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September 2008 Archives

September 1, 2008

Akan anwan ama afeghe itok nkang atuk, ase ade ama adi ideghe ayeyen, anye ade nkpo ike (When the elderly runs on a plowed field, it is either to save the grandchild or to retrieve the snuff box).

In all of our lives, we do have a tendency to build our lives and make assumptions about the world through our experience. We figured that because of the way things have been in the past and because of how we have experienced life, it naturally follows that the world will continue to be that way. We draw conclusions about the world based on experience. This form of thinking is what philosophers called inductive reasoning. The Annang knew about inductive reasoning. Rather than based the conclusions on what can be seen, they based it on what was true about their experience in the past and so they concluded that an old woman who runs in a plowed field, does so either to rescue a grand child or to save the snuff box. These two were obviously what were of importance to the aged. The eighteenth century Scottish philosopher, David Humes, raised serious questions about inductive reasoning and believed that we cannot find truth through it.
The world remains a complex place and when we reduce the tools of decision to our past experiences alone we become limited. Yet, this is what many people do every day. Studies have shown that those who are out of work and have looked for work for a long time tend to be discouraged and stop looking for work actively. Rejections have a tendency to force us to think inductively. We bring on the past experiences and make them our guide and lens through which we see the present and the future. In the process we ignore facts and present evidence. We wear our past on our faces and use them as narratives to relate to those we meet. This is why individuals who have been through difficult relationships tell stories of their victimhood to the new people that they meet. They might as well carry a sign that says I am not available, for these victims make themselves unattractive and their stories repulsive. It is impossible to find love when you are looking for pity, and it is difficult to think clearly when you use past evidence for present realities.
No one is asking you to totally ignore the lessons of the past but to rely wholly on such experience is not wise. As there is inductive reasoning, there is also another one known as deductive reasoning, where facts and evidence allow us to draw conclusions. Yet using only such facts and evidence and ignoring the lessons of the past are equally folly. The world and the constant changes in our world demand us to look at evidence, fact, history and even the effects that a particular decision will have on those around us. A conclusion that the elderly runs for just two reasons perhaps was started by a cynic, but in a changing world history still has its place but so does the science and evidence around us. As you struggle with decisions in your life what are those things that guide you? Do you rely mostly on what happened last week, last month or last year or do you consider the fact that things change and facts change? What was true yesterday might not be so true today, and what guided you in the past may still be relevant. To rely only on experience is to ignore that we live in a complex world where things cannot be reduced to simple compartments. May your heart be inspired today to know what to hold on and what to throw away; and may you know that what is important in this world is not always seen with the naked eye.

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