Ways of Knowing Madness

This is an enabling post, to continue a fascinating dialogue with Eddo, more about which later. But like so many dialogues there is an element of “rehearsal” of what it is we think we already know – and have shared understanding of – before getting to “the point”. As usual I’m just breaking our stream of consciousness down into some clearer parts, so that critical dialogue can build from there.

It’s here in four parts:

    • Part 1 – Background / Preamble
    • Part 2 – Known Issues & Pitfalls
    • Part 3 – The Dialogue So Far
    • Part 4 – What Next?


Part 1 – Background / Preamble

A long standing theme here has been “ways of knowing”, in particular the distinction between:

Savoir / Wissen – being indirectly acquainted with something by way of information about the thing via it’s naming or identity handle. This is using an intellectual model of the thing, whether in mind or recorded / documented externally.
Knowing about something. Indirectly, Conceptually, Intellectually.

Connaitre / Kennen – being directly acquainted with something by way of the participatory experience of interaction / involvement / immersion with or in it. (And I discover from Eddo in Dutch “Varen” – akin to Fahren – as in travelling with, sailing through, immersion in, the thing. Which also alludes to “better to travel than to arrive”? – experience the whole extended “travail” involved with getting to experience the thing, not just a snapshot or selfie at the end. And Ervaring meaning “experience”.)
Knowing the thing. Directly, Extensively, Participatory.

And the reason to emphasise this distinction is that we don’t have two distinct words in English or American, just different usages, metaphors and euphemisms about “knowing”. One euphemism, when the “thing” is another person is to know them physically, intimately as in “to know them biblically” – to have carnal knowledge. (And I’m sure the classics scholars will also point to the evolution of many other distinctions pre-Socratic as well as Platonic-Socratic and Homeric.) The ambiguities in English are not an entirely bad thing, just a fact, but there are upsides in the adjectival and adverbial uses of “knowing / knowingly” 😉

Anyway, this “Triad” of the thing and the two forms of knowledge (two ways of knowing the thing) and their inter-relationships is something I’ve documented previously.

Some original discussion of it here (in a Pirsigian context, with help from francophone Foucault).

My best developed version of the triad itself here.

Now, since I already mentioned the Pirsig context, it’s quite easy to map the direct experiential knowing as the Dynamic Quality (DQ) and our “model” – our intellectual conception – of reality as the different levels of patterns of value in static quality (sq). But there are some pitfalls – below.

And, given the Pirsig context, this thinking can also be traced quite easily through William James (pre-conceptual, radical-empiricism), A.N.Whitehead (process metaphysics, nexus and event) and Owen Barfield (saving appearances) – as Matt Segall points out this (direct) percept <> concept (intellectual) distinction runs right through so many philosophical misunderstandings in epistemology and mind/consciousness.

(Hopefully an aside in this particular dialogue, but McGilchrist’s work on the Left and Right and Left-Right-Integrated world-views of our brain/minds also maps pretty well to the percept<>concept divide. If this becomes the topic we can elaborate that mapping too?)


Part 2 – Known Issues & Pitfalls

There are some pitfalls to be aware of in this (indirect) intellectual “concept” <> (direct) participatory “percept” distinction.

Firstly – The simplest issue is that as soon as we “talk” about this topic, even using carefully agreed language – even using definitive logical formality (which I don’t recommend)  – that very fact of linguistic / symbolic communication means we are using our intellectual model of BOTH the conceptual elements AND the participatory elements. This is inescapable. This is as old as finger and moon, map and territory, use and mention, model and thing-modelled. It fills whole libraries.

And it’s worse than that in real world dialogue, because all sorts of different language is mixed-up in the process. The actual symbolic linguistic logical and/or prosaic content, the rhetorical and/or poetic elements of choosing what to say where and when and why and how, not to mention the embodied “body-language” elements. Whether we’re text-messaging / emailing, voice and/or video calling, face-to-face meeting, even mano-a-mano mud-wrestling – unless the subject is the other person – this is all “symbolic” of the thing at issue, not actually that thing.

“Care” is the only advice here. Attention to which aspect is in play at any given time.

