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Science and Philosophy

Thought | Philosophy of science and limits to knowing | John Searle, matter and mind | Free will


What we can know and how we know it are questions that remain in the 21st century. Some believe that we understand by making associations and differentiations, a process that involves interpretation – a point of view in contrast to those who believe that they have a direct connection to knowledge that is whole, intuitive and independent of interpretation.

Association, differentiation, inclusion, exclusion are fundamental to thinking. We know everything in association with other things. Everything we know is placed somewhere on our mental map. If everything is of one color (as in a world covered with snow) and we cannot see a differentiating point of reference, we are lost. We think by seeing connections between things, and to see connections we need to see differences. We process information, and some of us process it better than others. When we dream our, associations run wild. When we awake we orient ourselves: "Its Tuesday morning, 6 A.M. and here I am at home in bed in the city of Oshkosh." Information that we have gathered we have placed on this map. Our mental maps are built with experience – greater at the age of sixty than in childhood.

Our mental map is personal, and we like to think of it as an accurate replica of realities outside our head. If a new experience does do not fit well within connections on our mental map, we redraw already existing lines so that they do fit. Some of us who are not given to flexibility and questioning what we believe may distort our experience to make it conform to lines already drawn.

Some of us occasionally examine, erase lines or redraw portions of our maps. We call that reason. Self-examination is a part of understanding the world around us as well as the "knowing thyself" that some thinkers view as important. It is a matter of questioning. It is something that one less inclined to do if he believes that he has a direct connection to knowledge that is whole and independent of interpretation.


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