Two Types of Knowing

“There are two types of knowing: intellectual and experiential. The first is an indirect form of knowing that entails conceptual models. The second is a form of direct, intuitive knowing by experiencing the truth of what is known. Only experiential knowing has transformative impact.” 

“Philosophy, on the other hand, is about intellectual knowing. It’s based on conceptual models that point to truths, not on a direct experience of these truths. Many of us do not give ourselves permission to embrace a point of view that resonates with our hearts unless and until that point of view can be couched in a logical articulation.”

“Philosophy gives language to experience and allows it to be passed on –rather precariously as the case may be –to those still unable to attain the experience themselves.
Philosophy gives people intellectual permission to truly embrace what their intuitions and experiences are already telling them to be true.”

(Kastrup, Brief Peaks Beyond: Critical Essays on Metaphysics, Neuroscience, Free Will, Skepticism and Culture, p. 142 – 144 *)

****************************

I posted these three quotes because Kastrup is making such an important distinction here; one that seem lost in the Western mind. And that is, experiential knowledge is direct knowledge; intellectual knowledge is secondary knowledge. But we have this backwards in our culture, which is why so many have impoverished souls. Even so, we intuitively sense that conceptual models and philosophy cannot change any one in any way that’s important, but only serve to confirm what our heart already knows.  We don’t truly know something until we’ve experienced it. This is what shapes us. This, and only this, transforms the human soul.

31-32 Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.” (John 8:31-32 MSG *)

* Emphasis added.

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 40 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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25 Responses to Two Types of Knowing

  1. John Branyan says:

    This is good!
    I’d quibble with you about the title. I think “knowing” is actually a combination of the two-types you described. Most of the things I “know” are not entirely philosophical OR experiential.

    I wholeheartedly agree that Western culture, specifically atheist/humanist culture, has it backward. This effectively renders them blind to the truth.

    • Mel Wild says:

      I used the first sentence of the quote for the title but I agree with your point. Real experiential knowing includes intellectual and philosophical knowing. When we say “experiential” we’re not saying having some weird pipedream that has no basis in reality. We’re saying our confidence in our philosophy or argument has an underlying experiential basis. For instance, we experience God’s love for us and give our hearts to Him, then we form philosophy and arguments to explain and defend that love, not the other way around. We believe with our heart then confess with our mouth…. This is where our culture has it backwards.

      I wholeheartedly agree that Western culture, specifically atheist/humanist culture, has it backward. This effectively renders them blind to the truth.

      Yes, and this is the disadvantage for us when we engage in apologetics. We have to dumb our position down to an intellectual or philosophical argument, when our convictions go much deeper and are more real than words will ever describe. It’s like trying to make an argument for how I feel about my wife, or when I held my child in my arms for the first time as a father. You can only experience these things and, no matter how well you explain it, it falls short of the experience.

      The materialist mindset has dumbed down reality so much that it has sucked the life out of the human soul and imprisoned the heart. That’s why this ontology will never win the day in the end because, while it can give us advanced technology, it’s incapable of giving us anything that really matters.

  2. Amen, Mel! This is very well said. I’m chuckling here, but I am by nature totally intellectual, so smart I can reason away the experiential,very Westernized in my thinking. It blinded me to a lot of truth. I sometimes joke about how all intellect is, is the ability to think up new and inventive ways to get ourselves into a great deal of trouble. So angels could suddenly appear before me and I would probably promptly explain their non existence to them complete with flow charts and everything. And as you said, I had a very impoverished soul because of it.

    It’s like falling in love, are we going to close our eyes and feel the music or are we going to rationalize that we are just having random oxytocin misfirings in our brains? Both things are true, but if we limit our understanding to just brain chemicals and oxytocin, than we only have about 10% of the story and will have none of the richness of the experience. We actually aren’t being smarter, we’re being dumber. It’s like here, have a Soylent Green nutritional wafer rather than a whole feast laid out before you.

