Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Universal Principles of Human Being

"Wherever there is separation, wherever we see someone as 'other', as enemy, violence is possible. Where there is connection, there you will find only kindness, love, and compassion. It is not possible to see the humanity in another person and commit a violent act against him or her."
-- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Several years ago I started wondering about the possibility that a set of laws parallel to the laws of physics might apply to being human, being humane, or to how human beings should act in order to maximize safety, health, and happiness. Initially, I believed that these laws would have to pass the same tests as the laws of physics in everyday life, but could they? (I say everyday life because modern technology is showing that the older laws of the physical world have exceptions in extreme situations and with the advent of modern technology we know that atomic particles, and those even smaller, behave differently than you might expect under conditions of extreme speed, pressure, or temperatures.) For now, let's see if there are universal laws for everyday living.

I am not at all convinced that universal principles of human being operate the way I might wish, as laws, but I am open, and opening up the discussion as a way to help us think about it. For example, imagine that treating employees badly would, sooner rather than later or even much later, lead to the failure of a business. Imagine that your nose would grow like Pinocchio when you lied, or that your feet would burn like fire if you cheated someone, or that your hemorrhoids would flare up if you charged an exorbitant price.

Law Seekers
Sir Isaac Newton was looking for universals laws of motion.

Faraday and other early scientists discovered the universal laws of electricity, magnetism, and mathematics.

John Forbes Nash thought there might be a universal theory of human sociality.

More recently, Antonio Domasio is looking for a unified theory (universal laws?) of how the brain produces a self, as well as how it does many other things.

Matthew Gervais and David Sloan Wilson are looking for a unified theory (universal principles) of laughter.

Matthew M. Hurley, Daniel C. Dennet, and Reginald B. Adams, Jr., are looking for a unified theory (universal principles) of how humor works.

Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow are looking for a unified theory (universal laws) of how the universe works.

Helen Johnson, Professional Education Research Centre, Roehampton University of Surrey, Southlands College, is looking for a unified theory (universal principles) of qualitative and redemptive indicators of performance of, especially, children in educational institutions.

Although they have been sought for centuries, I suggest we would do well to continue looking for a unified theory (universal laws) of human being. It is in our best interest to study the matter and, whether or not we find "the law" we will be much better off for having educated ourselves about the moral principles for human being.

Perhaps columnist, reporter and writer, David Brooks, had something like this in mind when he wrote about the dim prospects for peace in the Middle East ( June 2 , 2011), stating "They (Syria and Hamas) can never be part of a successful negotiation because they undermine the universal principles of morality."

Regarding the Ten Commandments, Rabbi Benjamin Blech writes, "God's words weren't intended just for one people. They were meant for the whole world because they represent the key to universal survival...Simply put, it is the idea of law, the concept of  'do this' and 'do not do that.' It is the notion that some things are right and some things are wrong. It is the rejection of cultural relativism..."

Qualities of Universal Laws
Hurley, et al, propose that a unified model of humor will have to adequately answer twenty specific questions that they put forth.

Hawking and his co-author also propose a list of questions that a proper set of unified laws of the universe must correctly answer.

To simplify the discussion for our purposes of our work with laughter and humor as therapeutic allies and necessaries for a happy life, I propose these 'tests' of a universal principle:
1. It has extremely high, almost perfect, predictive power. "If this, then that" holds true so often that we can reliably count on it affecting our lives in the very near term, short-term, medium-term, or very, very long-term.
2. The effect on our lives is such that safety, health, and happiness are involved. If you "obey" the law, you are highly likely to be safer, healthier, and happier. "Disobey" the law and you jeopardize your safety, health, and happiness.
3. The law operates equally on everybody, good and bad alike. There are no exceptions. It has no respect for age, intelligence, status, prestige, beauty, nationality, or religious belief.
4. The law works in your life whether or not you believe in it.

Let's look at a few examples.

Gravitational Force. Objects fall down. There is a gravitational force acting between any two objects in the universe. There is a gravitational force between you and Earth. There is also a gravitational force between you and the Sun, between you and all the other planets, and between you and the people sitting next to you. Why do we fall down towards Earth rather than towards the Sun, another planet, or the people next to us? The force of gravity between us and Earth is larger than the force from any of these other objects.

