How is knowledge spread and made compelling?

Our friend over at the Open Society blog republished one of our pieces. He “edited out some of the bit about right-left brains.” And we were fine with that, as we understood his reasons. He said that, “I think this sort of dichotomy causes more misunderstandings for the average person than it clarifies.” And, “in order to keep this piece accessible to everyone, it’s better not to get into ongoing technical neuroanatomy debates here.”

We have no dispute with his choice of editing. It was just information and we like to share information, but it wasn’t even a part of the central text of what had been written. Still, it was important in a general sense, as background knowledge and explanatory context. In another comment, he brought up scientific illiteracy and the sorry state of (un-)education in this country. And we couldn’t disagree with any of that. But we responded back with some lengthy comments clarifying our position.

It’s not my first instinct to edit myself, as might be apparent to anyone reading my blog. I’m not always known for my concision. The idea of changing what I write based on the presumed level of knowledge of prospective readers isn’t exactly my style, not that I don’t understand the purpose of doing so. It’s not as if I never consider how others might read what I write, something I always try to keep in mind. I do want to communicate well. I’m not here to merely talk to myself. But thinking about it made me more self-aware of what motivates me in wanting to communicate.

We’re talking about not only knowledge but, more importantly, understanding and meaning, what forms our sense of shared reality and informs our sense of shared purpose. It’s an interesting and worthy topic to discuss. By the way, we felt like speaking in the plural for the introduction here, but the comments below are in first-person singular. These are taken from the Open Society blog with some revision. So, we’re republishing our comments to the republishing of our post. It’s almost like a conversation.

Before we get to our comments below, let us share some personal experience. When we were young, we had regular conversations with our father. He would always listen, question, elicit further thoughts, and respond. But what he never did was talk down to us or simplify anything. He treated us as if we were intellectual equals, even though obviously that wasn’t the case. He was a professor who, when younger, had found learning easy and rarely studied. He had obvious proof his intellectual abilities. We, on the other hand, always struggled with a learning disability. Still, our father instilled in us a respect for knowledge and a love of learning.

That is how we strive to treat all others. We don’t know if that is a good policy for a blog. Maybe that explains why our readership is so small. One could interpret that as a failure to our approach. If so, we fail on our own terms. But we hope that, in our good intentions, we do manage to reach some people. No doubt we could reach a larger audience by following the example of the Open Society blog. That blog is a much more finished product than the bare-bones text on offer here. So, maybe all my idealism is moot. That is an amusing thought. Then again, Open Society has republished other posts by us. So that is some minor accomplishment. Maybe those edited versions are an improvement. I’ll leave that for others to decide

* * *

Sadly, you’re probably right that science education is so pathetically deficient in this country that discussion of even something so basic as the research on brain hemispheres likely “causes more misunderstandings for the average person than it clarifies.” I wish that weren’t true.

Still, I’d encourage others to look into the science on brain hemispheres. I’d note that the views of Iain McGilchrist (and Julian Jaynes, etc) have nothing to do with the layman’s interpretation. To be honest, there is no way to fully understand what’s going on here without some working knowledge in this area. But the basic idea comes across without any of the brain science. Maybe that is good enough for present purposes.

I’m not entirely opposed to making material more accessible in meeting people where they are at. But hopefully, this kind of knowledge will become more common over time. It is so fundamental that it should be taught in high school science classes. My aspiration for my blog is to inspire people to stretch their minds and learn what might at first seem difficult or strange, not that I always accomplish that feat. Instead, I’m likely to talk over people’s heads or simply bore them.

It can be hard to express to others why something seems so fascinating to me, why it’s important to go to the effort of making sense of it. I realize my mind doesn’t operate normally, to put it mildly. But even with my endless intellectual curiosity, I have to admit to struggling with the science at times (to be honest, a lot of the times). So, I sympathize with those who lose interest or get confused by all the differing and sometimes wrongheaded opinions about brain hemispheres or whatever.

