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Rationality And Time -- How Rationality is Relative

Updated: Apr 6

A goddess of time.

Are we humans rational beings? The problem with the concept of rationality is that it is often seen as an universally-objective term, or something that we can attain permanently. Maybe something we can also lose here and there, but as something that nonetheless is within our reach. The reason as to why this is problematic is because rationality is in fact more subjective, or relative, than we may think. Subjective not necessarily in exclusion to culture, but also to time in history.

In other words, we are not as rational as we may think we are, because rationality is relative to what is known at the given time, and not what we actually think makes sense for us. That is the issue with this concept; an issue that even Socrates could agree with: We often delude ourselves into thinking we know more than we do, to the point we might think that common sense is sufficient in order to be confident in our quest for insight and truth.

For example, those who have entertained the thoughts of airplanes and other flying vehicles would have no reason to believe that humans will have the capability to fly in a near future. After all, they have never seen such a grandiose feat, so it would be difficult for them to accept it as a plausible idea. Just how could humans, as a race that has no wings and cannot defy gravity, fly? That would be insane, at least in the eyes of the skeptic. Since what is seen as insane appears irrational as well, many things which we and our ancestors taught are/were impossible and unrealistic, are also irrational in perception.

That is how being skeptic, although a rational trait, can lead us to not accept rational possibilities. That is also one of the problems of being too conservative in thought, to the point one may reject the innovations of the future. That is known as technological conservatism.

Just as we might see our distant ancestors as irrational, the same attribution could also be true to our own future generations. Who knows what feats will become possible in the future, that many of us currently see as irrational, unrealistic, and so on? In other words, we can conclude that rationality is relative to time, and the more we progress in knowledge, the more we can say that the past times were irrational in their beliefs.

Only in theory, as we march through the progress of time, we develop towards a sense of greater clarity in the many fields of study we have established thus far. Some of these fields are new and others have yet to be invented as concepts. The point is to keep an open mind and treat our rationality not as fact but as a trait that deserves to be questioned in the name of truth.

We may only reach a state where time's relativity cannot affect our rationality, when we are to reach the pinnacle of our research and development. It's also known as the state of acme. It's when regardless of our efforts, we wouldn't be able to progress any further as there is no progress left to make.

One of the most important beliefs we have as a race is the belief in one or more gods, or in other words, in theism. Theism was, is, and will probably be rational because we as a race have found very little alternatives to the comforting idea that the universe has been created, and so are we, and thus, we were created for a reason. I myself am an atheist, but even I can understand the current rationality in the belief that everything has been created for a purpose.

However, remember what I just wrote in this article: there's a reason, after all, why theism is a belief or faith and not certain knowledge (even though some may tell otherwise) — rationality is chronologically subjective.

What if, let's say, 1,000 years into the future, it would somehow be revealed that the universe was generated randomly, without the need of one or more creators, just like 1,000 years in the past people couldn't believe that "chariots without horses" (aka cars) are in fact possible and not lunacy? This is why as an atheist I give time the benefit of the doubt, and choose to keep an open mind, because in the end, and I don't speak only for myself — we are not as rational as we think we are.

People in general dislike being seen as irrational, and I can understand this. However, the "Socratic" truth is that we are far more ignorant than we think we are, not necessarily because we are dumb, but because we were given the "verdict" of living in a more primitive time in relation to the far future. Because it is difficult to see beyond the vision of the setting we grew up and live in. Visionary leaders think differently, and literally vision a different reality.

What do I mean by that? If you were to be born 1,000 years ago, most likely you wouldn't be able to fathom the concept of "the internet," "nukes," "smartphones" and so on. That's of course unless you were born an exceptional genius like Leonardo da Vinci, and even then there is no guarantee for your plans to be proven as true. In other words — the earlier you are born in the history of a sentient species, the more "irrational" you will be, unless you're an exceptional visionary.

In comparison, let's say we will bring a person from the far past into the present, and tell them about the internet. Most likely they would not understand what the internet means, obviously. Does that make them stupid? They're not necessarily stupid, but because they have lived in a more primitive time, their potential inability to understand what the internet is, would technically make them a more irrational being, because every sensible person (at least every person in the digital-using world) understands and accepts that the internet exists.

That is not the same for a person from the far past who cannot understand any of this. What would they tell you? "How can a person from the other side of the world instantly receive a message or any kind of content without a proper delivery, such as a horse or a boat or ship?"

If they believe in magic, they might think that the internet is a magical or even a satanic concept, because for them, it is an utopian thinking, to believe that messages or even people can instantly appear in front of a screen (that might as well be detached), to the other side of the world!

If there is anything else that can be learned from this article, it is this: common sense and present knowledge are far more insufficient than we might think they are. The reason for that is because they are bound to the subjectivity of the time in which they were created from.

Therefore, unless we are to reach the very pinnacle of knowledge, rationality is pretty much a product of time than it is of our intelligence. You can be a great genius of something, but even your intelligence won't guarantee the ability of you predicting every single revolutionary feat and understanding. Da Vinci might have invented the tank, but could he have also invented rocket science or nanotechnology? Perhaps he could, but what about everything else? Could even he entertained the thoughts of many extraordinary feats, we today deem as taken-for-granted?

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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