Ways of Knowing

If you’ve been following my recent posts, you will have noticed that I have discovered the work of John Vervaeke and that I’m very excited about it. Why? Because although our conclusions differ, Awakening from the Meaning Crisis (his lecture series on YouTube) lays the “grammar” (and some cool vocabulary) for my own project, and explains why this work is so important.

A crucial aspect of John’s thinking is his formulation of the 4 P’s of knowing: participatory, perspectival, procedural and propositional. His contention is that the “meaning crisis” is in large part due to the fact that we have lost the first three ways of knowing and reduced knowledge to propositional knowledge, which is about holding true beliefs about things.

I have already briefly described the psychotechnologies at the heart of my system of transformative practice (in Psychotechnologies). These range from mindfulness practices to psychedelic journeying, martial arts, dance, chanting and singing, mantras and philosophical dia-logos. These practices are associated with the six archetypes, Mystic, Shaman, Warrior, Monk, Philosopher and King.

In addition to offering a comprehensive, integral set of psychotechnologies, the archetypes also represent different ways of knowing. Modern science-based culture has reduced all knowledge to a single mode: the propositional mode. What we need therefore is to recover and cultivate the other three modes. And this is exactly what this model provides.

The Mystic-Shaman “holiness line” in the diagram represents participatory knowing. It is about embodying altered states of consciousness, about coming into intimate relationship with subtle spiritual and physical phenomena, about “losing your mind and coming to your senses” and “entering the dragon”.

The Warrior-Monk “virtue line” represents procedural knowing, which is about how to act, how to move, fight, dance, sing, worship, give thanks and praise. It is also about how to be virtuous, how to cultivate courage, diligence, temperance, prudence, patience, etc.

The Philosopher-King “wisdom line” represents perspectival knowing. This is all about seeing things differently, using different lenses and filters, taking different perspectives, developing cognitive flexibility and insight. As Vervaeke catchily puts it, it’s about “breaking frame and making frame”, which allows us to escape the pitfalls and dangers of narrow minded thinking, cognitive distortion, self-deception and “bullshit”.

Knowing thyself and knowing reality doesn’t just happen by itself, especially if you live in a culture awash with bullshit. We need to work on ourselves and help each other in supportive communities of self-transcendence and transformation if we want to realise our full potential as human beings. You are so much more than you have been led to believe by our deracinated secular Western culture. You just don’t know it yet.