The notion that’s been tantalizing me of late deals with the mystery of knowledge-of knowing, of the knowledge process itself-a concept that’s been haunting me for years. I used to believe that knowledge in its highest form is that which is gained through personal experience. During and in the aftermath of our time together, I began to question this perspective; is the highest knowledge that which hails from the individual, owned by the individual-does the product trump the process? Or is the pinnacle the process, true knowledge as a communal journey among humanity-knowledge as a transaction?
Knowledge is the bond that has never been broken…the glue, the shoe, the synagogue, the fountain pen. I subscribe to the law of ‘interconnectivity’ as being the supreme authority reigning over our planet, all planets, the universe, as one. Growing up, I knew that I wanted to know more-and time and time again, I was mind blown by the realization that every bit of knowledge I acquired, from burning toast to breaking beakers, was connected in some way shape or form. As a result, I’ve long been determined to know more about the interconnectivity of knowledge. Gaining/acquiring/possessing/tweaking/passing knowledge-whether it be firsthand or secondhand or even thirdhand-is an experience/notion/concept/practice that is valued in some way by every human being ever. Human nature maintains that to know is to be, to know nothing is to be-better dead. Knowledge in some form-skills, information, scholarly, psyche-is valued in every society/culture/community/family/individual. But what does it mean to know of/about/that/which/is/be something? One might argue that ‘to know’ is in itself, arbitrary, as consciousness is an individual act/experience/ideation/perception/lens. And though the supposed ‘truth’ of knowledge has tactfully maneuvered mankind since the first dawn, we’ve universally known a nagging compulsive need to keep on trying-to-knowing.
To attempt a deconstruction of knowledge and the process of knowledge, we must first turn to the experts-the epistemologists-those who explore the abstraction and the reaction for a living. From my research thus far, I’ve gathered that the general consensus is that three conditions-truth, belief, and justification-together construct the foundation upon which all human conceptions about human-conceptions are rooted (Steup, “Epistemology”). Epistemologists basically stop agreeing past this point, as the philosophical meaning of what it is to justify/what makes beliefs justified is a loaded topic. And just what exactly is justification? According to ‘deontological’ theory, an individual is justified-has the right to act or believe in a given way-as long as said individual isn’t obligated to refrain from said action; these obligations-these beliefs-are ultimately evaluated from a ‘moral or prudential point of view’ (Steup). Epistemological philosophy suggests that humans are compelled to ‘justify’ beliefs in order to prove that these beliefs are not accidental. Either an external or internal justification process must take place in order for beliefs to be validated as truth; according to epistemologists, all beliefs (and thereby all knowledge) are a product of humanity’s eternal quest for ‘truth’ (Steup). In this vein, a justification process must also take place in order to deem an action/belief/knowledge/truth as being unjustified. According to Steup, ‘externalists’ argue that an external source may be used to justify, whereas ‘internalists’ argue that justification hails from an internal source, self-validation at its finest. Both schools do agree however, that justification must come from somewhere, as all beliefs must be justified by the individual, who in turn is constantly questing after truth.
The notion that all humans are caught up in this eternal quest for truth-which in turn drives our beliefs and actions-which we then justify using either external and internal (or a combination of) avenues had me revisiting my old ‘validation’ theory I drummed up with a friend as an undergrad. Together, my friend and I theorized that all humans seek validation for their actions, beliefs, and mortal existence in some way at some time or another (more often than naught). After learning about the epistemological concept of ‘justification,’ I now view these terms synonymously-and now our ‘revolutionary’ idea suddenly isn’t so revolutionary! Every action hails from a set of beliefs which manifest from man’s innate drive to seek truth, to know truth, and one justifies these actions and these beliefs based on the notion that their beliefs, and thereby their actions, are based on some omnipotent ‘truth’ that’s been validated by someone and or something. A doctor prescribes antidepressants to a snotty teenager because externally, the medical community has collectively validated the idea that antidepressants are a viable option for dealing with apathetic teenagers with ‘chemical imbalances,’ and internally, the doctor believes that he is justified in prescribing these pills because they are going to heal this kid and his obligation as a doctor is to heal people because it is true that a doctor’s ultimate goal is to heal-that it is true that modern medical practices have been proven to be true by external forces, experiences, of medical success. Even a Nihilist fits into the mix; the Nihilist acts in accordance with the belief that all actions are ultimately meaningless, the truth is that there is no truth to know. But alas, even the Nihilist ‘believes’ in the supposed truth of nothing.
