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" A good traveller has no fixed plans,

and is not intent on arriving "

Lao Tzu

Think More, Believe and Know Less?

April 8th, 2015
Rodin's 'Thinker'

Rodin’s ‘Thinker’

Yesterday I put up a bit of a script from a BBC drama which has provoked some heart-felt comments both here on the blog and on my Facebook page. These got me thinking. Watching the drama on TV with Stephanie we both found the exchange between the two women extremely moving. One woman comforts another woman after a stillbirth by saying that souls want to get to heaven and just need the ‘stepping stone’ of a mum for a brief while. It’s important to know the context. It’s the 18th century – the vicar’s wife has lost her baby. She’s worried that the baby’s soul will not get to heaven because it hasn’t been baptised. The words she hears offer her a completely different way of understanding what has happened. It is a relief and a comfort to her to think her loss might be meaningful – even helpful – rather than meaningless and possibly dangerous for her child’s soul – condemning it to purgatory. Steph and I don’t happen to ‘believe’ either theory – the conventional Christian one or this new take on the soul’s journey. We also – of course – don’t ‘know’ whether either view might actually be correct. Nevertheless it got us thinking and feeling.

One of the things I have realized from posting this excerpt, is how much I prefer to think rather than try to believe or feel I know something. The following example may resonate with you: when you start to research a particular subject, you first of all have that wonderful sense of starting to know more about the topic. But then, if you keep going, you can often seem to start going into reverse – the more you learn, the more you discover competing explanations, new research that contradicts earlier assumptions, and so on. The gift is wonder, and hopefully humility, the risk is confusion or despair! Of course there are ‘facts’ you can discover and hold on to, like rafts floating in the ocean, but even these can be overturned years later by new findings.

The Jain theory of knowledge, Anekant, which states that we cannot absolutely know anything, and instead must be open to ‘multiple viewpoints’, seems sensible to me. Some people say they ‘know’ when what they really mean is that they think or feel, or have an intuition – but by saying they ‘know’ with utter conviction, they confer the status of absolutism on an event in their awareness which is subject to change. It closes the door on the Mystery, the possibility of other options and interpretations. So much for knowing!

And believing? Is belief really necessary? I tried to write about this briefly on my website and annoyingly it is on a page which doesn’t have a URL – but if you go here and click the little arrow on the right, hey presto it will slide sideways and ‘Opening to the Mystery’ will appear!

23 Responses to “Think More, Believe and Know Less?”

  1. Although I have always been a thinker, I have found myself becoming much less of a knower with age. I was certan about all sorts of things at 20. Now in my 40s I feel quite clueless. It is somewhat liberating.

    • Me too!:) It certainly feels liberating to me! I have a friend who has started ‘INK – The Institute of Not Knowing’ to celebrate this!

      • I LOVE the idea of INK. It certainly is true that the longer I live, the less I know, and the more I wonder, in the true sense of the word, at everything that surrounds us! Bendithion Afallon, all!

  2. Hi Philipi, I think I guess I feel what you are at – but the trap of a Meta-Belief lies afoot; and a Meta-Meta-Belief – ad nausea. There probably is no word for this state; all attributions immediately crumble the meanings -perhaps?

    • Hi Hennie,
      Yes we can’t stay too long in this Pathless Meta world! We need to smell the coffee and dig the garden! 🙂

  3. The first few years I called myself Pagan, I didn’t know others existed. I then practiced as a Wiccan for ten years, before being introduced to OBOD. Three years studying and practicing as a Bard lead me to some unfinished business with an interest in Germanic gods. Six years practicing as a Heathen, but it wasn’t my final destination. Now for a year or so I find myself overwhelmed – all paths are valid, even when drastically different. All offer something different. I appreciate the breadth of experience, but I hope I eventually find a way to settle into a tradition or routine.

    • Hi Mike,
      I think your experience highlights the very real flipside/shadow of freedom: on the one hand it is so liberating to be able to follow our interests/aspirations wherever they lead, on the other hand it can leave us feeling a little at sea. I think that is what I am pointing to in the ‘Opening to the Mystery’ link I give in this post which encourages Uncertainty. So the challenge is: how can I stay open but feel anchored? It is possible I think, with Nature and sometimes Family acting as the stabilisers or grounding for us.

