On The Physical Origins of Values
“This is valuable to me” you say. “That I love”, or “What an admirable thing”, or “What a beauty to behold.”
To express value, is to bring the possibility of the value of a something into social consciousness. That is, if I express that something has value, I at the same time challenge myself, and I challenge you, to discover a point of view within which the associated kind of value could be grasped.
To express value, then, is to force it into existence.
Not that we can’t have a private sense of value before we express it, but the curious thing about expressing it, is that we somehow commit to, or perpetuate it, or develop it. We expand and advance what may have before have only been a fleeting sensation, a moment of awe, and we make that a truth, an object of persistent influence. A piece of language that reverberates in our memory and repeats itself to us. Not necessarily in the same way, but certainly in some self-similar and subtly evolving manner.
When this expression is speech, value becomes the echo, or the distorted after-echo, of spoken words. The persistent reconstruction of speech in memory, in thought, and more than this, of the sound disseminated in our minds, in our brains, this takes up room in the mental-physical context of our moment, and the shape of this transformed sound decides how further the context as a whole may develop.
The idea I wish to impart here, is that when we allow ourselves to be aware of the natural and the physical of our situations, then we come to realize that any such things as a value have an immediate physical manifestation. A manifestation of physics, chemistry, biology, etc. A natural manifestation. To deny the physicality of value is to make value something not of our world, to treat it as akin to the supernatural, or to a pretend game of no consideration. But value must have a physical manifestation – there is a very strong reality to the way I become aware that something is valuable, and the way that similar recognitions of value persists in me and spreads to others. Value has a life, with a beginning and an end. It has an origin, and more importantly, it has a will.
For something to be a value, it must have preference for something. If nobody would prefer one thing over the other, even if that is an absolute nothing to a concrete something, there could never be any grounds for declaring it a value. Even if that preference is only in speech, or in language more generally, or even just in thought, it still manifests as preference in some way. In some way that relates it, ties it, and identifies it, directly with the world of physical phenomena. If only we think, the contents of our thoughts as thoughts may very well be argued as purely mental phenomena, but the thinking as an act is still identified with time spent in the context of the physical, with the thinking expressions on your face to reflect internal ongoings, and with the distant eyes while your focus turns away from external sensations. If speech is made, there is a physical process in the vocal chords whose effects reaches out through a participating mouth.
As preference for a particular kind of speech then, value is a will. As manifesting within a time, a place, and more generally a physical context, it is originated.
But what do I mean by preference? At every step when you make a speech, something has influenced you to do so. The world prefers for you to speak, and it prefers a particular kind of speech, through you. When you speak for the value of a thing, as speech tends to do one way or another, you are the tool of the world. Your speech organs are the tools of the world in front of you. “It’s beautiful” you say, awe-struck by the sublime beauty of a mountain’s view; by an unbelievable greatness in nature. But you are not saying this because you planned to do so. You are saying this, because you are made to do so. While school and society may have given you language, may have developed your capability for this speech, it is still the world, in the act of your speaking, that uses you.
And what is the origin? The mountain is the origin. The mountain is not beautiful, it is not valuable. It makes beauty, and it makes value, through you.
Value is the world choosing. It is not a human thing. Or rather, our human body may also produce values, but there is no particular human essence we can ascribe to value in general. It is merely the preference of the world, and the human body is merely an avenue for expressing this preference. And when it is not expressed, not via language at least, then the mountain also uses you for other things. It makes you climb it. It makes you gaze at it.
Nature has no use for a human essence. Value has no use for a human essence. Value travels through humans indifferent to the self-obsession they have of their own postulations of value generally grasped. Like nature, value – moral, aesthetic, economic – it just is. And you are its speaking-trumpet.
But that is not to say we should be indifferent to value, just because value is indifferent to us. Rather, to realize that value has a concrete and physical origin, this is the beginnings of an understanding that there is an ecosystem of values, that there is a coexistence and a dynamics of values, and what this all means, for the past, the present, and the future of values, in our own lives and in the societies we partake in.
Realizing that we are the world acting on itself, this is the start for understanding how we, as the world, can work on our common and joint Self – how we are a many, a set of worldly impulses, only scarcely bound up with human bodies, and that must be viewed and understood in its complex and myriad manyness.