Introduction to Epistemology By Zahir Ebrahim

Epistemology means, in the modern English language dictionary:
Epistemology: Noun
1. the theory of knowledge, esp the critical study of its validity, methods, and scope
2. a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.
Word Origin: from Greek epistēmē knowledge
In effect, epistemology means how we know what we know.
That's obviously an important matter.
Because what we think we know, or believe to be true, may be false, or half-truth, three-quarter truth, or even a big lie wrapped in plausible sounding statements that are vicariously believed to be true (through popular literature, movies, newsmedia, appeal to celebrities and authority figures, cultural beliefs, myths, pseudo science, and hubris such as ingrained superiority complex and exceptionalism, and its converse, inferiority complex and learned helplessness).
Our thinking and our beliefs, just like our subconscious fears and anxieties, largely determine our behavior. And those who can control our beliefs and our thinking, or can exercise our fears and anxieties, can control our behavior.
Therefore, understanding the epistemology of every domain of human endeavor, from the hard sciences to the social sciences, and from politics to religion, is not only an important matter, but also a fundamental matter for getting to understand reality the way it actually is. This is equally important for the arts and humanities, because art often imitates life and becomes the expression of the vicariously held belief system. It naturally leads to life imitating art, and the two reinforce each other in a self-fulfilling prophecy to form the larger cultural belief system.
From the well known Occam's razor principle which is to choose the fewest and simplest possible axioms of faith, beliefs, assumptions, presuppositions to construct the rational scientific method on the anvil of falsifiability, to the belief in supernatural as the unfalsifiable axiom of the immanent psyche that distinguish humans from non spiritual beings, are all presuppositions that are believed to be true but cannot always be proven to be true. These axioms can potentially only be proved to be false (possibly at some future time).
When that is the case, that an axiom of faith, a presupposition of truth, can eventually be shown to be false, it is called falsifiability. That is the foundation of modern rational epistemology as well as the scientific method --- necessary presuppositions of convenience which can eventually be shown to be false (unless proved to be true along the way when it is no longer considered an axiom but a demonstrable fact). Why is that? Because certain fundamentals cannot always be proved to be true even if they may be strongly believed to be true.
For instance, take the example of geometry that we use in our everyday life, and have been using for over two thousand years. Its principal axiom, parallels lines don't meet at infinity, can never be proved to be true. Because no one can go to infinity and come back to report that they witnessed or measured that yes indeed parallel lines did not even meet at infinity. It can, however, be shown to be false under certain circumstances, such as in relativistic physics, where space-time becomes curved (distorted) due to gravity effect (as empirically demonstrated for the General Theory of Relativity during the total solar eclipse of 1919 when the New York Times headlined the confirmation that light, normally observed to only travel in straight lines, can bend: “Lights All Askew In The Heavens – Stars Not Where They Seemed or Were Calculated to be, but Nobody Need Worry”). This effect can cause two parallel lines, one effected by that space-time gravity field, to intersect with the other not effected by the gravity field at some distant point. Thus, the fundamental premise under which the parallel lines axiom of Euclidean geometry works is only when space-time is not under relativistic effect. But that axiom of Euclidean geometry still cannot be proved to be false in non relativistic three dimensional space. It is just assumed to be true without proof and falsifiability, primarily because it is convenient, accords with daily human experience as well as commonsense, and helps formulate as well as solve one, two and three dimensional problems encountered in non relativistic space-time.
When something is assumed to be true without evidentiary proof, what scientists call empirical evidence, it is akin to belief, faith. The entire Euclidean geometry is based on such an axiom of faith.
In the same way, in mental life, we hypothesize beliefs that are immanent and constitute our core beliefs. Some of these, over time, have been shown to be false, in which case we abandoned them (but not easily). Such as belief in lightening / thunder, or the lunar / solar eclipses, or celestial movement of heavenly bodies upon which Zodiacal astrology is based, or the black cat crossing the path, or prescriptive mantras, etc., are related to human affairs and have a major (or minor) impact on its causality (except of course through the placebo effect which is demonstrated to be true and has become integral part of the process of modern medical science in what's called double blind studies). So, these immanent human axioms of personal faith which in the earlier primitive societies governed not just individual human behavior, but also societal collective behavior, have largely been abandoned (with some difficulty for many), with evidentiary demonstration that these personal and societal axioms of faith are false and mere superstitions.