    • Mel Wild says:

      It’s like falling in love, are we going to close our eyes and feel the music or are we going to rationalize that we are just having random oxytocin misfirings in our brains? Both things are true, but if we limit our understanding to just brain chemicals and oxytocin, than we only have about 10% of the story and will have none of the richness of the experience.

      Amen! Well said, IB. I laughed when you said this because in ancient Greece they thought falling in love was a form of insanity. Now we have oxytocin misfirings. Funny how we’re so awkward with having feelings. We must explain them away like they’re not normal…and even pleasant! 🙂

      Also loved the Soylent Green reference!

  3. Nan says:

    … experiential knowledge is direct knowledge; intellectual knowledge is secondary knowledge. But we have this backwards in our culture

    I think they are both important and one does not take precedence over the other as related to the human experience. Further, I disagree that a “lack” of experiential knowledge has any bearing on why “so many have impoverished souls.”

    • Mel Wild says:

      You are certainly free to disagree, Nan. Not sure how you would define experiential so that may be part of the issue. And how do you see a soul staying alive and vibrant purely on an intellectual or conceptual basis?

      • Nan says:

        Please re-read my comment about the relative importance of each. And I do know the meaning of experiential.

        As for a “soul” … are we talking in the vernacular or the spiritual?

        • Mel Wild says:

          My question is based on your comments. You said:

          Further, I disagree that a “lack” of experiential knowledge has any bearing on why “so many have impoverished souls.”

          If experiential knowledge has no bearing then it would follow that it’s not needed for a healthy soul. In other words, someone with no experiential knowledge can still have a vibrant soul. So, my question is, how does intellectual or conceptual knowledge make ones soul vibrant?

          I am just using the “soul” generically here. The inner self, your personhood, relational, emotional nature, sense of identity. what makes us feel alive, human, etc.

        • Nan says:

          I’m not claiming that intellectual knowledge is superior to experiential knowledge (or vice-versa). I’m saying both are necessary.

          I suppose it boils down to your use of the words “impoverished soul” since “soul” is generally used in reference to religion (and you are writing from a spiritual position). Thus, to me, it sounds like you’re saying a person that doesn’t know god is an “impoverished soul,” i.e., lacking in experiential knowledge. And obviously this is not true.

          It’s probably all a matter of interpretation … and my personal sensitivity to believers who try to “downplay” the fact that non-believers are unable to experience the fullness of life.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Okay, now I get where you’re coming from. 🙂

          I wasn’t really trying to make a religious point but more of an epistemological one. And I also agree that both kinds of knowledge are important. But experiential knowledge is direct knowledge. For example, I can intellectually know everything there is to know about France, but I won’t really know what France is like until I go there and live among the French people. That would be experiential knowledge. Or, I could know the chemical reactions involved in my brain when I fall in love, but it doesn’t mean that I actually know what falling in love is like until I actually do fall in love.

          When we look at what enriches our soul, it’s not the intellectual or conceptual knowledge, it’s our life experiences in relationship. So, if our life is based around intellectual knowledge without a rich and vibrant experiential knowledge, we impoverish our soul. That was the reason for that particular statement.

        • Nan, “both are necessary” is a GREAT point! Both offer more credence to a person/narrator and event. Yet, that should not excuse the two from cumulative scrutiny. 🙂

  4. Pingback: The Invitation | In My Father's House

  5. There are two types of knowing: intellectual and experiential.

    Myself and many scholars, especially those experts in the field of Agnotology, would resoundingly disagree. Here’s why Mel.
    One simply cannot exhaustively discuss knowing without equally discussing ignorance. The two go hand in hand and can never be independent. Ignorance is generated in many various forms. Naivety, neglect or apathy, myopia, secrecy, disinformation, extinction, censorship or suppression, faith, and forgetfulness. They are all sources and surrogates of ignorance. By it’s very definition it permeates many recognized and unrecognized domains.

    This is certainly not an exhaustive list of what classifications of ignorance exist (past and modern), but it is a good GENERAL start:

    Native or Innocent State is the first class and it defines ignorance that is a deficit to overcome, or something to grow out of, as a naive child would eventually learn that getting 8-hours of sleep per day is actually beneficial in the long-term, or that lying necessarily leads to more lying.

