Limits of the Knowledge of the 5 Senses

Curriculum Focus

  • Unknowing

Material

The Cloud of Unknowing, Edited by William Johnson, Image Books Doubleday, New York, NY, 1973, ISBN 0-385-03097-5, excerpts from Chapter 70 , pages 138 139 ****Original Text has been modified for contemporary clarity.

That as we begin to understand the depth life where our sense-knowledge ends, so we most easily come to the highest understanding of Ultimate Reality possible in this life with the help of Its own Absolute Yes.

And so keep on working in this nothingness which is nowhere and do not try to involve your bodys senses or their proper objects. I repeat, they are not suited to this work. Your eyes are designed to see material things of size, shape, color, and position. Your ears function at the stimulation of sound waves. Your nose is fashioned to distinguish between good and bad odors and your taste to distinguish sweet from sour, salt from fresh, pleasant from bitter. Your sense of touch tells you hot and cold, hard and soft, smooth and sharp.

Now, as you know, quality and quantity are not properties belonging to the Infinite Object or anything relational. Therefore, do not try to use your interior or exterior senses to grasp depth reality. Those who set out to work in the relational realm of the interior thinking that they should see, hear, taste, smell, and feel the depth, either interiorly or exteriorly, are greatly deceived and violate the natural order of things. Nature designed the senses to acquire knowledge of the material world, not to understand the inner realities of the relational. What I am trying to say is that human beings know the things of depth more by what they are not than by what they are. When in reading or conversation we come upon things that our natural faculties cannot fathom, we may be sure that these are depth relational realities.

Our relational faculties, on the other hand, are equally limited in relation to the knowledge of Ultimate Reality as It is in Itself. For however much a human being can know about every created relational thing, his/her intellect will never be able to comprehend the uncreated relational truth which is Reality. But there is a negative knowledge which does understand Ultimate Reality. It proceeds by asserting everything it knows: this is not Truth, until finally he comes to a point where knowledge is exhausted. This is the approach of St. Denis, who said, The most transparent knowledge of Reality is that which is known by not-knowing.

Reflection Questions

  1. What is the message the author is attempting to communicate in this section

  2. What use are the 5 senses in grasping depth reality

  3. What are our relational faculties What clues does the author offer about how to develop these faculties

  4. What examples can you share of the path of not-knowing as you have experienced this in your own life