Sunday, March 12

Kinds of Knowledge

How can we have any knowledge of the unseen real?

I listened to a Mars Hill Audio piece (2 cassettes) about a
fascinating guys named Michael Polyani, a world-class scientist who
switched over to philosophy of science and of politics late in his
life. The piece is called "Tacit Knowing, Truthful Knowing" or
something close.

If you want a book, I think his book "Personal Knowledge" would be
the best starting place from what I gather. His basic point is this:

Cartesian philosophy of science says that scientists follow the
"scientific method" to reach their conclusions and advance knowledge.
The scientific method requires you to be objective and dispassionate,
come up with some hypotheses, and test them, until you find out the

As a scientist he said that his experience and his observations of
other scientists were quite different! Scientists work best on
problems they are passionate about. They often reach conclusions
intuitively, before they are able to demonstrate they are right.

And he blames the demise of Europe politically in the 20th century (2
world wars, etc.) on the false worldview promoted by scientism--that
all knowledge is objective and measureable.

He interviewed dozens of skilled craftspeople, and eventually showed
that the best people in many fields use knowledge that can never be
articulated in words. It can only be passed on by close
apprenticeship and experience. He said a lot of knowledge is like
this--what he called "Tacit Knowledge," because it is impossible to

2 common examples would be bike-riding and swimming. World-class
swimmers and cyclists may be completely unable to explain the physics
of what they're doing, but they KNOW how to cycle and swim. Heck,
even my 2-year-old son can ride his trike around, and he couldn't
begin to explain angular momentum and so forth. We know a lot of
things that we can never put into words.

Polyani argues that scientists rely heavily on tacit knowledge. And
in fact, the Mars Hill Audio folks point out, Einstein himself
repeatedly emphasized that his religious beliefs and passions took
him to his conclusions, not a strict following of the scientific
method. But scientism denies that there's any kind of knowledge
besides what is explicit, measurable, repeatable.

Since scientism or "materialism" cannot deal with issues such as
love, justice, and morality, Polyani argued that something like the
horrors of the 3rd Reich were a natural result of following this
scientific view of knowledge.

On the other hand, people who believe in "personal knowledge" can
accommodate scientific knowledge and embrace scientific progress,
since it's a legitimate kind of knowledge, though it's limited.

So learning about the unseen real is learning about things which may
never be able to be measured or even articulated. They may not even
be repeatable. But that won't make them any less real or true. (Love
is like that, isn't it?)

Wednesday, March 8

Straining Words for Greatness

I've been meditating recently on the vastness and greatness of God.
The following is a paraphrase of the ideas in Isaiah 40:10-31, when
Isaiah was obviously contemplating that aspect of unseen reality.

-God is so strong he can do anything he pleases--he has ultimate
power over everyone and everything in ths cosmos.

-Yet he is as tender as a shepherd, as a mother caring for her children.

-His size makes the entire cosmos smaller than a peanut in his hand.

-His wisdom outstrips Solomon, Plato and Socrates, Copernicus,
Einstein, and Greenspan rolled into one--their knowledge put together
amounts to a speck of dust compared to his wisdom.

-God is so great that all the billions of the earth's population are
less significant than a dust mite is to us.

-He is so worthy of praise and honor and glory that if we did
everything in our power and stripped all the resources of the
universe bare, it would not begin to honor or celebrate him adequately.

-God defies description; confounds comparison; words, images,
imaginatoin all fail miserably trying to say anything significant
about him.

-Isn't it patently obvious to all of us? You already knew this, right?

-The cosmos is like a decoration in God's house. Hitler and Mussolini
were like fleas; the former USSR, China, and the U.S. are
SuperNothings to God. Their lifespan is a nanosecond to him.

-Everything discovered by Galileo, Copernicus and the Hubble
Telescope was thought up, enacted, and currently maintained by God.

-How can you complain that God is distant, grumble that he doesn't
listen, and gripe that he doesn't care about your little needs? He
has so much energy and attention that nothing will ever wear out his
capacity to attend to and care for every minute detail in the
universe and in our lives.

-He's so smart he's got everything figured out, and he's not worried
about any of the outcomes.

-Here's the cool thing. Anyone weak can be strengthened by him,
anyone exhausted can receive limitless energy: so much so that
they'll be able to fly. They'll run marathons effortlessly. They
could walk around the entire earth without getting short of breath or
a single sore muscle.

I really wonder if that is how our bodies are designed to function,
but they need to be plugged into the right power source--the infinite
Creator of the universe--rather than all the things we use to try to
increase our energy, strength and endurance. (Food, sex, stimulation,
friendship, entertainment, steroids . . .)

Isn't that a trip?

How pinched and sorry my view of the world is when i think that i, or
anyone else, is great in any way. When i think a movie or TV show is
fantastic, or that the latest self-help therapy is really going to
change the world. What a shriveled tunnel-view!

i would somehow like to meditate on this view of reality until the
eye of my soul-imagination constantly sees this enormous God behind
and through and in everything.

Then i think i would start to relax a little and have a little bit
more perspective, wisdom, and freedom.