What is This Big Thing Called Knowledge? Pt.2: The Gateways

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.

Category: Philosophy

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Article by: Gilbert Ross