Knowing and Unknowing; Truth and Untruth

Posted on March 4, 2017


There is no authentic knowing outside of the context of relationship.

Without direct experience, “truth” loses its integrity.

If truth with direct experience is subject to interpretation (or possible fallacy),

Then truth without direct experience is little more than hearsay (or possible heresy).

“If your knowledge of fire has been turned to certainty by words alone, then seek to be cooked by the fire itself. Don’t abide in borrowed certainty. There is no real certainty until you burn; If you wish for this, sit down in the fire.” (Rumi)

Second-hand information is a dangerous foundation for politics, religion, and anything else that matters. Personal relationships, research, listening to the actual words and stories of the people that are the objects or subjects of our “truth” is critical if we wish to stay sane, relevant, and viable individually and collectively.knowing

Currently, we live in a culture that is losing its political and religious mind over hearsay and heresy, fallacy and fear. What we know, or what we think we know, has life and death consequences.

Here is a concrete yet innocuous example. We can say, “I know what snow is!” But that means very different things to a person in Michigan and a person in Ecuador that has never experienced snow. We can have head knowledge that comes from books, pictures, and second-hand testimony. But heart knowledge, to really know, is to experience the snow; the good, the bad, and the ugly of it.

Language is funny. We communicate both verbally and nonverbally, but both of them are signs and symbols attempting to point to the truth. But when we express our thoughts, they are loaded with our own perceptions and interpretations of reality tangled up with past experiences and traumas, personal presumptions and presuppositions, cultural downloads and conditioning, and political propaganda and memes. And when the listener hears those thoughts in words, they are subject to interpretation. I can say the word “tree”. I can point to the tree. I can study and research the tree. But I don’t really know the tree until I climb up in it and feel it sway, until I build something from it, until I smell its aroma and touch its grains, until I clean up the damage it can do.  It is only then that I can begin to experience the happiness and the fear, the cuts and the bruises, and its size and weight.

A concrete and deeply toxic example is the assumptions about refugees, immigrants, and Muslims that have emerged. I worked side by side with refugees at a factory downtown for two and a half years. I have never met a harder working and more grateful group of people… ever! They put me to shame. I have Muslims as friends and acquaintances, in my neighborhood and around the world, and none of them have any interest in killing me, they also are better than me when it comes to being good people, neighbors, and citizens. Propaganda has caused us to create images in our heads that are full of fear. I’ve seen firsthand certain Christian’s war on the poor. These people (no one I could call Christian, although they call themselves that) have swallowed the political propaganda kool-aid in the name of Jesus, and declared all-out war against the poor, the marginalized, the aliens, the strangers, the “least of these”. That is mind-boggling is that these are the very people opinionsthat Jesus demands us to defend and feed.

I’m sure that those people are well-meaning and may very well believe that they are some kind of Christians, but the fact is that it is our direct response to these issues and these people that define our faith, or lack thereof.

So “direct experience”: THIS IS KNOWING… or is it? If we talk to several people about their experience with a tree or snow, refugees or Muslims, the poor or the “least of these”, we will get a myriad of stories and interpretations. It almost seems as though the more technical, hands-on, experiential knowledge, the more intense the differences of perspective. We filter them through what we think we already know and… voila! We have differing ideas and a brooding argument. Ask 10 witnesses about the accident on the corner and you’ll get 10 different stories, because of differing perspectives. But wait! Now we are no longer experiencing, we are telling. Telling is not the same as one’s own personal experience. Telling is pregnant with our perceptions and interpretations, cultural conditioning and biases, assumptions and prejudices. Thought is a tricky fellow.

Professor David Bohm, a distinguished and visionary theoretical physicist held a deep and passionate interest in the relationship between mind and matter. Dr. Bohm suggests that the majority of our personal thoughts are actually collective and have evolved into complex networks of automatic reflexes. Rather than us controlling our thoughts, he believes that these reflexes are driving us and in increasingly dangerous ways. Professor Bohm states clearly that the natural order of the mind, with its creative intelligence, is being disturbed or damaged by our misuse of memory, resulting in dramatic loss of authenticity, freedom and truly intelligent behavior.

“Thought creates the world then says “I didn’t do it!” (David Bohm)

“Nothing is completely itself and its full being is realized only in that participation” (participation in reality as a whole; mind and matter, awareness and perception).

“Most of us, however, have a completely different perception of reality because we believe that thought is a faithful representation of “truth” or reality “out there”. (David Bohm)

“This is where the trouble with the system of thought is. It affects reality. It creates a certain kind of reality and then it loses track almost on purpose and says that this is an independent reality. Then it creates problems and it says they are independent problems. While you’re trying to solve those problems you’re still creating the problem. That is the basic trouble with our process of thought. It does not distinguish that part of reality which is created by thought and that part of which is independent of thought, or those parts which are some mixture.”

