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;
- From other people (including parents, teachers, friends, etc.)
- 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?
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;
- From observation and contemplation
- From personal experimentation and contemplation
- 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.
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.