The official name for the branch of philosophy that is concerned about what knowledge is and how we obtain it (as well as what its limits are) is epistemology. This post is not an attempt to make a thoroughgoing statement about epistemology. It is, however, a somewhat more than skin deep dive into the matter. There are a couple of catalysts to this dive. Actually there are three.
1. EQ -This is shorthand for Emotional Intelligence, a phrase coined by Daniel Goleman (who happened to write a book with that exact title). Emotional Intelligence refers to the type of intelligence that picks up on more than the information that is being formally given in any communication or relationship. It also picks up on what is unspoken, what is felt, what is communicated non-verbally and in the context of all previous communication. Goleman bases this on the architecture of the brain. The human brain seems to develop in three specific stages. The first stage involves the brain stem, which controls involuntary actions like the heartbeat and reflexes. The second stage involves our limbic system, which develops around the stem and controls our emotions. The third stage is the cortex and neocortex, which controls complex thinking. Research seems to indicate that we respond to stimuli in the same order as our brain develops. The limbic system, which stores our emotional memory, seems to have a direct connection to our thalamus (or stem), so we feel about stimuli before we think about it. Every experience is processed emotionally before it is processed rationally. We feel before we think and how we feel influences how and what we think. People with a high EQ tend to be more intuitively in touch with others and process unspoken, intuitive or emotional communication well.
2. Men with Chests – C.S. Lewis in “The Abolition of Man” refers to the way language can be used to corrupt genuine knowledge (as opposed to information). For Lewis, genuine knowledge is not merely the acquisition of information via reason. It is the use of the head (reason) to rule over the belly (appetites and desires) via the chest (what Plato called “the spirited element” or emotions that are trained by the habit of virtue into stable sentiments). The stability of sentiment, or ordering of emotion is determined by what St. Augustine referred to as “ordo amoris”. This is loving what should be loved and hating what should be hated all in its proper priority and proportion. So, we process stimuli emotionally but we need to train or order these emotions properly to be able to properly process or “know”. If we have ordered, healthy, mature emotions then we are able to genuinely know. The inverse, unfortunately, also seems to be true. Damaged, immature and unhealthy emotions inhibit our ability to genuinely know.
3. Adam knew Eve – The primary Hebrew and Greek words that are translated “know” or “knowledge” (or similar) in the Bible – Yadah, Ginosko (forgive the rough transliterations) – are relational in nature. When the Bible says that Adam knew Eve and she conceived we are not talking about the mere processing of information. We are talking about intimacy, in every way possible. Biblical “knowledge” doesn’t divorce ideas from reality or information from concrete experience. When Jesus refers to eternal life as “that they may know You, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3) it is not correct information that is the question. Knowledge involves relationship and intimacy. We are to acknowledge (yadah) the Lord in all of our ways (just like Adam knew Eve). Otherwise, we can’t be properly said to truly know anything – despite how much information we have stored in our brains.
So truth is relative, but that is not in the sense that it is not absolute. It is relative in the sense that it does not exist in a vacuum. Knowledge is not neutral, it always points to Someone. How do we know? Only by Who we know.