Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Brief Note on Layers

I have lately been thinking very much over an idea that I would currently like to call "Layers." This is, of course, a terrible name. I need something hard to pronounce to put in front of it, but for the time being, "Layers."

I do not yet entirely know what it is that I mean by Layers, but maybe I can illustrate it with a few examples.

Let us suppose that we observe a man giving away a sizable inheritance from his father, leaving him almost completely impoverished. Suppose that his father worked in one field his entirely life and the father groomed the man to work as he did, then the man goes to work in a different field. Suppose that we saw the man leave his homeland. Now suppose someone comes along and offers the theory that we are observing a man who is compelled to reject paternal authority.

By Layers I mean something like responding 'yes, that is the full and complete explanation. That is the best possible explanation you can give. At least according to certain criteria and certain context. In another context, according to another criteria, not at all.'

Perhaps what I mean is something like this: suppose our primary concern was the relationship between children and parents. In this case, saying that we are observing a man who is compelled to reject paternal authority is the only sensible answer. Any other answer is irrelevant and therefore inappropriate. But if we had a different primary concern, then this answer would likewise be inappropriate.

Why do I call it "Layers" though? This sounds more like what I frequently bring up with epistemic lenses and vantage points. Well, with epistemic lenses, the world is filtered through your axioms and your values. My talk of epistemic lenses has to do with the fact that all we have is perception, no direct apprehension of truth unfiltered, and the fact that the rules that we use to form beliefs are derived from our values. By Layers I mean we should see in all phenomenon multiple Layers at work.

I grow frustrated with my inability to think clearly. Let me give one more illustration.

Suppose a Gentile family gave birth to a boy who was switched with a boy born to a Jewish family at the hospital. The boy was raised by Gentiles lived like a Gentile: he ate pork, he kept his genitals intact, he referred to the first part of the Bible as 'old.' The boy raised by the Jewish family was raised as a Jew, culturally and religiously.

Was the boy raised by the Jewish family Jewish?
Layer 1 (all numbers assigned are arbitrary): No, he has no ethnic reason to be identified as Jewish.
Layer 2: Yes, he holds the propositions that we say constitute Judaism to be true statements.
Layer 3: Yes, he performs the rituals and actions that we say constitute Judaism.
Layer 4: No, he was not born of a Jewish mother.
Layer 5: Yes, he identifies himself as Jewish.
Layer 6: Yes, his behavior most closely resembles those that he grew up around, meaning that he behaves like his Jewish friends and would be grouped culturally with those Jewish friends.

Genetics, dogma, ritual, lineage, self-identity, cultural identity. They contain different answers to the question, and they are all true at the same time. All this is just to say, in some senses it is one way, in other senses it is another.

But this all leads me to a psychological statement. Even if someone has a vast vocabulary, they only say one word at a time. And even if someone has seen the world, they only have one visual field at any instant. That is, even if we exist in different places according to a multitude of different layers, maybe we only have one primary layer that we recognize at a time. We see the world according to one primary concern, perhaps.

If a man commits a crime and you ask him why he did it, he may tell you, and he may speak honestly. This still may not scratch the surface of the reason he did it. Maybe there was a long list of different Layers that he exists in, and in some layers it was rational to commit the crime and in other Layers it was irrational. When you ask him, he will describe the situation in terms of his preferred Layer. But there are, of course, other Layers and those other Layers had their say too.

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