Curating Content To Support Learning About Humanity's Transition

This content was posted on  13 Mar 20  by   Alexander Beiner  on  Medium
Lost Ways of Knowing

Chapter 1: Embodied Cognition, Living Systems and the Culture Wars

We are lost in the woods. It is 2020, and the mist grows thick and full of desperate voices. As we wander blindly, we hear growls that might mean the end of us. The decade began with images of hell fire; the burning bush in Australia flickering to the charred husk of Soleimani’s car. We are running out of time, and so we run. The voices cry out paths to freedom, but we don’t know which ones to trust or which way to turn.

We have been lost for some time now. Many of the guests we’ve had on Rebel Wisdom see this lostness as inextricably linked to our inability to find a meaningful narrative with which to make sense of reality. John Vervaeke has called this ‘the meaning crisis’ — a loss of connection to our own psychological roots and historical trajectory that has stripped our sense of meaning from the world. For many, it is this disconnection that lies at the heart of our fragmented politics and our broken relationship to the environment.

A significant effect of the meaning crisis is our increasing polarisation into ideological tribes. The old simplicities of left vs right are gone. Instead, culture is now a battleground for what Peter Limberg has called the ‘Memetic Tribes’. Warring factions, each with a competing value system, morality or religious certainty to shout into the din.

I’ve become particularly fascinated with the tribes dedicated to responding to the existential risks we face. There is surely no more pressing task ahead of us as a species, but the more I’ve looked into them, including Extinction Rebellion, Transhumanists, QAnon, Deep Adaptation and Game B, the more confused and frustrated I’ve become by their narratives.

At some point, I stopped being interested in what stories were being shouted out into the mist, and became fascinated by how we are constructing our stories to begin with. There is much disagreement between memetic tribes, but one thing they share is a penchant for constructing maps of reality, and convincing others that these maps show the world how it truly is. Often these maps become realities in themselves, and trap us in rigid, narrow ways of perceiving that keep us lost. But if this way of seeing is no longer fit for purpose, what can we do?

We can reconnect to lost ways of knowing. And to do that, we have to do the thing that seems mad. We have to close our eyes. To listen to the sounds around us. To shiver as the mist touches our skin and we feel within it the hint of a clearing ahead. We can make ourselves achingly vulnerable to uncertainty. We can let go, for a moment, of everything we think we know and everything that has made us feel safe.

What’s Ahead

This is not a series about what we need to do to get out of the woods. It’s a series asking how do we need to start perceiving in order to see the woods for what they are? In what new ways can we take in, interpret, and act on information in an age where information itself has been weaponised? Above all, what kind of people do we need to become to meet the challenges faced by our species?

When I set out writing, I thought I had a good idea of what different ways of knowing were available to us. Then I began speaking to scientists, artists and facilitators around the world and realised that I really didn’t. What emerged in the process was a treasure trove of wisdom, one that I believe we need to open if we’re going to start seeing things in a way that allows us to meaningfully approach a conversation about our future. We’ll draw on research into embodied cognition, flow, neuroscience and psychology. We’ll examine the cutting edge of psychedelic research, the tribes of the culture wars, and delve beneath these to look into the roots of Western mind. In particular, how our penchant for utopian and dystopian myths has brought us to this point.

This first chapter is about understanding how our cognition influences the way we see the woods. Drawing on the work of cognitive scientist John Vervaeke, systems theorists Nora Bateson and Bonnitta Roy, and psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, we’ll explore how we perceive and which different ways of knowing we have access to.

In the second chapter, we’ll venture to the centre of the forest. We’ll look at how different practitioners, from jazz theorist Greg Thomas to facilitator Mari Kennedy, are using these different ways of knowing to access different types of information. We’ll talk to psychedelic researchers and meditation masters, and examine how to recover lost wisdom and stitch it into the fabric of our lives.

In the third and final chapter, we’ll find the centre of the woods and confront the two beasts that guard it. We’ll explore the warring Memetic Tribes trying to change the world right now, and place them in their historical and psychospiritual context. We’ll dig for the philosophical roots of Western culture, look at different theories on why we’re lost. Finally, we’ll find a hidden, crucial way of knowing that might bring us home.

