Saturday, February 14, 2009

Poetic Knowledge page 22-27

More notes on Chapter 2:

Page 22

In the first place, our senses tell us that things are-- for instance, that fire is hot. They do not tell us why it is hot. That question introduces the scientific or experimental branch of knowledge.

The concept of fire can be isolated into parts that are then analyzed as to why it works the way it does, thereby providing additional knowledge. But this knowledge isn't necessarily a better kind of knowledge than the sensory knowledge of fire, which is the knowledge that enables us to *recognize* a thing as fire when we see it. (I think we can all agree that no matter how much theoretical knowledge you have of fire, if you cannot recognize that a fire is a fire-- the fire-ness of it, so to speak-- when you see it, you are not only severely lacking in knowledge, but may also be a danger to yourself and others!)

Page 23

He gives a new definition for the term gymnastic: "a 'naked wrestling' with reality, unencumbered by microscopes, textbooks or tests."

I begin to see that the terms "gymnastic, poetry, music" can actually be used as adjectives to describe the idea of the poetic mode of learning, which would be "gymnastic, poetic, musical". I wonder if he is going to give a better sense of the adjective "musical". The best I can figure out right now is that since melody and rhythm are imitative of virtues or vices, "musical" as a term to describe instruction would be imitative of virtue. In this way, the heroes in books that inspire us to *be* them-- to sympathize or empathize-- would be musical. This is running right into Triss' and my Volume 4 study, which this week was on Sympathy. Sympathy would be musical. (I wonder if I am getting this or just running on into my own tangent?)

Wisdom: "That mode of knowledge that is in its own right higher than poetic knowledge....the study of things in their causes, a very rigorous, mature, complex discipline for the trained philosopher." (He makes a little note that says there are some instances in which formal training is not necessary to gain this kind of knowledge.)

Now he is talking about the senses, and how the satisfaction of them proves that people have a desire to learn. This is confusing: "The senses, of their own nature, make a proportionate selection of what is pleasant, what is the mean-- not unlike the tale of Goldilocks who finally selected the bowl of porridge that was not too hot, not too cold, but 'just right.' This 'just right' is poetic knowledge..."

Page 24

Sensory discrimination develops eventually into memory, and from there turns into 'experience'. It is the beginning of knowledge.

Now he is talking about 'wonder'. I'm still not quite clear on the idea that delighting the senses is the beginning of knowledge, but I'll move on to 'wonder' with Mr. Taylor, seeing that I am puzzled and wondering myself:

"A man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant..."

Wonder is based in "fear produced by the consciousness of ignorance". I have to say I have never thought of wonder in this way before. To me it is too calm to be fear, but maybe I am thinking of anxious fear. He says that since man has a desire to *know*, this ignorance is perceived as a kind of evil, something to be remedied.

He contrasts the modern "Wow!" kind of wonder that we get when we see the laser-light show at Disneyland with the traditional kind of wonder, which he is referring to here. The traditional wonder appears in ordinary things, not in amazing special effects or 3-D.

"Wonder is the most rational kind of fear." Hmm. I'm still not completely convinced about the fear thing.

"Wonder arises, not from ignorance, but from the consciousness of ignorance."

Wonder arises from something unpleasant (consciousness of ignorance), but gives rise to a desire to know and a pursuit of knowledge, which are two pleasant things. They are pleasant because it is right and good for man to want to know and to attempt to find out.

(For some reason I am thinking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in Genesis. Man's-- and Woman's-- desire to know got him in trouble then!)

"A man imprisoned will find his condition unpleasant, but he will take delight in planning his escape!"

Page 26

I did not understand one sentence on this page. It was about wonder being the beginning of philosophy, but I didn't get it.

(I started reading a different book yesterday, a parent's guide to adolescent neuroscience, and I have to say it was a relief to read that book after struggling almost halfway through Chapter 2 of Poetic Knowledge! This book is *hard*!)

Page 27

He says we get a "breather" now. Whew. Now we will talk about St. Augustine and St. Benedict. Augustine is important because he is a kind of link between the Greco-Roman tradition and the education of the Middle Ages. Benedict is important because he thought deeply about monastic living, and left rules of order that embody the poetic mode of life.

I think I am going to take a break and read this part later.


Willa said...

My son at college just requested that I bring this book to him since it relates to his senior thesis. I read it all the way there (4 hour drive) and was sort of disappointed to have to give it up ;-). I scribbled out a bunch of quotes though.

There is no doubt it's a difficult book! I am glad you are going through it though, because it's interesting to read someone else's thoughts on it.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if rather than simple adjectives, the use of terms like poetry, music and gymnastics are more metaphors used to convey a sense of the aesthetic quality of knowledge, ways to relate to the inner sense of beauty that knowledge conveys to its recepients. If so, one may think of music in relation to knowledge in this way: Music is logically consistent. It's composition typically includes several parameters from note spacing to meter plus other components of melody and harmony (stanza, chorus, etc.) that together form the greater work. It fits many places and can be used in various ways. By this I mean a melody may stand alone, be part of a greater work, be used to complement some other media of communication such as a work of art, a play, etc. It can be played by various instruments, any of which may play the melody, or they can play together both melody and harmony. Furthermore, whether played by one instrument or many, whether standing alone as a single piece or included in a greater work, whether used with some other art form or by itself, at some level, the various elements of the music stimulates passions that convey a sense of beauty that may be defined as the satisfaction of appropriateness. Simply stated; we appreciate music because it fits our circumstance by stimulating our senses in a manner we deem appropriate to our circumstance. The beauty may be expressed as joy, sorrow, fear, etc. but whatever passion it arouses we associate the passion as an appropriate reaction to the music.

Knowledge is like this. True knowledge always displays a high degree of internal consistency (it is logical and answers most of our questions clearly and consisely) and it is consistent with it's surroundings. The internal consistency is like the composition of a melody in music that selects appropriate notes and harmony to convey meaning. External consistency means the knowledge is true because it "fits in" with other truths. This is akin to music working with other media of performance. In both cases the consistency of it's logic is pleasing. It arouses passions to make applications of the knowledge and also provides insights into where applications can be appropriately made without damaging its melody, meter or harmony. The passions derived from understanding and also applying knowledge conveys a sense of its beauty. It's consistency both internally and externally provides appreciation and its application conveys both satisfaction and gratitude; satisfaction for its utility and gratitude for its accomplishment of a desired outcome. In this way, the truth of knowledge, true knowledge is beautiful.


Katie said...

Wow, Dad! I would love to read your definitions of gymnastic and poetic when used as metaphors for knowledge! Do you have time to share them?

Also, do you mind if I post your comment in the body of a new blog post so that the other folks reading Poetic Knowledge won't miss your input?

Anonymous said...

Think about similarities between learning, the pursuit of knowledge and gymnastics. Both require significant committment and a high degree of discipline. Gymnastics is precise, coordinated and meticulous physical exercise. Pursuit of knowledge requires similar exertions of mental exercise. Expert gymnastics produces beautiful form. While assuredly athletic, it is aesthetically pleasing to our senses, often causing us to have great admiration for the expertise of the athlete and the beauty of her skills. It is beautiful to witness.

Pursuit of true knowledge, and subsequent revelation of some truth is beautiful for similar reasons. The process of gaining knowledge requires great mental agility and self-discipline. The form of the process of learning, including its application requires much skill and diligent practice. The mental exercise of achieving knowledge and thereby attaining truth is like the form of an expert gymnist with all her efforts, beautiful to our senses. When the process of learning works and revelation of truth is accomplished it is akin to the gymnast who performs the perfect floor exercise. Much unseen practice and effort went into the performance but the outcome, a score of ten, confirms the beauty of the routine. Revelation of truth is the ten of mental gymnastics. It confirms that all the effort, coordination, timing, the mental exercise, mental gymnastics of learning resulted in something truly beautiful, truth.