Today’s Kwanzaa principle is Imani, which translates as Faith.
My meditation for today is about how do we know what we know, and what do we believe in.
On Facebook today I saw an image that tells us a fact. What is it trying to tell you? Is it true? How do you know? What do you base your answer and beliefs on?
Is all as it first seems?
I have to say outright, when I first saw this image I had an immediate emotional reaction or derision and dismissal, and even started to swear at the computer screen for the blatant lies I was seeing. The reason why we have an immediate response to images like this is because it obviously goes against what we know (and hold) to be true, even without knowing the mathematics involved. Based on everything we know – from what we’ve learned, and from what we experience in the ‘real world’, of course it’s blatantly obvious that the sun is far far far further away from the earth than 7 American football fields. We don’t even need to do the maths to know, based on scientific fact and ‘common sense’, that the statement and the image is (of course) nonsense, when judged from the perspective of external reality.
The reason why we are so quick to make this judgement is based on the fact that when we see such an image and words, we attach to it a faith that we attach meaning to, that we can then accept dismiss (or accept) based on our other faith values. When I say faith, I do not mean a faith in scientific knowledge, (I’m not arguing with the mathematics!), I mean a faith in what signs and symbols mean, and the effect of signs and symbols have on what we believe. The signs and symbols in this case are the words, and the pictures that represent things we understand, and attach meaning to.
1 – We see the words, and immediately have faith that we understand, not only what the words mean, but also in what they are communicating to us. (We also have a reaction to the words ‘Insane Fact’, and what meanings we attach to such blatant advertising.)
2 – We see the pictures, and immediately have faith that it’s illustrating the words, trying to reinforce its statement with a visual representation of our external world.
Those two points are what our faith in our judgement is based on. However we also need to take into account how our lifelong beliefs can make us slightly comfortable in them, and bring with it certain assumptions.
1 – We assume that the words are pointing to the external (scientific) world, and not only to the picture itself.
2 – We assume that the picture is attempting to illustrate the external (scientific) world, and not just be a representation in and of its own reality.
The cold FACT is – in this picture (and in this picture alone), the sun IS approximately 7 football fields from the earth, and that’s what, (that’s all), the words were describing. No mention or attempt to describe the external world at all. The sun, earth and football fields are all in the picture, the picture is isolated from any other reality. The picture contains its own reality, and we were (possibly) manipulated to think/assume it was telling us something more significant. This is because it seemed to immediately try and challenge a belief about the universe we hold dear and, even without knowing the maths, know without doubt to be true. (Or maybe better to say, we know without doubt that the statement given here was false).
Our long held faiths in signs and symbols, and the meanings we attach to them, can unwittingly blind us to other realities, perspectives, and our ability to read a situation.
This is what the artist Rene Magritte was interested in with his painting ‘The Treachery of Images’ (below), which has on the caption, ‘This is not a pipe’, underneath the image of a pipe. He was saying it’s only an image, not the pipe itself. Don’t get symbols confused with reality.
It depends on how and at what angle we enter the conversation, and also knowing whether the person we are communicating with is at that same angle, or have a different entry point. Such misunderstandings, based on different viewpoints of faith, are all over global history, sadly up to the present minute. Our faith is something we can have comfort in and help us navigate the world, but always question others and ourselves, as our own faiths and beliefs can also trick us, and blindside us to other ways of assessing a situation.
Faith is powerful, even more so as we don’t always realise we have it, and how it effects us.