Consciousness and Epistemology

Epistemology continues to fascinate me as I see it playing such a critical role in world events. The violence that is so prevalent seems to always spring from someone or some group taking their ideology too seriously which always parallels taking themselves too seriously.  What we “know” is relevant to consciousness itself and careful attention from an epistemological perspective can teach us that we can “know” a whole lot and not be conscious.

Richard Rohr, a Franciscan monk in Albuqurque, New Mexico addressed this issue in today’s meditation, declaring, “Consciousness is the subtle and all-embracing mystery within and between everything. It is like the air we breathe, take for granted and undervalue. Consciousness is not the seeing, but that which sees me seeing. It is not the knower, but that which knows that I am knowing. It is not the observer, but that which underlies and observes me observing. You must step back from your compulsiveness and your attachment to yourself to be truly conscious.”

Rohr is pointing out that without some capacity for meta-cognition, we will be adrift on our own pet thoughts which will inevitably be those that we have acquired by birth and upbringing in our tribe.  These thoughts will be based on premises that are not subject to questioning, for to question them would be too threatening to our self-percept.  This reminds me of something that Maria Papova pointed out several months ago in the on-line journal, Brain Pickings, when discussing Hannah Arendt and her work on Nazi Germany.  She noted that Arendt argued that the Nazi atrocities were often carried out by “good” people who merely lacked the self-critical capacity of meta-cognition and merely followed orders.



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