SOFiA member Bill Hendry reflects on conscience and morality.
I’m always interested in the origins and development of social cohesion, especially elements such as conscience and morality.
I tend to dismiss metaphysical origins, although obviously I can’t be certain that a connection to Cosmic Consciousness doesn’t exist. For example, I don’t feel entirely comfortable with Stephen Hawking’s notion that someday we might know “the mind of God”. (From A Brief History of Time, 1988; Hawking later said he had used the word ’God’ figuratively and was in fact an atheist.)
In short, I think these terms relate to the phenomenon of Reflective Conscious Awareness, which, in its full expression only exists in human beings. All animals are driven virtually entirely by the dictates of genetic determinism, a very successful mechanism for life on this planet for 3.5 billion years. We are a very new development (roughly half a million years old) with this strange ability which most likely has never appeared before. In the scheme of things it’s far from clear whether it confers a beneficial or detrimental effect on our (or our planet’s) long term survival. There appear to be alarming indicators that, in terms of the ultimate viability of life on planet Earth, the development of big brains, complex neural development and associated phenomena such as language might not have been such a good idea.
So what can we do about it? Have a listen to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young singing ‘Teach Your Children’. That’s about it. Maintain your own notions of good moral behaviour, teach your (grand) children and HOPE that things will work out. We’ll never have universal agreement (and neither should we, since possible options must always be available). Behaviours are themselves subject to evolutionary forces and those that survive will only be those that fit the given situation best. But it might turn out that they’re not what we currently believe to be appropriate!
Disclaimer: views represented in SOFiA blog posts are entirely the view of the respective authors and in no way represent an official SOFiA position.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
“Someday we might know the mind of God”, reminds me of those pathetic certainty-seekers who attempt to misuse science by claiming that: “One day we will know everything”.
IMO, as our horizon of scientific knowledge expands, so does its immediately surrounding circumference of the unknown.
In other words: The more we know, the more we know that we don’t know.
It is true that as the volume of our perceived knowledge expands the circumference of our ignorance increases. To conclude that someone in such circumstance who sought certainty was pathetic, I would say was a wrong conclusion. Given that we are all in the same bubble of ignorance and the borderline between ignorance and knowledge is ill defined, in my opinion demonstrates the same seeking of certainty that you decry.
Having said that, is not all of humanity somewhat pathetic because we are forced to seek a degree certainty simply to function in this world.
This demonstrates the need to not only to hold our facts lightly but also our moral rules and judgments. It also demonstrates the need for constant judgement to ensure we don’t toss out the baby with the bath water in this case our knowledge with our ignorance or humanity with our value Judgments.
I have no objection to certainty-seeking as a quest for an unattainable ideal. (Provided it is recognised to be such).
However, as an ‘unattainable ideal’ it becomes a fiction, and often finds a home within that repository of all unattainable ideals, God, where it is called Omniscience.
“So what can we do about it? Have a listen to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young singing ‘Teach Your Children’. That’s about it”
This made me think of the difference between teaching and learning a bit like yin and yang you cant have one without the other.
Where as learning is ideally about removing ignorance we need to be on guard that we are not teaching ignorance.
So the most important teaching we can do is to teach both ourselves and or children how too learn.
As it appears to be the blind leading the blind the learning should never stop and the trail we leave behind will feed the future