Other Ways of Knowing

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Other Ways of Knowing

A critical faculty for any organism, is the ability to get an accurate sense of the pertinent realities in its environment. It has to be able to identify enemies and to distinguish food from poison. At a more abstract level, we weigh evidence and make decisions. Our ability to govern ourselves is predicated on our ability to do this. Our notion of free will is the idea that we have the capacity to make decisions. The capacity of humans to make sound decisions based on reliable perceptions is questionable.

Our image of ourselves as rational beings has crumbled in recent years with revelations of the cognitive biases that dominate our thinking process. It is only with rigorous alertness that we can avoid the pitfalls of cognitive vulnerabilities. Even if we were to attain a respectable degree of objectivity, the reliability of the information we use as fuel for our observations is tenuous. Information has always been manipulated. “History is written by the victors.” Now, however, the coincidence of internet, that gives us the sense that all knowledge is available, with the age of Photoshop, in which all knowledge can be convincingly distorted, it takes an inordinate amount of effort to nail down a single fact. Compound this with the materialist reductionist paradigm in which we comprehend reality and which produces new facts by the same process of mitosis by which living cells multiply. Unlike biological cells, there is no brake on this process, and the cancerous analogy with late-stage capitalism, which this paradigm serves, is unavoidable.

Our evolutionary imperative is to attain cognitive competence. It would seem that technology has outpaced our cognitive capacity, but there are faculties of cognition, intuition being the most obvious, that imply a reality of a different quality than that allowed by the paradigm of materialism.

The standard definition of knowledge is “justified true belief.” Knowledge requires our participation. Belief is the willingness to relinquish doubt. Doubt is the instinct that springs from primal fear, and it takes effort to relinquish it. Knowledge is a belief that requires no further energy to sustain, a belief for which doubt has been quieted. Knowing is not a mechanical response to truth. It’s a quality of being that bestows truth upon perception.

Intuition is seen as a quasi-mystical power, available to some, and, except in mystical circles, seen as being on the fringe of believability. Yet, if we are to give any credence to the most modern understanding of reality described by quantum mechanics, intuition actually comports more closely with reality than the materialist epistemology that today governs our shared sense of reality. Quantum entanglement is the phenomenon in which subatomic particles have been observed to respond to stimuli with simultaneity that exceeds the speed of light; the uncertainty principle suggests that physical reality is shaped by the act of observation.

We will have to go within to discover other cognitive and perceptual faculties. The inner sense must be cultivated, but this[SW1]  leaves us open to the myriad cognitive biases that we’re all vulnerable to. So, we must learn to quiet our emotional responses in order to give our evaluative facilities greater range to operate. This is clouded by the phrase we use to identify that inner sense. We say that we should learn to trust our feelings, but in this sense the word “feelings” refers to something other than our emotions. These other faculties are similar to feelings in that they are non-verbal and visceral. So, our challenge is to refine our sensibility to the point that we can distinguish intuition from emotion, and, further, to start to distinguish more subtle modes of perception from each other.

For instance, there is science to suggest that “gut feeling” is based on a center of intelligence located in the digestive organs that is capable of independently responding to external information. Empathy is another subtle form of perception; premonition might be a faculty that is distinct from other kinds of intuition, and there are a whole range of experiences that have been described by mystics.

In order for cognition to serve us we must be confident of its integrity. That integrity relies on the most rigorous questioning and only a reluctant acceptance of our findings as facts. Every fact must be stated with the caveat that it is to the best of our understanding. This implies a fundamental humility. We act on facts not with the arrogance of dominion, but with the care of wary adventurers. Cultivating that sense of humility, as did the ancient mystics before us, we can approach the awakening of other latent capabilities for experiencing the world.

 [SW1]This may come after that discussion of integrity and humility.



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