I’ve written elsewhere that Western civilisation is a prism: it splits the whole. If we want to be concise about it, we can say, “Blame Aristotle”, though Plato, and consequently Socrates, also deserve to be named and shamed. And if you are learned enough – or should I say, enough of a splitter – you might name a panoply of Greeks, and speak also of St Thomas Aquinas, who loved Aristotle but wanted to glue his philosophy on to the back of Christianity which he loved more.
What is splitting? You could point to the cumulation of “-ologies”. An area of study becomes so dense and unwieldy that it has to be subdivided. But let us go nearer to the source, and look at the problem of knowledge itself.
Western civilisation mines knowledge like gold. But its touchstone is evidence. All that fails the test is slag. This is the big divide. Jim’s knowledge is civilisation’s slag, and this is the great anomaly of Western civilisation, which is incomprehensible to Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and more primitive or Aboriginal cultures.
Skyscrapers are built from evidence-based science and technology and that is their strength. But alongside, we find cathedrals and synagogues, and these are built from Jim’s knowledge, which civilisation is forced to acknowledge, so it calls it faith.
I don’t have any problem with a personal view, like Jim’s, for it stands on the rock of his own experience. It doesn’t matter what resonates in the hidden chamber of the heart: a passionate glance, a passage from the Kabbalah, Wordsworthian intimations of immortality from an excursion amongst mountains and lakes. When it is your own knowledge, you stand strong in it.
Knowledge = experience + interpretationIn the case of evidence-based knowledge, which stands in highest favour as the building-block of Western civilisation today, experience is not exactly required. All you need is evidence plus logic. A scientist in Auckland can moderate the paper of a scientist in San Diego without witnessing the experiment in the laboratory.
In the case of experience-based knowledge, “Some things I just ‘know’ and believe in as fact without any proof”, it is different. Unfortunately, Western civilisation is based on manipulation and greed: the urge to trade knowledge as a commodity, like gold on the stock exchange, is so high that cheating and corruption are endemic. Most of the time, the man in the street is forced to say, “I do not know for a fact, but I believe, because I succumb to persuasion masquerading as evidence or proof.” Actually the poor man in the street has a deep rich mine of his own, but he receives no encouragement to dig.
And where does this distortion start? In the education of children. At the weekend I went to see my grandson’s school, based on the teachings of a mystic and intuitive, Rudolf Steiner. No one attempted to persuade me out of my scepticism, but I saw with my own eyes, and understood the brutalising effect of conventional education upon a child’s mind.