“Unconsciously Adopted Dogmas”, less annoyingly known as “Floors of Reasoning”

This is a page exploring “floors of reasoning”, the implicit assumptions and maxims below which we do not question, and upon which we build our world-views. These are really important, because if your floor is not actually built upon a sturdy foundation – or at the bottom – but is suspended above all kinds of interesting questions and assumptions, you will never get to investigate them. You will never know what lies below your floor, but that unseen basement will impose certain values upon you that aren’t even of your own crafting, but were unconsciously adopted elsewhere. This is what James Joyce writes of his autobiographical counterpart, Stephen Dedalus:

When a man is born…there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.”

– James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

We begin at the source of the term, “floors of reasoning”. Tim Urban over at waitbutwhy wrote a mind-blowing quartet of essays, the last of which introduced this term. Below I’m stringing together a bundle of excerpts from that piece that come together to create a semi-cohesive introduction to the idea, but if you have 20-minutes, do yourself a favor and read his whole post:

“Floors of Reasoning” Explained via Tim Urban Quote Saga:

…during our brain’s most malleable years, parents, teachers, and society end up putting our clay in a mold and squeezing it tightly into a preset shape. And when we grow up, without having learned how to build our own style of reasoning and having gone through the early soul-searching that independent thinking requires, we end up needing to rely on whatever software was installed in us for everything – software that, coming from parents and teachers, was probably itself designed 30 years ago…”

…Dogma is everywhere and comes in a thousand different varieties – but the format is generally the same: X is true because [authority] says so…Dogma, unlike first principles reasoning, isn’t customized to the believer or her environment and isn’t meant to be critiqued and adjusted as things change…you’re not supposed to dig too deep under the surface anyway – you’re just supposed to accept it, embrace it, and live by it. No evidence needed”

…When you’re never forced to build your own reasoning pathways, you’re able to skip the hard process of digging deep to discover your own values…Only strong reasoning skills can carve a unique life path, and without them, dogma will quickly have you living someone else’s life. Dogma doesn’t know you or care about you and is often completely wrong for you—it’ll have a would-be happy painter spending their life as a lawyer and a would-be happy lawyer spending their life as a painter…But when you don’t know how to reason, you don’t know how to evolve or adapt.”

…the challenge is to keep asking why until you hit the floor…If a floor you hit is one or more first principles that represent the truth of reality or your inner self and the logic going upwards stays accurate to that foundation, you’re in the lab [Urban’s metaphor for a good place to be]. If a Why? pathway hits a floor called ‘Because [authority] said so’ – if you go down and down and realize at the bottom that the whole thing is just because you’re taking your parent’s or friend’s or religion’s or society’s word for it – then you’re in church there [Urban’s metaphor for adopting dogma].”

Posts Related to All This

Pictorially Explained by Two Sublime Leunigs

And a Few Other Quotes from Big Minds

Enlightenment is man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity. Immaturity is the incapacity to use one’s intelligence without the guidance of another. Such immaturity is self-caused if it is not caused by lack of intelligence, but by lack of determination and courage to use one’s intelligence without being guided by another.”

– Immanuel Kant, What is Enlightenment (1784)

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance (1841)

The outward circumstances – comfort, money, position and power – seem to dominate and shape our existence…There is hope only in the integration of the several processes of which we are made up…it [the integration] comes into being only through extensive and deep awareness. This awareness must go into the deeper layers of consciousness and not be content with the surface responses.”

– Jiddu Krishnamurti, Commentaries on Living 1st Series (1956)

And so on. In chipping away at that nagging, guiding question, “how to live?”, there’s something vitally important to be found within our own depths. Questioning our own assumptions is vital to enabling the descent. You can define the absolute floor however you like: psyche, inner-self, truth, reality, consciousness, nirvana, etc. As the question consumes more of us, labels will continue emerging.

From whatever tradition your preferred label may derive, it seems agreeable that dogma is bad, and the unconscious variety is the most insidious. It withholds us from freedom in even the most secular sense. Breaking through these ostensible floors seems essential if we are to genuinely answer the question, “how to live?”

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