    Time and Mental Constraints is the next class. We cannot possibly study and understand all things. We must leave some alone, select what subjects deserve our needs and attention. As a result, this form of ignorance is a product of inattention and can be lost for a period of time or forever.

    Moral-Exemplary Caution is the third class and it includes ignorance for the sake of survival, protections, or mental, physical, and emotional stability. For example, jurors in court for a criminal case are strongly urged to remain ignorant (unbiased) to publicized facts, rumors, opinions, or news stories about their case. The various cinema movie-ratings by the Motion Picture Association of America currently have five designations for films suited to particular age groups. Which uranium and plutonium combinations are highly classified so as not to fall into the wrong unethical hands. And certain forms of torture on prisoners have specific classifications.

    Strategic Subterfuge is the last classification of ignorance and the hardest to detect in real-time. Two prime examples of strategic subterfuge would be the World War II Allied Manhattan Project from 1942-46 and Operation Fortitude/Bodyguard in 1943-44, both highly successful webs of deception that shortened the war with Germany and Japan.

    There are times and conditions that do warrant ignorance — it is not always bad. And yet, just these four classes of ignorance give rise to other important questions. For instance: Are there other sorts of events/conditions that ignorance creates which we might be unaware? When and how does knowledge create ignorance? What other forms of resistance, tradition, inattention, apathy, calculation, or distraction creates more ignorance? When does ignorance generate confidence, timidity, or arrogance, even megalomania? Because of ignorance what patterns of competence or disability are thereby brought into existence?

    So with all due respect Mel, I am obligated to say this blog-post falls terribly short. There is a VAST, larger, untapped database out there of hard information, disinformation, time-distorted, neglected, etc, of unknowledge/ignorance that has to be respected, recognized and explored with equal fervor, objectivity, impartiality (as cumulatively possible!), and always with extensive interdisplinary peer-reviews.

    Thanks Mel and hope your day/week are going well.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks for your comments, Professor Taboo, but I think you’re trying to go beyond what I’m asking. My question is, does evidence actually lead someone to conclude there is no God, considering the two renowned biologists who went in opposite directions about belief in God.

      One simply cannot exhaustively discuss knowing without equally discussing ignorance.

      The problem with discussing ignorance in evaluating our decisions is that we have no way of knowing just how “ignorant” we actually are of reality, so we would theoretically never be able to make up our minds. All we’re doing in the end is putting off the question to some mythical time when “all will be known.” And, furthermore, we have the problem of how we decide what is “evidence.” Do we disregard experience or other phenomenon that falls outside of scientific inquiry? If so, the argument can be made that it then becomes circular and self-fulfilling. I really don’t think there is any realistic possibility of making a so-called disinterested and objective observation. We cannot realistically separate our bias and worldview from our conclusions about what we think we’re observing when it comes to these issues.

      So, yes, I agree, we do need to consider ignorance, at least in a general way, but my pushback is that one cannot possibly exhaust all ignorance. In the end, it still comes down to a faith issue, especially with regard to the existence or non-existence of God.

      • The problem with discussing ignorance in evaluating our decisions is that we have no way of knowing just how “ignorant” we actually are of reality, so we would theoretically never be able to make up our minds.

        I would respectfully disagree.

        In my world, in my paradigm there is RARELY simply Yes or No, purely Black or White, Night or Day, either A or B and nothing in between. For me personally, I observe and have observed all my life a fluid spectrum of degrees of yes/no, black/white, night/day, A-B… or C, D, E, F, and A & C, D & E, C & F, or All of the Above. To say it another way, I find there are very rare cases where observable people and behaviors, observable organisms and objects, or observable events like weather… are repeated or the same/identical over time which fits perfectly inside a binary-only system. Over 2-millenia ago Heraclitus profoundly and correctly said:

        No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

        When you say “we have NO way of knowing,” that sounds extremely absolute and restricting; a very Closed-system of thinking/perceiving as we’ve discussed before. Why can we not know degrees of knowing and degrees of not-knowing that changes, move, fluctuate with time and humanity’s abilities? “Theoretically” I CAN INDEED make up my mind when necessary based upon current compelling data until it is necessary to modify or overhaul. Not at all to sound discourteous, but time is not restricted to your thinking/perception Mel.

