How do we know what we know?

ways of knowingHave you ever thought about how you know what you know? When this question was first asked from me, the answers that came to my mind was; from books, from parents, from teachers, from the learned. But when confronted with the next question, so do you believe that all that you know was true, I felt yes, it must be true, if not these will not be thought to me by those who I respect as learned, honest and well-meaning. But when I thought deeper, I felt that what is true to them, does not have to be true to me, because they come from different backgrounds, eras, conditions, cultures, religion, and would be driven by different purposes etc. Therefore for us to claim that we know what we know requires a kind of self-validation. John Heron provides a theoretical framework that helps make sense of the way we know. He names it extended epistemology, which has four interwoven ways of knowing (Heron 1992, 1999):

Experiential knowing — imaging and feeling the presence of some energy, entity, person, place, process or thing — is the ground of presentational knowing. Presentational knowing — an intuitive grasp of the significance of patterns as expressed in graphic, plastic, moving, musical and verbal art-forms — is the ground of propositional knowing. And propositional knowing — expressed in statements that something is the case — is the ground of practical knowing — knowing how to exercise a skill (Heron 1999: 122). (Emphasis mine)

Let me use an example to illustrate these four steps. When I first attended the ‘Mastery of Self’ playshop, I had experiential knowing when I experienced the potential of having a purpose when I heard various stories that were narrated by the trainer, and wrote the first draft of a purpose statement. Then when I crafted the purpose statement using inspirational language and made a collage of my purpose, I used presentational knowing.   Thereafter I read notes provided at the workshop, the work book, notes I took down and various recommended reading to understand more about purpose, thus this was my propositional knowing. Then I practiced living purposefully by reading the purpose every morning, planning some activities to further my purpose, making mental depictions of successful implementation of such planned activities, implementing such activities and doing a mental review of such activities at the end of the day and this was my practical knowing. My attempts to practically know led to experiential knowing when I experienced improvement in my mind, body, relations, emotions, finance and the use of time. Then there was presentational knowing when I worked on improving my purpose statement and this process continues, improving what I know about the notion of purpose. This process has continued to a point where I started teaching others to find a purpose and live purposefully, and now I an inquiring into the notion of purpose in my doctoral inquiry.

I hope this process will help you to question what you know and use the various forms of knowing to know what you know so that you can validate it as relevant and true for you. Let me also remind you that this blog post is propositional knowing for you and you need to reflect on it, challenge it, test it and adapt it, so that you make it true for yourself. Perhaps you might develop your own theory of knowing while improving the quality of your life.

One thought on “How do we know what we know?

  1. I was lucky enough to attend the “Emotional Intelligence” playshop last year, and there by using only a lemon I get to learn about how do we know what we know….and after reading this blog it just refresh my memory….Special thanks to Ranjan De Silva.


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