Our Favourite Way of Knowing

The woods are never quiet, but thronging with warring voices. The loudest are those who try to light the way by clinging to the dim and fickle light of ideology. As Daniel Schmachtenberger has pointed out in our War on Sensemaking series, it’s become extremely difficult to know what information to trust. We are living in a polluted information ecology, and until we can learn how to make sense of the world again, we have little chance of finding our way forward. As Venkatesh Rao recently pointed out in ‘The Internet of Beefs’, the internet has turned into a war zone of manipulation and rage, in which a small number of people profit by galvanising their followers into arguments with rival tribes.

It is no surprise that these tribal wars that ravage our online world are increasingly spilling out into our living rooms and elections. Many of us spend on average of six hours a day online, our hearts and minds forever torn between these relentless battles for narrative supremacy. The memetic tribes have different values, different utopias and dystopias. However, one thing that they share is that very often they are obsessed with a particular way of knowing: knowing that. John Vervaeke refers to this as ‘propositional knowing’. They know what’s really going on. They know what, or who, the problem is. They know what must be done. From QAnon to Fox News to Extinction Rebellion and Deep Adaptation, these tribes often rely heavily on closed models of reality and claims to truth.

We’re comfortable with this way of knowing in part because it’s the knowing of science and history. The knowledge of the map maker; what is where? What is the nature of the territory we’re in? What’s past that next tree? Maps are essential, and we need them to make sense of the world. But they can also lead us astray.

Maps to Nowhere

As linguist Alred Korzbski famously said, ‘The map is not the territory’. There is nothing wrong with making maps, but there is something deeply misguided about our over-reliance on them. A map coupled with righteous certainty becomes an ‘ism’ and can be particularly dangerous, as the 20th century showed us over and over again.

Maps are both essential and poisonous. And of course we draw them; our eyes see the patterns in the gloom that might well be a way forward, but the woods are constantly shifting. Too often, the maps we make do not match what we find past the next tree. We make maps in part because we’re evolved to do so, and in part because it’s served us well in the past; science relies on this kind of procedural map making.

I believe we also make maps because we are desperately, primally afraid of being lost. The tighter we cling to them the more we confuse them for something real. And when we do that, they stop showing us where to go and start leading us in ever-decreasing circles. If we can hold them lightly, however, they can open our perspective and contextualise what we’re seeing.

Our Biased Brains

To build the first part of a map of knowing, we need to go back right back to the machinery that mediates our perception; the two hemispheres of our brains. The history of research into our two hemispheres is chequered. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, pop science books and management trainings around the world told people that the left hemisphere is logical and rational, and right hemisphere creative and emotional.

This was a gross oversimplification, and its popularisation led to the whole field losing some credibility. In his best-selling book ‘The Master and his Emissary’, psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist revived this area of research and its importance in understanding ourselves and the world. We’ve featured McGilchrist on the channel a number of times and I’ve found his theory to be a useful lens.

McGilchrist argues that we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater in not taking seriously the fundamental role our bicameral brain plays in our lives. Understanding the different ways in which the left and right hemispheres of our brains perceive reality gives us an essential insight into not just into ourselves, but into our history and the development of the culture we’re immersed in. McGilchrist argues that civilisation thrives when these two hemispheres are in balance. When the left hemisphere’s perspective begins to dominate, and we rely too much on rational, reductive knowing, civilisation starts to fray.

The Left Hemisphere

In very broad terms, the left hemisphere is focused on what we already know. It has narrow, focused attention to detail. It perceives bodies as an assemblage of individual parts. It is a master of abstraction, constantly breaking things (and people) into their component parts.

It has clarity and the power to manipulate things that are already known, explicit, and general. However, it is also a closed system, and finds it hard to conceive of this things it doesn’t know. Despite this, is certain that it definitely does know. It is important to point out that both hemispheres are involved in both reason and emotion, so the old model of the left hemisphere as the coldly rational side is inaccurate. It does, however, have a kind of coldness to its perception. McGilchrist describes the left hemisphere’s gestalt as ‘perfection bought at the price of emptiness’.

McGilchrist argues that the left-hemisphere has come to dominate our way of perceiving. It lies behind the materialist paradigm that influences so many of our ways of thinking. It lies behind the cold, machine-like certainty in our own maps. If we walk through the woods selecting for and relying on the kind of knowing that our left hemisphere gives us, we will likely venture further and further into darkness, all the while firm in our certainty that we’re on our way out.

