What does it mean to experience? Is it solely drawn to our five senses as humans? Is one able to feel something without actually physically feeling it? Does this experience lead us to truth? I like to think that I experience life for myself but it is so difficult to do so in this day and age. It’s just way too easy to turn on the TV, or go onto a website and take what they say as truth; one snippet representing a whole. I wasn’t there so how should I know? In terms of education, philosophy, my moral compass, and my value system, it’s the same situation. Many times we are born into our values and it is extremely hard to unlearn what has been developed and affirmed for years. Am I even capable of experiencing something for myself or am I experiencing it through the lense that I have been conditioned into for years? Emerson not only encourages readers to experience life for their selves, but he also believes that we should wander away from even the worlds greatest philosophers and writers and only take something as truth after we have experienced it for our selves. Reading a bit more of Emerson has lead me to question the foundation I currently stand on developed by family, friends, work, and the great works I have taken as truth subconsciously. What is truth and what does it have to do with experience?
After reading Asimov’s Nightfall, Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”, and Emerson’s Nature, I couldn’t help but think of Emerson’s other essay, “Self Reliance”. In this essay he pointedly explains, “A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages” (p 47 Self Reliance- Essays of Emerson). Here he again encourages readers to experience life using their own senses and that even what has been studied for years and taken as truth by philosophers, poets, and great authors should not be taken as truth unless you personally experience it. I’m trying to keep this short so I’m paraphrasing here but the whole essay explains that everyone has a little voice in them telling them what they organically and authentically want to do. This voice is in every one of us and we should be following it. Will this little voice really lead us to truth?
This question leads me to my next thought concerning media and truth…that one simply cannot always be at all places at all times observing what is going on and coming up with their own conclusions. We are almost completely reliant on media for our information and the rest of our knowledge comes from books written by others and our own experience, which Emerson would argue is the only truth. How and where are we supposed to get our information? Although there are a few networks more trusted than others we still would not be able to get the real account of a story unless we were there. For example, in Nightfall, Theremon so beautifully states this issue of truth, “ ‘…I can handle things so that only the ridiculous side will show. It would be hard to stand, I admit, because I’d have to make you all out to be a bunch of gibbering idiots, but if I can get people laughing at you, they might forget to be angry’” (p 2). How are we supposed to trust any source of information?
Whitman drew this concept of truth to the attention of his readers in “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”:
“Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself/…[and] Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars”.
One does not need science to get to truth. In fact, someone teaching nature to you or trying to convey their experience can actually hinder what would actually be your true experience with nature (thus he goes outside to experience it himself and was fully able to do so). Emerson supports this concept when he expresses in his “Prospects” essay, “Empirical science is apt to cloud the sight, and by the very knowledge of functions and processes to bereave the student of the manly contemplation of the whole” (p 66 The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson). In this way, science again is in the way of experiencing nature for yourself, developing your own truths, and following that little voice in you. After reading these works I have been left with even more questions, but that may just be what these authors intended. To wrap things up, actually things aren’t really wrapped up, but I leave you with a man following Emerson’s advice: