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Why "Common Sense" Is Not So Common

Personal Perspective: Common sense confuses reality with truth.

Key points

  • Common sense is not reasoning, logic, intuition or innate. It is acquired, and is changing, since the contents of nature (reality) are changing.
  • Common sense is the true understanding of cause and effect: the pragmatic function of the scientific method to operationally define "the truth."
  • In everyday speech, people refer to and confuse "truth" with "reality." The two ideas are not equivalent or synonyms.
  • The field of psychology as science exists to understand the "Second Big Bang," with therapy addressing abnormal behavior emerging from it.
Common Sense Text / Free SVG Creative Commons
Common sense is not so common for many reasons
Source: Common Sense Text / Free SVG Creative Commons

How many of us have been admonished, "Use your common sense!" In actuality, the person has no idea what they are talking about, unfair to you.

Reality and truth are not the same.

We confuse the idea of reality and the idea of the truth all the time. "The reality of the situation is..." The truth of the situation is…" These ideas used to be synonyms 300,000 years ago but no longer are equivalent. Why?

Reality is changing faster than cognition can make sense of it.

Reality has evolved over time, redefining it, so if you equate reality and truth, you are ignorant or in denial about this evolutionary change. Yes, reality has a history, and therefore so does "common sense," which used to be considered innate good judgment when it is, in fact, learned.

Philosophy is the subject area of "what is real and what is true."

Reality is part of the "what is real" part. Science is part of the "what is true part," a function of the 16th century Enlightenment replacing scientific understanding from theological dogma. I just separated confounding factors in "making sense" or, in shorthand, "common sense."

Common sense is more about common knowledge derived from the scientific method.

How has reality changed over time, and are these changes redefining definitions of truth? If there is more than one type of truth, reality and truth can no longer be equated. In everyday speech, referencing common sense, or lack of it, is only an assertion, belief, or opinion. If based on replicated scientific facts, then the statement is true and "makes common sense," a sloppy way of referring to peer-reviewed scientific evidence.

There have been not one but three "Big Bangs."

The question is, how has reality changed over time, and how do we know? Think of current events as the product of not one, not two, but three "Big Bangs." The first Big Bang was the existence or emergence of physical reality containing a constant: atoms. In physics, matter is neither created nor destroyed.

Then there are manifestations of the material world causing a second Big Bang, consciousness, defined by the existence of neurons in nature, and only 200,000 years ago, sentient connections forming higher order cognition defining our species Homo sapiens. Hence, neurons came online from the material world.

Only 108 billion human beings have ever existed.

There are more bacteria and viruses in our body than all of human nature ever existed over time.

A third Big Bang is technology, a function of the late 1940s and early 1950s with the invention of the transistor, integrated circuits, and the microprocessor, a Big Bang so recent it has disrupted society and civilization, changing our way of life.

Who could have imagined our wired world and mobile connections and social networks in 1900 when radio was new or later in 1940 when RADAR was in its infancy.

One of the reasons cyberspace is the Wild West with hacking rampant is that this form of truth is relatively unknown. Humanity lacks experience understanding and regulating it. We are living inside this learning curve, and it is not pretty. Do we formally regulate cyberspace like we regulate space?

The nature of reality circa 2021, including where psychology fits into this big picture.

Each new reality defines another form of truth and scientific discipline.

Physical reality is truth in objectification comprised of atoms and forces and the disciplines of physics and cosmology.

The magnitude of the material world is fixed at 1080 atoms within the Standard Model for large-scale (Newtonian) and small-scale (quantum) events. Humans evolved to be aware of large-scale inventing instruments to know and investigate small scale-making inventions, an essential evolutionary force creating our species' dominance.

Psychological reality is truth in interpretation, comprised of neurons in our neocortex, causing thinking and imagination. Currently, there are only 65.5 x 1028 neurons in reality (based on a current world population of 7.8 billion people).

The existence and emergence of higher cortical functioning created the scientific disciplines of psychology, neurosciences, and other sub-disciplines organized to understand human nature, the new kid on the reality block after 13.8 billion years.

Reality then again suddenly changes with technology and computers. The Third Big Bang is an artificial reality––truth is transformation––containing bytes (8-bits) generating a global datasphere of 2.4 x 1022 zettabytes and growing daily.

Why care about distinguishing the multiple forms of truth?

Why does distinguishing the three forms of truth in nature matter in everyday life? If common sense is learned, teaching common sense is too general an idea. You must now specify the plane of existence you are teaching.

In physical reality, during socialization, "Look both ways before you cross the street." This assertion has a basis, in fact: F=MA.

During socialization, in psychological reality, "Don't get into cars with strangers at the bus stop." This assertion has a basis in fact: the paraphilias.

In artificial reality during socialization, "Don't open attachments from people you do not know." This assertion has a basis in fact, based on the pervasiveness of malware and online sociopathic behavior.

In each case, the assertion "makes common sense" because it is is scientifically valid, making the idea of common sense a pseudonym for common knowledge.

Higher education should be a function of what nature (reality) is now, and not just the material world.

The ambiguous nature of common sense correlates to what life literacies make the most sense to teach––the common knowledge part of the equation. In school,

We pay big bucks for technical help in artificial reality to master truth in transformation (the material world "transformed" into pixels on a screen) and big bucks for psychotherapy in psychological reality to help master truth in interpretation.

Reality: The whole shebang

To understand common sense, we must redefine (upgrade) the definition of reality:

Physical: 1080 atoms. The material world. Truth in objectification. A constant.

Psychological: 65.5 x 1028 neurons. Sentience. Truth in interpretation. A variable.

Artificial: 2.4 x 1022 zettabytes. Technology and cyberspace. Truth in transformation. A variable.

These forms of truth interact and are one reason fewer events "make common sense" anymore. Natural selection has failed to keep pace with the evolution of reality. We lack sophisticated perceptual systems across these planes of existence.

Problems in living, psychopathology, happens when these various forms of truth are not adequately isolated or understood.

Psychopathology is an attribute in psychological reality. It coexists as a function of these previously unknown, interdependent, under-appreciated forces on the individual. Their interactions make independent and dependent variables in science harder to control and conceive in determining truth, and hence "common sense."

Many peer-reviewed papers are not replicated in the psychological sciences, given the "interpretive nature" of operational definitions. The four scales (nominal, ordinal, interval, and ratio) further complicate a coherent truth in understanding, making science, common sense, a probability function creating opinions and assertions.

The Fourth Big Bang is probably at the quantum level challenging the Standard Model in cosmology.

There are confounds unknown to the investigators, but perhaps delineating the current nature of reality might help clarify the search for the truth and what that means. What it now means might well change with a Fourth Big Bang, presently inconceivable, but likely to be a discovery and useful application at the quantum level.

More from Reid J. Daitzman Ph.D., ABPP
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