David Bohm (Limitations of Thought)

The more isolated we are, the more insulated we become from the pain and suffering of fellow already knowinghuman beings. Our bubble becomes an incubator of presuppositions, assumptions, preconceived ideas, stereotyping, and discrimination; all of which create a mental construct or perception of fear rather than love. We then inevitably live our lives based on values and beliefs that have been largely untested in raw reality. Buffered reality begets bubbled truth, i.e. truth that has not been cultivated in the humus of unrefined and unpolished, crude and coarse, earthy humanity; but rather has been incubated in the sterile, homogeneous, conjured up world of an isolated bubble.

Again, I say,

There is no authentic knowing outside of the context of relationship.

Without direct experience, “truth” loses its integrity.

If we talk about groups of people, like we “know”, and yet have no personal relationships or face to face experiences with them, then our “knowing” is untested and therefore lacks integrity; our “knowing” is presumptuous, pretentious, and foolhardy.

We have forgotten many things. It is time to remember who we are and what we already know. There are many questions that come to bear in these times of fake news, alternative facts, false truths, intentional untruths, convenient facts, and blatant lies. 

  • What distinguishes justified belief from opinion? What is discernment? How do we know what we think we know? (Epistemology)
  • Do we have an awareness and understanding of our own thought processes? Do we know that thought is not a reliable indicator of what is real? (Metacognition)
  • Do we understand the difference between fact and opinion, truth and falsehood? (Perception and Reality?)
  • See definitions at the end of the article

“It is important to see that the different opinions that you have are the result of past thought: all your experiences, what other people have said, and whatnot. That is all programmed into your memory. You may then identify with those opinions and react to defend them. But it doesn’t make sense to do this. If the opinion is right, it doesn’t need such a reaction. And if it is wrong, why should you defend it? It is as if you yourself are under attack when your opinion is challenged.” (David Bohm, On Dialogue)

“For both the rich and the poor, life is dominated by an ever-growing current of problems, most of which seem to have no real and lasting solution. Clearly, we have not touched the deeper causes of our troubles. It is the main point of this book that the ultimate source of all these problems is in thought itself, the very thing of which our civilization is most proud, and therefore the one thing that is “hidden” because of our failure seriously to engage with its actual working in our own individual lives and in the life of society.”
David Bohm

“We don’t notice there’s an area where (thought) is not adequate. At the very least thought is not adequate for dealing with those problems, which thought produces. Most of our problems are now produced by thought, most of our serious problems. Therefore, thought by itself, including information and technology, can never solve them.

“Let’s say we have a nation. Nations were produced by thought. They don’t arise naturally. If you cross from one country to another there’s no big change at the border. The border is an abstraction. Even if you make a fence there it is the result of abstraction. But now you say there’s a serious difference between the people and the two sides. They may start to talk differently and to behave differently and it builds up a whole set of different reflexes which they say is us. Inside the country, they say we’re all one, but we ignore the fact that we’re not. There’s just as much disunity inside the country as between the countries. So thought is making two mistakes. One is to make a false division based on a wrong abstraction and also a false unification. The point is that this nation has been given great value. It’s very important and a lot of things now depend on it. People say that if this nation is attacked, it’s the same as if I were attacked. So the thought is identified with yourself.

“And it’s not something that anybody directly controls. Its built in. It creates intention and feeling and purpose. For example, people are exposed to songs about their country – all sorts of things about their country from childhood. They build up reflexes and they automatically have all the feelings associated with those reflexes. If somebody says something which makes the country look bad, they automatically get the feelings of hostility and want to suppress it. So, you have thought which is self-deceptive and clearly, no amount of information is going to deal with self-deception because that information will also suddenly enter the self-deceptive system.

“The root of the word false is basically deceptive, and I would distinguish between something that’s false and something that’s incorrect. A thought or an idea may be correct or incorrect according to how it corresponds to reality. A thought process that’s false is one that is aimed at deception. It’s quite different, isn’t it? Something may be correct but false. The information may be correct superficially but it’s aimed, in the broader sense, at deception.”

David Bohm (Limitations of Thought)

Each and every person on this earth has a responsibility to discern what is true. Will we step up to the challenge? Can we go deeply within to understand and to know the difference between that which i think is true and that which is true???




  1. the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.




  1. awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes.



  1. the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.
  2. a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.



  1. the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.
    1. “He refuses to face reality”
    2. “He can’t tell fantasy from reality”