* * *

Scientific illiteracy is a problem in the US. And it’s an open secret. I’ve seen plenty of discussion of it over the years. It would help if there was a better education system and not limited to college. Remember that three quarter of Americans don’t have any college education at all. That is why educational reform would need to start with grade school.

Still, I don’t know what is the main problem. I doubt the average American is quite as ignorant as they get treated, even if they aren’t well educated. For example, most Americans seem to have a basic grasp of the climate crisis and support a stronger government response. It’s not as if we had more science classes that we’d finally get politicians on board. The basic science is already understood, even by those politicians who deny it.

Saying the public is scientifically illiterate doesn’t necessarily tell us much about the problem. I was reading a book about the issue of climate change in one of the Scandinavian countries. They have a much better education system and more scientific literacy. But even there, the author said that it’s hard to have an honest public debate because thinking about it makes most people feel uncomfortable, depressed, and hopeless. So people mostly just don’t talk about it.

Part of it goes back to cognitive dissonance. Even when people have immense knowledge on a topic, there remains the dissociation and splintering. People can know all kinds of things and yet not know. The collective and often self-enforced silencing is powerful, as Derrick Jensen shows. The human mind operates largely on automatic. By the way, the science of brain hemispheres can explain some of why that is the case, a major focus of Jaynes’ work.

What we lack is not so much knowledge about the world as insight and understanding about our own nature. We have enough basic working knowledge already to solve or lessen all of the major problems, if we could only get out of our own way. That said, we can never have too much knowledge and improving education certainly couldn’t hurt. We’re going to need the full human potential of humanity to meet these challenges.

* * *

Here is a thought. What if underestimating the public is a self-fulfilling prophecy? Paralyzing cynicism can come in many forms. And I know I’m often guilty of this. It’s hard to feel hopeful. If anything, hope can even seem naive and wrongheaded. Some argue that we’re long past that point and now it’s time for grieving lost opportunities that are forever gone. But even if we resign ourselves to mere triage, that still requires some basic sense of faith in the future.

I’m not sure what I think or feel about all of this. But what does seem clear to me is that we Americans have never fallen into the problem of overestimating the public. Instead, we have a disempowered and disenfranchised population. What motivation is there for the public to seek further knowledge when the entire system powerfully fucks them and their loved ones over and over again? What would inspire people to seek out becoming better informed through formal education or otherwise?

Knowledge matters. But the larger context to that knowledge matters even more. I don’t know what that means in practical terms. I’m just thinking the public should be given more credit, not so easily let off the hook. Even when public ignorance appears justified based on a failed education system or a successful non-education system, maybe that is all the more reason to hold up a high standard of knowledge, a high ideal of intellectual curiosity, rather than talking down to people and dumbing down discussion.

That isn’t to say we shouldn’t try to communicate well in knowing our audience. On many topics, it’s true that general knowledge, even among the elite, is limited at best and misinformed at worst. But the worst part is how ignorance has been embraced in so many ways, as if one’s truth is simply a matter of belief. What if we stopped tolerating this willful ignorance and all the rationalizations that accompany it. We should look to the potential in people that remains there no matter how little has been expected of them. We should treat people as intellectually capable.

Education is always a work in progress. Still, the American public is more educated today than a century ago. The average IQ measured in the early 1900s would be, by today’s standards of IQ testing, functionally retarded and I mean that literally (increases in IQ largely measure abstract and critical thinking skills). Few Americans even had high school degrees until the Silent Generation. Society has advanced to a great degree in this area, if not as much as it should. I worry that we’ve become so jaded that we see failure as inevitable and so we keep lowering our standards, instead of raising them higher as something to aspire toward.

My grandfather dropped out of high school. You know what was one of his proudest accomplishments? Sending two of his kids to college. Now kids are being told that education doesn’t matter, that college is a waste of money. We stopped valuing education and that symbolizes a dark change to the public mood. To not value education is to denigrate knowledge itself. This isn’t limited to formal education, scientific literacy and otherwise. I failed to get much scientific knowledge in high school and I didn’t get a college degree. Even so, I was taught by my parents to value learning, especially self-directed learning, and to value curiosity. I’ve struggled to educate myself (and to undo my miseducation), but I was inspired to do so because the value of it had been internalized.

