"An inner life! That’s what Cass wanted! A self! Professor Klapper’s asides were often variations on the theme of “get thyself a self.” Cass had almost gotten through college, had all but wasted irretrievable years of his life, without having realized that he was about to take the next step having never embarked on the first. He had done nothing toward acquiring a unique and inviolable being."
This awakening by the main character in Rebecca Goldstein's fabulous novel 36 Arguments For The Existence Of God is memorable because so many of us can identify with it. Even Cass, a psychologist of religion, had spent years kind of going along with the crowd, doing what he had been brought up to do, acquiring new habits and friends, losing others along the way, almost all by accident, without ever really taking the time to understand himself and his life. He certainly never made a purposeful attempt to analyze and guide these developments toward some goal for his personality, toward some goal for his self. Sure, he had chosen a major in college, picked some hobbies to pursue, and hunted for the right partner to share his life with, but as to why he made these choices, he had no really good underlying reason behind them. They just sort of happened because they felt right. Unfortunately, this is all too common in today's world where you aren't given the tools and time to undergo the kind of self-reflection that is required to get to know thyself.
This is a big problem. How many people in the modern world are dissatisfied with their lives? In a World Values Survey in 2005, only 23% of people around the world reported being "very happy." In a 2010 Gallup Poll, only two countries out of 155 were able to say that less than 30% of their citizens were "struggling." The average of the top 20 countries showed that over 36% of citizens were "struggling." That's the top 20 countries! This is a massive poverty of happiness in the world and it goes far beyond the political and economic explanations that come from poor or poorly run countries. This poverty of happiness stretches right across the rich and developed countries as well.
The old saying from Henry Ford - if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got - illustrates well how the forces of momentum can easily carry us along from year to year, from decade to decade, from one generation to the next, without making the kind of headway we could if you could only stop for a moment and look at what it is you are doing, why you are doing it, and what you might do differently. In other words, if you knew yourself, you might be able to change what you are doing, and change what it is you are getting. You might be able to understand what it means to thrive, what it means to stop struggling, and you could begin to do so.
So how exactly do you know thyself? How do you tackle such a complex issue? For this, I want to draw upon a method that the McKinsey consulting firm uses when it is called in to break down a complex problem for their clients. McKinsey consultants are drilled in the logical analysis of a problem using what is called the MECE Principle. Complex issues are broken down such that each subset of the issue is Mutually Exclusive (there are no overlaps in the issues), and together the issues are Collectively Exhaustive (there are no gaps in the subsets). If a complex problem is tackled in a MECE way, it becomes much more manageable to understand, and you are more assured of a comprehensive solution. Take the profit equation as an example. Profits = Revenue - Expenses. If a company is having trouble making money, you can break down the issue into sources of revenue, and types of expenses. List all of these, find out which individual elements you can improve upon, and you are guaranteed to arrive at a comprehensive solution to profitability difficulties. Some other more common examples to help grasp this MECE concept would be to break down an issue into its internal and external spatial components, or its past, present, and future time elements.
So how to do this for thyself?
This is the most ambitious undertaking of evolutionary philosophy. To know thyself, you must know everything you are and everything that influences you. You would conceivably like to undertake a mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive examination of your human experience. This may be an impossible task to complete given the infinite variety of experiences that can occur in a life, but that does not mean we cannot begin to set up a structure for the task and set down some big guiding principles within each element of the structure based on what we know. This is what scientists do in all their branches of science. This is what we can do with the different elements of a life. This is how we create the structure of a philosophical belief system, by which we can begin to know ourselves. I know I haven't completed this task, but I want to introduce what I have done towards this and work with people over the years ahead to make it better. As always, I want this to evolve.
Let's start at the top. I first looked at the universe we live in to try to understand what kinds of things we can experience. If we can say that we live in a universe with a space-time continuum, matter, and living things that move and think, we can begin to break down our philosophical belief system along these lines:
1.0 Concerning Me
2.0 Concerning Others
3.0 Concerning Things
4.0 Concerning Places
5.0 Concerning Ideas
Among these five main branches, the items that require the most philosophical inquiry are certainly 1, 2, and 5 - Me, Others, and Ideas. They require sub-branches. Let's dive into some sub-branches for the first of these to see what I mean.
1.0 Concerning Me
1.1 Where Did I Come From? (Past)
1.2 Where Am I? (Present)
1.3 What Am I? (Present)
1.4 Where Am I Going? (Future)
You can see here that I've applied the temporal MECE principle of looking at the past, the present, and the future to break down the interrogations into Me. I split the present tense into inquiries into my location (Where Am I?) and my makeup (What Am I?). But my makeup is also rather complex. It required further breakdown to make it understandable so I created even more sub-categories there.
1.3 What Am I?
1.3.3 Body x Mind
126.96.36.199 Needs and Desires
Looking at these, I'm not trying to imply a dualistic view of man where the mind is something separate from the body, I'm merely separating them for purposes of discussion. It is quite accepted in the modern world that our body affects our thoughts and our thoughts affect our body. This crossover influence is captured in category 1.3.3 where I break down the Body x Mind effects we see in our lives into four further sub-categories: emotion, needs and desires, personality, and the question of a soul.
Next, let's go back to the main branch of Me, and look at the future, where we have both a path and a destination.
1.4 Where Am I Going?
Arriving at the end of Me, we can move on to an examination of Others. I've broken this examination down into how we treat other individuals (which are further listed out below) and how we think about all the individuals collectively (the aspects of a society).
2.0 Concerning Others
2.1 Other Individuals
2.1 Other Individuals
2.2.4 Government / Politics
Finally, the last branch that needs further subdivision in order to be able to speak about it coherently, is that of our Ideas. Examining the traditional ideas discussed in philosophy, I created the following sub-branches here.
5.0 Concerning Ideas
5.1 God and Religion
5.2 Ethics / Morality
So this is what I am proposing as the structure of a philosophical belief system. Know these things, and you can know thyself. Elsewhere, I've laid out the basic tenets of evolutionary philosophy. Now, I can take those tenets and apply them to this structure to see evolutionary philosophy in action. I'll continue to explore those results in future posts, but for now I'd love to hear your thoughts on this prescription for knowing thyself. What do you think? What other topics need to be covered? What categories overlap or need further breakdown? How should this be changed for the next generation of evolutionary philosophy? What else do you know about thyself?