How do we know? Can we define knowing?
We can speak of varying degrees, or classifications that might be regarded as knowing. Rudolf Steiner is the first, I believe, to properly organize epistemological thoughts. Conscientiously read and worked with, his The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity [Freedom] is a masterpiece for supporting our individual ability to know, and from a basis in knowing, to freely act in the world. To know that I know, by being able to engender my individuality directly from out of my experience of myself, by allowing deeper inherent forces within my being to awaken myself to the divine within, and thereby, creatively, from out of the very sources of my being, to will that which I come to lovingly recognize as the right action for myself.
In philosophical considerations intuition is the most immediate form of knowing and carries within it absolute conscious certitude (contrary to its more common usage as a vague notion suggesting some form of subconscious awareness). A level of knowing that most thoughtful individuals can point to. This level of knowing is where a greater experience resides and often includes strong reverential feelings for what can only be regarded as reality cognized in a truer and deeper way. Inspiration is that within thought life that opens our soul to the intuitive state. A spiritual inbreathing. Then, Rudolf Steiner designates, Imaginative thinking. A living pictorial process similar to our memory that efficiently encodes the experienced information, as in, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” not to mention a living picture. And then there is Intellectual thinking, as in those thousands of words detailing the living pictorial content. At this level of thinking, we live in what is most dead in thinking, providing of itself little that can nourish the soul.
However, from this lonely dark tomb, certainty regarding our individual consciousness ascends, in that we can directly produce thought, experience it as an object, think about our thinking, be present and conscious in thought, and thereby experience the beginnings of my self, newly made from myself, as my own unique self-conception arising from the ancient command: Man Know Thyself. The reproductive potency latent within one’s self. The primordial nature of our being; the Word made manifest, as the divine essence of our individual I.
When we meet something that we might acknowledge as reality, it must fulfill the requirement of being both perceived and conceived, or even more precisely, of coming to our souls through a synchronization between the realms of observation and intuition. For each one of us, when these two are properly aligned, knowing within our soul occurs, even though most humans will experience varying time differentials between themselves as to when this moment comes to be; for usually one, observation, or the other, intuition (thinking), comes first, and the other later. This peculiarity likewise is first experienced in thought itself, in that it can be objectively observed, and likewise be that which comes to conceive, to give meaning to the object of thought it observes. The subject comes to properly identify what is real, at least in the same sense as, “I am”–the first intuitive knowing.
The organic reality behind our day-to-day dead thinking lies in our living nature. Those aspects of ourselves that engender growth and life we must freely offer up to our dead thoughts that they become enlivened, and thereby enabled to provide nourishment for others. The thoughts arise from intellectual self-realization where thought is actively attentive to itself and thereby creative, even self-creative, as in, “I am that.” In that I can ￼think, I can penetrate into the realities that lie before and within me. For it is through such willed awakened thinking, that besides the idea, there lives also the mighty world of my feelings, and deeper still, the origins of my force of will. My will is the furnace behind my realizing all of this. Without the work of my own doing, there could not live my own freedom; the experience of “pulling myself up by my own bootstraps.” Within this more self-enlivened thinking there can inspirationally enter into our souls even greater thoughts emerging from even greater egos, or spirit beings. Even within the intellectually dead form of thinking there must live the intuitive ever-present reality which always in the end points to being.
Within the realization coming from thinking about thinking lies the divine creative spark awaiting our own application: to make ourself real by our own doing in the world. We must thereby be able to know in order to freely act out of love. Knowing, freedom, and love form the true trinity of our potential being.
That our thinking can be in error suggests that we actually come to know nothing real, but an illusion; or as it is spoken of in more ancient times, as the veil over reality…the key is that reality is the rock of our being, of our self-realization. Science is built upon the presupposition that I know first myself, even if I am still awakening to that fact, in order then to justify investigating anything else that likewise might be known as real. What seems to be real can fade away in order that what is true may shine forth. And this intuitive reality certainly outshines all that can be regarded as our mortal existence.
Then a pessimistic view is never justified, but is only a way of turning from a true love for life, based upon the ideals revealed in truth, both from the heavens, and from our earthly natural climes, requiring of us our unique action in bringing such thoughts to manifestation within our world.
And thus, I can form freely my own mission in life, and fulfill the longings of many ages, that one may freely bring forth great effect within the world, and experience the world affected thereby. To experience in the World myself shining back and the World bringing greater cosmic content into me, as in the formula:
I know myself in the World
As the World comes to know my I
As the World comes to know my I
My I comes to know itself in the World.
I come from the World
Even as I bring renewal to the World
Such are some of the great realizations that come to light when considering and meditating upon epistemological ideas.
The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity [Freedom], Rudolf Steiner, The Rudolf Steiner Publishing Company, London, 1949.