Saturday, January 24, 2009


no·e·sis [pronounced noh-ee-sis]
n. 1. (in Greek philosophy) the exercise of reason; 2. Psychology. cognition; the functioning of the intellect.

[Greek nóēsis thought, intelligence, equiv. to noē- (var. s. of noeîn to think) + -sis.]

Noesis is a usable word that nobody uses. It can be a synonym for cognition ("the mental process of knowing, including aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment"). However, noesis is a bit narrower than that. It requires "the exercise of reason," where cognition can simply be awareness.

I think of noesis as the opposite of intuition ("the act or faculty of knowing or sensing without the use of rational processes"). A juror is supposed to use noesis, not intuition, in reaching his determination. But a lot of ordinary people, people who serve on juries, are unreasonable. They look at a defendant and decide if he's guilty. A lot of times, that intuition, is based on prejudice ("a judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts"). If a juror is partial toward the police, for example, he might accept as true whatever a cop testifies, even if other evidence contradicts or disproves that.

Most religious opinions are formed this way: without noesis. Instead of asking questions, considering all known facts, logical arguments and other possible explanations, the religious shuts down his mind and relies on faith ("belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence"), not noesis. Acceptance of the Christian trinity ("the union of three divine persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in one God") requires faith, not noesis. The same illogic applies to believing that the Bible is the word of God, that Joseph Smith found some cockamamie gold plates and translated them into the Book of Mormon, which again is supposed to be the word of God, or that Allah literally dictated the Koran to Mohammed.

People who are congenitally incapable of noesis, I don't blame for their irrationality. However, I think a lot of people, otherwise smart, are lazy when it comes to exercising reason and intelligently examining what it is they believe. It's easier to hold on to myths one learned as a child than rock the boat and use judgment. Because we live in a religious world, people who take mythology to task are outcasts, decried, ironically, as prejudiced against faith. Instead of going up against that tide of opinion, it's easier to never examine religious beliefs using noesis.

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