Chapter 2: A Point Of View
Footnote article: The Validity of My View
I am a lone unemployed person with little or no means. My observable domain is therefore very small and localised. How then can I possibly make a valid observation of something that covers the entire globe and extends back thousands of years before I was born?
I am a human being. As such I possess the faculty of conscious awareness. This empowers me to observe and suffer the behaviour of the society in which I live. Observation and suffering are conscious experiences. Consequently, they are inherently valid. They are not things against which anybody else is qualified to argue.
I have no tangible knowledge of any conscious existence that I may or may not have had prior to my being born as a human being roughly half a century ago. At first, my world extended no further than the end of my grandfather's garden. As my awareness grew, so did the extent of my observable universe. It soon expanded as far as the shops at the end of Holly Road, and later into the big city bustle of Deansgate and Market Street in the middle of Manchester. I moved to Essex when I was 14. I have been on holiday abroad only once. We spent a week in Switzerland when I was 10. Apart from odd days here and there on quick information-gathering trips to company premises in European cities, this is about as much of the world as I have ever seen.
I was not there at the dawn of time. I have not, ever since, been sitting upon the rim of heaven watching the history of the human race unfold. I cannot bear direct witness to the six millennia of recorded human consciousness. I have no experience of the vast diversity of climates, landscapes and people on this planet. I only know of these things through what I have read and heard. I can only understand and discern what I hear and read against the frame of reference of my own limited experience. My perception of the world as it exists today is therefore very restricted.
Furthermore, my perception of the past is inevitably distorted by time, space and social change. The ancient texts from which these perceptions are derived are deterministically subject to errors intrinsic in the conveyance of meaning via a symbolic language. So if I read these texts, I can never be sure that I am perceiving truly what their writers meant. The place from which they surveyed their times is so different from the place in which I now stand. The semantic keys through which they coded their feelings into the symbols of written language are so different from those my own background has given me with which to unlock their meanings to my contemporary understanding.
To me therefore, historic research cannot be a reliable way of discovering the principles by which human society functions and why life within it seems so unfair and disparate. A less subjective frame of reference is required. I need something that is constant and consistent throughout both geography and history. I need something that is independent of space and time.
Invariant Frame of Reference
The only invariant frame of reference that spans the whole of history is natural law - the laws of physics, mathematics and logic. My one act of faith is that I hold it to be self-evident that these laws, which regulate all the mechanisms of the natural universe, be exactly the same today as they have been throughout the time the human life-form has possessed conscious self-awareness.
These laws govern the behaviour of all systems. They govern the behaviour of natural systems. They govern the behaviour of man-made systems. Human beings are physical biological mechanisms. Each is a complete indivisible unit. Each interacts with its peers according to known rules. There are over 7,000 million human beings. All are connected either directly or indirectly. The actions of each - however seemingly insignificant - can propagate through the whole of human society and thereby affect all others.
National boundaries and differences in political ideology serve only to attenuate slightly the power of such propagated actions. Modern high-speed communications, on the other hand, has dramatically increased both the rapidity and intensity of such effects. It has injected into modern global society a disturbing level of erratic instability, which was previously safely damped out by time and distance. However, this increased rapidity and intensity has made the global behaviour of human society now much more visible.
Society as a System
Observation of the news, current affairs and world events demonstrates that human society exhibits a characteristic behaviour on a global scale. As such it can be correctly identified as a system. However, it is not a machine-like system with a fixed structure and a central control mechanism like the human body. On the contrary, it belongs to a class of system which has no fixed structure but is more like a fluid. These are what we call complex dynamical systems, of which the Earth's weather is a prime example.
A complex dynamical system is made up of a vast number of indivisible elements, which interact according to a fixed set of rules. These rules form a protocol through which the indivisible elements of the system communicate. The seeming complexity of the system's behaviour, as seen on a global scale, is completely and exclusively determined by the nature of these rules. Judging by its form, characteristics and behaviour it would seem that a complex dynamical system comprising 7,000 million human elements must be currently the most valid model for human society.
A Scalable System
Another characteristic of a complex dynamical system is that its form and behaviour are scaleable. A small part of a complex dynamical system behaves exactly the same way as the whole, and has exactly the same form and structure. A good natural example is a cloud. Any small part of it has exactly the same form and structure as the whole.
This means that, to understand the processes that have shaped the whole of human society over the whole of history, we need only examine what is taking place now in a single country or community. The processes are scaleable in both time and space. We will not by this means get to know every detail of every event. We will be unaware of the so-called great personalities of history. Nevertheless, we should, by this means, be able to gain a valid understanding of the processes that have caused society as a whole to end up the way it has done.
Therefore, to see how human society truly works, one need only observe a minimal human community over the period of a generation. It is all there in microcosm. What is happening today is therefore a result of the actions of the same laws that caused what has happened over the past 6,000 years. What is happening in one community is a self-similar microscopic version of what is happening on a world scale.
An Involved Observer
I perceive therefore I exist. I perceive myself. I also perceive people and things that are not me. I therefore conclude that we all exist together inside a single communicative domain called the universe. Consequently I am a part of all I perceive. Observation is perception directed by conscious intent to the purpose of gaining structured knowledge.
An observer is necessarily separated by time and space from what he is observing. No object or phenomenon can therefore be observed directly. What the observer actually perceives is an event. An event is an object or entity transmuting from one stable state to another. Such an event reveals that which caused it by creating a rift in space-time. An observer then perceives that object or phenomenon only when he encounters and captures the rift in space-time that the object or phenomenon created. The creation of the rift is a cause. The capture of the rift is its effect. Thus, as an observer, I am affected by what I observe.
If I expedite a deliberate action towards something I am observing, I can watch the effect my action has upon that thing. This shows me that as things affect me, so too I can affect them. The universe thus facilitates a bi-directional coupling between me and all that I observe. We affect each other. So as an observer, not only am I affected by what I observe, but also what I observe is affected by me. I am an inextricable part of whatever I observe.
Does my presence within - and affect upon - what I observe invalidate my observations? No. If I were not part of society then society would be incomplete. If society were not - to an albeit infinitesimal extent - affected by me, then part of what determines its overall behaviour would be missing. An involved observer is not merely a valid observer. His involvement is necessary to the validity of his observations.
I am a living being that possesses the faculty of conscious awareness. This empowers me to observe and suffer the behaviour of the society in which I live. Observation and suffering are conscious experiences. Consequently, they are inherently valid. They are not things against which anybody else is qualified to argue.
On the other hand, my limited life-span severely restricts my view of history. My lack of means severely restricts the scope of my experience of the present world. But society is a complex dynamical system. The rules that govern its behaviour are present and complete everywhere within it. They are therefore present and complete within my own small observable part of it.
My presence within the society in which I live has an infinitesimal but nonetheless real effect upon it. But then I am a rightful member of that society. I am a part of what it is. Consequently, my view of it, though limited in scope and interactive by nature, is nevertheless complete and valid.
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©May 1994 Robert John Morton