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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Knowing and Belonging


Let’s go back to the beginning. Logically, or psychologically, there must be some traits that organize the wealth of detail life offers. In animals, including ourselves, we call a basic level of such organizing traits instinct. That is, “to goad” or “prompt” in Latin. Use of the term innate, meaning “to be born with,” also appears in the 15th century, the period during which the Western enterprise we call the “modern” was taking place.

The work of this enterprise was the formalization of experience, a way of describing ourselves and our surroundings we came to call “science,” meaning a way of knowing, as distinct from a way of belonging.

This difference is one that only humans can experience, of course; it’s yet another exemplar of the “dualism” consciousness creates. The desire to know is at odds with the desire to belong. Aristotle’s pronouncement that humans “by nature reach out to know” can be read as challenging the impulse to “be a part of” that we render with “religion.”


Religare—which means to be “bound within”—connotes our need to belong, to be part of “something larger” as people say. I take this to be an expression of the intuitive awareness of death. To be a living thing is to be something that dies. The desire to belong to or within something that doesn’t die is understandable then. I don’t want to give up my life.

Yet I know I have to. That is, we all know--though not in the formal sense of "science"--that life is a process and that each life must end. When it ends--like when it begins--is not a precise moment. Whatever moment we select, the inevitability of the process is overwhelming. We know this and we don't want to. This quandary or resistance is the source of religion and science both. Religion affords the illusion of being saved from my death. Science provides the illusion of mastering the process of life and so "rising above it" in an imaginary way. Neither of them make it any easier to accept that my life will be over one day...