How do I know?

Rembrandt Visitation 1Epistemology bores me. However many stars there are in the galaxy, thirty, one hundred or two hundred billion I have only ever seen one significant figure given. I am glad someone is interested enough to try to work it out, but I am not, apart from a moment’s vague interest when the subject comes up.

There is a difference between engineering knowledge and other knowledge. I do not want the new Forth crossing to fall down, like the Cathedral at Saint Andrews did. But while I want certain questions about new buildings to be handled by engineers, in an entirely rationalist manner, doing the calculations to ensure safety and efficiency, I want the experience of the building to be created by the arty side of the architect’s brain, the whole human being speaking to me as a human being, inspiring me with beauty and grandeur, which are more than mere equations.

I heard that Newton’s Laws of Motion would be impossible without the Cartesian idea that nature might follow law, contra Occasionalism. Again, entertaining enough, I file away the idea. What do I need to know?

I need to know what works in my own life. I need to know where to buy food. I need to get an income, and whether I do this by claiming benefits or getting a job, I need to associate with other people in order to do so. And I know a huge amount about that. My knowledge comes from fifty million years of primate evolution, and a million years of human evolution, and my own 48 years of experience.

The trouble is that I know it two ways. I know it theoretically, and to that knowledge I might apply epistemology- critical realism, that there is something to know and I know it to an extent. But I also know it subconsciously, in my unconscious body language and emotional responses. I have thought about this more than most, perhaps, wondering whether a particular response was masculine or feminine around my transition, because it might get me read and insulted and negated; and hating my natural responses before my transition, finding them effeminate, and seeking to change them. But really thinking about it gets in the way. Theoretical and unconscious knowledge conflict, befouling both.

I hear looking up to the left before answering a question means checking memory, and looking up to the right Rembrandt Visitationmeans crafting a lie, and might remember that, then be confused when I catch myself looking up to the right. One can apply rational conscious thought to these things, but it is difficult. Meanwhile, I know unconsciously, and my knowing drifts into consciousness through my feelings and intuitions, or does not, but affects my actions.

How to respond to new knowledge? In distress- I have been wrong, I will have to think things through again, how can I be sure of this- or in joy?

British citizens unable to vote in the Referendum may sign here, asking the Scots to stay with us in our Union: Let’s Stay Together.

5 thoughts on “How do I know?

  1. This was wonderfully, randomly informative and thought-provoking. I think the Scots are wrong about this independence thing. They’ll be going from one of the voting powers on the Security Council, and all of the other worshipping that America, Canada and New Zealand do of Britain … do another Latvia. Why? It’ silly, Clare. If they go independent, they will not be afforded NATO protection (just bear with me on that one) and privileges, and they will lose the “special relationship” with the United States, which, if nothing else, obliges us to tell Britain FIRST before we do anything, thus allowing the British to prepare.


  2. You remind me of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s thought as expressed by Sherlock Holmes: The mind is an attic with finite space. For every box you add, you have to take another away to make room. Choose wisely… :0)

    As for epistemology, there is no escaping it. Might as well say “I have no time for DNA.” We are what we see, and what we see becomes who we are.


    • That was the Earth going round the Sun, wasn’t it?

      The point of the post is that the theories as I have read them do not fit this experience, that what I need to know is the relationship with others, and I know that unconsciously, information drifting into consciousness through feeling. I am as certain as I can be that the Earth goes round the Sun because it explains my experience elegantly- eg, the axial tilt explains the seasons- but more because so many people say the same.


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