MetaCognitions: 2014.10.30


What is the ultimate grounding for what we can truly know and understand? Is it some logical first principle we’ve yet to deduce, like Descartes’ “Cogito Ergo Sum?” Is it instead some base, primal, anti-rational impulse?

But why need ultimate grounding at all? The search seems pointless and unnecessary to me, and even the question of what that grounding is seems ill-founded, for built into it is the presumption that there is such a grounding, or that there must be to call what we know real knowledge.

That is something that, even hundreds of years into the age of science, has not been shown even if it is so to be shown at all.

How do we seem most often to come to know what we do? When I was a religious believer, I learned of things like scripture and of religious experiences by being told about them by others.

I learned of these things first through sense-experience, through bodily sight and hearing, the data processed by my brain, by listening to and reading the words of others. And I’ve no reason to think I’m exceptional in that, either.

I’ve little doubt that had I a mystical experience before being told what to expect beforehand, I would not have known what to make of it. Experience is theory-laden, and not just sensory experience, either. It’s the same even of allegedly directly revealed truths.

Even revelation can be theory-laden.

There are assumptions built into their narrative descriptions of what their source is, the nature of that source, the meaning one is to attribute to them, and so on. This theory-laden nature also pertains to the culturally-specific details of the experience. Those religious or spiritual figures we encounter in these experiences are most often those whom we are taught to expect by our dominant faith traditions.

We contribute to what we perceive through our habits of construal and presumption. Often, these construals and our presumptions are unwarranted and lead us to unreliable conclusions on the nature of reality, prone to accepting questionable claims before fully thinking them through.

We can and must act in this world of the actual, the real, whether we think it grounded or not, just to survive. We must accommodate things as they are and respond through our efforts regardless of any apparent lack of absolutely self-justifying first principles.

We must allow ourselves to bite the bullet and use the rules of whatever game we play for what they are designed to do, and not worry overmuch whether those rules obey themselves.

Those who play Checkers must obey the rules of whatever version of it they play, but the rules of Checkers don’t themselves have to obey the rules of Checkers.

I believe this to be the case both with the search for knowledge, and as we play the game of life.

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