“Love is a Mode of Knowledge”

“We can only love what we know, and we can never know completely what we do not love. Love is a mode of knowledge…” Aldous Huxley

The Secret Bench of Knowledge – A sculpture by Czech-born Canadian sculptor Lea Vivot – image from Vlastula’s photo-stream on Flickr

The image above caught my eye and my heart as I contemplated the subject of the title of this post. It is a sculpture of two young people who appear to be seated in front of the National Library of Canada building in Ottawa, who seem very much to have a love interest of some sort, and the young man is holding an apple, suggesting a reference to the original apple from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Huxley’s claim that we can only love what we know, resonated for me personally, as I recently began to contemplate just why it is that I feel the way I do about such connections of both knowing and loving. Aldous Huxley is considered by many to be the original author of a very particular idea, called “The Perennial Philosophy.

According to the article in Wikipedia, “The Perennial Philosophy” is essentially an anthology of short passages taken from traditional Eastern texts and the writings of Western mystics, organized by subject and topic, with short connecting commentaries. In my edition of the “Bhagavad-Gita,” which is “a 700–verse Hindu scripture that is part of the ancient Sanskrit epic Mahabharata,” Aldous Huxley wrote the introduction, and outlined the four fundamental doctrines of perennial philosophy:

1. The phenomenal world of matter and of individualized consciousness–the world of things and animals and men and even gods–is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their being, and apart from which they would be non-existent.

2. Human beings are capable not merely of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the know-er with that which is known.

3. Man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.

4. Man’s life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal Self and so to come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground.

Regardless of whatever cultural or spiritual influences we are exposed to during our lifetime, even if the subject of a spiritual component to life never comes up at all in our education, at some point, there will be an experience of unbridled joy or terror, a traumatic event, a brush with death, a profound and lasting impression from any number of joyful or sorrowful experiences, and depending on our level of intuitive inclinations, we begin to suspect that there may be something more to life than just what our senses and brains reveal to us.

Our human mind and brain are inextricably linked by both biology and psychology. Our species was able to expand and develop our access to consciousness from a merely functional level to one which now allows us to project our thoughts far beyond the physical or primal mindset of ancient times. At some point, human beings (hominids) crossed over a threshold from primal instinct and the necessities of survival, to self awareness and introspection. The capacity for self awareness by itself was only enough to begin the process of developing a fuller access to a comprehensive experiential awareness.

In his book, “The Neanderthal’s Necklace: In Search of the First Thinkers,” Juan Luis Arsuaga, a professor in the Paleontology Department of the Faculty of Geological Sciences at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, points out that our ancestors (modern humans) coexisted with Neanderthals for at least 10,000 years. While archeological evidence points to Neanderthals demonstrating rudimentary tool-making and burying their dead in caves, “so far, no one has presented any definitive proof of ritual or other symbolic behavior before the time of Cro-Magnon in the Upper Paleolithic.” The reasons for their apparent deficiencies in cognitive skills were at least “partly demographic,” as their group size was too small to develop a “full cultural identity,” and partly because of “their lack of fully developed syntactical language.”

Access to a fully developed consciousness, seems to require the ability to “transcend” the awareness of our physical environment, as well as to be able to make a firm connection between physical reality and the many abstractions which are represented in the tangible manifestations of those ideas and concepts. Modern Homo sapiens were simply the first to be able to exploit their cognitive and social capacities, and the evidence seems to point to a “dramatic genetic change in brain function,” that gave modern humans the edge.

As the ancient cave paintings in Lascaux, France and elsewhere show, even our earliest Cro-Magnon ancestors, while conscious enough to report their experiences in cave paintings, were not able to fully express their consciousness, and only beginning to be introspective. These early humans were concerned with the most compelling of their experiences, and felt the need to express them in a demonstrative way. Their ability to create images from their experiences and attribute meaning to those symbolic images, was a quantum leap that began the unfolding of our access to ever-increasing levels of consciousness.

The uncertainty of what we are able to conclude at this point is sufficient to leave the door open to the idea of an “inner evolution;” a dramatic change in the attainment of increasingly higher levels of access to consciousness over thousands of years, and to other more complex notions of what might constitute a spiritual capacity within us which supports and provides essential input to the unraveling mystery that is life.

© 2012 Etsy, Inc.

…..more to come…

12 thoughts on ““Love is a Mode of Knowledge”

  1. as humans have come so far, we still need to pause and wander in the
    stillness of earth, for to me we learn even more watching, observing how the
    animal kingdom knows to only take what they need…
    C.s.Lewis is right….Love of knowledge is a kind of madness…
    when we come out of the ego fog and realize that knowledge is different from wisdom, then we feel more of the Divine combined within us as the reaction to our experiences of what we create….
    I liked this post, not sure I read it as others, but i am glad i stopped by…
    Take Care…

  2. maryrose,

    I’m glad you stopped by too. I am always hopeful that readers of this blog will express their views and share their readings of the subject at hand. We obviously can still learn something from our ancient ancestors regarding how we look at the natural world and see how the first fully conscious humans had a kind of reverence for their fellow creatures. I think there are plenty of people who DO have this reverence, but we seem at times to have lost the connection to the natural world, at least in the most profound sense that our ancient ancestors had.

    I am convinced that if more people paid attention to the “inner” reaction to our experiences, there would be a greater sense of the Divine Ground of which Huxley spoke.

    You are gracious and kind to share your thoughts with me, and I appreciate it very much…John H.

