A big part of the modern self-help feel-better bullshit is telling people how they’re all unique. Like a snowflake (interestingly, all snowflakes fall into one of 35 shapes). While that’s awesome if you’re battling a low self-esteem, a philosopher doesn’t care. For him ideas are based on truth, not convenience.

 

John Locke said people are born tabula rasa which is Latin for a “blank slate” upon which you receive a million different impressions of things as you experience them. Locke argued that all our ideas are a result of a constant composition and decomposition of input that we receive from our senses. This school of thought is empiricism, as contrasted with rationalism.

 

Rationalism is the doctrine that says there are certain truths about our world which are known to us a priori (or prior to experience). They hold that reality has an intrinsically logical structure, and that there are some (or all, depending upon how fierce a rationalist they are) truths that exist in the world, and the human faculty of reason is sufficient to grasp them. Truths like “2+2=4.” Or “All bachelors are unmarried men.” You don’t need empirical proof to know they’re true, because their being untrue would lead you to a logical contradiction.

 

Enter Immanuel Kant. Kant was the real thug in the sense he rejected the Empiricists’ notion that the mind was a tabula rasa and all knowledge was a posteriori. But he also locked horns with Rationalists by saying a priori knowledge of a mind-independent world was impossible as reason itself is structured with “categories” or windows of experience that give us the mental structure to grasp any empirical object. Exempli gratia, if your eyes register seeing a boy smash a glass window with a ball he hit, you can rationally analyse that empirical observation because in your mind there exist some categories like “Causality” which tell you the relation between two events (1. boy hitting the ball, and 2. ball smashing the window). Try eliminating this category in your analysis and you’re left with two independent events with no logical links in between. In summary, nothing is known to man just by experience; it needs to be further rationally analysed and this is possible by the presence of categories in our heads. Phew. That was a mouthful.

 

So where does that leave you? Do you perceive things differently from others or is all human perception altered to fit common underlying categories? Are you all special little snowflakes or cookies made of the same boring dough? Yes, and yes.

 

Understanding that your experiences have been altered unconsciously by a cognitive window is fine. Using that to justify that there is no point in thinking because your thoughts aren’t original is madness. You don’t have to feel like a wasted space. You’re original, cannot be replaced. If you only knew what the future holds; after a hurricane comes a rainbow. And maybe a reason why all the doors are closed, so you could open one that leads you to the perfect road. Like a lightning bolt, your heart will glow. And when it’s time you’ll know.

 

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