Knowledge: on the (l)edge of knowing.
The mantra through much of society in recent decades has been ‘Knowledge is Power’. Few would deny that having access to and a handle on the wealth of information that abounds in today’s data-rich world has benefits. But it has downsides too. How many of us have not been swamped by the sheer volume of data now at our figure-tips? And that’s just the information we choose to look at!
And where does fake news fit into this? The boundaries between fact and fiction, meaningful evidence and biased opinion is getting ever more blurred.
We have all this ‘data’, if not freely available over the internet, then in some cloud or virtual storage available for a suitable fee. Is it actually improving our quality of life? Are we, humans individually and collectively, happier? Few that I speak to would say so. On the contrary. Take into account all the ailments, both personal (e.g. obesity, dementia to mention but two of a myriad of disabling conditions) and of society (extremism, anti-social behaviour for example) and there is little sign of the data revolution and age of knowledge making life better for many of us . . . if any.
Perhaps we have it all wrong.
There are a number of problems with data and knowledge:
Data, knowledge and the facts and theories that are conventionally taught tend to be conceptual, abstract. Indeed, Higher Education in particular prides itself on-being objective and detached! What all this means is that what is being taught goes into our heads as disconnected bits of information with little, if any, bearing on students’ personal lives.
Let me illustrate this with an example: rain. We all know what rain is don’t we?
How do you know that? The chances are that your understanding of and appreciation of the water that falls from the sky has much more to do with first-hand experience of it than what you’ve been formally taught.
And how well do you know rain?
Have you experienced a dreek day in Scotland, or a tropical storm in Malaysia . . . or watched rain-drops trickle down a window-pane, or . . .
And so it is with everything. From liquid nitrogen to love, from fear to pheromones. These are just words. They are not the thing itself.
All of these features, and our focus on them, have created a big problem: our minds are full of abstract ideas, descriptions, theories, beliefs and concepts. Whilst in another part of our mind, as we go about our daily life, we experience these things we think we understand. But all too often the two sets of mental images: the theory and the reality, don’t match up. The result: confusion, frustration and a sense of dis-ease.
With so many dubious features to knowledge, what is the alternative. What would overcome the above limitations?
One small step . . . from knowledge . . . to knowing
a) For our access to information to be ‘of the moment’. If we could ‘know’ the truth about our particular situation and tap into the details of the immediate ‘here and now’ reality of most relevance to us, as we make a particular decision, then we could make that decision based on a different quality of knowledge. If our access to information were genuinely free of bias, of manipulation and take into account every pertinent fact and nuance, then far better decisions could be made . . . they might even be more inclusive, resulting in actions more beneficial to all.
How? By being more present, by living in the ’here and now’. The recent, rapid increase in individuals taking up some form of mindfulness, meditation or self-healing is no coincidence. They, know, at some level, that they have to get ‘out of their heads’: meaning detaching from the if-ing, but-ing rational mind and related emotional attachments.
b) We become more discerning, more able to sort the wheat from the chaff, not being swayed by irrelevant arguments or emotional blackmail. We becomes more self-reliant in selecting, interpreting and analysing data. The ability to reach and act on our own conclusions is key to feeling in control of our own destiny with consequential benefits to our sense of well-being and fulfilment. Becoming present, more aware of the reality beyond our sub-conscious, conditions reactions, also achieves this objective.
c) By becoming more reflective and recognizing the value of time spent in contemplation: giving our minds change to assimilate the huge amount of knowledge and experiences that so often fill our days and years.
Peace of mind and a feeling of being at peace with the world happens when our inner view of the world (what we think it is, our internal model of it) match the one we experience through our senses. But how often is that the case? Rarely!
Each of these features describe an alternative consciousness, a more wholistic way of using our minds. Complementing our rational consciousness, it enables us to integrate our intellectual perspectives, personal experiences with a deeper, inner awareness of our place in the world. From this state of mind we are a connected part of the organisations and communities of which we are part. With this state of mind we can truly engage and have a positive impact in the world. This is knowing, as opposed to knowledge.
This is what leading educators are beginning to come to terms with: as I’ll discuss in a future blog.
This article has been intentionally ‘easy reading’. The academic background, with extensive references, can be found in my PhD research.
Dr keith beasley
As an engineer turned life-guide and Quality Assurance expert who did his PhD on 'Transcending Thought', I've seen life from many perspectives. We need them all to even begin to make sense of life . . .
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