The Right Hemisphere

The right hemisphere, McGilchrist points out, is more responsible for interpreting what we don’t know. Its focus is sustained, broad, open, vigilant and alert. It sees things in context, understands implicit meaning. It thrives with metaphor, and understands body language. In a particularly cogent example, McGilchrist draws on case studies of artists who have had a stroke in the left hemisphere (in which case the right hemisphere becomes more dominant). Very often their art becomes more creative, more unusual, bolder. It’s striking how different reality seems when the left hemisphere dominates. McGilchrist draws on a case study of a man who had a stroke in his right hemisphere (resulting in the left hemisphere picking up the cognitive slack). When the doctor came in and asked, ‘how are you feeling?’ he responded without any irony, ‘with my hands’. The left hemisphere doesn’t get metaphor.

The right hemisphere lives in an embodied world; a world full of individuals, not just categories. Its universe is never fully graspable, never perfectly known. It has a broad, contextual understanding, and sees people as people rather than assembled parts.

Left vs Right

McGilchrist has argued that we’ve been drifting “further to the left hemisphere’s point of view” — hyper-rational, reductionist and certain. Nowhere is this more evident than in a raging Twitter feud between two or more memetic tribes.

McGilchrist points out that anger and aggression are heavily lateralised to the left hemisphere. Contrary to 1980’s pop science, the left hemisphere does get emotional. However it does so in a kind of constructed fantasy world. It is, despite its certainty, not particularly reliable and tends to jump to conclusions. Research shows that the right hemisphere is actually more sophisticated at judgement.

As McGilchrist often says, the answer is not to swing the pendulum the other way and call for a right-hemisphere dominated society. It is to find a balance and harmony between the two perspectives we carry around. Taoism provides a useful model: opposites don’t need to exist in opposition, they imply one another. The split in our brains is ancient and not easy to overcome, so this requires awareness and practice, something we’ll explore more in Chapter II. Before we do, we have to look at another split in our perception. It is one so deep it is embedded in the grammar of our language as well as our thought.

The Bodymind

When you say, ‘my hand’, what do you mean? Who is the you who owns the hand? If you lost it, would it feel the same as losing your car keys, or would it feel like a part of you was forever gone?

Mind-body dualism, which sees mental phenomena as distinct and separable from physical phenomena, still exerts a deep and powerful influence on our perception. Its roots go back to Aristotle and even further into the past, but are often associated with Descartes. The effects of this conception of the world have been profound and filled philosophy books for centuries. It may be one of the reasons we insist of gripping our mental maps so tightly they blind us; the very grammar of our thought tells us that the world consists of mental maps divorced from the territory ahead of us.

The split we feel between our minds and our bodies adds to difficulty of harnessing different ways of knowing to see more clearly, and then act on our understanding. However, there is a branch of science chipping away at this misconception.

Embodied cognition

The field of embodied cognition has been steadily unpicking the flaws of mind body dualism over the last few decades. It is a field of research based on the premise that to fully understand how the brain works, and how cognition works, you have to see the brain as embodied — inextricably linked and informed by the body it is in, and the sensations it receives.

We are not, and never have been, reasoning intelligences controlling a machine we call a body. We are deeply, profoundly embodied creatures. In clinging to mental maps we are also grasping at our concept of reason. However, our understanding of reason itself is often deluded as well. Neuroscientist Antonio Demasio and others have built a compelling case that we aren’t rational actors, but that our brains make emotional decisions first and then construct rational frameworks to justify them. Despite this, the idea persists that reason is divorced from the messiness of our bodies, emotions and souls. As cognitive science advances and the evidence mounts, mind body dualism seems increasingly unconvincing. Cognitive scientists George Lakoff and Rafeal Núñez explain:

“Cognitive science calls this entire [Cartesian] philosophical worldview into serious question on empirical grounds… [the mind] arises from the nature of our brains, bodies, and bodily experiences. This is not just the innocuous and obvious claim that we need a body to reason; rather, it is the striking claim that the very structure of reason itself comes from the details of our embodiment.”

The 4 Ways of Knowing

John Vervaeke has become one of the most well-known voices in cognitive science outside academia. In his YouTube lecture series Awakening from the Meaning Crisis, he takes a historical, philosophical, and cognitive science perspective on human evolution from the upper Palaeolithic to now.

He lays out the ways in which a complex interaction of cultural, historical and cognitive influences have led to the meaning crisis — one we’re feeling in almost every aspect of life, from mental health to our cultural narcissism and the collapse of the old political order. I spoke to Vervaeke to understand a cognitive science approach to our history and perception can help us understand the different ways in which we know. He laid out four distinct ways of knowing.

