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Four Ways of Knowing
August 26, 2021 WPAdministrator

Four Ways of Knowing

Posted in Holistic Wellness

In my holistic nutrition studies, we read an article written by Paul Bergner entitled “How to Become a Master Herbalist in 30 Years or More”.
In this article, he discusses the use of a Four Directions Model to learn and engage in our mastery of herbalism. The Four Directions Model includes North = Tradition, East = Science, South = Experience, and West = Instinct. Each of these directions or “ways of learning and knowing” are just as important. This philosophy could be applied to so many aspects of life, not just herbalism. We seem to be mired in a society that is unable to focus on more than one, which undermines the importance and relevance of the others either intentionally or unintentionally.
Traditions are those practices and knowledge that have been learned over hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. We have to remember that just because the world has changed, those traditions are not now wrong or irrelevant. And traditions adapt based on change or availability of resources… so we should maintain our awareness of traditions in our search for knowledge.
Science is a body of knowledge gained through a defined methodology. While some folks hold science out to be the one and only most credible source of information, I would say that science is not any more important than the other 3 ways of learning or knowing. I say this for multiple reasons. First, there are a lot of people quoting scientific studies when they have not chased down actual references and read the actual studies. Second, I have found, more than once, that a news headline claiming to inform on a scientific study finding has misrepresented the actual results of the study. Many news stories don’t even cite references. And last, let’s not forget that science is not untainted. Research experiments (both public and private) are often funded by organizations and corporations, which often have an agenda. Money can, and has, influenced scientific results.
Experience is a wonderful way of learning or knowing. Because this means that something actually happened to you, personally. So you know it to be true. We have to keep in mind, however, that experience is individual as are all humans. Someone else doing the same thing in the same situation may have a totally different experience.
Instinct is also an important way of learning or knowledge. Many of us have experienced instinct at one time or another. There are people who are deeply empathic and have finely honed instincts. They can know things in ways that seem mystical to the rest of us. But part of instinct is also common sense. If we analyze something using a combination of that gut feeling as well as our brains, we can usually determine if it seems right. So while knowing something based on instinct is harder to explain or prove, it is no less an important way of knowing.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all took a step back and started evaluating and accumulating our knowledge and learning using a combination of these Four Directions?!

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