Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The great lie: Hearsay evidence of the nature of reality

The great lie which we tell ourselves, which we allow ourselves to believe; which we convince ourselves it is necessary to believe - is that our fundamental understanding of reality must take into account not only our human nature, as we understand it, and our directly-experienced knowledge; but also *and mostly) a vast and open-ended quantity of hearsay evidence.


By hearsay evidence on reality, I mean anything which we do not know for ourselves or from people who we have real reason to trust.

In other words, hearsay encompasses almost-everything we (think we) know: stuff taught us by institutions such as school or college or textbooks, that we experience vicariously in art, everything we learn-from the mass media.


Much of what we regard as true was not even taught us as true, for instance something we read in a novel or saw in a movie (e.g. something about war, or other countries, or human relationships); but has become regarded as true simply by by the psychological process of our minds retaining the 'information' while losing memory of its fictional provenance.


Is it remotely plausible that any genuine understanding of reality could embrace all these sources of information? - many of them candidly made-up, many of them lies and manipulations, many of them honest but erroneous?

To ask the question is to answer it.

So long as we insist that our understanding of reality, of the human condition, takes full account of the latest theories or 'findings' of (self-styled) science, of the latest reports of history, of the compelling pictures found in TV documentaries, of the latest and most viscerally-wrenching mass media themes - so long as we insist on including such 'knowledge' in our 'philosophy of life' - then for so long we will not have a valid or coherent philosophy of life.


One 'secret' of the great mystics, is that their understanding of reality is direct. Their understanding is based on what they personally know by experience and by revelation.

And nothing else!

The great mystics do not find a place in their scheme of things for whatever topical and impactful 'evidence' they happen to have read, been told about, or seen depicted today or yesterday.

The great mystics will not accept hearsay evidence; and almost all of what we suppose to be evidence IS hearsay. 


In the modern world, most of what we 'know' we do not know; because it is untrue.

Yet much of what we really do know, we refuse to believe because it conflicts with this vast ocean of fake knowledge.  

We judge validity by falsehoods - and reject the truth we need.


The path to wisdom is the opposite. Our understanding of reality is limited to what is real; and what is really known to us is a very small proportion of what we say and think.

But that, and only that, must be the basis of understanding reality.

Thus our understanding of reality is necessarily going to look very partial; we will not be able to explain everything we are confronted-with (most although not all, of which will anyway be false); we will not be able to answer more than a small fraction of the questions and challenges that other people confront us with.

We will therefore not be able to convince other people that we are right.


This state of affairs ought to lead us each to be humble about how much we know, but rock solid in what we do know.