The first is ‘Propositional knowing’, or ‘knowing that’. Gold is a mineral, the sky is blue. Vervaeke argues that while it’s an essential part of our cognition, it has also come to dominate our thinking. The result is that we have lost contact with other ways of knowing that our ancestors, and other cultures, have used to tap into deeper wisdom. There are echoes here of McGilchrist’s analysis of the left hemisphere. And in the same way that the left brain can narrow our focus so much we can’t see the wood for the trees, Vervaeke argues that propositional knowing can ‘freeze frame’ our perspective.

The next of the four is procedural knowing. It is knowing ‘how to’ do something: how to ride a bike, how to catch a ball. To develop our propositional knowing, we keep honing our logic so that we can make accurate truth statements, but we don’t do this with our procedural knowing. We train it. The sense of ‘realness’ we reach through procedural knowing isn’t the conviction of truth we might feel from a fact we’re certain of. It’s the sense that your interaction with the world is making a difference, that you’re altering the course of events.

The next ways of knowing are closer to what we feel when we close our eyes in the woods. When we take a risk and stop trying to run, but instead listen to what’s around us. The voices, the growls, the creak of wood and leaf.

When we do this, we’re tapping into our perspectival knowing. It is your situation awareness, your sense of being ‘here and now’. This way of knowing knowing is relative to the state of mind you’re in. It doesn’t feel the same to be lost in the woods when you’re drunk or tired or in love. Your cognition in this state is geared toward what is relevant, or salient, in your world right now. Vervaeke points out that this perspectival knowing happens when your relevance realisation machinery is coming into our online working memory. The result is a ‘dynamic pattern of salience’ — a whole map of perception mediated by what you’re paying attention to.

As we listen deeply, we might notice something else. The world can hear us, too. Owls watch us from the trees. Beast smell us as they prowl the mist. We are embedded within these woods. Coming deeply into this awareness brings us into a participatory knowing. It is the hardest to define, because it straddles our subjective experience and objective reality — leading to an experiential back and forth that Vervaeke calls the transjective. When we are engaged in participatory knowing, we make identities for the world that are ‘co-relevant’ to us. To the shaman, the owl may not be an owl, but a living embodiment of a spirit that has something to teach her. This way of knowing is related to our full sense of being connected and in a dialogue with reality. It is the fundamental attunement between you and the world, and it is this very attunement that makes your perspectival knowing possible, which in turn makes your procedural knowing possible, which in turn informs your propositional knowing.

Our most meaningful ways of knowing do not spring from ‘knowing that’. Rather, the propositional knowing we use to build our maps springs from the embodied experience of being an active agent in the world, from a deep sense of attunement with our environment. Vervaeke points out that it’s by its absence that realise we need this way of knowing; often it is when we lose our freedom, or when our agency in the world is disrupted that we feel a sense of being disconnected. “Often we don’t notice it until we’re lonely,” Vervaeke says, “or far from home.” Or, perhaps, lost in the woods.

Flowing through the world

Vervaeke argues we’ve become existentially ‘unhomed from the world’ as we’ve lost touch with the last three ways of knowing, while fetishizing and over-prioritising propositional knowing. So how do we ‘rehome’ ourselves? During our conversation, it struck me that some of the other people I’d interviewed for this piece had talked about states in which all these different ways of knowing seem to happen at once. And when that happens, it feels like we see the world completely anew. This is known as a flow state, something Vervaeke has researched and explained in his series.

The state of ‘flow’ was first described by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It’s a state of profound presence and aliveness in which time seems to stop and we’re flowing with whatever we’re doing, and whoever we’re sharing it with. To get into a flow state we need a tight coupling between the world and our response. Error has to matter, and whatever it is we’re engaged in, whether rock climbing or playing a video game, we have to be just at the edge of our skill level.

When the conditions are right, our narrative egos drop away; we’re simply here, completely in the zone. Vervaeke points out that many report this experience as one of effortless grace. As author and flow expert Jamie Wheal has pointed out, flow is the secret ingredient in high-performing teams around the world. When we’re in this state together, we become a part of a larger whole, still active agents but in a deep, flowing dance with our teammates.

We long for the connection we feel in flow. We seek it out, over and over. When we’re seeking meaning, Vervaeke theorises, we aren’t just seeking belief sets. We’re looking for this sense of deep participation, a sense of oneness with the world that taps into every one of our ways of knowing. And humans don’t just seek this state out in solitude. As Jamie Wheal argues, we look to enter flow states together, because they are deeply meaningful, taking us out of the ordinary and allowing us to access different ways of knowing.

