W o K     :     Ways of Knowing

A Snippet

Prologue on "Ways of Knowing"

Piet and I want to explore the possibility and importance of some form of direct awareness or better yet, seeing. We also want to suggest that this is currently being lost for various reasons, and that since it is important, it should be recovered and actively brought more to the center of our lives and pursuits. We think it should even figure in our attempts to advance the frontiers of knowledge.

Of course, this is—or at least sounds—like an unfashionable position nowadays. Similar-sounding ideas have been unpopular since scientific psychology abandoned reliance on introspection in its research and experiments back in the late 19th century (for good reasons). And we admit that our view faces many very serious and legitimate challenges. This is a point Piet began to raise in his April 8, ’06 WoK Snippet. So we have our work cut out for us. Here I’ll try something easier—just expanding on a few ideas.

First, about “direct seeing” … WoK is concerned with the importance of a type of awareness that is participatory in nature (rather than distanced or disconnected from its objects), and that does not so much trade in terms of particular meanings as it discovers or brings us back to what we can recognize as real and appropriate. It yields “meaningfulness,” significance in a larger sense, even value, and insight about what is “going on” in ways that are both like and unlike what science now gives us. While being continuous with some aspects of ordinary and scientific knowledge, it is not reducible to them. So it’s about more than meaning as mere designation of “this or that,” which is often where even sophisticated "ordinary knowing" stays, but it does reveal and inform.

This “seeing” is something we can both learn to do, and also find to be directly available. Our learning it actually has as much to do with letting it declare itself naturally and directly, as with acquiring a new skill. It’s about what is present and actual, but typically ignored or covered. We are already using it every day, but usually not in a very refined or unalloyed form—one true to its own nature.

Second, this is admittedly the subject of some contemplative disciplines figuring both in Eastern and Western traditions. WoK is not concerned with touting any of these traditions, but definitely wants to learn what it can from the past, challenging and recasting ideas where necessary, while also exploring new approaches that are directly available to us and suited to our time. To that end, WoK Interviews, In the News, and Dialogues etc. will explore how to access this “seeing,” and also every “pro” and “con” position we and our readers can think of regarding its nature, status and relevance to fields like education, ethics, medicine, and science.

Finally and in summary, several different kinds of claims lie implicit in what I’ve just said:

In my next Snippet, I’ll pick up with the last of these points, briefly considering a range of cases, from the minimally- to the maximally-ambitious “reality” claims that could be made for the direct “way of knowing” I’ve started to describe.

Steven, 4/9/06.

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