Examining Assumptions, Part I

We all make assumptions. Humans are assumptions makers par excellence. Imagine if we got up each morning without any assumptions in place. How disconcerting and exhausting it would be to have to make sense of every day and the dog sleeping next to you without assumptions.

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Until a year ago, I didn’t know I had a half sister. I assumed I only had one sibling.

And yet… assumptions can calcify and constrict over time. It makes us uncomfortable to question long held assumptions and at the same time it can be hugely liberating.

We are living through an age when we most people are challenging long held assumptions. It is unnerving and invigorating. Imagine that you are a knight going into battle in a suit of armor. Your armor is your assumptions. The other side has no armor, no heavy draft horses to carry them even. Instead the horses are pulling a cannon. This new weapon blows a side in the castle you are defending. Time to rethink your assumptions. How liberating to cast off the armor that is heavy, makes you sweat like a pig and takes a team of men to get on you and hoist you on your horse. But you go from ranked #1 in jousting to irrelevant in one battle.

When assumptions no longer serve us well, when they become like a suit of armor in a the age of explosives, then we cling to these assumptions at our peril.

Postmodernism is a lot of things depending on whether you are talking about art or literature or moral values. There are a new set of assumptions that are associated with it. For example, that there are many perspectives and all of them deserve consideration. The only way to better understand reality is to consider these perspectives, but of course, we can never be certain about reality.

Does this make you uncomfortable?

Or are you excited because finally there is breathing room for a broader view, a more complicated view? One that includes you finally. Or are you threatened because you are being asked to include other perspectives that challenge your assumptions?

For me the process of challenging my assumptions is both uncomfortable and exciting. It is like Aslan’s breathe restoring life to statues that were “things I knew for sure.” They may still be useful but they may also be adjusted because of new evidence, new perspectives, new information. Or give way to a new ways of thinking that better serve me and my community.

This has been thrown into relief this week by 2 podcasts with the author Michael Pollan. The first was the Ezra Klein Show. I listened to this conversation twice because I wanted to make sure I caught it all. The other was Fresh Air podcast where Terri Gross interviewed Pollan and included a bonus portion. Michael Pollan‘s new book, How to Change Your Mind. It looks at the history of psychedelic drugs and what new research is pointing to about consciousness. He also does his own explorations and reports his experiences.

It is inspiring me to question two long held assumptions, but not necessarily to embrace their opposites. These two assumptions may no longer serve:

  1. You must work hard, suffer even, for “real” progress in health, understanding or enlightenment.
  2.  There is an afterlife.

I’ll share more about my thinking in Part II.

 

 

One thought on “Examining Assumptions, Part I

  1. My biggest life lesson thus far has been learning that “I don’t know” is always a correct answer – that there are aspects of each and every thing we encounter that we simply do not know (no matter how long we’ve been attached to our “understanding” of that thing).
    Did not know about this latest Michael Pollan book – thanks – I just ordered it!

    Like

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