Post No.: 0372
The natural tendency to categorise things, and typically use mental shortcuts, tends to induce us into forming over-simplified and sometimes even totally unreasonable generalisations. Stereotyping can in turn lead to prejudice and discrimination. Uncertainty can lead to prejudice because when we don’t know enough about particular people, we rely on crude stereotypes about them. And then we may discriminate them based on those stereotypes. (It’s useful to read Post No.: 0052 to understand how summary statistics work too.)
But many attributes, including race and age, lie along continuums or analogue spectrums hence social labels are usually never more than approximations. Attributes like gender and sexuality lie along discretely-stepped spectrums rather than binary states too.
So don’t confuse useful linguistic categorisations with real categorisations, since where the line is drawn between different categories is often subjective. The definitions of things or words are often completely arbitrary. Cake or biscuit, car or van, table or stool, young or old… Every major water body of the world is interconnected yet we give separate names to arbitrarily separate parts of them. Stars and planets, based on their formations, exist on a spectrum – brown dwarves pose the question of whether the boundary between stars and planets is clear-cut? How about moons and merely orbiting rocks too?
There are fluid spectrums for gender and sexuality, and not just between heterosexuals, bisexuals and homosexuals but pansexuals and asexuals too. There are people with XX, XY, XXY, XYY, XXXY, XXYY sex chromosomes, and more. Note that hermaphrodites and animals that can change their gender depending on the context, role or conditions exist naturally in the wild – it’s not just a modern human cultural thing. There are also chimeras, hybrids and mosaics.
Even the concept of ‘you’ is fuzzy rather than definite. For example, when eating a strawberry – at what point does a bite of it become a part of you? When it’s in your mouth, when it’s swallowed or when it’s digested?
Millions of individual micro-organisms make up a significant – some actually estimate a predominant – cellular part of ‘you’ or ‘me’, with which we couldn’t survive long in the outside world without them. These micro-organisms (bacteria, viruses, archaea and microscopic fungi) will, for example, affect your appetite and energy levels, and therefore your hormones and neurotransmitter levels, and in turn your mood and decisions. They’ll also affect your risk for allergies, certain diseases or disorders (physical and mental) and the efficacy of some drugs. Our microbiomes have been dubbed our ‘second genome’ and would make up the vast majority of the DNA that makes ‘you’ or ‘me’.
The composition and condition of our microbiome affects our health in many ways because the body, on and inside, is itself an ecosystem (rather than is an individual organism) that must live in harmony for optimum health. Vaccinations and contagions also highlight how we all exist in a greater ecosystem outside of our individual bodies too, thus the health of others affects our own health, and our health affects the health of others too.
Thus ‘we’ are also ‘individuals’ that make up a highly-interconnected part of the wider ecosystem or environment we all live in too. We breathe each other’s air, share heat, sounds and other forms of energy. This includes each other’s farts – the particles we smell literally come from each other’s guts and butts! (And so we could similarly ask at what point does a fart particle become a part of you(?!) Yes, we’re partially made from each other’s farts! I’ll just let this thought ferment for a moment… Cheeky woof!)
Whatever each of us does inescapably affects other people, and other people are inescapably affecting us too. Every time you breathe, expel or touch something, you exchange moisture, temperature, microbes, etc. with everyone else, technically across the globe – directly or indirectly – because we are not closed physical systems from each other. Due to the conservation of energy, the total amount of energy is not being destroyed or being created from nothing but transferred or converted from one place or form to another (spontaneous quantum fluctuations aside). The energy we therefore use was not created by ourselves and will not be denied from others – we are made from constantly recycled matter/energy, which will be recycled again when we die.
From this frame of reference, we’re all connected, and demarcations between one ‘thing’ and the next can be arbitrary. ‘You’ and ‘I’ are constantly in flux, with matter/energy entering and leaving what makes ‘you’ or ‘me’ every time we just live or exist. Every odour is simply an exchange of particles from one place to another (and we can’t always smell or taste every particle we’re inhaling too). What ‘you’ are is a complex collection of recycled and recyclable matter and other individual micro-organisms. ‘You’ are what ‘you’ eat and drink, whilst what ‘you’ excrete no longer becomes a part of ‘you’ but will become a part of something or someone else one day. There’s a constant flow hence the boundaries between ‘you’ and the environment (which includes everyone else on Earth) are blurred.
From a biological to a quantum physical perspective – where does anything therefore really objectively start and end, especially when we run the clock? This all calls into question one’s individuality and independence. From a fundamental scientific point of view, it’s naïve to take an individualistic view because everything is intrinsically and fundamentally interconnected to everything else in the world by forces, fields and causality. We’re not physically isolated systems from each other – we’re in an interconnected physical system where the actions of people affect all other people directly or indirectly. It’s not just humans but all of nature (e.g. trees in a forest are directly interconnected via a vast underground network of mycelium/fungi). And as we starkly acknowledge now – with the risk of pandemics, the health of other animals directly affects our health too.