  3. Rick,

    Thanks for the great link to the article on early agriculture. There are many contributing factors to the unfolding of civilization, and it’s an interesting view that what began as striving for prestige actually became a mechanism for survival. E.O.Wilson has a number of significant contributions to the world of science, and I recently read his book called, “Consilience,” which is concerned with his dream of attaining a “Unity of Knowledge,” and unified learning on our planet.

    The inclusion of information regarding the Neanderthals is intended to serve as a frame of reference for the idea of what it took to transcend the limitations of previous species to become fully human, and as a means of comprehending what it took to transcend the limitations of the early humans to become fully conscious, and then for the limitations of our initial ability to make good use of conscious awareness to unfold into higher cognitive and spiritual levels within an increasingly aware and conscious humanity.

    With all of this “unfolding” going on over the millions of years of human evolution, and then over tens of thousands of years of modern human endeavor, in my view, it is simply the next step in our evolution to uncover the layers of progress in comprehending the full spectrum of phenomenal life, which is the manifestation of a life beyond agriculture.

    Regards…..John H.

  4. John…reading this I veer dramatically through feeling like yes, this is so simple to grasp and wow, need to think on this. Love the abstraction, love it! xxx

    1. You are one of my favorite people in the whole world now, and I wish there were a way for us to sit down together and talk for hours!!

      Thanks for your generous comment and please keep writing like you are now. I look so forward to reading your posts!

      Warmest regards…..John H.

  5. Reblogged this on WriteTide and commented:
    “Regardless of whatever cultural or spiritual influences we are exposed to during our lifetime, even if the subject of a spiritual component to life never comes up at all in our education, at some point, there will be an experience of unbridled joy or terror, a traumatic event, a brush with death, a profound and lasting impression from any number of joyful or sorrowful experiences, and depending on our level of intuitive inclinations, we begin to suspect that there may be something more to life than just what our senses and brains reveal to us.”

    1. This is one of the key points I continue to make on my blog, which addresses a potential starting point for exploring the non-material aspects of our very human nature, especially for those who haven’t experienced, as I have, something more profoundly affective in their lives. There is a range of human experience–a spectrum of consciousness–that points unambiguously toward the ineffable, extending from the most ordinary of life experiences, all the way to the other extreme with extraordinary life-changing events. We tend to dismiss the ordinary events too quickly, and suppose that they are simply part of a typical human life only, when, in fact, they are equally important as part of the full range available to living beings.

      You have pointed to several of the key components in the unfolding story of human subjective experience in my postings, and it is encouraging in a way to see someone taking note of them as you have.

      1. Yes, the more conscious a person, the less he/she tends to divide his/her reality into “spiritual” and “mundane”. “Sansara Nirvana” as the Buddhists claim. Heaven, hell and anything in between is one and the same reality; it’s all about the quality of conscience.

      2. The terms “Samsara,” and “Nirvana,” have separate meanings. According to most of the sources I’ve consulted on Buddhist beliefs, “Samsara” refers to “the continual repetitive cycle of birth and death that is created by our fixating on the self and experiences…and “Nirvana” literally means “extinguishing”, and refers to the extinction of the fires of attachment, aversion and ignorance. In the Buddhist view, when these fires are extinguished, suffering comes to an end and one is released from the cycle of rebirth.” In accordance with this view, I would say that while our conscious experience of temporal reality as physical beings can be either wonderful or awful and everything in between, depending on our circumstances and how we view them, but that Nirvana is a totally separate from any physical reality and not the same at all.

      3. If I get it right, you give the definitions of both terms as they are given in the “original” Buddhism. That’s the exact point of this later paradox, “Sansara Nirvana” (mind that not all the Buddhist schools share this view): that for an absoultely clear conscience, there is actually no difference in these seemingly opposite phenomena. It is one and the same reality (the only one, actually); it’s all about the perception of the individual. And the clearness of the perception, in its turn, depends upon the level of spiritual development.

      4. As is often the case when interpretation of long-standing and complex ideas from ancient times is concerned, there are inevitably various interpretations which take hold over centuries, and this is perhaps never more true than when considering ancient religious and spiritual ideas. There are indeed multiple Buddhist schools which support various versions of meaning and practice of its core matters, while having much also in common. Mahāyāna Buddhism has been described as “…a loosely bound collection of many teachings with large and expansive doctrines that are able to exist simultaneously.” There are basic ideas that are held in common regarding the way to achieve nirvana, but whatever method one applies, choosing one over the other “does not necessarily mean that some particular method is “untrue” but is simply any means or stratagem that is conducive to spiritual growth and leads beings to awakening and nirvana.” This approach leaves the door open for a variety of interpretations, and as you suggest, “depends upon the level of spiritual development.”

        According to the Mahāyāna version of belief, even the concept of “emptiness,” like all concepts, is also “empty,” and has no “absolute inherent existence,” and therefore “all concepts must ultimately be abandoned in order to truly understand the nature of things.” The existence of all things is only conceived of “in a conventional relative sense,” but do not exist inherently “in an ultimate sense.” While Buddhism does not posit the existence of a personal God “…various religious traditions affirm that a god is both within and beyond the universe; in it, but not of it; simultaneously pervading it and surpassing it.”

        All of these ideas suggest that we must seek our own way when it comes to what we believe, and I make no claims of having an absolutely definitive interpretation or knowledge of the true nature of our existence. I offer only my own conclusions and ideas as an explanation of why I take the position that our richly textured human subjective experience of consciousness cannot be explained simply by examining and describing the physical processes in the brain. All of my experiences and research over a lifetime of exploration and contemplation give me sufficient cause to suggest that whatever the true nature of reality might entail, the materialist view alone is insufficient.

        Your interest in expressing your views demonstrates that your own explorations are well under way, and I appreciate your interest in my ideas as well.

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