Finding healthy ways to do this — coming into what Wheal refers to as communitas with each other — is essential, because we will not get out of these woods alone. In our film Making Sense of Sensemaking, Jordan Hall, Daniel Schmachtenberger and Jamie Wheal talk about the importance of coming together in small, coherent groups make sense of the world. In order to do this, we need to have developed our own autonomy, self awareness and openeness, what Jordan Hall calls sovereignty. If we can manage this, new insights emerge between us that we never could have come up with alone.

Many of us have been calling out in the woods to find the others. Who else feels what I feel? Who else sees what I see? There is nothing more human, and nothing more important. But when we do find the others, it’s not a simple as simply coming together and dropping into a state of deep, flowing coherence. We’re also human beings, with hang-ups, fears, doubts, status needs and high levels of individual differences. Most communities who have tried to do this have failed dismally, and the ‘Saviour Tribes’ I described earlier are no different. If we’re going to make these ways of knowing work for us, we have to come together with humility.

Individual Differences

With our eyes are shut, we can feel vibrations through the soles of our feet. It is the sound of others gathering around us; coming to work together to decide on what direction to walk in. When we gather together to make sense and create connection, what tools have we got at our disposal to overcome the splits in our perception, our scared egos, and our fear of the growls in the mist?

To get a better understanding of this, I spoke to Bonnitta Roy. A systems theorist and facilitator, Roy holds workshops on Collective Insight Practice — a way of coming together and reaching a space of group coherence that allows novelty to emerge. One of the best metaphors for this is that of a jazz ensemble, which we’ll explore more through Greg Thomas’ work in Chapter II. We need to get better at this if we want to create new tribes that work together and don’t tear themselves apart from the inside. It’s no easy task, and involves practicing self-awareness to overcome the competitive aspects of our biology and social conditioning.

When we spoke, Roy described a fault line that often arises in groups, where two distinct social typologies show up: abstract and embodied. The embodied people express themselves through stories, images, sensations and metaphors. The abstract people use mental models and concepts to describe their experiences.

The embodied, story-telling types often believe that the abstract thinkers don’t have emotional content behind their communication. The abstract thinkers often think the story-telling types are hazy and not clear in their thinking. Roy sees both of these responses as a misreading of the other side. She suggests that one way to get past this is to engage with the flip side of your cognitive bias. The embodied types can do their ‘due diligence’ and read up on some theory, practicing how to build their own mental models. Likewise, the abstract thinkers can practice movement, improv or some other form of embodied practice.

Our cognitive biases can work both ways, and while propositional and left-hemisphere ways of perceiving might be dominant in much of our culture, the answer is not to swing from one to another, but to bring both together. If we can manage to do this, we might get to a point where we can trust a small group of others enough to close our eyes and feel together. And in our listening we might start to hear. To feel, to taste for the first time what any one of us individually could not; the nature of the system we’re in, and our roles within it. We might start to ask the question, ‘What kinds of woods are these?’

The Nature of the Woods

Nora Bateson is a filmmaker, philosopher and systems theorist. Through the Bateson Institute, she conducts research into complex systems, expanding the work of her father Gregory Bateson, one of the 20th century’s most influential philosophers in systems theory and cybernetics.

She began our conversation by telling a story. A few years ago, she was sitting in a high-level, exclusive gathering of systems theorists on a private island. The topic of inquiry was what to do about the double bind of capitalism; it will inevitably lead to calamity, but its collapse will also lead to calamity. Everyone in attendance was in agreement that the system needed to change. Amidst the earnest discussion of models and projections, the light glinting off the lake outside started giving Bateson a migraine.

As thinker after thinker stood up and presented their map of complexity, Nora started to feel frustrated. Her migraine got worse. Eventually she’d had enough and told the group that their models were actually hindering their ability to make sense. When asked why, without thinking she said, ‘because the systems are learning’.

This touches on research Bateson Institute conducted around the question ‘how do systems get unstuck?’ The research suggested that they don’t come unstuck at all: they learn. Bateson argues that we can’t understand complex systems using an engineering model in which phenomena can be pulled apart and studied, then fixed to make the system work again. Systems are living, learning, breathing things. The forest is never still, even if our maps make it appear so.

