W o K     :     Ways of Knowing

The Wok Experiment: Sept 10, 2006

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Piet Hut to Rod Rees

Hi Rod:

Steven Tainer and I are delighted that you volunteered to take part in this experiment, which is as novel for us as it is for you.

In science, the main research tool is a working hypothesis, which you formulate and then critically investigate. Neither a fixed belief nor a totally unstructured attitude, a working hypothesis gives you something to work with, while inviting you to think differently.

The working hypothesis I suggest we investigate is: there are no intrinsic limits to knowing. Each apparent limit is only a limit within a certain context. The context in turn is the result of taking a particular stance, a particular focus. So even the most strongly felt limit is just one part of a set of three tightly interwoven elements: {limit, context, focus}. A limit only feels insurmountable to the extent that we turn our gaze away from both content and focus.

In traditional contemplative approaches, a master guides a student through a decades-long path. The student concentrates full-time on various activities, forms of meditation or yoga, perhaps also martial arts and more work related practices. We don't have the time to do even a fraction of those traditional practices. Also, traditional instructions for those practices may no longer speak to us. This is why Steven Tainer, for example, is designing new types of abbreviated curricula for lay people, with instructions adapted to our culture and background.

I have been thinking about using the scientific notion of a working hypothesis as a third option, besides a traditional full-time curriculum and modern shortened versions for lay people. What triggered me was what I read in historical accounts of sages upon reaching a really deep insight: ``how amazing, that this has always been staring me in the face, but I never recognized it!'' Even though they spent half their life on an arduous path of practice to reach a distant and lofty goal, they finally realized that the goal was already there, in the very place they started. I'd like to take their word for it, but as a working hypothesis: there is nothing to do, just see, REALLY SEE what is already here.

Let us take what we can learn from systematic scientific ways of research, to investigate the no-limits working hypothesis that I introduced above. There is no need to engage in anything to do with spirituality or religion of any kind; to the extent that those approaches actually reflect the structure of reality, we may naturally cross paths with their ways of exploring. My starting point is the way of knowing of science, and while contemplation has acted for me as a trigger to formulate my working hypothesis, I'm happy to drop that trigger, at least for now.

In this email I've tried to set the stage, so it got a bit lengthy.

From now on, I'll try to keep my contributions shorter. Looking forward to your response,


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