13 Mar The True Nature of Reality: Relativity – Part 28
rel·a·tiv·i·ty, ˌreləˈtivədē/ (noun) 1. the absence of standards of absolute and universal application. “moral relativity”
This post is not about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, although I do find his work fascinating. I am still trying to wrap my head around the idea that time moves slower for a person moving in a vehicle than it does for someone is standing still. It is a cool concept to bring to the table, but proving it with physics and mathematical formulas is a whole other level of know how. Einstein’s definition of relativity, however, is still one of the best out there for our needs.
“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.” -Albert Einstein, The New York Times, 1929
Two Observations About Conceptualization
Relativity is closely related to the concept of Perspective, a topic we will journal about in a future session. After contemplating the components of conceptualization, we have stumbled upon a few important observations, the first being that the same object can have completely different meanings to different people, depending on their knowledge and personal experience. Knowledge includes any source from which a person receives information that has not been personally experienced and includes, cultural conditioning, societal norms, formal and informal education, religious and philosophical beliefs, and even self-formulated ideas.
The second important observation we have made is that our knowledge and personal experiences lead us to make a value judgment about an object. What we have not talked about, however, is that our value judgment does not end here. Before a value is assigned, the information will be compared against our base of knowledge. This is the way we check our limited understanding against an assumed greater body of knowledge. This may affect the way we interpret the object, and will help determine our final beliefs about it. While personal experiences are the most convincing type of evidence we feel, we still have a tendency to revert back to whatever knowledge we have available to interpret the meaning of our experience. So, in the example from our journaling exercises of the boy who was mauled by the dog, if he had received any education (valid or invalid) about dogs, he would compare his experience to this information to make a final determination about the meaning of his experience. Let’s think of a few possibilities to demonstrate how one’s knowledge might affect the outcome of their concepts about objects.
What if the child was taught (and believed) only sick dogs bite people? Or, what if he was taught dogs only bite careless people? What if he was taught dogs only bite people when they are afraid? What if he was taught dogs only bite evil children?
In these examples, we start to see the idea of relativity taking shape. Relativity is what happens when two or more people have different information and personal experiences surrounding the same objects or ideas. While the example of the child and dog creates a useful analogy, we should examine real issues that are important on a global scale today. How do different people around the world view the topics of religious freedom, gender equality, using violence as a means to an end, child prostitution, etcetera?
The idea of Relativity is brought up today when we see differences in ideology between cultures. At the end of the argument, people usually come to the conclusion that irreconcilable differences are due to relativity. Stated another way, they believe the differences between people’s beliefs happen because “that’s just what they’ve been taught”. If a female child is raped by a man, and the leaders of her village decide she and her family should be stoned to death for seducing the man, well “that’s just what they’ve been taught”. While this argument points out an obvious feature of relativity, I do not believe it is the answer to any question at all.
“Many people present the relativity argument as an explanation of the problem, but it is my belief that relativity is not an answer, but the obstacle human beings must overcome.”
We must move beyond the explanation of relativity, and reevaluate the problem which needs to be solved. As human beings, we desire safety for ourselves and those we love, but differences in ideologies around the world have made violence and inequality inevitable. The human race has not successfully negotiated how to create safe places for all people on the planet, or how to deal with violence in ways that end these harmful cycles. This occurs because people have different beliefs about life and how it should be lived. In this sense, our problems arise out of the relativity that is inevitable with diversity, but we must not stop there. We have to find a way to attack the components of relativity, which are the components of subjective conceptualization.
Overcoming Subjective Conceptualization
The two components of subjective conceptualization are knowledge (includes cultural conditioning, societal norms, formal and informal education, religious and philosophical beliefs, and even self-formulated ideas) and personal experience. The randomness of personal experience will be detailed in a later journaling exercise, but for now, let us assume while people have the power to influence a few things in life, most of what happens in life lies outside their full control. This is why people will often form different concepts about the same thing. Our personal experience can be influenced by our actions, but cannot be completely controlled. This leaves much of what occurs in life up to random chance.
Knowledge is the second half of subjective conceptualization and is something over which we have much more control. Knowledge is not as random as personal experience and we can even say it is regional. If we look at any geographical location at a given time in history, then we can make some pretty accurate assumptions about what that culture believed. This is important because relativity is the result of regional separation, a gap the modern age can easily bridge, making the assimilation of valid education more possible than ever before. We are a tribal species that loves to protect and propagate our own beliefs and ways of life, something done most effectively through teaching and compassion. While information given to people can be truth or ignorance, lessons to help or propaganda to exploit them, knowledge is still the most workable solution to overcoming ignorance. It is here humans must find a way to decipher truth from deception, clarity from ignorance, and progress from failure. Then, we must take this valid information and find a way to wash away the illusion of separateness relativity projects, understanding we are all human beings belonging to the same tribe.
Write about the differences and similarities of Personal Experience and Knowledge.
How do Personal Experience and Knowledge work together to create a subjective view of reality? How do they affect an objective view of reality?
Where does your base of knowledge come from? Name the major influences that played a part in forming your current beliefs.
Write about three personal experiences that were further defined by your base of knowledge. What meaning did your knowledge give to these experiences? Did this meaning change the way you originally felt about the personal experience or did they confirm what you already believed?
Name three beliefs you discarded within the last five years and write about what caused those changes? Can you pinpoint a certain type of experience that allowed you to make changes in your beliefs? Did these changes happen quickly or over a long period of time?
Name three problems you see in the world today that have relativity as their root problem (they are occurring because of people’s different beliefs)
How do you know if new information is moving you towards or away from ignorance?
Who or what controls the meaning of your personal experiences?
Write about three ways valid knowledge can be used to overcome the problem of relativity.
Name three things you can do to teach the people you know about the importance of finding solutions that transcend relativity.