Secondly, in our Pirsigian context it’s important to recognise that where we are using intellectual as distinct from perceptual above, the intellectual MAY map to Pirsig’s level of intellectual patterns, but the perceptual does NOT map to the social level necessarily. Obviously they’re related, but they’re not the same thing. They are not synonymous. (See the general dialogue pitfall above.) Even in social interactions, physical or symbolic we’re using representations of both kinds of knowledge – all mixed-up together. Again “proceed with care and attention” is the only advice.

This problem is as old as MoQ-Discuss and many dialogues foundering on the social<>intellectual distinction, and even multiple sub-theses on “Intellectual-as-Subject-Object-Metaphysics” or SOMism. (And when I say “foundering” I mean full blown ad-hominem flame-wars and cancel-culture-campaigns!!!)

I even have one of my own interpretations here.

But let’s not go there. We actually have a much more interesting dialogue in our hands – let’s just try to avoid invoking the “social” level as far as we can. Let’s try to stick to the intellectual<>perceptual “ways of knowing” that we’ve spent so much time rehearsing above?

Third and finally, for these predictable pitfalls, we have “common sense”.

Intellectual knowledge and understanding does get socialised through human interaction – verbal and physical, one-to-one and authority-to-audience. We will indeed end-up with more-or-less common-knowledge and more-or-less shared-understandings. Common sense can be short-hand for this kind of knowledge and these kinds of knowledge-interaction processes, but it is not synonymous with either intellectual or participatory nor intellectual or social. It contains all of these.

Let’s proceed with care and attention.
Let’s avoid the (Pirsigian) intellectual<>social distinction so far as we can.

Because we have a much more interesting topic in hand.


Part 3 – The Dialogue Itself

Eddo is giving a paper to the “Too Mad to be True II” conference in Ghent May 27/28. I’d helped by reviewing his paper in advance. Eddo has a very personal “first-person” perspective to share on the practice of psychiatry, and that is the specific theme of this second conference.

Then, I drew his attention to two earlier posts of mine, which he had been aware of before, but maybe he hadn’t digested until this latest exchange.

4 Suicides and 2 Murders


Louis Sass

Sailing close to madness (and worse, see above posts) has been a feature of philosophies of consciousness and of psychological theories in cognitive science, or even just epistemology and ontology of the known and knowable world, because they often take you close to the boundaries of the known and knowable – almost by definition. In fact there is a sense in which it is even necessary to get close enough to madness to understand what lies on that side, to have any credible knowledge of the “normal” mind. Many have studied second and third-party minds through their abnormalities – it’s called “the lesion literature”. First-hand, it’s a risky business. Pirsig himself is evidence of this too. There but for grace go we all, as I’ve opined frequently before.

Eddo responded:

“Brilliant writing about a topic close to my heart and experience. So are you now closer to the point of accepting that the fool or the madman is an expression of DQ on the intellectual level. … “

As well as this “madness” thread, we have a metaphorical / literal “Fool on the Hill” thread going in a Merseyside context, but what intrigued me here was his challenge. I don’t actually understand:

“[Madness] is an expression of
[Pirsigian] DQ on the  intellectual level”

But I would love to.


Part 4 – What Next

Our clarification dialogue was quite impassioned late last night and early this morning, but we bogged down in some of the pitfalls above, and took a break.

A – I could continue to hazard a guess at what Eddo meant?

B – Eddo could comment on what I’ve said so far?


Choose A or B but please read the whole first.

If you want to do your own brain-dump / stream-of-consciousness on the topic(s) first, that’s fine. Maybe crash your words into any simple text editor over as long as it takes, then copy and paste into a single comment?

Either way let’s not confuse brain-dump with dialogue 🙂


[Post Note: If we do want to take it into a McGilchrist context, a fascinating discussion on “The End of the World as we Know it”. Using many of the same thoughts above on “Ways of Knowing”. It’s our current “Way of Knowing” that will end, not the world itself.]