If beliefs govern actions, either consciously or unconsciously, then beliefs must be rooted in ‘knowledge’ that an individual ‘knows’ to be ‘true,’ and the individual’s justification for their set of ‘true beliefs’ is rooted in either internal or external sources of validation which assert truth in these beliefs, which in turn justify any given action. Deontological philosophy maintains that obligations regarding the evaluation of beliefs manifest when ‘we aim at having true beliefs’ (Steup). Yet how do we go about uncovering ‘truth’ and thereby validation for cultural beliefs, societal beliefs, for our own beliefs? This notion connects to our contemplation of the knowledge process in that we can rationalize humanity’s perpetual engagement in the ‘knowing-knowledge’ process as the byproduct of humanity’s eternal quest for truth-for knowledge of truth, of what-is-true-and-what-is-not-true in the scheme of the universe. According to standard epistemological thought, “for true beliefs to count as knowledge, it is necessary that they originate in sources we have good reason to consider reliable…these are perception, introspection, memory, reason, and testimony” (Steup). So as not to digress from our deliberate analysis of the knowledge process, I’ll only explore the roles of perception, introspection, and memory regarding this process.
According to Steup, knowledge of external realities hails from our ‘perceptual faculties’-the five senses-we ‘know’ knowledge about the external world due to the ‘sensory data’ we gather through experience, experience which accumulates, forming a foundation of sensory knowledge upon which we experience reality in the present. The main criticism of ‘perceptual knowledge’ is that the human memory is a notorious unreliable narrator, thus one’s ‘sensory knowledge foundation’ is inherently flawed, hinging on one’s ability to ‘recall’ past sensory experiences in order to dictate present perceptions of external realities. This notion of perceptual knowledge reminds me of my favorite Alice in Wonderland quote, “but I can’t go back to yesterday, I was a different person then.”
My issue with the notion of knowledge by ‘perceptual faculties’ is just that-we can’t just go back to yesterday, we can only go forward to a new day which we will perceive as the person we are in the now. The individual that you were in a past moment in time exists only in that past moment-the sensory perceptions one experienced in a past moment depend on myriad of factors, from the individual’s disposition during said past moment, mental state, maturity state, physical state. It’s difficult of course to argue that memory has no place in the overall process of knowledge, as being able to access one’s repertoire of ‘knowledge’ relies on access to one’s memory in some form, be it long-term or short-term. This vein of thinking leads us to the notion of knowledge by ‘introspection’-the evaluation of external realities through the ‘seemings’ of one’s own mind (Steup). Can we assume that we have ‘knowledge’ of our own states of mind and being-do we ‘know’ when we are tired, hungry, sad, angry, in love? And if so, do we ‘know’ these things because of our own memories, our own past experiences-what about those which we have not experienced firsthand? How can one maintain ‘knowledge’ of perceptions of a reality such as ‘love-‘a perception one knows to be true due to ‘beliefs’ dictated by cultural/societal norms the one holds true-if one cannot recall or perceive any memory of a ‘love’ experience?
