‘Knowing/apprehending’ as the most basic possible mode of existence
This brief analysis of ‘knowing’ or ‘apprehending’ is an exercise in following a distinctive conceptual trail, examining various possibilities as they seem to arise, yet all the while sticking to a definite purposive framework, namely that of trying to improve our situation through insight into it. Spiritual metaphysics, unlike academic philosophy, is always striving to find a way to resolve the persistent unease and dissatisfaction at the core of human existence, rather than getting involved in intellectual puzzles, brainteasers and conceptual cleverness.
We begin with what we might propose is a crucially important metaphysical point of principle, and then work forward from there. We begin with the assertion, as yet unsubstantiated, that ‘knowing’ – knowing something, apprehending anything – is the most basic, the most elemental state of existence. Nothing can be more elemental than ‘knowing’, or ‘apprehending’, according to this assertion, because it is not possible to think or reflect or observe anything without that something having been apprehended – known – in the first place.
Can we, in all seriousness, dispute this ? Is it possible to observe, or identify, or conceive of an existential state more elemental than elemental apprehending – which we have described here as ‘knowing’ ? What other primary mode of being could there be ? For there to be anything, there has to be an apprehending of that thing. So can we conceive of an ‘unapprehended’ or non-apprehended, or pre-apprehended something, or state of being, or state of anything ? Doesn’t the very moment of being imply a very real apprehending of something ?
Might there be a primordial state of ‘feeling’ which somehow precedes apprehending ? Could you perhaps experience a feeling without knowing that you are experiencing it ? Or could there be another possibility, neither knowing or feeling, or anything similar, which somehow underpins experience as we understand it ? These are metaphysical questions of the highest order, and to ground yourself in metaphysics and metaphysical exploration you somehow have to find a way to answer them for yourself, that is, to your own satisfaction; and if not exactly to answer them, at least to formulate them, and confront them, so as to appreciate the way they attempt, via reflexive questioning, to get to the very core of being and existence.
There is of course another possibility relating to these most basic of states, which turns out to be even more interesting, if you give it room to breathe. If we take ‘knowing’ or ‘apprehending’ as the most basic possible existential state, we can, by implication, work backwards to something like the necessity for a ‘blank screen’ – a knowing nothing empty nothingness – against which, or within which, our basic ‘knowing apprehending’ has to take place. In other words, to know ‘a something’, you have to start by knowing nothing at all; in the same way, to perceive a particular something, you have to start by not perceiving a particular anything, otherwise you would not know you have moved from one state – not knowing anything – to another – knowing something.
And using our reverse logic of implication, we can work yet another step backwards. If we have a ‘know-nothing-know-something’ matrix as our basic ‘experiential platform’ we can assume that there must be some sort of lucid capacity present to apprehend either possibility – knowing or not knowing – or both. Without a primordial lucid capacity, how would it be possible to know anything at all ? And we can even give some colour to this basic lucid capacity, in that it is ‘self-reflexive’, in that this lucid capacity ‘knows that it knows’ – not quite the same as self-conscious, which is being self-aware of itself as a self.
1) knowing/apprehending something, emerging out of knowing nothing;
2) knowing something/ knowing nothing dependent on a primordial lucid capacity.