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What is This Big Thing Called Knowledge? Pt.1,2&3

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What is This Big Thing Called Knowledge? Pt.1: The Knowledge Spiral
By Gilbert Ross • May 22, 2017

From a young age I was always tremendously fascinated and impressed by the word ‘Knowledge’. I felt it carried so much import, promise even with a pretentious undertone I would add. Like any fundamental concept in human language it is cobwebbed in a nexus of nuances, equivocation, linguistic derogations and what have you. In simpler words, it’s a big word we use often, in many situations but we hardly know it that intimately. At least so I feel. Yes let’s ask the question “What is knowledge? No, seriously. What is it?”

Evolution or Revolution?

When I studied Philosophy as an undergrad, still under the spell of the ancient Greek thinkers and incited to be a free, provocative thinker, I would ask these questions to myself about what seems obvious and widely accepted. I would think “how much do we really know?” which is like saying “how much do we really know about ourselves and the Universe?”. We have Scientific knowledge, yes, so we consensually think, even if we don’t really understand the Science ourselves, that as a species we are advancing forward in our scientific knowledge. We can say so for all the other forms of knowledge – art, history, practical, spiritual, etc. We feel that knowledge grows, evolves and accumulates.
So we are taking some very basic assumptions for granted already here. That basically we have knowledge about ourselves and the Universe we inhabit – like attempting to reverse-engineer our brain and getting closer to understand the basic infrastructure of the Universe. We are also assuming that this knowledge is progressive – always moving closer towards the ‘truth’ and building upon previous knowledge and theories. At least this is what is implicitly consented upon in the modern scientific communities. But is this a fairly good understanding of the whole picture? Do we tend to lean more often than needed upon an evolutionary perspective of time, matter, history and consciousness? Could it be that the ancients were right when they saw time (hence evolution and history) as cyclical? Or maybe is it both – spiralling up in both a cyclical but progressive fashion?

Restless Connections

To ask a side question relative to the main one in the title: Where is knowledge taking us? Is it taking us to a particular landmark, a destination? Towards exploring new frontiers? towards a truth? wisdom perhaps? To answer that question, it is easier for us to look at our own biography. We feel that we have learned a thing or two since we were infants. We gained new information about how the world works and we mapped that into a structure of interconnected concepts and ideas we call knowledge. The vast neural pathways and circuit clusters in the brain are wired and rewired as we input new data from our environment and which in turn always changes the way we respond to newer data. The brain is constantly morphing and self-organising itself in a way to accommodate new sensory inputs and ideas.

So maybe this is another thing that can be said about knowledge itself seeing that the brain – which is itself the network infrastructure through which we accommodate knowledge – behaves in this way: It is constantly on the move. It never stops and it never rests. Perhaps this is such a counter-intuitive way to look at knowledge since we are so accustomed to think of knowledge as something set – something which is objectively out there and we are bound to get more and more of as we explore, think, research and study.
The spirit quest for new knowledge has always been exploration
The more I think of the idea that knowledge is universal, unchanging and objective, the more I think we are moving away from the real thing. Absolute knowledge is elusive. It’s quicksand. The spirit quest for new knowledge has always been exploration – particularly self-exploration although we have been doing the opposite in the last 200 hundred years. But this is changing. We will return back from outer space exploration to inner space exploration although this is a discussion for another episode.
Knowledge is ever-changing; it’s experiential. It is neither ‘out there’ nor ‘in here’. It is an intersection between fields of consciousness.
Knowledge is ever-changing; it’s experiential. It is neither ‘out there’ nor ‘in here’. It is an intersection between fields of consciousness. Just like the brain, it is forming and reforming in a constant process of self-organisation. Yes, we can say that it grows or it develops although we can’t claim how and where it is going. It has no delivery address and no stamp of approval is ever needed, although cultures and peoples of different generations and epochs will keep on seeing that knowledge is going somewhere in particular relative to their very small point of view. On a larger time scale, I think the skies change and the charts are redrawn. In other words, knowledge is provisional at best and it is a freaking awesome heuristic tool at the same time.
Should we burn all the books and shut down the internet? I’d say hell no. Celebrate the knowledge we have, use it, never take it for granted. Keep on in the spirit of the ancient and modern explorers – always look at the horizon. Follow the spiral. rise and fall, ask the right questions, embrace moments of lucidity as they rise out of the darkness of doubt.

Last edited by PurpleSkyz on Wed May 31, 2017 4:15 pm; edited 1 time in total



What is this big thing called knowledge? Pt.2: The Gateways
By Gilbert Ross • May 25, 2017 • No comments
In the first part of this serious, I tried to put out my thoughts about how we can come to understand knowledge more intimately. Human knowledge, in my opinion, has always presented itself as being provisional at best. It is dynamic, experiential and ever-changing. It’s not set in stone anywhere, anytime.  It’s evolution is a spiral movement as our understanding of ourselves and our Universe moves in both a cyclical and progressive way. Sometimes it is lost to be found again as we remember ancient memories through the eyes of a new discoveries.
For me personally, one of the most interesting questions about knowledge is “how do we acquire it?” – which is to say what are the gateways through which human knowledge seeps through? Without any shadow of doubt, Perception is the obvious first answer.

