Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Personal Experience vs The Men in White Coats

Here’s to reclaiming the primacy of personal experience over what we’re told. We have heard that the Earth goes round the Sun, and it would be unreasonable not to believe that. But our experience is of the Sun moving across the sky – ie the Sun going round the Earth. That, in my book, makes it also true. It is not that the Sun SEEMS to go round the earth, but that REALLY it is the other way round. No, we have to believe our senses, or where are we? Both are true, and if anything I think personal experience needs to be given the greater weight.

And it is the same with astrology. Statistical testing has repeatedly shown that astrology does not work, and again it would be unreasonable not to believe that. That debate, in my opinion, is over. But our personal experience is that astrology does work, that it is powerful and descriptive and full of strange and magical coincidences. Both are true, and they are contradictory, and I think it is good to have to live with such contradictions. They push us to ponder the nature of knowledge itself. What is knowledge, can anything really be known in this vast ocean of unknowing in which we exist?

Ignorance is not so much lack of knowledge as thinking you know when you don’t. When you think about how much consciousness – or the brain – structures experience, then what’s REALLY going on becomes all the more mysterious. It’s not surprising that there are contradictions between different ways of knowing.

Our job is not so much to push at the frontiers of knowledge, as it is to deconstruct our natural tendency to think we know more than we do.

Modern means of knowledge have disempowered our sense of knowing based on experience. It is the ‘men in white coats’ who know best, who have ‘proofs’. Psychologically I don’t think it is much different to the medieval priesthood knowing best.

It is interesting that ‘men in white coats’ are the people in authority, the arbiters of what is real, and that the term applies to lab scientists as well as to the people who take you away to a mental hospital. Is there an unconscious connection here, a collective knowledge that rationality pushed to its extreme is a form of madness?