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Conceptual Toolkit

Christopher Hilton, July 4 2020

Sorry. This stuff is all Deep. Take a risk.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to starting on any journey of learning or re-learning are the ideas we already have about the world – and our ideas about ideas themselves. It’s easy to get stuck resisting or arguing details that may be nothing more than simple misunderstandings, or to get tipped over by a proposition that’s just too outrageous to bear… in your current frame of reference.

We’re all reaching to comprehend and integrate vast amounts of new information, abide complexity and endure uncertainty, but in a cultural context where we’ve been conditioned to believe there is no truth, there are no facts, all is opinion, all opinions are equal – oh, but wait, some opinions are more equal… What does that mean? Paradigms, frames, theories, postulates, ideologies, terminologies, languages…

How do I sort my way through it all?

If I say This is an apple, and you say ¡No! Es una manzana, is one of us right and the other wrong?

Of course not, and a child would understand this oops.

But what other barriers and unmapped territory exist in our conceptual landscape that we’ve never even considered?

I have found Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory invaluable in making sense of the current political impasses we witness playing out. His separation of “growing up” and “waking up” are a liberation. I had first read Trump and a Post-Truth World back in 2017, which articulated many phenomena I was seeing but only partially understanding. This following interview covers the broad territory and introduces some of the conceptual framework. It’s advanced intellectual material but worth listening to repeatedly until it lands.

And the following are some addition pieces of conceptual kit that help me navigate my own mind and the world of ideas. Hope they help you.

Categories of Knowledge

  1. What I know I know.
  2. What I know I don’t know.
  3. What I don’t know I know.
  4. What I don’t know I don’t know.

How much might lurk in that last dark corner of number four? And how much might be confirmed in category three by traveling a little further afield to explore?

We tend to be comfortable in environments, relationships, conversations… which affirm what we know, where confirmation bias is invisible because everyone agrees and no one challenges. But when we stay there too long, in an echo chamber of unthreatened certainty and conformity, our capacity to meet challenge with creativity, resilience, even enthusiasm, is lost, and soon we need a trigger warning for every uncomfortable truth that makes its way past the gatekeepers.

And we haven’t even mentioned paradox yet.

Part of how we’ve arrived in this social predicament of polarized, weaponized dualism wherein we can’t even have a civil conversation across the partisan divide or any number of other manufactured identity politics differentiators, is by simply limiting our exposures – aided by Facebook likes and Netflix recommends and the censoring and lockdown of the commons.

¡Basta ya!

Let’s venture out of our comfort zones and find out what might be true, find out what we don’t know we don’t know.

Four-Part Logic

It may have never occurred to you, but you were almost certainly raised and educated to believe that something is either true or false, right or wrong, etc. Sure, there are shades of gray in most things – nothing is pure black or white, but our neurological rat-runs have been programmed to operate mostly in binary perception: this or that (this or not this is even a stretch). (More on oppositional dualism later.)

Enter paradox. How can something be true over here, but also true over there… at a deeper level than apple and manzana?

“A paradox… is a logically self-contradictory statement or a statement that runs contrary to one’s expectation. It is a statement that, despite apparently valid reasoning from true premises, leads to a seemingly self-contradictory or a logically unacceptable conclusion.” Wikipedia – that bastion of truthiness.

Four-part logic is a radical dimensional leap outside the traditional box. A thing can be:

  1. True.
  2. False.
  3. Both true and false (both/and).
  4. Neither true nor false.

First, number four: if a thing is neither true nor false under a particular inquiry, it’s likely that you’re asking the wrong question (not morally, but practically). Try asking another that better applies, that is more relevant.

Number three is, I think, where the good stuff lives, especially for the human realm – and what else is there, to us? So much of what we are, what we do, what we think, is both/and. This is where we can begin to celebrate complexity, diversity, multiple possibility, being able to say “Yes, and…”, rather than “No, because…”. Because if I’m right (and I usually am), then you have to be wrong. No.

Both/and, yes/and, is playful and co-creative. It affirm that value of other frames of reference or understanding, looks for how something might be true from a perspective that one hasn’t yet considered.

In a past chapter of my life, I did business in China – a place as culturally alien to me as I’ve ever experienced. I found the Chinese utterly confounding in many ways, and infuriating. At first I thought it was language barrier and tried those very American communication practices like repeating myself three times, or slower, or louder; but with a competent translator, I eventually had to rule that out as the obstacle.

Then someone wise gifted me this: “When you encounter someone who you believe is well-intentioned and is telling you what is sincerely true for them, it is your job, dear traveler, to be able to imagine what it is true of.” Huh?

Yes, what it is true of. How, in another frame of reference or understanding, from another perspective, could this thing be true? We begin by granting them the benefit of the doubt that this is true for them, and then go looking for how it could be true: under what conditions, premises and presuppositions, what beliefs or values or… culture. Hmmm. Wow. Yeah.

Paradigm shift. Thank you.

In this site, we’re stepping into things that might seem like they couldn’t possibly be true. My invitation to you is to find a way to imagine how they might be.

Separate Knowing and Connected Knowing

Over the last few decades, emerging mostly from feminist studies, The Academy has begun to acknowledge the validity of a “new” kind of knowing, of knowledge… which is arguably the original and not the new. (I’ll provide links to papers anon.)

Separate Knowing is that which we acquire from all sources as learned. We “know” something because we were told it by a teacher, read it, saw it on the evening news. Ironically, a good deal of this “knowledge” could be called hearsay, but that’s an aside. The point is not really the value of the knowing, but the source: it is external knowledge, often separate from personal experience, passed to us already formed, already codified. It’s the stuff we can reference as static and unchanging, like “Plato said a soul is composed of three parts”. Or is the credit to Socrates? Yes, it’s the stuff we argue, debate, agree or disagree on. It has a “masculine” quality, in that it claims to itself certainty, authority, and is used to beat others with.

Connected knowing is emergent. It emanates through us when we open to “not knowing”; when we stop trying to remember what we learned and instead invite – in faith, in a space cleared of strategy but imbued with intention – a flow of expression. Connected knowing does not claim to itself precedent nor pedigree, does not stand on provenance or citation, does not seek legitimacy in extrinsic measure. It’s value is intrinsic, obvious on its face, requires no substantiation or defense. It’s the stuff of yes/and, or true dialogue, of relational bridge-building. It’s naturally connective. It has a feminine quality and gestates inter-(fill in the blank) process. It’s personal and irrefutable, and it invites others into a felt state of communion with the resonant field, with presence. Yikes. Does that go too far?

These are like two languages. When one learns a second language, it does not limit the first, but rather gives it new insights on itself. (Remember those moments when you realized what a word like vinegar meant, not just what it pointed at; or when you saw your culture of origin from the outside and in that moment grokked that you came from a culture?)

Sometimes we need to use one language to be understood, sometimes another.

And sometimes the use of words is itself the barrier…

Ideas, Concepts, Theories,

And sometimes

Beliefs

Beliefs are deeper than the last category, and not necessarily cognitive.

And sometimes beliefs are the barrier…

The Power of Now

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