What is it to “know” something? What is it to have “knowledge”? Does “knowing” imply having learned something? Are there feelings attached to “knowing” or is that reserved for the realm of “wisdom”? Concurrently then, what is “wisdom”? What about “intuition”? What about “experience”? There are so many strange concepts tied to these questions; the relationship to brain and mind, or spirit and soul, nature and nurture. What is this thing we call “life”?
So there are – of course – the bare bones, scientific “facts” of biological, physiological life. We are conceived, we are born, we persist for a time, moving about in physical space governed by the realities of biological function, then at some point those functions cease and we perish. Or so we are told. This is an ex-parrot. Many would have us accept that there is much more to life than this. But what is “life”; what is it to “live”?
I suppose I am flirting with disaster here in that I really do not like the idea of asking questions about the “search for meaning”, but then I guess that is what I am doing… in a sense. I am just after a different sort of “meaning”. Funny thing though, in writing these questions one might be inclined to think that the questioning is more about the words themselves… or maybe not. Maybe it really is about the language; the “meanings” behind all the words… but that is a different thing than asking “Why are we here?” I am not even really sure what that question “means”.
I used to be a strong proponent (at least in mind and partly in word), that birthdays – and by association – the whole business of measuring the world with a calendar was a fallacious enterprise. I used to be fond of the phrase “we all must get older, but we need not get old”. I used to think it was terribly clever… I guess I still do in a sense, though maybe not terribly so. The basis for my argument was that saying a person is twenty-something or fifty-something is an empty statement based on an imagined reality; that being the western “calendar”. It is tied to my inability and outright refusal to accept that ANY human formulated institution is the “right” way to do something. Saying that I am 39 makes as much “real” sense to me as saying that at one time in my youth I was bleen (that little-known number that exists between six and seven). It is all nonsense. Words. Sounds that we have constructed to give “meaning” to abstract concepts which, given a bit too much time on our hands, we humans are marvelous at conceiving. I would often posit that, it is not calendrical age by which one ought to measure one’s life, but rather by experience. But then one might push this a bit further and suggest that there is no real point in “measuring” one’s age anyway.
So then it comes back around to where I started this; in begging the question of what is “knowledge” or “experience”. Can, or does one “experience” “knowing”? Must one “learn” “knowledge” or can one experience it? Both? Of course on the one hand this is just an exercise in semantics, but on the other hand if we persist in measuring our realities through the mechanism of human formulated conceptual structures then semantics=language=understanding… or something. So then in “saying” something, we are implying – or perhaps rather attempting to impart – a certain concept. In this case the right words are very important. Say what you mean and all that. This allows us to make silly statements such as “I know what you mean.” Do you? Do you really? Or did you just hear what I said? And beware of empathy here… one might suggest.
OK, so what is knowledge? Is it “understanding”? Is it “belief”? Is it “experience”? How do I know what I know… and what is it that I “know” really? Is knowledge merely the mechanism by which I explain (or perhaps rather understand) the structure of my experience? But then where fits wisdom, intuition, belief? A couple of other favorite quotes that would seem to be related to the question; “It is my firm belief that it is a bad idea to hold firm beliefs.” And “Anything that I could believe might be wrong.” Is “dark” a reality in and of itself or is it simply the absence of “light”? To paraphrase Morpheus, if our physical “senses” are merely physiological processes – electrical signals interpreted by the brain – then what is “real”?
So, is knowledge implicitly tied to empiricism, the business of knowing what we know…or like to think and try to convince others that we know? Is knowledge strictly the realm of “science”, firmly grounded in the world of fact? What about the idea of “know thyself”, how does that fit into the mix? Looking up definitions of the word “know” (and variants thereof) one is presented with implications of some level of certainty or clarity, to perceive directly, to regard as true beyond doubt. That does not tell me much. What is clarity? How does one verify perception? What is “true”? Does this reasoning suggest that we base our “knowledge” on some standardized “truth” that is understood and verified by our senses? Now we are back to the question of how do we really know what we like to think we know?
So, what does all this matter? It doesn’t… don’t be ridiculous. This is all just nonsense, sort of like the rest of it all. Now, I am not intending to sound particularly nihilistic here, nor fatalistic for that matter. Rather, one might suggest that it is in the asking of these sorts of questions that life might become more interesting… or frustrating I suppose, depending on one’s perspective. One might even go a bit further to suggest that this sort of philosophical gerrymandering actually forces us to attempt to understand ourselves a bit more, especially in the sense of how one relates to the world and all of the rest. And there we get into one of the most interesting, and yet easily most complicated, realities of all of this… how it is that our understanding, perception, knowledge, experience – what have you – of the world around us (and existence within it) forms our ability to relate to others.
“I know what I know and that’s all that I know.” Or perhaps, “I am what I am and that’s all that I am.” I do not really like either of these statements for some reason. I think I prefer “All I know is that I know nothing.” If one’s vessel is full, one cannot accept anything more without losing something in the process. I think I would rather be the empty vessel, willing to “learn” more.
To call on Morpheus (although I suspect he got this from Buddhism somewhere) one last time, “There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path”, and to carry that one step further the important part is the journey… not the destination. But then, really, what do I know? I might be wrong after all. And whatever you do, DO NOT look to me for any answers… I am better at questions. And maybe not even very good at that.