Herein starts an ongoing, albeit irregular, serial with this title and theme.
Consider what we know about life (considerable especially since Crick, Watson, Monod and others). Consider how we know it (and how very technical, even esoteric this has become). Then consider what you know about life and how you know it (just what you know now excluding what we know). Let’s call these two perspectives the ‘social’ and the ‘personal’. For Homo sapiens what we know seems enormous due to our empathic and symbolic abilities. Social knowledge then comes in the forms of religion, art, science, governance, memetic culture, etc. What you or I personally know individuates within our life span; it grows from our somatic biological roots. Thus it depends upon each person’s neurosocial integrity; personal knowledge is further constrained by our life life span but also by a person’s social place. This shapes the content of our information capabilities such as pattern recognition, sense of the mystic, critical assessment, symbolic repertoire and its correspondent conventionality and creativity, and learning of experiential contingencies, i.e., experience. (A society does not have experience, it has instead what we might call culture).
All life is local. Elementary particles and their constituent parts, electromagnetic energies, gravity, dark matter and dark energy are present throughout the universe albeit in clumps. Life is present only in extraordinary cosmic locales and so far we are sure of only this one.
Now consider what we don’t know about life and why. (I would go on to add the consideration of what you or I don’t know about life, but that can of worms must be set aside for awhile). We do not know how life began here or how it will end. We do not know about other life in the wide universe. We cannot know another’s conscious experience. We do not know these things because our perspective is limited by space-time scale and the integrity of individual lives. We seek to expand beyond our space-time and personal scale through religion and science, both powered by imagination and based upon an assessed value of ignorance. With one we seek to go beyond the limits of personal knowledge, beyond an individual life span, to what happens, if anything, to our person before birth and after death. With the other we seek to go beyond the limits of or, better, to expand the limits of our social knowledge of life, our lives, our place in the cosmos and of course, the cosmos itself.
I make free use of the metaphor of an event horizon, i.e., that boundary of a black hole where the information within cannot be perceived due to the gravitational force containing it. This is because I find other sorts of event horizons limiting our information, though less because of gravity than because of some other exigencies of our world. So the event horizon for personal knowledge is marked by mysticism and the event horizon for social knowledge is marked by positivism. Let me explain here a bit. Personal knowledge is necessarily limited by one’s life span. We can follow William James and explore up to the moment of death (perhaps a bit further, see my post on 10 January 2015), and we can imagine/apprehend our existence before and after that span, but in fact, we cannot know this socially, except through the culture of religion, so our personal knowing reaches an event horizon. What really happened to me (did I experience) before birth and will happen (that I experience) after death? Following William James, this is apprehended in most varieties of religious experience as ‘mystical’—the name I give to the event horizon containing each human life.
In terms of social knowledge we approach our life and our world most comprehensively, most efficaciously empirically with the natural philosophy of positivism that then follows. What can we know about how everything happens and how may we escape the limitations of personal knowledge? Our social knowledge expands as civilization and culture develop, and while the event horizon of positivism follows outwardly accordingly, we push intelligently (we can only hope) and assiduously against it still. Given this formulation of personal and social knowledge and their respective event horizons, believing we are looking at a gem with many facets and in the importance of seeing it whole, I follow a dialectical path between mysticism and positivism. Maybe that is why my mind feels so unsettled at times, as if my neural synchronization was oscillating like a dog’s with his nose out the car window. Traveling on.