideas would have been stamped out. She and all of her followers would have been hunted down and killed. Yet, how commonly they call Objectivism a closed philosophical system, which accommodates only those who are virtual clones of Ayn Rand and cannot make manifest their own individuality. The individualist thinker is not tolerated by them, though Objectivism supposedly values the individual life as the source of all value and the individual as the holder of all value. Well, the individual is the source of all reasoning! The individual is also the source of all error, but retains the ability to correct each error and to proceed to a pretty accurate perception of reality. Just as Ayn Rand made great advances over the philosophy of Aristotle, someday, one hopes that someone else will greatly advance Ayn Rand's understanding of philosophy. We should be tolerant enough that such an advance is allowed to happen and that we can recognize it when it has happened.
Posted by Charles R. Anderson, Ph.D. at Saturday, March 19, 2005 0 comments Links to this post