It's the law! Does it pass my tests for being a universal principal? Let's see. Is it predictable? Yes. Can we count on it reliably? Yes.  If you "obey" the law, are you highly likely to be safer, healthier, and happier? Yes. If you "disobey" the law do you jeopardize your safety, health, and happiness? Yes. Does it operate equally on everybody, good and bad alike, without exceptions (in everyday life)? Yes. Does the law work in your life whether or not you believe in it? Yes. You can't see gravity, touch it, taste it, hear it, or smell it. So, you might decide that you do not believe in gravity. But, this law does not require your belief in order to be operational.  You might not believe in it, but don't step off the roof!

Centrifugal Force. When something is going straight, it always keeps going straight unless something else stops it or turns it. If it can't go straight, then it goes as straight as it can. So when you hit a tetherball, it tries to go straight away from you. But the rope pulls on it and keeps the tetherball from going straight. So the tetherball goes as straight as it can - around the pole in a circle. That's centrifugal force - the energy of something trying to go straight even though it can't.

We know from Newton's first law that a body will retain its velocity (speed) unless another force acts upon it. When a body, say you are driving and the 'body' is your car, travels in a circle (around a curve) a force must be applied (apply the brakes) to slow it down and stop it from travelling in a straight line. This force is the centripetal force, the only force necessary for a circular motion. What is interpreted sometimes as a centrifugal force is the tendency of the object to follow in a straight line, which would bring it outside of its circular trajectory. Simply put, drive too fast around the curve and you are going off the road!

It's the law! Does it pass my tests for being a universal principal? Let's see. Is it predictable? Yes. Can we count on it reliably? Yes. If you "obey" the law, are you highly likely to be safer, healthier, and happier? Yes. If you "disobey" the law do you jeopardize your safety, health, and happiness? Yes. Does it operate equally on everybody, good and bad alike, without exceptions (in everyday life)? Yes. Does the law work in your life whether or not you believe in it? Yes. You can't see centrifugal force, touch it, taste it, hear it, or smell it. So, you might decide that you do not believe in it. But, this law does not require your belief in order to be operational. You might not believe in it, but don't speed around curves!

Get the idea? There are universal principals operating in the physical world. you might have studied them in high school in a class called Physics. The teacher may not have told you that obeying these laws could save your life, but it is true.

If they met the same tests that I proposed for laws of the physical world, universal laws of human being would have reliably predictable outcomes (long or short term), have a big influence on our health, safety and happiness, apply equally to everybody, and would operate in your life whether or not your believed in them.

Nominations for Laws of Human Being
Let me share some of the ideas that a few of my friends, family, and colleagues have come up with as possible laws of human being, or at least areas of everyday life for which laws could, should, or might be written. Readers are welcome to add their own nominations. From time to time I will update the topic.

The first thing that comes to my mind is what has come to be known as The Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," (Jesus), or, perhaps in the form of, "That which is hateful to yourself, do not do to others," (Buddha, Hillel). Or, maybe it's Hippocrates' dictum, "First, do no Harm". Do those 'laws' pass my tests? Do the Ten Commandments pass my test?

In no particular order, other nominations already received suggest that perhaps there are universal laws regarding:
- love
- honesty
- humility
- empathy
- kndness
- forgiveness
- compassion
- flexibility
- freedom from desire
- gratitude
- smiling
-"Look both ways before crossing a street."
-Torah
-"Laughter, oh man, laughter REALLY helps!"
- "I believe God gave us instruction for living in His word, the Bible, and if followed will lead to a safer, healthier, and happier life and if disobeyed you jeopardize your safety, health, and happiness." 
- Do not kill (unless it's a mosquito or a roach)
- "Everything I like is either illegal, immoral or fattening." -W. C. Fields
- The Science of Epigenetics, Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, trying to show links between behavioral science and genetics, has begun to offer proof that health laws parallel natural laws.

Do you really believe that if you obey these laws and you find happiness, health, and a good life, but disobey these laws and you end up with sickness, violence, hatred, war, fear, rage, and depression?

Perhaps the universal principles of human being defy the test criteria because they work differently from the laws of the physical world.


What do you think?
Do we have any hope at all of finding a universal law of human being that would have consequences the way the laws of physics have? Or, is it the human dilemma that we can make choices and can create rationalizations and loopholes to justify any behaviors? If so, the consequences will not be automatic or necessarily be predictable. Human beings will have to be vigilantly aware that there is no correlation between celebrity and character, and we must rely on consequences of conscience, or obtaining justice in the enforcement of civil and criminal codes.

Please leave me a comment with your opinion or nomination for a topic for universal principles. If you can spell it out, all the better.

1 comment:

  1. Well, you just took care of an idea for Sunday's Sermon.Thank You!

    ReplyDelete