Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Empty Headed--A Good Place to Start

All that we know is not all that much in light of what is possible to know.

For anyone embarking upon a spiritual journey, one of your greatest assets is the ability to know within yourself that you can’t possibility know all that there is to know, that even that which you know and feel is true beyond any question, might very well be shown at some point in time to be somewhere along the continuum from misinformed to flat-out ridiculous. In some respects, I would call the disposition to hold all that we know in a kind of permanent flux, humility. Not humility in the self-effacing sense, but in the sense that I never have a reason to assert the parameters of my current working hypothesis as anything more than a working hypothesis, certainly not the absolute truth.

I once saw a bumper sticker that said, “If everything you believed was completely false, how would you know?” In fact, we believe what we believe because we have formulated a working hypothesis. If that hypothesis didn’t work for us personally, it wouldn’t be our working hypothesis. We would have a different working hypothesis. As far as my own personal history is concerned, and my response to that personal history, my working hypothesis is true.

Anyone else living my life with the exact same experiences would experience my life differently than I have experienced it. 

Hypothetically, we could postulate that anyone else living my life under the exact circumstances and having the exact same experiences would very likely come up with a different, even if similar working hypothesis. But I want to say that it wouldn’t be all that similar. This is a part of being human. We have unique, subjective experiences no matter how “common” and “average” those experiences may be.

This is why it is not as easy as we might assume to prove guilt in a courtroom with many witnesses . Subjective observations of and responses to experiences are as varied as the number of people there to observe them. And certain predispositions, such as the race and the attire of a person, or that a person has tattoos, or looks like the uncle that used to mock my early attempts to play the guitar, evokes prejudice and other patterned responses to data that taint and color subjective experience far more than is commonly expected or accepted.

"I humbly empty myself of all I think I know."

Openness to the idea that we might not know everything that can be known, especially of those matters which we may consider ourselves expert, is the hallmark of wisdom. The best way to arrive at the truth is to take into consideration all that might be said about whatever we are considering. Whom do we respect more, a judge who has a position in a bureaucracy, who doles out decisions based on “the law,” or a wise man who takes all things into consideration, listens to all sides, and approaches the truth, not as something that can be absolutely established, but as the nearest approximation we might make on all that we know? For me personally, I’d prefer the wise man to help me make decisions about what is right and fair.