Closing the Enlightenment Gap

 In Building Knowledge, The Mind

Throughout most of human history, a large majority of people lived in chronic poverty, where food was difficult to attain, deadly diseases were rampant, and violence was the most common way of settling disputes.  As difficult as our lives might sometimes be in the Twenty First Century, we are very fortunate that our global society has developed to the point where these types of struggles have been dramatically reduced and where the average quality of life is far higher than it has been at any point in the past.  While acknowledging that there is still a lot of work to be done in our efforts to make the world truly free, fair, peaceful, and sustainable, we can celebrate the innovations that got humanity to this point.  For this, we can primarily point to the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment, both of which gave us epistemological tools to understand nature, to develop technologies, and to improve public health and average human well-being.

We can recognize that the most significant innovations in human history were not any machines or inventions that we can see or touch.  What really made the most difference were better ways of thinking and advancements in how people can come to know and understand things.  These epistemological innovations provided the foundation for other innovations to be developed, such as improved agriculture, manufactured goods, and information technology.

Some people will argue that the modern naturalistic worldview (as presented by thinkers such as E.O. Wilson and Steven Pinker) already has all of the epistemic tools that would be necessary to continue to improve human quality of life and well-being while also protecting our planet and ecosystems.  There are those who will say that we need a more wholehearted embrace of objectivity-based science and of the Enlightenment Age ideals of reason, liberty, progress, toleration, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state in order to address the greatest challenges of our time and to lead us to greater peace and prosperity.  Others have challenged this sentiment, arguing instead that the Age of Enlightenment, despite providing humanity with ideals that proved quite useful, did not give us an epistemology that can apply to all aspects of life.  Such people would argue that we therefore need to rethink our epistemology and develop new ways of knowing in order to best address the unique challenges of our time.

The Age of Enlightenment provided an epistemology that is very useful and powerful, yet it has limitations.  Rather than merely relying on tradition or dogma or authority, we can now understand much about the basic structure of knowledge and the processes through which knowledge can be developed, including cognitive functions, sensemaking, and the foundation of science.  And so this is the epistemological framework that contemporary mainstream science has to work with, which means that it essentially serves as the basis for the most widely accepted physical, biological, psychological, and social sciences that are currently being practiced.  Through this, we can imagine that science might eventually lead to a deep and holistic understanding of nature.  But to get there, we would need to accept innovations that haven’t quite found widespread mainstream acceptance within the various scientific communities.

Gregg Henriques and his associates in the Theory of Knowledge Society have done amazing work in this area and have produced the “Unified Theory of Knowledge“.  Henriques recognized that the framework of modern mainstream science lacks unity because it has never been clear how psychology as a whole should be structured and how it relates to the other scientific disciplines.  One thing that stands out is that this seems to have something to do with the objective/subjective dichotomy and the lack of an epistemology that can apply to both sides of this.  The ability to categorize, to measure, and to quantify things objectively was essential to the Scientific Revolution and to the Age of Enlightenment, but there are important aspects of life for which this framework is inadequate.  The truth is that if we rely solely on objectivity then it would still remain unresolved how consciousness would fit into a holistic understanding of the universe.  The notion of The Great Dilemma, which I explained in an earlier post, seems to show that the strictly objectivity-based naturalistic framework is too reductive in its application to phenomena such as the mind and society.  This framework is great for any science that only needs to consider objective evidence in order to achieve its ends, but first-person conscious experience, by its very nature, can only be understood subjectively.  In other words, only the conscious being who is perceiving, thinking, and feeling truly knows about all of that for their own self, and they do not know how these might be experienced for any other being.  There might be a way for conscious beings to develop a deeper understanding of each other’s thoughts and feelings through communication and empathy, but this would never reach objectivity.

Since our core values and our sense of morality are partially dependent on certain aspects of our first-person conscious experience, they cannot be fully studied objectively.  Each of us only knows about that which is good and that which is beautiful through direct experience.  These are the sources of our core values.  If there is any similarity between my experience of core values and yours, or any two or more people out there, then we would not be able to ascertain this if we had to rely on objectivity alone.  This is because objectivity simply does not apply to any direct experiences.  If objectivity is the only standard for genuine and reliable knowledge, then this effort is hopeless.  On the other hand, if it is possible for us to find a midpoint between pure subjectivity and objectivity, then this effort might be worthwhile.  There might be other means of developing and refining mutual understanding of the structures of consciousness.  We should try to find ways for groups of conscious beings to empathize with each other and to get onto the same page with each other, so to speak, with regard to their core values, even though they are beyond the reach of objectivity.

In order to do this, we will need to broaden our epistemological framework so that it can apply to all aspects of life.  In doing so, we might also be able to close the so-called “enlightenment gap”, which Henriques identified as the acknowledgement that the Age of Enlightenment failed to provide humanity with sufficiently comprehensive and coherent knowledge regarding how the mind is related to biological life and how society and culture can be studied scientifically.  In other words, even our best and most advanced objectivity-based scientific knowledge cannot tell us how psychology is related to biology, nor how psychology is related to sociology, to economics, and to political science, nor how any of the aforementioned social sciences can yield more reliable predictions and clear explanations of the past.  In order to close the enlightenment gap, we will need better ways of understanding the mind and its relation to other planes of existence within the Tree of Knowledge than what is offered by the modern naturalistic worldview.  The TOK Society’s recent innovations are closing this gap and providing what can be called a “meta-modern” or “integral” worldview.  For more information, see Unified Theory of Psychology, Unified Approach to Psychotherapy, Unified Theory of Knowledge and Garden Wisdom Philosophy.

Photo by Alex Radelich on Unsplash

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