Sunday, November 13, 2011

Knowing, Knowing...Known

What does it mean to know something?

Philosophers have distilled three basic types of knowledge:

1.Propositional knowledge: a knowledge of facts or statements about existence. For example, 'the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west'; 'David and Debbie are happily married'; 'Einstein formulated the theory of relativity'. An Intellectual knowledge.

2.Personal knowledge: a sense of connection, familiarity, sympathy, or intimacy with something or someone. For example, 'I know David well'; 'I know that park, I've been there many times'; ' I know what you mean'. An Emotional Knowledge.

3.Performative knowledge: one's knowledge of how to perform tasks or activities. For example, 'I know how to ride a bike'; 'I know how to speak french'; 'I know how to maintain an orderly home'. A Functional Knowledge.       
In Kabbalah, personal knowledge is strongly admired. In one episode from the rich chassidic repertoire of stories passed down through the generations, a devout Torah scholar left his family and travelled to a distant town to study mysticism from a chassidic master. On his return home after several months of absence, his father in law protested, 'What did you learn there that you couldn't have learned right here?' To which he replied, 'I discovered that God exists!' Annoyed, the father in law pointed at some trees and asked his simple maidservant, 'Who created these?' Without hesitation she answered, 'God of course!' Turning back to his son in law, he pressed, 'For that you travelled such a great distance?!' The scholar replied, 'What the maidservant says, I know!'

The scholar and the maidservant both possess knowledge of God. However, while the maidservant had propositional knowledge, the scholar attained personal knowledge. When the scholar said he 'knows' God exists, he meant that he senses this as a palpable reality; he can point his finger at the trees and genuinely proclaim, 'these are manifestations of God!'       

When God provided Adam with a partner, He said, 'It is not good for man to be alone; I shall make a helpmate for him'. Then, when describing Adam's sexual union with his partner, Eve, the verse states, 'And Adam knew Eve'. Why does the verse employ the term 'knew' rather than a more explicit expression? Additionally how does 'knowing' repair the 'not good' of being alone? These questions are indeed difficult to answer if we understand 'knowing' as propositional knowing. For indeed, if Adam simply knew many facts about Eve, how does that indicate marital union? In truth, however, in 'knowing' Eve, Adam attained personal knowledge of her; he become psychologically entwined with her, and felt her to be a part of his own being; caring for her as he naturally cared for himself. Their sexual union was a physical expression of their deeper sense of oneness.
Skateboarding incorporates all three types of knowledge, the most obvious being performative knowledge. Skaters watch trick tips or develop their own understanding of how to perform tricks. Indeed one often hears skaters explaining the sequence of steps necessary to execute a manoeuvre. Of course skaters also have propositional knowledge about their art. From knowledge of what an Ollie is, to which skater originated the Ollie (In 1976 Allen Gelfand - whose nickname was 'Ollie' - was the first to perform it in a pool, and in 1982 Rodney Mullen was the first to perform it on flat ground), to the record holder of the highest ever 'Ollie' (Aldrin Garcia - 45'' - in February of 2011). Most importantly, however, skaters can develop personal knowledge of skating, where through much experience skateboarding, the skater feels that his skateboard is part of his own being, and performs tricks naturally and automatically as though the board was an extension of his self, under the direct control of his will as are his arms and legs.                      

Personal knowledge is 'good' for a skater in at least two ways:

Firstly, it brings a skater to feel that his skateboard is his 'friend'. When he picks up his board, he senses how much depth, joy, challenge, adventure, and potential lies beneath its plain wooden veneer. Additionally, it is through personal knowledge that one becomes a good skater, exhibiting such incredible control that it becomes difficult to discern where the skater ends and the skateboard begins. It also seems that skating is an intrinsic part of his being. Thus on several occasions, when watching pro skaters sharing trick tips, I was shocked to hear them describe how they learnt the trick and the difficulties they had in doing so. Because of how ingrained skating is in their being, it seems as though they were always capable of skating as well as they do.

Personal knowledge in skating is thus 'good' for a skater's psychological well being, and 'good' in terms of how impressive his skating appears to onlookers.        

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