The deficiency in education doesn’t by itself explain the cause. It doesn’t explain why we accept it, why we treat mass ignorance as if it were an inevitability. Instead of seeing ignorance as a challenge, as a motivation toward seeking greater knowledge, American society has treated ignorance as the natural state of humanity or at least the natural state of the dirty masses, the permanent underclass within the Social Darwinian (pseudo-)meritocracy. In this worldview, most people don’t merely lack knowledge but lack any potential or worth, some combination of grunt workers and useless eaters. What could shift this toward another way of seeing humanity?

* * *

I was wondering where knowledge is truly lacking, where curiosity about a topic is lacking, and where it matters most. Climate change is one topic where I do think there is basic necessary level of knowledge, most people have a fair amount of interest in it, and it obviously is important. What’s going on with the climate change ‘debate’ has to do with powerful interests controlling the reigns of power. If politicians did what most Americans want, we’d already be investing money and doing research to a far greater degree.

Ignorance is not the problem in that case. But it’s different with other topics. I’ve noticed how lead toxicity and high inequality maybe do more fall victim to ignorance, in that for some reason they don’t get the same kind of attention, as they aren’t looming threats in the way is climate change. In one post, I called lead toxicity a hyperobject to describe its pervasive invisibility. Temperature can be felt and a storm can be watched, but lead in your air, water, and soil comes across as an abstraction since we have no way to concretely perceive it. Even the lead in your child’s brain shows no outward signs, other than the kid being slightly lower IQ and having some behavioral issues.

Nonetheless, I’m not sure that is a problem of knowledge. Would teaching about lead toxicity actually make it more viscerally real? Maybe not. That’s a tough one. If you asked most people, they probably already know about the dangers of lead toxicity in a general sense and they already know about specific places where there are high rates, but they probably don’t grasp how widespread this is in so many communities, especially toxicity in general such as with toxic dumps. I don’t know what would make it seem more real.

Lead, as tiny particles, doesn’t only hide in the environment but hides in the body where it wreaks havoc but slowly and in many small ways. Your kid gets into a fight and has trouble at school. The first thought most parents have is simple concern for treating the behavior and the hurt the child is expressing. It doesn’t usually occur that there might be something damaging their child’s brain, nervous system, etc. All the parent sees is the result of changes in their child’s behavior. Knowledge, on the personal level, may or may not help that parent. Lead toxicity is often a larger environmental problem. What is really needed is a change of public policy. That would require not only knowledge, as politicians probably already know of this problem, but some other force of political will in the larger society. But since it’s mostly poor people harmed, nothing is done.

It’s hard to know how knowledge by itself makes a difference. It’s not as if there haven’t been major pieces on lead toxicity published in the mainstream media, some of them quite in depth. But the reporting on this comes and goes. It’s quickly forgotten again, as if it were just some minor, isolated problem of no greater concern. There definitely is no moral panic about it. Other than a few parents in poor communities that live with most severe consequences, it isn’t even seen as a moral issue at all.

That is what seems lacking, a sense of moral outrage and moral responsibility. I guess that is where, in my own thinking, self-understanding comes in. Morality is a deeper issue. Some of these thinkers on the mind and brain (McGilchrist, Jaynes, etc) are directly touching upon what makes the heart of morality beat. It’s not about something like brain hemispheres understood in isolation but how that relates to consciousness and identity, relates to the voices we listen to and the authority they hold. And, yes, this requires understanding a bit of science. So, how do we make this knowledge accessible and compelling, how do we translate it into common experience?

