Fly on the Wall—Yeah, No, When You Know You’ll Know, You Know?

Fly on the Wall—Yeah, No, When You Know You’ll Know, You Know?

Ever know something and you don’t know how or why?  No textbook can replace that secure feeling of knowledge without method, certainty without reason.  Such forms of intuition aren’t teachable, yet they feel as true as any series of facts.  Intuitive reasoning basically is present or absent in any given moment.  Whether we listen to it is another matter, as many AU students (myself included) have found when enrolling in a course where our mind said “let’s go,” but our heart said “no.”

Yet, there’s some magic in that old silk hat of scholarly desires.  Becoming a successful student invokes a certain almost mystical connection between our aptitudes and our coursework; if we don’t feel the vocational call toward a certain academic discipline, we’d not enrol at all.  The truth of our visionary mindset as we embark on higher learning is perpetually called into question by the methods that social sciences and business management utilize.  Modernity demands facts liminal and conclusions tangible.  Hans-Georg Gadamer stated that modernism “condemns as heresy all knowledge that does not allow of this kind of certainty and that therefore cannot serve the growing domination of being” (471).  Domination?  Well, if you’ve ever been confronted (perhaps affronted) with the phrase pictures or it didn’t happen, or been forced to find facts to fit your discursive figuring, you know that to feel something in your gut is rarely enough.  Except, ironically, in the moments of life that matter most: affairs of the heart.

Academically, we have to put our scientific thinking caps on and quote sources that say things for us that we may feel we’d known all along.  Like Dorothy along her yellow brick road, many truths are with us all along, either through enculturation (indoctrination) or wizened life experience.  We can be wrong, however, and this is why university learning matters.  Whether intuition is generally true is somewhat of an open question; we are a species that clings tight to pat beliefs often in the face of mounting contrary evidence.  Take academic morals, for instance.  We all know that it’s wrong to cheat but math textbooks usually have the answers conveniently placed in the back of the book so we can, so to speak, learn backwards.  Intuitively this may at first feel wrong but as we comprehend subject matter better it may come to feel oh so right.

Athabasca is ripe for abuse as an academic process; searching the internet for information on an essay topic will yield websites that seem to imply that we could just pay to have someone (a computer?)  literally do our homework for us.  This could feel okay to some whose eyes cast glances restlessly to their life narrative horizon.  A brutal utilitarian view on education might see the end goal of a diploma as more important than the means by which it was achieved.  To this person, cheating might seem intuitively reasonable; a diploma is just a piece of paper leading to better career outcomes, right? And in business, as in life, nice gals/guys/theys finish last.  However enticing this intuition may be that cheaters do in fact prosper because it’s part of business (networking and corruption can be blurry archipelagos of connection-making) and interpersonal skills (the art of charm sometimes at the expense of honesty), we might want to consider early chemist and scientific polymath Pierre Bayle who “compared reason to a corrosive powder that first eats up errors, but then goes on to eat up truths” (260).

While some of us may feel like we can’t reason our way out of a paper bag where certain concepts (algebra, electronics) are concerned, Reason (capital R for a reason) itself is problematic in that there will always be arguments, good ones at that, for and against many a serious epistemic pickle.  Cheating is one such example; for instance, what if you are in a hurry to save someone from themselves and speed down the freeway to their psychological rescue?  A person I met not long ago received the maximum possible ticket while doing just that to prevent negative self-harm of another person.  Clearly cheating and rule-following are not mutually exclusive; what matters most are what rules we prioritize.

Francis Bacon, considered the father of modern scientific method, claimed that “whatever one’s mind ‘seizes and dwells upon with peculiar satisfaction is to be held in suspicion” (238).  Even when we think and feel that something is true our intuition ought to be interrogated to keep ourselves honest.  Unless, that is, we believe that dishonesty with oneself is part of our natural inborn character.  And would anybody naturally intuit that about themselves?  Intuition is an assessment of self that tends to find more roses than thorns.

In the sense that cheaters may prosper we might feel right in bending certain rules; yet, like taking windfall apples from a roadside orchard or throwing a bone to the neighbour’s poodle the rules are there because, without mutual respect to our fellow humans and their properties and priorities, we might come to live in a culture of mutual combat and distrust.  In many times and places throughout world history there has been little time for higher learning because existential threats, like bandits stealing our food for winter, took precedence.  Even today at AU, it’s an intuitive truth that what our studies need most are peace and space that our minds may better thrive.  So whatever we feel about our studies we must allow our minds to roam within the bounds of a reasonable assessment of our feelings; many a good intention has fallen to the wayside because day after day a student just didn’t feel much like putting pen to paper and eyes to texts.  To really know is to know that there are multiple versions of the feelings we feel in a given moment.

Bacon, F.  In Cranston, M.  (1967).  ‘Francis Bacon’.  The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Vol.  I.  New York: Macmillan Publishing & The Free Press.
Gadamer, H.G.  (2004).  Truth and Method.  London: Continuum.
Popkin, Richard H.  (1967).  ‘Pierre Bayle’.  The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Vol.  I.  New York: Macmillan Publishing & The Free Press.