Known and Unknown

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by DCH Park

In a recent essay, I considered the nature of each person’s connection to divine wisdom, love, and healing. I pointed out that we realize and solidify our connections with divine wisdom through practicing openness without expectation or attachments. This same openness leads to creation of new knowledge (as opposed to “book learning”), as the source of all knowledge is the unknown. Without an open attitude to the unknown, resistance, attachments, expectations, and desires can occlude the experience and block recognition of new knowledge. Although seemingly shocking and strange at first, this realization is tautological. Where else could new knowledge come from than experience with the unknown?

However, recognizing this truth does not necessarily illuminate the process of acquiring or creating new knowledge and provides only limited guidance toward robust knowledge creation. One very common pitfall is to assume that knowledge creation is a function of intelligent extrapolation from established facts. In fact, many schools teach an erroneous view of knowledge acquisition predicated on exactly this premise.

Consider that intelligent people often fall into the trap of limiting themselves.  The more intelligent they are, the easier it is for them to trap themselves because the intellect specializes in constructing models and analogies and forming expectations by projecting past experience onto the unknown. They have learned that their intelligence is facile enough to figure out how to be economically or socially successful so they naturally turn to figuring things out when they encounter something they don’t understand, even something completely new.  Herein lies the trap.

Applying only intelligence to figure things out never leads to understanding.  Intelligence is useful in applying what is known, but it cannot help in creating new knowledge.  The source of all knowledge is the unknown.  In grasping the truly unknown, no intelligence, no analysis, no model or metaphor is of any help.  One cannot model what one doesn’t know.

If we try, we end up torturing already existing frameworks to capture new things only poorly.  What’s worse, the familiar, old ways of seeing things can invisibly induce us to drop into familiar ways of thinking and we can miss essential elements and connections that uniquely characterize the new unknown.  We can end up with a view of things that seems to be complete and rational but in fact is no more useful in understanding the nature of things than the Ptolemaic model of planetary motion was in understanding celestial mechanics.  And just as with the Ptolemaic model, the new “understanding” usually reflects more of the extant philosophical, religious, economic, political, or moral systems than it does any new knowledge.

New knowledge and true understanding require that we let go of intellect – the rational, modeling, analytical, talking mind – and relax into the unknown without expectation or preconception in order to genuinely receive the unknown.  It is through first hand experience with the unknown – living and breathing the unknown, feeling it pulse through your body and being and appreciating how it shifts your experience of yourself – that you make the unknown known.

In truth, this is how we experience anything – by noticing how it shifts our experience of ourselves. Consider any one of the classic five senses for example. In each case, interaction with a stimulus produces an electrochemical change that cascades into a nerve impulse which is processed by the central nervous system. The sensations that we refer to as sight, smell, etc. are actually perceptions of changes in our bodies. We never experience the stimulus directly. If the chain is broken at any point, sensation is lost, even though all of the nervous and electrochemical cascades peripheral to the break (not to mention the stimulus itself) are intact. The loss of sensation is tied to a loss of the ability to perceive changes within the body.

In freshman physics, students are taught that the way to measure and map an electric field is to take a point charge of known magnitude and valence and move it around inside the field. By measuring the force experienced by the charge at various points, we gather information about the field being investigated.

In both of these cases, the same basic strategy is used to sense the outside world. Interaction with the external world produces a change internal to the body or the sensor apparatus and it is this internal change that is perceived. To wit, interaction with the environment produces an internal shift which can then be experienced directly.

Self reflection and focused attention to the nuances of perception make clear that this same principle is useful in describing human experience in general. We do not see or sense anything so much as perceive how different experiences shift our experiences of ourselves. In perceiving this shift, we gain information about the original stimulus. It is not so much clarity of external perception that makes one insightful as clarity of internal experience.

Thus, efforts to sharpen the intellect (which is outwardly directed) alone will in general be of only limited use in gaining wisdom or creating new knowledge. Similarly, attempts to model insight and intuition in computationally intensive ways, such as measuring heart and respiratory rates, frequency of eye blinks, pupil dilation, etc., are likely to ultimately prove to be barren, producing results that are devoid of human warmth and context and providing no more insight than a statistical analysis, if they produce results at all.

Such dry, robotic calculations are very different from your internal experience of yourself. We each have an exquisitely sensitive facility to perceive the richness and subtlety of the world through our bodies and spirits. We perceive far more through these faculties than most of us are ever aware of or open ourselves to. We get in our own ways with our expectations, desires, attachments, and stories. The more we can get out of our own ways, the more clearly we can perceive the world because we experience ourselves more clearly and powerfully.

In addition, as we clarify our experiences, we come to know ourselves more clearly. We move toward an intimate knowledge of ourselves that is not dependent on any observation of emotions or behavior and is free of any feedback, comment, or criticism from others. We come to know ourselves more clearly due to direct experience with ourselves.

Thus, we become more able to immediately recognize emotions, actions, expectations, etc. that are not in concert with our essential beings. In technical terms, we become familiar with our baseline selves and thus are able to more easily distinguish a deviation from that baseline. Just as when using a bathroom scale it helps to have the scale properly zeroed, when noticing shifts in your experience of yourself, it helps to know yourself in your pristine, unshifted state.

Thus, the path to improving insight and intuition is the same as the path toward greater connection, wisdom, and healing – cultivation of clarity and openness in your experience of yourself. Practice experiencing everything that comes up (or comes in) for you, whatever that may be. This can seem daunting, especially if it is a new practice. However there are tried and proven practices and techniques that are simple to learn and very powerful in supporting this process – opening to experience whatever comes up so that it can be healed and released. Invariably, as preconceptions, judgments, and classifications drop away, the way is cleared to deeper and more profound experience of yourself and more powerful, effortless, and joyful living in the world.

© 2013, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”Known and Unknown” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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