Take the other example. What about high inequality? In a way, it’s a hot topic and has grabbed public attention with Thomas Picketty, Kate Pickett, and Richard Wilkinson. Everyone knows it’s a problem. Even those on the political right are increasingly acknowledging it, such as the recent book Alienated America by the conservative Timothy Carney who works for a right-wing think tank. The knowledge is sort of there and yet not really. Americans, in theory, have little tolerance for high inequality. The problem is that, as the data shows, most Americans simply don’t realize how bad it’s gotten. Our present inequality is magnitudes beyond what the majority thinks should be allowable. Yet we go on allowing it. More knowledge, in that case, definitely would matter. But without the moral imperative, the sense of value of that knowledge remains elusive.

As for brain hemispheres, I suppose that seems esoteric to the average person. Even most well-educated people don’t likely take it seriously. Should they? I don’t know. It seems important to me, but I’m biased as this is an area of personal interest. I can make an argument that this kind of thing might be among the most important knowledge, since it cuts to the core of every other problem. Understanding how our brain-mind works underlies understanding anything and everything else, and it would help to explain what is going so wrong with the world in general. Knowledge of the brain-mind is knowledge about what makes knowledge possible at all, in any area. I suspect that, as long as our self-knowledge is lacking, to that degree any attempt at solving problems will be impotent or at least severely crippled.

Would discussing more about brain hemispheres and related info in the public sphere help with the situation? Maybe or maybe not. But it seems like the type of thing we should be doing, in raising the level of discussion in general. Brain research might not be a good place to start with our priorities. If so, then we need to find how to promote greater psychological and neurocognitive understanding in some other way. This is why I’m always going on about Jaynes, even though he seems like an obscure thinker. In my opinion, he may be one of the most important thinkers in the 20th century and his theories might hold the key to the revolution of the mind that we so sorely need. Then again, I could be giving him too much praise. It’s just that I doubt the world would be worse off for having more knowledge of this variety, not just knowledge but profound insight.

All in all, it’s a tough situation. Even if Jaynes’ book was made required reading in every school, I don’t know that would translate to anything beneficial. It would have to be part of a larger public debate going on in society. Before that can happen, we will probably need to hit a crisis that reaches the level of catastrophe. Then moral panic will follow and, assuming we avoid the disaster of authoritarianism, we might finally be able to have some serious discussion across society about what matters most. I guess that goes back to the context of knowledge, that which transmutes mere info into meaning.

* * *

Here is an interesting question. How does knowledge become common knowledge? That relates to what I mentioned in another comment. How does knowledge become meaning? Or to put it another way: How does the abstract become concretely, viscerally, and personally real? A lot of knowledge has made this shift. So much of the kind of elite education that once would have been limited to aristocracy and monks has now become increasingly common. Not that long ago, most Americans were illiterate and had next to no education. Or consider, as I pointed out, how the skills of abstract and critical thinking (fluid intelligence) has increased drastically.

We can see this in practical ways. People in general have more basic knowledge about the world around them. When Japan attacked, most Americans had little concept of where Japan was. We like to think American’s grasp of geography is bad and it may be, but it used to be far worse. Now most people have enough knowledge to, with some comprehension, follow a talk or read an article on genetics, solar flares, ocean currents, etc. We’ve become a scientific-minded society where there is a basic familiarity. It comes naturally to think about the world in scientific terms, to such extent that we now worry about scientific reductionism. No one worried about society being overtaken by scientific reductionism centuries ago.

Along with this, modern people have become more psychologically-minded. We think in terms of consciousness and unconsciousness, motives and behavior, cognitive biases and mental illnesses, personality traits and functions, and on and on. We have so internalized psychological knowledge that we simply take it for reality now. It’s similar with sociology. The idea of race as a social construction was limited to the rarified work of a few anthropologists, but now this is a common understanding that is publicly debated. Even something as simple as socioeconomic classes was largely unknown in the past, as it wasn’t how most people thought. My mother didn’t realize she was part of a socioeconomic class until she went to college and was taught about it in a sociology class.