While a reductionist, left-brain way of knowing is effective for dead systems, like a computer switchboard, living systems — such as the one you are currently a part of as you read this — are best understood by looking at the relational context of their parts. For Bateson, this applies to the interactions you have with your own family, the ecology of a field near your house, or an entire society. The Bateson Institute have coined a phrase to describe this model: Symmathesi. It combines prefix Syn/ Sym (together) + Mathesi, (to learn) to signify ‘learning together’.

Warm Data

Symmathesi also changes the way we look at information. Rather than something static, each piece of data exists multiple contexts at once, and changes based on the other pieces of data it‘s interacting with and by which it in turn is influenced. As Gregory Bateson famously said, ‘“The evolution is in the context”.

Nora Bateson suggests that, because inter-relationality is an inherent part of all information, we should treat data as warm rather than cold. Warm, because it is connected to other contexts than the one we are looking at it in any given moment. The tree ahead of us is a tree, but it is also a part of a root system, and has a relationship to all the other trees in the woods. It is in symbiosis with the fungi network beneath our feet, and with us as we respire.

We can’t remove ourselves from the equation and pretend to be objective observers of the systems we’re in. Nor can we understand them propositionally. I was struck that Bateson, McGilchrist and Vervaeke have all talked about aesthetics in their work. The way we perceive beauty and quality is a conundrum to reductive, propositional thinking — and the subject of the brilliant ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance’. There is a mysterious, intuitive aspect to aesthetics that gives us access to a very different way of knowing. It is one that the right hemisphere feels at home in, where we are intuitively aware of the inter-relational nature of what we’re looking at, and able to feel the complex relations without being able to reduce them to words.

Our Messy World

The frustration Bateson felt in that meeting is one I share. We have had a number of brilliant thinkers on Rebel Wisdom talking about complex systems, most notably Jordan Hall and Daniel Schmachtenberger. While I appreciate the lucidity and brilliance of their insight, I believe their language and aesthetics can re-enforce the very same perceptual and social pitfalls they are mapping a way beyond. Schmachtenberger, for example, talks about the same inter-relationality as Bateson, but he does so using the language and aesthetic sensibility of an engineer, using terminology like ‘rivalrous dynamics’ or ‘generator functions’.

I believe the language we use to describe the systems we’re in matter more than we often give credit to. It is how we see and talk that is leading us astray, not what we’re seeing and talking about. The danger of using engineering language is that it creates a feedback loop to an already-biased cognitive gestalt, one that is left-hemisphere and propositionally dominant. If we talk about the world as if it’s a machine, we might start to see it as a machine.

Related to this is the increasing popularity of using game theory to explain human behaviour. While it’s a useful model, alone it can’t explain the complex dynamics we see around us. This is in part because it’s reductionist, and in part because it relies on rational actors behaving in self-interested ways. We are far more messy and wonderful than that. If we’re going to talk about game theory, we should balance it by talking about the pedestrian who sacrifices herself to save a drowning stranger, or the way religious rapture can transform societies in a few generations, or the way a stray fart can turn a heated argument into a moment of mutual laughter and understanding. Our maps are important, but we are not lost in a switchboard or a model train set. We are lost in a living, breathing, changing forest ripe with hope, danger, death and rapture.

The Next Chapter

One thing that has stuck with me learning about these different ways of knowing is they all seem to point to a dynamic of control. We can seek to control the world by reducing it to component parts we feel safe with, relying on our propositional knowledge and outdated assumptions about the nature of rationality. Or, we can let go of control and draw on the liminal perception of the right hemisphere, embracing a participatory knowing the extends beyond ourselves and into the world. I feel this tension keenly in myself, and it raises more questions than it answers.

What does it mean to walk the shifting forest? To truly participate in a living, learning world? It means getting my hands filthy and caked in my own lifeblood. It means having the courage to walk with my chest ripped open and my beating heart exposed to the world, vulnerable and alive. It means letting go of holding on and accepting that I might never find my way out of these woods and that I will still do everything I can to be free.

When we bring these two polarities together, we move beyond ways of knowing and toward something else: wisdom. In my conversation with Vervaeke, he pointed out that this isn’t the same as knowledge. Wisdom is our capacity for understanding, and understanding is our ability to grasp the significance and to realise the relevance of what we know. Knowledge is important, but without the wisdom to use it in the right way, it is lifeless.

In the next chapter, we will look at the people cultivating wisdom in different ways. We will explore how embodied, participatory ways of knowing can be used to help us work together and make sense together. In the process, we will venture to the centre of the woods; a place we can travel to together but have to face alone.

You can watch the film introduction to this series on our YouTube channel here:

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