I originally wrote this when I had more or less no readers. So, I figure it deserves another go round. It was fun to write and maybe you’ll find it fun to read.
I’m the kind of person who will talk about history, philosophy, religion and the meaning of life until the eyes of my friends and family glaze over. Despite all this encouragement, I have continued to pursue knowledge.
What wisdom have I gained?
After more than 50 years, I now hold the same opinions I held when I was 12. In essence, I don’t know a damned thing … and neither do you.
In the spirit of caring and sharing, I offer you the distillation of the fruits of my laborious research to help you to understand the really important stuff, such as civilization. I’d hate to think I wasted all these years.
You can believe what you want, but you don’t know a single thing more than I do. What is more, you have to make the same leap of faith to believe in God or declare yourself an atheist. Either position requires you to believe something for which you have no proof.
You can’t prove that something is true is by believing it, even if a lot of other people also believe it. Or, contrarily, you can’t disprove something because a lot of people don’t believe it.
- There is no proof that God exists.
- There is no proof that God doesn’t exist.
- Faith is not proof. It is opinion dressed up in fancy clothing.
Here are a pair definitions, with links. They are the tip of the philosophical iceberg, so feel free to dive deeper.
From Wikipedia comes this straightforward explanation:
Epistemology i/ɨˌpɪstɨˈmɒlədʒi/ (from Greek ἐπιστήμη (epistēmē), meaning “knowledge, understanding”, and λόγος (logos), meaning “study of”) is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge. It addresses the questions:
- What is knowledge?
- How is knowledge acquired?
- To what extent is it possible for a given subject or entity to be known?
Much of the debate in this field has focused on analyzing the nature of knowledge and how it relates to connected notions such as truth, belief, and justification. One view is the objection that there is very little or no knowledge at all — skepticism. The field is sometimes referred to as the theory of knowledge.
From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything, comes this enlightening explanation. As you can imagine, it is incomplete, so feel free to click the link to see the rest of the story.
First published Wed Dec 14, 2005
Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? As the study of justified belief, epistemology aims to answer questions such as: How we are to understand the concept of justification? What makes justified beliefs justified? Is justification internal or external to one’s own mind? Understood more broadly, epistemology is about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry.
So what is an epistemological study? What is epistemology?
No need to worry. I figured it out and here it is, in three parts, two parts philosophy, one part caveat emptor:
- Big words like epistemology don’t mean anything. They are just noises that one scholar uses to impress another.
- Anything that means everything really means nothing.
- If it promises to do everything, it cannot do anything well. This includes people and kitchen appliances.
Experience, AKA Phenomenology
In the same spirit, allow me to introduce you to phenomenology.
When I was studying religious philosophy in college, this was one of several ways to prove the existence of God, because phenomenologically speaking, all human experience throughout history is proof of God.
Except for the minor detail that you can use exactly the same reasoning to prove that there is no God, but I digress.
But that’s not all of it, not by any means. Phenomenology can prove that all things are one thing, that all things are part of a single totality, that all things are God and that you are God. Me too and my little dog Bonnie. We are all God. Properly skewed, you could probably prove that I am a cup of warm tea and you are a daffodil. Nice, huh?
But if that doesn’t clear it up for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, offers this clarification:
First published Sun Nov 16, 2003; substantive revision Mon Jul 28, 2008
Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object. An experience is directed toward an object by virtue of its content or meaning (which represents the object) together with appropriate enabling conditions.
Phenomenology as a discipline is distinct from but related to other key disciplines in philosophy, such as ontology, epistemology, logic, and ethics.
Although this is different from what I learned in school — that was part of the a study of comparative religion — it says the same thing. Experience can prove stuff about other stuff.
My interpretation is easier to understand and it works. Here are the rules:
- You can use all your experiences as well as everybody else’s to prove whatever you want.
- Whether or not anyone will agree with you is an entirely separate issue.
- This is the essential philosophy of Fox News and the Republican Party, and lots of people believe them, so there’s hope for you, too.
In other words, armed with these concepts, you have everything you need to prove anything you want. Anything or anyone can be a source for you, no matter how flimsy or undependable. You can make your case based on something a couple of friends said a long time ago while they were under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic drugs.
Again, you may discover that others find your proof less than fully convincing, but hey, no system is perfect. In the world of academia, no one believes anything anyone else says anyhow, so you might just as well stick your oar in the water.
Faith as Proof: It Doesn’t Work
- No matter what you believe, belief doesn’t make anything true.
- It does not matter how many other people believe or disbelieve it. Having a lot of people believing the same thing doesn’t transform faith into fact.
Belief is not proof. Sometimes, even proof is not proof, but that’s another conversation. If you believe in God, reject God, or think Aliens walk among us, believing doesn’t make it so, even if you say it loudly and often.
I don’t care what the minister in your church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or the leader of your weird cult says. If God or an alien is speaking to you directly, please ask Him or it to come chat with me personally. Otherwise, I will probably not believe you.
I spent so half a century to get to the place I began, except that today I have a great title for my life’s work:
An Epistemological Analysis of Life Based on Half a Century of Phenomenological Research
by Marilyn Armstrong
I’ll let you know when it comes out in hard-copy. In the meantime, feel free to imagine the contents as whatever you want. That’s the joy of this approach: total freedom, untethered by the stringent requirements of research or reality.
Don’t miss the sequel.
Film at 11.