PARABLE – the two French Philosophers – Knowing and Realizing


Knowing and Realizing


Most mornings, the two French philosophers would walk together to the Sorbonne. On this occasion, one of them bumped into a telephone pole and bloodied his nose. His companion laughed,

“We’ve walked this way often. Surely you knew the telephone pole was there!”

His friend replied, “Of course! I always knew it was there but I never realized it before!”



Descartes’ famous, Cogito ergo sum—“I think, therefore I am” * is often contrasted with Sentio ergo sum—I feel, therefore I am.  Read a recent handling of this contrast, outlined in a review of Antonio Damasio’s book, Descartes Error:  

In the middle of the 17th century, Spinoza took on Descartes and lost.

According to Descartes’ famous dualist theory, human beings were composed of physical bodies and immaterial minds. Spinoza disagreed. In ”The Ethics,” his masterwork, published after his death in 1677, he argued that body and mind are not two separate entities but one continuous substance.

As for Descartes’ view of the mind as a reasoning machine, Spinoza thought that was dead wrong. Reason, he insisted, is shot through with emotion. More radical still, he claimed that thoughts and feelings are not primarily reactions to external events but first and foremost about the body. In fact, he suggested, the mind exists purely for the body’s sake, to ensure its survival.

For his beliefs, Spinoza was vilified and — for extended periods — ignored. Descartes, on the other hand, was immortalized as a visionary. His rationalist doctrine shaped the course of modern philosophy and became part of the cultural bedrock.”



Is there a boundary or threshold between “knowing” and “realizing”  (is knowing all a machine (or zombie) is capable of?)  A Thing is known easily when the filters between it and the knowing of it are “inexperienced” (as in childhood) or when an immense need is energized (as in one’s spiritual quest) (Zen saying) [broken link]  


KNOWING [broken link]  


Artists often seem to be working from some indeterminate vision toward a specific satisfying representation of it: their work of art is realized.   The indeterminancy has crossed a threshold !  


Knowledge” of a phenomenon is sterile without a sense of its “meaning” which can be derived only in the mind of the student, and in a slightly different way in every individual.  Students move beyond “knowing” to “realizing” what the subject means.



“knowing” and “realizing” is at the heart of “Transformational Learning” (Sohn, Grenberg et al., 2016)** … an experience that professors try to evoke in their students to take them beyond mere assimilation of more data and construct new lenses through which all subsequent experience can be viewed.  The best pedagogy is aimed at creating a “Teachable Moment” (Greenberg et al 2016)  


 Are there layers of insight?  watch this excerpt from Robin Williams film,  “Good Will Hunting”

* Descartes “… originally published it in French as je pensedonc je suis in his 1637 Discourse on the Method, so as to reach a wider audience than Latin would have allowed.[1] It later appeared in Latin in his Principles of Philosophy, and a similar phrase also featured prominently in his Meditations on First Philosophy. The dictum is also sometimes referred to as the cogito.[2] As Descartes explained in a margin note, “we cannot doubt of our existence while we doubt.” (Wikipedia

** Brian K. Sohn, Kristina Plaas, Karen Franklin, Tiffany Dellard, Brenda Murphy, Katherine H. Greenberg, Neil B. Greenberg, Howard R. Pollio, and Sandra P. Thomas (2016) Freedom to Connect: Insight Into the Existential Dimension of Transformative Learning in a Graduate Seminar. Journal of Transformative Education.  Vol. 14(3) 178-199.  DOI: 10.1177/1541344616631425