Epistemology 101: On facts and frames


Way back in the early 1970s, I was a graduate student in philosophy, obsessed by what I told my professors was “an internal framework” or “structure” or “frame” into which everything that I was “learning” was poured. But that’s not real learning, I kept telling myself — and them. “I want to learn to think with my gut, not my head.” I had absorbed Neitszche, and I knew, with every fiber in me, that to learn is to change. Instead, my mind was just involuntarily filling a single frame tighter and tighter — and getting not only bored, but tremendously impatient and frustrated.

Nowadays I call that internal frame that so upset me back then the usually unconscious mind-controlled matrix that all of us are schooled into via parents, schools, media, advertising and all the other clap-trap of so-called civilization, that thin artificial scrim over wild nature that keeps our minds separated from both our bodies (our “gut”) and Mother Earth.

I was determined to break the frame, determined to really learn, to change.

And so I did, at first through a decided, involuntary “breakdown” that I realized, even then, was a breakthrough.

Then more and more, easily, consciously. What helped me during those years (and still does!) was a practice I had begun a few years earlier, of seeing myself seeing, experiencing myself experiencing, what Gurdjieff called “self-remembering,” the development of a double or witness consciousness, so that no matter what happened I could step into that calm abiding awareness that judges nothing, allows all suffering to run its course, and lets go of the need for impulsive action. So that when my actual “breakdown” set in, and logic destroyed, I was prepared. I could allow/witness the dissolution of the internal frame without fear.

Or mostly without fear. The one exception was that day I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, as usual, looking into my own eyes, and seeing how I was changing by the minute. Suddenly, I froze. “Oh my God! Who am I? What is happening? What’s going to become of me?”

And just then, like clockwork, a loud booming voice announced:


I.e., allow change; and eventually, learn to play with it. Recognize that there are an infinity of frames (just as there are an infinity of facts!). Each of our frames, if we attach to it, tends to morph into a limiting “conceptual helmet,” that closes down the mind and separates us from others who hold and attach to different frames.

Instead, let us invoke the witness consciousness with any frame. Recognize that all frames are creative value-laden ways of contextualizing or giving meaning to so called “neutral” facts, those bits and pieces of external sensation that we pretend are rock-solid, but actually — just like the frames into which we insert them — when seen/felt “from close to,” dissolve into the void.

Here’s a recent post on just this phenomenon.

If Facts Don’t Matter, What Does?


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