That is what I’m hoping for, in terms of brain research and consciousness studies. This kind of knowledge needs to get over the hurdle of academia and spread out into the public mind. This is already happening. Jaynes’ ideas influenced Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials which has been made into an HBO show. His ideas were directly discussed in another HBO show, Westworld, and caused a flurry of articles in the popular media. He also influenced Neal Stephenson in writing Snow Crash, also being made into a show, originally planned by Netflix but now picked up by HBO. I might take the superficial view of brain hemispheres as a positive sign. It means the knowledge is slowly spreading out into the general public. It’s an imperfect process and initially involves some misinformation, but that is how all knowledge spreads. It’s nothing new. For all the misinformation, the general public is far less ignorant about brain hemispheres than they were 50 years ago or a hundred years ago.

Along with the misinformation, genuine information is also becoming more common. This will eventually contribute to changing understandings and attitudes. Give it a generation or two and I’m willing to bet much of what McGilchrist is talking about will have made that transition into common knowledge in being incorporated into the average person’s general worldview. But it’s a process. And we can only promote that process by talking about it. That means confronting misinformation as it shows up, not avoiding the topic for fear of misinformation. Does that make sense?

10 thoughts on “How is knowledge spread and made compelling?

  1. “Knowledge itself is unknowable.”—from Plato’s dialogue The Theaetetus
    “All men naturally reach out for knowledge.”—Aristotle
    “Knowledge itself is power.”—Roger Bacon
    I’m with Plato…

    • That requires some interpretation. Plato believed in a theological vision of truth. Truth wasn’t ‘known’ but remembered as a Platonic ideal. The Gnostics used this idea for their vision of God. It’s referred to as anamnesis, unforgetting. I must admit that it is an attractive viewpoint.

      • I should point out that this is the kind of theological faith I was raised in. Unity Church, ACIM, etc were more along the lines of the neoplatonic/gnostic strain of Christianity. I have a natural sympathy for this position. It is why I’m so idealistic and why, specifically, my highest ideal is truth.

        It’s a frustrating ideal, I must say, for it puts you in opposition to the rest of society. Even left-wingers, in their cynicism about what they perceive as Enlightenment liberalism, tend to be dismissive of this idealism. But in reality this idealism goes back to the Axial Age.

        • After decades of chronic depression and depressive realism, I sometimes forget how idealistic I still am.

          I haven’t been to a Unity Church in many years, but religoius upbringing has a way of getting stuck in one’s psyche. My Unity idealism is the equivalent of Original Sin to a Catholic or Fire n’ Brimstone to an Evangelical.

          To edit knowledge (AKA Neoplatonic ‘Truth’) is a transgression against the Divine! That is my gut response, not exactly a rational response. Truth is a harsh Mistress.

    • As an interesting side note, here is what Chris Knight said of Chomsky, in relation to Plato and Orwell:

      He shows no appetite for dwelling on contradictions: ‘Plato’s problem . . . is to explain how we know so much, given that the evidence available to us is so sparse. Orwell’s problem is to explain why we know and understand so little, even though the evidence available to us is so rich.’[36]

      How do we know so little? That’s Orwell’s problem. How do we know so much? That’s Plato’s. Chomsky makes no attempt to reconcile these two problems, leaving the contradiction between their flatly opposed assumptions unresolved. Which problem is chosen depends on who is speaking, whether activist or scientist. Chomsky’s ‘two problems’ seem not only different but utterly unconnected with one another, as if to deliberately illustrate the gulf between the two compartments of his brain.

      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2016/09/18/the-chomsky-problem/

      • I brought up Chomsky with a particular thought in mind. It demonstrates my mixed views on Neoplatonic thought. It’s part of a more general view of innatism, nativism, essentialism, etc. Chomsky believes in a universal grammar, something inherent and inborn that all humans possess by genetic and neurocognitive birthright. It’s the notion that children learn language too quickly and too easily, which Chomsky takes as a poverty of stimulus and proof that language already exists as a potential in the brain. It’s what he refers to as Plato’s problem, why we know more than it seems we should.

