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Wisdom of the West, July 1991, Episode 1.

Preface: Carol B. introduces me in "From the Editor's Desk" with a much-needed dose of humor like this:
"Travis Hardin has decided to turn over the duties of "South Mountain Meanderings" reporter to someone much younger, and Greg Pacek has agreed to take over that role. Travis has transitioned to a higher state of being, and will now write a column called "Wisdom of the West". The west in this case in western Maryland, not the Old West. In his column, Travis intends to cross the recognized boundaries of various scientific, philosophical, and psychiatric disciplines and give his opinion on many issues."


By Travis Hardin

If a little knowledge is dangerous, where is the man who has so much as to be out of danger?

--T. H. Huxley, On Elementary Instruction in Physiology (1877).

I lie in my little bed listening to my parents talk in another room. I strain to hear if they privately will reveal something contrary to what they have told me.

A teenager, I sit in church and am frustrated not to be able to judge what is hyperbole and symbolism, and what is fact; what is love, and what is disguised hate.

I can't trust other to be truthful. It's up to me. An abbreviated formal education--and yet isn't the best education abbreviated compared to the whole of knowledge? So how do I proceed to discover truth and knowledge, and how do I determine its weight?

I was born a rationalist and became a scientific humanist. The business of my life is inquiry. I make mental connections among facts and ideas with emphasis on applying reason to all experience. Object: To understand all of reality. I cross boundaries of knowledge and gather fruit wherever it grows.

There are three persistent problems in this business:

1. Competition and opposition from other world views.

2. My own mental state.

3. Inability to possess all knowledge.

Other World Views. Briefly, The opposition includes anyone who would obscure truth in any way, whether it be people who invent an imaginary reality not supported by observation or reason; people whose psychological defenses warp all reality around themselves; people who withhold the truth out of courtesy or fear; and the intentional liars, swindlers, and power hungry.

Mental State. Because the mind is the tool used in understanding, it follows that taking its characteristics into account is essential for knowing whether one understands accurately or not. That is, we must understand the mind's "tricks" to see through to objective reality. So I ask myself what my motivations are that shape my world view. Is it some attempt to get money or property? To hide a social stigma? Is my world view shaped by one of the countless unconscious psychological forces in those vast territories described in DSM III, forces that make one willing to sacrifice the whole world for one's own caprice? Do I want power in trade for truth? No to all the above.

I think my motivation, in general and in this series, is to examine the world with as total an intellectual honesty as possible, while questioning my own infantile self centeredness, my neuroses and defense mechanisms. The attempt at total honest with oneself gradually uncovers and corrects misperceptions, short-sightedness, and other unconscious processes, preparing one to recognize knowledge.

Inability to Possess All Knowledge. This is a problem, isn't it? Whenever I check a gem of truth under the glass of my own experience and my own rationality, and the inquiry produces a promising yet tentative puzzle fit, the piece goes into a structure I am building in my mind without a single blueprint. That structure is called my world view. It's my reality, always under construction. In my short lifetime it will never be finished. But I have laid the foundation and ten floors of steel. I have even furnished a few rooms on the lower floor. What will the rest look like? Intelligence says it's going to be consistent with the known part. So I interpolate, I extrapolate. In my ignorance, my intelligence says, "Connect the dots!" It'll be a skyscraper, but who knows how tall it will be, or how the top will look?