Thursday, February 03, 2011

Ways of Knowing

Reading St Augustine’s Confessions reminded me of the Buddhist tradition's three ways of knowing, or "wisdoms": experiential/mystical, cerebral/rational, and learning/textual. (The Pāli terms are bhavana-mayā paññā, cintā-mayā paññā and suta-mayā paññā, respectively.)What strikes me about Augustine is his depth in all three methods; most people seem comfortable in one or at most two of them.

People may debate at cross purposes because they use different approaches to understand the world. Someone who thinks about the world experientially will have difficulty finding common ground with someone grounded in logic, and both may belittle someone who defers to tradition or social norms.

When I shared this idea with Dor Deasy, she pointed out that John Wesley thought faith should be approached from four perspectives: Experience, Reason, Scripture and Tradition, which map to the three above if one combines Scripture and Tradition. According to Wikipedia, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral can be seen as a matrix for interpreting the Bible in mutually complementary ways: “[T]he living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason.”

Different personality types approach faith in different ways, though. Peter Richardson’s Four Spiritualities: Expressions of Self, Expression of Spirit uses the Meyers-Briggs personality inventory to characterize an individual’s bent. It may come down to brain physiology: I would not be surprised to learn that some people's brains are built in a way that predispose them to mystical experiences, while others are optimized for logic, or absorbing social norms.


johnnyz said...

As someone that thinks about media/communications I wonder if you are familiar with the field of biosemiotics – in my view it is basic to an understanding of the evolution of human communications and literacy. A fascinating field which I think maps to the question of how our minds are built to absrob and respond to signals and make the world we know.

I found a great discussion of the history of the mind-body thing in Donald Favareau’s “Introduction: An Evolutionary History of Biosemiotics”

A pdf source randomly googled up is:

The site notes that “The first 20 pages are particularly good in tracing the pre-Cartesian history of the notions of mind-independent reality and the notion of signification from the Greeks, through especially the Scholastics, only to founder with the twin pronged agendas emanating from Bacon and Descartes.”

From reading your blog over the last few years I think you might find an interesting few bread crumbs for the trail in this field of thought ...
blog abut it if you do ;)

Pierre de Vries said...

Thanks, Johnny, that area is new to me; I'll follow up on your lead.