Original Knowledge – where does it come from?

What is knowledge?

This is a question that has been bothering me for a long time. It seems to be a really deep question as I ask myself “how do I know something?” and “how do they know something?” and “how can we be sure our knowledge is correct?”. These are important questions if we’re going to point our lives in the right direction, precisely because we’d like to be sure we “know” which direction is the right one.

In Wikipedia, the definition of knowledge is;

Knowledge is a familiarity with someone or something, which can include facts, information, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education. It can refer to the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. It can be implicit (as with practical skill or expertise) or explicit (as with the theoretical understanding of a subject); it can be more or less formal or systematic. In philosophy, the study of knowledge is called epistemology; the philosopher Plato famously defined knowledge as “justified true belief.” However, no single agreed upon definition of knowledge exists, though there are numerous theories to explain it.
Knowledge acquisition involves complex cognitive processes: perception, communication, association and reasoning; while knowledge is also said to be related to the capacity of acknowledgment in human beings.

So it seems like I’m not alone. There is no agreed upon definition of knowledge and several theories trying to explain it. Here are my thoughts on the subject.

Wow, she’s smart!

This is the sort of thing you hear someone say from time to time and it really makes me think – how did she get smart and how comes she knows more than everyone else? In these cases, I realize that I have some sort of simple acceptance that she is just better than me, that’s why she’s smarter. But that’s really just an inferiority complex showing up. Why is she “better than me”? Has she read more? Well I could read more too. Has she understood more? That’s possible, maybe her brain is better at understanding and remembering. Did she “know” more when she was born? Wow! That’s an interesting question!

What did we know when we were born?

It seems pretty clear that we didn’t know much when we were born. Sure, we “knew” (at least in our subconscious) some really important things like how to breath, how to pump our hearts, etc., but we really didn’t “know” anything that we’re talking about today, and certainly no more than any other kids born at the same time. So, somehow, this knowledge that we’re comparing later in life has to be something that we’ve introduced into our brains during our lives.

Where does knowledge come from?

So, let’s accept that knowledge gets introduced into our brains after we are born. What are some of the ways this can happen? Two obvious possibilities are;

  1. From other people (including parents, teachers, friends, etc.)
  2. From books, films, the internet, etc (this is just an indirect form of learning from other people)

But now we have the obvious question, “where did these other people get their knowledge?” We can say from other people as well. Ok, but then we have to ask the recurring question, “where did THEY get their knowledge from?”. Quickly we see that real original knowledge is not gained from other people. We can learn what is already known from other people but we, the human race, cannot add to our knowledge by this simple learning “facts” from other people. We know that we, the collective group of humans, have been adding to our overall knowledge quite quickly recently. How does that happen?

Aboriginal rock art depicting fishes, Nourlangie

Where does real, new, original knowledge come from?

To learn something fundamentally new, some original knowledge that nobody else yet knows, can only (?) be done in these ways;

  1. From observation and contemplation
  2. From personal experimentation and contemplation
  3. From contemplation alone (this is debatable, I know, but for debate at another time)

From day one, our oldest ancestors could learn by observing what happens in nature, put two and two together, and then they’d “know” something. This is now something that could get passed onto other people and onwards through the generations to us today. Sometimes things could be understood by deliberately experimenting to see what happens and again putting things together to obtain knowledge.

Think about the development of a baby for a moment. At birth, the baby has very little knowledge (its limited knowledge is commonly called its “instincts”) and it must start learning very quickly if it’s going to survive. Its primary source of learning is by interacting with the world. It tries things, observes the result and learns. For each baby, they are gaining “original knowledge”. Other people already know these things, but the baby figured them out independently through observation, experimentation and contemplation.

As the baby gets older, it starts being “taught” things. All the original knowledge that we (the human collective) have learnt since the beginning of our time can be passed onto this new human. No original knowledge here, but a very important jump-start in life. This carries on all through school and many people actually forget that they are capable of uncovering original knowledge of their own. They start to believe that all knowledge is in books. But there’s so much more to know!

After schooling, and even during it, hopefully we can observe, experiment and contemplate on our own. We’ve been taught so many things, but some things don’t make sense, they don’t add up or they just don’t feel right. This is the time to pay attention. This is where we can find some original knowledge, something that has been overlooked so far, something that can be added to the collective knowledge of the human race.

