08.31.08

Frames of Reference

Posted in Dialogue, Philosophy at 7:51 am by Haider

Discussions often operate on the level of arguments, or statements. One party makes an assertion, and the other party dismisses it as “not making sense,” “being flawed,” or a number of other reasons for not accepting the assertion. What is often overlooked is the frame of reference used to justify that assertion.

In other words, the assertion makes sense, based on the assumptions of the speaker. It is part of a whole. In order to understand the part, we must see where it fits into the whole, determine where the fault lies in the entire outlook of the speaker (if one is to be found) and judge the part accordingly.

For example, suppose someone tells you he believes religion should bring happiness. For a religious person with a different understanding of religion, this idea might not make sense, because he thinks religion is about obedience to God, and doing the right thing. “Happiness” doesn’t have a place in religion (at least not in this life time). To resolve the misunderstanding, you wouldn’t go anywhere by repeating the same statement. The two have different frames of reference. The statement doesn’t make sense to the listener, because it doesn’t have a place in his frame. It’s not part of his “big picture.” He would have understood what is being meant by the statement, but doesn’t think it is a correct assertion.

Now, if the speaker moves up one level, and presents his frame of reference, or a part of it that places the statement in a more meaningful context, then the discussion can move forward:

“Religion doesn’t bring God any benefit, but is for the benefit of mankind.”

“God created human nature, and His religion is compatible with their nature.”

These statements, while not necessarily sufficient to convince someone that the initial statement is true, offer a wider scope – and reveal a greater part of the picture – to understand what the speaker’s opinion is based on.

There are two things that need to be done in order to have fruitful discussions:

1-Reveal the frame of reference to the point of commonality: Most beliefs share a common overall frame, then branch off when dealing with more specific issues. In order to resolve misunderstandings, and to have a discussion on the level that matters, you need to begin with the belief you have in common. This defines a common frame of reference for both parties to use.

2- Question the validity of your own frame of reference: Your personal frame of reference might not be a valid one. Assess whether the other party’s frame of reference is more realistic than your own. This presents the problem of judging your frame of reference by the standard of your own frame of reference (which is why all religions are correct according to their followers)! What is important here is the willingness to accept that your frame of reference can be wrong and should be questioned.

07.27.08

Listening to Your Emotions

Posted in Knowledge, Personal Development, Philosophy at 3:56 pm by Haider

To completely rely on your reasoning does not mean that you must ignore the signals your emotions provide. There are two important ways in which your emotions can support your reasoning (there is a third way, in the form of intuition, which I will leave for a separate post):

1- What your emotions say about you: To better appreciate the role your emotions play in your life, consider how you respond to your pain sensors, and what function they serve in the first place: pain is a signal that lets you know that your body is exposed to something that is harmful to it. If the harm is (potentially) great, and the pain is severe, your body won’t even wait for a response from your brain, but will respond with a reflex to jerk the body away from what’s harming it.

The same applies to feelings of hunger, for example, which let you know that your body is in need of food, or particular nutrients. If you choose to ignore your hunger, you would be dismissing an important message about your body.

The same applies to other feelings, such as fear, depression, joy, etc. They reveal to you your own values, and what you need to adjust or work on in your life.

2- What your emotions say about your beliefs: When you hold a belief that is inconsistent with the reality you are observing, your emotions will register the conflict, and you will feel uneasy, frustrated, angry, etc. Therefore, your emotions are important when considering the validity of your beliefs: why are you having these feelings? What are the issues you have not yet resolved in your beliefs? Where do the contradictions lie in the beliefs you hold, or the inconsistencies between what you have accepted to be true, and the inputs you are receiving from your senses?

Your emotions are not random sensations about a distant dimension. They reveal to you the consequences of your beliefs on your life, and they are an essential element for a better understanding of your body and your mental state. In the same way that a rational individual would take into account external factors to understand external phenomena, he needs to be attentive to internal signals to better understand his internal reality.

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