        As I said, I’m drawn to a kind of Neoplatonism, but I find Chomsky’s variety concerning. Once we commit ourselves to essentialism, we place our views on the same level as race realism and genetic determinism. Ultimately, essentialism makes no sense to me. Some argue that Carl Jung is also an essentialist, something Daniel Everett and Julian Jaynes misunderstood, but I disagree since he shows more nuance: “It is not, therefore, a question of inherited ideas but of inherited possibilities of ideas” (The Psychology and Anthropology of Consciousness). Jung was heavily influenced by anthropologists and he came to influence many anthropologists. This puts him more in the tradition of social constructionism that includes Jaynesian theory and linguistic relativity. This makes more sense to me, as it has much more explanatory power and avoids the pitfalls. Chomsky has been dismissive of the social sciences, in his wanting to make linguistics into a hard science, which I consider obviously ludicrous. He is confusing levels of thought.

        There is a common spiritual vision of the world as living language as seen in many traditions, from Kabbalah to Hinduism, and it relates to the gnostic-like views on language as seen in William S. Burroughs and Philip K. Dick (the latter being the more Neoplatonic of the two). But this is a spiritual vision. Chomsky is reducing this to a language organ in the brain. It seems that he has gotten caught up in abstractions and then reified those abstractions into a simplified materialism. It’s important to note that no one has ever found a language organ. Here is a real doozy. Chomsky didn’t study any other languages and has dismissed linguists who do fieldwork with other linguistic cultures, such as Daniel Everett who challenged Chomsky in pointing out the Piraha lack recursion and so eliminates one of the supporting claims of the supposed universal grammar.

        Chomsky has no real counter-argument. His only response is to intellectually dance around. Chris Knight has pointed out that, as Chomsky’s theory has been constantly attacked, he keeps revising it such that at this point the original theory is no longer recognizable as what it has become and yet he calls it by the same name. Basically, there are many different theories Chomsky has proposed, but he doesn’t differentiate between them and instead conflates them. This makes it impossible to know exactly what Chomsky is defending at any given moment. He is a genius at intellectually overwhelming opponents in debate. His weakness is in practical research and real world evidence. The early support for Chomsky’s work came from the Pentagon that saw universal grammar as a promising model for developing user-friendly interfaces for computers and indeed the Pentagon funded Chomsky. Yet his universal grammar never panned out for technological application.

        Truth as a set of Platonic ideals is one thing. But when mixed up a materialistic bent of scientism, we are in dangerous waters. That isn’t to say that I see a clear separation between truth and knowledge, as the two resonate. Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge and yet also the goddess of truth. There is no conflict. Knowledge is only problematic when disconnected from a deeper sense of truth. Yet truth also can become distorted, even leading to psychic inflation, when ungrounded from knowledge. Jung comes closest to grasping this with his “inherited possibility of ideas”. We aren’t born with a language organ possessing a universal grammar. Instead, we are born with the inherited possibility of language. It’s the difference between genetic determinism and epigenetic potentiation.

        http://overweeninggeneralist.blogspot.com/2016/09/chomsky-decoded-by-chris-knight.html

        Knight has apparently spent the past 20 years researching this book and has managed to boil it all down to 240 pages, plus endnotes, a massive bibliography, and index. In an interview he mentioned that he’d finished a work in his field of Anthropology and hadn’t really covered the origin of language in humans, because he felt he didn’t know enough about the subject. Knowing Chomsky was Mr. Linguistics (having virtually single-handedly made it into a science and moving Linguistics from the Anthropology Department into the new Cognitive Science labs at your nearby Big University), he read Chomsky’s linguistics in order to understand. And he ran into what I ran into: it’s a cold, abstract to a painful degree, literally meaningless, an unworkable series of models that, – get this – by definition, has nothing to do with humans communicating with each other.

