Wednesday 3 October 2018

Since all knowledge is incomplete - what is the difference between directly apprehended ('mystical') knowledge and 'communication'?

In response to a recent post - commenter CCL posed an important question about the incompleteness of knowledge. I had asserted that what is known of reality directly and without communication was true; whereas anything communicated was indirect, selective, biased and necessarily untrue.

Yet even the directly-known reality is incomplete, since we have limited capacity for knowledge, limited time and experience - and ultimately because unless we already know 'everything' including all possible relations of things, then we cannot know anything, absolutely.

This analysis would seem to suggest that, since both direct and communicated knowledge are both incomplete - and incomplete in unknowable ways; mystical knowledge is in principle prone to wrongness for similar reasons to communication. It might be inferred that since both are incomplete, and because the entirety the reality can never be know; we can never really know anything about anything!

But this paradoxical conclusion derives from an unstated assumption which is that true knowledge of reality is being defined in an abstract and absolute fashion - and having set-up this abstraction of infinite and perfect knowledge we then find that any actual knowledge is, by comparison with supposed infinite perfection, always and necessarily deficient...

Yet the abstraction of infinite and perfect knowledge has no necessary reality! It is merely something we have said or thought: a ghost - a vague un-understood, indefinable notion which we then find has apparently invalidated even the knowledge that there is such a things as this supposed infinite and perfect reality!

(In other words; even if there was such a 'thing' as infinite and perfect knowledge, how could a finite and falwed creature such as myself or anyone else ever know that it was indeed real and true?)

I realise that such infinite, perfect abstractions have been the bread-and-butter of philosophy and theology for some two and a half thousand years - but neither that duration, nor the great eminence of the names who wrote as if they really solidly understood such abstraction, does not lend them ultimate validity in face of the intractable paradoxes that result from them.

One way that people try to get-around this paradox is to posit a God who comprehends all infinite perfections (the 'omni' God that is infinite in all respects - knowledge, power, presence etc.). But even such an incomprehensible, un-understandable and non-Biblical entity as the omni-God does not overcome the problem of how you and I could know for sure of that God's reality.

The answer is that knowledge is neither absolute, nor infinite, nor perfect; but is always relative to capacity, experience etc. Truth is a full understanding to the limit of our capacity - attained by direct apprehension, or 'mystically' - but our capacity (etc.) for knowledge may increase.

A being of far greater capacity and experience than ourselves - such as God, the creator - is capable of far greater knowledge. And as the capacity and experience of God increases through time, and the work of his children, so God's knowledge will increase.

Since all beings are finite, there is no absolute-truth, knowable solely by abstract definition, lying somewhere infinitely beyond actually-known-truth. Or rather - there is no reason why we must believe, by metaphysical assumption, that this is a correct description of reality.

Let us then assume that knowledge is Not to be regarded as an abstraction (capable of infinite perfection) - and instead assume that Creation consists of actual Beings (alive, conscious, with purposes), including God the creator, in relationships with one another. Let us assume that that is the ultimate reality.

In other words, let us assume that the basic understanding of children (and - apparently - of the most ancient type of tribal societies) has this basically correct; that the true metaphysics is built-into us; and it is our job to become aware of it and to understand it - rather than to reject it in favour of man-made paradoxical abstractions.

1 comment:

Chiu ChunLing said...

I think that the specific benevolence of God does enter into the equation of whether knowledge gained from direct mystical contact with the divine nature is more likely to be applicable to our personal, immediate, and local needs (as seen from a larger perspective) compared to knowledge gained from the stream of physical sense data presented by the organs we have in common with all humanity. Not that the perceptions mediated through our senses are untrue, but that the truth of them is what is true generally for animal life forms, rather than specifically directed to our individual personality.

Thus pain is a truth about the relationship of our physical body to the environment and the need to consider survival as one of the ancillary outcomes of our actions, but rarely is this truth particularly important to our destiny as children of God. Or rather, what we should be thinking about pain is how it is a general condition of all animal life, rather than how it affects us personally. On the other hand, even when a truth received by direct mystical experience with God is of general application, it is best to apply it first and foremost to ourselves and our current situation before contemplating it in general.

This is because the benevolence of having sense perception organs common with most higher animal life is a general benevolence rather than a specific one, so that is the more salient truth about sense data. Whereas direct mystical experience of God is a directly applied benevolence, even if it is generally applied (and not all such revelations are general), each instance is an immediate act of God and should be appreciated as such.