Beginning Some Organized Study and Discussion of Bob Avakian’s Essay
“ ‘A Leap of Faith’ and a Leap to Rational Knowledge: Two Very Different Kinds of Leaps, Two Radically Different Worldviews and Methods”

April 16, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper |


From the staff of Revolution Books and a member of the Revolution Club

At Revolution Books we recently kicked off a two-part discussion of Bob Avakian’s essay about two radically different worldviews and methods in understanding the world. Watching Bob Avakian’s film THE TRUMP/PENCE REGIME MUST GO!... at Revolution Books in NYC has stirred some people to want to get more deeply into Bob Avakian’s work. So we decided to organize some study and discussion of issues of epistemology. One of the great things about BA’s essay “‘A Leap of Faith’ and a Leap to Rational Knowledge: Two Very Different Kinds of Leaps, Two Radically Different Worldviews and Methods” is that it goes at those “two very different leaps” in a way that is both highly rigorous and highly accessible... and that gets people “thinking about thinking.”

This first session was very lively and filled with curiosity. One of the participants is a young person, from the basic people, who has experienced homelessness and been trying to “get his life together.” The other is a high school teacher. This is their first real exposure to communist theory. A member of the Revolution Club and someone from the staff of RB helped lead the discussion.

We began by talking about the stakes of the battle over epistemology (the theory of knowledge, how we come to know the world, and what is true). We discussed BA’s statement in BAsics 4:10 that for humanity to get beyond a state where “might makes right” will as a crucial element require an approach to understanding things which recognizes that reality and truth are objective—and don’t depend on who has the power to decide or on people’s different narratives. That what is true is what corresponds to reality.

We set the stage by distinguishing materialism from idealism—two opposed approaches to grasping reality. People appreciated this. One of the participants expressed how her understanding of the two concepts had been more that of the popular misconception—that “materialism” referred to a narrow and superficial quality of human beings wanting more things, and idealism referred to people who have big and noble ideals. People asked for examples of influential idealist and materialist thinkers. We talked about dialectical materialism, that the universe consists of matter in motion, and the “changingness” of the natural and social worlds. And then we asked, well what about ideas and consciousness, they do exist, and we touched on how the brain is the material organ of thought. Heads were spinning... in a good way.

When we dove into the essay, starting with the leap from perceptual knowledge to rational knowledge, the younger person and teacher articulated in their own words what the leap consisted of. The young person said that the leap is when people are able to reach and express a conclusion based on the sum and analysis of evidence. “Well, we said, let’s walk through an example.” We went to the experience and understanding of being homeless.

He thought for a bit and talked about the different kinds of perceptions he had of homelessness when he was 9 and when he was older. During those times he was trying to figure out the reason for his situation. Maybe it was just that he and others were losers, bums. But, he said, he also realized (perceived) that many homeless people in fact have skills. But still they were poor, and didn’t have the opportunity to work. Someone said many immigrants can’t get work because of language and can’t buy or rent places to live, while high prices throw more people into the streets and shelters.

So we were dealing with a lot of perceptual knowledge. Rational knowledge would enable people to understand the cause of this, the why. And we got into why there is homelessness in the richest country in the world—what it has to do with the nature of the economic system, where profit rules, where luxury housing gets built but decent, affordable housing doesn’t (because of profit), where the right to invest in what is profitable is protected while there is no right to decent and affordable shelter. This is getting toward deeper scientific understanding. It was pointed out that BA has developed the scientific approach for understanding the workings of the system and how we can change this capitalist society through revolution.

Reflecting on the essay and the course of the discussion, the teacher pointed out that we are constantly making leaps from perceptual to rational knowledge in our everyday lives but barely know what process is going on in the brain. She walked through the example in BA’s essay of the leap from perceptual to rational knowledge in how a jury reaches a verdict in a trial—weighing evidence and testimony. She found this very helpful. She asked, “But where does intuition fit have this feeling about something or somebody.” It was interesting and we got into some examples and how you can’t decide the verdict that way. On the other hand, there is what in the real material and social world is feeding into intuitions, like a woman who feels unsafe walking down a dark alley. And we got deeper into evidence-based thinking.

She said that even though she is religious-minded, she could still weigh the evidence in a trial. But having studied the essay, she wondered how theology actually reaches the conclusion that this or that theory is true—and whether any perceptual to rational process is involved. “Maybe, I’ll put that to my minister,” she said.

This led to some beginning discussion of the scientific method, the process of examining facts and evidence, discovering patterns, drawing conclusions, testing and applying them, and gaining deeper knowledge which corresponds to reality at deeper levels—and that faith-based thinking doesn’t work that way. It was an opening round, and we’re going to get into this in a major way at our next discussion.

People were excited to dig into the concepts that BA presents and explores in the essay. It was very new to two of the participants. But the essay invites people in, provides essential understanding, and brings people back to why all this matters—what it has to do with getting free of oppression. Both of the new people want to get others involved in this kind of organized discussion of BA.


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