A Quick Note on Learning and Knowing

By Peyton Dracco.

Once, during a discussion about the need for meditation and introspection, a dear friend told me that spending too much time alone was a bad idea; that if the principal endeavour of an intellectual life was to learn about the world, one had to be surrounded by people – people of all kinds and statuses – this, he said, is the only way to learn about the things that truly matter.  This friend could not have been more correct in his affirmation; although, I am a strong advocate of practices that demand solitude, I am of the understanding that humans can only learn empirically as information reflects off others; there is no other way of knowing. Even about our own psychology, and our inner most emotions, the intricacies of our personality are inaccessible to us without the feedback we get from specific interactions.

This concept of learning, of understanding how we come to know the universe and our place in it, is a unifying one. It tells us that we all have access to the same knowledge if we approach it in the correct way.

Science, a concept so congruent in its methods and balances that it provides catharsis to the minds that understand it, clarifies the notion of learning.  It tells us that there is much to discover, about the micro and macrocosm; that mysteries are at hand if we reach for them in the right way. Like my friend, we all understand (and for some it seems intrinsic) that we cannot discover anything about reality by hiding in a cave, yet so many value the [mis]conception that real knowledge can be accessed without searching for it. Perhaps because it feeds the innate solipsism of human nature as it reveals our great powers of intuition, making us undeserving of guidance and mentorship. After all, why would beings that can access universal truths by simply closing their eyes and breathing differently require teaching? And it is this same mode of thinking that currently undermines the worth of good education. I have asked many of my new age acquaintances, who claim to be tapped onto this cloud of perfect information to solve several problems for me, so far they have failed on every occasion, and I’ll bet a crispy $20 that they will continue to leave me unsatisfied with their performance.

Again, meditation and introspection are good, healthy practices with much research to support them, even at this early stage of study. However, and this is when things get fuzzy for the self-proclaimed Buddhas out there, there is no evidence that these mental techniques can reveal anything that we don’t already know. Similar privileges are afforded to the power of imagination; it is to some, more important than knowledge, and this only because the great Albert Einstein said so. Meditation and imagination can help us internalise concepts that we have already observed; they can facilitate better mental states from which to tackle difficult ideas, but they can’t even tell us why some ideas are difficult and why they may simply be the wrong ideas to hold onto. Experimentation, investigation, and research are the best ways to begin looking for truth, and I say begin because in the search for this truth, all our findings must be verified, by new realisations and the scrutiny of others.

I will leave you with this: meditate for at least twenty minutes a day, take the time to learn some of the great mental practices humans have devised, think about everything, and challenge the result of that thinking. But never conclude that you have reached an absolute truth, in fact, never pretend to know an absolute based on mere meditation and thinking.


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