In search of theories of understanding, Lample (2009) provides useful insights. Here some chosen passages:
Understanding and the construction of social reality is one of the heading in the first part (revelation, understanding and action) of his book. The paragraph starts by describing the birth of a child and how its mind is as yet undeveloped, how it has predefined measures of potentiality, how it forms subjective impressions of the world around it. This process continues throughout life. The subjective impressions – thoughts about reality – are tested in the world against objective reality, resulting in a continual change in comprehension and behavior. This process may be called ‘object permanence’.
Human beings are designed to learn from encounters with reality. Science, one may say, has emerged in this way to be the knowledge system that allows for systematic exploration of and a degree of mastery over physical reality.
Bahá’ís understand that there is another dimension to these encounters. There is a spiritual reality beyond the physical one. Comprehension of this spiritual reality involves an encounter with Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá states that “the reality of man is his thought.”
God, through his will, is the creator of reality. We are inserted into this physical and spiritual reality and are shaped by it. Our personal reality, then, consists of those structures that have formed in our own mind to organize our experience of the outer world. But the process is a dynamic one. Human beings are not passive observers of reality and our personal reality, our thought, is not simply imposed upon us. In a very specific way we may consider ourselves—collectively—as co-creators of reality, for through the power of the human mind and our interactions, the world undergoes continued transformation. …
By the term “co-creator of reality” is not meant that humanity is a partner with God. It is an acknowledgment that the attributes of God the Creator, the Fashioner are reflected in human beings. Bahá’u’lláh has designed a new world order, we are the construction workers; he is the genetic engineer of the seed of a new civilization, we are the farmers who tend it.
We can understand this special role of humanity by noting that most of what we perceive to be reality—the world with which we interact every day—is not physical reality at all. It is social reality. Consider the difference between the ecological diversity of the planet—its mountains, oceans, deserts, forests—and the political boundaries separating nations. Consider the differences of phenotype among human beings and the cultural or racial discrimination to which they have given rise. Culture, language, beliefs, institutions educational systems—all are real, all have an impact on our understanding, but are all products of the human mind. Social reality mediates our engagement with the world, physical and spiritual, and it is this reality that we have the capacity to create anew.
Lample continues to mention some insights from the philosopher John Searle in his book The Construction of Social Reality.
Searle is interested in describing the nature of the shared reality that is woven from collective human agreement and which exists beyond the level of the physical, chemical, and biological structures.
… in order to state a brute fact we require the institution of language, but the fact stated needs to be distinguished from the statement of it.
… the structure of social reality has a tremendous complexity, …has layers and layers of meaning; even language itself, the vehicle for the communication of these ideas, is a social construct.
… all social reality eventually rests upon the brute facts of physical reality.
… the entire structure of social reality is taken for granted by individuals, who are brought up in a culture that conveys social facts in the same way it presents rocks or trees.
Social reality is an expression of human agreement.
Lample concludes this subject in this way:
Today insights from biology tell us that, physically, there can be no meaningful definition of race applied to human beings. Yet how many levels of social facts affecting collective consciousness and behavior must change in order to create a social reality that reflects the oneness of humanity? Even if we could list them all, how do we move from one social order to the next? The significance of analyses like Searle’s for our consideration of human understanding and action is that most of the reality with which human beings are concerned is social reality. We participate in social reality and we are shaped by it. In the earliest encounters, for example, parents engage a child through a language that, because of its structure and the way in which it carries cultural assumptions, shapes the mind and the manner in which the child approaches reality. Further, perhaps more than any other factor, the particular country of birth, with the attendant forces that mold the economic, educational, political and social environments and opportunities, plays a determinant role in defining who a person can and will be, despite any inherited potentiality. Yet, social reality is not static; it is mutable. It forms us, but because it owes its existence to common human understanding, we have the power to contribute to reshaping it.
The realization that human reality is, to a great extent, a mutable social reality opens the way for fresh insights into Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings about social transformation. Revelation creates consensus around new truths so that we, the co-creators of reality, can begin to transform the existing social order. Indeed, our ultimate aim, … a new civilization born of the new world order of Bahá’u’lláh, is itself a new social reality (Lample, 2009, pp. 4-11)
Lample, P. (2009). Revelation & Social Reality. USA: Palabra Publications. Retrieved from available as download: http://www.palabrapublications.com/downloads