Ignorant geniuses

Footsteps that disclose a higher world, from the family-friendly anime Kimi ni Todoke (Reaching You).  Unfortunately I am not good at reaching you in the way I describe today, but I hope you will still be able to dig out something worthwhile!

Synchronicity is fun! Regular readers may remember my recent entry on diversity of ignorance, inspired almost completely by a short essay by Bjørn Stærk. This was on Tuesday 21. The same day, seemingly out of the blue, a regular reader on the One Cosmos blog recommends the book The Intellectual Life by Sertillanges. Two days later, and probably as a result of the comment, Robert Godwin pulls out a quote from Sertillanges’ book:

“Contact with writers of genius procures us the immediate advantage of lifting us to a higher plane,” which confers “benefit on us even before teaching us anything. They set the tone for us; they accustom us to the air of the mountaintops. We were moving in a lower region; they bring us at one stroke into their own atmosphere”.

This was eerily familiar to me, because Ryuho Okawa (the would-be savior from Venus) recommends exactly the same in at least one of his books. Probably The Laws of Happiness, but possibly one or more of the others where he brings up the connection between wisdom and reading. Okawa uses the expression “high spirit” where Sertillanges uses “genius”, but perhaps we should bear in mind that the Japanese word for genius starts with the kanji for Heaven.  Also in ancient Europe, genius was assumed to be a helper spirit that followed certain families, rather than just a measure of high IQ as it is used today.

(I think this needs another paragraph, because I got it wrong when I was young. I thought genius was simply a high IQ, nothing else. I assumed that quantity gradually shifted into quality. I suppose in a way it does at the other end of the scale, at least. However, I have later found that it is possible to have a high IQ and a tediously mundane spirit. The current theory, according to Science Illustrated, is that geniuses lack a kind of “filter” so they observe more of what goes on around them. This is not purely a good thing, it can cause problems as well.  I don’t know that it is even so simple. Today’s science puts its pride in never having to resort to spirits to explain anything, but for humans (or at least some of us) our spirit is a pretty big part of life.  During the night,  you can explain many things without mentioning the sun. In daylight, somewhat fewer.)

Back on track!  The important part is that genius can be transferred, at least to some extent. As Sertillanges and Okawa both insist, exposure to this kind of thinking has a chance to change our own way of thinking.  Not the content, mind you, but the very form of our thinking.

You can say that we have a capacity for understanding the knowledge that is given us by life, books, teachers or whatever.  We have a memory to store it, but we also interact with it and process it, consciously or not.  Like a liquid takes the form of the container, so also knowledge is formed by the vessel. Now, what happens when we come into contact with true genius / high spirits? Not only a pouring of more knowledge into our vessel, say I, but a change of the container itself.  We are expanded, new directions of knowledge or understanding open up.

Another metaphor which several people (including me) have experienced in a dream, is finding doors in their home that lead to new rooms or whole wings or storeys of the house that they had never known about.  So, you don’t just bring more stuff into the same living quarters: The place itself is expanded. (Though in those dreams, there are usually already things there.)

Do you see what I mean?  There is ordinary transfer of information, and there is transfer of capacity for information. Any parrot can do the first, but who is capable of the second?  Who can touch your mind and expand it in new directions?  These rare and precious moments change our lives.

The reason why I enjoy reading Bjørn Stærk, Robert “Gagdad” Godwin and Ryuho Okawa is precisely this that they repeatedly unlock new rooms of the mind. The factual content may be more disputable.

This gets even more pronounced when you get to the geniuses of the past. The knowledge in society at that time was not just fairly small, but much of it was Just Plain Wrong. The gender of your children does not depend on which testicle the semen comes from, even though Aristotle is undoubtedly a genius in numerous ways.  And Plato may have been more than a bit off with his idea of women as communal property. The cosmology of Moses was extremely simplified, to say the least.  Even relatively modern writers are children of their time to an almost shocking degree when it comes to the facts they assume and the acceptance of some values in their society.

This is where we have to keep the baby and the bathwater apart.  We have to be able to throw out the false facts and the misunderstandings that are often embedded deep in the thought, and still retain the vibrant spirit of the genius, the heartbeat that can quicken our own and throw open the doors of perception.

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