Epistemological Chicken: Can we know what is real?

snapshot5599bcOver the past 6 months I have tried out hearing aids from 3 different manufacturers.  This is a great way to bring home the question of what is real, that is to say what does the world, the squeaky floor, my own voice “really” sound like?  And just this week I had the lens in my right eye replaced. The left eye is still seeing through a cataract. So each eye is now seeing a slightly different version of reality.  Which one is real?

In January our center is offering a five week class called “What is Real?”  It’s part of the Basic Goodness series of the Way of Shambhala courses. There are two other classes in the Basic Goodness series “Who am I” and “How Can I Help.” You can read more about these on the page for the class.

It’s an intriguing topic, “What is Real.”  Recently in a book I’ve been reading I came across the phrase “epistemological chicken.” It caught my attention and imagination. Both funny and strange! The phrase comes from the science that studies scientific knowledge.  Our scientific knowledge of what is real, what exists “out there,” depends on people and instruments, both of which have their limitations, and that has an effect on the “objective” results. So those who study scientific knowledge must to some extent dare to conclude that we can’t really know for sure just what’s out there. The chicken part is like in the game of chicken…how close do they dare come to concluding that we can’t know if the world is as we believe it to be, that we can’t objectively study the universe while standing in it?

For sure this is not a new question, and Buddhism has been studying it for a looong time. In the upcoming Way of Shambhala class we examine these very subjects, not just in theory, but how these questions apply to our lives. How do we know what is real?  How might we begin to ask this question in a way that is meaningful for our everyday lives?  In this course, we will present a number of views from the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, including interdependence, exploring the display of reality, the role of mind in perception, and the teachings on emptiness and sacredness.  There is an emphasis on the sacredness of the elemental, natural ecosystem.

You can register now online for this class if you are not chicken.