Experience and Knowledge

Dennis Waite dwaite at DIRCON.CO.UK
Wed Apr 28 13:07:01 CDT 1999

Knowledge, experience - and 'reality'.

T. S. Eliot says,

 There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been.

And so it must inevitably be. Kant showed how we can never see or know
things as they really are through the sensory and mental apparatus of these
limited bodies. Everything is modified, even distorted, to fit in with their
particular design. For example, we only see a minute part of the
electromagnetic spectrum yet often end up thinking that what we see is how
it 'really' is. And so on

Similarly with the way we think about things. We have to use the 'Cartesian
grid' of our mind in order to be able to make sense of things but forget
that we are overlaying a pattern onto reality; that the concepts of space,
time and so on are convenient fictions to make sense of the world 'out
there'.  And we repeatedly use the old pattern to make sense of new
experiences - trying to see new things through old eyes. Habit dies hard!

On the face of it, it does seem strange how so-called 'Self-realised'
Advaitins can say one thing and 'Self-realised' Dvaitins something
apparently contradictory. One might have thought that 'Not two' or 'Two'
were mutually exclusive and not open to misinterpretation.

But we are using the old patterns and standards by which to judge. And how
can they report their experiences to us except through the medium of words -
one step further removed from the thoughts which triggered them. (And those
one step from the perceptions -  and those one step from the reality.)
Indeed isn't it amazing that any sense whatsoever can be communicated via
such inadequate means? Perhaps they are both right (and both wrong). Or
perhaps we should just follow the advice of Wittgenstein - "Whereof we
cannot speak, thereof we should remain silent."


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