Finding original knowledge

When we find original knowledge through observation, experimentation and contemplation, we’re actually just uncovering something that was always there. In the Wikipedia definition above, knowledge is “familiarity with something”, something that has always there, just nobody had noticed until now. What sort of things have always existed? These things can only be things of the universe or nature. These are the only things that have always been there. Fundamental parts of the universe we are in. The conclusion is that all original knowledge comes from nature and from us correctly observing and understanding nature.

One good example of some knowledge we have (that once was original knowledge) is gravity. We figured this our by observing how objects move when they are near other large objects. We’ve been able to write down equations of how to predict and describe the motion of such objects, but what do we really know? Do we know WHY gravity exists? Not even close. We have no idea. So how much do we really now? Not much! How many more secrets is nature still holding from us? More than we can imagine.

Nature is our teacher

All original knowledge must come from nature. It has to. Can’t come from anywhere else (just have to remember that we are parts of nature too). Original knowledge arises from uncovering something that was always there. The path to advancement is to be close to nature. Observing, experimenting, contemplating. Nature will teach us if we pay attention.

For this reason, I believe that the “right direction” in life must be aligned with nature. We are parts of nature, we were born into nature, we learn from nature and it seems obvious that we must stay in-tune with nature. It appears that pursuing an unnatural life cannot lead to anything good in the long term.

Some conclusions

It’s a little astounding to comprehend that all knowledge comes from observing nature, and it leads to the following conclusions;

  • We can only learn from nature
  • Everything we need to know is in nature already
  • We are just learning more about nature
  • We are parts of nature, so we’re learning about ourselves too
  • We have the free will to ignore nature (this is a biggy! – we’ll discuss this later)

When I started realizing that nature is our teacher, I see this truth showing up everywhere. Nature is trying to teach us, but most of the time we’re not listening. Here are some examples where the solution to some of our problems is right there in nature, in plain sight;

  • In Fresh – The Movie, listen to how the organic farmers learn to do sustainable agriculture by trying to copy what nature does
  • In Simply Raw, 5 people are cured of diabetes by going on a raw food diet – that’s just eating food exactly as nature provided
  • I really like this video of Wim Hof, The Iceman. He shows us that it’s possible to do many things we commonly think are impossible.  He has learnt some original knowledge, that it’s possible to use the mind to control the body in ways everyone else thinks can’t be done.  I love some of his quotes in the video “we must be in-tune with nature” and “nature is our teacher”.

This post is not original knowledge

It doesn’t take much of a search to see that many people have already observed that nature is our teacher. Here are a couple of websites I found (I haven’t checked them in depth yet) with some interesting quotes;


This split against Nature has led to not only social ills (a dying planet) but physical, psychological and emotional ills.

When we observe and engage with Nature, we open the door to our intelligence, notice the lessons to be learned, and see that everything has its own purpose, rhythm and balance. We learn from Nature about how to truly be who we are, that is, to be in full and open self-expression. Nature teaches limits as well as possibilities, if we are willing to learn. Nature also gives us an easy and powerful way to work in the realm of soul ~ even a small amount of time in Nature can awaken the Sacred within.

Studies repeatedly show that Nature is also a healer: contact with Nature can lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, relieve stress, sharpen mental states, cultivate new skills, facilitate recovery from surgery and other health crises, and, among children with attention and conduct disorders, improve behavior and learning. (The list of benefits goes on!)

The Earth is waiting to be in relationship with us all, and stepping into that relationship can bring profound insight and knowledge. Working in Nature is about opening to the possibility that the entire universe is a resource for growth and healing.


Nature is our true teacher and the way of harmony in our lives.
I don’t simply mean going for a walk in the park sometimes or liking some flowers.
I mean…there is a Way of Nature…her cycles and seasons and lessons…from dewdrops to vast skies..
to the changing fruits and whispers on winds.
The wise ancients always followed this Way of Nature, listening in attentively to the quiet…or sometimes loud lessons….
But the loud lessons happen only when we have lost our balance with her.
May we learn to tune in and find it and live it, for the benefit of the Whole.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic and to be able to learn more from you. Please leave a comment. Thanks.

