Thursday, April 14, 2011

Axiom 1: Tabula Rasa - A Good Starting Point to Any Philosophical Endeavor

"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing." - Socrates
"A wise man changes his mind, a fool never." - Spanish Proverb

Tabula Rasa is a Latin phrase meaning "blank slate." Philosophically the concept is most attributed to John Locke whereby he posited that all humans are born into this world free with no other preconditions other than being human. Therefore anything we learn is a result of our environment through sensory experiences.

It was that concept that really changed the way I chose to learn and view the world. In 2004, while attending graduate school, I had come to realize that a lot of my beliefs were completely unfounded in anything other than what other people told me to be true. Politics, religion, travel, food, education, and almost any other topic I could think of were at least partially rooted in the secondhand experience of others. Once I came to realize this I was of course horrified that my knowledge of this world was distorted - I had been looking at the world through a fun house mirror.

Think for a moment about some of the things you believe to be true. Let's take religion for example. Do you know about the Bible through actually reading it, or only through what someone else has told you about it? Do you know the historical context of religion through multiple sources? Have you read other religious works that you have strong opinions on, or do you simply adopt the beliefs that other people have given you?

The goal is not to turn this into a religious debate, the goal is to look at your life and determine what beliefs you've been clinging to all these years that are partially unfounded. This is where the concept of 'tabula rasa' comes into play.

The concept is simple: 

  1. Wipe away all preexisting beliefs. 
  2. Approach the subject as a blank slate.
  3. Use firsthand sources whenever possible, and secondhand sources with scrutiny.
  4. Always test beliefs with different and opposite opinions.
  5. Let the truth reveal itself.
If you follow this path in the pursuit of the truth, you will be more certain that when you reach a conclusion that you have reached the correct one. The foundation of your beliefs will be stronger than before, and you will have firsthand knowledge to back up your opinions. 

I encourage everyone to do a life audit at least once in their life and challenge everything that they have held to be true. It is this process of being open minded without predisposition that will help you learn from the axioms to follow. Without mastering this axiom, the rest will surely fail.