Ascertaining Reality Pt. 2
July 26, 2020
This post applies ideas from “Ascertaining Reality Pt. 1,” using them to explore what it means to pursue knowledge. This post’s title comes from how I view the pursuit of knowledge. I define it as likening your perspective to reality. By pursuing knowledge in this active, directed way, you can ascertain more of reality.
Maybe I should first explain why I think it’s important to pursue knowledge. Because that’s not a fact of life; it’s just my opinion. The short answer is that it’s important to pursue knowledge because it is the only permanent pleasure.
If you value knowledge, then learning is pleasurable. As humans, we’re naturally inclined to approach pleasure and avoid pain. If you frame learning as pleasurable, then you will be more likely to pursue it. It’s safe and productive to see learning as pleasurable because you can’t have an excess of knowledge. It’s strictly cumulative. All other pleasures have a diminishing marginal return and can be taken in excess. Knowledge, like many things, is an insatiable desire. But unlike almost everything else, it is cumulative and permanent, not fleeting.
It’s difficult, or even futile, to fight our tendency to approach pleasure, so why not instead redefine what you consider to be most pleasurable? Make it something worthy of an unrelenting pursuit.
Experience and Reason
If you think that knowledge is a worthy pursuit, then the next question is how to go about it. As I said earlier, the central idea of this post is that pursuing knowledge is the same as likening your perspective to reality. Well, the two follow-up questions are “What makes up one’s perspective?” and “How am I supposed to know what is real?” Let’s first address the latter.
In “Ascertaining Reality Pt. 1,” I briefly mention the dichotomy between empiricism and rationalism, which are two extremes of thought on how to arrive at certainty. One advocates for experience as the best way and the other for reason. These are extreme views because neither allow for a gradient between them. I’d say that you can only ascertain reality by using both experience and reason. However, it’s hard to figure out how to use experience to liken your perception to reality, so trade “experience” for “empathy.” Use empathy and reason to pursue knowledge.
I equate empathy and experience because the only way to elevate your empathy is to widen the breadth of your own experience. When it comes to emotional responses, there’re essentially three options on the table: sympathy, empathy, or apathy.
Apathy can be thought of as indifference, and sympathy is projecting emotions onto a situation, guessing at which are appropriate. Empathy is unique, in that it requires that you actually relate to the experience of another person and not merely fumble for a fitting emotion; you have to know how they feel. Very clearly, the only way to relate to more people’s experiences is to have more experiences of your own (and to reflect so that you learn from them).
Empathy is an essential part of forming your perspective because it allows you peek through someone else’s lens — to test-drive their point of view — and compare it to your own. Maybe you find something “real” looking through that lens that you hadn’t considered. Incorporate that thing into your perspective, and you’re one step closer to ascertaining reality. The value that experience has in the pursuit of knowledge is that it allows you to elevate your empathy to more aptly learn from others’ perspectives.
The next component is reason, which deals with the transcendental part of reality — the topic of part one. There are things you can’t experience that are still a part of reality, and you must employ reason to understand those things.
Your answers have to satisfy logic, but because of the type of questions you’re asking, you can’t prove your answers through experience. It is this part of reality where introspection can inform your perspective, as opposed to empathy. This sort of understanding is about personal discovery — finding out what you believe and developing those beliefs where they’re incomplete. Philosophy and religion are so valuable in this particular process because they are the perfect prompts for self-discovery; they ask all the right questions and propose articulate answers that have stood the test of time.
I prioritize philosophy in my personal pursuit of knowledge, using the ideas therein to spark my own thoughts, questions, and attempts at answers. I consider philosophies to have a greater piece of reality in them than most individuals’ perspectives because philosophies are the product of many individuals’ thoughts overtime. Like a science experiment with reproducible results or a peer-reviewed research paper, popular philosophies are rigorous systems of thought that hold weight because they resonate with people across time, space, and context. Philosophies are sources of intelligible knowledge that are likely to be more akin to reality than an individual’s perspective, solely because they present perspectives that are echoed by many individuals. So, if you’re trying to ascertain reality, exploring philosophy and indulging in introspection wouldn’t be bad places to start.
There are two parts of reality: the physical and the transcendental. The former is defined by science and characterized by our perceptions and empirical experience. The latter is purely intelligible and is what is beyond our physical perceptions, yet it is a central part of our perspectives. Reality would not be complete without either of these parts, and that’s why, in the pursuit of knowledge, it’s best to employ both empathy and reason.
Take our world in your hand, spin it around, peer beneath it, and peel back its layers in search of what is real. Sift through the information available to you and refine your point of view according to what you find. Liken your perspective to reality.