Understanding

by Sentient Roomba

In order for someone to internalize a concept they must understand it conatively. Merely understanding on a cognitive level can only take you so far, the affective must also be incorporated and fused. One may be taught the formulas in a math class, for example, and may understand that it works, but perhaps not have internalized the meaning for themselves. The journey of those who created the formula to make sense of some phenomena, the trial and error of the process by someone who had internalized all the steps up to that point and was searching the edge of the map for something to answer the given question and solve the problem. Walking through the journey of discovery yourself can enable a level of understanding and ownership that we often lack when learning new information outright. If we come upon something without context or understanding, it may still be regarded as a truth, but it wold hold the same significance. For example, I grew up hearing the misquoted movie line “Luke, I am your father” as a piece of the pop culture lexicon well before seeing the film itself. This means knowing the fact that Darth Vader was Luke’s father, but not understanding the significance it meant nothing to me. Skipping to the punch line of all of human knowledge in this way, as is the only way possible to build a foundation of learning, makes it more difficult for us to reach the conative domain. To do so, we must take and walk through things one at a time, generally this happens organically throughout our experiences when we suddenly have a moment of gnosis and realize something we had always heard to be true is actually TRUE and we finally understand and internalize it. This also requires us to interpret this information through our own reality tunnel and in our own preferred language. Many people will reach the same truth, with different words and different contexts due to their biases.

While it can also be frustrating to have a moment of gnosis that merely reinforces something that you had always known already, but hadn’t internalized, really this just serves to join us to this larger collective consciousness whereby all peoples are blind and groping around in the dark, trying to feel for the walls of the structure in which we are confined, walls we aren’t even sure exist. We are running our fingers along those same stone outcroppings and feeling the same rough patches and cracks felt by many before us. With all this in mind, I bring us to my most recent moment of rediscovery, through my own lens of understanding and conative internalization. My lens is one of hyper-rationality and science. Things that sound esoteric, until they have been filtered through my lens, are not welcome in my reality tunnel. This adds an extra barrier for me to reach certain truths, and often the path is an interesting one. This path starts with relativism, moves to asceticism, takes a trip through god’s eye, and a left turn through AI programming before ending with something so simplistic as to be absurd. When internalizing a new concept, I must adopt it fully and nearly ad absurdium. I must fully submit to an ideal and take it to its logical conclusion. Only then can I find the edge of the map and fully understand the thing, and then be able to place it in its proper place. This was so with my relativism. Taking relativism to its logical conclusion, for me, resulted in ascetic detachment from the world. Who am I to attempt to assert control over other to enable my view of an ideal future or encourage my ethical principles to propagate? Using even my words to encourage another towards some end is an act of force and presupposes that I hold some knowledge or truth as a basis for that force. This truth i did not have, and thus I could not assert my will. I was trapped in impotence, unable to make prescriptive morale claims or take decisive action. I had been butting my head up against this wall of ad absurdium for a while, knowing that there was a contradiction but unable to find a way out. The first thing that helped to make a crack was reexamining the quote from Epicurious. This quote was something I discovered very early on my journey as a young teen exploring my agnosticism and it held one meaning for me then. Now it holds another in a new context.

“IS GOD WILLING TO PREVENT EVIL, BUT NOT ABLE?”
THEN HE IS NOT OMNIPOTENT.
“IS HE ABLE, BUT NOT WILLING?”
THEN HE IS MALEVOLENT.
“IS HE BOTH ABLE AND WILLING?”
THEN WHENCE COMETH EVIL?
“IS HE NEITHER ABLE NOR WILLING?”
THEN WHY CALL HIM GOD?”

It was an awakening to suddenly realize I was the impotent god. I had judged god harshly for it’s inaction, and then went on myself, shrouded in my relativism, to refuse to do nothing to prevent evil. In the trolley problem, inaction is the same as action. Refusing to act is still a decision. Deontological ethics allows me to take solace in the idea that my intentions matter when throwing the switch regardless of consequences. The problem still stood though, of not having any sort of truth as a basis for making my ethical decisions about courses of action and force to exert upon the world. So sadly this realization was not enough to stop me banging my head against the wall.

Since then its been a slow journey of shedding the relics of the old way of thinking. Its interesting how insidiously paradigms hide in your mind even after they have consciously been rejected. This is the case with Cartesian dualism in cognitive science. There is a nearly a consensus on the subject of dualism and yet even neuroscientists find it nearly impossible not to imagine the little man sitting in there pulling levers and making decisions. It seeps into our language when we describe phenomena and that language limits and shapes how we consciously experience sensory data. Not to be a cliche, but the philosophy of Nietzsche has been very useful for overcoming my prior impotence and removing the last of the brain worms. On a side note, its interesting to have read so many later philosophers and identified with their points, only to later get more seriously into Nietzsche and see how they were all espousing watered down versions of his philosophy. I think we do have the potential to be these New Philosophers Nietzsche spoke of. It starts with epistemology and figuring out how to work through and shed the old ways of thinking that are so ingrained in how we perceive the world as to be themselves imperceptible. “Our eyes find it easier on a given occasion to produce a picture already often produced, than to seize upon the divergence and novelty of an impression: the latter requires more force, more “morality””. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil 192.

The only thing to do in this situation is to accept our cognitive limitations and continue to push forward, learning through experience and gaining that conative understanding. We should not put so much stock in organized education or science more broadly, as gnosis is a very personal experience, and we should always remember to sprinkle in a little epistemological anarchy for good measure.

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2 Responses to Understanding

  1. diogenes says:

    Nietzsche just rehashes Schopenhauer who just rehashes Buddha.

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