Drawing from my own experiences and observations, I’m starting to believe that this is the point where the communal knowledge process is paramount, the point where external justification for beliefs really comes into play; beliefs that are not known by an individual through memory, but known through the experiences and thereby memories of others. An individual may experience what they perceive to be a ‘love’ experience, and said individual may claim internal justification through introspection that said experience was ‘true’ and hence ‘true knowledge’ of love, thereby ‘love’ becomes a reality, a truth, validated by the internal memory of the perceived love experience. The individual may then go on to share said love experience with others, perhaps in the form of a novel or forum post, and thus said individual’s ‘knowledge of love’ permeates the community of man, adding another tidbit of ‘justification’ into the communal knowledge pool for the ‘justification’ of the existence of ‘love.’ Within this pool of justification lives an ever-constant anthology of ‘love knowledge,’ knowledge of the concept had and re-had by others, validated and invalidated by others, proved and disproved by others…a concept which exists because we say it exists because there-have-been-some who know it exists.
One could argue that communal knowledge cannot be a true source of justification because people themselves are unreliable narrators, as all humans encounter and perceive reality in a unique, individual way; we know this because at the end of the day, we all have our consciousness, me myself and I. Our knowledge capacities are subject to our own beliefs, perceptions and senses of the world and our own selves due to myriad of factors such as upbringing, environment, cultural values, memories, and so forth. According to epistemological philosophy, communal knowledge assumes that human ‘testimony’ is infallible (Steup). The problem with this assumption is that if we all encounter the world in a unique way due to this inherent individuality, then we all interpret the world and all its ‘realities’ in different ways-essentially, all ‘testimony’ is arbitrary. Further, access to the wealth of communal knowledge that is available in the world depends on individual circumstances; limited resources translates to limited access to communal knowledge, and thus, one may have no choice in some cases but to know through experience. Communal knowledge opens doors upon doors for endless opportunity and growth-but only for those who can reach the key. For those societies and individuals with limited access to communal knowledge, experiential knowledge is the common process and product, for better and for worse.
The famous 20th century Indian mystic, Osho Rajneesh, speaks to the introspective quality of the knowledge process in his work, ‘On Boredom;’
“Don’t live as if you know. You know nothing! All that you know is about and about.
The moment you know something, boredom disappears. Knowing is such an adventure
that boredom cannot exist. With knowledge of course it can exist; with knowing it cannot
Osho’s contemporary style and accessible language here are compelling as is-the implications of ‘knowing’ through ‘knowing boredom’ connects to the notion of knowledge by introspection, by knowing the ‘mind.’ In the first two sentences, Osho is validating the notion that ‘knowing’ is a falsehood, a social construct, for there is no way to actually know anything, for as I mentioned before, knowledge is arbitrary. And according to Osho, to live one’s life as if knowing were an option is to live a false life beneath a socially constructed facade-because ‘all that you know is about and about.’ Osho makes a great point with this ‘about and about’ notion; how often do we hear in our daily lives-from coworkers, friends, television, the media-that this one ‘knows about’ this, and that one ‘knows about’ that? Osho is as spot on today as he was in his day, humans maintain that we ‘know about’ myriad objects, topics, subjects, emotions, stories…yet do we ever ‘know’ independently of ‘about?’ Does one ‘know’ pain, or does one merely know about pain? One might know about pain due to personal experience-the time I stepped on a nail while building a treehouse-but does ‘knowing’ pain from such an experience warrant all-encompassing ‘knowledge’ of pain as pain? What one might file away in memory as a ‘painful’ experience might differ greatly from what another might file, remember, as a ‘painful’ memory-and thereby, the meaning becomes arbitrary, the knowledge of the term varying. You ‘know’ about your own pain, you ‘know’ about others’ pain through newscasts, films, the morning traffic report-but you don’t know, I don’t know, we don’t know, what it is to know ‘pain’ for anyone besides our own self, and even that is questionable.
