Michel de Montaigne, was a 16th-century French humanist, who maintained that the world of human experience was a world of appearances, and that human beings could never hope to see past those appearances into the 'realities' that lie behind them. In Shakespeare's play 'Hamlet', Hamlet is fond of pointing out questions that cannot be answered. (You may notice that I have borrowed some words from Hamlet for the title of this page.)
Because the questions posed concern metaphysical matters, (as does my question), the play chiefly demonstrates the difficulty of knowing the truth about other people. That is, it is difficult to know their guilt or innocence, their motivations, their feelings, or their relative states of sanity or insanity. The world of other people is a world of appearances, and Hamlet is, fundamentally, a play about the difficulty of living in that world.
It is a play which has parallels to present human life, as do most of Shakespeare's plays. His plays inevitably deal with the human condition and all that that entails. Consequently, they are more than entertaining discourses and social commentary upon our emotional, psychological and intellectual states; they are indicators and manisfestations on 'how', 'why' and 'what' we think. Hamlet was fond of pointing out questions which are difficult to answer and so am I.
Hence: WHETHER TIS NOBLER IN THE MIND "TO PADDLE ONE'S OWN CANOE", THAT IS THE QUESTION?
To 'paddle one's own canoe' ( circa 1800), is an idiom which means to be independent and self-reliant. It alludes to steering one's own boat or to being in conscious control of one's own life. (Or to think for oneself.) It is an idiom with which humanists concern themselves as a matter of course; as being a humanist means that they concentrate their thoughts on humans, their values, capacities, and worth. (In other words, they concentrate on what makes human beings tick.)
WELL, WHAT MAKES US TICK?
One of the ways of assessing who we are and why we are, is the 'Nature/ Nurture' debate. In this controversy, we ask if the behaviour of people is due to their Nature (or genetics) or to their Nurture (or environment).
Our little worlds in which we all sit have this in common. We were all born and all raised. We have all been subject to the influences of our individual and shared environments. The question is not whether Nature or Nurture has been the predominate influence but that they ARE the predominate influences upon us. They are what fashion us. Our emotional, intellectual, physical and psychological states are in direct correlation with our genetic code and the life experiences that being born human affords us.
Although the human genetic code IS what makes us all human; the differences in our individual genetic makeup is staggering. These inherent genetic differences allow for an infinite variety of possibilities which can be manifested physically, intellectually, emotionally and psychologically.
We are, individually, an assortment of chemical, hormonal and electrical impulses sloshing around in a semi-solid soup whose predominate physical component is water. The balance and nature of these ingredients is dictated by our individual genetic makeup. The ramifications of this fact, effectively and affectively, is that each of us interpret, process and analyse information in our own discrete way. Our genetic prescriptors have lead us to this.
In other words, our genetic code on an individual level is just that, unique. And the ramifications of our individual codes are also just that, unique. It is why I was born with blonde hair, blue eyes and a distinctly cantankerous disposition. Synonomously for you. (Same plot, different subtext. Gee, I hope it is a different subtext, for your sake at least.
So, we all arrive on this planet with a 'set of indicators' as to what or who we may become. These indicators are not 'set in stone' ; they are, ironically, not entirely prescriptive. They are innate possiblities of 'who we may become'.
The other major influence upon 'who we may become' is our individual and our shared environment. Not much needs to be said concerning this. It is obvious that the 'states' of our environments, shared and individual, impact enormously upon who we are and who we become. It is pertinent, though, to comment upon the fact that the characteristics of our environments also impact prodigiously upon the UNIQUENESS of our genetic selves.
Consequently, who we are and how we think, is a delicate balancing act. It is a play within a play within a play. The starring roles are filled by our innate selves and the myriad, mercurial environments in which the Self interacts.
So, none of us 'think' entirely the same, or process information the same, as we bring with us to any thought process, the influence of our individual genetic map and our individual life experiences. Basically, we have no option but to 'row our own canoe'. So, please don't expect me to think like you. I am only capable of thinking like me. For how can it be any other way?
My little neurons and electrical impulses that process and attempt to make sense of my world, can only let me process MY world. And, although I attempt to process and understand the worlds of others, I would no more presume to tell you how or what to think in YOUR individual world, than I would presume to know what is going down on Alpha Centari at this given moment.
This may sound as if we sit in isolation in our own worlds and to a large extent this is true. Our individually created worlds, which are partially predetermined, and partially consciously and unconsciously created; are in essence, isolated worlds of our own distinctive design. I find this neither a frightening nor a daunting prospect, just an immutable fact.
This isolation is tempered by our abilities to form bonds of commonality of experience and expression. Though there is no guarantee that the messages and information we share with others will be interpreted in the way that they were sent. This makes the act of living both challengingly wondrous and potentially eminently frustrating.
We share communal worlds because we have common 'tools' which allow us to communicate our thoughts, emotions and our psychological states. They are our commonalities of expression. Language, written, unwritten, spoken and unspoken is the most powerful of these expressive tools. Other important communication tools include the senses. Those of sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste.
These commonalities of expression, these processing and interpreting tools, are two-way streets. They allow us to absorb and to process information and to also impart the results of this information to others. Though, how we individually interpret that which is imparted, is a unique experience for each of us, as how we singularly interact with our world, influences our interpretations of it.
I will never agree with you for any other reason than that I ACTUALLY do agree with you. I may smile at you while we are discussing something pertinent, but please do not misconstrue this to be: "Her brain has shut down and she is defering to a higher power."
It has been said to me accusingly at various times throughout my life, "You can't tell her anything!" Well, DUH! No, you can't. I can only be in this world through my interpretation of it. That is not to say that I will not discuss my interpretation with you. But to blanketly assume that I will in any shape or form automatically 'take on' YOUR belief systems, (the ways in which you see and interact in your world), is egotistical in the extreme. And frankly, it is impossible for me physically, emotionally, intellectually and psychologically to do so.
To my chagrin, sometimes people desire for me to subordinate my thoughts to theirs. This is so subconsciously ingrained, that they appear to be totally unaware of it. It comes back to our own individual worlds, in which we sit. I am, for better or worse, supreme arbiter of my individual world, and you are of yours.
PS: Yes, it has been nobler IN my mind, and FOR my mind, to have rowed my own canoe.
PPS: I apologise to anyone who has read this in the faint hope of finding out more about canoes! If you read this far without a further hint of canoes, your individual world is infinitely more strange than mine. But if you look closely at the picture that accompanies this page, you will see something that almost resembles a canoe. (wink)
(BTW, I am neither, a rabid feminist, nor a closet lesbian. I am merely a woman who knows that all she can do with the INDIVIDUAL GENETIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL cards she has been dealt is, 'TO PADDLE HER OWN CANOE', or, TO THINK FOR HERSELF.