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Back: Odyssey

Next: Engaging the Violent


I hope that you now suppose there could be a science of absolute truth. I conclude with two examples of its application. First, I will present counterquestions that address doubts we may ever have in life. Then, I will show how they help us engage people who may be violent by looking at everything from their point of view.

In 1996, I invited people I knew to develop "good will exercises" to help us follow the truth of our hearts rather than the truth of the world. Bob Weinberg wondered whether I might brainwash him and others.

I realized that whenever I myself have a doubt, I don't ignore it. Instead, I engage it with a counterquestion.

So I made a list of some thirty such episodes. Among them I identified eight counterquestions which I illustrate as follows.

Suppose my sweetheart introduces me to heroin, or alternatively, to her favorite movie. She insists that I like it, but I may wonder, Do I truly like this? I can counter, How does it seem to me? Maybe it seems to me that I like it, maybe it seems that I don't. Maybe I don't feel anything at all, maybe I don't care to. The counterquestion focuses me on my own personal experience.

My parents may insist that I should get a "real job". I may wonder, Do I truly need this? I can reply, What else should I be doing? Please clarify, what is that "real job" that I need to take? I may seek it or not, but at least I can compare it with what I'm doing instead.

I may wonder, Am I a robot? That is a difficult question! Any proof that I offer will be flawed if I doubt my vision or my brain. Instead, when I wonder, Is this truly real?, I counter, Would it make any difference? Maybe it makes no difference, it's purely semantic, in which case, I am a robot. If it does make a difference, then I know what to look for.

As a child, I would wonder, how could I be sure that, if I pulled on a lamp's chain, the house wouldn't fall down? Is this truly problematic? I counter, What do I have control over? The house is very poorly designed if a child can pull it down like that. And so is the universe. It is not the child's responsibility!

I may ask, Am I sane?, or more generally, Is this truly reasonable? To this I reply, Am I able to consider the question? Maybe I should question my sanity, and maybe I shouldn't, but it means a lot if I can appreciate the choice.

Suppose that every Saturday morning I wake up with a hangover. I ask myself, Is this truly wrong? I reply, Is this the way things should be? Maybe it should be, and maybe it shouldn't be. But I can look at the big picture. Maybe God is treating me unfairly, like Jesus on the cross. Or maybe these are my just rewards.

There may also be situations that are inherently unclear. My friend may or may not feel that I have slighted them. It may be unclear how they will interpret my action or inaction. In which case, I may simply ask myself, Am I doing anything about this? Maybe I am, and maybe I'm not, and maybe I could, and maybe I shouldn't, but at least it was on my mind.

There is also an eighth counterquestion which I can always ask myself, What do I truly want? This question and all of the counterquestions help me find my bearings. They do so without directly relying on any facts. They work even when all facts may be suspect.

I think they are the essence of intelligence. If you want to be super intelligent, then practice them with every doubt you may possibly entertain.

How can we know if these counterquestions are well defined? And if they form a complete set? I came up with them from empirical data, from dozens of episodes in my life. But then I described them in terms of my atlas of structures. I realized that each of them has us place a perspective into a situation. The perspective can be God's, or a person-in-general's, or a person-in-particular's. The situation can be the world, or a person-in-particular's, or a person-in-general's.

But the perspective and situation must be from different levels. This makes for seven counterquestions in all, as shown in the diagram. For example, if a person-in-particular looks at the world, they think, How does it seem to me? And if a person-in-general looks over their shoulder, they think, What else should they be doing? And when God looks at the world, he asks, Is this the way things should be?

I have developed my mind to feel such distinctions. I feel by them that I know the limits of my mind. I thus apply them with increasing assurance, as an engineer applies the laws of physics.

With application, they grow more and more real. And yet they are based not on this particular universe, but on the fullness by which I live my life through my mind. Pragmatically, I take them to be the absolute truth.

It is exciting to discover them in new contexts. I noticed later that Jesus uses six of them in his Sermon on the Mount. They are his six "antitheses": You have heard it said... But I tell you...

  • "everyone who gazes at a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart" (How does it seem to me?)
  • "If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way" (What else should I be doing?)
  • "If you only greet your friends, what more do you do than others?" (Would it make any difference?)
  • "Neither shall you swear by your head, for you can’t make one hair white or black." (What do I have control over?)
  • "don’t resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Am I able to consider the question?)
  • "whoever puts away his wife, except for the cause of sexual immorality, makes her an adulteress" (Is this the way things should be?)

The same structure organizes the kinds of prayer. I submit, inform or suggest to a God who fates, reacts or inspires. There are seven combinations.

This particular structure also organizes the seven reasons why we change our minds. Joe Damal and I worked this out from our survey of youth in Chicago, Did you ever change your mind?

I also think the counterquestions may express how we experience the six visualizations:

  • In an evolution, as we survey our evolving choices, we imagine: How does it seem to me?
  • In an atlas, as we contrast global and local views, we imagine: What else should I be doing?
  • In a handbook, as we compare strategies, we imagine: Would it make any difference?
  • In a chronicle, as we isolate portions of our life, we imagine: What do I have control over?
  • In a catalog, as we equate disparate structures, we imagine: Am I able to consider the question?
  • In an odyssey, as we analyze flows, we imagine: Is this the way things should be?

If so, then they should clarify how these visualizations relate God, I, You and Other as pairs of levels.


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