Our studies and discussions of humanity and all that is related – our societies, cultures, beliefs – are full of assumptions. When the mathematician states “assuming X is true, then Y holds” he, or perhaps I should say she in our age, is very aware that “X” is not necessarily true, and if it is not then one cannot guarantee the statement. However, when we speak about each other and our societies the assumptions are left unstated and take the form of convictions.
When discussing political systems and policies, what humans need to thrive is assumed. When debating penal systems, what motivates individuals to crime and to lawfulness is assumed, and when speaking of justice in this context, the level of personal control we possess is assumed. When discussing beliefs, the importance of truth and how we come to believe is assumed. And, at the bottom of it all; how we think is assumed.
What does a conclusion matter if it follows from a false assumption! It is not society and humanity that are discussed and studied, but inventions of our mind; society as we imagine it, humans as we think they are. And we do not all imagine it in the same way – no wonder we have a difficult time understanding each other; we are using the same words but speaking about different things…
The ancient greeks were convinced that earth was the center of the solar system and that all planetary motions followed circles. To make the world fit this assumption they added epicycle after epicycle. Likewise we form the world to fit how we think it is, rather than forming our views by investigating how it is – and the result is societies and world-views built on epicycles.
Mathematics starts from axioms, stating essentially what exists and which operations are permitted, and everything is deduced from these and hold true assuming the axioms. If human behaviour is to be understood, religions and beliefs understood, political policies be suited to their goals, the goals suited to reality, and society, morality, justice and all these things that occupy our daily life understood, then first we must understand the source. The “axioms” of humanity: what we are, how we behave, think, believe and relate to one another.
Finding these “axioms” of humanity in any great detail is, of course, beyond the authors of this blog and something that should be a whole field of study in itself. What we will do is to see that some common thoughts and ideas are doubtful, and when they are taken out of considerations a great deal of things will look very different.