To Know, or Not to Know?

"I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I've been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn't have. Somehow, it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I'm a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time."
-Isaac Asimov
If I were to tell you that there is no such thing as a round square, or a noiseless sound, would you believe me? What if I showed you my empty hands and said that there was no bright red ball in my palm? How about if I told you that I love you? Would you believe me then? I imagine that most of you would believe me on the first two (unless you thought I was about to employ some philosophical trickery with words or some slight of hand), and possibly the third as well, depending on how well you know me. Today, I'm going to be covering the three types of knowing that I've found. Each is different, and is applied in different areas.

The first level of knowing is knowing by definition. This is the deepest level of knowing, and the easiest to understand. With this, you know because the definition doesn't allow for another possibility. If a sound is noiseless, it isn't a sound. So you can prove, as a matter of fact, that there is no such thing as a noiseless sound. You can do the same with any number of things, like round squares. I've also heard the example given of married bachelors. This area allows us to know, for a fact, that we exist. I know that I exist because I am here to know. If I didn't exist, then I wouldn't be able to think about whether or not I exist.

The second level of knowing moves away from philosophy and into the realm of science. It is a matter of what we can see and, ideally, test through repetition. Your existence falls into this area. My existence falls under the first level, but because you do not need to exist by definition, you fall under the second level. Of course, from your perspective, it's the other way around. That is to say, I can prove my own existence to myself, but not to you, and I can't prove your existence at all. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Imagine that I hold out my hand and say that there is no shiny red ball in my hand. This is clearly true. I can see my hand, and feel it, and so on, and I know that there is no ball in my hand. You can see it too, and anybody who looks into my hand could confirm that there is no ball contained there. However, I am still making the assumption that I can trust my eyes and my hands. I could be in a coma. I could be dreaming about all of this, and be dreaming that I'm writing this post right now. It could be that the reason I use a shiny red ball as my example is because, deep down in my subconscious mind, I know that as I lie on that hospital bed, I have, clutched in my hand, my favorite red ball. So, if I know something on the second level, it means that I can see it, and know it, but I can't really "prove" that it's true anymore.

The third level of knowing is where we explain the coma. After all, I'm not in a coma. I can't prove it, but I'm not. I know that. This third level is where we know something even though we can't technically "prove" it, even by seeing it. Bear in mind, of course, that this doesn't work without evidence. For example, you cannot say (no matter how strongly you suspect it to be true) that you know for a fact that the Loch Ness Monster doesn't exist, and never has. Similarly, I couldn't say that I know for a fact that it does exist, or has at some point in time. This third level does require reasoning and logic. It's just that you can't see it. If a friend tells you that they love you, you can't prove it. It's not true by definition, and you can't take their love in your hands and examine it. But you still know that it's true. You can see it in their actions. Could they be performing those actions as part of an elaborate ruse to get something out of the situation even though they don't really care about you? Technically, yes. You can't prove that it's not the case. But you know that it's not the case, all the same.

The difference between the second and third levels is actually simply one of scale. In neither case can you technically prove that one opinion is correct and the other is false. The issue, of course, arises when people try to use this third level for things like science. An example would be people who say, very firmly, that there is no God. They can't prove that God doesn't exist by definition, and they can't look around and show that there is no God, so that leaves level three. I have never heard even the most committed atheist say that he thinks he can disprove God's existence. And yet, people are very adamant that we not even teach the possibility to God or creation in schools, and that we not even mention the thought in the realms of science. What we need to recognize is that if there is a spiritual realm, we wouldn't be able to see it. Science doesn't look at the spiritual realm. Science looks only at the second level of knowing. So to bring in your opinions about something you can't see is out of place. You can certainly say that your findings support your views (if, in fact, they do) but cannot insist that we teach one origin theory as science and the other as religion (ignoring the fact that if God does exist, He created science itself).

I know that God exists. I have evidence to back it up, but I can still only know of His existence on the third level (just like, if He didn't exist, people could only know that on the third level). This is where faith comes in. Anything that cannot be seen (and, to some extent, even what can be) must be taken on faith. Interestingly, this includes the idea that there is no God. Thus, atheism requires faith. I find that rather amusing.

Bear in mind that saying "I know" isn't the same as actually knowing. You cannot know a lie to be true- only suspect. Thus, if one person says that they know (on the third level) that God is real, and another says that they know He isn't real, one of the two is mistaken, or else not being entirely honest with themselves.
It could be argued that there is a level of knowing between what I've listed as the second and third levels, which involves knowledge like my having a brain. Technically, I cannot see or touch my brain (while I'm alive). We can do brain scans, but those aren't actually letting us see and touch my brain. We could confirm that I have a brain, but then I wouldn't be around anymore. And yet, we have seen that people have brains. We know that I have a brain, even though we haven't seen it. We could see it, but we don't, and ideally, we're not going to.

The point of this post is to show that you can know different things on different levels, and each level has its own time and place for usage. Understanding the difference between what you know, what you know, and what you know will allow for conversations and debates to stay on track, rather than jumping to different levels.
"I'm not young enough to know everything."
-J. M. Barrie

No comments:

Post a Comment