Some Thoughts about Assumptions…

Posted March 9th, 2009 by Harry Baya

Some Thoughts about Assumptions… March 9, 2009 Harry Baya

I have written about the fact that I don’t believe in believing. In that article I distinguished between assuming and believing. I’d like to say more about the role that assuming plays in my view of reality and in my life.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,’ it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’

I realize that I am using my own, perhaps narrow, definition of some words. I’m trying to convey some ideas and these are the best labels I can find. I hope the ideas get through to the reader even if the words don’t quite fit.

“Assuming” can mean several different things. In one sense it means “my best guess”. I guess that a particular thing is most likely to be so. I “assume” it’s so. For example, the paper says the high to day is going to be 69 degrees fahrenheit. I “assume” that it will be warm enough that I wont need a coat. A sweater will do.

In another sense it is a point of view that I take for some purpose, whether I think it likely to be so or not. For example, I am going to temporarily assume that there is a God, an omniscient being with whom I can interact and ask for favors. I “posit” the existence of such a being even though my best guess is that it’s existence is extremely unlikely. Given that assumption I can ask the question “What should I do with the rest of my life?” I can then speculate on what my assumed God would answer.

I have a toy platypus named Phred. I have conversations with Phred. I don’t really think that an inanimate toy has a mind and can communicate with me. However, I mentally ask Phred questions and then I look to see what pops up in my mind. I try not to influence what comes up, not to choose it, just to let it emerge. Of course I recognize that in some sense I am making up the answer. However, to the extent that I am able, I let the words emerge from my sub-conscious. I began this interaction when a friend asked me if my platypus had a name. I said “I don’t know. I’ve never asked him.” In my mind I said “Do you have a name?”. Immediately into my mind popped the name “Phred”,

So I’ve defined two meanings for “assume”. One is “my best guess” and the other is “ a point of view I choose to hold.”. Often these two are the same. I choose to hold a point of view that is my best guess as to what is so, even if I have very little information about what is really so.

Though I may be belaboring this, I want it to be very clear. I may assume a point of view even when I have very little idea as to whether it is true or not. I may assume a point of view that I think unlikely to be true. For example, if I want to better understand someone who disagrees with me, I may attempt to assume their point of view.

Now I’d like to make one more jump with this idea. I have a way of viewing choices about how I live my life that uses the word assumption in a slightly different way. In this process I come up with a guideline, or an idea, that I think may be a useful approach even though I don’t really know whether or not it will. I then choose to live my life as if this was so.

Similarly, I may be faced with a choice and I may think something like “I am going to make this choice as if a particular perspective were correct.” For example, let’s say I am with a church group that seems to be operating with a particular set of very rigid moral codes. While I am with them I may choose to live my life as if there really was a God who enforced (rewarded and punished behavior) these codes.

The one area in my life where I use this most explicitly is in my attempt to never lie to anyone about anything It’s more than that, the underlying goal is to never intentionally mislead anyone about anything. This view does not mean I have to tell people what I think is so. I can remain silent. However, if remaining silent strongly implies that I know things to be one way when in fact I know them to be different, then I have a difficult choice. I can avoid actually “lying”, but I would still be misleading.

Why, I hope you are wondering, do I choose to do this. I was at a talk by Buckminster Fuller when he was in his 80’s. He said it was a choice he had made and that it seemed to work for him. He suggested that anyone who thought it might work for them should try it. He was very clear that there was no underlying absolute principal that drove this choice. It was, he said, just a point of view you could assume to see if it would help your life.

He went on to make it very clear that he was not suggesting that we be honest when dealing with important issues, but that he really meant “all the time”. The example he gave, in response to a question, was that it was just as important to answer truthfully about whether you had brushed your teeth as it was about whether you had been unfaithful to your wife. He said it was a way of viewing reality, not a technique to use to feel that you were a good person. He also suggested that in the process some people might find that they became more able to see what was so, more able to be honest with themselves.

My understanding of what Buckminster Fuller suggested means that, if one is trying to follow the path he suggested, little white lies are just as damaging to the process, just as undesireable, as major lies about important things.

I chose that path. I chose to live my life based on the assumption that always telling the truth would make my life more meaningful and satisfying.

I don’t “believe” that is so for me, rather I choose to assume it is true. So far the evidence is that it seems to work well for me almost always… I also don’t assume that others should assume this point of view. Rather I suggest, as Bucky did, that it might be useful to some people.

Note: This “truth path” is a different subject from “assumptions”, but it’s an important part of my life and this gives me a chance to state it as clearly as I can. Here are a couple of other things I want to say about my experience with this path.

I came up with a couple of guidelines that help me with this path. One is, for me, the answer to the question “When is it most important to tell the truth” is “about having lied”.

A second is, if my telling the truth makes me feel somehow better, morally superior, to others who don’t choose to follow this path, then that is undesirable. The choice to tell the truth should not be used as a way of feeling superior to others and when it is, that is damaging to the spiritual goal of the path. This is not about being better than, it’s about doing something that works for me. I do have considerable difficulty with this area. I do resent people who lie… and I recognize that this can get in the way with my getting the most from my own choice to be honest.

So much for assumptions… for today.

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