So that last post really just presented more questions than answers, but then I really was not trying to do anything other than that. Yes, most of the questions, or quandaries, posed are in essence unanswerable, but like any good philosophical exploration, the value is in the debate. Walking the path as it were. I did however intend to posit a fundamental position, which perhaps did not truly bubble to the surface until I was challenged – via comment – by Child Unit One. I will let you go read those for yourself in case you are interested, though they may be useful in terms of following the following discourse…
Experience is what I was trying to get at. Or, maybe understanding as based on experience. That is why I started asking about “knowing”. I think it is a really intriguing question; this idea of what it is to “know” something. You see, when it comes down to it I am not really that much of a scientist. I am a strong proponent of the scientific method – that process of attempting to acquire as much information as possible about some question or other via rigorous and replicable means – and the necessary documentation that goes along with it. As I understand it, this sort of information forms the basis of certain kinds of knowledge; formal interpretation of observable events based on recorded and analyzed data… or something. The gradual and processual accumulation of this sort of information throughout human history has led to our ever increasingly scientific explanations of all the various phenomena that occur during our collective physiological sojourns on this giant celestial teapot we call “Earth”.
For example, I was trained in the science of archaeology; that being the methods utilized in the investigation of human history via the observation and analysis of material remains left for one reason or other by past humans. In an attempt to make said discipline more akin to the so called “physical sciences” as opposed I guess to the humanities (or the non-professional antiquities collecting that has plagued it over the years), efforts have been undertaken to make it a more systematic and rigorous exercise. Standards imposed, laws enacted, statistics applied… all good things and valuable. But there comes a time while reading or hearing about some efforts that I have had to ask myself, “Well yes, OK, but what does it all mean?” I find myself wondering at the worth of the systematic accumulation of interesting facts… this perpetual gathering of knowledge. What – in essence – is the value of knowledge for the sake of knowledge… just to play devil’s advocate here.
Anyways, I really was hoping to explore the concept of “experience”… I think. Certainly during the course of such investigations one must necessarily experience… well events… I guess. Phenomena. Occurrences. How else could one record an observation of anything without experiencing it in some manner or other? Maybe this is just belaboring the a priori/a posteriori argument, but I do not think this is what I am trying to get at either.
Let me see if I can come at this from a different angle. I started thinking about this business several days ago (well in the most recent iteration… I have been wrangling with this for years) when I was trying to understand the idea of “knowing God”. Yes, I expect some of you readers out there could tell where this was heading… simmer down. If “knowing” is intrinsically related to “knowledge”, which is in turn directly defined by data, the above statement does not work. Cannot work as I understand it. The idea of God – or any form of spirituality one might propose to investigate – is not understandable in such a context. Not observable, not measureable, not recordable, not definable. One cannot analyze it with statistics. One can certainly record observations regarding the spiritual nature of humans and consequently bludgeon this with all sorts of analyses, thus producing and acquiring knowledge, but this is about the people not the spiritual phenomena. Thus, if one were a fierce proponent of the idea that the only “knowledge” that is of any intrinsic value is that which is constructed or procured via the scientific method… there is no such thing as “God”, and certainly such things have been said… often times emphatically so.
Problem is, I don’t buy it. And this goes back to my question of what it is to “know” something. We can say all sorts of scientific things about both ourselves and the world around us; things based on recordable, analyzable data. We cannot however do much of that with anything relating to faith or belief or spirituality. Well that is not quite right either. All of those are manifestations of the human condition… rather the “objects” or perhaps the “subjects” of these observable manifestations of the human condition are the slippery part. People believe in something, organize around it, create and adhere to very specific traditions and practices of and for this something, and all of these things are observable, measureable, recordable, definable… but the moment you start to ask why it all falls apart. Sure, there are all sorts of psychological, or behavioral theories that would be potentially useful in analyzing this, but I cannot help but believe that there is something else going on.
And there we get to another problem, “believe”. One can “believe” in science and it is accepted, but when one proclaims to “believe” in God or aliens or the Flying Spaghetti Monster people start arguing. Why? Oops, there is that word again. I tried to express my frustration relating to this the other day with Child Unit One… the why question has always been the big problem for me. Like a little kid I guess. “How” is interesting certainly, but “Why” is the one that I always get hung up on.
I can go to church and “experience” the behaviors of the “body of Christ” – the “godliness in others”. I can read the books and talk to the scholars and “learn” the background of the whole business, the foundations and the history. I can follow along and begin to approach the “how” of it all… at least on a superficial level. But why? Now that is the zinger for sure. Actually, how and why are often tangled up together in my mind. Especially in this case…a supernatural yin and yang in a sense. Because when it comes down to it, on the surface “why” is the easier question in terms of “knowing God”… and this time it is really in the “how” where I get stuck. Maybe it is time to take it easy, go bowling or something, and let the world roll along without me for awhile.