The Primacy of Experience

We know what we know because we experience it through our sense perception. We build models about our world as infants or scientists because we touch, taste, see and hear what is going on around us. Many philosophies hold perception and empirical data as the foundation of all our knowledge – whether it’s scientific theories, peeping through our observation instruments, making hypotheses, etc are all based on sense perception. Perception, in other words is the biggest gateway to our knowledge.  It is how we interface with the world around us and everyone is naturally equipped with this technology. We have explored our boundaries through the faculties of our senses. Some people would argue that experience is primary and anything else – from political theory to mathematical models – is just derivative.

Platonic Relationships

Many other philosophies would bite back and argue that quite the opposite is true. Kantian philosophy would for instance hold fiercely to the notion that mathematical knowledge is more primary and it is not dependent on empirical observation which can be faulty. Mathematical purists and realists hold, like Plato did some two millennia ago, that there is a world of geometrical forms and ideas that exist above this plane of real world forms. The latter is just a corrupted and tainted manifestation of the former. So according to tenets of this view, mathematical knowledge is a higher form of knowledge than that coming from our sense data. It is like accessing a higher order and untainted blueprint of our current reality.

High on Emotions

Then there are emotions that paint our picture of the world with colourful overtones. What do emotions have to say about knowledge? Can emotions be, either directly or indirectly, a source of knowledge? Historically we have regarded emotions to be at odds with clear, rational judgment. Most certainly in the world of scientific endeavour, emotions play no part. They are considered a stumbling block to objective reasoning and understanding as if the rational and the emotional are mutually exclusive in a duality paradigm of order and chaos, male and female, conscious and unconscious, and so on. Yet whether they are just predetermined biological responses from the ancient part of our brain, or whether they are something far more poetic sounding than that, emotions are a real and inextricable thread in the complex tapestry that makes us human. Emotions play an important role in how we express, communicate, interpret and share knowledge. They add dimensionality to it, and this dimensionality is what gives human knowledge the charge to be active, alive and in motion.

The Silent Harbinger

Finally, and possibly the least understood and the most underestimated, is what we call intuition. Intuition is the silent harbinger of knowledge. Subtle, and seldom given due credit, intuition is what allows us to see beyond the limits and partiality of our current views. I always say that most, if not all, of our greatest discoveries did not come about from the brightest logic and rational thinking. They did through intuition, inspired through and by the imagination. Rational thinking is there to structure, refine and analyse those discoveries and not make them. Intuition has made us leap forward as a species by allowing us to see and feel solutions outside of our space-time box through creative and innovative ideas.
Yet it’s very hard to pin down what intuition really is. Is it a certain neural activity pattern across our brain hemispheres as some neuroscientists might suggest? Or is it that we are accessing the deep well of the collective unconscious as Jung would have it? or subtle hints from the transpersonal realm beyond the shores of the individual psyche? Truth is, we don’t know. But what is for certain is that no matter how ineffable intuition is, it is one of the most valuable gateways to knowledge that we have.

Gateways to the Future 

Whatever opinions, theories and arguments we keep on coming out with regarding these gateways to knowledge and how some are better or stronger than others, I honestly think is not as much important as it is entertaining. What is important is to give due importance to each and to be constantly aware that we might be living in a time or culture that celebrates one while devaluing the other. We are just starting to come out of a very chauvinistic epoch in which logic and rational thinking was the only accepted means through which valuable knowledge is achieved. We might be crossing over to another in which intuition and emotions are finally given their due respect but then end up relegating one of the other channels to some philosophical hinterland. Knowledge doesn’t really care how it comes about. All means are equally viable. It is not elitist or selective.
The gateways of knowledge are important because they are channels and means through which knowledge can move and grow. Water will seep through any channel it can flow through. One channel can be wider or straighter than the other, but none is really more important than the rest. Value is only something we add later. It’s our thing.

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What is This Big Thing Called Knowledge? Pt.3: The Whole in the Parts
By Gilbert Ross • May 31, 2017 • No comments
Knowledge is about connecting, structuring and putting together the fragments. In a way it is a constant attempt to glue together the bits and pieces into a meaningful bigger picture. It’s always about striving towards threading and stitching meaning from the isolated patches of our fragmented world together. The biggest irony in all of this is that knowledge is and will always be partial or fragmentary.