Humans evolved as social animals to the specie’s advantage. And whether one is an omnivore, vegetarian or whatever, we depend deeply on other life to sustain us, thus we all need to look after nature, other life and the wider global environment too for our own sakes. There are limited useful resources, and if they all run out, we’ll eventually suffer too.
The health of the world is thus the health of the human species. People don’t exist in isolation from the wider environment and what’s in or happening in it. If everything else loses then humans will eventually lose too. The atmosphere over one nation is not static but affects everyone’s atmosphere around the world – the air we breathe is linked to the same air everyone else around the world is breathing. Again, energy isn’t being lost but transferred, and the boundaries of this ‘closed’ system is around the Earth itself, not around one’s individual body, house, car or country i.e. everyone literally directly or indirectly affects everyone else across the globe from a pure physics perspective.
So people’s own choices affect other people more, and more often, than most of us think. There are no genuinely perpetually isolated systems on Earth at least. We talk about enclosed or isolated systems to simplify our calculations because it’s practically accurate enough for our needs (e.g. we don’t need to factor in the gravitational force of a nearby crowd of fans when calculating the trajectory of a kicked ball), but strictly we and our actions are or were never independent to everything else in this universe as a whole (or possibly even multiverse?) and everything has or has had a direct or indirect effect on everything else; including all the matter that currently makes up ‘you’.
Independence is not how nature fundamentally works – biology, chemistry and physics all show that everything is ultimately interconnected at every level (apart from if things are moving away from each other at a net speed that’s faster than the speed of light, according to current understanding, or if an effect won’t reach us personally in time, I guess – but this would be talking about intergalactic scales and timescales!)
All this latest scientific evidence and understanding should really guide everyone’s philosophical and political perspectives, such as regarding moral desert, justice and ultimately interdependence.
To take a narrow individualistic stance to life is therefore incredibly short-sighted – we need to understand that we live symbiotically, and to take care of each other and the wider environment because our own health and well-being depends on them too. Collaborations and furry symbiotic relationships are abound in nature – competition is strongly arguably the less frequent everyday occurrence, whether in wild nature or with civilisation (but the news and nature documentaries will tend to focus predominantly on the ‘interesting’ moments of life, which tend to mean tensions and conflicts).
As your cells are replaced one-by-one, are you the same person as you were before? This calls into question one’s identity too. An adult is not the ‘same person’ as when he/she was born because every cell has been replaced at least once – we are all recycled atoms. Our identity is so critical to us that we want to preserve it, but every second we age, every moment we’re influenced by an event or wider culture (voluntarily or involuntarily, consciously or unconsciously), form a new memory or basically live – we are changing. The exact number of neurons and their connections in the brain are constantly changing, and therefore so are slowly we.
Hence there’s a delusion regarding an independent or permanent ‘self’, ‘you’ or ‘I’. ‘You’ and ‘I’ exist but we’re not permanent things. The matter that makes ‘us’ is constantly in flux (e.g. when we eat food that came from the wider environment or slough off dead skin or hair onto the wider environment). And we are never strictly independent from everything, and therefore everyone, around us. There’s no permanent or intrinsically independent ‘self’, hence individualism, selfishness and thinking of oneself as truly independent or fixed is naïve and sub-optimal. Where is the boundary of ‘you’ if it’s constantly in flux with all other people and the wider environment? How is the ‘self’ defined if it constantly changes and mixes? And did ‘you’ always exist in one form or another as recycled bits since the Big Bang or at least the formation and death of stars?
Literally everything, including everything about us, is borrowed, never truly owned. We (the matter that makes us), never mind our ‘possessions’, are then relinquished once we die.
…The more we learn, the less black-or-white the universe becomes. This tendency to think in over-simplistic categories can make us exaggerate differences between categories and minimise differences within categories (e.g. people tend to intuitively think there’ll be a smaller gap in temperature between November 15 and November 23 (same month) than between November 30 and December 8 (different months) even though both have the same 8 day gap, since December is generalised as always being colder than November on average in the northern hemisphere). These stereotypes are hard to shift too despite evidence and reasoning.
To summarise, there is no objective demarcation of independence between one collection of matter and another, whether we take the perspective of electromagnetic forces at the micro level, the perspective of ecosystems at the meso level, or the perspective of gravity at the macro level, for instance. Forces intrinsically interconnect us all to each other, directly or indirectly – so it stands to logical reason and necessity that we are better off understanding our interdependence and work together.
If you want to argue that it’s a paradox since being selfless and kind is still an act of selfishness then that’s up to ‘you’. Whatever the case, be selfless and kind to others. It’s not about karma or ‘hippie’ thinking – it’s about reducing suffering and simply understanding and accepting that this is how the universe works from a fundamental scientific perspective, and applying this knowledge to create a better world…