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papo   The third hypothesis
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"You and I are one single thing: I cannot hurt you without injuring myself"
(Mahatma Gandhi)

From the point of view of the third hypothesis, there is no such thing as a real "moral law" that has to be respected, and so there is no need to distinguish between "good and bad" intentions. Nevertheless, it is clear that every action contains its own reward within itself or its own punishment, and this goes beyond any kind of ethical judgement. For this reason, more than the ideology that we can inspire, it is the actions that we manage to carry out that are important. It they contain advantages for others, this means that we will be able to benefit from them ourselves in our future lives. If we apply this principle, we should be encouraged to behave in the best possible way for humanity and for the whole complex of living beings. However, seeing that, despite all our good intentions, disasters and painful events take place even without necessarily presuming the existence of an evil will, as Leopardi says, all our actions should be directed towards our common defence against nature, “che de’ mortali / madre è di parto e di voler matrigna” ("which is mother to mortals by way of giving birth, but is by will a stepmother").

If it is our will to experience continuously every conceivable "possibility of life", our best strategy should be to try and avoid in as much as this is possible all those unpleasant circumstances which are nevertheless an integral part of the set of "all possible lives". Supposing we are effectively equipped with "margins of choice", we can at least try to pick those options that worsen our "collective karma" as rarely as is humanly possible to us, so as not to deteriorate our world and the life of all the creatures that inhabit it. In practical terms, this means trying to eliminate every superfluous pain that we stupidly inflict on each other and to make life an experience that is as pleasant and as gratifying as possible for all. We will have no other paradise than the one that we will be able to build for ourselves.

It would be wrong to think that the third hypothesis promotes behaviour that is in any way monastic or totalitarian. The will to improve the conditions of life is that which encourages individuals to try and make the best possible use of their abilities. Yet, we should be able to recognize merit in relation to the improvements that the work of the single human being create for the well being of the whole. A certain social pecking order is created in an almost automatic way between individuals who are all of a more or less similar social order. It is reasonable that these should exist as long as they reflect the real abilities of the single individuals and the usefulness of the work they perform, and with these limits they should not be judged as arbitrarily abuse. Needless to say this must be compatible with political policies of social defence which guarantee for all, the same opportunities in education, health care and participation in public life. The third hypothesis does not even exclude limited use of violence in cases where no dialogue is possible and when it considered the lesser evil for the community in general, even if I can see that these things might be very difficult to judge. Very often these differences of evaluation are based on a fundamental prejudice – that "we are ourselves" and that "they are different from us" and so probably "worth less than us", which means that "they can be bombed in a summary fashion" as long as "our security is safeguarded, because we are more important". What all this means is that "the fate of those that are inferior to us is of no interest to us" in that "at this point I have this life of privilege that I deserve" and so "all this has nothing to do with me". Quite the contrary, the third hypothesis warns us that everything has to do with you because your enemy of today is your reincarnation of tomorrow. This way of thinking should favour a more objective way of judging what is just and what is unjust.

The moral of the third hypothesis might even be of consolatory value for that who are hopelessly unfortunate, but who might still be able to think that, in any case, all those lives which he now considers with frustration, really belong to him. At the same time, even the others should be conscious of the fact that their life is a part of their own destiny. No one is ever definitively excluded from anything, and all destinies belong to us in equal measure. Once we have accepted this idea, it will be easier for us to get over our envy of those who are better off than us, our indifference with respect to those who are worse off and even our intolerance against those who are merely different. Differences exist and they can be deep or even irreconcilable: they are the reflection of all the contradictions in our society and the different cultures of which it is made. Yet, the knowledge that we are all expressions of the same "io" could contribute to the foundation of a new culture in which we will go beyond the divisions based on the unjustifiable prejudices that lacerate the world today.

In that it is the only effective living entity, the common "io" of the third hypothesis can never be suppressed definitively, though this cannot ever be considered an instigation to pour scorn on life: on the contrary, the real value of life itself and all living beings becomes more evident the moment you reset to zero the presumed "sacred nature of the soul". All the importance of life is to be found in the physical beings that are living it, in the wealth of their experience, in the abilities that they have developed and in the network of relationships that they have woven with each other. However, a certain existential sense of comfort can be derived from the third hypothesis when we lose people who are dear to us or when our own end draws near. At the last, we will only be missing ourselves and the multitudinous lives that are all around us give us faith that we will be back again in the guise of all the people that we have met.