11 comments… add one
  • Jessica November 5, 2013, 3:59 pm

    “If you had been on that jury, son, and eleven other boys like you, Tom would be a free man. So far, nothing in your life has interfered with your reasoning process … there’s something in our world that makes men lose their heads – they couldn’t be fair if they tried … the older you grow the more of it you’ll see” – Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird

    I’ve just read To Kill A Mockingbird for the first time and, as I read this post, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the knowledge that its young protagonists acquire throughout the story. By ages eight and twelve, they have formed admirable codes of honour and conduct by confirming the lessons of their father through observation, experimentation and contemplation. Theirs are codes of honour and conduct that, it seems, only children can live by.

    Throughout the story, adults insist upon the young protagonists learning the history of their family, of their neighbours, of their town, of their country, and of social codes. All with the intention of informing (and prejudicing) their understanding of the world. All with the intention of erasing their original knowledge.

    • Pete November 5, 2013, 6:27 pm

      Thanks for pointing out the parallels in such a famous book. It’s amazing to hear that we’ve been aware (vaguely aware, at least) of all this for such a long time, yet we happily continue on an unnatural path that is obviously the wrong direction.

  • Jessica November 5, 2013, 4:09 pm

    I recommend you watch ‘What we learn before we’re born’ by Annie Murphy Paul for TED Talks.

    • Pete November 6, 2013, 3:40 am

      Thanks so much for the suggested video. I just watched it and it was very interesting. Sounds like babies are observing as much as they possibly can about their upcoming environment from within the womb. And, they are using these observations to modify their development and growth. That’s a fascinating concept. Even as babies in the womb, we’re starting to observe and adapt.

      On the one hand, it’s possible to say that the babies are actually observing nature and modifying their development based on that. On the other hand, this doesn’t really qualify as “original knowledge” in the context of this post. If we loosely define original knowledge as some discovery of something hitherto unknown by the collective human race, then it appears that the babies are not obtaining this type of knowledge. I can also hear people saying that the knowledge is original to the babies, and that’s true as well.

      In any case, it’s fascinating. It shows that we start observing nature and learning even while in the womb.

  • Jessica February 11, 2014, 11:42 pm

    “We used to live much closer to the ecosystem and when we admired species that we saw, we mimicked them. So Native Americans saw the snowshoe hare with its big back feet and made snowshoes that exactly mimicked how they allowed it to float on top of snow. So there’s obviously a long history of it, but why isn’t it systematized? Why isn’t there, in other words, a science around this? There are very deep methodologies around learning about nature, but not about learning from nature” – Janine Benyus, biologist and founder of Biomimicry 3.8

    Nature knows best: A biologist and a designer take creative direction from the Earth’s operating system on TED Blog.

  • Pete February 12, 2014, 11:12 pm

    Thanks for the quote and the link, Jess.

    It’s a coincidence that just came across a BBC documentary called Richard Hammond’s Miracles of Nature where they show how scientist inspire their innovations by closely examining nature. Nature truly is our teacher.

  • Dr. J June 27, 2014, 11:41 pm

    I like the quote, “Knowledge is learning something every day and wisdom is forgetting something every day!”

    • Pete August 21, 2014, 5:03 pm

      Thanks Dr. J – do you know who made that quote?

  • Pete February 22, 2015, 10:05 am

    Here’s another example of how we learn from nature – Scientists find ‘strongest’ natural material – scientists have found Limpet teeth to be the strongest natural material discovered so far and they can try and copy that for future cars, boats and airplanes, amongst a host of other possibilities.

  • Jessica February 25, 2015, 8:23 am

    Sony Pictures will release a film called ‘Chappie’ next month. It’s themes bring to mind the ideas discussed in this post.

    “Every child comes into the world full of promise, and none more so than Chappie: he is gifted, special, a prodigy. Like any child, Chappie will come under the influence of his surroundings – some good, some bad – and he will rely on his heart and soul to find his way in the world and become his own man. But there’s one thing that makes Chappie different from anyone else: he is a robot. The first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself. His life, his story, will change the way the world looks at robots and humans forever.”

    View the trailer here: http://youtu.be/lyy7y0QOK-0.

    • Pete February 25, 2015, 1:21 pm

      Looks like an interesting story. Watching the trailer made many things come to my mind, both good and bad. I love things like this that prompt thought and reflection. Thanks.


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