Knowing #2: How Smart Are You?
How Are You Spending Your Life?

What do you know?
How do you know it?
How sure can you be of what you know?


We’ll be looking at these four ways knowing:
Logic based on observation.
Logic based on belief.
Emotions alone.
Emotions based on observation and belief.


Two plus two is four
because I can see two fingers on my left hand and two fingers on my right hand
or because I heard two sounds a minute ago and I heard two more sounds a second ago.
I saw it.
I heard it.
I’m sure of it because it came to me through my senses.

There are some illusions that distort our senses.
Sight can be distorted by optical illusions,
and hearing and smell can be distorted by overlapping stimuli.
After allowing for such distortions,
we can be pretty certain that what we see, hear, smell, taste or feel is correct.
Sense data is nearly certain.

The problem is that so little can be known in this way.

So we want to believe we can know in other ways.


Two plus two is four
because Sister Anna Charles told me so in the first grade and I think she’s smart.
If she was right, then I am right.
If she was wrong,
then I am not only wrong about this
I am also wrong about everything that logically flows from this.

Belief in someone else’s accuracy is crucial
when we base decisions on what we believe.

But I’d better confirm my teacher’s math
with my own senses
before I try to balance my checkbook.


When I think about the vastness of space
I feel joy and I have a keen sense of my own vulnerability.
Therefore I know God exists.

Not so.

When I feel joy, vulnerability, or any other emotion,
it doesn’t prove God exists.
It doesn’t prove anything at all.

Emotions don’t determine fact.

Our emotions are wonderful at telling us
when we are hungry or thirsty or sad or angry,
but worthless at telling us about concrete reality.


Two plus two is four
because it kinda looks right to me and I believe the person who says it’s so.

When we are inexperienced or hurting a lot physically or emotionally
we have little confidence in our own ability.
At such times we may have to temporarily go along with this kind of “knowing.”

This is the dilemma children face,
and from which most therapy issues arise.
When we were too young to have gathered enough experience
and when “the whole world” was just the people in our house or our neighborhood
we had to believe most of what the adults told us
– regardless of how wise or ignorant,
how kind or cruel
those adults were.

Some adults face this same dilemma.
Someone recovering from a horrible injury
or someone who is dependent on people who overpower them
may need to temporarily accept whatever they are told
while they focus purely on survival.

When we grow up,
and after we’ve survived desperate adult situations,
we must reexamine everything we’ve learned from such sources.
We need to reevaluate each “emotional belief”
using our most accurate tools:
Our senses.


See all other topics in this series related to “Knowing.”
Read them all to get a good understanding about
how we know what we know
and how we distort our own reality.

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