Saturday, July 8, 2006

Experiential knowledge versus head learning

The modern society we live in is thoroughly affected by Socratic and Aristotlean methods of reasoning. Science, reasoning, etc. The paradigm is that everything that all we can know we can find out only by means of our reason, and that truth is to be found by discussion and logical argument.

This is the essence of the scientific method. Clearly the scientific method has brought us wondrous toys and technologies, and great understanding of how the world works. But I feel it misses out on something important.

Let me start with an analogy ... does reading about or discussing sex give you a better or poorer understanding of sexual intercourse? I chose "sex" for this analogy because it's basically the ultimate in the experiential.

Theoretical reasoning about sex tells you nothing about satisfactorally engaging in sexual intercourse. Right?

In this post I'm contrasting between two ways of learning about the world: Experiential learning versus reasoning and discussion

Experiential learning involves, well, learning through experience. One goes into a situation, and in the act of being in the situation you learn from the experience of being in that situation. The reasoning and discussion route has you thinking or writing about the situation.

Practitioners of the scientific method seem to completely discount experiential learning. Scientists often brush off what they call subjective evidence, in other words experiential learning, and favor objective evidence. Objective evidence has the advantage of being independantly verifiable and measurable, allowing you to write about the evidence, make theories based on the evidence, etc.

But ... here's what objective evidence misses. It is not the real world. When you make some measurements of something, like an apple falling from a tree, you can only measure a tiny shadow of what's happening. Physicists from the time of Newton onward would say the apple has a certain mass, shape, size, hardness, density, and because it is falling from a tree on Earth it is subject to a known strength of gravitational attraction. All those attributes become mathematical equations that demonstrates the speed the apple falls from the tree, etc.

But ... the fact is they have not captured the event itself. Instead they have described the event. The description of the event is not the real world as it exists, it is a mathematical model for the world.

Having mathematical models and objective evidence is, as I've said, important if you want to build a theoretical model of the world with which you can reason about the world.

There is a very wise saying that comes to mind. One shouldn't confuse the map for the territory. When you look at a map of a city, do you understand the city? No. A city map is just lines for various things like streets, rivers, city boundries, etc. The map does not convey the human activity in that city, the work done there, the living, the play, the music, etc.

Similarly a mathematical model that describes how an apple falls from a tree is simply a map. Physics is simply a map of the current understanding by physicists of the functioning of the universe. It is a map, it is not the universe.

In particular scientists regularly discount any discussion about spiritual processes or practices. Energy healing, for example, is a spiritual process where one person is able to channel subtle energy, chi, to their client with the intent to help their client heal from a condition. All of the proof for energy healing or any other spiritual process is highly experiential. There is, to my knowledge, no machine or method for objectively measuring chi. This makes it rather difficult for scientists to use the scientific method to study spiritual processes like energy healing.

Yet energy healing proves itself to its practitioners. How? By the experience the practitioners have while giving healing.

When a healer waves their hands over a client, objective science would say there should be little or no effect. But, the healer knows through their experience of giving healings that effects do occur. The healer may sense a density in their client, and when they move their hands into that density the client begins sobbing and remembering a long forgotten memory. In healing after healing the healers experiential knowledge builds.

The map is not the territory. Relying on objective evidence, on reason and discussion, leaves one reliant soley on the map to find their way around.