I Know What I Know

Watch the following in its entirety before reading further.

In debates over belief, people often assert “I know what I know, and you can’t tell me I don’t”.

But do you? I–personally–have heard this odd sort of skepticism used to defend gnostic faith in phenomena as diverse as God, ghosts, UFOs, groundwater pollution, and Chupacabra. Don’t get me wrong, I am not asserting that any of these beliefs were wrong—but they were unfounded, at least on the grounds given.

Given what we now know about the functioning of the brain, it is clear that all experience is an illusion, or more accurately, a simulacrum, a shadow of meaning woven together from what the brain thinks is important. The video illustrates this in a fun way (concentrate on counting passes and you may miss the gorilla) but it’s much deeper than that. Right now, part of what you think you see is faked by your brain to cover the rather large blind spots in your field of view. A good portion of the peripheral vision you actually DO see is never consciously accessible, but IS available to help you avoid stumbling in the dark. Based on these revelations, can you really be sure of anything you observe?

The answer, flatly, is “no”, but returning to our theme of contradictory views, what are we to make of this new understanding? Some will assert that, since we cannot trust our observations, we cannot trust science to reveal the truth, since it is ultimately based on observation. But we have no other source of information except for observation. If you believe in God, you do so because you read of him in scripture, because you were told of him, because you intuit his existence, or because he speaks to you or makes himself known to you. These are all observations. All start with electrochemical potentiations within the brain, all are subject to comprehensible bias and distortion.

Given that the brain is clearly hardwired to find patterns and look for boogiemen, what are we to make of perceptions of ghosts or icons burned into toast or the cloud I recently saw, clearly “flipping the bird” at the one area of town that has gotten rain all summer long? And given our fear and our foibles, how are we to evaluate our experience of God or other intangibles against the claims of others?

Ultimately, the answer can only be careful observation. Call it science, call it prayer, or call it existential metaphysics. “Knowledge” not tested against the measuring stick of reality is sure to be mistaken, and prophets claiming knowledge “beyond measuring” are invariably false.

The theological implication, of course, is that belief in the truth should neither require nor admit of faith, and this runs in stark contrast to what many people have been taught. Still, we should not be bothered by this. God understands. He made us this way.