September 2011


There is a long lasting debate in philosophy which reverberates throughout social sciences and can be found at the root at many on-going theoretical debates. I am referring here to the idea that we can never truly know the world as it is.

The problem goes like this: Everything we know or we think we know is known through our sense. However, what we sense is not exactly something real, it is rather a set of electrical signals that travel through our brain based more or less on some external stimuli. Therefore what we believe we see, hear or feel is not necessary what exists in reality, it is rather what our brain makes of it. Thus, what we believe is reality is in fact what we imagine it to be. As a result, we never truly know “reality” and we cannot perceive the world with a 100% objectivity.

This creates a back-door in the way we conceive the world and ourselves through which it can be argued that in fact we do not know anything and the world is the illusion of the mind, a lucid dream. The only thing that remains certain in all this line of argument is “I think, therefore I am!”. This is because, in order for me to question things, I have to exist in the first place. The very fact that I can question my-self proves that something exists, that I exist (have no idea about the rest). I may not exist in the way I see myself, I may be a computer program, I may be an illusion, I may be a ghost, but regardless of this “I am” because I think of these things.

So what’s the point of all this? The point is exactly asking this question! In truth it does not really matter how or what we think of the world, because in the end we still have to do the same things in order to exist. One can try to challenge them, but may  very well end up losing the only  certainty that is known to him or her – the certainty of his/hers existence.

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Throughout the past few years I have constantly found myself in conflict with the self-centered, present-focused attitude that dominates our society. It is pointless to discuss the divide between the individual and society, between private and public, between agent and structure, between liberalism and utilitarianism which all fundamentally deal with the same problem: Which matters more, the individual or the group as a whole? The obvious answer is both, but the less obvious answer is in what way.

Regardless, this is not what I wanted to discuss. Rather the issue that I wanted to discuss is the lack of perspective in modern day people (in developed countries). By perspective I mean a wider conceptualisation of the world in terms of time. Most of us strive towards short-term benefits like having a nice car, a successful career, social recognition or in less fortunate cases, towards having cloths and food for the next few days. While for some this perspective exists because social and material constraints force the adoption of such a view, there is also a large number of people for whom poverty is no longer an issue and thus they can focus on more complex achievements. Unfortunately, a present-focused view of the world limits the scope of achievements to only those that can happen short-term, forgoing more complex ones that require more time and show benefits later in the future – in some cases well after we are dead. To present my dilemma more clearly: How many would be willing to dedicate their time for future achievements, thus sacrificing some of their well-being today so that future generations would enjoy a better life?

My guess is that very few.

It is as if almost everyone adopted the Keynesian view of “in the long run we are all dead”. The future no longer matters and it remains only in the dreams of Sci-Fi writers and movies.

But has it not occur to anyone that if we no longer care about our future, we may no longer have one?