A value is a mental group we’ve assigned in our mind, a bit like a “box” we’ve placed around something. It’s always something we perceive, even if it’s related to reality around us.
All ideas and thoughts use values. The values can sometimes be of tangible things or can be complete abstract (also known as “principles”). We can mix-and-match values in innumerable combinations with other values to create every possible idea. Values driven by perceptions are considered qualities, while values that group things together are called quantity.
The power of those ideas in our minds heavily determines how certain we are of them, which connects intimately with how much we have feelings about it. Those feelings directly structure how we interpret reality and what we must do.
Values are not reality, but merely synthesized and processed adaptations of reality. They’re abstracted patterns that exist as commentaries of reality. Things like “car“, “relationship“, “trust“, “political system” do exist in some other form than we can perceive, but the idea of “car” or “trust” is mostly a fabrication in peoples’ minds that they share with other people.
For this reason, all values are based on some form of authority that defines its existence, and we must trust that thing legitimately exists. We frequently define those values based on the fact that something broke from a pattern we were perceiving (e.g., a red line on a white piece of paper).
We use language to understand these values. By speaking or writing them, we can understand them more clearly. Among others, people often manipulate those associations to gain power, but we gain power over the unknown simply by giving it a name.
The easiest way to distinguish between what we have in our minds versus the world around us is to observe what other non-human animals perceive. If an animal (e.g., a dog or tarantula) can perceive it, it’s more likely something in reality. Otherwise, it’s a construct that’s strictly human-made.
Of course, our perceptions are made of values themselves, so our minds are vast structures of pyramid-like clumps of values, one on top of another, assembled through associations with feelings and past understanding. They become less reliable the further we get from real perceptions.
While we can extract values indefinitely from an original experience, they’re never entirely divorced from it. We always end up imagining the original thing we experienced as part of the abstraction. Thus, we always keep those values connected to some sort of an example, no matter how intelligent we are or how much we philosophize.
We understand values and ideas to the proportion of quality we can create with them. Effective teachers and popular depictions of an idea are demonstrating the most elegant understanding of something, since they’ve successfully communicated something elaborate in plain terms.
We only assemble values together when we have a purpose for it, which usually associates with or against something we love. We assemble values into new values, then treat those values as a base value for something else, and it can repeat as much as we need.
We don’t often consider the form of each of our values compared to reality. Our derived values never exist in reality beyond our minds. All that technically exists beyond the mind are the creations we build.
Values are inherently useless alone inside our thoughts (e.g., labels like “oceans” and “seas” don’t exist), but are the framework for what we end up doing (e.g., we navigate ships by using labels like “oceans” and “seas”).
For values to be useful, they must fulfill several simultaneous criteria:
- Based on reality.
- Socially constructive.
- Immediate and controllable.
- Free of any general aspects that could lead to confusion or uncertainty.
Most professional storytellers and comedians use associations with value to tremendous effect. By inserting an object at the right timing, the can evoke tremendous associations with a relatively small gesture.
This can get us into a ton of trouble if we’re not careful, and is the source of many large-scale misuses of power. The only way to clarify values is through philosophically examining and analyzing them. Otherwise, we let our feelings define our values.
We develop and solidify our beliefs through an elaborate process:
- Develop more certainty by discovering increasingly more values that reflect what we had believed.
- As we become more certain, we develop stronger feelings about it, sometimes even associating it to virtue.
- The stronger our feelings about that value, the more we conflate it with other things.
- We must analyze more to compensate for stronger feelings, but naturally keep adding emotional associations otherwise.
We build our values into a hierarchy, with some values holding more influence over our minds than others. At the top, we have religious devotion and addiction. At the bottom, we move into less-certain elements until we reach a formless unknown.
Whenever we change, our hierarchy is simply rearranging, but often because of the introduction of a new value or destruction of a well-established belief. This can frequently mean we discover, bury, or rebuild components of our personality.
Since we’re assembling the values from preconceived beliefs, we must constantly reconsider anything we’re sticking together that isn’t directly related to the concept we believe.
However, values are notoriously difficult to define for several reasons.
Firstly, values can’t exist in a vacuum. They’re all connections of other things. For example, the value of “blue” can’t be defined without also defining “color”, “eye”, or anything the property of blue depends on. “Color” needs definitions for “light” and “gradation”. “Light” needs definitions for “lens” and “color”. It never ends, and bends back on itself rather quickly.
Further, we tend to “flavor” our thoughts with experiences that associate with it. For example, if you were instructed to think of a random color for a bird, you’re statistically more likely to think of a blue-colored bird because your experience dictates its association.
Second, since values only exist in our minds, they’re hard to communicate. We must find words to specially define nuances among various things, which is why people use trade-speak. But, we also have to do it while we’re constantly changing, learning, and making decisions. This doesn’t even include the changes happening around us over time.
Third, we make many associations beyond what we’re consciously aware of. Our minds are incredibly elaborate, and one object will have connections with dozens, hundreds, sometimes thousands of other things, which all represent themselves into our conscious depending on a vast variety of conditions including how we feel and the other associations around the experience we’re recalling.
Our feelings-based approach to values means we never find meaning in quantities unless we’ve assigned some special significance to the comparative aspect of those numbers with other numbers. Otherwise, all meaning is contained in quality.
General ideas are generally useful, but not in a practical sense until we start testing them. However, specific ideas can create patterns across other domains, and are the foundation for how we make general ideas. For that reason, theory is never as effective as implementation, though it’s longer-lasting (which is why teachers love theory and experts don’t).
Philosophers debate endlessly about where values come from, but we can still definitely assign patterns to consistent things in reality. I may or may not see the color “blue”, and don’t know where it is, but the sky and ocean are still “blue” things in whatever form we call it.
The more powerful a value feels upon us, the more we’re enslaved to it instead of thinking rationally. This isn’t always bad, however, and is often how we can accomplish otherwise-impossible purposes.
Values are difficult things to take apart, mostly because of how much they connect to other values. As an average non-philosopher, it’s more advantageous for us to be aware of many of our associations than it is to understand one specific thing as an extracted entity.
If we live with only the values of things, and not the things themselves, our existence is a defective pile of vaguely recognizable abstractions. The Stoics say this is a good way to live, but modern psychology has literally proven that it’s not.
Western thought sharply demarcates values into groups. Eastern thought connects everything together. At the extreme, both of them are wrong because things are very connected, but only some of the time.
Since we all understand values in a wobbly-pseudo-accurate state, the idea that values don’t move around even while people do (i.e., Plato’s assertion) is patently wrong. We can definitely become habituated to certain values, but that’s only the illusion of consistency.
We can control our values to the degree we understand them.