        Therefore, if I’m interpreting/extrapolating your comment-reply correctly, to various degrees I disagree with your overall reply here. I find personally it does not accurately (or fully?) reflect our existence here now on Earth or in the known or unknown past. 😉 And yes, “faith” — or what I like to call that fluid human cognitive condition of To Be Determined — is a perfectly fine, reasonable state of mind/existence. HOWEVER, if one isn’t lazy, apathetic, and afraid, there is also sufficient data, empirical and ontological processes, etc, etc, and degrees-of that do indeed offer plausible and compelling cumulative sound decisions not based on any strict binary-system, if that makes sense.

        • Mel Wild says:

          When you say “we have NO way of knowing,” that sounds extremely absolute and restricting; a very Closed-system of thinking/perceiving as we’ve discussed before.

          I didn’t mean this restrictively. What I meant is that, intuitively, we understand that we have no way of knowing if we have ALL the data, so we’re always going to be ignorant to some degree and must, at some point, make up our minds. And, of course, we can still change our mind in the future as we get less ignorant. So I don’t think I’m really disagreeing with you when you say we can be sufficiently informed, while understanding that we still don’t know all things.

          I’m actually a proponent of an open system. I do not believe in a Cartesian dualistic mechanicistic view of the universe. I see it as much more relational, from what I understand (admittedly, also being very ignorant of all the facts!)

          But another factor that often gets overlooked in these types of discussions is what we mean by “evidence,” what we allow and disallow, which will be influenced by our worldview. For instance, if all we’re looking at is that which can be demonstrated by scientific inquiry, it still doesn’t necessarily mean we understand the subject. Experiential knowledge is direct knowledge because we experience it firsthand. And it cannot always be scientifically tested to arrive at the truth about the alleged experience. To say it can be fully understood outside of the experience would be a closed system (scientism). Again, it becomes circular.

          For instance, even on a natural level, observing my relationship with my wife doesn’t mean you understand the relationship in any meaningful way. In other words, understanding the physical properties does not mean you understand the experience of my marriage. It’s no more than Searle’s “Chinese Room.” (You may have all the data/algorithms of someone speaking Chinese, it doesn’t mean you actually understand Chinese). Likewise, you cannot know the transformational nature of the relationship and many other things having to do with first-person consciousness. You can only observe from outside the experience. You may think you have enough data (and may even have fMRI scans that fully map the brain activity) but you’re still ignorant, if you will, of the actual experience. And if we don’t factor this reality into understanding someone’s relationship with an alleged God, who would exist outside of nature, we’re still not fully understanding why “believers” believe what they do. Especially when one considers that natural science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. This is where I think a materialist ontology is deficient.

          Of course, you are free to disagree. 🙂 But thanks for the provocative thoughts and conversation.

        • I don’t think I’m really disagreeing with you when you say we can be sufficiently informed, while understanding that we still don’t know all things. […]

          I’m actually a proponent of an open system. I do not believe in a Cartesian dualistic mechanicistic view of the universe.

          Hmmm, now I find that I agree a bit more with what you’ve elaborated here about recognizing human limits of knowledge and outside of those limits lie forms of human ignorance. I firmly believe these conditions apply to ALL humans no matter their creed, color, ethnicity, wealth, culture, religion, time-period, or geographical location. But this does NOT give excuse to stop learning, stop asking questions (including the HARD UPSETTING questions!), or necessarily accepting something, a condition, a person, or an ontological concept as gospel or final.

