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Soulful Sundays: A Priori

“The test of all beliefs is their practical effect in life. If it be true that optimism compels the world forward, and pessimism retards it, then it is dangerous to propagate a pessimistic philosophy.​​” -Helen Keller

“When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.” -Kahlil Gibran

Worry manifests in us for a variety of reasons. We are unprepared. We have done something wrong. We are in trouble. We lack trust in others. We lack confidence in ourselves. We lack trust in our own beliefs. Etcetera. In all of these scenarios, some non-trivial part of our energy goes into mitigating the worry - energy that is better spent elsewhere. If it is bad enough, worry can be downright crippling. Often times its causes can be overwhelming. But what if worry is actually just a simple disconnect between how we wish the world would be and how it actually is? Then perhaps worry is more of a function of how well we see the world and, more importantly, how well we make peace with that vision.

Two questions immediately arise. How can we better see? And what exactly exists to be seen and known? For as long as we have been humans, we have struggled with the paradox that knowing everything is impossible...yet, we must continue to strive to reduce that infinity down to identifiable parts. You see it in the East as well as the West. An endless march toward understanding. In reference to worry and seeing, if we know our limitations then at least we have a starting place. This is the way I see it: A) the world is more complex than we can fathom and B) worry arises when we assume otherwise.

Theories that explain the world accurately tend to persist. Gravity, thermodynamics, evolution, and other testable models have endured because they have produced repeatable results. Results that we have then relied upon to test other theories. Everything is built on the "true" assumptions that have preceded them. So what was the first assumption? Maybe, it was that there are mysteries worth solving. But why? Was survival the motivation? Or perhaps self-mastery? If so, from whence did those drives arise? What is the first assumption -the a priori assumption- that we must all agree upon to make sense of the rest?

One of the most well-preserved theories throughout history is the existence of God. Sure, other theories have arisen to supplant this leap of faith, but do they actually accomplish that? In science, faith is placed in the scientific process and the assumption that natural phenomena are repeatable. In humanism, faith is placed in the good of people. In nihilism, faith is placed in life being meaningless. You see what I'm getting at here. We all have to believe in something, even if that belief is in nothing. Faith, also known as complete trust, is at the core of being human. It is at the core of how our brains work.

There are two ways of knowing. One is logic - cause and effect. It is a statistical picture of the world based on past experiences, others' accounts, and empirical data. The other way of knowing is intuition. This is a feelings-based picture built on multi-generational iterations of acceptable behavior and our personal past emotional states - tradition and developmental psychology in a nutshell. So which way of knowing should we rely on when attempting to see the world? Both.

I like to think of the logic-based system as knowing and the intuition-based system as seeing. They both have their places when making decisions in the world, but one precedes the other. We act out of emotion first and secondarily use logic to back up our decisions. Not the other way around. Read this post for more on the topic. In other words, intuition is a priori to logic. We use statistics to rationalize deeply preserved emotional states. You may think that this phenomenon is dangerous or primitive, but I assure you that it is actually essential to not only being human but also to being happy.

If worry is an emotion that is by and large negative and separates us from happiness, then how do we reduce its prevalence? If we were capable of thinking like robots, we would rely on statistics and calculations to govern our behavior. This may work in a game of poker, but it falls apart in real life where we are compelled to act in ways that do not have readily available lines of logic or statistical study. Often we do things because they just feel right. This results in a gap of time between the emotional action and explanatory logic. This gap is rich soil for worry to grow. When this happens we can escape worry by replacing it with another emotion such as wonder, joy, or gratitude. But there is a catch. Our a priori emotional state must be aligned with the belief in something substantial and worthy of wonder, joy, and gratitude for this to work properly. Otherwise, it is inauthentic and produces more doubt.

Only one belief qualifies for the description of a priori - the existence of a benevolent God. All good things follow from that belief, including everything good right now in our lives. In last week's post, I wrote about how the history of the world we live in is synonymous with the history of Western civilization. So too is the Biblical canon synonymous with the value structure of Western civilization. Modern institutions like governments, corporations, trade guilds, and other peaceful communities all use Biblical morals (albeit imperfectly) as the backbone for conducting behavior. There is usually agreement on a set of intrinsic rights and individual sovereignty of the members. Both of which are Biblical concepts. There is also a system of authority and accountability.

There is a reason why the free countries of the West are the end destinations for so many immigrants. It is because we uphold and propagate the most universally held set of good values, which tend to lead to more happiness overall. You don't see many non-coerced people volunteering to live under oppressive regimes, do you? I am calling everyone who read this far to return to the source. Return to a simpler love and trust in God's plan. Adopt an attitude of gratitude for the things that you have been given and one of wonder for the parts that you don't understand. Share your gifts liberally with the world and praise the good work of others. Familiarize yourself with the cultural traditions that formed Western civilization and continue to inform your emotions and decisions to this day. Learn to see, not just know. Worry less, do your best, and leave the rest to God.

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