The Parts in the Whole

It is by definition partial since knowledge will always be knowledge to an individual or collective of individuals that are locked inside a space-time bubble. A culture or generation will create or use knowledge that is meaningful according to the narrative of their time or according to the pressing problems they need to solve for their survival or thriving. Not to mention political, religious and economic influence on which knowledge ought to be given attention to or discarded, censored or if possible barred from people’s consciousness altogether. Yes, we’re humans.
Once again this comes to show how knowledge is not that universally applicable as we would like to believe. It is made to change its outfit to fit neatly with the people, setting and hour of the day. The other thing is embodiment. We are both limited and enabled by our biology.  What we see, hear, taste and feel are only a sliver in the whole bandwidth of frequencies out there. We are just tuned into a very narrow frequency range of reality. So basically what we know is made possible by accessing that small range of sensory input only. The rest flies over our head, so to speak. Imagine if your vision right now filters out everything except colours in a particular shade of blue. What would you see? You would still access what is out there and make knowledge out of it but it would be rather limited.
The same can be said about the way we perceive our reality. We are only glimpsing into a fragment of it, limited by our biology and if that is not enough, we are interpreting it according to what is meaningful to our culture and time.
A third reason is that our knowledge is structured and filtered by our brain and using the faculties of our mind and intellect. Now here is the thing; The mind and the intellect need fragmentation and partiality to function. You manage to grasp what you do because you have a very basic model that treats objects separately with defined physical borders and distinct properties. You are only seeing the parts of a presumed whole and you wouldn’t be making any meaning of the world if you hadn’t this. It all makes sense to us because of this basic model of things being just parts separated from each other in time and space.

Synthesis and our View on the Courtyard

The relevant word here is synthesis. We observe our world as containing separate forms and objects with their own distinct behaviours and properties. But from this apparently world of disparate objects we try to make connections, abstractions, generalisations and theories about the fundamental operations at work. We attempt to make a whole out of the parts. Some say we are moving towards the age of synthesis in which we are trying to understand ourselves and the Universe in more holistic terms combining together understanding from the different fields – Science, Art, Spirituality, etc. The analogy is to an internal courtyard surrounded by windows of a building. You can view the courtyard from one window and have a very partial view of it. This is the case with seeing reality from one subject area, for example Science. Alternatively you can augment your understanding of the courtyard by looking through different windows. You will have a more ‘holistic’ picture, albeit still partial or incomplete.
Many spiritual traditions do in fact talk about transcendental knowledge – the one you get by transcending beyond the partial and dualistic understanding of the mind. This is why the so-called mysteries and higher truths cannot be grasped by and through the mind but through the ‘heart’ because the mind works through partiality or that is, through seeing only the parts. But according to some spiritual traditions, the truth is a type of ‘knowledge’ which can only be understood as whole, outside the mind’s analytical understanding of the parts.

The Whole in the Parts

To someone who is unacquainted with these concepts outlined above, the idea of whole and parts might come across as a little bit confusing at first. Once past this initial head rattle, we can go further down the rabbit hole into the weird Science of the small – Quantum theory. Scientific giants and pioneers of the 20th century such as Theoretical Physicist David Bohm, whose contributions to Quantum Physics has been rather extensive, mentions how our Scientific problem is that we are looking at the parts and not in a holistic way.
Bohm postulated the Holographic model of the Universe and together with Psychologist Karl Pribram, put forward the Holographic model of the brain. In really concise laymen’s words – the idea is that the Space-Time reality around us, chairs, tables, stars and galaxies, is very much like a holographic projection. In a classic holographic projection, if you cut the photographic plate in half and pass it in front of the laser light again, you still get the whole holographic image at the other end (for example a holographic image of a tower). No matter how many times you split the photographic plate, the whole image of the tower remains the same. Why? Because in a holograph, every part contains all the information of the whole. What Bohm is saying in non-scientific terms, is that in the Universe, even the smallest of particles, contain the information about the whole Universe. The whole is literally in the parts.
This is something that is confirmed by the work of present day theorist Nassim Haramein. Haramein is extremely close to solving one of the biggest problems in Science – one that Einstein had tried to solve, unsuccessfully, till his death. Basically it is trying to join together two seemingly irreconcilable theoretical standpoints – Quantum theory, the science of the insanely small and Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Haramein’s answers lend on the idea of a Holo-fractal Universe. I will not go into the Science and mathematics behind it but it suffices to say that currently our best model to understand the underlying principle of the Universe is by understanding that there are no parts making up a whole but One whole that is in everything we perceive as ‘parts’.
What we are saying here is that in our present day Science has advanced to a stage where it is pointing all the way back to what we knew and intuited long time ago through other channels of knowledge – myth, ancient Cosmogony and spiritual insights. Here is the Knowledge spiral in action: going back full circle to align with ancient wisdom but moving forward through augmenting and synthesizing one knowledge system with another. It is understanding that one gateway of knowledge such as rational thought does not cut it on its own.  We are starting to understand our limits in knowledge – for instance that our mind and intellect are limited by a dualistic paradigm of parts in a whole and once we start transcending this paradigm, we enter a second renaissance in human knowledge.

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