The Sense of Knowing & the Inadequacy of Revelation to Satisfy It

by admin on June 15, 2011

By Charles Carreon

We are knowers by nature. There are many types of knowledge. A person can be wrong about something, or right, or in a state of ignorance, and that is just the beginning. For example, I may think there is water in a jar, because I just filled it up. That knowledge is probably correct, but maybe someone just emptied the jar, or it had a crack in the bottom, and the water all ran out. So there we have the potential to be right, to be wrong, and to be wrong while reasonably thinking we’re right. What’s the same in all cases is that we think we are right. That’s what I call “the sense of knowing.”

There are lots of things to think about this sense of knowing. For example, we may look at the interpersonal aspect of the sense of knowing. One person on a jury may sense that they know a defendant is innocent of a crime. Another may sense the defendant to be guilty of the same crime. As the trial progresses, and they hear more evidence, or attend to the judge’s legal instructions, they may change their views. This is because when dealing with complex questions, the sense of knowledge is a rough sense that gradually becomes refined. The jurors become focussed on what it actually means to be guilty or innocent. If the trial has been successful, their sense of what they need to know becomes more focussed and accurate. The smarter, less biased, more attentive jurors will educate those who are less intelligent, more impulsive, less attentive. And these qualities vary among individuals. The intelligent may be impulsive, and those less agile intellectually may be more attentive than clever people. So a group decision-making process like a jury, usually directed by three actors — two lawyers and a judge — can often produce surprisingly unanimous agreements among people initially disposed to think very differently about things. Through a process of communication, they all come to an agreement about what they need to know to answer the question: “Is the defendant guilty or innocent?”

If we think about this process of reaching a satisfactory sense of knowing, first, we find we need to know the question, and second, how to answer it. A person who is aware of this process will value the sense of knowing. They will not rush to conclude that they are correct, or that another is wrong. They will feel comfortable, when the question is not yet defined, or the facts to answer it are unknown, in saying “I do not know.” They will confess easily a lack of knowledge. They will have a sense of not knowing.

Taking the first issue — how to know the question we seek to answer — we see it opens the door to yet another question — how do we define the question? What is it we want to know? The answer is different depending on your goals. An emergency physician may care to know that an accident victim is drunk, but for completely different reasons than a police officer, whose reasons would be different from those of a news reporter, etc.

Which brings us full circle to the initial topic of our concern. We are talking religion here. We aren’t trying to cure, or convict, or make a news item out of someone. Indeed, if we are drunk, we might want to know, most fundamentally, why we have gotten ourselves into that condition. That is often a question that moves people to think religiously.

So now I will venture to promulgate a religious tenet for your consideration — that our primary religious goal is to develop an intimate acquaintance with the fundamental factulty of knowing. And we are not going to develop that intimate acquaintance by taking someone else’s word for what it means to be a knower, or what questions we should ask, or what information we need to answer those questions. We will develop that intimate acquaintance asking ourselves questions like, “What is bothering me?” “What do I really want?” “Why am I lonely?” And of course, “What is it that I really want to know?”

If you accept this religious tenet as accurate, I will consider my conclusion proven — that no revelation — defined as a revelation from someone else to you — will ever satisfy a refined, well-developed desire to satisfy your sense of knowledge. You may, indeed you must, share questions, views, opinions, and gather evidence, and you must pursue your own inquiry.

So now, to conclude this discussion with more than a mere refutation of the adequacy of revelation, I will return to my prior observation — that someone who wants to attain a satisfactory sense of knowledge must be comfortable admitting that they do not know. They may not even know the question, or questions, they want to ask themselves. They may not know what facts to gather to answer them. And in this condition they must seek to become comfortable.

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