Hamlet’s nightmarish conception of death as the bourne from which no traveller returns no longer exists and we can more profitably concentrate on our real problems, from which we now know it is not possible to escape at the end of our lives. They cannot be ignored by simply sweeping them out the door, and they will just continue to grow bigger until we finally face them. We can choose to believe that some transcendent type of inspiration might possibly come to our aid in difficult moments or that it will support our choices when they are moved to worthy ends. We might be able to feel reassured if we consider ourselves the instruments of some superior will with which we choose to conform. Yet we must always be aware that our lives are indispensable to give shape to all projects for the improvement of our society. The third hypothesis puts us face to face with our responsibilities: the social conditions of our birth were not important, and nor is the present state of our wealth or lack of it: the task we have to carry out is our present life so as to find new solutions, to stand witness to the existence of confines or injustice that we need to resolve. This may frighten us, but at this point we must start to consider ourselves mature enough to take our own responsibilities instead of continuing to hope that someone else will fix things in our place. Our destiny depends only on our ability to cooperate and to share our common resources in mutual agreement.

If you consider the third hypothesis plausible, you should feel even more encouraged to face the problems of the world with a new sense of urgency and a greater concern. The destiny of the undernourished children in Sub-Saharan African is suddenly no longer a statistical number, but something very close and connected to us, a threat that hangs over our own heads. The possible ecological disaster on the earth is not only something that will concern our great grandchildren: it concerns each and everyone of us directly. It is no longer possible to imagine the hereafter as an eternal holiday that we have justly deserved only on the basis of our own wretched judgement, while this world continues to struggle for its survival and to cut down victims that have no defence. Personally, I would much prefer to come back here and to keep returning because there is still a whole lot of work to be done. The only thing I hope is to find myself in a state that will allow me to be useful. This is the "minimum" condition that should be guaranteed to all of us because, if we believe that the third hypothesis might really be correct, it is surely the only one that gives us a little faith and hope for all our future lives.

Appendix: open considerations.


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Received comments:
09/12/2012 23:32:25Matthew SimmondsI was given your article The Third Hypothesis by your brother Francesco after trying to explain my own thoughts to him about the same subject. There is no doubt that the basic premis of the single or shared I is the most rational explanation of the nature of consciousness. In fact, it probably is the only logical conclusion. I had come to this point myself some time ago, after reflecting on the apparent contradiction of the existence of diverse centres of the universe brought up by what I then saw as different I’s existing simultaneously. The fact that another person’s I was the same as mine was suddenly blindingly obvious, and intuitively and logically clear given the nature of I itself. I am without any scientific or philosophical training though, and I could never successfully communicate this idea to anyone, so your article has formalized and strengthened this argument for me. Potentially this is probably one of the most revolutionary thoughts in history, and could provide a key to moving in a direction that enlightens and benefits humanity to the extent of being the next step in our evolution. At the moment I’m interested to know how it can be communicated. As the thought has probably been around for many centuries, and is certainly obvious once thought, it’s amazing that it hasn’t really caught on. It’s the result of rational reasoning, but I think it has to be “got” as well - that is, intuitively felt. It’s a monumental shift in perspective, but also quite a subtle one, and as yet I’ve only met one other person who has got it, and they also came there by their own route. I’ve been spreading your article around among friends to see how well it can be understood by someone who hasn’t already reached the same conclusion, but I haven’t got any replies yet. I’d like to draw attention to one detail though, about how it’s communicated. This is a revolutionary thought and will meet resistance, particularly from people who believe themselves to be in a position of privilege or power. The sentence “The third hypothesis does not even exclude limited use of violence in cases where no dialogue is possible and when it considered the lesser evil for the community in general, even if I can see that these things might be very difficult to judge.” in the conclusion is an obvious piece of ammunition to use against you. I understand what you’re saying, as violence is not just a direct act but can be the consequence of things we do indirectly (although I would prefer to make a decision to be completely against direct violence as a principle and because of the points you make in the passage following this sentence), but a lot of people think in headlines, and this could be damaging for the whole argument in the event of a debate. As it isn’t essential for the whole hypothesis I would feel a lot better about passing the article on if it were left out. Also, as a lesser point, you talk about “our future lives”in your conclusion to describe what could also be called “our other lives”. You’ve already pointed out the irrelevance of sequence so I suppose both terms are as good as each other, and I know that the idea of atemporal simultaneity is difficult for a lot of people, but it seems such an important part of the hypothesis that I personally prefer not to use sequential terms for clarity’s sake when I’m trying to explain it. Of course, the knowledge of the single or shared I raises a whole load of new questions, and I hope I get to meet you sometime to look further into these. Right now though there seems real urgency in getting this core idea out there, which is why I’ve been bringing up points about how it’s communicated.

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