Osho asserts that ‘the moment you know something, boredom disappears.’ What a concept indeed; he is however assuming here that every human ‘knows’ what boredom is on an individual level, and that everyone’s own mind is capable of picking out moments of ‘boredom’ experienced within said own mind. What one mind may call boredom another may call adventure, and vice-versa; this is where introspection comes into play. One can suppose that one ‘knows’ boredom, for one has experienced ‘boredom’ in one’s own mind, and is able to recall past memories of ‘boredom’ which internally validate one’s beliefs-one’s knowledge-of what it means to experience boredom. With, ‘that moment you know something, boredom disappears,’ Osho is suggesting that knowing ‘knowledge’ can serve as a distraction almost, for the phrase ‘that moment’ implies that a ‘moment’ of ‘knowing something’ can be fleeting, and make boredom disappear in a mere ‘moment.’ This language can also be interpreted as validating the notion that knowledge provides necessary outlet, a comfort core to the human condition, because honestly, who has time to be bored? Through introspection, we ‘know’ what it is to feel boredom, but we also ‘know’ what it is to not feel boredom, and perhaps Osho is suggesting that through knowing this, one can strive to avoid boredom by striving to know something at all times.
If humans were perpetually bored, ever-satiated with knowing the same, how could we evolve, change, better? They say that boredom is numbing, numbs the mind/the body/the soul. It is not the numbed mind which innovates, invents, challenges, ponders, meditates, contemplates- hence perhaps it is our natural aversion to boredom that explains why we nag, we need, we keep going-the-knowing. Have you ever met a (sane) individual who claims to enjoy boredom? Probably not-unless you care for the company of psycho/sociopaths. One of the beauties of humanity is that since our dawn, we’ve collectively searched for to engage, to create, to grow, to know, even to numb-the-numbness, because ‘just say no’ to boredom because boredom is unknowing. There are myriad avenues, myriad outlets, which lift one from the abyss of boredom: the Sunday funnies, chai/Stephen King/fuzzy/socks, plethora-of-psychoactive-substances, soft nothings from the newsfeed. As Osho reminds us, ‘knowing is such an adventure that boredom cannot exist.’ And if perhaps there’s one thing we can agree on as the naturally non-negotiable species that we are, it is that the process, the act of ‘knowing’ is an adventure, the opposite of boredom, the escape/outlet/jaws of life we’re all endlessly, obsessively looking for. The process itself an adventure, the product even more so; the what-to-do with thy knowledge, now that is the question. To share or not to share?
Osho’s parting words of wisdom, ‘with knowledge of course it can exist…with knowing it cannot exist’ are a tad confusing at first glance, until one realizes that again, Osho is reminding us that like knowledge, boredom is not static. He’s reminding us that ‘knowledge’ is not an end-all, an end at all-knowledge is merely the product of the knowledge process, the knowing process, ever-changing and ever-undulating throughout time and space. Knowledge at base breeds boredom, inspires restlessness, for to say that one possesses ‘knowledge’ about a topic, and believe it, is to invite to boredom into one’s bed, to barricade oneself from the challenging perspectives, constructive criticisms, any and all ‘isms’ that make the world go round. To suggest that ‘knowledge’ is akin to an object that can be possessed in an immobile, inanimate form is to imply that finality is a reality-and if this were so, our final would’ve come and gone a long time ago. Knowledge begs to differ, to cross-examine the witness-it bears witness to history’s torn and weathered soul and then asks for seconds. Knowledge in its own right conforms to boredom, which thereby conspires with chaos, and thereby the real question, ‘which held the smoking gun?’ But as Osho maintains, ‘with knowing it [boredom] cannot exist.’ By appreciating knowledge for its process, man can strive to reap all benefits knowledge has to share.
In Brian Jay Stanley’s article, ‘The Communion of Strangers,’ he asserts that our “brains would be bankrupt of knowledge if bequeathed no inheritance from history” (15). We believe know it is dangerous to stick metal in the microwave because others before us have experienced the detrimental results of this action, thus proving to the community that sticking metal in the microwave is a dangerous truth-a truth validated by external evidence in the form of testimonials, ER records, and the like. As Stanley maintains, knowledge is indeed inherited though the communal, transactional process of knowledge sharing. Knowledge is passed down for the sake of brotherhood among man, for evolution of man, for preservation of man-learn from our mistakes, correct them, discover new mistakes, repeat. Communal knowledge is imperative in that it provides external validation, justification, for our beliefs-for it takes a special kind of person to exist solely on internal justification alone. How can one rely on introspection and sensory perceptions alone, we’re trying to have a society here!
