Thursday, April 14, 2011

What Do You Know?

How is knowledge formed? We learn about things from books written by experts, or a teacher explains a concept to us in school. We continue our process of learning each day by reading or listening to the news, perhaps we consult with specialists in their fields if we need to learn something specific. We rely a lot on others to provide us with the tools to gain knowledge, and hopefully we recognize that the facts may change over time. New scientific discoveries totally negate previous theories, and we have to update our knowledge base. What about less concrete types of knowledge? I'm thinking of our preferences and dislikes, opinions and social knowledge. I know I don't like beets. Or at least I used to know that. I spent the majority of my life so far believing I am a non-beet-eater. Then I tried one after a friend extolled the virtues of the bright purple root. I have to update my database: beets=good! Now that is obviously a personal preference, and based on my senses. Tastes can change easily over the years, but I easily could've spent my entire life claiming non-beet-eater status if I hadn't tested my previous theory. Then there are other types of "knowledge" that are opinions masquerading as fact. Think of stereotypes or superstitions. Multiple generations in this very country "knew" that people with dark skin were inferior and not due the same rights as people born with light skin. That is the most dramatic example I can think of to illustrate this type of knowledge. A smaller example would be our constant re-learning of what is healthy to eat. Remember when carbs became too awful to even consider consuming? I am fully aware that this is not true, yet I still feel a tinge of guilt whenever I grab a piece of bread from the basket! Lastly is what we know about ourselves. A lot of this self-knowledge is based on sensory input (I have brown hair and blue eyes), but it is colored by what we think other people believe about us and our memories. I know that I am not a beautiful woman, because in grade school I had a bad perm and acne and couldn't hang out with the popular girls. Ok, that was 25 + years ago, but that "knowledge" hangs out in the back of my head affecting my self-worth on a regular basis. I know countless women who know they are fat because someone once said so, even though they now look like a model for Yoga Journal. How do we sort things out and decide what is truly Knowledge? I can easily accept that scientific discoveries happen and former theories are proven untrue. I also know tastes change and that a food or scent or activity that was once unsavory is now pleasurable. Harder to question are the societal and personal opinions that we all accept as fact. I have to listen to my heart and my intuition whenever I am presented with new information. I can evaluate the source, the way it's presented and how it "feels" to me inside. My own thoughts are more difficult to police in this way. Negative thoughts based on distant memories or traumas sneak in without being noticed, and suddenly I'm certain I shouldn't wear that outfit because I'm too old for a mini-skirt. The best method is to constantly notice the running commentary of the mind. I can tune into the negative beliefs and really explore whether they are grounded in reality. I can use my intuition to explore if this knowledge is real, or a sham, and really work to uncover my Self. The more mindful I become, the better I get at discerning the truth, about myself and about the world around me.

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