There are two ways in which a person can know something. The first is the symbolic way of knowing something. This way of knowing may be depicted through symbols such as letters and other illustrative means. The second way of knowing is an intimate way of knowing, through the actual experience and impression of said experience.
An analogy for these two ways of knowing is the territory map. For example, an individual can know the United States by reviewing a map of the U.S. but not truly know the U.S. if they have not traveled there personally. Prior to experiencing the Mojave desert I knew the location on a map – that was one sense of knowing. After experiencing the desert heat against my face and the look and feel of the desert, and interacting with the locals – I experienced a different form of knowing. The combined knowledge of location (map) and experience (territory) conveys yet another sense of knowing. Consider the words of Ken Wilber as a further means of conveying this point:
“Korzybski, father of modern semantics, lucidly explained this insight by describing what he called the ‘map-territory’ relationship. The ‘territory’ is the world process in its actuality, while a ‘map‘ is any symbolic notation that represents or signifies some aspect of the territory. This is easily seen in the common road-map, for although it may be a highly accurate representation of the country-side itself, it nevertheless is not the actual territory, and no one would dream of taking a vacation to Miami by looking through a book of road-maps. There are, however, much more subtle forms of maps, as for instance our everyday language.”
It is possible to know the map but not the territory. Consider entrepreneurship in the sense of building a scalable business. A person may know the map of entrepreneurship by reading about entrepreneurship and scalable businesses, but they will not know the territory until they take the first step of becoming an entrepreneur and experience the exhilaration and hardships associated with entrepreneurship firsthand.
I believe that a person should strive for both modes of knowing. The first mode, the map may be used as a primer to know of the subject matter, albeit in a shallow sense. The second mode, experiencing the territory may be used as an expansive means of gaining depth in a subject matter. Consider again the example of entrepreneurship. A conversation and connectedness of two entrepreneurs who have both modes of knowing about entrepreneurship is very different from the connectedness experienced between an individual who “knows” about entrepreneurship in the map sense, but does not know the territory and an individual who knows both. The first will likely result in a deeper connectedness, whereas the second a shallower experience.
It is important to keep in mind that the conventional way of viewing, and ultimately knowing the world, is mainly symbolic and only one way of knowing. To gain true knowledge and insight, one must gain both symbolic and intimate knowledge.
To learn more about the two modes of knowing refer to The Spectrum Of Consciousness by Ken Wilber.
1. Ken Wilber. The Spectrum Of Consciousness: