Class Warfare Blog

April 10, 2019

Other Ways of Knowing?

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:11 am
Tags: , , ,

As I read I am often presented with the dichotomy of the material and the spiritual, of the head and the heart.

“There is a wisdom of the head and a wisdom of the heart.”
Charles Dickens

And it appears to me that this is a consequence of some simple physiological facts. The sense through which we extract the most information is our vision. This gives us the impression that “we” (homunculus, whoever is driving this vehicle, whatever) reside inside of our heads. This illusion is very strong and quite understandable. Through our vision we may attend the entire world, from near to far and small to large in quiet contemplation. This ability does not seem to be a source of passion, rather “cold” intellect.

When we experience strong emotion, for whatever reason, it tends to affect our torsos in the form of restricted breathing or the reverse, panting, or a feeling of being punched in the stomach, generally accompanied by rapid heart beats. This creates the illusion that something else resides in our torsos. Since breathing is usually quiet, as is our heartbeat, they go unnoticed until their rates are jacked up to high rates and then we can hear them, internally.

Experience in killing animals and other humans points out the importance of the heart and lungs. Break or have a finger cut off and you will survive. Take a spear thrust in a lung and you will die, slowly. Take a spear thrust in the heart and you will die quickly. A hierarchy is therefore created as to which sources of the sounds of our life are most important: life’s blood, the breath of life, etc.

Is this the source of the idea of spirituality? Does anything qualifying as spirituality even exist? What is it really? As much as I love Joe Campbell’s writing on this topic I am still wondering whether spirituality is just an illusion we have become comfortable with, much as a number of philosophers now argue that conscious thoughts are illusions, possibly even consciousness as a whole being an illusion.

That spirituality is tied to strong emotions is no surprise. Using human passion as a lever to control people’s behavior also seems a workable approach for religions. Much of my religion’s tradition was wrapped in the words and imagery of strong emotion (Jesus loves you, the Passion, Brides of Christ, etc.).

Most religions diminish the role of the “head” and emphasize the role of the “heart” (or chakras, or stomach, or . . .). This war between the head and the heart rumbles on today in discussions between religious apologists and “secularists.”

Can this discussion be resolved? I suspect not soon, but it has clearly taken a modern twist, begun I think by William James (The Varieties of Religious Experience) and continued by the likes of Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell, et. al.). These worthies have been applying the tools of science, especially those of biological evolution, to explain the human experience of religion (with much resistance without and within the academic community). Will any of that discussion affect ordinary folks like you and me? That remains to be seen. Possible the rise in the numbers of Americans no longer claiming association with an organized religion (the “Nones”) is a sign, maybe it is not. Please note that an organized religion is not a requirement for having religious experiences. People had these things before organized religions existed and will likely have them after. Understanding their sources is therefore important.




  1. Religion wouldn’t have got very far by appealing to peoples’ capacity for logic and reason. Primal fears and emotions are easily manipulable; exploitable. It’s probably only in post-Enlightenment times that the crude assumptions of religion were challenged, and viable alternatives offered, which we’re now reaping.

    Difficult to say whether the rise of ‘nones’ heralds a major new ‘paradigm shift’, though I think it likely, at least in the long run. Once people lose beliefs in a virgin birth and resurrections, for instance, (and other patent nonsense) I doubt they’ll return to those illusions. But Branyan will no doubt weigh in and grace us all with his superior insight.


    Comment by ChrisS — April 10, 2019 @ 9:47 am | Reply

  2. Maybe other things going on in brain.

    There is an association between epilepsy and religious experience.

    Also various brain reward systems and religion.

    Apparently there is even a science about it.


    Comment by James Cross — April 10, 2019 @ 10:50 am | Reply

    • I am aware of all of these but my attempt was to distill it down to its simplest roots. Could all of our perspectives in this matter be due to ordinary human physiology? And I am all for continuing to question the unquestionable.


      Comment by Steve Ruis — April 10, 2019 @ 11:00 am | Reply

  3. I don’t know but I’ve always felt the “other ways of knowing” schtick was more a cop out than anything else. Something to hang the hat of ‘absolutely nothing to show’ upon.


    Comment by shelldigger — April 10, 2019 @ 1:19 pm | Reply

    • Sounds like something you would hear on a playground.

      There is a qualitative difference between things you “know” just intellectually and things you have learned “to the bone” as the saying goes, but those aren’t ways of knowing, but degrees.

      On Wed, Apr 10, 2019 at 1:19 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — April 10, 2019 @ 1:40 pm | Reply

  4. Spirituality imo, is merely hormones at work. The same feelings can be manipulated using lies and embellished stories. That’s why the special lighting, sound, and timing of everything in the churches is calculated to elicit emotions so they can call it supernatural. It’s just our endocrine system being manipulated.


    Comment by jim- — April 13, 2019 @ 7:49 am | Reply

    • Obviously I agree, my post was an attempt to get at the beginnings of things, before religions got adept at “their good works.”

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — April 13, 2019 @ 8:25 am | Reply

  5. “Other ways of knowing”. Exactly as our 7th Grade Science Textbook describes knowledge and questioning here in Florida. It says the scientific method is good for somethings but not others. I tell my students that science is good for determining reality but not for determining why your favorite color is blue and the other kid’s is red.


    Comment by Holding The Line In Florida — April 13, 2019 @ 9:04 am | Reply

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