But other personal and societal religious axioms of faith, such as life after death or Afterlife, the Hereafter, or Heaven and Hell, or Day of Judgment, or existence of Angels, cannot ever be proved to be false (nor demonstrated to be true). For no one has returned from the dead to reliably inform us whether they found these to be true or false, and whether or not, as their moment of death approached, they finally witnessed the reality of the long believed mythical Death Angel who came to extract their soul into purgatory. And if someone were to return from the dead and if they did not bring back evidence of what they witnessed with them, how would anyone ever validate / adjudicate upon that personal witnessing, testimony? If multiple people reported the same, perhaps they were all just hallucinating, or perhaps they did indeed meet with the Death Angel and other artifacts of Afterlife that has informed the religions of man from time immemorial. How can anyone else objectively tell the difference however – except, once again, (a) in either choosing to believe them on the basis of their shared beliefs alone, or (b) in rejecting that testimony based on the axiom of materialistic conception of nature that nothing can exist after bodily death (which is technically defined by modern medicine as the measurable ceasing of the brain's electrical activity on the EEG monitor), and thus all such immanent experiences of returning from the dead can at best only be hallucinations due to the mind's temporary catatonic state.
Such axioms of faith that can never be shown to be false, and just believed to be true, are called unfalsifiable axioms. These axioms are also the foundational basis of world religions, specifically those which claim the validity of Divine Revelation. And also those that claim continuity of human existence in global consciousness ala Hinduism, and its variants seen in new age religions including animism (dict: belief in spiritual beings or agencies; the belief that natural objects, natural phenomena, and the universe itself possess souls; the belief that natural objects have souls that may exist apart from their material bodies; the doctrine that the soul is the principle of life and health) and animatism (dict: the attribution of consciousness to inanimate objects and natural phenomena).
But is Divine Revelation itself an unfalsifiable axiom? That obviously depends on the definition of Divine, which of course must precede addressing the question of Divine Revelation, and that subject is taken up systematically in the next two sections.
How about the existence of consciousness beyond materialism, and its derivative beliefs such as reincarnation, or interconnection to what's termed cosmic consciousness, animism, animatism? Once again, “proof” is usually by way of one's own personal belief system and not by way of the scientific method which obviously cannot be applied directly to what is not material, what cannot be observed by its instruments, and what cannot be measured by its instruments. So, making distinction between say, animatism and Divine Revelation is not permitted by the zealot materialists who tend to lump all non-materialist constructs, whether most ridiculous and absurd, or most profound, into the same “reject” category.
This is exemplary, even the epitome, of the problem of presupposition – axiomatic dogmas crippling epistemology. It leads to the dogmatic denial of that which is even amenable to the scientific method.
The scientific method can perhaps be applied indirectly for ascertaining certain non-material but existential phenomenon that is dogmatically denied by materialist science. For instance, adjudicating on ESP, and its related effects such as telepathy, for instance, observing that dogs know when their owners are coming home, homing pigeons uncannily always know how to return home regardless of how “blinded” they are made in test experiments, birds in flight always know how to change their flight paths in sudden turns in perfect sync without running into each other, identical twins feeling each others feelings and thoughts, the feeling of being stared at by others and turning around to often find them looking at you, etc. These empirical observations of behavior of living beings indicate the presence of some non-materialistic and hitherto unknown telepathic processes and mechanisms in play that are not understood by the materialistic conception of science. I.e., phenomenon demonstrated by living beings which cannot be proved to be false, and is instead observed to be true many a time, begging an explanation beyond the denials offered by the dogmas of orthodox materialist scientists of the Richard Dawkins variety (the Dawkinsian clan, Dawkinsianism). Some intriguing scientific experiments have indeed been devised to demonstrate their existential validity by the rebel extraordinaire, Cambridge University biologist Dr. Rupert Sheldrake (see http://sheldrake.org/), to beggar all materialistic theories of nature to date. William Shakespeare had way too presciently captured the crippling of the dogmatic mind in Hamlet for all times. It is especially pertinent to our own epoch of knowledge explosion which, instead of humility, tends to confer unbounded hubris upon the arrogant mind: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Based on the above short introduction, it does not take a great deal of intelligence to perceive the impact of dogmas on crippling epistemology when the beliefs or axioms are absurd, rooted in authority figures as their source of truth, or in immanent superstitions of mental life. What we believe to be true and what can be shown to be true are two different matters.
Thus falsifiability has become the corner stone of modern science. The axioms of science are deliberately made falsifiable --- as in the Occam's razor principle --- presuppositions which are initially assumed to be true but which can eventually either be demonstrated to be true (in which case they are no longer axioms but facts) or proved to be false (in which case they are abandoned), or circumscribed to their applicability limit, as is done in Euclidean geometry for its axiom of parallel lines which are now confined only to non relativistic space-time.
Science dies to reincarnate as religion if, or when, its axioms turn to dogma and become unquestionable, inscrutable, incontrovertible, unfalsifiable. There are several examples of this throughout history down to our own enlightened times: from the earth is the center of the universe dogma of the Church of antiquity to the latter day global warming dogma of the world superstate. While the former was a genuine false belief, the latter is uber Machiavelli driving a political agenda (see http://tinyurl.com/Global-Warming-New-Religion).