As imperative communal knowledge is to the process of knowing, knowledge gained through experience-experiential knowledge-relying on both introspection and sensory perception, is seemingly held in high esteem by both society and self. And how do we know this to be true? Desire for ‘the experience’ permeates every facet of life; to know what ‘it’s like’ to go sky-diving, to touch a dolphin, to try caviar. To gain knowledge through the firsthand act of knowing is to gain true, introspective, sensory knowledge that the self holds to be true. To read about an other’s experience-an other’s knowledge-is quite different from experiencing said knowledge firsthand due to the unique ways in which we all encounter and interpret experiences. What one may consider a ‘scary’ experience another may consider ‘thrilling.’ Experiences I’ve had under the influence of psychedelic substances that I consider to have been ‘mystical’ experiences are mystical to me, in my own mind, subjective to my own beliefs and perceptions of reality-another person might have interpreted these so-called ‘mystical’ experiences as side-effects of mind-melting drugs. And herein lies the danger of the experiential-the quest for experience is an individual act by nature, a quest for self-knowing for the self and by the self.
Thus far, we’ve explored the ways in which the knowing-knowledge process prevents boredom, supplies us with ever-constant adventure, and thereby perpetuates our species. We’ve implied that the product of the knowing-knowledge process, knowledge itself, is essentially insignificant in the greater scheme of knowing, a mere byproduct in the transcendent, eternal process of knowledge. We’re starting to see that the knowledge process encourages the fostering process of community, a process that, by nature, prompts any-and-all to partake and engage; we’re starting to see that ‘knowledge’ through the individual, internal introspective and perceptive process, elevates and empowers the self, yet heralds a host of obstacles in the aftermath. And why? Only the individual knows the individual’s knowledge, hence no other can ever know what the individual knows. Experiential knowledge is only truly known to the individual consciousness. To explore the ways in which experiential knowledge can/has/will-forever cause problems, just open a history textbook, any page. Time and time again, an individual/group/community/culture/society/country manipulated knowledge in order to validate some atrocious act of humanity. Did Hitler care for the communal transactional process, did he care to learn from others-he cared for his own experience, put these experiences on a pedestal to be revered as being the sole source of truth which thereby justified the end-all of those failing to mimic said Aryan knowing experience. We must tread gently when engaging the experiential, as it is the double-edged sword.
One can argue that experiential knowledge is inherently a selfish desire, the motivation to ‘experience’ for the sake of knowing experience and thus outright owning this experienced knowledge that is unique and special and internal and perceived only by one’s own consciousness. But what about those ‘tough’ experiences, those we strive to know from a distance, to know of for our own safety? We can read about the life of an ex-child soldier, even shed a tear or two, but do we actually want to know what he knows because he has known-hell no. There are those of us who take one for the team, the real MVP’s, the ones who suffer the knowing process for the sake of the knowledge process that the rest of us partake in knowing. We know about Sierra Leone and the RUF and blood diamonds, but we don’t know the carnage, the hate, what-it-is-to-know machete vs. flesh. Stanley articulates this notion of ‘knowing experience’ from a distance succinctly, “our thinking species was born ignorant into the world, and all our knowledge has been dearly purchased by someone’s experience”
Because we don’t want to know, we just desire to know of, to know about as Osho would say. To add to our repertoires, our essays, our newsletters. We honor those who have known and who do know; we fear them, we shun them, we embrace them, we shuffle them, we pity them-but not-become them, never become them, that, or other. We listen to them, then listen some more, shaking-heads and swirling scotch and listening and listening. We cut checks, name names, gargle iced rocks in flurries of rage. But we do not know them, and we know that it isn’t our number yet for a long yet.
