- IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD ... -
In a preceding article ("This is water"), we suggested that being educated is mainly choosing the way we represent the World to ourselves. Educated could be replaced with a more elitist or esoterical terminology if one wishes. Our inner representation is the cornerstone of our internal experience. Eventually, that representation is said to yield to a pure, unadulterated experience of reality. Some traditions choose to bypass directly anything related to the intellect and focus primarily on being and acting without words and thoughts: we will touch upon this when we mention Carlos Castaneda's Shamanic journey.
In the meantime, not only does a sizable portion of humanity today places a huge emphasis on reason and conceptualization, but after more than 6000 years of accumulated history and knowledge, much of what we believe to know is second hand knowledge gathered by others and transmitted to us.
In this paper, we would like to extend on the ideas of the former article, and theorize a bit more about how and why the choices we make to represent the world to ourselves are fundamental to progress towards the stilling of consciousness, or more simply, to be in a joyful inner state.
in the Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali, this aspect is recognized and presented early on:
The gross and subtle thought patterns (vrittis) fall into 5 varieties of which some are colored (klishta) and others are uncolored (aklishta).
The 5 varieties of thought patterns (fluctuations of consciousness) are : correct knowledge (pramana), incorrect knowledge (viparyaya), imagination or fancy (vikalpa), deep sleep (nidra) and recollections or memories (smriti).
Of these 5, there are 3 ways of gaining correct knowledge (pramana): perception (pratyaksa), inference (anumana) and testimony or symbolic communication from others who have knowledge (agama).
Having set the stage for pushing the conversation further, we could start by noticing how dense and terse Patanjali's Sutras are: in three short sentences, we are provided with a taxonomy of subjective experience that covers the span of all mental activities. And it is as relevant today as it was then. We are going to focus on correct knowledge (pramana) and suggest that the classic separation between knowledge and belief is much more porous than commonly known/believed :-).
In the spirit of the preceding article, we would like to push the point that objective knowing is hard to distinguish from (conscious or unconscious) 'choices' of representation coming with an agenda. And some agendas are more conducive to stilling the chitta vrittis (fluctuations of consciousness) than others.
First, recent psychological research suggests that our knowledge derived from direct perception is mostly tailored to suit our pre-existing representations (Kahneman, Tversky, Thaler, Ariely et alii...) through various cognitive biaises.
Second, when it comes to inference, the scientific record is quite clear that even in the most supposedly objective field, many researchers will (consciously or unconsciouly) tweak the observed data to accommodate their preferred conclusions. if we switch to the pseudo-scientific fields of nutrition, fitness, gender neurobiological differences, relationships etc..., a cursory glance on the internet will show the extent of the debates.
And third, the arrow of time makes us rely more and more on derived knowledge: knowledge gathered by others and transmitted to us. Almost everything we know is second hand and based on belief. Almost everything we know comes to us through symbols of various kinds syntactically arranged (from natural languages to mathematics and more...). As time goes by, most of the 'knowledge stock' of humanity will be represented by this derived information and stored in a symbolic manner.
The notion of objective or correct knowledge does not exist in and of its own. There are only representations that are meant to serve a subjective agenda. Those representations can either serve the agenda well and help to solidify it, or else be neutral or detrimental to it.
Who is closer to the truth ?
A Western civilization bent on getting mastery of the material world via arranging its representation of the world solely in the direction of its conquest (and getting tremendous results as a consequence).
A Shamanic tradition like the indigenous Australian or native american Indians living in synchronicity with the rhythms, ebbs and flows of their environment, leaving a light and respectful footprint on their environment.
It depends what we want.
And this is a choice, a decision.
In the beginning was the Word...
So we have to choose our Word carefully.