        https://www.thoughtco.com/poverty-of-the-stimulus-pos-1691521
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plato%27s_Problem

        http://norvig.com/chomsky.html

        So how could Chomsky say that observations of language cannot be the subject-matter of linguistics? It seems to come from his viewpoint as a Platonist and a Rationalist and perhaps a bit of a Mystic. As in Plato’s allegory of the cave, Chomsky thinks we should focus on the ideal, abstract forms that underlie language, not on the superficial manifestations of language that happen to be perceivable in the real world. That is why he is not interested in language performance. But Chomsky, like Plato, has to answer where these ideal forms come from. Chomsky (1991) shows that he is happy with a Mystical answer, although he shifts vocabulary from “soul” to “biological endowment.”

        “Plato’s answer was that the knowledge is ‘remembered’ from an earlier existence. The answer calls for a mechanism: perhaps the immortal soul … rephrasing Plato’s answer in terms more congenial to us today, we will say that the basic properties of cognitive systems are innate to the mind, part of human biological endowment. ”

        It was reasonable for Plato to think that the ideal of, say, a horse, was more important than any individual horse we can perceive in the world. In 400BC, species were thought to be eternal and unchanging. We now know that is not true; that the horses on another cave wall—in Lascaux—are now extinct, and that current horses continue to evolve slowly over time. Thus there is no such thing as a single ideal eternal “horse” form.

        We also now know that language is like that as well: languages are complex, random, contingent biological processes that are subject to the whims of evolution and cultural change. What constitutes a language is not an eternal ideal form, represented by the settings of a small number of parameters, but rather is the contingent outcome of complex processes. Since they are contingent, it seems they can only be analyzed with probabilistic models. Since people have to continually understand the uncertain. ambiguous, noisy speech of others, it seems they must be using something like probabilistic reasoning. Chomsky for some reason wants to avoid this, and therefore he must declare the actual facts of language use out of bounds and declare that true linguistics only exists in the mathematical realm, where he can impose the formalism he wants. Then, to get language from this abstract, eternal, mathematical realm into the heads of people, he must fabricate a mystical facility that is exactly tuned to the eternal realm. This may be very interesting from a mathematical point of view, but it misses the point about what language is, and how it works.

    • To think of it, you can easily see my idealism of truth on display in this post. When I speak of knowledge, the motivation behind it is the love of truth. That is why I keep referring to understanding, meaning, and such.

      It’s also why I see truth as an equalizing force. In a Platonic sense, truth is accessible to everyone, an idea that Protestants and Anabaptists carried into modernity. We don’t need to talk down to people but lift them up to truth.

      It is an extremely idealistic faith. I can understand why it doesn’t make sense to others, why it might seem naive or false or something. But it was the worldview I was raised in.

  2. It’s funny when I think about my sense of ‘Truth’. It doesn’t matter how reasonable I like to present myself as a capable, if not wholly respectable, intellectual. Seeking truth is not a rational pursuit. In fact, it’s dangerous to your mental health. And if you find yourself under authoritarian rule, it will get you killed. There is no worldly gain for the driven truth-seeker, not when taken as an ideal and aspiration unto itself, no holds barred.

    My high valuation of truth does partly comes from my respectable father (military officer, business manager, professor, church elder), as do my intellectual tendencies. This creates a pull within myself since the two aren’t the same. Both of my parents put great emphasis on honesty and truth-telling. They are conservatives who for various reasons raised my brothers and I in the Unity Church, along with some years spent in Science of Mind and an ACIM group. So conservative moralistic parenting was combined with my ultra-liberal hippy woo-woo New Thought religious upbringing. It was truth and Truth.

    This hit me harder than my brothers, as I was the youngest and got the heaviest dose of New Age religiosity. I swallowed it with all my heart where the barbed hook permanently was lodged. That idealistic sense of Truth, over decades of depression, tore me apart as I pulled against it’s hold on me. I have no reason to pretend to be anything other than what I am. I’m never going to be respectable. And the bitter pill of pessimistic realism is no anidote. So let me be honest. In my heart of hearts, I’m a spiritual zealot for truth. It’s not a choice I ever made. I don’t know how to be otherwise. I’m just not capable of being either cynical or moderate about truth.

