First, how do we know we know? What is knowing? I suppose we can safely say that knowing necessitates some level of observation which necessitates some level of awareness. The next question that occurs to me is whether an individual can be ‘objectively’ aware. I, for the life of me, can’t see how. Awareness is grounded in the biology of our senses. Reality looks a lot different to a fly with its compound eyes than it does to us through our eyes. However, each species ‘knows’ its experience to true—we all feel we are seeing the world as it is. Of course, only humans think about this, but each species including us, behaves as though they have full faith in the validity of their perception, unaware of the biological origins of their perception.
Next after the senses comes the interpretive role emotions play in awareness. I assume this applies to all animals, but to avoid haggling over it, I’ll limit myself to humans. Whether you think an individual’s emotional disposition is a result of genetics, environment, or a combinations of the two, it is obvious we have one, and that we had little choice in the formation of its characteristics. For example, one doesn’t decide to be a ‘jolly good fellow’ or a ‘serious curmudgeon’. So, after our senses pick up raw data about the world around us, that data passes through our emotional filters before it finally arrives in our grey matter’s thinking zone. A personal example of this is how I’ve noticed that when I’m in an angry kind of emotional mood I’ll get ‘ticked off’ much more easily by people. Conversely, when I’m sailing along in an emotionally light mood, the whole world looks just perfect.
Last in line comes the interpretive role my ‘learning’ plays—our cultural indoctrination which begins soon after birth. Religion, politics, and the various ‘tastes’ we hold to, and which hold us, form the final stage of our awareness process. For example, if you’re ‘liberal’, you’ll interpret what gets passed through those first two levels of awareness with a ‘left slant’ to it. And of course, just the reverse for conservative ‘taste’. It is ironic that such an intelligent species such as ourselves is rather oblivious to this process, especially when it touches our own biases. We need to feel that what we believe is true just as much as the fly needs to feel its perceptions are true. Of course this lack of self understanding becomes more problematic as our technologies advance.
I can’t help but conclude that all my observations and the knowing that these generate are simply reflections of who I am. Not only that, but my knowing can never be other than a reflection of all that is me. That includes this essay, of course. So how can the notion of objectivity be anything more than an illusionary ideal? If I would know myself all I need do is accept that all that I see and the judgements I make about ‘the world’ are actually just reflections of myself. Christ may have had this in mind when he observed, “Judge not least thee be judged”.
All this will fall on deaf ears to most folks for they believe that ‘the world’ they see has a reality independent from them, the observer. Of course, this again speaks to our innate instinctive nature. We biologically are impelled to believe that truth lies ‘out there’ somewhere or with someone. Thus, in my view knowing yourself comes down to accepting the unsettling fact that the world you see is you. If it looks crummy, then the ‘crummy’ lies within you. As the ancient yogi saying put it… “That thou art.”