W o K     :     Ways of Knowing

A Virtual Seminar


Knowledge, Understanding and Transcending the Borders of Self

As I traveled and watched people go about their business in small towns, speaking a language I did not understand and being engrossed in familiar activities I did not understand, a sadness came over me. It dawned on me that no matter who these people were and how well I knew them I would never understand, what it is like to be them. I could never share their experience (or “understand” in the nonconceptual sense) their world and their lives. This was not a matter of lacking information, it was rather a matter of not being able to become first-person acquainted with their private experience, of not understanding “what it is like” to be them.

But then something happened that made me see that it might be possible, at least briefly, for the fog that surrounds our subjective self to lift allowing one to see through what seemed to me a tragically impenetrable barrier that separates what it’s like to be me from what it’s like to be someone else – that to some extent it might be possible to share this first-person experience with another unique individual. My instrument for this was LSD but many others have achieved it through meditation, or sometimes through a hardship such as fasting,. Many of these have been documented by Richard Bucke in his book Cosmic Consciousness in which he chronicles such experiences among many historical figures, including his friend Walt Whitman as well as Buddha, Christ, Saint Paul, Mohammed, Dante, Blake and others. It made me feel that maybe we are not completely and irrevocably alone in our inner world.

 Zenon Pylyshyn

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