Recognition Knowledge

Outside the Box Two Forms of Knowledge Information Fragments
Non-Newtonian Knowledge Recognition Knowledge Awareness



To know is neither to think nor believe, so to paraphrase the Old Testament, ‘you cannot understand and disagree.’  (P.D. Ouspensky.)  Connection between thought and knowledge is understanding.  Thoughts that can enable us to recognise something we know are true; they contain understanding.
The early Church taught this by saying that the fall of Adam, and the fallen state of modern man, describe a state of self-hypnosis in which we have little control over ourselves, or our lives.  This exactly describes the normal 'un-consciousness' of modern man, but we must recognise this situation before we can change it.

In this state of 'un-consciousness', our attention continually 'wanders'; at one time our active thoughts provoke and sustain certain feelings, at another, particular feelings provoke and justify thoughts against the context of events then occurring in our lives; both thoughts and feelings alternately interacting with or reacting to what we perceive.

The important question is, how can we change this situation? The first thing is to understand what is common to these two kinds of knowledge, religious and scientific, sos that both of these offer an answer we can trust, and both can be relied on in a therapeutic context, whether our motives are spiritual or simply practical.  Saint Paul’s insight, if it convinces us of spiritual realities, does so fair and square, not by manipulating thought but simply by giving us new ‘inner eyes.  Those eyes, outer and ssensory or inner and noetic, will see reality, scientific or Christian, in a 'true light' which is rarely seen in the west today.

The Gospel of Saint John says:

"We speak that we do know,

and testify that we have seen;

and ye receive not our witness."

(John 3 - 11)

One way to understand this idea of two kinds of knowledge is that ordinary intellectual knowledge is limited because it is blind to emotion.  It is also blind to certain kinds of purpose, and as such it cannot serve very well in the search for spirituality and inner growth.  For this reason, those who have such purposes need to build ‘A bridge of knowledge from head to heart’. 

This bridge requires a special kind of knowledge ... which has been called ‘objective knowledge’.  This ‘objective knowledge’ is of the heart, amongst its other special qualities, it is unitive, not divisive.

When speaking of points of view, we think we use this term purely in analogy, but knowledge has a non-spatial dimension - a 'higher dimension' in the sense that one truth needs to be glimpsed - to be perceived or truly understood - from many different points of view before we can be sure to ‘recognise it anywhere’.

Knowledge that has these many dimensions becomes a kind of certainty - a kind of certainty  that informs and motivates the heart..

The Greek word haeresis - from which we get the modern word ‘heresy’, is said sometimes to refer to the fragmentation that occurs when knowledge lacks this fullness.

The Greek word ‘nous’ refers to the aware heart of the psyche; the rarely perceived faculty which was known by the ‘early fathers’ or first saints of the early Church as ‘the eye of the psyche’.  This nous has two abilities: it has the ability to recognise what it knows, but only by distinguishing the recognised object, event, word, form etc., from everything else.  This ancient understanding of a form of knowledge other than the sensory and scientific might still be part of our modern thinking if the Christian tradition had remained unchanged.  Saint Gregory of Nyssa, one of the famous Cappadocian fathers, wrote about these two kinds of knowledge that: 

1.   What Saint Paul calls 'Human wisdom' is obtained by study and analysis of sensory experience, and described in words, diagrams, or formulae.  It deals with easily remembered sensory forms of objects and events.  This is based on recognition, but the psyche converts this to information, including words, images, and memories of actions.

2.   Recognition knowledge in its direct form, which linkls with Saint Paul's 'divine wisdom', applies to what is undivided and unchanging.  It deals with causes, and with the purpose of life. 

In fact, ‘recognition knowledge’, in the way I understand it, is little known in modern thought, although modern psychology is beginning to describe itAlso it is easily assumed to refer to our naturally enhanced ability to recognise faces and facial expressions, although it is much more than that.  It enables us to recognise just about anything - not only objects but recurring events, ideas, feelings and behaviour patterns whenever we meet them once again after the first time we experience them.  Recognition of certain things is possible even when we cannot describe them in sensory terms.  In this way, it links with the modern scientific term recognition memory

Steven Rose, a researcher in memory, author of the book ‘The Making of Memory’, and a professor at the Open University and at University College London, particularly distinguished between two forms of memory: One kind, which he called ‘recall memory’, is used in the unaided recall of lists.  He says of this that: “I used to pride myself on my good memory - I could usually manage to get seventeen or eighteen out of twenty of the objects right.  In fact, this is a fair average for most people.  But the number one can remember does not increase much above this level … like our memory for digit strings, there seems to be a natural limit to what can be recalled.”  (Steven Rose - The Making of Memory - From Molecules to Mind’.  Revised edition published 2003 Vintage, an imprint of Random House, London.  P133.)

For Steven Rose, the second kind of memory, recognition memory, was clearly distinguished from the first by researches carried out by Canadian psychologist Lionel Standing in 1973.  Again measuring recall of items from a list, in Standing’s research, each item listed in words was shown alongside a picture.  As the research proceeded, the lists grew longer and longer.  The numbers in the lists were extended, over a period of months, up to ten thousand for a single experiment - with no significant increase in the proportion of errors.  Standing’s conclusion was that “there is no upper bound to memory capacity”.  Rose is careful to note that this second conclusion applies to recognition memory: “the recognition memory of the subjects seemed unsaturable.”  In the ancient maxim of the communications profession, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Recent research, particularly that based on brain scanning, has discovered many kinds of memory, but two of these are of particular importance to Christian spirituality, as they directly reflect certain forgotten teachings of the early fathers of the Church during its first few centuries. 

The key distinction here is with that between ‘semantic or narrative memory’ - memory in the form of information or language -  and what is called ‘episodic memory’.  These identify two different kinds of memory, and they play an important part in the behaviour of attention, since the different kinds of knowledge influence attention in quite different ways.  As a direct result, they have led to the existence of two entirely different ways of understanding religion:


    1.              Episodic memory is our memories of experiences themselves, and of specific elements in experiences, on the one hand, and …


  • 2.         Narrative memory consists of the verbal memories we possess ‘about’ experiences, real, imagined, or intended, and what we think to be their meaning, whether understood or only imagined.

One form, the knowledge from God, is the basis of understanding, and makes possible true decisions and choices in life.  The other, intellectually derived information, is not exact in its meaning, and leads to wrong decisions or to a state of indecision.  This is quite precise; the two kinds of knowledge effect perception and action in two different ways.