Wisdom has a lot to do with epistemology — the nature and limits of knowledge. What does it mean to know something? What can be known, what is knowable in theory and what is unknowable? And, what about those things that can be known only by you? It is this last question that I would like to go into a little.
The same coin
Empirical reality and private internal experience are really two sides of the same coin. For any given individual, the external cannot exist without the internal, in the same way that “up” cannot exist without “down”. They are mutually dependent and mutually arising — polarities that have no meaning without the other.
While internal and external are mutually arising, private experience is nevertheless primary. It is the portal through which empirical reality connects to your organism. Bertrand Russel (1872 –1970) drew a distinction between knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description when he highlighted the foundational nature of direct knowledge that arises from private experience (acquaintance). As Russel explains, “knowledge concerning what is known by description is ultimately reducible to what is known by acquaintance”.
So, we cannot really talk about things out-there (external), without due attention to our internal experience that is the fundamental basis for perceiving the external. Russel goes on to note;
“It is obvious that it is only what goes on in our own minds that can be thus known immediately. What goes on in the minds of others is known to us through our perception of their bodies, that is, through the sense-data in us which are associated with their bodies. But for our acquaintance with the contents of our own minds, we should be unable to imagine the minds of others, and therefore we could never arrive at the knowledge that they have minds.”
Modernity’s advanced analytical methods and technological tools lend themselves to penetrating the depths of physical reality. But, how willing are we to really delve in to the depths of our own minds? How often do we take the time to really look within? To understand the habitual, often non-conscious, beliefs and narratives that remain hidden in the shadows, but that govern so much of how we live. Beliefs and narratives that drive the very essence of how we relate to ourselves and the world.
Epistemology is not just about external knowledge; its final frontier is ultimately metaphysical — self-knowledge — the inner state that is the mirror upon which the world is reflected. And, “acquaintance”, to borrow Russel’s word, is exactly what self-knowledge is about. Really getting to know yourself, your thoughts, feelings and deep beliefs.
From epistemology to choice
The deeper the self-understanding, the less likely you are to be troubled by the uncertainty that is inherent in everyday living. Deeper awareness of self also empowers you with choice. The choice that comes from really noticing what is at play within. For, what is at play within is important information that would otherwise have been missed, had we not bothered to look!
Harsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.