How do you know how you know?

First, off I’m not trying to be deep and profound. Not philosophical, but rather…provocative! It all started when I was talking with a co-worker the other day.
It was a Friday, everyone was in a chipper conversational mood and we got to talking about lunch. “No, I’m going to have to stay at my desk today for lunch” I said reluctantly. I had to, because I was leading our young adults ministry that night and I had to brush up on what we were going to talk about. They were curious what I was going to do that night. “I’ll be leading a Bible study tonight.” One of the ladies burst out exhuberantly, “Oh brother, religion is great for you! It makes people better…” and she just went on about how good “religion”. Inside I cringed….I don’t like the word “religion” as it is misguiding to what I want communicate about the Bible. My co-worker just went on and on about how great religion is. We got to talking about marriage (I was the only married guy in the group) and about how religion helps safeguards against marital affairs. I chimed in at that point “Well it really helps your marriage when you realize why God instituted marriage in the first place!” And my co-workers response just baffled me. She said with wide-eyed naive agreement, “Yeah I totally know what you mean.” She had just gotten done talking about how in her marriage she sees happening in the future, she just wants to be happy, as she should be. My point was going to be “God instituted marriage not for happiness, but for holiness.”
This just got me to thinking and remembering my teachings on epistemology. Epistemology is the basic study of knowledge…how you know what you know. I just want to hone here on the verb, “to know”. The way she used that verb is generally the way we use it as Westerners. Well you may say, what do you mean? In the sense between the way Westerners (USA, Europe, etc) use the verb to know versus the way Easterners (Asia, Indonesian Ocean, etc) use that verb. An anthropologst and ethnographer (I think, don’t quote me on that one) wrote this in his book “The East and the West”. “Western thinking proceeds from particulars to general concepts while remembering that abstractions exist only in the mind of the thinker. It aims at imposing man’s will on nature and society.” Basically a very “scientific, intellectualistic, aggressive” way of approaching knowledge. Isn’t that true? Us Westerners are usually the kings of science, masters of systematizing just about anything. Now consider his viewpoint on Eastern thinking. “Eastern thinking…is concerned with meditative introspection and contemplation rather than logic and induction from observed phenomena. The Oriental wants to feel that he has taken hold of the inner significance of the object of contemplation. Thought is more a form of pleasure than a prelude to action….as a result, knowledge of the natural world has significantly lagged behind that of the West…” (Sidney Lewis Gulick, “The East and The West”, P. 128)

We in the West could feel like we stand high over our Eastern brothers, having gone through the Englightenment. I would argue that since we have gone through Englightment we may be missing something. I think the tendency of a scientific, first-glance, survey type of approach to thinking and new topics, may be keeping us going mile deep into ideas, and knowledge in general.
In the case of my co-worker, when I mentioned “It helps why God institutionalized marriaged”, and she replied with a “I totally know your talking about”, indicates to me that she has adopted this Western way of surveying what was just said, search our mental dictionary to see if merely it’s there, and we find a faint checkmark of acquaintence and go “Yup, I know about that” when in fact what we mean, is “Yup I’m familiar with that”. It’s interesting! What keeps us from saying, “Well, what do you mean by that?” My guess is pride! The pride that says “Not sure what they’re talking about…don’t want to make it look like I don’t know what they’re talking about…because afterall I’m a .” Or it could be that we just want to be “in” on the conversation, and by admitting not knowing something, we’ll feel “out” of the conversation, and those in it, will look condemingly on us. I don’t know. All I know, is that a vulnerable and humble spirit is the tool in increasing in wisdom in knowledge.
If there is anything you get out of this, it is a new perspective on how you might personally approach new concepts, and new ideas. My wish would be that more people would go a mile deep in a few things, than go hardly deep at all in a wide range of things.

 

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