Mary-Jean Harris writes our fourth guest blogpost for the 18 days of Tesseracts. Her Story, “The Shadow of Gods,” appears in Wrestling with Gods: Tesseracts 18.
Questions of knowledge and faith have occupied the thoughts of philosophers since the Ancient Greeks, and still, we struggle to have a grasp of what it really is to “know” something.
In my short story, “The Shadows of Gods,” in the Tesseracts 18 anthology, Toulouse, a young man in the seventeenth century, is grappling with ideas of knowledge of higher worlds and magic. He wants to experience these for himself so he might come to truly know about God, about what lies at the foundation of our existence. He has learned about many different religions and gods, but, until the end of the story, has not experienced the truth of any of them himself. This involves an element of faith, for how is it that we can come to know something, and how, when we experience it, do we know it’s true? First, let’s think about faith (faith in a religion, or in any power beyond the physical world).
Having faith in something is to believe in it without having a logical reason, but that doesn’t mean it’s unfounded. It can be believing in something on an intuitive level that cannot be explained by reason. It is something we experience with an inner sense, and so it is not something you can point to or describe as you would describe a physical object.
Yet even without considering spiritual experiences, can we really know anything? Of course, we can doubt that our senses give us reliable information, but most people take for granted that what they experience is a real physical world. Even if they don’t have perfectly accurate perceptions of it, they still believe that these have some sort of correspondence to the world around them.
Many philosophers have debated such issues. In particular, Descartes concluded that the only thing we know that exists is our mind, which is, in essence, a thinking thing. Everything else that we can perceive, from our own body to the planet Pluto, can be doubted. In his Meditations of First Philosophy he said, “Whatever I have accepted until now as most true has come to me through my senses. But occasionally I have found that they have deceived me, and it is unwise to trust completely those who have deceived us even once.” So if we submit to this standard of knowledge, that knowledge must be from something which we can never be deceived about, how can we know anything?