          Many people would rightly claim that our Earth and its Sun will indeed one day in the distant future be gone. They will not exist or survive forever for several highly compelling reasons. My death and everyone else’s death is certain, yes. But no one can say with 100% perfect, immutable certainty WHAT exactly will happen after the Earth, Sun, and myself are physically “gone”… as humanity currently perceives it and understands it. To make my point more precise, no religion or no secular paradigm on Earth can claim 100% perfect, immutable certainty, in my experiential, educated, intelligent opinion. HOWEVER, there are most definitely systems of belief/paradigms and non-human systems of testing and analysis that to high degrees do offer very plausible, compelling data to make highly informed, highly intelligent conclusions. It is because of this very time-consuming, multi-generational, beneficial process that humanity, generally speaking and in particular cases, is in a much BETTER existence than it was 100, 500, 2,000, or 100,000 years ago! This better place is owed no thanks to any Monistic ideology, system, or paradigm, but very real thanks goes to multiple, open-ended, pluralistic human systems, ideologies, and paradigms!

          The remaining paragraphs of your above 2nd reply I feel supports my Pluralist viewpoint and undermines the Monistic, IMHO. 🙂

          I know that you and I could wrestle with and continue to dissect all of this for some time, finding some common ground as well as uncommon, but I will be unable to do so today or this evening in any reasonable amount of time. Hence, I must concede the last word to you, but not at all the bigger cumulative final chapter of consensus on ANY of these subjects outside of your blog. LOL 😉

          Have an enjoyable evening Mel. And thanks too for your polite, common courtesy you extend to me when we discuss these topics. It is noticed and encourages productive dialogue.

  6. John Branyan says:

    Hey Mel,

    I’ll mention this to you since Taboo doesn’t like talking to me.

    The wise professor said, “But this does NOT give excuse to stop learning, stop asking questions …or necessarily accepting something, a condition, a person, or an ontological concept as gospel or final.”

    You might ask him if this ontological concept is final. It appears to be “gospel” to him that a religious (specifically Christian) worldview is without merit. Whenever I point out these little hypocrisies he shuts down the conversation because I’m not worth his time.

    • But this does NOT give excuse to stop learning, stop asking questions …or necessarily accepting something, a condition, a person, or an ontological concept as gospel or final.

      This isn’t really worth my time 😉 but since it is on Mel’s blog I’ll elaborate on my statement for you JB. Do you can you also see the implicit meaning of what I said? Can you pick-up on the forward MOTION, the proactivity of what I was explicity and implicitly stating? That many things empirical AND ontological can, no sometimes even NEED further and further refinement, possibly total overhaul. One popular point-n-case: Geocentricity. It isn’t “hypocrisy” except inside your mind. And the shutting down is actually more like there’s no need to waste each other’s time. It’s being responsible (LOL)… at least for one of us. 😉

      • John Branyan says:

        Bravo! You have articulated your thoughts with your usual clarity! Again I say, Bravo! After recovering from the wave of gratitude I felt that you offered such a thoughtful response to someone in my lowly station, so undeserving of your time and attention, I had a few thoughts of my own.
        I understand the succinct dichotomy of reality (which is not to say binary or monistic) to be reflective of a larger system whereby truth can be approached without ignoring ignorance as a necessary means of gathering unknowledge. That should not excuse the two from cumulative scrutiny. There are times and conditions that do warrant ignorance — it is not always bad. And yet, just these four classes of ignorance give rise to other important questions. For instance: Are there other sorts of events/conditions that ignorance creates which we might be unaware?  Naturally, we should be open to the possibility that we are not totally ignorant of everything that we don’t know about. There is a VAST, larger, untapped database out there of hard information, disinformation, time-distorted, neglected, etc, of unknowledge/ignorance that has to be respected, recognized and explored with equal fervor, objectivity, impartiality. I find there are very rare cases where observable people and behaviors, observable organisms and objects, or observable events like weather… are repeated or the same/identical over time which fits perfectly inside a binary-only system. Indeed science is FOUNDED on the principle that things are never the same. I think we all agree that the answers don’t lie equally in understanding and ignorance. We’ve got to keep the balance!
        This better place is owed no thanks to any monistic ideology, system, or paradigm, but very real thanks goes to multiple, open-ended, pluralistic human systems, ideologies, and paradigms! The truth is what we make it! What we know for sure is we don’t know for sure. 😉

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