Martin LeFevre: Epistemological and Logical?
Epistemological and Logical?
One of the most annoying things to philosophers is the habit well-educated people have of plugging everything they hear into the preexisting knowledge structure they’ve built.
Apologies for getting epistemological, but there’s no other way. To see the limits of knowledge, one has to understand the nature of knowledge. To see when knowledge is valid and when it is not, one has to understand what knowledge is and what it is not.
Philosophers don’t like citing other philosophers, much less ‘embedding’ their putative insights in scientific or pseudo-scientific theories. Part of it is ego certainly. But it’s mostly a different mode of thinking, which isn’t to say philosophers aren’t prone to epistemological errors like other people.
But one mistake philosophers don’t generally make is automatically associating something a person says with something they have read or studied. A philosopher who says, in reaction to a proposed insight, ‘have you read Joe Schmo’s work on the subject?’ labels himself or herself a second-rate thinker from the get go.
The very notion that there is a point beyond which knowledge is not valid is so foreign to our Western ears that it sounds nonsensical. We have been deeply conditioned to believe that knowledge is accurate or inaccurate, useful or useless; but always, in one form or another, knowledge is assumed to be the ground of being and becoming.
Of course there are other types of knowledge than the scientific kind—for example, the idea (and fact) that ‘indigenous people have a different kind of knowledge.’ But in both cases, and in almost all theories of knowledge, the primacy of knowledge is almost entirely unquestioned. So what is knowledge?
There are many different forms of knowledge—experiential, educational, scientific, cultural, etc. There is rational and testable knowledge, such as how far to the nearest star. And there are irrational forms of knowledge, such as ‘Ossetia belongs to Georgia,’ or ‘Ossetia belongs to Russia.’
Beliefs are a form of knowledge, as are traditions, moral systems, and nationalisms. Since everything humans do seems to flow from knowledge, better to ask: What isn’t knowledge?
Before I dig even further into this can of worms, I’ll show my hand. To my mind, the chief characteristic of any form of knowledge is that it has continuity. Whether the knowledge is rational, such as computer technology, or irrational, such as racism, the information has a recorded and recognized continuity in the brain, or the computer.
Awareness and insight, on the other hand, have no continuity as such. Insight arises in the moment, in a flash of perception that precedes words, images, and concepts. We may, and almost always do instantaneously form words, images, and concepts for an insight we have or hear, but in the moment of its actual occurrence, an insight is a break with the continuity of knowledge.
Can we function without knowledge? No, because knowledge is essential to functioning in society. But can we be, in the moments and spaces in our lives, without knowledge?
Yes. To have a good mind/brain that sees life afresh, so that one is growing in insight, one has to regularly end the continuity of knowledge, leaving space for the discontinuity of being.
The difficulty is that the brain has derived its security from the continuity of knowledge in one form or another for many thousands of years. At least since humans first began consciously passing knowledge down from one generation to the next, knowledge, order, and security have been deeply linked in the brain.
But knowledge, even scientific knowledge, has not produced order. On the contrary, there is growing disorder, inwardly and outwardly. So we are compelled to ask: Is there a different basis altogether for order and security?
There is. As arduous and often unsettling as it is, the brain can set all forms of knowledge aside, and stand in the space and silence that exists when there is no continuity of knowledge.
Of course one first has to put things in basic order within oneself, but that’s not hard to do if one gives some energy and focus to it.
Giving primacy to space and silence, true intelligence is awakened in the brain. Intelligence functions in a field of dynamic order, using old knowledge and generating new knowledge fittingly.
Awareness, direct perception, and insight are not continuous, yet they are the source of perpetual order, security, and youthfulness for the brain. And that’s the foundation for a new human being, and culture.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.