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Does knowledge enlighten or confuse the mind with facts?

By Peter Shepherd

Reader's Q:
As I gain more knowledge, there are more things I can base my reasoning on. The mind becomes more informed. However, is there an endless truth, or understanding, of why things are or where they are going? As I gain more information, I strip away some layers of falsehoods, but then I run into more traps. Does knowledge enlighten or confuse the mind with facts, or take it in circles with more falsehoods? It seems ideas can be useful and important, you can learn many things in so many different subjects - but it can all become very confusing.

My Answer:
This is a primary theme of philosophy. There are whole libraries of knowledge, some of which is contradictory - so how to absorb and make sense of it all? Is there an underlying truth, and if so, is it simple or complex?

From any basic principle you can derive more and more complexity. From simple geometry you can derive complex theorems that are the basis for building cities and microchips. In the mind, one belief leads to another, truths are combined with false and acquired information, mistakes and painful experiences occur and the resulting safe solutions are retained, until a complex belief system is built - a labyrinth really, when it comes to sorting out what is one's own truth.

If you start at the other end, not knowing the basic principle, just seeing the complexity, you can take forever trying to understand that complexity, to get back to the basic principle, if you ever do. There may be many false turnings, you may get to know massive amounts that actually are not of much help in your understanding, and you may think you've 'got it' when you haven't.

Finding the truth is a bit like standing on the surface of the Earth, which is a mass of complexity and illusions - it's all derived from truth but altered in one way or another, so it persists. A clear view of the way ahead can help lead you to the original true understanding of what is (the whole picture) if interpreted correctly. In this analogy, the truth is found at the top of only the one mountain in each country that has an unobscured view from the top (the mountains representing the many apparent spiritual paths, only some of which lead to truth). To find that mountain you have to travel wide and far, to learn from your experiences with a humble and open mind, and to have the required motivation and not be distracted - and not to give up either, even after disappointments. Without help and guidance, good intent and trust, you may never get there.

At the top of the mountain, the view is illuminating, you can see why all the complexity wasn't actually a true picture of the whole, that in fact the truth is so simple yet powerful it cannot be expressed in words - it's WHAT IS (the view). The jigsaw puzzle of life now makes sense.

You cannot go back and "tell" the other seekers what that picture is, as your description would have little reality for them - their view is much more limited. And many are not seekers at all so what you tell them would appear crazy or simplistic. Plato's story of a group of people who have lived their whole life in a cave is relevant here. When the stone at the entrance is moved and light is revealed to them, they turn their backs in fear and disbelief.

You can best guide other seekers in the direction of this mountain and give them information that helps them make sense of the terrain, so they can travel their own path of understanding towards enlightenment: the clear and beautiful wholeness that awaits them when they reach the top, which they have known all along but not seen from that illuminating viewpoint.

The online book 'Transforming the Mind' is a complex picture because the mind, as it normally develops in a person's life, becomes a complex organization. Sometimes we need this kind of analysis to help resolve issues in psychology that make a real difference to our happiness, just as we need complex physics to design the chip that runs your computer, so you can read this.

Other kinds of information are 'higher level', a view from the top of the mountain. This kind of information may seems crazy or simplistic to some, but seekers - those approaching the mountain or well on the way - will recognize it leads the way to the top.

Peter Shepherd is the founder and producer of the Trans4mind personal development website, author of 'Transforming the Mind' and producer of the Mind Development courses (free to download). Read Peter's biography page and send a message.
More articles by Peter Shepherd in the Counterpoint Article Library as well as the Inside Out Blog, plus listen to his regular Podcasts
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