Monday, March 26, 2012

Quid Est Veritas? Part One

What do we know that's true?

This seems like a simple enough question. For many things, it's quite easy to see that one thing is true, and another isn't. But is this knowledge really that simple?

Since one of the movements of the season of Lent is self-examination, it's important to see yourself as you are, and not as you might like yourself to be. Viewing yourself in candor and without prejudice can deflate those who think too highly of themselves, and can elevate those who have low self-esteem. It cuts both ways.

So, let's embark on a little journey to examine what we can know, and find how far we can say that something is true.

First, let's look at what I will call sensory, or visceral, knowledge.

This is knowledge that we have because of sensory experience. For instance, you know that something is beneath your butt because you can feel it. The weight of your body pressing on the seat of a chair because of gravity produces sensory messages from nerve endings that we receive in our brains. Our brains process this information to indicate to us that there is a hard (or soft) surface beneath us, and that we are resting on it. The same could be said of similar messages we receive from the soles of our feet, or from our hands if we're hanging from a pull-up bar.

We can know things by our other senses as well. We can hear noises, and can locate their source by the binaural arrangement of our ears and their complex inner whorls and grooves. We can see a flash of light, and know that there is a shiny surface that reflected bright sunlight toward our eyes. We can know that we're eating salty potato chips because our senses of taste and smell indicate as much. We can feel the chip itself in our mouth with our sense of touch. We can know that we're standing upright, rather than lying down, because of our kinesthetic sense. Many other examples of this sort of knowledge can come easily to most people.

This is the most fundamental kind of knowledge. We don't have to be able to explain something if we have sensed it - that's another kind of knowledge. All we have to realize is that our nerves are being stimulated by some sort of physical phenomenon. This sort of knowledge is shared by all sorts of creatures, from the simplest insect to the largest whales. It's one thing that we share with many of our fellow organisms on this planet.

This is the knowledge we begin to incorporate the day we're born. It's with us all our lives. Tomorrow we'll move on to the next level of knowledge, something that's much more centered in our brains than our bodies.

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