How we know what we know is an area of philosophy called epistemology. You can look up the variety of concepts, theories, models of epistemology on many philosophy sites. I want to highlight the one I think is most useful for cultivating a peaceful mind.
While there seem to be different views on the way that information is first experienced such as sense data, insight etc., and I will explore that topic later, it is the next step I want to talk about here. That step is validating the information so it is understood and usable. The best tool I have found for validating knowledge is what I refer to as the jewel of the west, reason.
What is reason?
Now this might seem like a most obvious question. Surely we all know exactly what reason is. Itâs rational thought and logic, right? It’s the use of logical thought when attempting to understand something, isn’t it? Well yes, but that does not quite help us to understand what makes a thought process rational. In other words we are lacking a good definition. Having our terms defined is very important for clarity of thought and communication. We want to be sure we are talking about the same thing in order to have a meaningful conversation.
While it is true that rationality is the use of reason, which also involves the use of logic, there is more to it than that. For example, one can see a sunset and there is no need for thought and reason to be used to know that one is seeing this and enjoy the experience. Or one can experience a memory of something that happened in childhood and suddenly feel an emotion associated with that memory. This seems to happen without any prior thought. In other words there are experiences that do not rely on reason in order to be experienced. But, in order for them to become part of our knowledge they need to be included into the rest of what we know. And here is where the rational part comes in. We need to include these experiences without contradicting previous information. It is the lack of contradiction that makes the integration process rational.Â This lack of contradiction is important because contradictions are self-cancelling.
For example, try to seriously think that you want to stop wanting. This is actually one of the problems with some eastern spiritual ideas. If you try to want “not wanting” you will likely experience a confusing, vaguely disturbing sense that something is not quite right. This comes from knowing these ideas contradict each other yet trying to hold them both as true. The attempt to hold two contradictory ideas at once can produce an uneasy anxiety. Obviously this is disturbs one’s serenity. Do you see this?
We will explore this more in future posts. But for now, letâs settle on a working definition of reason so we know what it is and consequently, how to use it in our spiritual life.
Reason â the inclusion of new ideas and experiences without contradictions.