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  • Rick Repetti

Epistemological Weathervanes, Moral Compasses, and Philosophical Gyroscopes

A weathervane is designed to move in the direction of the wind, indicating its direction. A compass is designed to move in the direction of magnetic north, indicating that direction. A gyroscope is designed to maintain balance, indicating balance. If a glass dome is placed over a weathervane, to use one example of these mechanisms, it will not be moved by the wind, and will thus not indicate its direction, but rather will remain in the direction it last was moving before it became non-functional. Similarly, compasses and gyroscopes that are not functional indicate their last previous state of functionality, as do broken clocks. These are deeply philosophical ideas. Let me explain.

The mind is designed to move in the direction of features of reality that are relevant to that mind's survival, based on evolutionary developments enabling the mind's ancestors to avoid predators and find prey, avoid tissue damage, disease, and injury, and find wholesome activities, find mates and reproduce, and so on. The primary direction of the mind, pointing at relevant reality, is configured in beliefs. Beliefs are mental maps of relevant reality, pointing towards it. The belief-generating functions of mind and senses are to perceive relevant features of reality and form representations of them in mind, beliefs, models about reality.

Thus, if your belief-generating mechanisms are not constantly updating and in sync with the latest information about reality, you are somewhat sleep walking through life with blurred glasses, relying on outmoded or out-of-date maps that are no longer correctly depicting what is. How can you be centered, balanced, properly oriented to the ground beneath you and to the magnetic north of your moral compass, if your reality-depicting mental representations are long out of sync with what is?

Epistemology is the study of knowledge, belief, evidence, information, and the means, mechanisms, and reliable processes of knowledge formation. What is your epistemology? Do you have one? What do you rely on? Do you outsource your epistemology? What do you rely on as a valid source of evidence? Your own senses, perceptions, intuitions, reasons, logic? The scientific findings of highly specialized experts? Hearsay? Sound bytes? Social media memes and opinions? YouTube videos? Your friends? Your thousands-of-years-old religion, dating back to uneducated cave dwellers from the Paleolithic Era? Astrology? Tea leaves?

Is your epistemological weathervane working? Your moral compass? Your philosophical gyroscope? These fine instruments require constant calibration.

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