February 11, 2005

Are we all the same?

Charles Bourne of Cool Links recently posted a link to edge.org. The organisation recently asked a number of professionals the question "What Do You Believe Is True Even Though You Cannot Prove ItĒ. There number of replies is extensive and Iím still working my way though them bit by bit.

I particularly liked this one from Elizabeth Spelke of Harvard University

I believe, first, that all people have the same fundamental concepts, values, concerns, and commitments, despite our diverse languages, religions, social practices, and expressed beliefs. If defenders and opponents of abortion, Israelis and Palestinians, or Cambridge intellectuals and Amazonian jungle dwellers were to get beyond their surface differences, each would discover that the common ground linking them to members of the other group equals that which binds their own group together. Our common conceptual and moral commitments spring from the core cognitive systems that allow an infant to grow rapidly and spontaneously into a competent participant in any human society.

She goes on to say that we interpret superficial differences between individuals as an indication of an inherent difference in character, though suggesting that society is capable of overcoming such tendencies.

The passage brings to mind coverage of the Tsunami disaster. I noted on this blog that the rapidly rising body count did little to induce sorrow or a desire to help. Numbers may have little effect on feelings, but thinking about these people in terms of their similarity to us, does. They are people who would have had similar thoughts, fears and aspirations to those we experience every day.

The passage also brings to mind the plight of those in the developing world for whom hunger, sickness and uncertainty about the future are par for the course. Itís easy to take a self righteous stance in relation to poor nations, the corruption plaguing them and the religious/cultural practices that donít aid their path towards prosperity though weíd probably act no differently in similar circumstances.

Differences between groups shouldnít be dismissed as irrelevant, but itís doesnít hurt to recognise our inherent similarities to both those we interact with regularly and those a million miles away.


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