Forrest Cameranesi Geek of all Trades

On Enlightenment, Curiosity, and Understanding

In previous essays I have laid out my views on what constitutes reality and knowledge, on the mind that is our vehicle in the pursuit thereof, and of the academic structures within which such pursuit would best be carried out, and knowledge best achieved. In this essay, I will now discuss the topic of what I call "enlightenment", the inspiration of the mind to actively pursue the truth, the real, the knowable; whether that be in the service of achieving such an ideal academic structure, or in more humble matters of individual people's personal lives. Enlightenment is the state of the mind being (or the process it of becoming) fully conscious or self-aware.

We cannot enlighten someone just by telling them facts, even if they're asking you for facts that will enlighten them; for enlightenment is not a set of beliefs but a mode of operation of the mind. We cannot simply tell them to operate their mind in that way either, for there is a bootstrapping problem there; they couldn't do that unless they were already enlightened to begin with. Instead, we must somehow inspire them to exercise their mind, give them (and even more importantly, show them that they have) opportunity and motive to think for themselves of their own accord.

The principle vehicle for inspiring other people to pursue truth, to enlighten them, is thus to show them, not merely tell them but actually demonstrate in practice, that achieving truth is actually possible, and thus that there is hope for them if they try to do so themselves. At the same time, we must also show them that achieving truth is not a foregone conclusion that someone else will always handle for them without any action on their own part, because if they thought that was the case they would have no motive to try to learn themselves.

So to that end, we need to point out to them how any authorities on knowledge that they may be tempted to rely on are fallible, and that without their personal action such authorities may fail, not necessarily catastrophically or globally, but in any particular case, in which cases the individuals involved will need to be ready to pick up that slack and stand up to ignorance themselves. Likewise, though we can enlighten people by teaching them, helping them learn, we must conversely be sparing in our direct help, lest they come to rely upon us, take our help for granted, and deem it unnecessary for them to try to learn themselves.

Instead, we need to help people to help themselves, to require that they take initiative in trying to pursue their own truth, but to stand by and hold their hand while they get a bearing for it, to ensure that their early attempts are successful, and build in them the confidence and skill that they will need to continue pursuing truth on their own. It will of course take much of such inspiration for such enlightenment to stick permanently, and the intellectual challenges that we help people to overcome to build that enlightenment must start out small enough for them to have a chance of success at them even with our help, but as they become increasingly enlightened we can continue to help them tackle still greater and greater challenges, eventually building a momentum of learning that can continue even without our further help.

But teaching not only oneself, but also others, can also help to cultivate that feeling of enlightenment, the feeling that achieving knowledge oneself is both possible and necessary. So more than merely helping people to learn themselves, we can also enlist them to help us teach other people to learn themselves, with the promise that doing so will in turn enlighten them, help them learn to learn themselves, and in doing so begin to build the groundwork for the kind of joint, mutual pursuit of truth necessary to underpin an educational structure that does not itself violate the kind of critical epistemology I have earlier advocated in the very process of trying to defend it.

This principle of assuming successful action is possible but not guaranteed is the underlying principle behind my entire philosophy of life, the application of which to philosophy itself forms the core principle on which all of the preceding philosophy I have laid out is based.

Continue to the next essay, On Action and the Meaning of Life.