    When I hear something like, Truth wants to be free… when I hear that, it intuitively just makes sense to me. I’ve had smart intellectual people, such as a jaded left-winger I know, tell me that the truth doesn’t want anything at all. Well, fuck that! How the hell do they know what truth wants. Oh, yeah. I know the ‘rational’ response. What we call ‘truth’ is just a social construction. Sure… and so what? Everything, in a sense, is a social construction. Your entire sense of identity, maybe egoic consciousness altogether, is a social construction. All of society, after all, is a social construction. That doesn’t explain anything, much less explain it away.

    I don’t want to limit truth. Nor to hold it back. I don’t want to be reasonable. There is nothing reasonable about a hairless primate who believes there are voices (i.e., thoughts) in his head telling him what to do, but it’s all cool because a monotheistic demiurgic force (i.e., ego-mind) rules over them all and maintains (or tries to maintain) a reasonable orderliness within the kingdom of individually demarcated mind-space. Such an ‘individual’ seeking truth is far from reasonable. Then again, neither is it reasonable to deny or dismiss truth.

    We are all in the same madhouse. In listening to voices, why not listen to what Truth says? I know, I know. That’s a crazy thought. Well, once again, look around you. It’s a crazy world. We are all listening to voices, even if most of us do it without awareness. I carry a picture of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge and learning, in my pocket. I do so even though I’m agnostic or rather an agnostic gnostic. Theism doesn’t make any more or less sense to me than egotism, for whatever that is worth and whereever that leaves me. I believe only what I experience, in Piraha fashion. And in my experience, Truth is a psychic reality which is to say it is simply reality itself. Truth wants to be free, as I want to be free, as there is my sense of truth and my sense of true self.

    Why would I want to tailor knowledge, to edit difficult and challenging truths? Why would I want to lower truth to the lowest common denominator, rather than inspire people to reach up to the heights of truth as an ideal to be aspired toward? Yet I fully understand why people do so and it makes perfect sense. It is reasonable. And I have no logical defense against their arguments. Nor do I even want to argue against them. I agree they are intellectually right. And even in a pragmatic sense of effective rhetoric and clear communication, they’ve got me beat and I accept my defeat.

    That doesn’t change one iota of my sense of truth. It was just how I was raised. Even if I wanted to deny it, it would still be there deep in my psyche, as a small inner voice or else in some worse form as the return of the repressed. Even depressive realism and philosophical pessimism never could save me from this daimonic possession. And guess what? You’re possessed too! Maybe you’re possessed by some other voices, but it’s the same difference. None of us chooses what possesses us.

    What we can do is become aware in listening more closely to what exactly is speaking. You might even discover what is true for you. And maybe good ol’ fashion knowledge could help you along the way. Julian Jaynes is one of many great scientific guides to voice-hearing, and it might help you maintain your persona of reasonableness in relating to the rest of the world.. No one has to know your secret. It’s between you and your voices.

    Listen to your voices or whatever. There is no particular reason to listen to me. I’m not a good example to follow. But all of this is neither here nor there. It seemed maybe necessary to explain my personal flavor of insanity, if only so people know what they’re dealing with. It’s part of my practice of upfront honesty. I yam what I yam. And if for some odd reason you want to understand my worldview, Jaynes or McGilchrist would be a decent place to start. They speak to my craziness, make sense of what otherwise makes no sense. Besides, the scientific evidence and theories are plain fascinating. It hardly seems superfluous to my mind.

    This entire comment is a demonstration of why I don’t speak to a larger audience. And I’m fine with that. It kind of makes me happy and amuses me. I’m not for everyone. For much of my life, I didn’t like listening to me either, but I didn’t have a choice in the matter. As for the rest of you, you’re free to come and go as you please.

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