Under modern science's materialistic axiom of faith that all existence is material and death of material is death of existence (non animism), the non falsifiable axioms of faith of world religions that are predicated on non materialistic existence, on spiritual transcendence beyond the body, where the material body is seen only as a temporal container, have been denigrated and marginalized as superstitions. All non materialism is treated with equal contempt by latter day materialist reductionists –– the absurd belief in a cat crossing the path causing one harm, and belief in God or Divine Revelation, are treated the same! The latter is often dismissed by equating it to the former, and deliberately so by the dogmatic Dawkinsian clan. The same transpires with those who create absurd theologies as the avant-garde in thought like the strawman of animatism (dict: the attribution of consciousness to inanimate objects and natural phenomena), which the Dawkinsian clan is all too happy to equate with belief in God and Divine Revelation. That blind-sight of the Dawkinsian clan is not mere psychological cataract. It is well crafted political theory which underwrites “Will to Power”.
Some in this Dawkinsian clan are surely honest exponents of their own personal Pollyannaish beliefs as they zealously herald the way to Secular Humanism as the next stage of human evolution whereby, human beings, now liberated from the clutches of superstitious theism which has been the leading cause of all misanthropy throughout history (as they argue), make their own lofty declarations of universal human rights and live happily ever after (see http://tinyurl.com/HGWells-Universal-Human-Rights). These well-intentioned useful idiots often see scarcity of resources and terrorism of the pirates as the fundamental problems to be solved by Secular Humanism and the problem of primacy never occurs to their indoctrinated minds – indoctrinated no differently in their new religion than any theist zealot of antiquity (see http://tinyurl.com/Problem-Primacy-not-Scarcity).
While others, cunning predators preying on human instincts, are harvesters of those Pollyannaish beliefs to diabolically foster their own political agendas to achieve their one-world empire. This is no different than how suicide bombers, ardent believers in their own “divine mission”, are diabolically harvested by their terrestrial handlers who create, encourage, train and fund them to pursue their beliefs to the very end for the enticement of heavenly maidens, while actually serving the geopolitical interests of policy-makers upstream (see http://tinyurl.com/Superman-Morality).
This is how “militant Islam” is constructed by the Western hegemons to serve their own political agenda for their Hegelian Dialectic of having an endless enemy to wage endless wars against (see http://tinyurl.com/hijacking-word-islam). This is also how insurgency is fabricated by the state, both domestically as well as in far-away places using the discontent of the local peoples, which often the state is itself the cause of, to justify its own counter-insurgency operations to achieve its political agendas which it otherwise could not dignify (see http://tinyurl.com/insurgency-counterinsurgency)
And that is the open secret behind promulgating Secular Humanism so freely by the West today --- where its most zealot exponents often find themselves pushing against open doors with sanctuary, prizes, accolades, applause, and career advancement awaiting them to continually tickle their egos. It is the Trojan horse to subvert world religions which the powers that be, see as impediment to the global dystopia they have planned for mankind (see http://tinyurl.com/Islam-vs-Secular-Humanism ).
The impact of this axiomatic presupposition of materialistic philosophy upon which the fundamental beliefs and practices of modern political theories, modern science, modern medicine, modern theology are all constructed: what we personally believe, what policies we legislate, what projects we fund, how we manage our collective well-being including healthcare, how we make war and peace, etc., is nothing short of monumental. The consequent of this core materialist belief, which I call the first-cause axiom of modernity, meaning, it is the first-cause, the root-head, the foundational presupposition of modern epistemology that has fashioned the dogmas of modernity, is rapidly leading to the global scientific technetronic dystopia encircling all non-primitive civilizations today. The principal consequences are: (a) secular naturalism (how we understand the world), (b) secular humanism (how we understand human life), (c) will to power (our political theory and the basis of exceptionalism among the self-proclaimed shepherds of human life), and (d) social Darwinianism (our social theory and the basis of herding and culling human sheep and “useless eaters”). That is the profound reality of crippled epistemology --- in the hands of the cunning Superman, it leads to humanity's enslavement.
Thus we see that belief systems and its axioms in every discipline of human endeavor, define as well as confine epistemology to what is acceptable and knowable to the human mind. The choice of axioms determine how much we know, and what we can know. Epistemology is the fundamental force that makes the human mind not just about all existence, but governs human behavior as a consequence of that. Both for good and for bad.
The control of epistemology therefore, specifically by the control of axioms, can both inform and liberate the human mind to uncover new realities and develop the individual and his collectives to higher states of consciousness (see http://tinyurl.com/Higher-States-of-Consciousness), or mislead and enslave to conformist thought to united we stand man with every dystopic abhorrence that we see happening in our modernity (see http://tinyurl.com/MightyWurlitzer).







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