Act In Order To Know


To be honest, this week’s theme of Responsibility evokes a sense of unrest for me in terms of my relationships with my family, friends, colleagues, my communities, and even myself. I’m in a transitional period and I’m crippled with doubt on a daily basis. On a philosophical level, and perhaps more so on a spiritual level, I am straddling the proverbial fence which demarcates doing and not doing, knowing and knowing differently. And it’s making me miserable.

This week I’d like to couple responsibility with commitment in order to work out something for myself. I see responsibility as a call for action, and commitment as an answer to do. Following thru the initial feeling sensation of responsibility with an act of doing creates a tangible creative force as well as a portal into deeper knowing.

One of my favourite aphorisms is act in order to know. I was thinking about this aphorism the other day, scribbling a few tidbits in my black Moleskine, watching a TED video on mirror neurons. For those who don’t know, TED is a set of conferences “devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading.” Mirror neurons are “meta neurons” which allow a shift in a person’s point-of-view and experience when that person observes another do something. According to Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran, mirror neurons let us experience an event (virtually I’ll add) but our skin barrier keeps us from thinking it is physically happening to us (unless we are schizophrenic, another topic for another day.) His theory is that mirror neurons are a biological basis for empathy.

So I’m thinking about my responsibility toward my LGBTQ community and myself, about commitment, about meta neurons and empathy, and I’m moved to act in order to know. I started with the court trials on California’s Prop 8; I observed the trials through the firedoglake blog reading every transcript in order to understand what was happening. I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility. This simple act in order to know led me to know differently, to know more deeply. I was further moved to propagate the information on my Facebook group page A Day Without A Gay. This sense of responsibility led to a commitment which became a creative event that impacted my knowing, other people’s knowing, leading each of us to know differently; perhaps with more empathy for those who aren’t part of the LGBTQ family? Our responsibility is to toward each other.

If Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran’s assertion is true, that we may have a biological foundation for empathy, then observing something, even if it perhaps disagrees with our value system or sense of what should be, creates a virtual sensation of participation, of doing. I added the term “virtual” knowing to his thesis because I wonder if this type of mirror-neuron knowing is different from acting-in-order-to-know knowing. Tell me your thoughts. What is your ease or difficulty with responsibility, of acting and committing, or ideas on virtual knowing versus acting-in-order-to-know knowing. And for gay trekkies, are mirror neurons the evolutionary beginning toward a Vulcan mind meld?

Photo Credit: Benedict Campbell- Wellcome Images

About The Author

Cynthia Vale is a budding scholar and doctoral student in Transformative Inquiry at the California Institute of Integral Studies. She writes the dot429 philosophy blog. You can reach Cynthia at

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