      • Thank you for the encouragement, Philip. I believe you’re right that Nature is key. I literally had to re-program my brain to feel on a Heathen path (it was not easy), and now I feel I have to do it again – but I think I’ll feel more content in the long run if I can…and hopefully a bit wiser for having taken the detour. I am grateful for the opportunity to benefit from the knowledge and wisdom you share here and elsewhere.

  4. I’m not sure how to make my comment, so I’ll start here: I studied philosophy formally as one half of my degree. After I finished that degree I had the strongest impression that we actually know nothing about anything. This was reinforced after I completed my PhD. Since then I have been haunted by one question: How do we recognise that which is true? The logical formula that P is true if and only if P, gets us no nearer to an answer; it simply shifts it sideways. But this is the nub of everything. If we accept the formula that Knowledge is Justified True Belief (which I do), then there are few problems around ‘justified’ or ‘belief’, but true? The story you recount is very touching. It seems to me that it is at the intersection of empirical ‘truth’ and myth. For the bereaved woman, who does not believe the account of ‘momentary mothers’ it may nevertheless act to soothe her because someone believes it, i.e. her interlocutor. It is irrelevant if the account if true, we cannot judge it to be true or untrue in any case, but as an example of poetic myth it may still work its magic at the psychological level. Sorry this is all a bit confused and rambling, but I hope the idea comes through all the same.

  5. Such An interesting topic Philip. For me knowing and knowledge have differing meanings. Knowledge suggests a form of absolute, knowing is more being in the energy of. In a mystical way particularly one can feel the flow, like swimming in a stream of connection, which the intellect can struggle to pin down or label. Like the way nature is ever present yet always changing and evolving and also has a deeper resonance. The sacred marriage of mind and spirit is not owned by either it seems to me. To understand them both together requires a different perspective a third element. Perhaps a sense if universal mind . . . .

  6. For me, as I have gotten older, I tend to view things in a very simplistic way and that is , if something resonates within me as I am reading whatever the subject matter maybe, then, for most of the time, that is enough for me to know. There are exceptions that I have made for a few things, but these days, these are few and far between.

  7. One of the things I have enjoyed about getting older is learning that many of the things I used to know, I no longer am sure of, or am willing to waste precious time worrying about. It gets easier to let things go, and just enjoy the simple pleasures, my garden and the things of nature, and of course my grandchildren. I still love to learn new things and new ideas but all that angst about being right is for the young now . I can only do what I think are the right things for me and for the people around me.

  8. I just want to say a big thankyou for your previous post regarding stillbirth and miscarriage in context of the drama you watched. I had my stillborn son Gabriel 2 years ago followed by 2 miscarriages. The words from the script you published I personally found amazing and I shared them with my husband, we both agreed it was THE FIRST thing we have read that made us go YES! and gave us great comfort and peace. I have read so many books/blogs/articles over the last 2 years but nothing resonated with me, until your post yesterday. Thank you Philip, thank you so much from the both of us, Tracey x

  9. i’m glad you have kept this discussion going. I learned a great deal about belief, knowledge, and knowing from this as I watched my reactions. I think we all have places where we do not or cannot go with an open mind or heart. But with encouragement from each other we can move into those dark places with courage.

  10. This got me thinking/feeling… ; )

    “The process of living is an ongoing interaction, an intricate “knowing” of the world that is validated by the fact that we go on living. If there were no order, if everything was chaos, we would die. The fact that concepts always change, but we go on living, demonstrates an implicit order that is more than our concepts. Gendlin would call this order the Implicit Intricacy, or The Responsive Order (Gendlin, 1997).

    Although basic to living, implicit knowing is often overlooked precisely because it is implicit. If we’re not aware of it, and we can’t say it in words, then it doesn’t seem like real knowledge. Gendlin would explore this problem further, but he already knew that implicit knowing doesn’t have to be outside awareness. He knew that if we look for it, this knowing appears as a kind of “feel” for different situations, people, or things. And because it is so much richer than explicit concepts, this “feel” can be extremely useful in many situations. For example, Einstein wrote that as he worked on his general theory of relativity over 15 years, he was guided by a “feeling” for what the eventual solution would be.”