At what point does the knowing process produce flat knowledge which numbs with the boredom of a means-to-an-end? At what point does the realities imposed and supposed by ‘knowledge’ rear its ugly head? What happens when you let knowledge get in bed-when you mistake the rising-and-falling for sleep? What about those of us who dismiss Osho’s infinite wisdom, who insist on living like they know? On living like they know pain, know love, know right and know wrong; the point at which human beings insist on the know before-the-knowing is the point of no return. That point where one decides that they absolutely know is the point where permanence usurps the impermanence, and the lovechild between ignorance and want is born. The point where boredom breeds hate and inspires discord. If one can argue the merits-to-be-had of the communal knowledge process, then one must also argue the undoing-to-be-done in the individual knowledge process. The greatest irony is of course, that the individual knowing-knowledge process is unavoidable, inevitable, for ‘experiential’ knowledge gained through experience is arguably, the essence of the human condition; for what is life if not for the experience of life?
So knowing at its finest is to validate beliefs externally and thereby internally through communal transaction…in order to know that which is worth knowing…in order to compare the experiential-worth-knowing to the agreed upon worth-knowing and thus know if the experience was true experience…and ultimately end the endless quest to-knowing for reasons we don’t know. …
After much deliberate contemplation and reflection, I’ve realized that my exploration of the knowledge process was sparked by our past weekend together for a reason; my philosophy of knowledge, the notion of knowledge as a communal transaction, validates my purpose to teach. Unbeknownst to me, my consciousness has groomed itself since I was a child to one day assume the role of ‘teacher’-my compulsion to ask questions, to learn from others, to know, has guided me unto my present path. By appreciating the good and the ugly of the knowing-knowledge process, I can hope to one day guide my future students unto their own respective paths-to-knowing. By appreciating experiential knowledge, I will ensure that my future students have opportunities to engage in the individual knowing process; however by appreciating communal knowledge, transactional knowledge, I will be able to demonstrate to (most of) them just how precious the knowing process is. Being the person that I am-my philosophies permeate my every thought and action for better or worse-I will try to envision my classroom as a 24/7 supermarket, endless transactions, endless bags, endless stocking and restocking. I will try to see my students as fellow participants, together caught in this beautiful samsara of knowledge and knowing, every class being an opportunity to further our universal school of thought and not and right and perhaps; for the process does not discriminate for knowledge in all its glory-the conceptions, perceptions, ideas, ect-is ageless. And for myself and me, appreciating these intrinsic qualities of the knowledge process will mold me to into a better human, a notion that will transcend throughout every facet of my being: a better listener, learner, citizen, runner, poet, lover, and friend. My burgeoning fascination with the field of epistemology will continue to develop over the coming years, and I look forward to the myriad contemplations, reflections, receptions, essays, conversations, and new perceptions this knowing-process will bring. I will strive to remember Osho’s teachings, to treasure my ever-evolving philosophy and foster it as I go on to know more and to know more or less. Every coffee order, every whispering willow, every forum, every dawn-heralds a new day, a new time, a new moment, opportunity to evolve my knowing and the knowing of those around me. I know that I will never know, but what I do know now is that there is safety/comfort/merit/experience/empathy/compassion/adventure/excitement/pain/envy/power/satisfaction/growth/evolution in knowing. The fool’s journey is the quest for knowledge-humanity’s journey is the quest for quest. What I know is nothing until another comes along and says its something-and-another-or-other, and the journey picks up all over again. I know that I’ll never stop trying to know; and there is the beauty, there is human, there is the be in all its glory ‘till the end and then.
Osho. “On Boredom.” Handout. Plymouth State University. Waterville Valley, NH. n.d. Print.
Stanley, Brian Jay. “The Communion Of Strangers.” The Sun Magazine 436 (2012): 13-14. Essays, Memories, & True Stories. The Sun Magazine, Apr. 2012. Web. 11 June 2016.
Steup, Matthias. “Epistemology.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 14 Dec. 2005. Web. 11 June 2016.