Some Meditations on Knowledge and the Human Dilemma

When something activates my interest in the social media sphere, I tend to drill down on it. In the form of Facebook posts and YouTube videos that entails reading through as many of the comments as possible, and not only the comments, but the comments to the comments, and the comments to those comments. I find it massively interesting to see what people of all walks and worldviews are actually thinking and saying on a topic, especially on a topic of controversy.

said FB post

said FB post

I offer this recent Facebook thread as an example, not because I endorse its content, but because I read copiously through the comments to judge how people from all sides of the argument and everywhere in between are weighing in, and I think if you do the same, from a dispassionate detached point of view (as much as possible), you are likely to find it interesting too.

I am of a belief that mankind, in some sense, is suffering from a sort of epistemological crisis, if I may use that term.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines Epistemology narrowly as the study of knowledge and justified belief, and in part as, “issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry.”

To elaborate, what I discover in reading through the comments of the above Facebook thread, is that I find a few that seem to hit the nail directly on the head, others being completely off the mark, and then perhaps the majority making points on either side of an argument that are either composed with a good deal of wisdom infused with some erroneous beliefs, or vice versa (mostly erroneous with kernels of truth).

Now, I am approaching and evaluating all of this knowledge against my own personal knowledge bank, which is what informs my worldview, and I am well aware of this fact. And that is what each person who comes to the conversation is doing.

The fundamental realization that one eventually comes to in this regard is that knowledge itself is necessarily limited.

This is true in part because we inhabit an age of information where so much of what our brains ingest comes to us second-hand and is continually being spun, obfuscated, ignored, played up, dramatized, overstated, understated, distorted and generally abused to serve some end or another – a world full of mis-info, dis-info, propaganda, and psychological warfare.

Even if this were not true, judged merely in scientific terms, it is understood that much about our physical reality remains yet to be discovered. We know for example that the physics of today displaces the physics of yesterday, just as Quantum Mechanics displaced Newtonian Mechanics, just as Heliocentrism took the place of Geocentrism, and so on. By the same token we must admit that tomorrows physics will replace that of today, and thus that what we know about reality is in no way complete, and may in fact never be so, in as much as we may never know whether some piece of reality exists that is ultimately undiscoverable to the human mind.

Though, there is a more germane sense in which I wish to question our relationship to knowledge.

Although no one of us can claim to have absolute knowledge, it is nonetheless the habit and inclination of each person to approach a thing as if we do. That is to say, “I know”, or “we know” (definitively) and so we are always warring over the facts.

This is not to say that all is relative, and that there are no facts.

There are facts, and then there is our interpretation of the facts which are generally in dispute. Our interpretation of the fact is what constitutes a belief. You cannot, in reality, have a belief about a fact. A fact is just there. You cannot operate on it mentally. If you try, then it will only distort the fact so that it becomes something other than what it is.

I do not believe that I have two arms. I have two arms. That is the fact. There is nothing else to do with it.

The world is in disorder. My own self is in disorder. I would say those are also facts, however these seem to demand some type of remediation. The question arises, is more knowledge the answer?

Will all the knowledge in the world, in and of itself, prevent human beings from killing one another?  If so, why has this not happened despite the immense accrual of knowledge that has occurred over thousands of years?

An animal might kill for food, or out of fear, whether to protect itself or its young. In other words, it is killing for survival, from its instincts which have been shaped over generations upon generations.

Today a human being, by contrast, may be brought into killing over some bit of knowledge that was gained yesterday. Rather than a direct and imminent threat to survival a threat is merely implied as the result of some belief or other, which is a process of knowledge.

Does the mere acquisition of knowledge deliver the addict from addiction? Can it restore the integrity of a broken heart?  Do you love your child because of some fact you have acquired about them?

So if the really heavy problems humanity is faced with are that we are killing one another, that we are killing ourselves through every form of escapism, that we carry traumas in need of healing, and that there is a lack of love in our hearts, then is having more knowledge or the right kind of knowledge alone going to mend all of that?

Or are we laboring under some false premise, running a fool’s errand?

I don’t know.

These are just thoughts given form, after all, that can be collected and cataloged into the memory banks as another form of knowledge. It may be in this way that the mind is caught in a loop of sorts, by its own design.

Despite these conjectures, I admit to having ideas, just as you, and some notion of what I feel is correct. What prompted me into viewing the above article on Facebook in the first place, to be fair, was an internet meme that had been revised and to which I took the liberty of revising further according to what I affirm to know about the world.

(click to enlarge. my revisions in blue. here again is the source image)

feel the bern?

But I don’t deny that there may be some higher perspective or some more overriding truth to the matter. If you feel that you can get closer to it, I welcome you to grab the image and update it further.

Either way, I doubt whether an internet meme, or the knowledge contained therein, will be the thing that irrevocably alters the course of humanity toward a more harmonious state of existence.

Thoreau once wrote, “They who know of no purer sources of truth, who have traced up its stream no higher, stand, and wisely stand, by the Bible and the Constitution, and drink at it there with reverence and humility; but they who behold where it comes trickling into this lake or that pool, gird up their loins once more, and continue their pilgrimage toward its fountain-head.”

For my part, I like to believe that I have firmly girded my loins long ago and having already departed such particular waters, will continue to trace the source of that stream as high and as long as life will allow. Then, such things tend to be subjective.

From my own current vantage, though, I’m gaining an awareness that such a fountain-head, if it exists, is not a matter of knowledge to be comprehended. It is not a thing to be possessed by the individual ego-mind. It can’t be stepped down for the ego’s amusement.

I therefore leave you with no grand conclusion, dear reader. Just this bit of philosophical musing.

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