Phenomena: What's really up to them?

Phenomena are something uncomfortable. By definition, phenomena are observable phenomena, something that can be perceived by our senses. But it ends here.

Children under five years attribute to other omniscience. The theory of mind, that is, the idea that others have a different horizon of knowledge than oneself, develops later. Children under the age of five also think theleologically, so goal-oriented: the clouds are there to make it rain, and it rains so that the plants can grow. In this sense, children are the born believers, as they intuitively explain gaps in their knowledge and explanatory models through a supernatural power.

The great power of religion is that it provides us with explanations of phenomena, things that transcend our cognitive and scientific capacities. The omnipresence of religions in almost all human cultures can probably be explained by this. Nothing bothers us like things we can not explain. The supernatural power, the divinity, can be used precisely to be responsible beyond rationality and science for everything that would otherwise constitute a source of uncertainty as a phenomenon, as an unresolved mystery. Psychologically, therefore, we acquire through religion a form of reassurance that lets our mind, which wants to explain everything, come to rest. One uses the supernatural to find an explanation for phenomena beyond the scientific explanatory power. That's probably why religions are so widespread.

What are phenomena?
Let's try to imagine phenomena using the example of visual perception: the process of seeing is characterized by sensory and cognitive processes, the interplay of which translates light stimuli into perceived objects. Light strikes the eye, is focused by the optical apparatus and then strikes the retina, where the light stimulus is translated into electrical signals. Complex interconnections of the nerves in the retina perceive a first interpretation of the light stimuli, leading to contrast enhancement and movement perception. Already in the retina an interpretation of the light takes place, and a distance from the pure phenomenon. Further integration and interpretation then takes place in the visual cortex of the brain, so that what we experience as a cognitive event arises. All our perception is therefore the result of a complex interaction of processes in our environment and the sensory and cognitive apparatus. The perception of phenomena is therefore in itself not objective. Rather, our senses and brain are tailored to a mesocosm that more or less maps our biological needs. In both the microcosm and the macrocosm, we are reaching our limits. While the inaccessibility and unobservability in the microcosm are both within the limits of sensory perception and cognitive processing, events of the macrocosm go beyond our horizon mainly in the cognitive sense.

Explanation as end

Since phenomena are beyond our world of explanation and understanding, they are not static. Rather, their existence ends as a phenomenon when science has succeeded in providing an explanation. The explanation can be made on different levels, and only when all levels have been clarified can one speak of a scientific fact.

Central questions of research

Nobel laureate Nikolaas Tinbergen (1951) formulated four questions that needed to be answered in order to understand behavior. These four questions are the key questions that drive research in biology. Important is the view of the whole, so not the contentment with an answer, but the consideration of all aspects:
The question of the immediate cause is concerned with the physiological mechanisms underlying behavior. The question of ontogenetic development examines how this arises in the course of life. The question of the adaptation value examines the function, the goal of the behavior. The question of evolutionary development deals with the framework conditions under which the behavior emerged.

Overrated science

Since ignorance is associated with insecurity, we tend to overestimate our knowledge, and also in areas where the knowledge base is extremely limited, we can start from a well-founded factual situation. Our quest for answers leads us to overestimate the explanatory power of the sciences, which leads to an overvaluation of the findings of scientific studies. At the same time, science is increasingly coming under fire: findings that were considered secure can not be reproduced. Contradictory studies arrive at opposite statements on the same topic. How should such developments be classified? While science helps to gain a better understanding of the context, it provides almost never definitive answers.

Our thinking
The cognitive mechanisms and decision strategies of humans are a reflection of this dichotomy of phenomena and explainable events. As Daniel Kahnemann describes in his book "Fast thinking, slow thinking", our thinking seems to be done in two steps: on a phenomenological level, with incomplete data and a lack of knowledge about the connections, the system 1 is used. It is fast and emotionally colored, and it leads to automatic, unconscious decisions. The simultaneous strength and weakness of this system is its robustness to knowledge gaps. Regardless of the completeness of the data, decisions are made.
The system 2 is slower and characterized by deliberate and logical weighing. Most decisions are made using System 1, only a few are raised to the second level. One could say that our thinking is satisfied with pure phenomena over long distances, and rarely asks for a deeper understanding. It is therefore prone to adopt unrealistic thinking due to simple heuristics. Our difficulties in dealing with probabilities and frequencies are rooted in the dominance of the System 1. Only by deliberately using the 2 system can we gain an understanding of the nature and extent of relationships.

The responsibility of the decision

For a differentiated coverage of scientific findings, space and time are often missing in the media world. Therefore, it remains the responsibility of individuals to create this differentiated picture and to weigh how these findings should affect our actions. As each gain in additional knowledge enables us to make more informed decisions and optimize our actions, the process is usually not simplified, but more complex. Not only the number of factors, but also their relevance should be included in the considerations.

Making informed decisions on the basis of complex relationships is therefore a complicated affair. Not only because of convenience, but also because of the need to make ongoing decisions, we forego a differentiated view for the most part. On a phenomenal level, we rely on our gut feeling so as not to become incapable of action. This is a thoroughly adaptive strategy, which has its justification for the small everyday actions. In-depth reflection is indispensable for fundamental decisions that affect our world of action in a fundamental way: basic considerations of democracy, sustainability, or life goals, if informed and differentiated, can provide a solid framework that shapes our quick decisions.

New information can change this framework. Only if we constantly adjust our decision-making framework, we prevent standstill - on a personal as well as on a social level. Further development is the core of functioning systems. The acceptance of the status quo as immutable stands in the way of this process. In the beginning there is always ignorance; only through the generation of knowledge is there further development. The recognition of phenomena, and thus of things beyond what science can explain or understand, requires an open mindset that can accept things that transcend cognitive boundaries.

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