2 thoughts on “Ways of Knowing Madness”

  1. Eddo did eventually respond. Sadly he ignored everything I’d suggested in the post and gave me a new brain dump:

    Quote ““[Madness] is an expression of
    [Pirsigian] DQ on the intellectual level”

    I came to this claim at first by comparative reasoning. RMP claimed long ago from a similar comparative perspective that the sexual orgasm was DQ on a biological level and that Celebrity was DQ at a social level. From my personal experience and my interpretation of ZMM I can extrapolate on this and come to the quoted claim. From the Perspective of Northrop and William James even before RMP came to the undefined DQ as a pre choice phenomenon a priory to any decisive moment. To me that’s a state of mind which can be compared with the state of superposition as a part of quantum computer logic or the state of potential energy where it has still the chance to become converted in an endless pool of probable expressions of kinetic energy. To me these probable conversions imply the act of choosing although the question stays of what or who is choosing.
    This realm of madness is, too humans with a causal thinking mind in general, a very unintuitive state to be in. To me it’s beyond the firmament that consolidates the authority of celebrities on the social level of the RMP MOQ system.

    [IMG – Philosopher Head Through the Starry Heavens]

    To me it’s outside the causal realm a bit like how Maxwell explains the causality of magnetism by a changing electric field and vise versa. Knowing this happens at the speed of light and by reasoning from this perspective I paradoxically come to the realization that without time there can’t be anything that could refer to a causal relationship at al. In those cases it’s better to fall back on art.
    Art is realm of what RMP says that it even surpasses the intellectual level and for that reason more dynamic and closer to DQ. An expression of this type of art I found in Escher’s art pies of the hands that draw each other.

    [IMG – Escher – Hands That Draw Each Other]

  2. So, I guess I need to do my own guesses after all 🙂

    Anyway, for now let’s look at what you said Eddo:

    You said “Pirsig claimed … sexual orgasm was DQ on a biological level and that Celebrity was DQ at a social level”
    I say I’d need a reference for that?
    Orgasm as Bio DQ I can see – I’ve written about Jouissance and Petit-Mort before, but that is to intellectualise what is first and best purely experienced :-).
    Celebrity as Social DQ – I can’t see. It’s mainly a set of social (sq) patterns – do you mean the immediate thrill someone might get just from encountering someone they recognise as famous? But I can’t therefore see how this extrapolates to you madness claim?
    I think maybe we’re mixing-up the static-dynamic axis and the social-intellectual levels axis?
    AND AS I WARNED in Part 2 – “lets not go there” – if your argument relies on understanding the social level, we need to sort this out first – see final comment below, for progress?

    You said ” the Perspective of Northrop and William James even before RMP came to the undefined DQ as a pre choice phenomenon a priory to any decisive moment.”
    I say – absolutely, that’s why I mentioned that in the Part 1 Preamble – DQ as the pre-conceptual “radical empirical” experience. A certain amount of “rehearsed” stuff that was given to our understanding.

    You said “To me that’s a state … [all the way to] … to fall back on art.”
    I say – I don’t really see what you’re getting at here or why we’ve brought causation itself into this. I mean causation is difficult intellectually (philosophically and scientifically) it’s more about repeatably predictable patterns and we rely on common sense, but I don’t see the relevance here. Obviously I see artistic expression and experience as closer to DQ, there’s always a preconceptual immediate experience level, even if some conceptual thinking may have gone into the process. But as I say my problem here is relating its relevance to the question asked?

    You said “RMP says that [art] even surpasses the intellectual level”
    I say – this is again mixing-up the sq-DQ axis with the social-intellectual axis. Sure there is a high DQ element in art – especially in its creation or performance and experience, even if embodied in artefacts. He may have expressed something about this but I’m doubting he actually said that?

    You said – in another chat thread, I think – something like “intellectual is individual, social is collective”
    I say – I believe THIS IS TRUE – I mentioned much “debate” about confusion over the social-intellectual division in Part 2 Pitfalls. And it’s why I shared again my own image of the MoQ – where intellect evolves between pure DQ (immediate / intuitive?) kind and a post-rationalised conceptual kind. This latter kind is always constrained by conceptual patterns that have been socialised to some extent. It’s PRECISELY the reason for my version of the MoQ picture. (If I was guessing, I’d say this is where your madness idea might fit? For an individual to hold an intellectual idea that does NOT FIT the social pattern – society would consider you mad?)

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