  11. I’m all for thinking/feeling – and sensing/dreamtiming, of course… ; )

    “The singlemost important fact about consciousness may be, as philosopher of mind C.O. Evans (1970) was the first to point out, that it is structured, and that it is structured BY attention. 3 Attention plays the function of ‘bifurcating’ consciousness, dividing it into levels of awareness. It brings a ‘figure’ (of which we are explicitly aware) into relief against a ‘background’. The background remains in what Evans called ‘unprojected’ consciousness. Although elements in the background of consciousness remain outside of the focal area circumscribed by attention, they are nonetheless ‘in’ consciousness. We can be said to be ‘aware’ of what is in the background, but in a different way than we are aware of what is in attention.

    We are ‘subsidiarily aware’ of what is in the background of awareness, according to Evans and Fudjack (1976) 4, who chose to use Michael Polanyi’s term to describe the kind of awareness that is relegated to the background. Out of this subsidiary awareness of elements in the background of consciousness we construct what we normally call ‘context’. As we go about our daily business we are aware of the contexts in which we operate, albeit subsidiarily aware.

    Objects of our attention are best conceived, then, as embedded in contexts, somewhat like a content in a container. The context, when it is operating AS context, remains in the background and is experienced in a non-focal way, with a more diffuse type of awareness. Context is typically experienced, Evans and Fudjack postulated, in the mode of ‘feeling’ 5 – we directly experience context as an ‘underlying feeling state’; it lends a ‘feeling tone’ to whatever the object of attention is at the moment.

    From behind the scenes, our feeling states influence what items will be ‘selected’ and relevated into projected consciousness as objects of attention. It is in this way that our feeling states can be said to perform the ‘evaluative’ function that Jung singled out as the defining quality of what he called the ‘feeling function’.

  12. Thank you for the wonderful post.

    At my age now,I find that I know very little,think a great deal,but stay grounded always in nature,which not only keeps me sane,but allows for me to be whom I am.Muddled more than a little in the head,and usually hovering on planet insanity some where in the universe,but at 60 now,then I have grown quite used to it..

    Have a beautiful weekend..
    Peace always.

  13. Hi Philip,
    Interesting post – I can so relate to the idea – the more we learn, the less we realise we know!
    Alongside this – and some previous comments do seem to relate to this in reference to nature – there are some things that I do believe in, that I do know. It is to do with the idea of Faith.
    To alter/paraphrase something Jesus said: “Faith is like an Acorn, a small seed that grows into a mighty tree”
    Or something an older farm forester said to me almost 30 years ago : “Everytime we plant a tree, it is an act of Faith”
    I do believe, deeply and strongly, that there is something more … Something bigger than just me, or even us all …
    To even refer to it as “the sacred” is assuming something that may or may not be true.
    I don’t know what this “something more” is. I know, but I don’t know! Perhaps it’s a bit like the Tao – it’s in the action, and also in the stillness. It just is. And the more we think about it, the further we may be from it?

    • Hi Richard – when you add in faith into the mix it gets interesting doesn’t it? I think I have more faith and less belief these days! Faith and trust in the ultimate goodness of life, faith in that ‘bigger than me’ thing you talk about! 🙂

    • Thank you for your post, RIcherd and I think I agree with you. Gandhi was quoted as saying “My only weapon is mute prayer.” I believe that FAITH is exactly as your forester friend has coined it, and in FAITH we act upon what we believe, in our very BEING, to be true. For me, TRUTH hits in the chakra that we breathe through, and I recognize it as such. Do others find truth the same way? I don’t know. How can “truth” be different for each individual? I don’t know. I am not sure that I care, really, because I do believe that there are universal truths that we all share. And you feel it in your gut. I find that Nature grounds me and keeps me sane, and when I interact, say, with a tree, and feel all that energy that says “LIFE”, when, I cannot personally refute it!! It is too strong, and hits me in my gut, and I accept it mildly andm in submission to those things are bigger than us all. Can I quantify any of this? Pull it all together into a net? I cannot nor do I want to. I accept it as WHAT IS. I think we all think too much, and EXIST too little. And the poem that Phillip posted the other day, FULLY ALIVE, by Dawna MArkove, just about says it all. Less thinking is what we need, and more being. Bendithion Afallon.

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