How Do I Know?

How do I know what I know? When I say space-time-matter emerged from the primordial fabric I get the usual question: “how do you know?” When I say ‘the primordial fabric is a formation within the Cosmic Mind’ the critical thinker naturally asks “how do you know?” When I start talking about the Cosmic Cycle, the critical thinker loses interest. When I say ‘Cosmic Consciousness is at the core of each entity in its entirety’ I lose most people, not just the academic philosophers and the scientists. I still insist on my statements. Why? How do I know what I know?

Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that tries to find answers to the questions “how do we know the truth?”, “what is knowledge?” and “how is knowledge acquired?” The reason why only few academic philosophers write on spiritual philosophy is that the epistemology of spiritual philosophy is very problematic.

In scientific matters we can point to the results of certain scientific experiments, medical studies, etc. Remember that in every scientific claim there is an element of uncertainty. We can never know reality directly. As I mentioned in my essay “Model of a Model” our scientific theories are removed from reality by at least 2 levels. So, if there is so much uncertainty in the scientific statements you can imagine the level of uncertainty and the high probability of error in the statements of spiritual philosophy.

The common criticism of spiritual philosophy or metaphysics is that the spiritual philosophers are perpetuating a myth. Critics say spiritual philosophers do not discover anything. Critics say the spiritual philosophers learn their philosophy from others and the people they learned it from learn it from others and so on. We read Plotinus and Plotinus read Plato, etc.

Spiritual philosophers blend their intuitive understanding of spirituality with that of others. This blending can be interpreted as perpetuating the myth but that would not be an accurate description of the relationship between the spiritual teacher and the student. Most spiritual teachers inspire us to form our own synthesis.

The statements of spiritual philosophy are derived from the common expressions of the spiritual experiences humans have been having for thousands of years. Yes, it is true that we learn about the existence of these experiences before we experience them. Yes, it is true that our minds are conditioned to expect them. It is also true that we build a philosophical system around these shared experiences even though our own spiritual experiences constitute only a small fraction of the experiences mentioned in the literature.

In science, we discover an aspect of reality without experiencing the truth of it directly. When Einstein discovered the principles of relativity he did not fly in rockets moving at the speed of light. He developed his theory based purely on his insights. Later, his theory was verified by the scientific experiments.

Same process is happening in spiritual philosophy. We form a hypothesis based on all the information we have gathered and our limited spiritual experiences and then reach for a grand synthesis. What scientists call a theory we call a synthesis. In the first phase we connect the dots and arrive at the big picture and in the second phase we need verification from others. There is a one big difference, however. In spiritual philosophy the laboratory is the inner life of the soul.

Let’s examine the scientific method in more detail. Epistemology of the scientific method involves hypothesis and theory formation and verification of the hypothesis and theory through experiments with the condition that experiments are repeatable and the results are the same. Repeatability is an important criterion.

The philosophers of science, especially Karl Popper, pointed out another important criterion of the scientific method: falsifiability. This criterion says that we should be able to prove or disprove a theory. If the theory does not come within the scope of measurement, if there is no way of proving or disproving the predictions of the theory, then that theory is not scientific.

Popper’s falsifiability criterion is very controversial. Scientists are debating it among themselves. For example, the statements of the String Theory of physics cannot be proved or disproved with our current technology. There is little chance that the future versions of the Large Hadron Collider will be able to test the String Theory either. This does not mean, however, that String Theory is meaningless. It is a worthwhile effort in my opinion. Thousands of physicists think so too. But, I am not against the falsifiability criterion. The statements of spiritual philosophy should be written with the falsifiability criterion in mind. The statements of my synthesis should be such that others can verify them in their own inner life.

There is a common misconception about the hypothesis formation in science. Most people think that a scientific hypothesis is formulated within the intellectual faculty of the human mind. That’ not true. Most of the time, a scientific hypothesis is based on an intuition. Hypothesis is not knowledge, it is just a glimpse. It is just a beginning. You need to develop the hypothesis into a model and then into a theory. The development of a theory happens in the thinking mind (intellectual faculty). Design of the experiments and the interpretation of the results take place in the thinking mind as well. It is clear that in the epistemology of science the intellect is more important than intuition but the role of intuition cannot be ignored in the formation of the hypothesis. We connect the dots using our intuition. This is true in science. This is also true in spiritual philosophy.

In spiritual philosophy, what happens after we arrive at a synthesis? We start cross-checking! We start comparing our synthesis to other formulations. We compare our concepts to the concepts of the other traditions. The tendency is to smooth over the differences. This tendency of spiritual philosophy is the opposite of the tendency seen in science. Scientists want to be unique. Scientists are always trying to prove that other scientists are wrong. This kind of behavior is unacceptable in spiritual philosophy. I am not saying we all agree. Despite the tendency for agreement in theory there will be significant differences in spiritual practice and the application to daily life.

A problem unique to spiritual philosophy is the language. In spiritual philosophy we have a communication problem. How can we describe the spiritual experience in words? How can we describe infinite variations and intensities of love?

Let’s say you are blessed with spiritual enlightenment and you try to communicate it to me but I cannot understand it because we have very different backgrounds and our conceptual tool-sets are very different. Our minds were conditioned differently. Science does not have this problem. Scientists are trained in a well-defined tradition and they are equipped with the same conceptual tool-sets. In science communication problems are minimized through the use of mathematics.

The epistemology of spiritual philosophy is based on the intuitive faculty of the human mind. Intuitive faculty is a divine gift to humans.

Some people suggested that intuition is proportional to knowledge meaning that intuition grows with knowledge. I don’t agree with this. Just the opposite happens. From my long years of struggle with my ego I know that ego grows with knowledge and intuition is inversely proportional to ego. So as we gain more knowledge we may in fact lose our divine receptivity called intuition. I am not saying we should stop acquiring knowledge. On the contrary, knowledge is good but it comes at a cost. To counter the negative effects of knowledge we need to be alert and watch ego constantly. We attain true knowledge through the intuitional faculty when the ego is perfectly transparent. Intuitional knowledge grows as the ways of ego are known and its demands are controlled.

In spiritual philosophy intuition is more important than intellect but intellect and logic are not ignored. Spiritual philosophy is a rational approach. It has to be rational otherwise it is not philosophy.

Spiritual philosophy is a synthetic approach. As spiritual philosophers we are interested in the grand unified theory of everything. This may be very ambitious but the basic assumption is that the intuitive faculty is a divine gift and through the cultivation of the intuitive faculty spiritual enlightenment is possible.

In science, a particular theory is tested by experiments conducted by few independent groups. If the experimental results verify the theory then the theory is accepted by all scientists everywhere even though they did not conduct the experiments themselves. In spiritual philosophy the results have to be repeated and verified by every truth seeker.

It is important to stress the significance of communication. Personal syntheses have to be communicated. If the spiritual philosophers of the past did not communicate their theories I would not be inspired to search for truth today.

How do I know what I know? I learn and discover by being receptive! I get glimpses when my ego quiets down. I long for those moments of profound silence.

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About Suresh Emre

I have worked as a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory. I am a volunteer for the Renaissance Universal movement. My main goal is to inspire the reader to engage in Self-discovery and expansion of consciousness.
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