Frames and Foundations

The evidence of an intellectually honest person is demonstrated awareness of what one assumes to be true.

The foundation of the house is probably the most important yet the most limiting factor of the house. It provides the necessary stability and undergirding for the rest of the structure, but it also limits the structure from its outset. Different environments necessitate different foundations, because heat vs cold as well as humidity vs aridity can create problems in the long term if the wrong building principles are used.

Likewise, the assumptions that we incorporate into our thinking over the course of our lives give us stability. Those assumptions are not bad or evil on their face, but they must be examined and analyzed to make sure they do not create long-term problems.

Our instincts – that is, our unconscious conclusions and decision – operate from our frame, not from our deliberate thought. Deliberate thought is far too slow to be effective in most areas of life, so human beings usually use that thought to reinforce decisions already made by instinct.

The awareness of one’s assumptions represents the ability to update and improve the frame of how and what we think. That frame is of utmost importance to growing as a human being in any kind of significant way at all. Many of us are still operating with some of the same assumptions that guided us in our youth.

Human beings are, for the most part, emotionally reactive and unreasonable. That statement should be taken without a hint of negative association, because that is not the point of understanding the statement. It should be respected that human psychology has shown that “gut” or “instincts” are actually fairly reliable tools for life when used properly, and those impulses are not the same things as emotions, although they do include emotions in their assessments. More importantly, these impulses and responses can be trained and improved.

They can also be hacked and manipulated.

Nowhere is this more evident than in religion and its sister field, politics. Most political dialogue is essentially a couple of different frames of thinking repeating the same concepts over and over while accusing the other frames of being incoherent by selective omission. The argument was already at a deadlock before the discussion began, which is why the majority of people – particularly productive people – recognize this and avoid political media because they know it’s not a productive use of time in most cases. There are exceptions, where legitimate policy conversations happen and actual refining of a world view is accomplished. These are the distinct minority.

Even academics frequently struggle with properly training and harnessing their impulses and preventing their instincts from clouding the process of genuine evaluation and synthesis of available information on the basis of frame. Social scientists, historians, and others outside pure mathematical sciences do not have the luxury of being able to isolate and control environments and variables, so an additional level of scrutiny must be applied to their work with regard to the frame in which they present information and the frame which they used to gather and analyze it.

We all “will” toward a particular end, whether we admit it or not. Usually that “will” is not to truth, but to pleasure, power, or a means of power, and as Nietzsche wrote over 100 years ago, most philosophy is unconscious autobiography – even among intellectuals.

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