Sunday, June 22, 2014

Quality of Understanding

The world is a complex place. Our ability to survive and thrive depends on our understanding of the parts of it we experience, as well as the power we have to change it, because our understanding determines how accurately we can predict the results of the actions we take. The better our understanding, the more likely our actions will have the desired results.

Understanding is an interpretation of observations that identifies what the parts of the world are, how those parts are related to each other, and how they and their relationships tend to change or stay the same. Its quality and usefulness is therefore highly dependent on the quality and amount of our observations, and our ability to correctly interpret those observations. Science is society's most successful means of building quality understanding, in large part because it uses strict rules of evidence which filter out observations that cannot be verified.

Technology has enabled a vast increase in the number and verifiability of observations, while logic and mathematics have enabled us to create and test interpretations of those observations that will have maximum accuracy and reliability. It has also, as a byproduct, enabled people to have more power, unfortunately without an associated requirement for understanding its full impact beyond its intended and very specific applications.

Alternative approaches to science for building understanding, such as religions, tend to depend heavily on hearsay, reported observations that cannot be independently verified; and their interpretations cannot be rigorously tested, if at all. That many people use the interpretations that result from them is evidence that the interpretations have enough quality to be useful in various situations, typically ones where success in surviving and thriving is not increased by having more quality.

Humanity is now at a point where our impacts on the world require a high quality of understanding to manage without extreme harm to us and other species. Those with the most influence (power) must either acquire that understanding, or reduce their power to a level they can manage safely. To do so voluntarily, they must also value the others they influence, and values are in large part a function of culture – especially religion. If our values do not motivate us to mitigate the harm we cause, and if we insist on holding onto power without adequately understanding the complex interrelationships and interactions that it can disrupt, then we will be entirely responsible for our doom as a species.